HC Deb 18 January 1989 vol 145 cc391-434
Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.13 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I beg to move,

That the House welcomes the First Report of the Select Committee for Education, Science and Arts, on Educational Provision for the Under Fives; believes that it should be the objective of both central and local government to ensure the steady expansion in provision of nursery education until it is available to all three and four year old children whose parents desire it for them; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure a thorough survey of the existing demand for the various forms of provision for under fives and to improve co-ordination between government and local authority departments; welcomes the important contribution of the voluntary sector, including the playgroup movement; and calls for higher provision for under fives in future public expenditure White Papers, and for the speedy implementation of the Select Committee's recommendations.

In December 1972, the Prime Minister, then Secretary of State for Education and Science, published a White Paper on education called "Education: A Framework for Expansion". It launched what it called a new policy for the education of children under five". The White Paper said that it was the first systematic step to offer an earlier start in education". It went on to say: The value of nursery education in promoting the social development of young children has long been acknowledged … we now know that given sympathetic and skilled supervision, children may also make great educational progress before the age of five". The White Paper spoke about the 1967 report by the Plowden committee which had estimated that provision for 90 per cent. of four-year-olds and 50 per cent. of three-year-olds would be sufficient to meet demands. The White Paper said that the Government aimed that within the following 10 years nursery education should become available without charge within the limits of demand estimated by Plowden, to those children of three and four year old whose parents wish them to benefit from it. The White Paper said that circular 8/60—that infamous circular which prevented local authorities from expanding nursery education save where it was linked to returning teachers—would be withdrawn.

It is now not 10 but 16 years since the publication of that White Paper. During that time the Conservative party has been in power for 11 years and Labour has been in power for five years. However, Labour in central Government, and since 1979 in local government, has sought to implement the Prime Minister's 1972 pledge, while the Conservative party, nationally and locally, has sought systematically to ignore it.

The question of what resources and commitment we as a community should give to the education and care needs of children under five is highly political. It is a test of any party's approach to the sanctity and cohesion of family life. The contrast between the record and commitment of the Labour party and the record of the Conservative party could not be more telling or more stark.

Nationally, the significant growth in the number of nursery places took place between 1975 and 1980 when Labour was in office and responsible for spending. During that period the proportion of under-fives with nursery places doubled from 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. There has never been a greater growth before or since, as table 2 of the Select Committee report shows. In the eight years since 1980, the proportion of local authority nursery places has risen by just 3 percentage points to 23 per cent., less than a quarter of the annual rate of growth that the last Labour Government achieved.

It is perhaps a mark of the difference between the Labour party and the Conservative party that many of my hon. Friends are here for the debate while there are few Conservative Members. Apart from the parliamentary private secretaries and members of the Select Committee, there are just two free men on the Conservative Benches.

Today a child in a Labour area has twice the chance of under-five care or a nursery place than a child in a Conservative or an SLD area. The number of overall nursery and under-fives places has increased over the past nine years by 100,000, but that still leaves a shortfall of 200,000 on the Prime Minister's target of what amounts today to 700,000 places.

The expansion in good quality provision has occurred principally in areas served by Labour authorities. The best 24 education providers for three and four-year-olds are all Labour-controlled. The 24 councils whose provision is poorest are either Conservative or Democratic, or are controlled by no single party. A child in Salford, Manchester, south Tyneside or Walsall has seven times the chance of a nursery or rising fives place than a child in Kent or west Sussex. Some Conservative-controlled authorities do better, and I pay tribute to them. However, other Conservative-dominated authorities have cut the number of places for the under-fives in the last eight years. They include Harrow, Kent, Havering, west Sussex, and Hereford and Worcester. Where are those areas' Members of Parliament?

Conservative local authorities have taken their lead from their party's national administration, whose record in respect of the under-fives has been of consistent and wilful neglect. The 1979 Conservative manifesto pledged support for family life. Just nine months later, that pledge was overturned by a insertion into the Education Bill 1980 removing the qualified duty placed on local education authorities under the Education Act 1944 to provide nursery education, and replacing it with a discretionary power so that, in the words of the First Report of the Select Committee, LEAs are under no duty even to have regard to providing education for under fives. That change was pushed into the law in 1980, not to encourage expansion of nursery education but to facilitate its annihilation. Conservative-controlled Oxfordshire county council, for example, proposed, as a result of public expenditure pressures, closing all 12 of its nursery schools and 16 nursery classes. The then Attorney-General advised that such action would be unlawful and outwith the authority's duties under the 1944 Act.

Faced with that situation, the Government—as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out at the time—had a choice between removing any vestige of duty and imposing a clear cut duty within the constraints of limited resources. They chose to remove that duty altogether. At that time, the present Secretary of State for Education and Science, a Back Bencher verging between sycophancy and rebellion, chose sycophancy and voted with the Government. Every year since then, local authorities have been set tighter and tighter financial guidelines by Ministers, including the right hon. Gentleman when he was Secretary of State for the Environment. It is no coincidence that there are among the 24 best local authorities for educational provision many that have been rate-capped—punished financially for caring about the under-fives.

In 1987, the Government decided to tax the benefit of private workplace nurseries, making it virtually impossible for any more to open. Last year, the Government signalled the end of any positive nursery education policy, for there was nothing on that aspect in the Education Reform Bill. On 22 March 1988, at the Bill's Report stage, Labour sought to remedy that by introducing a new clause giving effect to the Prime Minister's pledge of 1972 and repealing the infamous section 24 of the Education Act 1980. No right hon. or hon. Member advanced any argument against the proposed new clause, but the Government voted it down. I regret that every Conservative Member of the Select Committee went into the Lobbies with the Government.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the Select Committee's report, but it is improper to debate it without making any reference to important comments made by the Committee as to the reasons why certain local authorities have done much better than others in terms of quantity of nursery provision.

The report points out that when social factors indicate a high level of need, that is likely to lead to a high level of block grant for that authority. It points out also that it was an objective of the 1972 White Paper that growth should be most rapid in areas of greatest need. We know that, by and large, Labour-controlled authorities serve those areas of greatest need, and they accordingly receive the largest block grants and assistance under urban development programmes, and so on. The hon. Gentleman cannot ignore that.

Mr. Straw

I do not ignore it, but the most important factor in determining whether a child has a good or bad chance of receiving nursery education is whether the local authority is Conservative or Labour-controlled. Does the right hon. Gentleman dispute that? Bristol is an area of great social need, as it was during the 1970s. Then, a Labour Government offered Avon county council, which was Conservative-controlled, hundreds of thousands of pounds to expand nursery education, but Avon refused to take a penny. Many other Conservative-controlled authorities would not take the money that they were offered in the 1970s, even though they served areas of acute social need.

The day after every Conservative Member voted down our proposed new clause to the Education Reform Bill, the Earl of Arran, speaking for the Government in the House of Lords, produced an epitaph for any suggestion that the Government support nursery education. He said: This objective, which was adopted in good faith in 1972, has long since been abandoned."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 March 1988; Vol. 495, c. 178.] Tonight's motion has been drawn in its entirety from the Select Committee's recommendations, and is designed to put the authority of the House behind them. If Conservative Members of the Select Committee mean what they say—and I believe that they do—it is incumbent upon them to vote with us. The Government amendment, by deleting all reference to the Select Committee's recommendations, seeks to reject them. It avoids making any mention of a financial support target.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman cut out his endless politicking, which we have seen also from his hon. Friends on the Select Committee? Is he not capable of making the educational and social case for nursery provision? The hon. Gentleman should get on with it.

Mr. Straw

It is because everyone accepts the educational and social case that I make the political case for nursery provision. We do not need a debate on the educational and social case, because it has never been denied. However, we need to debate whether the Government will back that case with cash and commitment. Those who have followed the Government's shameful and shameless record should savour the terms of the amendment that the Secretary of State has the gall to table this evening. It is breathtaking that it seeks to recognise The Government's achievements in securing a significant expansion of nursery education since 1979. The Government have no achievement or policy for the under-fives. What achievements there have been are by local authorities in the face of Government apathy to the needs of under-fives and downright hostility to any additional expenditure on them.

No one can accuse the Secretary of State for Education and Science of being shy, self-effacing or reticent about his own achievements. Education correspondents are weighed down with his Department's press notices, and political correspondents are weighed down with offers of lunch. Schools, parents and governors are weighed down with expensive, glossy pamphlets. Inflation in the Department's publicity budget has reached Brazilian proportions. The Department of Education and Science's publicity budget has increased by 3,000 per cent. in three years.

But in those three years of hyperactivity, what has the Secretary of State said of his achievements and policies in respect of the needs of the under-fives? He has said nothing. It is true that there were 29 words about his predecessor, now Lord Joseph, in the right hon. Gentleman's first speech as Secretary of State for Education and Science at the Conservative party conference in October 1986—comments so unremarkable that they went unreported. The best researches of the Library, including access to the computer data bases of five leading national newspapers, have been unable to make any connection since October 1986 and those 29 words between "Baker, K.", "nursery", "under-fives" or "day care".

There has apparently been no speech about the Secretary of State's record, inside or outside the House, although he has devoted acres of paper and forests of newsprint to other aspects of education—his pet project of city technology colleges, and his alleged vision for higher education for the next 25 years. On the under-fives there is not a sentence, not a word, not even a glossy pamphlet. As far as he is concerned, their needs are a non-subject: they do not exist.

It cannot lie in the mouth of the Secretary of State at once to welcome the Select Committee report and congratulate the Government on their record. For the Select Committee report is a damning and—yes—a courageous indictment of the Government's entire record, and of this Secretary of State's record in particular. So indolent has he been that such policy as exists has now been taken over by the Home Office—a Department that lost any responsibility for children 15 years ago—and its hyperactive Minister of State.

The Select Committee report charts not only the indifference of the Department of Education and Science but its associated failure to make any serious effort to co-ordinate other Departments. Paragraph 8.10 states that the interdepartmental group has not met for some time. Co-ordination between Departments is left to the telephone. It continues: We doubt whether such informal contacts, although valuable, are sufficient to ensure that policy on the under-fives is fully discussed and developed. There is no longer any argument about the value of nursery education, but the Select Committee report spells out why today it is more vital than ever before. It says, with great eloquence, that in the 1980s two features stand out: First the child of the eighties may be lonelier than in the past: families are smaller and it is more difficult for children to play with others in public places. Second, the greater pressure on parents, and the increases in the numbers of families where both parents work, may mean there is less time in the family to focus specifically on the development of the child. The stimulus provided in a nursery school or class or other educational setting can help to counter both these aspects of modern life.

The Select Committee was right. There must be a clear and categorical commitment in favour of nursery education for all, as the Committee proposes in recommendations I and 3 and as the Prime Minister proposed in 1972. That must also mean a significant expansion in funding. Of course any expansion must be paid for, but today—when the economy is buoyant as never before, or so we are told, and Government receipts are to exceed expenditure by £10,000 million—there has never been a better time to begin expansion.

The Secretary of State is adept at finding money when he regards it as a priority. The £30 million a year now being spent on fewer than 1,000 children in city technology colleges could be used instead to fund at least 30,000 nursery places. Which is more important? Which will produce greater benefit? The Government's amendment seeks to speak of an intention to secure the continuing growth of this sector. How do they intend to secure that growth? Are the figures in the public expenditure White Paper to be revised upwards? For, as the Select Committee points out, simply maintaining the present proportion of under-fives in pre-school education is incompatible with the level of real-term funding specified in the White Paper, or even the 5 per cent. addition that subsequent clarification sought.

The number of under-fives is going to grow, and future White Papers must make provision for that. What policy has the Secretary of State for dealing with the shortage of nursery teachers now, let alone if and when there is an expansion?

As our motion makes clear, we welcome the important contribution of the voluntary sector in providing care and education for the under-fives, especially that of the playgroup movement. That movement has played a critical role in providing a much-needed service in many parts of the country, and has helped to change attitudes by showing the role that parents and volunteers can play. But we want to see choice area by area—choice in Brighton and in the rest of Sussex, as well as the choice that already exists in so many Labour areas. Playgroups can never and should never be seen as a cheap substitute for nursery education, but as a complement to it.

