§ 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. 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. 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.