HC Deb 01 March 1926 vol 192 cc1159-71

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £180,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Board of Education, and of the various Establishments connected therewith, including sundry Grants-in-Aid.


I should like to have an explanation from the President of the Board of Education in regard to this Supplementary Estimate. I find that £360,000 is required for grants to education authorities for higher education. That amount is not so great as it seems, and it only shows that at the beginning of the year the Minister cut the figure down far too much. In 1924–25 the sum expended was £4,989,000 odd, and he budgeted in his Estimate for this year for £4,740,000. Therefore, he saved on the Estimate of his predecessor some £249,000. Had he not cut it down, he might have required about £100,000 more. Therefore, although this might appear as though there was some progress as far as higher education is concerned, it signifies no progress at all in the expenditure on and development of higher education. With regard to the sum of £20,000, made up of £15,000 saved in grants for higher education to bodies other than local education authorities and £5,000 saved as aid to students, I would like to know what are the items that go to make up those two sums. For instance, is there any saving on national scholarships, on scholarships to secondary schools, or on scholarships to technical schools? These are things that the Committee ought to know before passing this Estimate, and I invite the Minister to explain to us more fully than appears on the Paper what these items include.


I entirely endorse the appeal of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Cove) as to the need of some explanation of this Estimate. It is a very good thing to find a Minister of Education coming forward with a Supplementary Estimate, and I should be the last person to find fault when a sum has been found, in some way or other, to encourage grants for higher education, but I would like to know what is the policy concealed in this figure. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as anybody that it is in secondary education that we are most behind other European countries, and that it is on the secondary side that there is tremendous need for further expenditure, both for buildings and staff, and on its technical side. Technical education is very much behindhand, and in certain industries of the country we are dealing with vast competition more because of lack of technical education than from other deficiency. On the Continent very large sums of money have been spent since the War on developing technical education and in making experiments in chemistry and in many other directions, and I think the Committee is entitled to know how this sum of money is being spent here. Is it being spent on staffing, on the technical side, or in one particular area?

One of the great weaknesses that has been pointed out again and again by the Board of Education in their various reports is the very small number of places provided for non-fee paying students. During the last few years the increase in the secondary schools has all been in the direction of fee-paying students. I am very glad to see my right hon. Friend opposite shake his head, but certainly the Board of Education's Report of 1923–24 was that 75 per cent. of the fee-paying students were paying over eight guineas a year. When you come to that figure, you are getting near to prohibiting children of the ordinary wage-earning classes from going to secondary schools, even though parents are prepared to make sacrifices to keep their clever children at secondary schools. I think we are entitled to know whether this money is being spent in encouraging the provision of more free places, and whether, in giving his grant, the right hon. Gentleman considers the fees charged. Where the fees are low, does he sanction expenditure, and, on the other hand, where the fees are high, does he leave it more to the local authority to find the money from other sources? We want a clear policy. The whole future of our country and of our industry depends—


That might be so, but this is not the time to discuss it.


I am putting very important facts before the Committee. Here we are asked for £360,000 extra, at a time when the country is in dire financial straits. We should be very careful to see whether the money to be found is going to be spent in the right direction, on the right kind of education and the right kind of work. If I were able to show that the money was being spent in an extravagant way, I think hon. Members opposite, who are imbued with a spirit of economy, would be loth to find this money, but if, on the other hand, the Minister can satisfy us that he is encouraging technical education, which is so badly wanted, we shall get this Vote without very much delay. That is on what I want to get a clear, definite explanation from the President. Is it being spent to encourage free places? Is it being spent on technical education? Is it being spent in order to improve the present existing buildings, to secure smaller classes and more teachers? It depends on the lead now given by the President. If he tells us that he has determined, in spite of all the circulars issued by his Department—Memorandum 44, Circular 1371—


The hon. Gentleman must really confine himself to the question before the Committee.


I was only going to say that if he were to tell us he was going to encourage secondary education, to stick to his original policy outlined in the last 12 months, we would be the first to grant him this Vote.


