HC Deb 13 February 1957 vol 564 cc1411-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Oakshott.]

10.42 p.m.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

I want to raise with the Ministry of Education a local matter, and it may be asked why this, which is essentially a local matter, could not have been taken up in correspondence with the Minister of Education or the Parliamentary Secretary. The reason I have chosen to take my luck in the Ballot and to raise the subject on the Adjournment is that a principle is involved, apart from the merits of the case.

Let me recount the facts. This matter concerns the Junction Road School at Stainforth, which is a mining village near Doncaster, in Yorkshire. A wooden hut housed the school meals kitchen. Some time ago it was realised that the wooden hut was reaching the end of its natural life and could no longer be used, and it was included by the West Riding County Council, the local education authority, in its 1957–58 school meals building programme. But, in March, 1956, the local district education sub-committee was faced with a position in which high winds, gales and storm damage had prematurely ended the life of this wooden hut. They were faced with the fact that it had to be closed immediately. It was demolished in June, 1956, as unsafe.

The local district education subcommittee had the problem of making arrangements for supplying meals to schoolchildren of the three schools involved—the junior boys, the junior girls and the infants. Arrangements were made for food to be transported from two other schools some distance away to these three schools, and the food was brought in vans and served and eaten in the corridors of these three schools. At the end of the meal time the crockery, cutlery and utensils all had to be taken in those vans to another school to be washed.

The children complained that the food was cold and unpalatable and, naturally, the staff complained that the working conditions were unsatisfactory. Strong representations were made to the county committee by the district sub-committee, who hoped that the Ministry of Education would agree to bring forward the provision of a new canteen from the 1957–58 building programme to the 1956–57 programme.

I have copies of minutes that were sent through asking at different times that the Ministry should give this urgent consideration. As far back as 8th August, 1956, it was confirmed that the Ministry of Education had been asked to agree and that its reply was being awaited. Various reminders were sent at intervals. I do not need to recount them, because I am quite sure that the Parliamentary Secretary has been well briefed on the various communications.

In January of this year, my aid was enlisted by the local people, and on 24th January I tabled a Question which was answered by the Parliamentary Secretary, who said that the Minister …has not yet heard whether the authority wishes to include the replacement of the kitchen… amongst its immediate or urgent projects.

I then asked: Is the hon. Member aware that there is a strong feling in the neighbourhood that… the Ministry itself had struck the rebuilding of the canteen from the rebuilding programme.

The Parliamentary Secretary assured me that the Minister intended: …to leave it to each local education authority to decide which outstanding projects are most urgent and should be carried out first."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1957; Vol. 563, c. 376.] I accepted that, because that reply was given factually and courteously by the Parliamentary Secretary, and I referred it to my constituents who had raised the matter with me. The Parliamentary Secretary may judge of my surprise when I received from them documentary evidence in the form of a minute or note from the education officer to the district education office of the West Riding, from which I quote as follows: Of fifteen projects considered to be urgent and essential submitted to the Ministry for approval, only two have been approved for the current financial year, and it is now apparent that there is no possibility of a kitchen and dining room being built at the Junction Road School during the financial year 1957–58. That certainly does not square with the principle enunciated by the Parliamentary Secretary, that the local education authority should decide which of the projects in its area are considered urgent and necessary. It definitely states that out of fifteen projects submitted for approval only two were selected by the Ministry, and the rest turned down. That is what is agitating my constituents, and agitating the children at the Stainforth Junction Road School and their parents, and I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary would resolve the differences between his enunciation of the principle to me on 24th January, and the statement of the West Riding County Council, which is the local education authority, which seem to conflict the one with the other.

I know that there is a certain amount of propaganda value in the statement made here yesterday that it is the Conservative policy to give more freedom of choice to local authorities. This seems to be the enunciation of a principle without putting it into practice, and I shall be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary will not only revise the views he gave me on 24th January, but will also offer some hope that this urgent and necessary project might be included in the next building programme.

10.49 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)

The hon. Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger) has put his point very fairly. I hope that in the closing sentences of what will, of necessity, be a very short speech I shall be able to say something that he will be glad to hear. I would, however, like to say that, so far as the principle with which we are dealing is concerned, I really cannot go beyond what I said on 24th January. In the light of what the hon. Gentleman has said, I will certainly look again at the files and if I think that anything I have said to him is misleading. I shall, of course, communicate with him again.

The principle which I wanted to enunciate on 24th January can be described very simply. In the first place, for reasons of general policy it has been necessary to limit the number of school meals building projects which can be approved for the current financial year and for the forthcoming financial year. Secondly, in principle my noble Friend thinks it best to leave it to each local education authority to decide for itself which of its outstanding projects are most urgent and, therefore, should be carried out first. On the other hand, I entirely understand the force of what the hon. Member has said about the difficulties for all those concerned with the school, which were caused when the canteen building was damaged.

What I am authorised by my noble Friend to say to the hon. Member tonight is that my noble Friend is at this moment considering the possibility of increasing the amount of capital allocated to a few authorities to enable them to deal with specially difficult cases. That examination will naturally have to take time. It would be quite improper for me tonight to say which authorities will be included. Of course, although my noble Friend will certainly bear in mind what has been said in this debate, it will be for the authorities themselves, if they receive any extra allocation, to decide which projects are those to which they will give priority. However, I am authorised to say that my noble Friend is considering this possibility of increasing the amount of capital allocated to a few authorities.

Mr. G. Jeger

Would the hon. Gentleman say whether the West Riding would be one of the authorities?

Sir E. Boyle

That is just what I tried to explain it would be improper for me to say tonight. Before the examination is completed it would be quite wrong for me to give any specific promise of that kind, but certainly my noble Friend is aware of the difficulties which have arisen at this school, and I shall see to it he is fully informed of what the hon. Member has said tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes to Eleven o'clock.