The Select Committee was convinced that the best environment for three and four-year-olds was the nursery class, and it was right. We have a duty to give all our young children the best, and that means nursery education. But there is no need for the playgroup movement to see itself as being in competition with the nursery movement or vice versa; there is work enough for both to do.

We spelt out in our consultative document, published on 11 January, the need to see nursery classes and the professionals whom they employ as resource centres for all under-five provision, giving training to support the voluntary groups. The voluntary groups have a major role to play, especially with younger children and where there is a demand for care beyond the half-day that the nursery can provide. The Secretary of State, however, will be deluding himself as well as parents if he suggests that the voluntary movement can fill the major gap in demand that is there today. Apart from the major problems of variable quality, there is the simple question of whether there will be enough volunteers.

Demand for under-five provision is increasing, not least because of the accelerating demand for mothers to go back to work. The very process that increases demand will also reduce the supply of volunteers, as the Thomas Coram research unit's work—quoted by the Select Committee—shows only too well. That increase in the number of women going back to work also underlines the case for a co-ordinated approach, nationally as well as locally, to the care needs of children—co-ordinating the provision of workplace nurseries and other nurseries, whether public or private, and raising the quality and standard of all who provide care as well as education.

Under-five provision is a Cinderella service in too many local areas, and at national level. That is shown by the lack of co-ordination between Government Departments. No Secretary of State or Department has clear lead responsibilities. That cannot go on; the DES and the Secretary of State need to take the lead. Locally, too, more co-ordination is needed, with a duty to be placed on local authorities to assess the total needs of day care and education in their areas, and then to be enablers and regulators of that provision as well as deliverers of some of it.

The Prime Minister preaches about the sanctity of family life, but her practice undermines it, whether through her broken promise on child benefit or through her broken promise on nursery education. Every child of every family in the land deserves good-quality care and good-quality education. We know what the best start is, and we know how to provide it. All that is lacking is the Prime Minister's will to govern.

Our motion turns the excellent recommendations of the Select Committee into action. It is the least that we can do for our children and their parents, and I commend the motion to the House.

7.37 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the First Report of the Select Committee for Education, Science and Arts, on Educational Provision for the Under Fives; recognises the Government's achievements in securing a significant expanse of nursery education since 1979; welcomes the important contribution of the voluntary sector, including the playgroup movement; and commends the Government's intention to secure the continuing growth of provision for the under fives in all its varied forms, and its commitment to improve quality.'.

Before answering the points made by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), let me say that I think that everyone in the House is conscious that this debate is taking place on a day when there has been a dreadful tragedy in an American school. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to convey to the American people our sense of shock and horror at that appalling tragedy.

That the debate is taking place at all—and I am very glad that it is—is largely due to the interest in education for the under-fives that has been kindled by the report published last week by the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts. The report is extremely interesting. It results from a careful and thorough investigation undertaken by the Committee, guided ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), and I put on record the Government's appreciation of the Committee's work. We shall be giving careful consideration to its recommendations, and we shall make a full response in due course. Hon. Members will not expect me to comment in detail on the Committee's conclusions at this stage—that would be an insult to the Committee—and I do not propose to do so.

Mr. Straw

The Select Committee's central recommendation has been known for 16 years. Does the Secretary of State not intend to comment on that key recommendation?

Mr. Baker

I shall come to that point later. The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to reply to the debate without dealing with that point, but I shall deal with it in my own time and in my own way.

The parents of young children have a wide variety of arrangements providing educational care for the under-fives. They are well known to all hon. Members. They are day nurseries, creches, child minders, playgroups, nursery schools, nursery classes in primary schools and reception classes in primary schools. Some are in the public sector; some are voluntary, as the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) acknowledged, and some are private. Some are, by definition, forms of nursery education. Others combine educational activities with a day care function. Still others are primarily providers of day care and supervision.

I welcome this diversity. It recognises the variety of needs and it responds to those needs. We must remember that what happens to children before they start school is entirely a matter for the parents to decide. They know their children best; they know their own circumstances; they are best placed to make an informed judgment about what is right for them.

It is therefore entirely right, and indeed one of the strengths of our diverse system, that over many years there has been a steady development of voluntary nursery provision, inspired by the work of the Pre-School Playgroups Association. Yesterday I met representatives of the association, including Lady Plowden. They told me that at the moment there are some 600,000 children benefiting from pre-school playgroups. They attend, on average, for four half-day sessions each week. The 1972 White Paper, to which the hon. Member for Blackburn referred—"Education: A Framework for Expansion"—and to which I shall return, spoke of the "distinct and valuable role" of playgroups alongside an expanding system of nursery education. There are just over 17,000 playgroups. They vary in size enormously. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will know the playgroups in their constituencies. They vary in the times that they are open. Some are open late; some are open early; some provide half days and others provide full days. They make a huge contribution to the provision for the under-fives. They are to be found in the inner cities as well as in the suburbs and country towns.

When I met the representatives of the Pre-School Playgroups Association yesterday they told me of their disappointment at the apparent underestimation of their activities in the Select Committee's report. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the enthusiasm and commitment shown by the association and its many thousands of volunteer members.

There is great strength in this diversity. Different sorts of provision serve different objectives. It is unrealistic to look to one form of organisation to meet all needs. Nursery education, for example, is of benefit primarily to the child. That is its purpose. It is often part time, and at its best it involves the parents. It cannot therefore be the principal means of releasing mothers during the working day, important though that is. That is the major function of other forms of child care-—for example, day nurseries, creches or child minders.

Individual parents and individual children's needs will vary considerably. The Government are therefore committed to the continuation of a range of provision that will meet a variety of needs and a range of providers, in both the public and the private sectors. We have no intention of reducing the range of provision that is on offer. Any attempt at standardisation would be profoundly misguided.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

After the glowing tribute that the Secretary of State has paid to the work of day nurseries, may we take it that he intends to make representations to the Secretary of State for the Environment about improving the financial arrangements so that day nurseries can be expanded at county level?

Mr. Baker

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would listen, instead of muttering away to himself. I have been talking about playgroups, not about day nurseries. He should pay a little more attention, instead of trying to rehearse such ineffective interventions.

As for what the Government have done, the range of choice is already wide. There are also more places on offer than ever before. That is due to one very important difference between Opposition Members and ourselves. Their party talks; our party acts. The Government's record on nursery education is very impressive. Let me spell it out.

Mr. Straw

It will be for the first time.

Mr. Baker

No, it will not be for the first time. The hon. Gentleman has obviously not read "Our Changing Schools: A Handbook for Parents." There I am at the front. It is part of the enormous expansion of publicity. I wrote some of the pamphlet and I certainly approve of what I did not write. The first two pages are on how to help parents with children under five. It is one of the most popular documents that the Department of Education and Science has ever produced. The Department is having 4 million copies printed, because schools are asking for it and want to distribute it. Let me therefore place on record my interest and involvement.

When we came to office, fewer than 430,000 under-fives attended a nursery school or class, or a primary school. By 1986, the number had increased to 509,000. In 1987 there were 8,000 more, and I am able to tell the House that we shall shortly be publishing statistics which show that in 1988 there were 16,000 more than in 1987—a doubling of the previous year's increase. That was when the numbers of three and four-year-olds increased by only 3,000. In 1988, well over half a million children in this age group—533,000 to be exact—were in school, an increase of one quarter since 1979. The Government have dramatically increased the amount of education on offer to the under-fives.

The numbers are going up all the time, and so is expenditure. In cash terms, spending in 1979–80 was £177 million. In 1989–90–10 years later▀×we are planning expenditure of £536 million, which is well over half a billion pounds. That means an increase in expenditure of over 50 per cent. in real terms in 10 years. Our plans do not simply keep pace with the rise in the number of three and four-year-olds. They allow, too, for a real increase in the participation rate.

These figures are just for education, but that is only part of the story. It is not easy to estimate the level of involvement of three and four-year-olds, because many children take part in more than one activity. For example, some may attend nursery classes in the morning and a play group in the afternoon. However, on the information that is available to us, we believe that, taking all forms of education and care together, the participation rate for three and four-year-olds is over 85 per cent., and may well he higher. That figure places us near the top of the European league table—not, as is all too often claimed, somewhere near the bottom.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

The figures are bogus.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman says that the figures are bogus, but they are not.

I want to examine what Labour did. Then we can see what happens under a Labour Government. We have improved massively on what we inherited from the Labour party. Let me begin with the 1972 White Paper "Education: A Framework for Expansion" which the hon. Member for Blackburn is so fond of quoting. When that White Paper was published there were over 1.5 million three and four-year-olds, as against some 1.2 million today. That White Paper's target for nursery places was framed in the expectation of a rising birth rate. It remained the basis of policy planning for the remainder of the Conservative Government's term of office until 1974.

When the Labour party took office, it took advantage of the fall in the birth rate to claim in 1975 that it was sticking to the 1972 targets. However, it stuck only to the percentages—which was not hard going, given the drop in numbers. By 1976, with the IMF knocking on the door, it had abandoned those previous targets and substituted much more modest goals. That proved too much for the then Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor), who I see is here. She resigned because the Labour Government had cut nursery education.

Then the party of the hon. Member for Blackburn abandoned all pretence. It inflicted on nursery education a cut in spending of more than 5 per cent. in real terms between 1976 and 1979. But I do not want to be unfair to the hon. Gentleman. It could have been worse. It was not as bad, for example, as the 10 per cent. cut on primary schools or the 13 per cent. cut imposed on local authority higher education. So much for the party that cares.

Mr. Straw

I explained earlier that one reason why expenditure went down after the 1977 county council elections was that many Conservative authorities—I have the list with me—refused to take up the allocations they were offered. Will the Secretary of State explain why, despite that, there was a 60 per cent. increase in the number of nursery places—from 121,000 to 198,000—during that period and why the Select Committee—his Conservative friends—published a table on page 14 of its report showing that the number of nursery places doubled between 1975 and 1980? Who was responsible for that increase?

Mr. Baker

In the planning provisions that were made under the Conservative Government between 1972 and 1974 there was the possibility of expansion.

Mr. Straw

What about 1977?

Mr. Baker

There was a cut in 1977 because the Labour party made such a mess of running the country, and Opposition Members cannot get away from that. They cut nursery education in money terms. We have increased it by 50 per cent.

The number of places is only part of the picture, as the Select Committee points out several times in its report. We must also be concerned with the quality of the educational experience that our young people can expect to receive. The evidence from the inspectors is that in the best nursery schools and classes, teachers build on children's natural curiosity and appetite for new experience. This helps to prepare them for a smooth transition to the curriculum they will meet as they grow older.

Much of the expansion of under-fives education has taken place by accommodating four-year-olds in infant classes, and we recognise that that has not been uniformly successful. This arrangement can give children appropriate and valuable educational experience. I have visited some reception classes in primary schools which do outstanding work, but I accept that that is not uniformly the case. To avoid the immense disruption that a child can suffer when changing school at five, this arrangement is to be welcomed.

The best work with under-fives has always taken careful account of the need for continuity with what follows when children start their statutory education. In short, a crucial factor in education is the quality of the teachers. That means that there must be enough of them and that they must be properly trained—[Interruption.]—and I am sure that Opposition Members will welcome what I have to say about that.

There is now strong evidence that the supply of teachers for this age group is improving rapidly. Recruitment to all forms of initial teacher training for the early years is very buoyant indeed. Since 1986, the intake to post-graduate certificate of education courses of training for teachers of three to seven-year olds—[Interruption.] I shall come to the question of BEd, where the position is even better. I am at present speaking about the range of children from three to seven and PGCE courses.

The increase has been 170 per cent., from 292 to 788. Over the same period, the intake to bachelor of education courses for the same age range has gone up from 1,018 to 1,628—an increase of 60 per cent. In all, the intake in September 1988 was 84 per cent. up on September 1986. This is money that I provide for the training of teachers.

In-service training is equally important. The Government have created a new national priority area in the training grants scheme and provided grant on expenditure of £1.5 million in 1989–90 for in-service training of teachers working with four-year-olds in primary schools.

So we have already taken significant steps towards improving quality. But there is more to be done, and the national curriculum will introduce a new set of factors which those providing education for pre-school children will need to take into account.

