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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
Column 395been 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 1 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
Column 396exists 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
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
Column 397in 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. 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
Column 398referred--"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. 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
Column 399Science 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 be higher. That figure places us near the top of the European league table--not, as is all too often claimed, somewhere near the bottom.
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
Column 400then 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 : 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
Column 401certificate 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?
Column 402are 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.
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."
Column 403Those 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.
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.
Column 404When 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
Column 405Pre-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