HC Deb 23 March 1961 vol 637 cc775-99

12.43 a.m.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I hope that now is a convenient time to turn the attention of the House to another subject, which is a major question of education, namely, the state and size of the school building programme. I am glad to have the opportunity of doing this on the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, at the invitation of the Minister. I appreciate that he was not able to be present at this hour, but I hope to have an adequate reply from the Parliamentary Secretary.

In a Question on 23rd February, when I asked the Minister of Education about the drastic cuts which he had made in local authority proposals for school building programmes in the last few years, at the end of a series of exchanges he said this: It is perfectly true that the limiting factor is the total programme. If the hon. Member wants to attack that, it is something that is worth while discussing. But, having got the total programme, I am bound to try to be fair between one local authority and another."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1961; Vol. 635, c. 776.] I am here to accept the invitation of the Minister to attack the total programme. For some time I have believed that the total school building programme for England and Wales year by year has not been sufficient. I believe that it is now not big enough and that it should be increased immediately.

The evidence for this lies in the contrast between the proposals put forward annually by the local education authorities, which are the responsible bodies to put forward to the Minister the needs of the local child population, and the approvals and consents given by the Minister year by year and the number of projects permitted to be built. On the same date as I have referred to, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) asked the Minister a number of Questions on this subject. His replies were that in the last two years, that is to say the building years of 1960–61 and 1961–62, for major works the local education authorities submitted proposals for new school buildings to a total value of £214 million. The Minister approved programmes to the total value of £115 million; that is to say he cut the proposals of the local education authorities almost in half. For the building years 1961–62 and 1962–63 in respect of minor works the local education authorities put forward proposals for works to the total value of £46 million. The Minister approved minor works to the value of £30 million; that is to say, he cut the proposals of the local education authorities by roughly one-third.

I know that the Minister of Education much objects to our using the word "cut", because he is constantly referring to the fact that the total amount of money spent on education and educational buildings in fact increases. But, nevertheless, when we consider the programmes of the local education authorities as representing the essential needs of the community at large and the child population in particular, it is perfectly correct to use the term "cut" when the Minister refuses to approve much more than one-half or two-thirds of the programmes.

The question always arises: are the proposals which are put forward really essential? There is often the implication in this House, and in controversies elsewhere, that the local education authorities put forward yearly programmes which are much larger than they really need, and that, therefore, it is perfectly fair and reasonable that many of the projects should be deferred and postponed without any great hardship being imposed, because it can be seen that the global programme is of greater value.

I have endeavoured from time to time to probe the question whether local education authorities are expected to put forward year by year everything they want whether they expect to get it or not in the forthcoming twelve months, or to represent to the Minister their essential needs and what is necessary to carry out the principles of educational policy. It is my belief that most local education authorities consider their proposals and programmes in a practicable way, in relation to the accommodation they have got, the replacements they need, the overcrowding in the classrooms and the necessity to recruit more teachers by providing more attractive equipment—that they put forward programmes which are essential.

I speak of things I actually know. On the day when my hon. Friend extracted those figures from the Minister, I at the same time extracted information that in relation to the County of Staffordshire in the last building year the Minister had approved only twenty out of fifty-four educational projects put forward by the local educational authority. On 8th March, I got the Minister to list those projects as they appear in column 48 of the Written Answers in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I see there that in the the forthcoming building year, 1962–3, the Staffordshire education authority has put forward eight projects relating to my constituency, seven for the borough and one for the rural district. Of those eight projects, only two have been approved for that year by the Minister. I know the reasons for those projects, and I know the local circumstances involved. Therefore, I think that I can make a judgment on whether they are essential to meet the needs of the children.

I say that those proposals in that programme are quite limited and modest, designed, not to make startling progress in educational development in Newcastle-under-Lyme, but to endeavour to keep pace in some cases with a fairly rapid increase in the child population or to overcome circumstances which are deplorable. I want to draw the attention of the Minister to some particular cases and to question him about them. Two of the projects he has turned down in relation to the accepted district of Newcastle-under-Lyme concern the new housing estate of Clayton, the project for an infant school at Roe Lane, and for a new primary school. This is a large and highly-developed post-war housing estate, populated to a large extent by young married couples and, therefore, it has a rapidly increasing child population.

