HC Deb 24 October 1945 vol 414 cc2108-24

9.17 p.m.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

I beg to move, That the Education (Local Education Authorities) Grant Regulations, 1945 (S.R. & O., 1945, No. 709), dated 13th June, 1945, made under Section 100 of the Education Act, 1944, a copy of which Regulations was presented on 15th June, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled. I feel that I have an apology to make to the House in taking up time on two successive evenings with Prayers. Some people might think that I spend most of my time on my knees. But I feel it my bounden duty to raise this matter to-night. We are asking that this Order should be annulled, in order to give us an opportunity of debating the question of education grants, which are particularly important to my constituency, and to certain other county boroughs in England.

The House will remember that under the Education Act, 1944, Parliament laid it down that the education service was to be developed extensively, and, moreover, there was to be a uniform system throughout the country, which must conform to a minimum national standard. On more than one occasion in the past, Ministers of Education have indicated that the responsibility for this great service should be divided equally between the State and the local authorities, and that there should be partnership in this. I ask the House to remember the word "partnership". I I do submit this is hardly the case so far as my own constituency is concerned, and as far as certain other county boroughs are concerned. My own constituency has to bear nearly two-thirds of the total expenses involved whereas the State bears only one-third. The history of the reason for this situation goes back many years, to the time of the old grant formula for elementary education. After the Education Act of 1921, the formula, for arriving at the amount of grants took into account, among other things, an amount based on the number of children in average attendance at school, and from the sum of this amount and others, was deducted an amount equal to the product of a 7d. rate. My constituency, as I am sure that hon. Members will know, is a seaside resort, and the number of children in average attendance is relatively low. The product of a 1d. rate is relatively high and, therefore, the grant payable by the State is considerably less than 50 per cent. of the total cost involved.

To meet this situation the formula provided that where the grant fell below 50 per cent. of the total cost—this is before 1931—the State made up the amount to a minimum grant of 50 per cent. On this understanding and assurance the present education service was very largely built up. In 1931, various economy Measures were adopted, and the 50 per cent. minimum grant was washed out, with the result that a large additional burden fell on the shoulders of some local authorities, instead of on the shoulders of the State. This position continued until 1939 when, because of the war, the position was consolidated on the basis of the years 1937–8. Under the Education Act, 1944, the amount payable by the State for the whole of the education services with one or two exceptions for which grants are provided specifically, will be calculated on the percentage which is the result of merging the appropriate percentage for elementary education in 1938–9, and the 50 per cent. payable in respect of higher education.

I am sorry that this speech is so technical, but this is a technical subject, and one on which, I must admit, I had great difficulty in marshalling the necessary facts in order to present the case to-night. I think that hon. Members who have had experience on local education committees will realise the complexity of this question of grants. We find that in certain areas there is inequality created by the discontinuance of this 50 per cent. minimum grant. This situation has not only persisted in the war years but it is now being consolidated under the new Act and in this Order. I do submit to the House that the arrangement is inequitable. As an example, I should like to cite my own constituency. The combined standard percentage for education grant purposes is just over 31 per cent. To-day, of course, has to be added the 5 per cent. provided by the Grant Regulations of the 1944 Education Act, making 36 per cent. in all. But I want to say this, that the additional 5 per cent. grant is fully absorbed and more by the increases in teachers' salaries provided by the new Burnham Scale. As opposed to this, according to the figures given in the Order, out of 79 county boroughs in England, 60 have a percentage of 45 or more, which, with the additional 5 per cent. brings them up to over 50 per cent. I am putting forward this special plea for the ten county boroughs which will receive grants of under 50 per cent. after they have received the additional 5 per cent.

Eastbourne Education Authority view the future with considerable concern because of the heavy capital expenditure which will be necessary, and the large proportion of the cost which will fall on the shoulders of the local ratepayers. I am assuming that no further grants can be anticipated, and certainly they cannot be anticipated under this Order. The black prospects which we have to face, are made considerably blacker because we have to meet, like other districts, the very heavy capital outlay necessary to give effect to the new educational services. The town of Eastbourne has been considerably hit by the war. It suffered more than most places, both from enemy action and economically. It is one of those places which was evacuated at Government request, with a consequent fall in population. The residents who could go, were asked to go and settle elsewhere, and we have had to bear our full quota of war-time troubles and bombing. I believe that, in proportion to the size of the place, Eastbourne was one of the most heavily bombed towns in England. There were more visits by enemy aircraft there than anywhere else.

