HC Deb 26 March 1998 vol 309 cc665-7
3. Mr. Quinn

What plans he has to increase child care provision in 1998–99. [34896]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

In the current year, my Department will allocate an additional £42 million for child care provision, including £10 million for the out-of-school child care initiative—which will provide an additional 20,000 places in the coming year. I am pleased to tell the House that I have allocated £5 million to the Further Education Funding Council, to enable it to provide additional places for child care and creche facilities, so that people can have access to further education.

Mr. Quinn

I welcome that reply. Will the Secretary of State give special consideration to sparsely populated areas, such as mine in Scarborough and Whitby? Those areas have to build infrastructure, and will require resources, which were not forthcoming over the many years of the previous Government.

Mr. Blunkett

I am happy to give that assurance. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), and I will examine ways of expanding child care provision in conjunction with nursery provision for four-year-olds—and later for three-year-olds—including the extension of the present disregard under family credit. That is being increased in June from £60 to £100 and will be extended until the September after a child's 12th birthday.

Mr. Keetch

Does the Secretary of State welcome the establishment just a couple of hours ago of the parliamentary all-party group on child care? Does he agree that affordable, high-quality child care is essential for those who want to move from unemployment to education or training? Is he aware of the grave concerns in the child care industry about the lack of people able to provide adequate child care? What provisions are the Government making to bring more people into running child care establishments and to ensure that they are of good quality?

Mr. Blunkett

The critical issue is quality. People must have adequate training. We have been working with voluntary and private organisations, as well as the further education sector, to develop what is sometimes described as the climbing frame of qualifications. The Pre-School Learning Alliance already provides basic training, which can be built on. We are also considering how the one-parent family initiative can help those who are gaining skills in child care as parents to extend those skills to enable them to take on further child care in their community, providing a service for others and a job for themselves.

Mr. Derek Foster

The provisions in the Budget and my right hon. Friend's announcement this afternoon are welcome. The measures are crucial to encourage lone parents into work. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the new deal is to succeed and those lone parents are not to be locked into the low-pay sector, education and training will be equally crucial?

Mr. Blunkett

Yes. The £5 million that I have announced this afternoon for the Further Education Funding Council will help to make further education accessible, as will the extension of the disregard, which will be an essential part of the working families tax credit system. Together with the child care provision available for job clubs and other activity with the Employment Service, our initiatives are giving new opportunities to lone parents throughout the country.