The borough education officer for Newcastle-under-Lyme, commenting on these proposals, says: We in Newcastle-under-Lyme sorely need accommodation for primary school children in the Clayton area. We now have completed Langdale two-form primary infants school and a two-form junior school, but the birth rate on the estate is running at 160 to 200 per annum, hence our request for the first instalment of Roe Lane. These projects for new primary accommodation on this estate are not put forward as something that is easily deferable, so to speak, but because the local authority is faced with an exceptionally quickly rising child population on this estate. Unless it gets an extension of primary school accommodation, there will inevitably be increasing overcrowding of the new primary schools in the district. We all know that it is a common experience that when a new primary or secondary school is constructed it is immediately overcrowded because its construction has been long overdue.

Another project listed here, not approved by the Minister, is for the construction of a new secondary girls' school in Newcastle-under-Lyme. This project is urgently needed in order that the existing school may house a junior school at Friarswood which the borough education officer describes as …an obsolete school which should have been superseded years ago. The third project to which I refer comes in the list of expansions and adaptations put forward by the Staffordshire local education authority for a secondary school at Nutton, Newcastle-under-Lyme—an old secondary school where conditions have far long been very limited, and which has been the subject of correspondence between myself and the Ministry of Education.

The borough education authority describes the situation here by saying: Nutton county secondary modern school is bursting at the seams, and it is in a district that wants all the help it can get. I know it to be a really serious situation, in which the teachers and the authorities strive under the most adverse conditions to provide a secondary school for the children.

Therefore, on the basis of my personal knowledge of the proposals put forward for my own constituency, and others of which I have some knowledge in the County of Stafford, I assert that the proposals put forward by the local education authority are not extravagant. They are necessary proposals designed to implement the principles of the Education Act, to reduce the deplorable overcrowding, and to provide the basis for a decent education for the children.

When we look at the total number of schools under construction in Britain today, we see that a programme that should have greatly expanded has not, in physical terms, expanded over the last few years. I do not want to make too much of these figures, because they do not show how large is the project arithmetically calculated here, but the fact remains that five years ago there were in England and Wales, 335 primary schools under construction, and today there are 234. Five years ago, there were 517 secondary schools under construction; today there are 259. Five years ago, there were over 850 schools under construction; today, there are only just over 500.

There has been a drop in the number of schools under construction, but there has been a rise in the number of overcrowded secondary classes, and we know that all over the country there are still a large number of schools that are obsolete or obsolescent.

In reply to criticisms of his programme and to the demands put forward by local authorities for their own districts, the Minister constantly refers to the global value of the programme. The fact that the global value of the programme has risen is thrust about by him in an attempt to show that he is constantly doing more and more. The true test of this business and of the amount of priority which we give to investment in education and in educational buildings is by reference to the gross national wealth. We know that the figures can fluctuate according to the value of money, but a true picture of the situation can be gained from taking expenditure on education in general and on school building in particular as a proportion of the gross national product.

I asked the Treasury on 7th March this year to give the figures. They show, for instance, that in 1950 educational expenditure of central and local government in Britain was 3.3 per cent. of the gross national product, and educational building accounted for 0.5 per cent. within that. By 1955, the proportion had risen from 3.3 to 3.5 per cent., but the percentage spent on school building remained the same. By 1959, it had risen from 3.3 per cent. in 1950 to 4.4 per cent. of the gross national product spent on education generally, and the educational building proportion within that figure had become 0.7 per cent. instead of 0.5 per cent.

No one in the Ministry of Education can claim that that represents a remarkable increase in the value placed upon investment in education or in educational building in Britain. In spite of the size of the figures in terms of millions of pounds, the rise in the proportion has been only fractional.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Kenneth Thompson)

Will the hon. Member give the years and figures again?

Mr. Swingler

I took them from the Written Answer of the Financial Secretary to me on 7th March wherein he said: The following figures show the total expenditure by central and local government on education and child care expressed as a percentage of gross national product over the last ten years for which figures are available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 34.] For 1950, the total educational expenditure is shown as 3.3 per cent. of the gross national product, rising to 4.4 per cent. in 1959, within which building accounted for 0.5 per cent. in 1950 and 0.7 per cent. in 1959. That is the extent of the increase in the proportion of the gross national product devoted to education.

It is not enough. It shows that we are not giving sufficient priority to education, and it should be taken as the basis of an agitation by the Minister of Education in the Cabinet to ensure that a bigger proportion of our resources in general, and in building in particular, ought to be devoted to the younger generation if we are to have the equality of opportunity and decent environment for education which our children need.

If we make a comparison with other countries, we see also that the Minister of Education is not doing very well. I shall quote now figures that I have had calculated from the latest publication of U.N.E.S.C.O. called "Basic facts and figures: International statistics relating to education", the latest, 1960, edition, which gives a comparison of educational expenditure of the major countries, in units of national currency per head of the population and then calculated per head of the population in United States dollars. I shall not quote these figures at length and I realise that many criticisms and reservations can be made about them, but I have no doubt that the U.N.E.S.C.O. statisticians have taken the greatest care in calculating them.

