§ Paddy Ashdown
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what his estimate is of the proportion of three-year-olds in Somerset who will have a free early years place by(a) spring 2001, (b) spring 2002 and (c) spring 2003; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Ms Hodge
[holding answer 18 January 2001]: By September 2004, there will be a free early education place in Somerset for every three-year-old whose parents want one.
To move towards this achievement, the Government have allocated to Somerset funding for 1,704, 2,262 and 2,786 places for the three financial years to 2004 (allocations for the last two years are indicative). The LEA is already funding further places in the maintained sector.
Our experience tells us that some parents do not take up places as soon as their children are three and do not always want a full-time place. Building that knowledge into our assumptions, over the three financial years 229W in question there will be free places for 47 per cent., 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. of three-year-olds in Somerset. These figures are averages based on the number of places available for the year as a whole. Local education authorities have been asked to increase places on a term by term basis to build up to universal provision, therefore the figures in the spring term are likely to be higher than the annual average.
In 1997, about 8.5 per cent. of Somerset's three-year-olds had places in local education authority maintained nurseries.
Since September 1998, all four-year-olds have been able to access a free, part time, early education place.