I should like to support the appeal made by the two previous speakers, particularly that we should have some details of the way in which this £360,000 is being spent. But I would like more particularly to ask for information with regard to the £20,000 which the right hon. Gentleman hopes further to save on the Estimates. The Committee will remember that when he introduced the Estimates at the beginning of the year, he took great pride in the very considerable reductions he had made on the preceding year, and, in the light of the policy for the coming year, I think we can express some surprise that he allowed so much as £20,000 to slip through unobserved. I would par- ticularly like to know if there is any saving being made with regard to adult education.


I will not take part in any criticism against this extra sum of £360,000, in view of the fact that there is, apparently, somewhere in the country, a force that has been able to drive the President of the Board of Education into doing his duty, or, at least, part of his duty, in the matter of higher education. But I do join with my colleagues in questioning the wisdom of diminishing the total by the £20,000 mentioned in connection with "grants for higher education to bodies other than local education authorities." I am sorry we have not a statement explaining exactly what is the nature of this £20,000 saving, for I might have been able to speak more explicitly, but I can say at the moment there is in the country a very large amount of educational effort that should receive from the Board of Education much more encouragement than it has actually been receiving.

The Workers' Educational Association is only one example of the kind of activity I have in mind—people with a keen educational outlook, who are experimenting, and who certainly ought to have had that £20,000 that the President is attempting to save, and, indeed, a great deal more besides. There is, for example, in matters of development of culture, a much greater need for the expenditure of public money amongst the organisations which are taking up activities of this sort, and I feel pretty certain that the Minister will not be able to justify the attempt to save this £20,000 when the money could have been so well spent. I am particularly suspicious about the item of £5,000, "Aid to Students." I, again, wish we might have had an explicit statement of what this £5,000 implies. The Minister could have made a little easier many of the struggles of students at the present time by the expenditure of that £5,000.

Again, in the universities and technical schools you have men and women who are very badly in need of some help and maintenance grants to enable them to carry out their work and their educational studies. I hope the President of the Board of Education will believe me when I say that I introduce what I am saying in no carping spirit. I remember too well the many struggles I had as a student, supported by working-class parents who went short of necessary things in order to assist me in my educational development. There are thousands of men and women in this country at the present time who are badly short. Although there are scholarships, and studentships, and other means of helping they are insufficient to maintain the students during their educational period. I am particularly sorry to see that there is £20,000 being saved on this particular item. I am certain that it could have been expended effectively in one of the ways I have suggested, and I hope that the Minister will be able to suggest to us some means whereby in the future there can be provided a greater expenditure in this particular direction.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Lord Eustace Percy)

I shall be very glad to give any explanation I can. The hon. Member for Welling-borough (Mr. Cove) started off by saying that these Supplementary Estimates represented no expansion in our system of higher education. I think I am quoting the hon. Gentleman correctly. He is wrong. In 1924–25 the expenditure by local authorities on higher education was £11,475,000 odd, and the expenditure covered by this Supplementary Estimate, and by the original Estimate, of which this is the supplementary, is £12,000,000. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is wrong in his suggestion. Then the hon. Member who spoke before asked whether there was any lessened expenditure on adult education. The answer is no.


My figures were taken from the Estimates of last year. There were the figures given of the Grants-in-Aid for higher education.


The hon. Member does not seem to realise that there are certain disallowances of duplicate expenditure in the case of the local education authorities for higher education.


I would repeat that I have taken the figures from last year's Estimates.


The hon. Member is entirely wrong—


No, I am not.

10. P.M.


—in saying that we are providing less money for higher education this year than was provided last year. We are providing for more than half a million expenditure extra on higher education this year than was provided for last year.


On a point of Order. I stated that I took the figures from the Estimates.


That is not a point of Order.


It is a point of explanation. The President persisted in saying that I was misrepresenting the figures.