The result of these figures is to show that public expenditure on education per head of the population in 1959, the latest year taken, in, for example, the United States of America was 92 U.S. dollars. In Russia, it was 113 U.S. dollars per head; in Belgium, 46 dollars, and in Norway and Sweden, 41 dollars. Then comes the United Kingdom at 39 dollars per head. We come way behind the United States and the U.S.S.R. and we also come significantly behind Norway, Sweden and Belgium.

That shows the true position about the priority that is given to education and educational expenditure in this country. There has been a tremendous amount of propaganda and talk about the need to invest large resources to achieve a revolution in education and a new look and a new environment for the children of the up-and-coming generation. The global figures of expenditure are often quoted as if to suggest that this had been done, but, when we compare what is being devoted in terms of real wealth per head of the population with some of the other major advanced countries, we find that we are well down the list in the amount of public expenditure upon education in general.

I am aware that the problem of school building and the provision and construc- tion of new schools is only a part of the great problem confronting the Department. Equally important is the recruitment of new teachers, because it seems largely upon the recruitment of new teachers that a reduction of the size of classes depends, and a reduction in the size of classes is, perhaps, the most urgent reform and improvement that needs to be made.

I maintain that these questions cannot be divorced. The construction of new schools, the provision of better equipment and better sites, and of more colour and light in the schools and playing fields outside, are all part of the problem of recruiting new people to the profession of teaching and giving them a better opportunity for teaching and, for the children, of learning in the schools. All those who have been about the country today and experienced the joy and, sometimes, the enthusiasm in the newly-built schools, with the better architecture, the colourfulness, the brightness, the big windows, and so on, know that this is a great incentive for recruitment to the teaching profession, just as it is an enormous advantage to the children, It makes a tremendous difference.

In many ways the greatest inequalities that exist in the education system are the physical inequalities that exist between one school and another—the cramped conditions, the obsolescent buildings and the lack of equipment in one school compared with the enormous physical opportunties in another school. This is one of the greatest disparities that exist in many districts.

A push forward and a dynamic drive for the construction of new schools would assist us in solving all the other problems of the education system—of providing greater equality of opportunity and recruiting many more people to the teaching profession. I therefore ask on the basis of the plain facts that I have given that the Minister of Education should address himself to the question of the total programme and examine it in relation to the real needs of the local authorities and the children today. He should examine it in relation to what has happened in some other countries in constructional effort for the purposes of education, and then demand from the Cabinet a much bigger building programme than we have now.

1.12 a.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I am sure that the House is much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) for deploying such a lucid and cogent argument at this hour of the morning. I congratulate my hon. Friends on being here at double the strength of the Government's backbench support. This no doubt reflects the fact that those hon. Member opposite who are here have not learned of the by-election result at Small Heath which I understand has been a bitter disappointment to the party opposite. It is quite likely that the Small Heath by-election may become of historic importance.

Mr. K. Thompson

It will be unique.

Mr. Willey

We shall see how long it remains unique.

One must stand back and try to discover what factors affected the result. One that comes to mind is the intervention of the Minister of Education. This was one of the major issues at the by-election. The educational issue was raised and apparently the electorate received no satisfactory reply. I want to take this first opportunity therefore, as the Minister's reply was regarded as ambiguous, to put the points quite clearly to the Parliamentary Secretary and demand an immediate and unequivocal reply.

I am glad to see the Minister of Health present. We know that the present Government's policy in the Welfare State was anticipated by the group known as "One Nation", now superseded by the Bow Group. We know of the forecasts about the Health Service made by that Group, many of whom now have distinguished the Government by being members of it, and we know that speculative proposals have been made by the Bow Group about education. We know that the issue facing the Government on education is precisely the same as that which faced them on the Health Service. The Conservative Party was alarmed when it saw the size of the expenditure demanded by the Health Service. This led Conservatives to devise new ways and means of financing that Service. We have recently been discussing some of the matters.

I now want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary the proposals which are at present being canvassed within the Conservative Party. I will take them stage by stage. It is suggested that within the responsibility of his Department there are services which are not educational but welfare—the provision of school meals and the provision of milk for school children. We have no doubt at all about the views of the Minister of Health and of the Government with regard to the provision of such services generally. The proposal is being made that these services which remain on the right hon. Gentleman's Vote might well be reduced, that these are not true educational services. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to take the first opportunity of saying that the Government have no such intention, that there is no question of reducing the contribution made by his Department towards the provision of school meals or milk for school children. He ought to do that in view of the speculation which has followed upon this publication. That is left quite ambiguous by the statement of the Minister of Education to the Conservative candidate at Small Heath. So I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will take the opportunity to make the position of the Government abundantly plain, unequivocal and without dubiety.

