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Early Years Provision

Volume 456: debated on Wednesday 31 January 2007

10. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on schools policy, with particular reference to early years provision. (112470)

Discussions have taken place on an individual basis with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as well as within the Cabinet Committee system and, indeed, the Cabinet. With specific reference to early years and schools, I think that our record speaks for itself. We have abolished classes of more than 30 for primary-aged pupils; we are on track to deliver 3,500 Sure Start centres for the under-fives by 2010; we are extending flexible, free part-time nursery care for three and four-year olds up to 15 hours a week, also by 2010; and we have invested £40 million for extra classrooms and extensions to ensure that no child of five, six or seven will be in a class of 30. Thanks to £35 million investment, we have ended the scandal of primary schools having to rely on outside toilets, which characterised their state under the previous Conservative Administration.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister accept that the Government’s poverty programme depends heavily on rolling out the children’s centres in particularly poor areas where the take-up is the lowest? That programme is being hampered by the fact that primary care trusts such as the North Yorkshire and York PCT are running at a record deficit and will not be able to make a contribution. The trust’s nursery programme is also under severe threat because of the code of practice. Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that early-years provision is in absolute tatters?

I certainly do not accept that. Three thousand children’s centres are now being established and there were 500 Sure Starts set up under our previous Administration. They provided opportunities not only for young children, but for mothers to start national vocational qualifications and for old and young people to come together in community centres. I have to tell the hon. Lady that although we have not done as much as should be done, we are on target to achieve what we said we would by 2010. What she said would be a little more acceptable if the hon. Lady had not voted against every Budget to provide the money to pay for those programmes.