May I welcome the Minister to his new appointment? When all the evidence, even from the Government's own tests, suggests that children perform better if they have received a nursery education, is he not ashamed that Britain is still the bottom of the European league in nursery provision? Will not he admit that the Secretary of State's comments about the so-called Mum's Army are actually more about devaluing the skills of those who teach children in those vital early years and avoiding the investment that is necessary in nursery education?
Given the warmth of the first part of the hon. Member's question, I am sorry to disagree so fundamentally with him on the rest. We believe, as we have restated many times, that the very diversity of provision for under-fives remains the best option. It recognises the various needs of children and their parents and makes the best use of what are inevitably limited resources. On the hon. Member's latter point, the recent consultation paper reflects our interests in extending the opportunities for capable people with considerable previous experience of working with young children to train to be early-years teachers.
May I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his new responsibilities? Is it the case that when the last Labour Government left office only some 69 per cent. of under-fives received some form of pre-school provision, and now the figure is more than 90 per cent? Is not that a powerful confirmation of the progress that the Government have made in nursery education?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, first, for his kind personal comments and secondly for underlining why the subject is so embarrassing for the Labour party. Labour Members say one thing when in opposition, but they invariably do something else when they are in government.
Is the Minister aware of the anger among parents and teachers at the proposals for diluting the primary training of teachers? Is he aware that, from an early age and at that early stage, children need professional teachers and not the dilution of the teaching profession? Will he please listen to teachers and parents before he makes a further stupid mistake to add to what the Government have done to education in the past 14 years?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman rejects out of hand proposals that are designed to enhance rather than damage. If I may quote from the Yorkshire Post:
I think that the professionals should give some thought during the coming weeks to dropping their prejudices and giving people the opportunity to test out the old saying: teachers are born—not made.
That comment was from a lady who is a graduate teacher and is also a playgroup leader.