The second point raised within these policy-formulating circles of the Conservative Party is the suggestion that grammar school education is something additional to education at large, that it is something particularly coveted, and that for these reason there might well be a charge imposed upon the child receiving the benefit of grammar school education. I want the Parliamentary Secretary again, unequivocally and without dubiety, to deny that the Government or the Conservative Party have any such proposal in mind. Obviously, the electorate at Small Heath regarded the right hon. Gentleman's reply as equivocal. What the right hon. Gentleman dealt with was the issue of providing for payment towards the cost of compulsory education. He did not deal with the question of grammar school education.

Thirdly, we have the proposal made within the Conservative Party that, following the savings at the expense of the milk for school children scheme, the savings in the expenditure on school meals, and the imposition of a charge upon children attending grammar schools, we might then get a charge upon children attending primary schools.

The significant thing which will not have escaped the notice of the Minister of Health is that in this third proposal the qualification is made that any such charge should not be so substantial as to be such a disincentive as to affect the birth-rate. This is novel for the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party denigrates planning. When ten years ago it made its proposals about the Welfare State it made as its first condition that our population should be roughly static.

As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, the Government have not been successful in that. It is interesting to note that throughout their term of office they have been remarkably complacent about this. In the last annual report of the hon. Gentleman's Department there was the usual claim that the battle of the bulge had been won. It said: it is, therefore, now possible to say with certainty that the battle of the bulge has been won. But the Minister now says, in panic terms, that he is again facing a crisis in primary education. He says that there is, unexpectedly, a second bulge coming.

I can understand that he would not anticipate that, because of the views expressed by his right hon. and hon. Friends when they made their proposals about the Welfare State—that it would be to the country's advantage to have a static population. But the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend cannot shrug this off as something that could not be anticipated. We have a Government Actuary for these things. Such things have to be anticipated. My charge is that the Government's planning has been based on a concept that there would be a static population.

I want the Parliamentary Secretary to make a statement rejecting absolutely the proposals that have been made within his party, and to give an undertaking that no such steps will be taken by the Government. We are entitled to that assurance. Having indicated that I support the charge of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme against the Government, I must add that their guilt is the complacency they have shown towards education as a whole.

I concede that the Parliamentary Secretary can produce a lot of comforting facts and figures about the progress we have made in education, but it is no use his denying our charge, because the problem now is entirely different, in quality and quantity, from that which faced us ten years ago. The issue is a broad political one. What is happening in education is happening generally—we are not making a sufficiently intelligent and dynamic use of our resources. One of our greatest resources, if not the greatest, is the intelligence, ability and aptitude of our people. It is a question of using our resources sufficiently to equip ourselves for a new world.

The Parliamentary Secretary can produce comforting figures about the aspect referred to by my hon. Friend. The fallacy of that argument is that the gross national product of this country has increased at a slower rate than that of almost every European country. One of the reasons why the increase in the proportion compares favourably with one or two European countries, about which the Parliamentary Secretary will have been briefed, is that the gross national products of those countries have increased at rates far in advance of ours.

The U.N.E.S.C.O. figures themselves are disturbing, but what makes the comparisons false in any case is the fact on which the hon. Gentleman should concentrate—that we are rapidly losing ground to our competitors in the world's markets and we have to take exceptional steps if we are not to lose further ground.

It is all very well for the Minister of Education to say, as he did recently, that we are losing the battle of exports because we did not devote sufficient of our resources to education in the 1930s: but what is a Minister of Education to say in twenty years' time? The hon. Gentleman should take his right hon. Friend's warning seriously and see whether we are now devoting sufficient of our resources to education so that in twenty years' time we shall be able to maintain our standard of living and face our competitors.

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will say that the difficulties facing local authorities are not exceptional, but the importance of this matter is that local education authority estimates are realistically prepared and are prepared in the context of the right hon. Gentleman's view of educational requirements. They are not ambitious projects. This is not a case of local authorities going outside the Minister's wishes. The estimates themselves are hopelessly inadequate and we shall not be able to tackle the problem with our sights so low. It is then more than disturbing that, with the right hon. Gentleman's sights too low, he should halve the realistic estimates of the local education authorities.