I am asking that the 50 per cent. minimum grant should be reinstated. Notwithstanding the present reduced child population in my constituency, it is estimated that our expenditure on education for 1945–6 falling to be borne by the rates will be 20 per cent. more than in the previous year. No provision has yet been made for improvements in the education service other than an increase in teachers' salaries. I hope that the Minister will show a little generosity. It may not be possible, by voting against this Order to achieve this result. I am not going to vote against the Order, but it may be possible for the right hon. Lady the Minister to be able to give us some hope for the future that, even if legislation is necessary, the minimum grant of 50 per cent. will come back. I hope that she will be able to give a reassuring answer both to my own constituency and to the others affected.

9.29 p.m.

Flight-Lieutenant Teeling (Brighton)

; I beg to second the Motion. If I went into the details about my own constituency, I would almost repeat what has been so ably said by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor). It seems to me that this is only part of a problem that will have to be faced in the near future, a problem of how far we are to put the burdens of social improvements on to the local authorities, and how far we are to let them be borne by the State as a whole. That is, obviously, a problem which nobody is very keen to face at the moment, because it is a frightfully difficult one. Therefore we have to deal with these things piecemeal. After reading the many White Papers of the last Government, and the promises and prospects of what are to be brought forward by the present Government, one begins to wonder how much the local authorities are to be expected to bear. Before the war, the local authorities spent something like £93,800,000 on education, and the estimated eventual post-war expenditure will be something of the order of £203,000,000. Whilst on health they were spending £41,000,000 before the war, the post-war prospects, even now at the outset, are something like £92,000,000. It is quite true that the Government are offering something like £115,000,000 for education, and have increased their offer for health from £500,000 to £44,000,000, but the local authorities are left with a burden of something like £60,000,000, and how far they are going to bear it is a matter which is constantly being debated and discussed up and down the country.

I gather that, during 1944, the average increase in rates in about 250 provincial local authorities, was something like 9 per cent., and they are now saying that it may possibly go up to as much as 40 per cent. more than the 1939–40 figure, without eventually breaking the back of the wretched ratepayer. Is this really fair? Can it be borne? To what extent is somebody who, if you like, is a bit of a miser and wishes to live in a small house although he has a very large income, to be able to have the advantages and benefits of the local authority without paying his fair share, and vice versa, what is the position of a person who may be hard up living in a large house if he has to pay very heavy local rates, when he does not have to pay much in national taxation? Why are there different percentages? In some cases the Government pay 50 per cent., in others less. The decision is arbitrary and often without logical reason. As a result areas such as Eastbourne and my own constituency are definitely suffering. In my own area, the effective reductions on elementary education were from 50 per cent. to 36½ per cent. This was after the financial crisis in the early 1930's. It represented an increased charge of about 5d. in the £. Until the outbreak of the war, the elementary education grant was calculated by formula, but for the war years, the position was stabilised by giving a percentage grant equal to the proportion borne by the State in 1937–38 when the formula was used.

Then came the consolidation of the grants for elementary and higher education which was brought about, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne has said, by the Education Act of 1944. Hitherto that grant for higher education had been 50 per cent. When consolidation came along it was based on the figures relating to 1938–39, and the effect of combining the 37 per cent. elementary education grant with the 50 per cent. higher education grant was a consolidated figure of 39.47 per cent. Then, in recognition of the heavier burden which will have to be borne under the new education service, we, like everybody else, received an additional 5 per cent., which brings the figure up to 44. I understand that the poorer authorities will receive further assistance, but that my constituency of Brighton will not qualify for this. That is why I support my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne.

I believe that this is something on which the Education Associations' Committee are working very hard to try to get a definite settlement made, not just for one or two areas, but for the whole country. They are asking for 50 per cent., but I do not think they will be content to stop at that. Brighton is waiting to see the result and wants to know what will be the final outcome of those discussions. Perhaps the right hon. Lady will be able to tell us something about them. The position is that, whatever happens, we are well below the 50 per cent. rate at the present time and beg that something should be done to make our position better.

9.36 p.m.

Mr. Corlett (York)

While I sympathise very considerably with many of the statements made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Flight-Lieut. Teeling), I would have felt more sympathy with them if they had represented some of the constituencies which are, at present, levying education rates of 7s. 6d. in the £. I find it hard indeed to have any sympathy for the constituencies represented by the two hon. Members. I hope the right hon. Lady, the Minister of Education, will set her face like flint against reintroducing the guaranteed 50 per cent. When the economic blitz hit this country in 1931, this was one of the casualties, and, personally, I never regretted it. I hope it will not be reintroduced.

