HC Deb 15 January 1991 vol 183 cc724-5
12. Mr. Nicholas Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals he has to increase the number of places available in nursery education; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Eggar

It is for local authorities to decide, in the light of annual grant settlements and local circumstances, what provision they might make for nursery education and other services for the under-fives.

Mr. Brown

In 1972, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) pledged the Conservative party to the creation of an extra 300,000 places for three to four-year-olds. As we are still 200,000 places short, why is it taking the Conservative party so long to implement that pledge? Or has its time expired?

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman is obviously unaware that more than 150,000 more under-fives attend a maintained school now than was the case in 1979 and that there has been an increase in real spending on nursery school provision of about 50 per cent. in the past 10 years.

Mr. Haselhurst

Does my hon. Friend believe that playgroups also offer a valuable pre-school experience? Will not the extra money that has been granted to the Pre-School Playgroups Association achieve valuable results?

Mr. Eggar

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The doubling of the grant that we are able to make available to the Pre-School Playgroups Association is very welcome to the association and will especially help to improve the quality of care that it is able to provide through voluntary organisations.

Ms. Armstrong

Perhaps the Minister has forgotten the report that the Secretary of State published just before Christmas of his own committee, which was chaired by another member of the Government. It said that there needed to be an expansion of provision for under-fives and an improvement in quality. When will the Government accept their responsibility, or will they leave it to the next Labour Government to ensure that children under five have that opportunity?

Mr. Eggar

As the hon. Lady rightly says, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science published the report just before Christmas. It was a valuable report which concentrated on improving the quality of care and education for the under-fives. I know that there will be a considerable response to the report from local education authorities and from others. The Government have already made a number of responses, including, as I have already said, increasing the grant available to the Pre-School Playgroups Association.