The Parliamentary Secretary will not deny that, comparatively, we have lost ground in primary and secondary school building. He may say that the Government are concentrating their attention on building for further education and the training of teachers. I say two things to him. One is that we cannot divorce these two things. The teachers will come from the schools, particularly the sixth forms, as he would agree. One of our serious difficulties at the moment is not only in further education but in sixth form education. We have to increase the sixth forms much more rapidly than we have been doing, rapid though we may have been. We cannot divorce the two things. Quite apart from that, however, so desperate is the need that we cannot allow one need to be prejudiced by the priority of another. These are immediate needs.

The tragedy about university education is the appalling difficulty of the need to do something; so desperate is the need for overall priority of education that we cannot afford the exceptional priority now being given to the training of teachers and to further education or allow it to prejudice the other sections of education. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will realise this. I have said before that I recognise that within his overall priority he endeavours to exercise priorities as fairly as he can. There is a general feeling throughout the country that not sufficient priority overall is being given to education.

We are disturbed by the fact that this may be further prejudiced by the views which are apparently being canvassed within the Conservative Party about financing the expansion of education. A formula much like the steps which have been taken in the National Health Service would itself be a built-in brake upon the expansion which we require. We say that not to embarrass the Parliamentary Secretary but because we have real reason to fear this. We are now seeing the true purposes of the block grant. We see in the block grant a built-in moderation of expansion. All local authorities know that the rates are a very unsatisfactory way of financing education expansion—the maximum trouble for the minimum return. We know that the local authorities have to produce their budgets and face an immediate general election. We know this, and the Government know well enough that for those reasons they can produce for themselves an alibi for not doing what is urgently required.

What is required is a matter which ought to be above party politics. We demand as essential for Britain in the difficulties she faces in world markets, difficulties because of the limits upon our natural resources, that we devote far more than we are doing to provide the educational service our people deserve. I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will not try to escape his responsibility for this by producing comparative figures for the past few years, but will recognise that there is an entirely new feeling in the country for the benefits of education and that people are willing to pay what is required. It is up to the Government to see that the people have the education services which they deserve.

1.34 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Kenneth Thompson)

One of the delights of the Consolidated Fund Bill is that we find ourselves presented with some surprising as well as interesting comments. I hesitate to make a forecast of what the Government Actuary's reaction will be tomorrow when he finds that he has been blamed for the second bulge going through the primary schools. No doubt he will be able to call up enough resources to satisfy himself that he can lay that responsibility elsewhere.

I am sorry to have to disappoint the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) in not accepting his courteous invitation that I should allow him to prepare my speeches for me and then deliver them in a manner which no doubt would be more satisfying to him than I hope he will find my remarks this morning. But I say one thing as a preface to my remarks; it is common practice for those who criticise someone in responsibility to lay upon him in advance, and if not in advance at any rate in course of, and if that is overlooked, soon afterwards, a charge, if he has an answer, of being complacent. The hon. Member took care to build that into his main speech, in case he found that his arguments were less good than they had earlier appeared to be when being delivered with his usual charm and facility. The charge of complacency is the last refuge of the disarmed critic. I hope that he will allow me to make my speech in the knowledge that I shall be charged with complacency anyway, but nevertheless endeavouring to show that that is far from being the condition in which my right hon. Friend or his colleagues in the Government face this very serious and important problem of the education of the country's children.

Let me turn to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), who invited us to remain with him until this interesting hour of the morning. He made his arguments in three parts—that the school building programme as a whole is not enough, that his own authority and constituency suffer badly both actually and relatively, and that this problem is thrown up because this country does not spend enough on education out of its national resources, and is falling behind some of the other advanced countries of the world. Let us see what the facts are likely to be on a less prejudiced approach than that which, it seemed to me, the hon. Member adopted.

Let me state categorically that the school building programme to which the country is committed is the biggest which the country has ever had in its history. Of course, that sounds complacent to the hon. Member for Sunderland, North. It happens to be a statement of a fact which he does not find very agreeable. It is the biggest school building programme which this country has ever undertaken at any time in its history.

The building programme is proceeding as was forecast in the White Paper which the Government produced in 1958. We are coming to the end of the first of the building years of those five years. Year by year through the programme we shall spend an average of £60 million a year—a total of £300 million on primary and secondary schools. I will deal in a moment with the other kind of educational building which is taking place, but for the moment I am dealing with the narrow point of school building which the hon. Member made.