I think the hon. Member now realises that he had mistaken the figures of the Estimates. The figures I am giving are the figures of the actual expenditure. On the subject of adult education, nothing in the Estimates can restrict the amount or the number of adult classes being provided in the present year. The amount is the amount for classes which were organised as far back as 18 months ago. Other hon. Members have asked for an explanation of the savings which are mentioned in this Supplementary Estimate. There is £15,000 out of £20,000 saving in the grants for higher education to bodies other than local education authorities, due to the fact that there has been a slight reduction in the number of pupils in schools not maintained by the local education authorities. There is an item which is put down as £5,000 (aid to students), and that is accounted for by the fact that some university scholarships have been postponed till next year. I come to the questions that have been asked as to how is this increased expenditure distributed over the various services? Hon. Members know that I can only at this time make an estimate of what the local authorities are going to spend up to the end of the year. This distribution is the estimated distribution.

Our estimate of the distribution is this, that as compared with the estimate on which our original Estimates were based secondary schools are going to cost more by £350,000, and technical schools are going to cost more by £220,000. There is a slight increase in loan charges, there is an increase in administration charges, there is an increase—and this is what will interest the hon. Member—of £80,000 over our original Estimate in aids to students, and there is an increase of about £25,000 in the miscellaneous expenditure on higher education. That is how we estimate the total amount to be made up. I need hardly say that I do not like introducing a Supplementary Estimate of any kind. I would only point out to the House that in the past two years the original Estimates of the Board have been over estimates by an amount of rather over 3 per cent. each year. This Supplementary Estimate shows that my estimate last year was an under estimate by rather less than ½ of 1 per cent. I told the House on my original Estimate that I was taking a risk, and the risk has been shown to amount to ½ of 1 per cent.; but in the interests of close estimating the Committee will agree with me, I think, that this is a desirable advance towards more exact estimating.


The Noble Lord might have told us what is the reason for the increased expenditure in the secondary schools. Is it entirely due to the larger number of pupils? Is it due to higher expenditure? Or is it due to the larger amount of assistance being given to secondary school teachers whose salaries have been raised? The Noble Lord might have enlightened us on each one of those points. It would certainly be to the advantage of the Committee that we should know what are the items in the balance sheets of local authorities which have led to this much higher grant than was anticipated at the time. I need hardly say that so far as I am concerned I am delighted to hear that it has been necessary to spend more money on the secondary and technical schools, and I only trust that when the Noble Lord is thinking of his policy for the future he will not put a stop to this progressive development, which is one of the things to which, I believe, the Government were pledged in their election manifesto and in their first King's Speech and which has been rather rudely upset by the announcement of the Noble Lord's policy in the recent circulars.

Are we not entitled to know upon what grounds and upon what items there has been this increased expenditure? The Noble Lord has given us a brief resume of the figures as a whole, but they throw no light on the actual work of the schools, and if he could put a little more colour into his description and let us know what benefits are to be gained, and whether a larger number of pupils are to obtain these benefits, he would more fully justify the Vote before the Committee. I have no objection whatever to close estimating. It certainly is very much better that he should be ½ of 1 per cent. out than that he should be 3 per cent. out in his Estimates, and I am delighted to think he comes down to this House boldly to ask for extra money for education; hut if he wants the Committee to justify the expenditure surely he ought to let us know in more detail the items on which it has been spent, or will be spent before the 31st March.

One other point I wish to mention has reference to the appropriations-in-aid which appear in this Supplementary Estimate and are for recoveries of grants. Does that mean recoveries of grant under all heads, or only under the head of higher education? Is it possible that these recoveries of grants refer to grants which were made to the elementary schools, and not to the secondary schools only? There is nothing in this Paper to throw any light on that point. I hope the Noble Lord will let us know whether these recoveries of grants by way of adjustment cover the whole range of education—elementary, secondary, university and technical, and so on, or whether it is merely a readjustment as regard secondary and technical classes only.


