HC Deb 11 April 1963 vol 675 cc1554-9

3.40 p.m.

Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)

Before I start shooting my arrows at the Parliamentary Secretary, let me congratulate him on what I suppose was his maiden major speech from the Box in the debate on 25th March when he effectively expunged the caricature of British education pictured by the lion. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). I did not try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye on that occasion because I wanted to get the undivided attention of the Parliamentary Secretary for the Market Weighton Primary School.

Market Weighton is the perfect community. In these days when we are bewailing the drift of people from the country into the big cities, there we have a small market town in the heart of the agricultural East Riding, a town which is actually attracting people from Hull and elsewhere into its own busy industries. Every day 150 people come in to work at Massey's, which is a progressive engineering concern, and at a knitwear factory. We get new houses going up every year; there are 120 going up this year to enlarge this thriving little town with its healthy balance between industry and agriculture.

Out of harmony, though, with this picture is the overcrowded 120-year-old school perched on the main Hull road, with 300 vehicles roaring by every hour, making teaching almost impossible, and every day a hazard to the children and a real nightmare to the parents. The numbers are increasing the whole time. In 1953 there were 108 students; today there are 150.

This population in the main school has exploded into a primitive building about 100 yards down the road. It has no lavatory. Every morning when the school assembles for prayers they have to stack up the chairs and desks. The inadequate toilets are outside. Of course, this winter they were frozen up. There are only six wash basins and there is no hot water and there is no drying accommodation. The playground is about the size of a tennis court and, again, it is adjoining the main road, so that if a ball goes over the wall and the children go to get it there is danger for the children. There is no canteen, so the children have to cross the busy road and walk about 400 yards, in any sort of weather, to the village hall for their meals. As for the teachers, it is not only frustrating but it makes life harassing for them.

Six years ago a 5-acre site was bought for a new school. It is perfectly placed at the right end of the town, the developing end, next door to a housing estate. There was a fine new school planted for 250 children and a canteen for 175. Everybody had high hopes, but for the last three consecutive years this planned school has not appeared on the East Riding allocation. By now, parents are beginning to wonder—I think wrongly, but understandably—whether the Minister realises what the position really is. I should like to have the Parliamentary Secretary's assurance on this point. Also, I think the parents deserve an explanation, first of all, why it is that in this year's allocation the North Riding is being allowed to start three times as much school building as the East Riding. The North Riding is getting about three-quarters of its allocation. If we were getting that amount the Market Weighton School would certainly be built.

I understand that the whole programme for the country in general is not yet complete and that there is to be a review. I should like to know whether in this review there is a chance that Market Weighton may get its allocation this year. Market Weighton was, I think, sixth on the list originally sent to the Minister. I understand that it now lies second in the order of priority. So we have our hopes.

To encourage the Minister in this review, I assure him that the East Riding is in a position to take on more building. I make this point because only last month the Minister said: Some local authorities would be surprised and a few might be stunned if they were to receive all for which they asked. I assure the Parliamentary Secretary that we in the East Riding would have been surprised but not stunned if we had got our whole allocation. We have got about one-third of it. If we had got half of it, we could have taken it in our stride, including the Market Weighton school. If we had received three-quarters of it, we could have done it, and if we had received the whole amount, we should have had a jolly good try. So I hope that the Minister will not be put off on that account.

Finally, I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether the system which we now suffer, by which authorities make an annual bid for the resources available, is the right way to do things. It seems to me that even in a good building year this system is bound to bring 75 per cent. disappointment, and this perpetuates the completely false impression that the Government are cutting down on education. This seems to me to be almost needlessly inept public relations when the truth is that this country is spending more on education than almost any other nation in Europe, and, in my opinion, spending it more wisely and with more thought for the individual child. Consequently, I ask my hon. Friend to look at the matter again to see whether we cannot do this in a less misleading way.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give me the sort of answer which will win him quite soon an invitation to perform the opening ceremony at the new Market Weighton Primary School.

3.48 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Christopher Chataway)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) upon securing this opportunity to debate the school building programme as it affects his constituency and the Market Weighton Church of England school. There is nothing that I should like better than to be able to go to the opening of a new school in Market Weighton, but I am unable this afternoon to give him exactly the kind of answer that he would wish.