It could be argued—and I should not find it difficult to lend a sympathetic ear to the argument—that we should do more school building. No Minister of Education is ever satisfied with his allocation of the nation's resources. No Minister in charge of any Department is content and does not feel that he could not have done with a little more. What we have to decide as a Government is where the total resources can best be allotted and, then, having apportioned what is available between the various schemes, to let them get on with their share as efficiently and economically as they can.

The hon. Member used a remark which I found both strange and disturbing—disturbing not in its merit but in that he believed it to be true—that this country is in some way baffled in its school building, leaving aside the size of the programme. In fact, the schools we build in this country represent a better value for money per pound spent on the building than is the case in any other country building schools at present. It is not possible to compare the amount of money spent on school buildings unless we take into account how many schools we get per million pounds, but as was shown by our experience at the Milan Trienniale at the end of last year, this country leads the world in its design of school building and in the quality and quantity of buildings which it gets for the money invested. We can claim not only that the total sum we are spending on school building is more today than ever before, but that we are also getting more and better schools out of that building than was possible ten years ago, or than is being got today by any other country building schools.

Having accepted that there must be a ceiling, and while I concede that there can be two views whether the ceiling is high enough—and it is not difficult to wish it could be higher—we have to decide whether the sum within that ceiling is being properly used. For a long while after the end of the war all the resources which were available for school building had to go to new places for new populations in new towns and estates. That is still true, to a large extent, and the hon. Member's own area is good evidence that we have to devote about half our school building resources to providing additional places in those areas to which new populations are moving from the slum areas of our cities. So it should be.

The hon. Member mentioned cases where, in new areas, there is a demand for a new infants' school or a new primary school. That may be so. All I can tell him is that we will devote our resources, as a priority, to seeing that where there is a new school population there will be provided new school places. That does not mean that there will not be, at some time, some overcrowding here and there in one school or another. There are other factors to be taken into account, as the hon. Member knows quite well.

Where a new estate is built, involving hundreds or thousands of houses, all being occupied by large numbers of new young families, with bright, shining new children, the schools are built with a view to providing accommodation for those children in the best possible circumstances that can be arranged, but taking account of the fact that those children will grow up and move out of the primary schools with surprising quickness and into secondary schools, and then be gone from those estates. All of us have had experience of estates built between the wars, where now there is no need for more than about half the school places that were provided when the estates were built.

That is not a decisive factor for not building enough schools or providing enough places, but it has to be taken into account in planning the distribution of resources. We provide school places where they are needed, and at no time in this country since the end of the war have there been any children for whom school places were not available without working double shifts. This is the only civilised country that I know of of which that statement is true. So that, backward as we are in some ways that the hon. Member has mentioned, let us stake our claim to one factor, at any rate, in which we have a record of which we can be proud; no children have been out of school for lack of a school place in this country since the end of the war, as far as I know, and no other civilised country can make a similar claim.

The second priority in our school building programme is the building and reorganisation of all-age schools. It is no use talking about secondary education for all unless that is done. That will be almost completed in the first three years of the five-year programme, when we have got rid of practically all the all-age schools. But while we are going through the early phase of the programme we have to devote our resources to the necessities.

The third priority is the provision of better secondary schools and improvements in existing schools. Here we are doing the best we can with the remainder of the resources, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are making considerable progress in a great many places. One-third of the children are in schools provided since the war, new shining schools as the hon. Gentleman described them, and all that he said about them is true. They have a remarkable transforming effect on the children and on the teachers, and we are glad about that. But that carries with it a complication. When new schools appear the people who have to send their children to the schools which are not so new see the difference, and the old school, which was tolerable before, now suddenly appears to them to be the worst place in which their children could be educated. That does not happen to be true, but it is a cause of great discontent and a great sense of dissatisfaction. But in a way it is a good thing because it gives a spur and a purpose to the provision of new schools, and to get the programme working as smoothly as possible.

Let me now deal with the point made by the hon. Member about the programmes submitted by the local education authorities. Until we had completed the programme to provide places where they were needed, it was not possible for us even to let local authorities consider spending large sums of money on rebuilding and replacing the less satisfactory schools. When we came to that point, of course there was a large pent-up demand and a great deal of enthusiasm among local authorities to get new schools wherever possible. So, of course, local authorities put into their bids all the schools they would like to get replaced or improved. I am not criticising them, but I say that it is grossly unrealistic to imagine that all that could be done in one or two years. No local authority really believed that. None of the local authorities which put forward grossly inflated programmes believed that they were likely to get the programmes permitted in the first year. Even if they managed to get the programmes included, none believed that they could manage to carry them out.

