HC Deb 24 March 2004 vol 419 cc869-70
4. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab)

What discussions he has had with the (a) National Assembly for Wales Government and (b) Cabinet colleagues on the effects of Sure Start in Wales. [162545]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)

I regularly meet Cabinet colleagues and National Assembly Ministers to discuss a range of areas, including programmes such as Sure Start, which are helping to secure better outcomes for children, parents and communities.

Julie Morgan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that investment in the early years is the key to the future for children? Does he further agree that Cymorth, the umbrella organisation that includes Sure Start in Wales, is doing a really good job of reaching the most deprived children, and, together with Assembly policies such as free breakfasts for school children, is making a significant difference?

Mr. Hain

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Support for that age group is crucial to opportunities later in life, and that is why the Assembly Government are funding Cymorth to the tune of £42 4 million during the coming year, a figure increased year upon year. It is interesting that, although the Opposition would apparently ring-fence the schools budget, the shadow Chancellor's plans, which I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in condemning, will result in savage cuts to precisely the programmes, such as Sure Start, that are providing life-chance opportunities for many of our poorer children.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC)

Why then is the level of Sure Start funding per child in Wales half that in England, even though Wales has a higher rate of child poverty? Does the Secretary of State think that we should match the Chancellor's commitment in England and build a children's centre in each of the most deprived 20 per cent. of wards in Wales?

Mr. Hain

Clearly, Wales wants to do at least as well as England in every area of policy, and the National Assembly will want to consider the hon. Gentleman's points, but I do not think that he can take away from the Welsh Assembly Government the record investment that has gone into Cymorth in supporting pre-school children, in terms of educational opportunities and in other ways. That programme needs to be taken forward, and it will be, under Labour.