We are very fully aware of the deficiencies of the school. Detailed information about the existing premises was first obtained from Her Majesty's inspector in 1959, when the project was for the first time submitted by the local education authority. The school then housed about 90 infants and 160 juniors. The numbers in January, 1963, were still 90 infants but 128 juniors, so that there has been some decrease in the numbers at the school during those years. But I entirely accept what my hon. Friend has had to say about the disadvantages of the premises. I know that the traffic noise in some of the classrooms is considerable, that the playground is inadequate, and that the arrangements for the taking of the school meal in the church hall leave a very great deal to be desired.

The project was first proposed by the local education authority for the 1960–62 programme. It did not find a place in the list submitted by the authority for the following year, 1962–63, though it has been included in the authority's lists of projects for the past two years but we have been unable to include it in our programme. This last year, it was placed sixth in order of priority by the East Riding local education authority. I am not sure what my hon. Friend had in mind when he stated that it now stood second. Its placing was sixth. On this occasion, however, we were able to include only two projects for the East Riding.

My hon. Friend knows of the priorities we have been working to during the 196065 series of building programmes. We have concentrated upon three objectives: first, basic needs, that is to say, the provision of schools for children who would otherwise have no school to go to; secondly, the reorganisation of all-age schools; and, thirdly, the improvement and replacement of secondary schools.

In the Market Weighton area, there is no new housing which would lead to an expectation of substantially increased numbers over the years. Therefore, we have not been able to allot to this particular project a high priority under the heading of basic need. We have, in the 1964–65 building programme, had to devote a good deal of our resources to the reorganisation of all-age schools which will at last, and not before time, be completed during this year. I can, therefore, say that we do know about the conditions of this school, that we are anxious that it should be replaced as soon as may be possible and that we will bear very carefully in mind what he has said today.

There are three primary improvement or replacement projects which were placed higher in priority by the East Riding authority for the past year. I believe that I am right in saying that all three proposals are strengthened by an element of increasing numbers. My hon. Friend compared the East Riding allocation with that of the North Riding. It is true that, whereas for the former we have been able to include only two projects at a cost of £183,000, the North Riding has secured six projects totalling £620,000.

My hon. Friend will appreciate, however, that one is not able to give to each authority the same proportion of the projects it submits, because the conditions in each area may vary a great deal as, indeed, may the length of the lists submitted by each authority.

In the case of these two local education authorities, it is worth bearing in mind the very different school populations they have. The school population of the North Riding is about 59,000, whereas that of the East Riding is about 32,000. Secondly, there has been considerable housing development in the North Riding particularly along the North coast, and that accounts for the heavy concentration on basic needs, which, as I have said, must have priority.

Thirdly, as a matter of deliberate policy, in allocating the small number of replacement projects which it was possible to include in the 1964–65 programme, we gave priority to the industrial areas of the North. This accounts for the inclusion, for example, of the replacement of the school at Eston South Bank, Victoria, Eston being on Tees-side. The East Riding, however, also received one secondary improvement project, but neither authority has received a primary project justified entirely or mainly as a replacement. That is a measure of the emphasis which we have had to place this year upon basic needs and upon the reorganisation of all-age schools.

It is true that the Yorkshire East Riding major building programme over the five years 1960 to 1965 has included, or will include, 13 schools worth more than £1,400,000. I appreciate that this will be no consolation to the parents and teachers concerned with the Market Weighton school, but I think that my hon. Friend will agree that it is an indication that very substantial work is in progress in the East Riding.

If I may make a minor correction in one of my hon. Friend's suggestions—that in the East Riding there would be no question of any project authorised in one year's programme not starting in that year—looking at the projects before me, it is my understanding that Hessle High School, for 1962–63, has not yet started. This could be for a whole variety of reasons and may not be the fault of the local education authority, but in a number of instances it happens that projects programmed for a year cannot be started in that year.

While we should like to be able to move faster over this particular school, there is substantial building in progress in my hon. Friend's local education authority's area and I hope that he will be assured that my right hon. Friend will bear carefully in mind what he has said both about Market Weighton and the wider needs of the East Riding