Let us look at the history of the 50 per cent. grant. Before 1870, it was generally agreed that the parents, the ratepayers and the State, should pay one-third each for elementary education. I believe that was the basis of the Forster Act in 1870. The Forster Act was based on that principle. Mr. Gladstone was compelled, before the Bill went through, to give way on the one-third and instead to raise the State grant to one-half. That is the origin of the fifty-fifty basis. But it was a maximum, and not a guaranteed minimum. I have always been puzzled why Mr. Fisher, in 1918, reversed the process. I cannot understand why he introduced the guaranteed 50 per cent. minimum in 1918, which was exactly the reverse of what had obtained before. He did it in the teeth of all the expert opinion. He did it at the behest of a scratch deputation of London Members of Parliament who were concerned only with the increase in their rates. It did not appear in the Kemp Report, and that report was the basis of Mr. Fisher's Education Act. If we were at any time to reintroduce the 50 per cent. guaranteed minimum, then we could say good-bye to any attempt to equalise the distribution of burdens among local authorities.

I beg the Minister to give very sympathetic consideration to the position of the local education authorities, as I am sure she will do. I was very alarmed when. I looked at the figures recently. I think that the two hon. Members who have spoken rather understand the position. Actually, the elementary education rate in this country is 25 per cent. higher than it was in 1938–39. In 1938 and 1939 the education rate was 3s. 11d. That is the minimum. It is now 5s., which is an increase of 1s. 1d., an increase of 25 per cent. This is very serious. Further than that, between 1938 and 1939 four education authorities were levying an education rate of 7s. 6d. in the £. But, last year, there were eight. There were eight this year, and, presumably, there will be eight, or more, next year, levying rates of 7s. 6d. in the £. Another disquieting feature is the increase in the number of authorities who are now levying education rates from 4s. 6d. to 7s. Those, in my opinion, are the serious factors, but still I do not think we have reached a really serious position. This increase has taken place, although we have not yet introduced a single reform under the Act. That is the significant point. We have not built any new schools; we have not modernised existing schools; we have not the smaller classes, and we have not the equipment. We have not all these things, and yet, before we start, the education rate is already up 25 per cent.

I do not know, but I think the right hon. Lady will agree with me, that the educational standard in the schools, now, is actually below what it was in 1938. Staffing is inadequate because of the number of men in the Forces, so the standard is actually lower to-day than it was in 1938, and yet, I repeat, the rate is up 25 per cent. The position is still more serious than that. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Flight.-Lieutenant Teeling) mentioned the fact that, already, the local education authorities have received the extra 5 per cent. to which they are entitled under the new Act. That was to have been spread over four years; they were to receive, first 2 per cent., and then three lots of 1 per cent. But they have received all that already, and, therefore, have no further assistance to expect from the State.

Lastly, the necessitous areas come into the picture. No distressed area grant in this country has yet solved the problem of necessitous areas, and the necessitous area grant in this Act, will fail absolutely, as I have shown, owing to the number of authorities who are now levying these high rates. I would suggest to the Minister two things which she might do. I suggest that she should consider very carefully the question of giving authorities in England 100 per cent. grants for the cost of school meals and the cost of the medical services. I believe that would cost £3,000,000. The authorities assure me that, if that were done, they could avoid the necessity of raising the rate during the next two crucial years, before any of the reforms can be operated. The position of the authorities is very serious. They are now considering working out development plans under the Act. These plans will necessitate considerably higher expenditure. There will be much opposition on the ground that the rates are already up 25 per cent. There will be greater opposition if the rates rise in the next two years with nothing to show for it. I hope the Minister will consider the possibility of helping those who, believing in the Act, are determined to introduce these reforms and who will have to meet these difficulties. I ask her to encourage them and help them to ensure that there will be no need to raise the rate in the next five years. That is fundamental. We must give them every help so that they need not raise the rate in the next two years until we raise the school leaving-age.

