§ 11. Mr. Chisholm
To ask the Secretary of State for Education what is the Government's response to the recommendation of the National Commission for Education on nursery education for three and four-year-olds.
§ Mr. Robin Squire
The national commission proposal for free state nursery education for all three and four-year-olds conflicts with our policy of choice and 825 diversity of provision which best meets the varied needs of children and their parents. It is also unrealistic in resource terms.
§ Mr. Chisholm
Is the Minister prepared to listen to research evidence rather than prejudice for a change? All the evidence shows that three and four-year-olds benefit socially and educationally from nursery provision. Does he accept that we are at the bottom of the European league for such provision and that there is good nursery education only under Labour local authorities such as Lothian, in whose area all four-year-olds receive free nursery education? How is the situation to be improved, given that the public expenditure round has been the worst for 14 years, with cuts targeted particularly on local authorities?
§ Mr. Squire
The Government are always willing to consider research conducted on that and many other subjects, but the research does not entirely substantiate what the hon. Gentleman said. It certainly confirms the advantage of pre-school experience, but not quite as strongly as the hon. Gentleman suggested. In response to his comments on political parties, I gently point out to him that Wandsworth council, which is under Conservative control and will remain so for many years, opts for 100 per cent. availability of nursery education.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the many parents in the Pre-School Playgroups Association, which provides such wonderful experience for our children, and will he condemn the fact that, although the Liberal Democrats constantly tell us how much they care about education, only one of them had bothered to turn up for education questions before the television cameras came on?
§ Mr. Squire
My hon. Friend makes the point about the Liberal Democrats more clearly than I could. I join him in paying tribute to the work of the Pre-School Playgroups Association. I had the pleasure of attending its annual conference recently and it is a first-class body of women and men, which does tremendous work across the country. If one or two local education authorities included the PPA in provision for under-fives, I suspect that they would have more choice. That is the sort of thing that we want to see happening everywhere.