I am asking my hon. Friend the Minister of State to establish, and to chair, a small committee including experts in the field to examine the content of the education experience offered to the under-fives. I want the group to consider, in particular, issues of quality, continuity and progression, taking into account the existing diversity of provision.

The National Curriculum Council will have a part to play in the work of the group, and I expect it in due course to be involved in taking forward its recommendations. The committee's report, which will be published, should prove a valuable source of guidance to all those providing nursery education. We shall announce details of the membership of the committee and its terms of reference very shortly. [Interruption.] That will be done as soon as possible; I treat this, as do hon. Members in all parts of the House, as a matter of importance.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman initiate an urgent investigation into the mounting concern in Bradford among parents of first school children over the tremendous slump that has occurred in the number of children paying for school meals because of the substantial increase in the price of meals? In Bradford today a five-year-old is required to pay the same as a 15-year-old for a school meal. As a result, there is great concern about whether, on leaving school each day, children have had a school meal. There is rising absenteeism and anxiety about children's safety and welfare. Will the right hon. Gentleman do all he can to persuade Bradford council to return to the previous three-tier system which offered excellent value for money and was extremely popular among parents?

Mr. Baker

That goes wide of what we are discussing and is essentially a matter for the Bradford education authority.

Mr. Madden

It should be a matter for the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Baker

It is an issue for that local education authority.

To sum up, we are proud of our record. We have increased resources rapidly. Now, more children than ever are in pre-school education. More teachers are being trained. We have increased expenditure by 50 per cent. Labour Members cut it by 5 per cent. We care. They cut. But we will not rest on our record. We are already committed to continuing growth in education for the under-fives and to improving the quality of that education.

Responsibility for the under-fives is not the Government's alone. All the evidence shows that pre-school education is most effective when it is supported and reinforced by the child's home experience. I believe that the main responsibility for decisions about the care, welfare and education of young children, right up to the start of compulsory schooling, lies with the parents.

Involving parents is absolutely crucial. In all education, the best practice depends on a partnership between the parent and the teacher, a partnership between the family and the school. This is nowhere more evident than for our youngest children, the under-fives. Let us all remember that.

7.57 pm
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I have said previously that when the Secretary of State is orating on his achievements and those of the Government, he is so lyrical that his words could almost be set to music. On such occasions he is always poetic. Indeed he was at his most deadly today because he was affable and more glib than usual. Some of my hon. Friends shared my experience of sitting opposite the right hon. Gentleman for about three months in Committee when we debated what became the Education Reform Act 1988. What a monster came out of that.

We are really debating not whether the Select Committee has produced a good or bad report—hon. Members on both sides have welcomed it—but whether anything will be done as a result of it. I remind the Secretary of State that it is not true to say that there are more children in nursery school now than at any time in the past. Far more children were in nurseries during the war. At that time the Education Act 1944 came into existence and we debated this subject at length at that time.

People's thoughts tend to reflect only on the situation at the time of the Secretary of State for Education and Science—now the Prime Minister—in the Heath Government. Many overlook the fact that the 1944 Act sought nursery education for all under-fives whose parents wanted it, though its provisions were not too clear about that. The Government talk blithely about the White Paper "Education: A Framework for Expansion". It should have been called, "A Framework for Contraction". Unless something emerges from the report of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, it is obvious that the Government have no intention of doing anything.

I want to compliment all my colleagues who were members of the Select Committee, especially the Chairman and the secretary. The report is good and one of the best that we have produced. Like one Conservative Member, I have been a member of three Select Committees reporting on education.

The Prime Minister, in the White Paper, "Education: A Framework for Expansion", said: The value of nursery education in promoting the social development of young children has long been acknowledged. In addition, we now know that given sympathetic and skilled supervision, children may also make great educational progress before the age of five. Progress of this kind gives any child a sound basis for his subsequent education.

Those of us who have travelled around the country will realise that there is less nursery education in nearly all the Tory-controlled areas than in Labour-controlled areas. Is that to continue? Will the Government lean on other aspects of education or will they do something about the imbalance? The Minister has said that the Government will take action, but that remains to be seen. I will be happy if they do something.

We are all worried that this report, like many other reports about education and reports about prisons, will be ignored. Literally nothing has been done about our reports. However, the Government did say that they would do something. We have bitter experience of the Government doing little about the recommendations of Select Committees.

The fundamental problem facing nursery education is the same as that which faces the whole of the education system. The problem of nursery education may be more difficult to resolve, but essentially the problem is lack of money. It needs sufficient money to produce nursery schools and classes and sufficient teachers to teach nursery classes of a manageable size.

Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Flannery

Not just now.

There must be more nursery nurses as well as teachers. There must be more money. Nursery nurses have been struggling with the local education authorities for higher wages. However, the Government will not negotiate with any teachers, let alone the nursery teachers and nursery nurses. There is no negotiation and that augurs badly for any fulfilment of the Select Committee's recommendations.

Mr. Patnick

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman remembers the forward planning for local authority expenditure in 1976–77, the figures for which were set out in circular 10/75 from the Department of Education and Science. The circular recommended that local authorities which had recently allowed children to be admitted full-time to infant classes should make cuts. It said: Younger children should be admitted, normally for part-time attendance, only within the capacity of purpose-built or adapted nursery accommodation. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the last things that the Labour Government did was to cut back on infant nursery education? That policy was not rescinded before the Labour party left office.

Mr. Flannery

The hon. Gentleman is the only Conservative Member out of the 17 hon. Members who represent south Yorkshire. I knew that he would come out with something like that. There were cuts during the Labour party's tenure of office. We had taken over from a wretched Government under whom there was a three-day week—[Interruption.] It is no good Conservative Members making a lot of noise. I know that there are only a few of them here now, but they are trying to stop me speaking by making a lot of noise. The Labour Government did not have the benefit of North Sea oil or the £100 billion that it produced. We had only what a wretched Government left us and we had to do the best that we could with it.

When those cuts were announced by that Labour Government my hon. Friends the Members for Eccles (Miss Lestor) and for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) spoke against our Government. How many Conservative Members will challenge the Government by raising a deputation?

I had to give way to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) because if I did not he would have gone to the press in Sheffield and told them that I would not give way. I am not joking about that; he would really have done that. Conservative Members must remember that Sheffield has a Conservative-controlled press.

The demand is far too great for too few places in nursery provision. I hope that the hon. Member for Hallam will quote my next points. In Sheffield we must use priority. The Secretary of State said that there are special favours in Labour-controlled areas. That is not right. Primary education and education in nursery schools is real education. The Government are forcing us to give priority to women who go out to work because the only alternative is nursery education. We need more money from central Government who rely on under-staffed local authorities to make the money available.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) asked the Secretary of State for more money, he was told that that was a matter for the local authority. However, local authorities are rate capped and they do not have the money, so central Government must provide the money even for the good local authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn stated that the top 24 providers of education for three and four-year-olds are all Labour-controlled authorities. Indeed, almost all the 40 top providers are Labour-controlled authorities. Only a couple of the top 40 are not Labour-controlled. Those Labour authorities with much less cash than the wealthy Tory authorities are providing more. I am sure that the Secretary of State will try to disprove that if he gets the chance, although he could not disprove it in Committee.

Many Conservative areas, whole counties, have virtually no nursery education provision. The areas which do have it have very little. However, the Government pay tribute to nursery education. The Prime Minister has done that and she did it before when she was an education Minister. However, the Government have done very little about it. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), who is obviously the cheer leader on the Conservative Benches, is aware that I take everything that the Secretary of State says with a pinch of salt and I check up on it later to see whether his glib words are right. Usually he is not right.

The Government take refuge in the provision of pre-school playgroups. Those of us who were members of the Select Committee will know that I asked whether the Government would continue nursery education in areas where there is very little, such as Dorset. The chairman of Dorset education committee said no, even though there was a demand for it in the villages in that Tory-controlled area. That demand exists elsewhere as well, but people cannot get it because the majority of the areas are Tory-controlled. Those authorities want to keep their rates down. When Labour-controlled authorities increase rates to provide nursery education, the Government rate cap our councils.

The Government fall back on the provision of pre-school playgroups. I do not need lessons about the Pre-School Playgroups Association. Lady Plowden visited the Select Committee and said that she changed her mind afterwards. I remember Lady Plowden commenting on other reports including one on primary education. I want pre-school playgroups, but not as a substitute for nursery education because they are cheaper.

Tory authorities deliberately keep the rates down and do not have nursery education because they say that many middle-class people educate their children. We want money from central Government to pay for planned nursery education for our children. Many Labour authorities which have spent rates on nursery education are suffering as a result. We hear all the incantations from the Conservative party, but the Minister is no more determined to do anything about the Select Committee report than he was to do anything about previous reports, especially if it entails spending money. He knows that the great dictator will say, "No. You must make do with what you have." Conservative Members say that we are the "nanny" group, but they have the greatest nanny of them all who tells the Minister exactly what he has to do. If he is awkward, she will sack him. If he wants to preserve his position, he had better do nothing about nursery education. If he stands up and fights for nursery education, we shall check on him and find out just how much he does.

We have to struggle to get the Government to provide the necessary money. If local education authorities try to raise money through the rates, the Government will rate cap them. The Government have never provided sufficient money. In the Select Committee, we were all cautious because we wanted to produce a good report, and we have achieved that. I pay tribute to my Conservative colleagues on the Select Committee on producing such a good report when there were seven Conservative Members and only three Opposition Members. The number varied. There might have been four Opposition Members at one time, but we returned to only four Opposition Members attending yesterday.

Any expansion in nursery education has been achieved through good local government and not through central government. The Government shamelessly say that they have caused that expansion when it was produced by the rates in Labour authorities. I believe that we did a good job, but the Government have scores of billions of pounds at their disposal, yet they plead poverty. When abuse is hurled at us Labour Members do not say that we did not have sufficient money to carry out our plans and that we were up against a colossal Tory propaganda machine which included newspapers, radio and television. The Government now have millions of pounds at their disposal and they give it to the rich at the expense of our children.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn never mentioned the fact that in addition to the CTCs the Government have taken more than £80 million through the assisted places scheme which is growing year by year, by which middle class children are helped because they are accused of being poor.

In conclusion—and I know that Conservative Members will cheer because I am reaching a conclusion—our motion encapsulates the aims of the Select Committee, without going into detail. It points the way forward. The Government's amendment evades the issue and shows no real intention of implementing the proposals in the report. There is ample money available, if the Department can get hold of it. We shall watch very closely to see whether the Government will do anything more than welcome the report. Will the Committee be set up and will funds be forthcoming? If funds are not forthcoming, the report has been a waste of time.

8.13 pm
Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) who is a very active long-standing member of the Select Committee. I am grateful for his kind words about me and for the way in which he referred to the fact that the Select Committee was able to produce a unanimous report. Some hon. Members may wonder how we achieved that, but we managed it and I hope that that gives the report an authority which it would not otherwise have had.

I shall return to the hon. Gentleman's point about why there should be variations in the provision of education across the country. However, it is splendid for a Select Committee report to be debated within seven days of publication. Normally we wait for months, and then the report is not debated at all. Therefore, we should thank the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for tabling today's motion. It is admirable and encouraging that both sides of the House have welcomed the report. That is the correct response to the public mood, and I am delighted by it. The Opposition motion summarises the report and the Government amendment states their intention to secure the continuing growth of provision for the under fives in all its varied forms, and its commitment to improve quality. The motion and the amendment are gratifying responses.

It is a pity that the hon. Members for Blackburn and for Hillsborough spoke as they did about which authorities provide most nursery education. At the very least they should have considered paragraphs 4.8, 4.9 and 4.10 of the report, which contain some very carefully written passages discussing why that should be so. The report makes the point that, over the years, it has generally been the case that the needs element in the rate support grant has provided additional funds for areas of greater need, as one would expect. That has been reinforced by the urban development programme. It was the stated intention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in her 1972 White Paper, that in the expansion which that White Paper planned, those areas with the greatest need should take priority. I consider that it was absolutely right that extra resources should go to the parts of the country where there are extreme needs, and it is absolutely logical that those areas should be able to achieve greater provision of nursery education.