I suggest, therefore, an immediate 100 per cent. grant for meals and the 100 per cent. grant for medical services. These two things should never have been carried on the education account. School-meals are part of our social security arrangements and should be carried on under social security provisions and the medical services should come under the Ministry of Health and should not be carried on the education account at all. If we could get these two promises from the Minister, it would help those who represent the constituencies to which reference has been made and with which I say I have no sympathy. I am not trying to solve their problem. They are among the aristocrats, and I am not interested in their problem, but I am interested in the other problem. Consideration should be given to the immediate setting up of a committee to investigate the whole question of the relationship between local and central administration. The thing is getting out of hand. We do not know the basis on which these small national services which are borne both locally and nationally are fixed. As far as we are concerned, in the matter of education, it is 30 years since the Kemp Committee inquiry. If the right hon. Lady cares to set up such a committee and, if it reported before the raising of the school leaving age, and gave a formula, then not only could we secure greater assistance from the Exchequer, but, we could secure what is more important, an equitable distribution of grants. In that case, I believe the authorities—those who are enthusiastic—would be prepared to put up a fight in the next two years for the reforms necessary under the Act. I am sorry to have been so importunate in this, my first speech in this House.

9.47 p.m.

Wing-Commander Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)

I am sure the House would wish me to congratulate the hon. Member for York (Mr. Corlett) on his maiden speech and to express the hope that we shall hear him in this House very often and that he will be able to make a good contribution towards the cause of education which he, so obviously, has at heart. I do not intend to-night to go into the general field of education but to confine myself to supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Flight-Lieutenant Teeling) in their Prayer. I do so for two reasons: The first is that I have the honour to represent one of the 10 boroughs concerned in this anomaly and the second is because I believe that the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne is, essentially, a plea for fair play. I need hardly tell the House that we are all definitely in favour of the progressive development of the standards of education and will give to the right hon. Lady the fullest possible support in carrying out the Education Act, 1944. The two boroughs which I have the honour to represent are particularly proud of their own schools and of the excellence of the quality of the education which they give to their children. We are concerned to-night, however, only with the cost of education and with educational grants, and the plea of this Prayer is for a return to the system, which, up to 1931, was considered a fair division of the cost—that was, fifty-fifty between the State and the local authorities.

I know there are many hon. Members on the other side of the House who feel that it is unfair that the poorer local authorities should have to bear very much of the charges for education, and, naturally, we have a great deal of sympathy with them, but, surely, they should understand that the whole point of making education a national charge is to even it out over all the authorities throughout the country, and not merely to relieve some at the expense of a few other local authorities. We want to try to keep a fair balance, so that no local authority need fear that it will be impoverished in providing educational facilities for its own children. When the standards were changed in 1931, we felt that they were weighted rather unfairly against us. The year 1931 was a time of economy, and cuts were made all round, but there were some things which the Government of the day thought could not be cut, and they had to select somebody to "carry the baby" for them, so that these services could be continued. In their time of need, they asked these local authorities to pay still more for education, and that was admitted by the local authorities without serious complaint.

As things are now, there are 10 boroughs against which this arrangement operates rather unfairly, and it may interest hon. Members to know that these boroughs are Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton, Croydon, Eastbourne, Exeter, Hastings, Oxford, Southend and Southport. We ask that we should revert to the old system, so that those 10 boroughs should not be penalised unfairly. Especially is this of importance now, when, under the new Education Act, the burden of the cost of education is much greater than it has been before. We want to maintain the new national standard, and to help all we can. I do not think it would be quite fair for hon. Members to say that the people who live in the 10 boroughs can well afford to pay for it. We all listened to the Chancellor yesterday, and some hon. Members cheered very loudly when he told his own supporters that he had already taken away practically all the money we had.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

You have still got the Tower, anyway.

Wing-Commander Robinson

Yes, and our Tower played a very useful part in the war. It has been said that we are low-rated boroughs. Probably the right hon. Lady the Minister has not, in her Parliamentary career, represented a low-rated borough, but, if she had, she would know that, low rates often mean high assessments. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should ask the people who pay. I have had thousands of complaints in my own constituency from people who say that, if the rates are low, the assessments are high, and that they are paying just as much as people in the higher-rated boroughs. I ask the hon. Lady to help us. To the people in these boroughs, it is a source of great discouragement that the full burden of cost of the new education should be weighted unfairly against them. It is so easy to say, in these days of big majorities, "Let us charge these people; there are only 10 of them." But I do not think the hon. Lady would want to do that. I ask her to hear our Prayer with an open mind, and accord us redress with an open hand.

