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Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord. I do of course remember the reply which I gave him earlier this year. Indeed, I reflected upon it in preparing my answers today. He is quite right in what he said about the under-representation of ethnic minorities in particular areas of the services. One difficulty is that when one element of the services has, in the past, achieved a rather unfavourable name in those matters, it is difficult to persuade people to want to volunteer for those areas. However, I am fairly confident that before many months have passed, the noble Lord will see an improvement in precisely the areas which he has identified.

Lord Luke: My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government's wholly admirable commitment to improving the representation of ethnic minorities in the Armed Forces extends not only to the creation of the multi-racial recruitment team which he mentioned but also to ensuring that individual personnel

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from appropriate ethnic minorities are represented among recruitment staff wherever there is a large number of people from ethnic minorities among the population.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, first, it is my very pleasant duty to congratulate the noble Lord on his appointment to the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that he and I shall enjoy many years' jousting in the particular positions which we currently occupy. On the substantive point which he raised, that is indeed one of our proposals. We intend to include members of ethnic minorities in the service recruitment teams.

Lord Meston: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Armed Forces are drawing on the particular expertise of the Commission for Racial Equality not only to ensure fair recruitment but to ensure the retention of ethnic minority service men?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for that intervention. We are very closely engaged with the CRE and always have been, as were our predecessors in that respect. I hope that that co-operation will intensify in the years ahead.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, while this measure has general support, will the Minister assure the House that ethnic origin will not take precedence over the aptitude and qualifications of people wishing to join the Army?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, there has never been any suggestion that people should be promoted if their abilities do not qualify them for that promotion. The sad fact is that there are many highly qualified members of the ethnic communities whom we have not yet succeeded in attracting to the Armed Forces, the kind of people who make very successful careers in the professions.

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, will it be a serious disciplinary offence for there to be proven abuse of a racial nature?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, that is already a serious disciplinary offence.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Government bear in mind the need to encourage members of the ethnic minorities into the Territorial Army, particularly where their premises are located in inner city areas like Lambeth?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, certainly it is part of our policy to encourage members of the ethnic minorities into all parts of the services which includes the Territorial Army as well as the full-time services. What is more, we intend to ensure that we not only recruit them but that we retain them and that they get a fair crack at promotion too.

Lord Hayhoe: My Lords, as a former Minister responsible for the Army, perhaps I may add my support

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for the initiatives which are being taken. Will the Minister confirm that the senior levels of the Army are certainly very positive on those matters and that what is required is to extend that positive support right through the ranks of the Army?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for his remarks. It is absolutely true that at the senior level of not only the Army but all the services, there is an absolute determination that racism shall not play any part in the every-day life of the services. I believe that the progress that has been made recently, and certainly our predecessors should share in the credit for that, has been extremely satisfactory. There was a time when the lower ranks and senior NCOs were not so seized of those matters. I am glad to say that that situation has now changed and it will be only a short time before we see a considerable improvement.

Early Years Education

3.34 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress is being made towards integrated education provision for children under five following the ending of the nursery voucher scheme.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, all local authorities will draw up an early years development plan for implementation from April 1998. The plans will show how early education places for all four year-olds will be secured by September 1998. The plans will also examine how early education can be integrated with day care.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer and congratulate her department on its progress in meeting that manifesto commitment. I should like also to welcome the Prime Minister's recent statement about setting up a committee for the family which I believe will be chaired by the Home Secretary. Perhaps I may convey to my noble friend that I have heard concern expressed that that committee should have as wide a remit as possible and should not concentrate only on problem families, which is the fear of some people in the voluntary sector. I am sure that my noble friend is aware that ordinary families need the integrated support of childcare for under fives, flexible working practices and many other measures which that committee should have within its remit. I should be grateful if my noble friend would convey that concern to the Home Secretary.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his remarks about the speed with which we are dealing with our manifesto commitment to provide places for four year-olds in nursery schools or classes.

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As regards the inter-departmental group to be chaired by the Home Secretary, I shall certainly convey to my right honourable friend that there is concern in the voluntary organisations about that. I am not sure that there is a need for such concern. I know that the group will have a wide-ranging remit and will look at all the issues which my noble friend raised. But in particular it will address the issue of how we can develop good parenting skills. I am sure that everybody in your Lordships' House will agree that it is enormously important that we should provide the help and support which parents need to be good parents. That is desirable both from the point of view of children's education, including young children, but also in helping to avoid juvenile crime.

Lord Peston: My Lords, it is a bit late for some of us to learn how to be good parents. Will my noble friend clarify one matter in her original Answer? I believe that she said that by the start of the school year 1998 all four year-olds will be in some form of education. Will she define whether she meant those who are already four or those who will become four in the subsequent academic year?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I thought that my noble friend was learning how to be a good grandparent. I have observed him in that role and he is carrying it out very effectively. It is the Government's intention to have all children who are already aged four in nursery schools and classes by the autumn term of 1998: 79 LEAs are already able to meet that target. It will be more difficult for some LEAs to achieve the target but we are confident that they will succeed. Many of the children who will be starting will not be four years old when they start but will become four years old during the term in which they take up their place.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell the House how many places have been lost to the private sector and the pre-school playgroups sector for children under five? In the absence of that information, will she assure us that she will bring it to the House? I am referring to the past six months. Will the noble Baroness tell the House also what are the adult-pupil ratios which apply to state provision in mainstream schools for under fives and the pupil-adult ratio which applies to private provision and pre-school playgroups?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness back to the field of education and employment. She and I have experience of sparring in such matters in the past when she was on this side of the House and I was on the other. I also express the hope that the mistake made by the Guardian yesterday, which described me as "Lady Tessa Blatch", will not be repeated by other newspapers which might describe the noble Baroness as "Lady Emily Blackstone". Such hybrids do not exist.

In answer to the noble Baroness's question, it has been said, although I cannot confirm such figures, that about 800 places have been lost in playgroups over

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the past year. That is a matter of great regret. The Government value the work undertaken by playgroups. However, that is a direct result of the competition between different participants in the sector which derived from the introduction of nursery vouchers. We hope that the new spirit of partnership and co-operation that we are developing in the provision of early childhood education will alter the situation.

As regards the noble Baroness's final question about ratios of adults to children in different types of provision, I shall have to reply by letter because I cannot produce such figures off the top of my head.

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