It is a bit rough on the shire counties which get very small amounts of rate support grant because there is more overall prosperity, but we have poor people as well as rich people and we do not get the central Government support that has enabled apparently poorer areas to provide more nursery education. Rather than condemning the shire counties for our forbearance, people should occasionally thank us for accepting that we should receive less rate support grant so that areas with greater need receive more.

I hope that the hon. Member for Blackburn, who I know is quite serious about such matters, will have the goodness to read the report and acknowledge the force of what it says.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

I accept that, within the rate support grant and the grant-related expenditure assessment for each local authority, there is a needs element for nursery provision. However, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that Labour local authorities use the money that is made available specifically for nursery provision, while Conservative authorities use it for something else?

Mr. Raison

I think that it varies. Very often, Conservative authorities have particular problems—for example, the population may be more dispersed. It is easier to provide nursery education in a concentrated urban area than in a scattered rural area. However, it remains the case that if an area receives extra money specifically to meet certain needs, it should be able to provide more to meet those needs than if it did not receive that money. I do not believe that anyone can dispute that. I am not suggesting that the pattern is consistent, because, as the report makes clear, policy choices are also involved, and some areas are more enthusiastic than others. But to ignore altogether the significance of what comes from central Government, as the hon. Member for Blackburn did, is to present a very misleading picture.

Mr. Straw

I have paid the right hon. Gentleman the compliment of reading every word of the Select Committee report.

Mr. Harry Greenway

One would not have known that.

Mr. Straw

I have read the whole report. The right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) ignores the fact that, while it is true that social needs are recognised in the calculation of the rate support grant, certainly between 1983 and 1987 the target and penalty system had the impact of removing most, if not all, the rate support grant from those authorities which had the best record in nursery education. So the mechanism that the right hon. Gentleman describes, of money being targeted to local authorities, did not operate. Despite that, and despite real cuts in central funding for local authorities, particularly those authorities in social need, the amount spent on nursery education was increased as a result of local decisions.

Mr. Raison

It is also the case that the target system applied right across the board. My county of Buckinghamshire was affected by the target system. I accept that it had an impact. It was designed to have an impact on total local authority spending. I cannot deny that. As I have said, there has been a perfectly correct priority for needs. It is not surprising that the priority should have achieved the results that it was intended to achieve. I only wish that Opposition Members would not gripe about it. I wish that they would say thank you, to put it crudely.

That the Committee produced a unanimous report reflects its ecumenical approach. It is important that we have the kind of expansion that we called for in our report. It is necessary to state that social factors are a major part of that.

I was on the Plowden committee back in the 1960s when we looked at this matter. Except in terms of my own children growing up, I did not have a close professional interest in what was going on over the years, but when I looked carefully at the subject with the Select Committee, I was struck by the impact of several perfectly familiar social changes. One inescapable fact is the increase in family breakdowns. We cannot get away from it. Illegitimacy figures, one-parent family figures and divorce figures have gone up. Those matters, which must worry all of us, constitute a significant argument for an increase in pre-school provision.

There is also greater isolation for many children. Nowadays, families are almost always smaller. Whereas, in days gone by, one might have had three, four or five brothers and sisters, statistically speaking one now has seven tenths of a brother or sister. In other words, there are fewer children around, particularly in a tower block on a housing estate or in a remote rural area. Let us not forget that side of the equation.

Coupled with that is another important problem, which is the way in which children, like everybody else, are becoming increasingly dependent on television for their experiences of life. It was pointed out to us in one local authority that the Committee visited that constant television watching can lead to a kind of cultural impoverishment, which some form of pre-school education is valuable in offsetting.

Another factor must be the enormous increase in the number of women at work and the number of women who would like to be at work. I can refer to one figure to illustrate that. According to the 1988 edition of "Social Trends", In Great Britain, the civilian labour force rose by 1.8 million people between 1971 and 1986 entirely because of an increase in the number of women in the labour force. That is a dramatic social fact. It must make us think carefully about how to meet the perfectly legitimate needs of women at work. It covers not only what we were concerned with in the report, which is education, but wider matters concerning day care which we did not go into deeply.

We must respond by providing good under-five education. I do not say that all children under five should receive some form of institutional education; some are not ready for it. It is a great mistake to push them into it if they are not ready. Nor—I emphasise this—should we make mothers feel inferior if they stay at home to look after their children. There is a real problem. Many mothers stay at home to look after their children, from choice or whatever reason, but they are so bombarded with propaganda about the importance of going to work and the fact that there should be more provision for those at work and so on that they are beginning to wonder whether they are occupying a legitimate role in society. We should not condemn a mother who chooses to stay at home and look after her children.

I have reservations about giving tax concessions to families in which the mothers and fathers are out at work because, by definition, they are getting two incomes, whereas, by definition, mothers who stay at home are not getting two incomes. It seems unjust that those with larger sums of money coming in should get tax concessions and that those with lesser sums coming in should not get them. Tax concessions may not be all that valuable for many poorer people, because they are not earning at the level at which they must pay tax. We should think carefully before we make any decisions.

I emphasise that I strongly support the availability and possibility of all three and four-year-olds to have nursery education, if their parents so wish.

That leads me to another overwhelming reason for an expanded programme. I refer to the ever-increasing quality and value of what can be provided at that age, leaving aside social factors, which are not the only consideration. I again refer to my own experience, going back to the Plowden days of the 1960s and what I have seen recently. Over the years there has developed an increase in the sheer professionalism and skill in education at its best. That is encouraging. I have been struck by a greater sense of rigour and direction in nursery classes. They have always been pleasant places and they have always been staffed by dedicated people. But, at their best today, they are capable of doing something of enormous value. That value is important to the child as it lives its life.

The ages of three and four are just as important as any other ages. It is worth extracting as much as we can from them. Nursery education has a long-term impact on the development of the child through the years. It is difficult to prove that statistically. There are attempts to do so, and they are well worth studying, and, although we cannot state categorically that there is a proven, long-term case for it, there is a strong case for it. We talk about nursery classes, nursery schools and playgroups.

The Pre-school Playgroups Association has exaggerated its view of what was stated in the Select Committee report. Paragraph 7.31 states: We strongly support the place of the playgroup movement as part of this diversity. I repeat, we strongly support it. We are not in any sense trying to denigrate what playgroups are doing. We are right to say that, in some cases, they could do with greater educational back-up. I hope that local authorities will be more willing to make available to playgroups the services of their under-five advisers. We were right also to say that, although we do not call for a general transfer of responsibility, it would make sense to transfer responsibility for playgroups from social services to education.

Mr. Harry Greenway

My right hon. Friend is making a most important point about the educational content of playgroups. Will he mention also the fact that the Select Committee was concerned about the need to produce a more even educational content in nursery provision?

Mr. Raison

My hon. Friend is right.

Playgroups have characteristics of real value. They need more help, but it is eternally to their credit that, in particular, they have involved parents to a greater degree than was the case in years gone by. The statutory sector has learnt from the voluntary sector. Let not the PPA think that we are trying to run it down or do it out of existence. That is not the case.

As my right hon. Friend mentioned, there is concern about the teaching of children aged four in primary school reception classes. I do not say that it is all bad or that teachers do not know what they are doing—it would be ridiculous to adopt that position. Nevertheless, there is anxiety about the extent to which teachers are trained or experienced in handling children of that age group as opposed to the higher age group. Sometimes there is anxiety about the child-staff ratio. Children who are just four require a ratio of 1:13, but often they do not find that in reception classes.

The ambience in primary school reception classes may be different from that in a good nursery class or good nursery school. There is general agreement about that. In the report, the Committee says that that is not an area in which it wants to see expansion and it hopes that local authorities will be able, if they are expanding their provision, as we hope they will, to do so through nursery schools or ordinary nursery classes. The special problem is that parents are often so anxious that their children should—as they see it—get on with the three Rs that they want them to start at the earliest possible opportunity.

Sometimes, there has been a doctrinaire resistance to allowing three and four-year-olds to read at all. That is, obviously, ridiculous, but we do not want to rain into children of three and four knowledge and skills that are more appropriately picked up at five, six or seven. There is agreement about that in the educational world. One must occasionally be firm with parents although, in general, we respect the parents' importance generally in these matters.

I now wish to deal with the crucial question of funding. What the report says is, in a sense, widely accepted. The argument now becomes one of how rapidly we can see it implemented. The Government have made it clear that they intend to expand the provision of nursery education and that they plan for a 5 per cent. increase in real terms between now and 1991. However, there is a problem—one always talks in terms of problems—in that the numbers of children of nursery age are beginning to pick up.

The question is, therefore, how far the additional provision will have simply to deal with the additional children. The Government's position seems to be that they believe that, within the level of expansion that they talk about, it should be possible to accommodate the growth in the relevant age group and to have some improvement in the quality of provision as well, especially in reception classes.

That is fine, but it is obviously the case that our report is asking for more than that. An essential part of the report is that we want to see an increase in planned public expenditure to allow the steady expansion that we have in mind. I understand—as the House does—the great pressures on the budget of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I believe, for example, that there is a powerful case for funding for science and research in our universities. The introduction of the curriculum will make substantial demands and we cannot duck those real and important needs in education. However, there is great difficulty.

That leads to the fact that we must obtain more for the educational budget as a whole from the Treasury. One can at least put it to the Treasury that, among the social services, education is almost uniquely an investment. People used to think that the Health Service was an investment, but one cannot look at it in those terms. Housing is a service and social security is a service, but a good education system will clearly lead to an ever stronger economy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should be in a strong position to obtain more over the years for the education budget.

If we consider the public expenditure cycle, we have already had the Autumn Statement and we shall have the White Paper in a few days' time. To expect the White Paper to be rewritten as a rapid response would be a bit optimistic. However, I hope emphatically that, when we come to the next public expenditure round and the next White Paper is published, we shall see not merely the maintenance of the level of improvement that the Government have promised, but a real surge forward. That is important, and public opinion as a whole is strongly in favour of that, for the reasons I have mentioned. As I said when I introduced the report a few days ago, this is a need whose hour has come. We look forward to the Government ensuring that that need can be properly and realistically recognised.

Several Hon. Members

rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I know that the Front Bench hopes to catch my eye at 9.30 pm, so time is short. I hope that hon. Members will help each other by making short speeches.

8.25 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I am grateful to have the chance to follow the Chairman of the Select Committee. He and his colleagues have done an excellent piece of work, which carries the authority of having unanimous agreement in the Committee. I imagine that, as the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) commented, it is a unique event that we should be debating a Select Committee report so soon after its publication.

The motion and the amendment are especially interesting. The Labour party's motion, which I and my colleagues will support, makes it clear that it wants the Select Committee's recommendations to be implemented. The Committee does not mince its words and it makes it clear that it is important for our nation and for young people that there is an expansion in nursery education. It also says that such nursery provision requires considerably more money to be spent. It is an investment in the future which needs to be initiated soon. The Government amendment is entirely hollow. It merely comments that the report is good and recognises that the Government have done something—as they inevitably would and should. But it does not say that they will do anything to implement the Select Committee's recommendations.

There are further worrying signs, because, as the statistics in the report make clear, the expansion that was considered to be necessary in 1972–73 has not happened. Paragraph 4.3 says: the objectives laid down in the 1972 White Paper have not been achieved. The announcement by the Secretary of State that a Committee will be set up is, on the face of it, welcome, but it may be dangerous. It is a well-known Government trick to respond to a Select Committee and to other proposals by setting up a committee that will deliberate for sufficiently long that no decisions can be taken for a long time because the Government will say that everything is being considered. If we are to have increased spending commitments in 1990, which is the first realistically achievable opportunity, any committee must come to conclusions quickly. Otherwise, just at the time when local authorities are feeling the strain because of the implementation of the poll tax in England and Wales, they will not be able to do their part to ensure the expansion of the budget that is necessary for pre-school education and child care. We need to sound a warning about that and to point out the need for a strong and urgent commitment from the Government.