9.54 P.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)

I came here with an open mind to listen to the arguments of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Air. C. S. Taylor). I am familiar with the case of that and similar constituencies on this question, but I only decided to try to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, when I heard the speech of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Corlett). I have seldom listened in this House to a speech with greater information, spoken without a note, and yet absolutely on the mark. Nobody has put it more eloquently than the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education—whose absence on this occasion and the cause of it we all deplore. I well remember during the Second Reading Debate on the Education Bill, sitting behind on the second Bench there, when the hon. Gentleman made a most eloquent speech on the whole question of these grants. He put the case, as I think the late Minister of Education might well have done five years ago. I am not saying anything new now, because I pleaded with him then to do it. But instead of appointing all these committees on public schools and so on, the one committee which was wanted when the right hon. Gentleman took office was a committee on the financial relations between central and local government. I said it five years ago, and I say it again to-night—the Education Act will not work. The right hon. Lady can do her best, but she will be frustrated by this impossible system at the present moment. It is not a question of Eastbourne and Brighton and Blackpool; it is a question of whether the local authorities can possibly bear the burden that is going to be put on them.

Therefore, I want to second the suggestion put forward with great knowledge—going back to Fisher and Forster—by the hon. Member for York. I want to ask the right hon. Lady to appoint forthwith a committee with power to act quite speedily, on the financial relations between central and local government in education. Meals and medical services have nothing to do with local authorities. We want to give the greatest possible freedom to local education authorities, but meals are the same in most places. How often did we beseech the local education authorities to go ahead with meals. We could not do more; we had no compulsion. And then hon. Members would say, when I was sitting on the other side of the House, "Why do you not get on with meals in Sunderland and Newcastle?" All we could do was to beseech the authorities to get on, for we had no powers. The principle of a 100 per cent. grant for canteens has been established. Well, we want 100 per cent. for meals and 100per cent. for medical services, and if the right hon. Lady could do this, it would be a great advantage to the implementation of the educational parts of the Act. I see no reason why she could not do it. A committee could be set up with an impartial chairman and one or two specialists on this subject, and it would really help in having the Education Act of 1944 put into the speediest possible operation, in accordance with what is the universal desire of the House.

9.58 p.m.

The Minister of Education (Miss Ellen Wilkinson)

The hon. Member who moved this Prayer said that he was always at prayer, and I seem to be cast for the rôleof the eternal answer to prayer. The object of this Prayer, of course, is to demand the restoration of the 50 per cent. minimum grant which was provided for, as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Corlett) said, in the Education Act of 1918 and was withdrawn in the economy period of 1931. Having taken out figures and seen what the cost would be, I find that the cost to the Exchequer would not be far from £1,000,000, and I am afraid—I have to say it—that the areas which would benefit would include not only the 10 county boroughs mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for South Blackpool (Wing-Commander Robinson) but another six county councils which, altogether, would mean the richest areas in the country. I feel that if there were any hope of getting an extra £1,000,000 from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor I could find a better use for it than by making a present of it to what are acknowledged to be the 16 lowest rated areas in the country. This proposal to introduce a minimum grant was made during the Committee stage of the Bill in 1944, but it was not pressed. I want the House to understand what the effect would be. It would impede the operation of a formula which is designed for the specific purpose of varying the grant in order to relieve the poorest areas. To ask us now to alter that formula to relieve the richest areas is really asking something which we could not possibly grant.

I appreciate to the full the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor), and the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Flight-Lieutenant Teeling), that the South coast suffered terribly during the war. I have reason to know how it suffered, because I was there when the area was being bombed, in the course of my duties as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security. I can only pay my tribute to the people who stayed in the towns there, who carried on their ordinary work and who, I somehow feel, never got quite the public acknowledgment they deserved for the way in which they stood up to the enemy action, which was often worse than ordinary bombing, because it was deliberate and came when the ordinary processes of life—shopping and so on—were being carried on. But those problems cannot be met by any re-arrangement of the education grant. The problems of the bombed towns of the South coast, with all the losses they suffered in tourist trade and such like, have to be met by special Exchequer subventions which are designed to meet these special difficulties. I do not know whether the hon. Member has a grievance about the subventions he is getting, but if he has, then the quarter to which his complaint should be addressed should be, "11, Downing Street," and not "14, Belgrave Square."

