HC Deb 19 March 1953 vol 513 cc183-8
1. Mr. Hale

asked the Minister of Health the estimated average amount of expenditure in the running of a day nursery accounted for by overhead charges, staff wages and food, respectively.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)

For an average-sized nursery of 48 places the provisionally estimated amounts in 1951–52 were £1,908, £3,421 and £781.

Mr. Hale

Does not the Parliamentary Secretary think that these figures are really quite excessive in a country in which family allowances are at the rate of 5s. a week, and in which women at home have to bring up large families on figures infinitely smaller than those given?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

The hon. Member will be aware that family allowances are no concern of my Department. It is true that in day nurseries, with so many children drawn from different homes, and with the variations in age, the charges are necessarily high.

Mr. Burden

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the Gillingham day nursery before May last year the staff consisted of 14 people to look after 26 children, and does not this bear out the fact that there is certainly some case for reviewing the whole situation?

2. Mr. Hale

asked the Minister of Health the regulations and rulings of his Department with regard to the number of personnel required in a local government-administered day nursery.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

The decision is left to the local health authorities, who have been advised that, excluding domestic staff, a ratio of one staff to five children is generally considered desirable.

Mr. Hale

Is the Parliamentary Secretary not aware that this number is often greatly exceeded? In some of the day nurseries in Kent the charge for maintaining these children is 35s. a week and in others is about £4 a week. Will she look into this very useful service, which ought not to be curtailed, to see if these nurseries can be maintained on a basis of the more economical use of public funds?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

I will bear in mind the points made by the hon. Gentleman. I would, however, point out that every effort has been made in Kent during the past two years to run these nurseries as economically as possible, but they are a service in which staffing charges are high.

Mr. Horobin

Will the hon. Lady bear in mind that these lush and extravagant establishments are producing a situation in which either the very people for the benefit of whom the nurseries are intended cannot afford to use them, owing to the heavy charges, or the nurseries are becoming an intolerable burden on the rates, and will she look further into this one to five ratio and see if it cannot be amended?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

That is a matter for the local health authorities. I cannot accept the hon. Member's suggestion that the people who really need these nurseries are being denied them because of the charges, my reason for saying that being that the local health authorities relate their charges to means.

Mr. Dodds

How can the Parliamentary Secretary say that, when she knows that in a few weeks' time there will not be one single day nursery left in Kent, and that mothers themselves complain about the top-heavy administration in which economies could be made?

Mr. Hale

Does the hon. Lady not realise that half these institutions are being closed down? The women in Lancashire who were appealed to a couple of years ago to go into industry are now being forced out of industry by the policy of closing the day nurseries, and what is the hon. Lady going to do about it?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

The matter is wholly one for the local authority. On the basis of investigations which have been made, representations have been made to my right hon. Friend, and where closure has been advocated, some alternative provision is being suggested.

3. Mr. Hale

asked the Minister of Health whether he will cause an inquiry to be made into the cost of administering and maintaining day nurseries, with a view to such economies being made as will make it possible to continue this service at prices which will enable parents to continue using it.

8. Mr. Fenner Brockway

asked the Minister of Health if he will inquire as to the effect of the closing of day nurseries on the employment of women and on the care of young children.

31. Mr. George Craddock

asked the Minister of Health what steps he proposes to enable greater use to be made of day nurseries; and if he will undertake a review to enable prices to be fixed within the range of those in the lower income groups.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

My right hon. Friend has no reason to think that local health authorities are failing in their statutory responsibilities for the care of young children or in general to run day nurseries as economically as practicable. Charges for using the nurseries are based on ability to pay. No useful purpose would, therefore, be served by an inquiry on these points, but any question as to the availabilty of women for employment would be for my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour.

Mr. Hale

But surely the hon. Lady is aware, and if she is aware will she please admit it, that the variation in the cost of day nurseries is as much as 100 per cent. between one institution and another; that perfectly good day nurseries are being maintained at much lower costs than those now charged by some corporations; that women are being placed in real difficulty; that employment is being affected and that people in many parts of the country are most indignant about this?

Mr. D. Brook

Will the hon. Lady ensure that in reviewing the staffing of day nurseries she maintains a decent standard, so that the children will be well looked after?

Mr. Legh

Will my hon. Friend consider whether it might not be advisable for these day nurseries to be run and paid for by district and borough councils and not by county councils as they are now?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

That is another question.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

Will the hon. Lady look into the matter again? Is she aware that in Slough one day nursery has been completely closed and at the other the charge has been increased to £2 3s. a week? Does she know that I have had a wad of letters from mothers complaining either that they cannot afford the increase, or that they can no longer go on working, or, if they do, they must look after the children under impossible conditions?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

It is not wholly fair to say that the charge at Slough has been increased. Almost all the mothers using the day nurseries there come under the scheme of reduced rates because of need. They do not pay the full rate. Usually where the full rate is paid both parents are in employment. On the question of the use of the Slough nursery, I understand that even the remaining day nursery is not fully occupied.

5. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Health what action was taken to reduce the cost of running the five remaining day nurseries in Kent before the decision was taken to close them.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

Reductions in staff and in the hours during which the nurseries were open, the replacement of deputy matrons by staff nurses, and general economy in management.

Mr. Dodds

Is the hon. Lady aware that I wrote to the Minister several months ago showing that it was so difficult to get children into the day nurseries, that most of them were only about half full and, therefore, the cost was greater? Is not this a deliberate policy to close them? The hon. Lady said last week that baby minders were successful in the L.C.C. area. That area also has day nurseries. Can she explain why Kent cannot have the same facilities?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

I cannot accept the suggestion that to put more children in the nurseries would lessen the cost.

Mr. Dodds

Of course it would.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

The cost per child for children attending the existing nurseries is £3 1s. 3d. and the total cost is £23,000. If the present nurseries were fully occupied, the cost would be £33,000.

Mr. Dodds

With the same administration.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

On the contrary. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that if the numbers were greater there would be more staff and more food needed.

6. Mr. Bottomley

asked the Minister of Health if he is aware of the hardship which is caused by the closing of all the day nurseries in Kent; and if he will reconsider his decision.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

No, Sir. The county council's proposals to introduce a scheme of daily minders should, in my right hon. Friend's view, obviate any material degree of hardship.

Mr. Bottomley

Does the hon. Lady appreciate that there are some cases of great hardship, such as those of widowed mothers who have to look after their children and must necessarily go out to work? Will she not reconsider her decision? It is wrong to say that this is not a matter for the Government. The last Government decided the question and gave some guidance to local authorities.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

I do not deny that there are cases where it is necessary for the children to be looked after. It was for that very purpose that my right hon. Friend insisted that there should be an alternative scheme which would make the necessary provision.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Is my hon. Friend aware that this question of day nurseries seems to have many of the characteristics of a national muddle, and that by the most uneconomical way in which they are being run they look like committing suicide?

Mr. Marquand

Will the hon. Lady take note of the evident anxiety on both sides of the House about this matter? Will she remind her right hon. Friend that when he asked, in the last piece of legislation he introduced, for powers to make higher charges for these nurseries, they were given without any difficulty, to help him to keep the nurseries going? Will she ask him to reconsider the whole matter?

Sir R. Glyn

Has the hon. Lady's attention been drawn to a recent Report of the Select Committee on Estimates which dealt fully with this matter and made certain recommendations?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) I would say that it was because my right hon. Friend wished to be satisfied that alternative provision would be made for those who really needed the services of the day nurseries that last year he refused to allow Kent to close all 10.

Mr. Dodds

Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the hon. Lady's answers, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.