The right hon. Member for Aylesbury has, I hope, allayed the fears of those who are professionally interested in playgroups. He has made well the point that the Select Committee envisages the continuance of diversity. The statistics in the report make it clear that up to now playgroups have formed the largest group of provision. Table 1 shows that 409,000 children attended playgroups in 1985. The next most sizeable group, in nursery classes and schools, was 267,000. There are no foreseeable circumstances in which playgroups will not continue to play a major part. The liaison between the voluntary and statutory sectors and the extended sector that nursery education should form seems to be fundamental. Playgroups must be supported and increasingly supplied with trained people to work in them. Qualified nursery nurses are one category of professional that should be expanded.

The points made by the right hon. Member for Aylesbury about expenditure must be listened to. Over the years, certain local authorities have been funded specifically to meet the need. Avon, for example, where power is shared between Labour and my colleagues, spent on under-fives about £8 million over the grant-related expenditure assessment figure of £3.6 million. It spent a lot more than it was given to spend, but it is still in the lower half of the list of provision. How much local authorities have as the base from which they start depends on the allocation by central Government. Simply looking at the provision and attributing fault or credit to the local authorities is insufficient analysis. We must look at such matters accurately and then consider the commitments of local and central Government.

Another issue that has been alluded to but not developed is that, as we know, one of the Government's expenditure commitments will be the national curriculum and one of the implications of the national curriculum is that schools will assess youngsters aged seven, of whom some will have been at school earlier than others and some will have received nursery provision. I hope that the way in which those children are assessed will take into account the unevenness of the present education provisions. The Select Committee report makes it clear that there is a range of provision from almost nothing in some areas of the country to substantial provision in other areas.

Of course, one must select priorities and the Secretary of State and his colleagues will have to do that as they consider the report. However, I hope that they will not only make it a priority that they argue for and, I hope, achieve more funding but that they will then decide where that money should go. I would argue first that there should be funding for local authorities to enable them to co-ordinate public and voluntary efforts and so that they can secure the availability of part-time care provision for all three-year-olds and full-time provision for all four-year-olds within, say, three years. Secondly, I suggest that we build on the present public and voluntary provisions for three and four-year-olds and commit the money to secure the educational content of that provision—a point made by the right hon. Member for Aylesbury—with the aim of securing nursery provision with properly trained staff for all three and four-year-olds by the late 1990s. We must keep up the momentum, and the statistics, which are well set out in the report, show that we have slipped.

I should like to refer to just one more issue and shall do so by way of example. The right hon. Member for Aylesbury rightly quoted the reasons why nursery education is especially important, and referred specifically to the social reasons. It is true and significant that there is an increasing number of isolated children and isolated families, including isolated one-parent families, and that fact contributes to the greater need of those families for the sort of provision that the report recommends.

The social context now is very different from what it was 20 years ago. Those of us who represent areas such as inner London are forced to observe that things are not only getting worse but that children are substantially at risk. The Inner London education authority has done relatively well as an education authority, yet it is in the lower half of the Labour party's table of nursery education provision, even though it has always been under Labour control. It is to be abolished in 1990 and its education functions are to he transferred to boroughs, such as my own of Southwark and others.

The report makes the point that the co-ordination of functions between authorities needs to be substantially improved. At the end of December two parents, a mother and a stepfather, were convicted at the Old Bailey of the manslaughter of their 16-month-old child. That case was widely reported. The child was Doreen Mason Aston who came from Southwark. She had been the responsibility of various agencies, authorities and departments and of different borough and district councils for all of her 16 months. Those bodies had wilfully neglected to come to her rescue. Her life came to an end because there was no proper co-ordination between the agencies caring for children.

The Labour motion calls on the Government to improve coordination between government and local authority departments. One way to do that is by knowing what is happening. Like all institutions of the House, the Select Committee is commendable because it is a public body which reports in public and makes sure that we all know what it thinks. However, there is a worrying trend that in central and local government things are kept quiet. The only way we shall be able to judge what Government Departments do and what local authorities do is if, when they are inspected, monitored and assessed, the results become public information.

I am restrained tonight from commenting on the documents in the Doreen Mason Aston case, although I have read them because the local council went to court and took out an injunction based on the "Spycatcher" principle preventing the press from publishing details of the case. That is a restriction on the right of the public and those in both central and local government to be able to judge what goes wrong when agencies caring for children do not co-ordinate their services.

In London, which I know better than other places, the social services departments and the other agencies, including education authorities, that work with and for children are in crisis. They are underfunded and are not co-ordinating their work properly. Unless we correct that trend and unless we can deal with social pressures in the inner city through substantial funding and substantially better monitoring and co-ordination, we will not be caring for our under-fives because they will not be entering the compulsory education system able to develop properly as rounded children.

The Select Committee report gives us the launch pad for the debate. Our objectives should be that children are cared for, first by their family, but by their community if their family cannot do it. Education provision should be provided for them as early as possible. We lag behind other European countries in this and, sad to say, have made little progress in recent years. I hope that today will mark a change in that tradition and that we shall expose those things that are hidden at present which prevent us from knowing how severe a problem we have.

8.46 pm
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will forgive me if I do not pursue his arguments too closely. I suppose that Conservative Members should see the Opposition motion as something of a backhanded compliment about the way in which the Government are managing the economy. Clearly, the Opposition have much higher expectations of this Government than they had of theirs between 1974 and 1979. My reason for saying that is that real term spending on the under-fives has increased by some 35 per cent. since 1979–80 and is planned to increase by a further 15 per cent. between 1986–87 and 1989–90

I have to repeat the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) asked Opposition Members earlier: if they felt so strongly about pre-school education, why did they not do more about it when they were in government? The answer, I suspect, is that they allowed the economy to get into such a complete shambles that they were unable to fund any expansion anywhere, let alone for the under-fives.

Fortunately, the present Government through their careful management of the economy have funds and I am pleased that, as my right hon. Friend said, there has been a substantial increase of about 100,000 pupils under five in nursery and primary schools— an increase of about 25 per cent. in eight years. The lectures to which we have listened from Opposition Members would he rather more acceptable if their record was not so appalling in this, as in so many other areas of education.

The House will recall that it is not a statutory requirement on local education authorities to provide education for children under five. The view taken by this side of the House is that local education authorities should be able to decide for themselves the degree of priority which they should give to that part of the education scene.

Again, it is important to remember that in this country we seek to provide as wide a choice as possible to parents, and some parents will undoubtedly decide that playgroups are the best answer for their children, and I find it significant that they provide a facility for about 40 per cent. of four-year-olds.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

On the basis of the provision tables, it would appear that the Conservative authorities give least priority to nursery provision for the under-fives. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the fact that in the county of Gloucester there is not a nursery school place for any child under five?

Mr. Pawsey

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he clearly did not listen to the answers which were given to similar questions by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. However, I must say to the hon. Gentleman that those authorities must respond to the democratic principle, just as we must in this House. They must reply to their electorate through the ballot box. If the electorate do not like the way in which those authorities run the education scene, the answer is clear.

I acknowledge, however, that, as the economy continues to improve and as unemployment continues to fall, so more mothers are being encouraged to take up and, indeed, are taking up employment. The corollary of that is that they require their child to be cared for and looked after when they are at work. That is why I welcome—it would be good to hear Opposition Members also welcoming it—the further cash increase this year of £139 million, which brings the total spending on the under-fives to well over half a billion pounds—some £536 million.

However, I should like to strike a gentle note of caution. While I understand the pressures on mothers to go out to work, they will be aware of their unique importance to young children. I acknowledge the point made on this matter by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. It appears to me that the family still remains the best nursery for children. Children can learn so much from caring parents. One of the matters which causes me special concern is the fact that when I visit schools I discover that some children must be taught—even in primary school reception classes—certain basic matters, such as simple and elementary conversation. I would therefore like to see more head teachers advising parents of the standards which are expected when a child actually starts school.

No one expects any great knowledge or ability from a rising five-year-old, but I hear too often from teachers that parents are increasingly prepared to pass more and more responsibility for their children's education on to the school and on to the classroom teacher. I hear too often that parents are prepared to leave their child in front of the television set. Indeed, television appears to be becoming some form of electric childminder to the great disadvantage of young children, which is a further point that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. One cannot stress enough the importance of encouraging parents to talk with their children, to answer their questions and to encourage the growth and development of their young minds.

I referred earlier to working mothers, and I must say that there appears to be a substantial element of responsibility on an employer—rather than just on the local education authority and the state—to make adequate provision for children. Clearly, the employer is deriving some form of commercial advantage from mothers working and I can see no reason therefore why an employer should not shoulder a greater burden of the involvement in caring for the child of a working mother.

r. Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)

We would all agree with my hon. Friend's comments, especially those of us who were able to study the American system of employer provision. Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that there is a problem in this respect because, if employers provide facilities for their employees' children, those facilities are taxed as benefits in kind, which is in fact a disincentive?

Mr. Pawsey

I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend is driving at. Perhaps it is a matter to which we should give further consideration. As I said earlier, the employer should carry a little more of the burden than he does presently. The giving of certain tax incentives may be a way of achieving my hon. Friend's objective.

The report of the Select Committee is most comprehensive. I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury and the other members of the Select Committee, because they have clearly produced a painstaking report. They examined witnesses in depth. Undoubtedly, the report will be considered by the Government during the months ahead.

I noted what the Select Committee said under the heading "Conclusions and Recommendations". It said: There are many good playgroups and day nurseries, but in many there is scope for giving greater emphasis to education objectives. I must say to my right hon. Friend and other members of the Select Committee that, with the introduction of the national curriculum, one hopes that there will be a little less emphasis on play and rather more emphasis on learning.

I am not entirely certain that I agree with the Select Committee when it says in its report: It should be the objective of both central and local Government to ensure the steady expansion of provision of nursery education until it is available for all three and four year old children whose parents desire it for them.

I feel that three is a little early. I know that my right hon. Friend might quote the example of John Stuart Mill, who at the age of three was, in fact, being brought up on classical Greek. However, I put it to him that there are not many in that position. I am a little doubtful, therefore, about the effectiveness of anything resembling a structured education for three-year-olds. It is significant that in France only 14 per cent. of the three to five-year-olds have full-time education. By comparison, in this country, it is 47 per cent., with, I suspect, the majority of them falling into the four rather than the three-year-old category.

Mr. Raison

We are certainly not advocating that all three-year-olds should have full-time education. My hon. Friend is under a misapprehension.

Mr. Pawsey

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for clarifying that point. None the less, I am apprehensive about three-year-olds even enjoying part-time education to the degree to which perhaps my right hon. Friend has implied in the report.

Elsewhere in the report the Select Committee says that the number of places specifically for the initial training of early years teachers should be further increased. I am entirely in agreement with that laudable objective. For too long education of the very young has been regarded as a not especially important job. I happen to believe the reverse and that to cater for young children in nursery or reception classes is a demanding job, calling for enormous patience. I certainly support the Select Committee in its encouragement to the training colleges to ensure that students cover the entire age range of the course.

In taking note of the Opposition's appalling record in this sector, I believe that this motion is completely mischievous and deserves to be soundly defeated.

8.58 pm
Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for following my career with such profound attention. I cannot for the life of me remember what he was doing 13 years ago, and if anybody in 13 years' time can look back and remind us what he was doing tonight I shall be surprised. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for reminding me that I resigned from the Labour Government over their failure to expand nursery education. I am also grateful to one or two newer hon. Members who have come up to me this evening and said, "My God, did you actually resign?" That may have elevated me a little in the annals of Parliament and in my own party. But I am not the slightest bit embarrassed. My resignation may have been the catalyst a year or two later which encouraged the Labour Government to expand nursery education, as they did, before the 1979 election. One has to take a stand. If someone in the DES were to take it upon himself to resign now we may see an expansion in nursery education.

Mr. Pawsey

We are happy with the team that we have.

Miss Lestor

The hon. Gentleman is easily satisfied I congratulate the Select Committee on its report. I agree with most of what the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said, so I shall not repeat it except to remind him that he and I go back a long way in the battle for pre-school education. My regret is that so much of what is in the report has been said repeatedly over the years, yet a large number of our pre-school children still do not receive the stimulation or the facilities that they should receive.