With regard to further assistance for children who are going to secondary schools, I would like to inquire if any portion of this increased grant is going to assist travelling expenses? In rural areas in particular, as the Minister knows very well, a great amount of hardship is caused—often it is impossible for boys and girls to take advantage of scholarships—on account of the travelling expenses involved. I know of cases in my own constituency where boys and girls go four, five, eight or ten miles to secondary schools, and have to spend many shillings per week. I should be glad if the Noble Lord could say that with this increase he is making it easier for boys and girls to get to the secondary schools, particularly in rural districts.


The Noble Lord disputed my figures and rather suggested that I was confusing estimates and actual expenditure, and that the additions I had made were also entirely wrong. I have since looked up the main Estimate, and I find the following figures under the heading "D I, Grants for Higher Education, 1924–25, £4,989,000." His own estimate for this year, 1925–26, is £4,740,000 Therefore he had a reduction on the figures embodied in the Estimate of £249,010. Now he comes along and asks for an extra amount which really amounts to, as far as I can trace these figures, not an increase of £360,000 at all, but an increase of round about £100,000.

I hope the Noble Lord will realise that it is he himself who has been trying to make confusion in these figures. Further, I would like to follow the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea West (Mr. Runciman) with regard to Appropriations-in-Aid. As far as I can follow the Estimates, even as they were brought in last year, no distinction was made as between secondary appropriations and elementary appropriations. Further, I find in the Estimates for last year a figure of £50,000, and now the right hon. Gentleman seems to have got that amount back from the local authorities, and he says that on looking back he hopes to get £160,000 back. Is that got out of the Estimates for secondary and elementary education, or does the elementary side bear a greater burden than the secondary side? I would also like to ask if the right hon. Gentleman has been putting the screw on local authorities in this direction.


I rather rejoice that the Noble Lord has been obliged to ask for an increase on the original Estimate, and if it indicates nothing else, it Shows at least that the local authorities have not on this occasion been guilty of what they have been more than once indirectly accused of by the Noble Lord, that is, exaggerating their Estimates. On this occasion, so far from exaggerating, they have somewhat minimised their demands. It is very gratifying to see that the President is asking for some measure of increase over and above his original Estimate. I would like him to take it that we regard this increase not as in any degree satisfactory, looking at it from the standpoint of the general education interests of the nation.

One or two interesting facts arise from these figures. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that there are fewer people in the non-local education authority schools. I wonder whether the real explanation of that is that the parents of those children are finding that the economic condition of the time is making it impossible for them to send their children to schools where the fees are a little higher than in the normal secondary schools. If that be so, then obviously those parents must in consequence of that situation divert their children from the more expensive schools to the less expensive and municipally-aided schools. I gather that the Noble Lord indicated that there is an increase of about £350,000 in the secondary schools. Is that increase commensurate with the extra strain that will fall upon the secondary schools, assuming the parents have diverted their children from the more expensive to the less expensive schools? That means that our secondary and municipally-owned schools must provide a larger number of places for children than would otherwise be the case. Therefore, I submit that an increase of only £350,000 for the secondary schools of the country is surely an extremely inadequate sum spread over the whole country in days like these under the conditions which now prevail.

The other question is this. I am afraid I did not take the Noble Lord's figures down very accurately, but I gather that he indicated that there was to be an increase of £220,000 for technical education. Of course, I rejoice like other hon. Members that there has been some small degree of increase in this respect, but in these days £220,000 of an increase for technical education is a hopelessly inadequate sum for equipping our children with the technical knowledge which they must need in these difficult times. If I may be allowed to do so, I would commend to the Noble Lord's attention the Report presented recently by the Federation of British Industries on this very question of technical education in America. In that Report the attention of the country is specifically drawn to the fact that there has been an enormous increase of expenditure in the United States recently upon technical education. I submit to the Noble Lord that an increase of merely £220,000 for technical education is surely an inadequate sum if we are to equip our pupils for a rivalry which must necessarily come in future years between ourselves and other nations. I gather, again, from the Noble Lord, that there is to be, in fact, a slight increase, at any rate, in the expenditure upon adult education. I should like to know whether that implies that a larger sum of money is to be placed at the disposal of the various colleges in the country for the development of their extra-mural studies. In my country, for instance—in the Principality—


That has nothing to do with this Estimate.