Mr. Swingler

The hon. Gentleman ought to be more careful about what he says. He has referred to grossly inflated programmes. That is a libel on the local authorities. They were asked to put in projects in order to improve the accommodation in their areas to what is laid down by the Ministry as modern standards. If the Ministry does not want that, why does not it tell the local education authorities that the standards are to be lowered and that less projects are to be submitted? But so long as those standards exist the Minister must not talk about grossly inflated programmes. They are the minimum programmes required to bring the school accommodation up to contemporary needs.

Mr. Thompson

The hon. Gentleman should not be so sensitive. I am trying to deal with that very point. I say that of course local authorities included as much as they could in their bids in the first year.

Mr. Swingler

Not as much as they could but what was needed.

Mr. Thompson

If the hon. Gentleman would contain his exuberance and listen to my argument, he might find an answer to what is troubling him. The local education authorities put into their programmes a great deal more than they knew they could carry out. In case the hon. Gentleman thinks that is an exaggeration, or that I am doing less than justice to some local authorities, let me quote a case, that of his own authority, which in this matter is very little differ- ent from many others. In the 1960–61 programme it put in for £1 million worth more work than it has been able to start. That is not a singularly black mark against Staffordshire. Many local authorities did precisely what I have said. I am not criticising them for failure to carry out their own programmes; I am saying that this is one of the facts we have to take into consideration in arranging local authority building programmes over the country as a whole. I hope the hon. Member will not make too much of the fact that some local authorities do not get as much as they ask for in their first attempts to improve all their secondary schools.

Even if we agree that we should like more money to be spent on primary and secondary schools, we do not do ourselves justice until we take into account all the money poured out on other educational building—£60 million on primary and secondary schools, £15 million on improving and extending technical colleges, £8 million on building new and extending existing teacher training colleges, £17 million on minor works, £2¼ million on special schools, in addition to all the expansion which is going on in our universities at the same time. I have not mentioned the expenditure going on in Scotland, about £15 million.

I do not want to detain the House for too long, but I should like to deal with the point the hon. Member made about the relationship between the expenditure we in this country undertake on education and the expenditure in other countries. I first draw his attention to a paragraph in the preface to the document from which he extracted figures. It says, on page 7: In comparing national statistics countries often use widely different definitions and qualifications and for this reason such statistics are not strictly comparable on the international level. Caution should therefore be exercised in attempting to draw conclusions from the figures in the present collection. If ever that caveat were necessary it is necessary in attempting to deal with the figures the hon. Member put before the House. I have no doubt at all that the percentage he gave was as near right as it is possible to get. He got it from the Treasury, and I imagine that it is a reliable figure, but when he compares it with figures given by other countries he must take into account all the enormous number of variants there are in comparing the figures.

First, the figures given for this country and those for other countries in the list from which he drew his extracts refer to public expenditure on education, but this country is peculiar among all the countries quoted in this document in that, in addition to the large sums spent on public education a great deal is spent on private education. There is no comparable element, I imagine, in the figures for the Soviet Union. The figure for the United States is different in other ways on account of the same factor. So the basis from which we start is different before we come to the other factors which affect the argument.

The exact scope of the term "education" varies from country to country. Do the countries he quoted include libraries and museums in their education statistics? Some do and some do not. Do they include school meals, school health, transport, physical recreation, school uniforms? The hon. Member does not know, and I certainly do not know, but this is a vital factor in trying to assess whether those figures are in any way comparable. They may be widely different.

There is the conversion of expenditure factor. The hon. Member gave the dollar equivalents. I wonder on what sort of rate of exchange he based his figures. Are they on the rate of exchange that the world markets quote, the figures for internal consumption by internal residents, or rates applicable to visiting tourists to those countries? All the figures are different and different figures are used by different countries in submitting their statistics for this publication. All of them cut out the possibility of comparing one with another.

Mr. Swingler

I took the exchange rates from the U.N.E.S.C.O. pamphlet itself. If the hon. Gentleman will look at Appendix C, pages 173–178, he will find the exchange rates to enable one to make the comparison by converting all currencies into United States dollars. I appreciate the reservations the hon. Gentleman makes, and in view of them I hope that his Department—which is con- cerned with U.N.E.S.C.O.—may be able to do something to standardise these statistics in U.N.E.S.C.O. so that in future, we can make a more valid comparison.