Education is basically about curiosity, as every good educationist knows. A good educationist has the technique to harness that curiosity, to stimulate it and to apply it in a learning situation. Children are at their most curious between the ages of two and five. Those are the golden years of learning and development. How we treat children during that period of their lives, how we develop their attitudes to learning and to the world around them, can and does have a profound effect upon their later progress and what they do when they enter the education system. That is the educational case for the pre-school child. That has always been the education case for the pre-school child.

It is a matter for great concern that in Britain we have a school starting age of five. Many children do not start school even then—many have had no pre-school experience. As the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) pointed out, many children arrive in school unable to look after themselves in fundamental ways. However, it is no good saying that the parents should be told to do this or that. That is where we may differ. In my area Salford is top of the pops for nursery education. That is no credit to the Government, but to Salford. Salford has made that provision, not the Government.

Mr. Pawsey

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Lestor

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) says that I should not give way, but I may later.

Salford has expanded nursery education because of the need for pre-school experience for our children.

The Secretary of State's figures included a variety of provision, much of which is not funded by the Government. Twenty-one years ago almost to the day, I believe in April—we are having a bit of history tonight—there was the first ever lobby of Parliament by the under-fives for more pre-school education.

Before that, in the early 1960s when the Tory Government were in power, the pre-school playgroup movement was formed. I have always supported that movement. I did so long before many hon. Members recognised its value. It came into being because of the lack of nursery school provision in Britain. Whatever contribution it has made since then in a variety of provision that we all welcome, it came into being because of the lack of provision under the Tory Government in the early 1960s.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Any lack was continued by the Labour Government.

Miss Lestor

Yes. I am not saying that it was not. I am saying that the playgroup movement came into existence because of the lack of nursery education under the Tory Government in the late 1950s and early 1960s. People can look that up for themselves.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) on departmental confusion over provision for the under-fives. That has always existed. There has always been confusion between health and education. There is a sort of apartheid, which is worrying, where children who—to use the phrase loosely—may be considered priority cases or deprived tend to go in one section, while children living in different types of area go into another section. Somehow the two must be married. Nursery centre developments in which people from the DES and the National Nursery Examination Board have joined together have resulted in the sort of provision that is necessary for the development of young children.

The report—in this it was supported by the Secretary of State—also criticised taking four-year-old children into primary schools in which there is no proper pre-school equipment or the standard of nursery-school ratio that we want. Too often children are confused and not given the stimulation required for the age group to which they belong. I am glad that this fact has been recognised. Many of us have said for a long time that it should be.

I am apprehensive about the report's ideas that we must start somewhere. Of course, for many years we have been saying that priority should be given to children in high risk categories until more resources are available. But it depends what is meant by priority. There are children at risk, children who fall between two stools, children trapped in high-rise flats and children in bed and breakfast accommodation. Most of them have no pre-school experience and need it desperately. There are bored children, lively children, highly active children, lonely children, isolated children of working mothers. I congratulate the Daily Mirror on the valuable campaign that it is waging in this last respect. All our children need pre-school experience and a variety of pre-school facilities must be made available. It is not right to pick out one category of children and say that they need the experience more than any other.

The table clearly shows the lack of provision by local authorities in some of the rural and more isolated areas of the country, which is where the need is often greatest. Children are isolated; the gaps between houses and areas are wide, and that is where provision is needed. Children there are at risk and isolated.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey spoke of a child who fell between various Departments and was picked up by some. That has happened before. Abused children who have recently been in the news, some of whom have died at the hands of inadequate parents, have often not had the opportunity of a pre-school education, or been caught up in any organised form of education. If the facilities had been available to offer them that, it would have helped us to spot the children who are suffering and in need.

9.8 pm

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

It is difficult to disagree with much that was said by the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor). Her record with under-fives is distinguished, but I want to pick up one point that she made, which links in with the report, which I wholly support.

I refer to the position of three and four-year-olds in primary schools. It is absolutely right, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and the hon. Member for Eccles said, that such children should not be absorbed into primary schools and into the main stream of five-plus education. However, I hope to carry all hon. Members with me when I say that it must be possible in a time of falling rolls in primary schools, when there is plenty of room for expansion in the number of places for children, for many three and four-year-olds to go into primary schools because the space is not taken up by five-plus-year-olds. But each nursery unit in a primary school must be separate. It should have a separate head and be separately run. That is where we have been going wrong. Our report would have been better if we had stressed the need for heads of nursery units, both in primary schools and in separate units. That would be valuable for the teaching profession because it would increase the opportunity of senior posts for people looking after the under-fives.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury mentioned those who told the Select Committee that children who do not receive education below the age of five are disadvantaged for the rest of their lives. I agree with that, although it is not necessary for such children to be educated in nursery units or pre-school playgroups. If children have not received an education from their mothers, or in some other way when under five, they are disadvantaged for the rest of their lives. That is why the report is so important. We say that the state should provide a back-up for all children whose mothers cannot perform, or do not want, this role, or whose parents do not have the resources to make provision for them. That must be part of the state's role, and that is why I am a keen supporter of the report.

I have known the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) for over 20 years and I am sorry that he did not make the case on education and social grounds. I understand his need to put the political case, but I urge him to stress the education and social needs of the under-fives. I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider what the Select Committee saw in the United States. There, we learnt that 57 per cent. of all mothers with a child below the age of a year are out at work—a huge figure. In this country, the equivalent figure is 27 per cent. In the United States we saw children from the age of a fortnight in nurseries or some form of pre-school provision. That is horrendous but one day we shall have to face it.

In some areas of the United States the provision for the under-fives is not ambitious enough. The fresh start programme, which has been commended throughout the world, sought, as its basic aim, to give all under-sixes self esteem. That is tremendously important because so much grows from it, but much more than that could be done. For example, the way that children learn to socialise, have good conversations with one another and with adults, and learn to read and write, all depend on their ability and drive. I commend self esteem as a good start, but we must do more.

For the report, the motion and the amendment to say that all parents of three and four-year-olds should have the opportunity of nursery education if they want it suggests to parents that they should want education for children below the age of five and that if they do not they are failing them. That is not to say, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury said, that they would be failing them if they did not place them in nursery schools or pre-school playgroups. The diversity of provisions that we have means that there are so many valuable provisions for the under-fives that parents who do not place their children in some form of pre-school facility or who do not look after them and educate them in their own homes will be failing them for life.

It would be wrong to advocate compulsion. It has been suggested in this debate that perhaps there should be compulsory education for children of three years upwards. That would be wrong. The existing system is most likely to lead to well-motivated education for children below the age of five and well-motivated parental interest. The motivation of parents and children throughout education is of the highest importance.

The report, which has been so fully debated, brings out the fact that we need to look much more for an even education provision for the under-fives because there is no broad acceptance of what society is seeking to do with children of that age. In some places they play about with water and sand—and there is nothing wrong with that—while in other areas they are pressed to learn to read and write, and that can be stressful to little children. In other areas none of those things is provided. As I have said, in the United States they are content to go simply for self-esteem and ignore some of the other learning skills that could be developed.

The most important education aspect of the report presses for each local authority to be asked to produce a report on what is best practice in its area. That would be done as a means of seeking to influence people in its own area, and in other areas, to do well for everyone that which is best done in some places. That is of the highest importance and great stress should be placed upon it.

As the hon. Member for Eccles and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we need to underline again and again the urgent social need for education for the under-fives. Many of us have experience in our constituency surgeries of mothers, girls of 16 to 19 and sometimes outside that age range, coming to see us. They are girls whose partner has left them or who are unmarried and struggling to bring up children on their own. Those young women are not able to give their children the education background that they need and often they are not able to give them the right sort of social background. Many of them certainly have financial difficulties. Society must step in to help children whose mothers are so hard pressed.

9.17 pm
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

When nursery education is discussed there is always an abundance of good will about the idea of increasing the number of nursery places. Unfortunately, the reality is that there is little evidence of financial commitment by the Government to enable that expansion to take place. The idea of expanding nursery education has been talked about for years without any appropriate action being taken, and the meagre Government provision is under threat from further cuts in spending and must be protected.

We must always understand that the provision that exists is no thanks to the Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, the Education Act 1980 required local education authorities to provide nursery education, but that requirement was removed to allow Oxfordshire to savage its nursery provision. So much for the Prime Minister's so-called commitment. The top 20 providers of nursery education are all Labour-controlled local education authorities. If it had not been for such authorities nursery provision would be negligible.

I have great respect for the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Raison), and admire the way in which he handled the Committee and the report. However, despite what he says, every local education authority gets some recognition in its grant-related expenditure assessment of the need to spend money on nursery education. That need is defined by reference to the numbers of children under five and the social conditions. While Labour authorities spend that money on nursery provision, Conservative authorities spend it in other ways. It is audacious for the Government to claim any credit for increased provision or for education spending in general. The Government's audacity takes some beating.

Government spending on education has been cut by about 18 per cent. since 1979. The national increase is due to the efforts of Labour local authorities, who have funded it by increasing rates to compensate for Government cuts. The Government's downright dishonesty is disgraceful. They claim credit for increased expenditure, but have penalised many education authorities for spending more. That must be the height of hypocrisy.

Putting financial considerations aside, why has nursery education been relegated to the bottom of the league table? I believe that it is because parents, and the public in general, are not sufficiently aware of the importance of nursery provision and have no long-term commitment to it, even though it is special and more urgently needed than ever before. Nursery education is not a child minding service; it plays a crucial role in a child's ability to benefit fully from later educational opportunities. It helps form a positive attitude towards the child's future education. Plowden, Bullock and Warnock are among those who stress their conviction that nursery education is important and desirable, yet the hoped-for expansion has yet to be realised.

There is now the Select Committee's report to consider. Will we hear the same old story about lack of resources? Before the age of five, children experience their most rapid period of development—physically, socially, emotionally and intellectually. Nurseries provide carefully planned and structured environments for stimulating the child's curiosity, helping to make sense of the world around him.

Qualified nursery teachers and nurses provide a total learning environment, comprising a whole range and variety of stimulating activities, incorporating pre-number and pre-reading skills that extend the child's comprehension and capacity for learning. The nursery sets the foundation for his future.

Unfortunately, only a small proportion of children benefit from nursery education. It depends where they live. If parents live in an area whose local authority is not Labour controlled, or they are unable to meet the cost of private nurseries, an important and crucial stage in the child's young life will be missed. The skills and expertise of a trained nursery teacher and nursery nurse can also help diagnose potential handicaps or special needs. Nursery education is of undoubted benefit to the disadvantaged child. It is not a luxury but an investment in the future Our children deserve the best possible provision in their vital early and formative years. That means making available many more pre-school places.

If the Government recognise the value of nursery education, as they claim, they must accept and adopt the Select Committee's report in its entirety. There are no substitutes for nursery education. Early admission to schools also varies considerably from one local education authority to another, but if LEAs are obliged to provide nursery education for all pre-school children, the discrepancies between admission policies will disappear.

Sufficient expansion of nursery places will ensure that the need for early school admission will be negligible. It is deplorable that we have to admit children to schools early simply because there is inadequate nursery provision. That should never arise. More nursery school and nursery unit places are needed. The lack of them is damaging our children's prospects. Admitting children to school early is no substitute for the stimulating environment of a nursery school or unit.

For young children, play is the principal means of learning, and they ought not to be deprived of that important element in their development. Infant schools do not have the facilities or scope to provide the opportunities that nurseries can offer. They are often handicapped because of the large numbers they have to accomodate, which can be high, even in reception classes.

The Government have not capitalised on falling rolls to provide a lower teacher-pupil ratio. The reverse is true: teacher-pupil ratios have increased alarmingly in some schools. Reception classes, in which in my opinion the teacher-pupils ratio should be 1:20 at the maximum, have a ratio as high as 1:30 in many schools, and sometimes more. That is damning for the education of young children, but then the Government have shown scant regard for our education system as a whole. If we addressed ourselves to providing free nursery education —nursery schools as well as units—for every child who wanted it, the problems of rising-fives and early admission to schools would no longer exist.

In speaking about nursery provision we must not forget the handicapped child, who deserves the same opportunities. The Warnock committee recommended that provision be made for such children if they were to be integrated into normal schools later. Unfortunately, the recommendations have yet to be implemented, which is hardly surprising, given that there is inadequate provision of nursery places for the normal child.

For too long we have merely talked about increasing nursery provision. We must take a more positive attitude.

