§ 1. Ms Corston
To ask the Secretary of State for Education when he last met representatives of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations to discuss Government education policies for pre-school age children.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr. Robin Squire)
My right hon. Friend has not met the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations recently to discuss education policies for pre-school age children. Arrangements are in hand for the Minister of State to meet the NCPTA shortly. The NCPTA has requested that the meeting cover issues other than education provision for under-fives.
§ Ms Corston
As this may be the last appearance of the Minister and the Secretary of State for Education at the Dispatch Box, will they agree as a matter of urgency to meet parent-teacher representatives to discuss the report from the National Foundation for Educational Research which supports Labour's policy of offering nursery education to all three and four-year-olds, and which flatly rejects the Government's inadequate compromise of putting children into school a year early? What is the Government's policy on nursery education?
§ Mr. Squire
I am sorry that on my 50th birthday and feeling like a mere boy I should be so dismissed by the hon. Lady. We shall wait and see.
On the issue of slightly greater substance, we note that the hon. Lady has committed her party to that policy on pre-school provision without seeing the bill for it. Our policy remains clear. We wish to see an expansion of the provision for under-fives across the range of different sorts of education as and when resources are available. We shall be coming up with more developments in the near future.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Not only do I wish the Minister a happy birthday, I wish him many more. I was pleased to hear that there is some inkling of support for nursery education and expansion from the Government. Why will not the Government introduce targets for developing the expansion of nursery education? Will the Minister take this opportunity to repudiate the article in the Evening Standard on 29 June where Sheila Lawlor said that she feared that the introduction of universal nursery education could be one of the most disastrous social experiments of our time? I hope that he will reject that and support Labour's policy for expanding nursery education.
§ Mr. Squire
My understanding is that Sheila Lawlor is not currently a member of the Administration, although—referring back to the question of the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston)—who knows? I think that it is most unlikely. The fact remains that there are Conservative councils with a proud record on nursery education and in other areas of providing playgroups, which, I remind the hon. Gentleman, some 40 per cent. of three and four-year-olds currently attend. Many of those playgroups provide an excellent service for under-fives.