Mr. Thompson

The point is that it is impossible to standardise them. Who knows how many roubles there are to the United States dollar when there are three different rates? They do take one of them, but we do not know which—and, if we did, it still would not give an equivalent comparison between what the United States dollar will buy in the United States and what so many roubles worth of dollars will buy in Soviet Russia. It is no use the hon. Gentleman imagining that this is a wonderful stick with which to beat the back of any Government. The whole basis of his argument collapses as soon as he rests on that comparison—

Mr. Swingler

Perhaps I may make one comparison that the hon. Gentleman would surely admit is fair. It is a comparison with the United States, where there can be no argument about the exchange rate of sterling into dollars. In the United States there is private expenditure on education that does not appear in the figures, so it is valid to compare the United States, with its 92 dollars per head, with the 39 dollars spent here. Will he accept that as a valid comparison?

Mr. Thompson

No, I do not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman there. I was hoping to be able to give two or three factors in education in my own way and at my own time—I will not run away from that. But before we come to the question of converting a £ into a dollar, account has still to be taken of the cost of living in the United States: that what a dollar spent there will buy is less than what a dollars worth of pounds—whatever the rate of exchange—will buy in this country, where the cost is less.

There is a world of difference, if one tries to compare value for money, when one makes allowances like that. So I hope that the hon. Gentleman will at least agree—perhaps that is too much to hope—but I trust that the House will accept that it is impossible, quite impossible, to take units of this kind and toss them lightly about. The hon. Gentleman did that, and considered at the end of the exercise that he had uttered the uttermost damnification of the Government's policy. It simply is not true, as I imagine he knows.

Let me give the other factors. Since we reject what the hon. Gentleman gives as a basis of comparison of things here and abroad—the hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I know he does not admit it—it is, of course, wonderful on the platform or the street corner, but it does not stand up to examination. There are other factors to take into account when trying to assess whether one country is doing as well as another.

The answer is not to be found in comparing how many students are following this course or that, or how many students there are per head or per thousand of population. The situation in the United States is a splendid example of how that can lead one astray. I have seen figures comparing this country with the United States worked out on that basis, but the United States figures include an enormous variety of other considerations that we do not include in our higher education statistics—courses of various kinds that are outside our sphere of higher education altogether. They do not include a number of processes of training and educational development that go on in this country but which are still of higher education standard. Our lawyers, solicitors, architects, accountants, nurses and other professions ancillary to medicine total scores of thousands of people. The statistics which we would offer would have to be taken in comparison with the figures offered by the United States which include not only those but a great variety of others which we do not count in higher education.

We ought to satisfy ourselves that we are doing the best we can in this country with the resources available, that we are trying to use more resources if we can, and we are trying to derive better value from those resources as we go on. This we are trying to do, and we shall continue to do so. I assure the House that we shall do our utmost to see that we go on improving our education service to the full extent of our ability so that our children will have equal opportunities for the best education from which they are able to benefit.

Mr. Willey

Before the Minister concludes, we should have the matter quite clear. There seems to be worse complacency than I should have expected. Is he saying that it is quite impossible to obtain comparative figures of costs in education? I warn him, before he replies, that his right hon. Friend has drawn very disparaging comparisons between this country and West Germany, Russia and the United States, for instance. Did he do that without any information?

Mr. Swingler

And what exchange rates did he use?

Mr. Thompson

There we are. I am simply inviting the House to consider how extremely dangerous it is to try to make comparisons without having, first of all, established all these other factors which form the basis of any fair judgment.

Mr. Wiley

I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. Is he criticising his right hon. Friend? I will tell him, if he does not know, that his right hon. Friend has time after time drawn disparaging comparisons between Britain and certain other countries in regard to education, particularly higher education. I imagine that the Minister has done that because he has been—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that he has exhausted his right to make a speech. I understood him only to be asking a short question before the Minister terminated his own speech.

Mr. Willey

Your understanding was perfectly correct, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was following the usual custom, if I may say so, and trying to clear up a point which the Parliamentary Secretary made. This is an important matter, because he has relied upon it in the course of his speech. To put it quite simply, is he saying that we can obtain no reliable guidance on comparative costs of education?

Mr. Thompson

I will put my answer as briefly as I can. It was the nub of the argument which I was offering. None of these figures and comparisons must be accepted without making all the qualifications and reservation which I made in the remarks I have just addressed to the House.

Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)

The Parliamentary Secretary really ought not to use that sort of argument. He must be aware that for the purpose of comparing wages, for instance, this problem was solved by our economists many years ago, and these adjustments are currently made to give us reasonable figures and comparisons. There was nothing new in what the hon. Gentleman said on the subject, and he would be well advised to accept our point that there is not an insuperable obstacle to the making of correct comparisons.

Mr. Thompson

I do not accept the point at all. I have simply stated a fact relating to the argument which the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme offered as a basis for criticism of the effort which this country is making in its education service, and I reject that basis.