Most hon. Members seem to realise the value of such provision, yet nothing seems to be done. Is that because pre-school attendance is not compulsory and we therefore do not attach the same importance to it? If so, we are making a big mistake. We should be answerable to our children and their prospects. We owe them the opportunity to reach their full educational potential.

The Select Committee has made some important recommendations on pre-school provision. The Government should accept those recommendations as a basic starting point and provide the necessary resources.

9.26 pm
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate as a "free-standing" Member, to quote the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), as I am not a member of the Select Committee. However, I read the Committee's report with great interest.

I found it difficult to equate the account given by the hon. Member for Blackburn of the record of the past 16 years with what I believe to be the case. The Plowden report was produced in 1967, three years before the end of a Labour Government, and it was not until the Conservatives came to power that the White Paper that has been referred to so many times was published, to be implemented subsequently by a Government circular.

I looked in vain for evidence of what the Labour Government had done in the way of White Papers, memos, circulars and so on. All that I found was a Green Paper, which has not been referred to, called "Education in Schools". It contained a telling paragraph. Having paid lip service to the Labour Government's record in nursery education, it qualified that with the words even though limitations on resources will confine further expansion of provision in the immediate future to the areas of greatest social deprivation. That does not quite tally with the massive expansion that we were expected to believe in.

Another important development was the Education Act 1981, which laid a duty on local authorities to identify and assess cases of special need among children aged over two, and, if making a statement on such a child, to make the provision indicated. That is an important step forward, and I am sorry that not every local education authority has proceeded with it.

The Opposition make great play of the need to understand and support local democracy. It is a result of that that, unfortunately, they have not all made the provision that we would wish. [HON. MEMBERS: "They had no money."] We have already heard the argument about money, and the clear case that many authorities have not the allocation to enable them to act.

I strongly support the Government's policy of a variety of provision, but I was a little disappointed by the implication about pre-school playgroups that I read into the report. I am comforted by the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) that we may have misunderstood it, but I shared the pre-school playgroups views of the association. Playgroups have an important role to play.

The hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) mentioned rural areas, one of which I represent. In such areas nursery schools are almost a non-starter from the financial point of view.

We have great difficulty in maintaining some of our primary schools that cater for five or six age groups. It is impossible to justify special schools for one or two age groups. Pre-school playgroups have a major role to play in catering for them. They have a number of advantages. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) referred disparagingly to the fact that pre-school playgroups are cheaper to run, but that is very important.

I am the first to accept that the standards of some playgroups need to be improved, as does the quality of the training of the people who run them. However, we should capitalise on the great wealth of opportunity that the pre-school playgroups provide. The children will benefit if their parents and other adults are involved in running them. It is most important to involve parents in the education of their children while they are very young. I support the Government's policy to try to involve parents throughout the whole of their children's education. The provision of pre-school playgroups means that parents are involved in their children's education from the very beginning. If parents are involved at that stage, they will continue to be involved in their children's education.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. It is a good report. I welcome the Government's policy and I look forward to the substantive reply to the report.

9.30 pm
Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

This has been an important debate, called for by the Opposition because of their commitment to improve the opportunities for all children under the age of five and to enable their parents to take advantage of pre-school education and child care. The Select Committee's report has provided a timely and apposite basis for many hon. Members' speeches.

The motion is based on the Select Committee's report but the debate has not centred solely on the report. We called for the debate because the Government have signally failed to fulfil even their manifesto commitment. Therefore, they have failed the children and the people of this country.

The Secretary of State admitted that he had not previously made a speech on nursery education. I was glad that he referred to the importance of choice for parents. Parents say that they want choice, but for most of them there is no choice. If there is no provision, how can they have choice?

I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). He has had to leave the debate early, for personal reasons. I hope that he will have words with the leader of his party, who said, when he last spoke in the House, that it was ludicrous to ask for nursery provision to be made available for all children over the age of three if their parents wanted it. I hope that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) will learn something from the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey.

If we are to fulfil the commitments contained in the Select Committee report and in the motion, we have a lot of work to do. People are sick of words. They are looking for action. We have heard much about the Government's commitment and how well they have done. That is a travesty of the reality, which is that Labour authorities have increased spending on education while the Government have been in office, although the Government have reduced the overall amount that is spent on education.

Education in a child's early years is very important. Its value has been spelt out over the years by many hon. Members, and it was confirmed by the 1972 White Paper and by recent research. Its value was reaffirmed by the Select Committee. Nursery education and child care have become increasingly important in our changing society. Young children are vulnerable. We are just beginning to recognise how vulnerable they are as we come to terms with child abuse. They are not as safe on the streets as they used to he. They are much more likely now to be members of small families. All those developments increase the need for group care and education.

Nursery education and child care is of growing importance to parents. Many more adults, particularly women, are required to become members of the work force, and I have been interested to see the way in which some hon. Members think that women decide to work as a whim. While many women have to work through economic necessity, many of them wish to contribute their skills, experience and knowledge to society and to achieve personal fulfilment. If the Government are serious about achieving equal opportunities, they must ensure that women have a real choice when they wish to go out to work. They can make that choice only if there are adequate child care and education facilities for their children.

Nursery education in the 1990s will be important economically for the nation. As many more women are encouraged to go to work and into post-school training and education, the break to have children must no longer result in their often returning to jobs with less skill and a lower rate of pay. What a waste, and how frustrating and demoralising that is for women. They should have confidence that they can make real choices about when they return to work after the birth of their babies, and those choices must not leave them feeling anxious all day long.

All that involves the availability of affordable and accessible quality child care. Today, provision for the under-fives is sparse, unco-ordinated and of variable quality. We in Britain are isolated in our failure to recognise the urgency of these demands and the damaging effects on families when their needs for child care are neither acknowledged nor met.

Labour Members are determined that there will be a co-ordinated strategy which will integrate facilities and offer parents a real choice of quality provision. At present the chance of one's child having some form of pre-school provision is a lottery. It depends on where one lives. If one lives in Labour Salford or north Tyneside, one has an opportunity to send one's child to school or playgroup.

I talked to parents in North Tyneside on Friday. They expressed enthusiasm for what was on offer there and talked about its value for their children. One mother spoke of the difference she had perceived between her son's first year at school—the boy had not previously had access to a nursery place—and the first year of her daughter, who had attended nursery.

Parents also talked about what pre-school provision meant for them. It had made them more confident in asking questions about their children's education, about what books to choose, about what play equipment was good for their children and about the confidence they themselves had to return to education. Several spoke about the value of being involved in the parent and toddler group which was accommodated in and supported by the local school but run and managed by the parents. Their children were able to move into nursery school, and they could continue to play a part in their children's schooling, if they wished.

The tragedy of much of the current debate is that, as a diversion from the objective of giving more choice and opportunity nationwide, the Government are trying to set the value of one provision against that of another. To argue for more nursery school places is not to devalue the contribution, for example, of pre-school playgroups.

There must be a variety of provision, but it must be within an area as a whole, with parents being assured of quality wherever their children are placed. At present, many parents must put together a package that is convoluted and includes too many carers, leading them to feel that their children could he unhappy.

We desperately need a co-ordinated and integrated national strategy. Leaving it to chance, as the Government have been happy to do, is simply not good enough. The Government have a responsibility to monitor, to regulate for minimum standards and to provide a structure for training and support of all workers in child care. Commitments made in 1972 about supplying teachers have yet to be met. The nursery element in teacher training is still wholly inadequate and the status of nursery teachers is frequently low with little opportunity for career development.

Nursery nurses feel undervalued and have little opportunity for career progression. Nursery staff have told me over and over again that they try to work as a team, but the provision for in-service training offered by the Government divides them and undermines the team spirit.

I visited Sheffield recently, as did the members of the Select Committee. Sheffield has made great progress in trying to tackle those problems. It has also moved towards the integration of education and social services to great effect. But at what cost? Sheffield knows where it wants to go, but it has suffered from Government cuts and has had to hold up its programme of expansion. North Tyneside is also not complacent, but it is aware that further demands must be met. Newcastle has been rate-capped. I was told that in Newcastle three nursery units attached to schools are already open or due to open this year, but there is no money to furnish or staff them. Will the Government take responsibility for that? Petitions have been prepared on those matters and the demand is obvious.

Workplace nurseries also have a role to play in the overall provision. Employers increasingly recognise the importance of their contribution. However, particularly for mid-range income earners, tax is a major disincentive. We welcome the prolonged campaign by the Sunday Mirror to abolish the workplace nursery tax. We remind the Government that the Sunday Mirror has received many representations from parents about the importance and centrality of workplace nursery provision.

Labour-controlled authorities have tried to fulfil the aims and objectives of the 1972 White Paper, and they have been punished for that. From the Dispatch Box the Prime Minister frequently lectures us and bombards us with statistics to try to prove through a smokescreen that we have misunderstood her commitment to the Health Service or to social security. However, she has been strangely silent on her commitment in 1973 that within 10 years nursery education should be available without charge to three or four-year-olds whose parents wanted them to have it.

We have seen no effort from the Government to meet the obligations inherent in the Education Act 1981 to meet the requirements of children with special needs. How can a child with special needs be integrated into mainstream nursery provision when there is no nursery?

The Government have shown that they are so obsessed with short-term economic profit that they are prepared to sacrifice the opportunity of millions of children for a good start in life. The Government's lack of care has cost our children dear. The nation's future is their future. The Government have failed children and parents. They have failed to fulfil their promise to the nation and they have failed the nation's future opportunities.

The House has an opportunity to remind the Government of their promises, commitments and responsibility and a chance to show that we are prepared to secure the best opportunity for children, their families and their future. I invite hon. Members to do that.

9.45 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) on her first appearance at the Dispatch Box. While I do not agree with all that she said, I think it right to welcome her to her new position. I also add my warm welcome to the Select Committee's report. Like many other hon. Members, I have read it carefully. I certainly hope to make the Government's response to it most worth while.

Because the report was issued only last week, many of its recommendations have formed the basis for the debate, which has included some valuable contributions and important thoughts on the pre-school experience for children. However, it is important to establish the major issues that have emerged from the debate.

I thought that I would be disappointed when the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) almost gave the game away. While some Opposition Members are prepared to bob and curtsey to that most valuable organisation the Pre-School Playgroups Association, when it comes to the nub of the matter they would like total state provision of nursery education, which the Government are not so anxious to provide. We have always been convinced of the importance of diversity of provision to meet the varying and different requirements of parents.

The hon. Member for Hillsborough, rather ungraciously, called into question my right hon. Friend's figures on expenditure. I should point out—perhaps the figures will help—that in 1988–89 the expenditure was £495 million and in 1989–90 the figure is expected to be £536 million, an increase of 8 per cent., while there has been a 2 per cent. increase in the number of three and four-year-olds in the system. There were 1.206 million three and four-year-olds in 1988–89, and in 1989–90 there will be 1.230 million.

Therefore, the hon. Gentleman will see that there is some disparity in the figures and therefore, of necessity, we are planning some increase in provision.

The hon. Gentleman also called into question the number of people who are interested in becoming early-years teachers. It is important to point out that between last year and this year there will be an increase of 6.4 per cent. in the number of people interested in taking bachelor of education degrees in early child education.

Mr. Flannery

Is the hon. Lady counting the children who, due to empty spaces in primary schools, are entering reception classes and therefore receiving a different type of education from that which they would have received in nursery schools?

Mrs. Rumbold

Of course I am counting all the children because I am talking about provision for pre-five children.

I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) that it is a pity that Opposition Members should be so ungracious about the disparity of provision between concentrated urban areas and country areas where it is undoubtedly more difficult to make consistent provision. I was delighted to hear from him.

Mr. Win Griffiths

rose

Mrs. Rumbold

No, I shall not give way. I must get on.

I was delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend believes that the quality of provision has become better targeted. That gave me considerable pleasure. I have always felt that there needed to be an improvement in what was happening within pre-school experience for children. My right hon. Friend's views on the quality of education content in both the state provision and playgroups will be taken most seriously in the Government's review. He was anxious about the experiences of children aged four years in reception classes not being taken into account as much as they should by some teachers, simply because they lack experience of the relevant teaching and curriculum development that four-year-olds should have. That is another matter that the Government understand and will take into consideration. I was grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that point.

