§ 4. Mr. Knapman
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assistance is being given to voluntary groups working with under-fives.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley
The Department provides grant aid of about £1 million a year to national voluntary organisations that are active in the under-fives area. This year, we have given a further £425,000 to seven national organisations that have distributed small grants to local 997 projects providing services to pre-school children and their families. We have also launched the £2 million new under-fives initiative to test out various new policy ideas.
§ Mr. Knapman
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for her reply and for her consistent encouragement of pre-school play groups and the carers for under-fives. Has she any intention of introducing inspection charges or registration fees for those groups?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
The Pre-School Playgroups Association receives the largest amount of support from my Department. It is receiving more than £500,000 this year. Under the Children Act 1989, it is necessary for the 17,000 pre-school playgroups to register. We have made it clear that the charges will be modest and we hope that they will be no more than £10.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
What discussions are Health Ministers having with Education Ministers and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to try to ensure that there is provision across the board for under-fives, so that parents have a choice between playgroups, nursery schools or classes, day nurseries and workplace nurseries and can use what is most appropriate for their family needs and for their children?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's commitment to a mixed economy of care for the under-fives, which is precisely the Government's policy. Ninety-one per cent. of three and four-year-olds in this country attend some education or day care provision and this country is among the leaders in the European Community. We shall seek to encourage a range of providers to meet the needs and expectations of those children and their parents.