HC Deb 30 October 1995 vol 265 cc8-9
5. Mr. Rowlands

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on further developments of nursery education in Wales. [378321

Mr. Richards

Our proposed voucher scheme aims to expand the level of provision in the maintained, voluntary and private sectors so that every four-year-old in Wales whose parents so choose will have access to pre-school education.

Mr. Rowlands

Why do Welsh Office Ministers have to wait upon English pilot projects and schemes for voucher systems? After all, education is a totally devolved responsibility. Why do they not exercise some imagination and use some of the vacant classrooms that already exist in many of our primary schools to deliver nursery education for our three and four-year-olds now?

Mr. Richards

We already have some 90 per cent. coverage in Wales and the Office of Standards in Education has been surveying provision. English local education authorities have proposed running pilot schemes, which we did not feel were necessary in Wales as we already had 90 per cent. coverage. Nevertheless, we shall look carefully at the outcome of the pilot schemes in England.

Mr. Merchant

Does my hon. Friend agree that the real benefit of the excellent initiative on nursery education is that all four-year-olds in Wales will benefit in real terms from the new nursery education policy and that that contrasts favourably with what happened when Labour was in power, when there was no effort to make provision?

Mr. Richards

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. While we are in power, parents will have a choice as to the provision of nursery education, which they would not have were Labour ever to come to power.

Mr. Hanson

Will the Minister ensure that, in any future scheme, strong discussions with local authorities will take place because Labour authorities are providing nursery education and many Opposition Members fear that any future scheme will top-slice that money and ensure that more children receive private nursery education, but at more cost to their parents and with fewer opportunities for all the children of Wales?

Mr. Richards

There will be new money plus, of course, an amount of money from current local authority expenditure. As always, the Government consult.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Can the Minister explain why we need a voucher scheme in Wales when virtually all the four-year-olds who the scheme will cover already have full or part-time education; when the voucher, which is valued at £1,100, offers less than two thirds of the current cost of providing a nursery place in Wales; and when the whole scheme is likely unnecessarily to destabilise existing provision? Given that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment in England fought against the scheme right to the last minute, is this not another case of raving right wingers in the Tory party getting hold of a policy for which there is no need in Wales?

Mr. Richards

We are having a voucher scheme because, unlike the Labour party, the Government believe in offering choice to parents in Wales. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the voucher being worth £1,100. Yes, the voucher will be worth £1,100, but that does not mean that local authorities cannot spend more than £1,100 and, obviously, parents in the private sector will spend more than £1,100.

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