I understand why the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is unable to be in his place. He talked about the importance of first assessments for children in compulsory schools taking place at the age of seven. He hoped that the early experiences of children and their social and cultural backgrounds will be taken into account when assessments are made. Perhaps a further study of the report of the task group on assessment and testing will reassure the hon. Gentleman. It is something that we are concerned to ensure. Children who are tested or assessed at the age of seven will not necessarily be disadvantaged if they have less pre-school experience than others.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) was absolutely right to reiterate that local authorities, and particularly local education authorities, have the right, given and upheld by all hon. Members, to make choices about the perceived priorities for education expenditure. I am grateful to him for reiterating the amounts of money that are always in the expenditure levels. I strongly support his view that care for the under-fives is a most demanding job. Therefore, training must be carefully looked at.

I greatly admire the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) for taking her stand on the principle of nursery education. I am sad to say that I can give her no hope that her example is likely to be followed in the near future. Her analysis of the importance of early education experience bears some study. It seemed to encapsulate the views of several people who have studied the development of children and the importance of early development and experiences. She pointed out that the success of compulsory schooling at the age of five depends on some sort of pre-school experience.

I take the opportunity of reminding Opposition Members that, when they make comparisons between this country and others, they frequently manage to forget that, with the possible exception of the Netherlands, Britain is the only country with compulsory education beginning at the age of five. In most other countries, full-time compulsory education paid for by the state starts at the age of six. In some countries it begins at the age of seven. Therefore, we can rightly claim that by the age of five, 100 per cent. of our children are in full-time education provided by the state.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) said that it is wrong to opt for compulsion. I agree that any form of compulsion would be wrong. One of the things that worry me about blanket state nursery provision or nursery schools being attached to schools as of right for all children is that we shall immediately have the possibility of mothers having to queue to get their children into nursery schools, and later having to send them straight on to the primary school. Parents do not always want their children to go to the nursery class that is attached to a specific primary school. They want to choose the pre-school experience that they consider to be best for their children. I defend that to the end as I believe that it is of critical importance. [Interruption.] The Opposition yell at me and try to cover up the fact that, really they are asking the Government to provide blanket state education. That was the message that came loud and clear through every speech made by Opposition Members.

The hon. Member for the City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) made it plain that that was his view. I am sad that he is not in the House at present. [Interruption.] I apologise to him; I had not seen him. I shall consider his views and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) about special educational needs. I must point out to them that the Education Act 1981 embodies our policy on the education of children under five with special educational needs. Clearly, it is important that if children have special needs, they should be identified as early as possible. That is why parents have the right to ask local education authorities to assess from the age of two whether a child has special educational needs.

I want to make one or two general observations. We have scarcely heard a word about mothers, who generally want their babies to develop into normal young children, physically, emotionally and intellectually. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about fathers?"] Fathers want that as well. Mothers who want to work—we have talked about the difficulties of such mothers—also want to reassure themselves about the quality of the care they provide. Perhaps we should realise that there are some important points for mothers and fathers to understand fully. The best education for young children in their pre-school years —emotionally and developmentally—undoubtedly comes from their parents. However, the stage is always reached in a young child's development when some structured experience with the peer group helps to extend its intellectual and physical growth. That is not always understood by young parents, or by those who come from different cultures or from deprived areas. From an educational point of view, that experience has to be limited and part time simply because young children cannot cope with lengthy experiences in education. It is equally important, as hon. Members from both sides of the House have said, to realise that parental involvement may not always be possible, but is highly desirable and should not be discouraged.

Much has been said about financial help to mothers to offset the costs of such care. The hon. Member for Durham, North-West talked about offsetting the costs of child care. We can argue about how that money should be provided and who should provide it—the state or the employer—but the point is that employers could look to the needs of children to have the opportunity to be with their parents—either their mothers or fathers—and could develop more flexible hours of work and more flexible work places for mothers.

Our amendment rests on the Government's record. It is a record of which we can be proud, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. We have pledged to improve the quality of our provisions while maintaining diversity. I have no hesitation in commending the amendment to the House.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 228, Noes 281.

Division No. 39] [9.59 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms Diane Cartwright, John
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Allen, Graham Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Alton, David Clay, Bob
Anderson, Donald Clelland, David
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Armstrong, Hilary Cohen, Harry
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Coleman, Donald
Ashton, Joe Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Corbett, Robin
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Corbyn, Jeremy
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Cousins, Jim
Barron, Kevin Crowther, Stan
Battle, John Cryer, Bob
Beckett, Margaret Cummings, John
Beith, A. J. Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bell, Stuart Cunningham, Dr John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dalyell, Tarn
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bermingham, Gerald Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'i)
Bidwell, Sydney Dewar, Donald
Blair, Tony Dixon, Don
Blunkett, David Dobson, Frank
Boateng, Paul Doran, Frank
Bradley, Keith Douglas, Dick
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dunnachie, Jimmy
Brown, Gordon (D'mllne E) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Eadie, Alexander
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Eastham, Ken
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Evans, John (St Helens N)
Buchan, Norman Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Buckley, George J. Fatchett, Derek
Caborn, Richard Faulds, Andrew
Callaghan, Jim Fearn, Ronald
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Fisher, Mark
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Flannery, Martin
Canavan, Dennis Flynn, Paul
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Maxton, John
Foster, Derek Meacher, Michael
Foulkes, George Meale, Alan
Fraser, John Michael, Alun
Fyfe, Maria Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Galbraith, Sam Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Galloway, George Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Morgan, Rhodri
George, Bruce Morley, Elliott
Godman, Dr Norman A. Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Golding, Mrs Llin Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Gordon, Mildred Mowlam, Marjorie
Gould, Bryan Mullin, Chris
Graham, Thomas Nellist, Dave
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) O'Brien, William
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) O'Neill, Martin
Grocott, Bruce Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hardy, Peter Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Harman, Ms Harriet Patchett, Terry
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Pendry, Tom
Heffer, Eric S. Pike, Peter L.
Henderson, Doug Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hinchliffe, David Primarolo, Dawn
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Quin, Ms Joyce
Holland, Stuart Radice, Giles
Home Robertson, John Randall, Stuart
Hood, Jimmy Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Richardson, Jo
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Howells, Geraint Robertson, George
Hoyle, Doug Robinson, Geoffrey
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Rogers, Allan
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Rowlands, Ted
Illsley, Eric Ruddock, Joan
Ingram, Adam Salmond, Alex
Janner, Greville Sedgemore, Brian
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Sheerman, Barry
Jones, leuan (Ynys M6n) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Short, Clare
Kennedy, Charles Sillars, Jim
Kilfedder, James Skinner, Dennis
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Kirkwood, Archy Snape, Peter
Lambie, David Soley, Clive
Lamond, James Spearing, Nigel
Leadbitter, Ted Steel, Rt Hon David
Leighton, Ron Steinberg, Gerry
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Stott, Roger
Lewis, Terry Strang, Gavin
Litherland, Robert Straw, Jack
Livingstone, Ken Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Loyden, Eddie Turner, Dennis
McAllion, John Vaz, Keith
McAvoy, Thomas Wall, Pat
McCartney, Ian Wallace, James
McCrea, Rev William Walley, Joan
Macdonald, Calum A. Warden, Gareth (Gower)
McFall, John Wareing, Robert N.
McGrady, Eddie Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
McKelvey, William Williams, Rt Hon Alan
McLeish, Henry Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Maclennan, Robert Wilson, Brian
McTaggart, Bob Winnick, David
McWilliarn, John Wise, Mrs Audrey
Madden, Max Worthington, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice Wray, Jimmy
Marek, Dr John
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Tellers for the Ayes:
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Mr. Frank Haynes and
Martlew, Eric Mr. Frank Cook.
NOES
Aitken, Jonathan Gill, Christopher
Alexander, Richard Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Glyn, Dr Alan
Allason, Rupert Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Amess, David Gorst, John
Amos, Alan Gow, Ian
Arbuthnot, James Gower, Sir Raymond
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Ashby, David Gregory, Conal
Aspinwall, Jack Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Atkinson, David Grist, Ian
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Ground, Patrick
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Grylls, Michael
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Batiste, Spencer Hampson, Dr Keith
Bendall, Vivian Hanley, Jeremy
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hannam, John
Bevan, David Gilroy Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Biffen, Rt Hon John Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Harris, David
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Haselhurst, Alan
Body, Sir Richard Hayes, Jerry
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Boscawen, Hon Robert Heathcoat-Amory, David
Boswell, Tim Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Bottomley, Peter Hill, James
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Holt, Richard
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hordern, Sir Peter
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Howard, Michael
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Brazier, Julian Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Browne, John (Winchester) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Burt, Alistair Hunter, Andrew
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Irvine, Michael
Carttiss, Michael Irving, Charles
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Jack, Michael
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Jackson, Robert
Chapman, Sydney Jessel, Toby
Churchill, Mr Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Key, Robert
Conway, Derek King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Kirkhope, Timothy
Cope, Rt Hon John Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Critchley, Julian Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Curry, David Knowles, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Davis, David (Boothferry) Lang, Ian
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Latham, Michael
Dunn, Bob Lawrence, Ivan
Durant, Tony Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Eggar, Tim Lee, John (Pendle)
Emery, Sir Peter Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Evennett, David Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fallon, Michael Lilley, Peter
Favell, Tony Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lord, Michael
Fishburn, John Dudley Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Forman, Nigel Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Forth, Eric MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Maclean, David
Franks, Cecil McLoughlin, Patrick
Freeman, Roger McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
French, Douglas McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Fry, Peter Madel, David
Gale, Roger Malins, Humfrey
Gardiner, George Mans, Keith
Garel-Jones, Tristan Maples, John
Marland, Paul Raffan, Keith
Marlow, Tony Redwood, John
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Renton, Tim
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Rhodes James, Robert
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Riddick, Graham
Mates, Michael Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Mellor, David Roe, Mrs Marion
Meyer, Sir Anthony Rost, Peter
Mills, lain Rowe, Andrew
Miscampbell, Norman Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Ryder, Richard
Mitchell, Sir David Sackville, Hon Tom
Moate, Roger Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Monro, Sir Hector Sayeed, Jonathan
Moore, Rt Hon John Scott, Nicholas
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Shaw, David (Dover)
Morrison, Sir Charles Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Moss, Malcolm Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Moynihan, Hon Colin Shelton, Sir William
Mudd, David (Streatham)
Neale, Gerrard Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Nelson, Anthony Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Neubert, Michael Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Shersby, Michael
Nicholls, Patrick Sims, Roger
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Norris, Steve Soames, Hon Nicholas
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Speller, Tony
Oppenheim, Phillip Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Page, Richard Stanbrook, Ivor
Paice, James Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Patnick, Irvine Steen, Anthony
Patten, John (Oxford W) Stern, Michael
Pawsey, James Stevens, Lewis
Porter, David (Waveney) Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Portillo, Michael Stokes, Sir John
Powell, William (Corby) Sumberg, David
Price, Sir David Summerson, Hugo
Tapsell, Sir Peter Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Walters, Sir Dennis
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Ward, John
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Warren, Kenneth
Temple-Morris, Peter Watts, John
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley) Wells, Bowen
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Whitney, Ray
Thome, Neil Widdecombe, Ann
Thornton, Malcolm Wiggin, Jerry
Thurnham, Peter Wilkinson, John
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Wilshire, David
Tracey, Richard Winterton, Mrs Ann
Tredinnick, David Winterton, Nicholas
Trippier, David Wolfson, Mark
Trotter, Neville Wood, Timothy
Twinn, Dr Ian Yeo, Tim
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Young, Sir George (Acton)
Viggers, Peter
Waddington, Rt Hon David Tellers for the Noes:
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Mr. David Lightbown and
Waldegrave, Hon William Mr Stephen Dorrell.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House welcomes the First Report of the Select Committee for Education, Science and Arts, on Educational Provision for the Under Fives; recognises the Government's achievements in securing a significant expansion of nursery education since 1979; welcomes the important contribution of the voluntary sector, including the playgroup movement; and commends the Government's intention to secure the continuing growth of provision for the under fives in all its varied forms, and its commitment to improve quality.