I have looked at the rating situation and it is interesting to note—and I say it to comfort the hon. Member for Eastbourne and the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton—what it would mean to give this 50 per cent. minimum grant that is being asked for. I really cannot give any comfort to Blackpool, because anyone who has tried to find a bed in Blackpool knows that they have neither lost trade nor rateable value. I felt an authentic thrill when I heard the hon. and gallant Member for Blackpool making exactly the same sort of speech that I used to make on behalf of Jarrow but, as I say, I cannot give him any comfort. The equivalent rate for Eastbourne would mean that we were making a present of a rate equal to 7s. 6d. in the £. That is a pretty handsome sub- vention to ask. For Blackpool—comfortable, over-prosperous Blackpool—it would mean a present of 5s. 2d. in the £; and for Bournemouth, it would mean 6s. 6d. in the £. Therefore, I feel that, while my heart is always open to hard-luck stories, it is difficult to weep tears over their present difficulties.

Wing-Commander Robinson

From the point of view of Blackpool, we are not pleading poverty at all. We are pleading only for fair play. I hope that the right hon. Lady did not think that I was putting forward this plea on the grounds of poverty because I am not. Perhaps the hon. Lady has forgotten that Bournsmouth is not represented at the moment, and, until the former First Lord of the Admiralty returns to this House, it has to rely on its friends from the other seaside resorts.

Miss Wilkinson

A very famous character in history once said "What is truth?" I would say "What is fair play?" I do not think that a mathematical equality in rating as between Blackpool and the Rhondda, could be considered fair play. I would say that all the areas in the country, the richest as well as the poorest, will benefit from the introduction of the interim Exchequer grant which will, I understand—I am not quite sure whether I am giving away news before the correct moment—be the subject of legislation very shortly. I am further given to understand—though I do not like to be definite—that this grant is intended to operate as from 1st April, 1945, and that its distribution will be based upon the latest available data. While I can only repeat that the relief of special conditions due to the war is not part of the function of the Education grant, I do want to say that we appreciate to the full the very great difficulties which are going to face all local authorities as we increase the social services, and as we increase the complexity of the task placed upon local authorities. No one is more aware than those of us who have to deal directly with local authorities how complicated relations have become between local authorities and the State. I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for York on a maiden speech in which, he did not ask our indulgence before he started, but put before us his arguments like a veteran speaker and casually remarked at the end that it was a maiden speech. He and other hon. Members have pointed out these difficulties, and we appreciate them. I can only say as Minister of Education that it cannot be my job, as a single Minister, to deal with a problem which, in fact, concerns all the Departments that have to deal directly with local government. But I can say that the whole Government, the Cabinet, are aware of the very grave difficulties that are involved. I did indeed receive a deputation from the Association of Education Authorities which dealt with the special problems of the meals and the health services. I promised them, and I repeat the promise here, that I, with my advisers, will go very carefully into these difficulties.

I am not sure that appointing a committee is the best way of dealing with this matter. I am not quite sure whether the best way for a Minister to deal with such problems is to get a body of outsiders to look at them. I tend to think that this is a method which Ministers have evolved for shrugging awkward questions off their own shoulders. In my Department we have experts on these matters, and what they do not know of these questions is not likely to be known by outsiders. This is an extremely difficult technical problem. Therefore, while it is quite impossible, as I suppose the hon. Members realise, for the Government to accede to this prayer as it is put before them, I can only say that I will give the fullest attention to these questions of the school meals and the health services in particular. The question of the relationship between Government Departments and local authorities must, I am afraid, be a question for the whole Government and not for one Department.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden

Is there not a mistake in connection with the point in my right hon. Friend's speech earlier where she quotes figures of the cost of rate subvention in Blackpool and other places in shillings? Should at not be pence? Might not an adjustment be made so that it would appear as coppers, not shillings. Or can it be that we are proposing to build universities in Blackpool.

Miss Wilkinson

I am sorry. I saw that point almost at once and I should have corrected it. It is put down in a long and complicated table as though it were shillings and pence. I am sorry. I made a mistake, and my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) is right.

Wing-Commander Robinson

That makes our case so much more reasonable.

Miss Wilkinson

In practice, if one makes these coppers into pounds, the total amount would look most formidable.

Mr. Lindsay

I did not wish to interrupt the speech of the right hon. Lady, when she was speaking about the 5 per cent. but I gather it was not a new concession.

Miss Wilkinson

That is so.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

In view of the assurance given by the right hon. Lady that she will help us to champion the case of the distressed coastal resorts within the portals of No. 11 Downing Street, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.