The Noble Lord tells me that that has nothing to do with this Estimate, and, therefore, I abandon the point. I should like, however, to have an assurance from him on the two points I have raised—whether his statement that there are fewer pupils in non-L.E.A. schools indicates what I have suggested, namely, the diversion of a certain number of pupils, by parents who previously were better-to-do than they are now, from these better-class schools to the municipally-owned secondary schools, and, if so, whether this additional sum of £350,000 which is to be spent upon the secondary schools covers that obvious extra strain upon the secondary schools.


I am very glad to answer the questions that have been put to me. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) is really asking me to justify the expenditure of the local authorities in the current year, of which, naturally, I have no detailed estimates, nor even approximate estimates later than October. It is one of the difficulties of the present grant system as now administered, that I am paying on expenditure during the year as I go along, and, therefore, it is very difficult for me to answer questions as to what exactly is the justification for this local expenditure. I think, however, I can probably answer the right hon. Gentleman's main question. I think the extra expenditure on secondary schools has been partly due to the fact that there has been a larger increase in the number of students admitted to secondary schools last September than was anticipated. That answers also, I think, the question of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), as to whether the diminution in the number of pupils in non-local education authority schools was going to throw an undue strain on the local authorities. I do not think it will throw an undue strain on them, but any small reduction in non-local education authority schools has been far more than offset by the very large increase in the schools maintained by local authorities. That is one reason for the increase in expenditure on secondary schools.

Another reason, I think, has been the making up of arrears of staff. One of the difficulties in our secondary schools at present is that they are rather worse staffed in proportion to number of pupils than they were before the War. That is due to a very obvious cause. You have had this great increase in the number of pupils since the War. You have had an enormous increase in the number of admissions, and the supply of teachers has not caught up with this very large increase. There have been additional staffs engaged in the last year out of proportion to the number of additional students admitted. That, I think is the other main reason for the increased cost. There have also been in one or two areas certain reductions of fees, but I do not think that is responsible for any large part of the increase. The two factors I have named are probably responsible for the greater part of the sum.

I can only tell the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Cove) that the grant estimated for 1924–25 was estimated on an expenditure by local authorities which was assumed at £12,060,000. As a matter of fact they only spent £11,475,000. That is to say, the Estimate was based on an over-estimate of local expenditure of nearly £600,000. It is a question of figures and does not involve any criticism of anyone who drew up the Estimates. I have been questioned on the subject of travelling expenses. There again we are dealing not with a matter of policy, but with what has been spent in this year, eleven months of which have now elapsed, and I do not know how much of the £80,000 extra aid to students is represented by these travelling expenses. I have been asked as to this £160,000 Appropriation-in-Aid. They are merely settlements with local authorities on account of over-estimates, and consequently over-payments to local authorities in previous years. It has nothing to do with this year. Indeed it has nothing whatever with any year during which I have been in office. It is the settlement of accounts carried over from past years and the result of overpayment of local authorities due to over-estimating. As to technical education, the hon. Member said, "this paltry sum of £220,000." It must be remembered that technical education in my Estimate covers a vast range of evening classes and miscellaneous items, all of which are very important, especially for the purpose of keeping youths who are unemployed off the streets. But what the hon. Member had in mind was, I think, something rather different—an expansion of facilities for really higher technical education. I quite agree that is one of the great problems before this country. But let us remember this.


The Noble Lord appears to be going into a matter of general educational policy. I do not see how he connects it with this Vote.


I am afraid I was led away by the seductiveness of the hon. Member. I think I have answered all the points I can properly answer and I hope the Committee will now come to a decision.