HC Deb 21 March 1963 vol 674 cc785-97

2.0 a.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

It says a great deal for the determination of hon. Members on both sides to see fair play done that today, when we are debating the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill and hon. Members are privileged to speak on a wide variety of subjects, the subjects so far discussed have been matters that have in one form or another aroused disquiet to the sense of justice that hon. Members possess. At the beginning of our day, some nine or ten hours ago, we debated the possible deportation of a Nigerian chief. Then we discussed the imprisonment of the two journalists connected with the Vassall case, and latterly we have listened to the case of the Irishman who was deported to Ireland, as described by the hon. Members for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) and Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan).

In a sense, I am continuing the debate in a fairly similar strain, in as much as I am anxious to bring to the attention of the House what I consider to be a matter of some injustice to the County of Leicestershire in connection with the annual average allocation that has been made to the county for use in major projects of educational work in recent years. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary here, and I confidently expect that by the time I have ended my remarks I shall have convinced him and hon. Members that for many years Leicestershire has, to use an appropriate metaphor, only received a few crumbs of the annual cake allocated for major school projects throughout the country.

For 1964–65 there has been allocated for major school building projects throughout England and Wales a sum of £55 million, and that sum—

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

Perhaps I may correct my hon. Friend there, because this is rather important. It is not an allocation. The sum he mentions is for starts in 1964–65.

Mr. Farr

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. As he says, the sum proposed for new starts is £55 million for England and Wales. That total has to be divided among a goodly number of education authorities. There are 146 separate local education authorities in England and Wales, so that it can be seen that if this cake is to be divided equally, the slice to each local education authority is liable to be rather a small one. It is a goodly-sized cake, but there are a lot of hungry people round it with goodly appetites.

I would remind my hon. Friend that the German philosopher, Schiller, with some of whose works I am quite certain he is conversant, has referred to equality as the holy law of humanity. I hope to prove to my hon. Friend that Leicestershire is not receiving, and has not received for many years, her proper and equal share of this annual sum that is earmarked for major school building projects, and I seek for Leicestershire no more and no less than its fair and proper share.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have heard of, and I am quite certain that a number will be quite familiar with, the Leicestershire plan for education. It is a plan that is called by many people the "Mason Plan," after the able and active director of education for the county. Some of the highlights of this exciting new plan, which has provided many new features in secondary education, are that the 11-plus examination is abolished, and that every pupil who goes to any secondary school is entitled to go on to a grammar school.

Pupils leave the primary schools and go to a high school at 10 years of age or in some cases at 11 years. They spend about three years in the high school and then, provided that their parents give an undertaking that they will continue at a grammar school for at least two full years, they are by right entitled to go on to a grammar school. Swept away are the fears and inexactitudes which are tied up with the 11-plus examination. I feel that with these chief features—no 11-plus examination and every child entitled to go to a grammar school—the Leicestershire plan really has something. I have been round most of the Leicestershire plan high schools and grammar schools and I make no secret of the fact that after what I have been shown at these schools I am an ardent supporter of the plan. I should like to see it considerably extended and adopted as a basis of secondary education throughout the country.

I do not ask hon. Members to take my word alone for the plan. A short time ago the Gartree High School was opened in Leicestershire for secondary education. Even before the school was opened education experts from no fewer than five continents travelled to be shown round it and, after examining it, evinced the most lively interest.

Some months ago the Local Government Boundaries Commission proposed that a large proportion of Leicestershire, including about 20,000 of my own electorate, should be transferred to the city of Leicester. I received over 5,000 letters from people who did not want to go into Leicester city and were content with their lot within the county. The startling fact is the reason which over 1,000 of these people who took the trouble to write to me gave as their chief cause for concern. They did not want to go into the city, but, even more, they did not want their children to lose the chance of being educated under the Leicestershire plan for education. It can be seen, therefore, that both nationally and internationally acclaim has been accorded to the Leicestershire plan.

It is a new plan which has endless possibilities, but I should not be fair if I did not say to my hon. Friend that I feel that the expansion of the plan is in real danger of being stinted by the miserly attitude which has been adopted by the Ministry of Education. I am not asking for special consideration for Leicestershire because it happens to have a plan for education which I think is second to none. I simply ask that Leicestershire should have a fair proportion of the moneys available. I will make quite clear to my hon. Friend, with an example, that that has not been happening. I should make no secret to him, because he is probably aware of it, that I have a vast number of examples which I could produce, which I will not quote in view of the very late hour. I assure him that they add up to the same thing and show quite clearly that for years Leicestershire has been starved.

The first argument is what I would call the "N.O.R." argument, or the numbers on the roll. Briefly, this emphasises particularly the long-term starvation which Leicestershire suffered in her allocations for major school building projects between the years 1957 and 1962. For this purpose, 12 other local education authorities in England, all county education authorities and very similar in make-up to the Leicestershire education authority, were considered, together with Leicestershire. As hon. Members would expect, over the years 1957–62 all those local education authorities, which include such authorities as Cumberland, Derbyshire, East Sussex, Gloucestershire, Huntingdonshire, Kesteven, Lindsey, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire and Warwickshire—most of them neighbouring counties with similar problems—showed a substantial increase in the numbers of pupils on the rolls. All, including Leicestershire, showed a substantial increase during those five years. The highest increase which is shown is 13,835 and the next highest is 7,951. Leicestershire is next with an increase of 6,727.

By virtue of the sums allocated to them for major projects, every one of those 13 local education authorities, except one, has been able to provide more new places than the extra number of school children which it has had on roll. All except one—which is Leicestershire. Many of them have been able to build extra school places far beyond the increase in the numbers of children on their rolls. For instance, between 1957 and 1962 the local education authority which had its N.O.R. increased by 13.835 managed to build 15,620 new school places. The local education authority with an increase of 7,951 in N.O.R. was allocated sufficient money for major projects to build no fewer than 26,790 new school places in those years. Another of those local education authorities, where the N.O.R. increased by only 302, was enabled to build 12,839 new places between 1957 and 1962.

Each of those 13 local education authorities except Leicestershire was allocated sufficient money to build considerably more new school places than the increase in number of pupils on the roll warranted—and this is right, because unless local education authorities can provide more new school places than the number of new pupils, there will never be any rehousing of pupils from old, dilapidated, outworn buildings.

Leicestershire is a veritable museum of mediaeval school buildings. The number of pupils has risen since the war by no less than 58 per cent. compared with a national rise of 39 per cent. in England and Wales. The sums allocated to Leicestershire between 1957 and 1962 were not even sufficient to enable the county to build sufficient school places to keep up with the additional children on roll. With the moneys they received, they were able to provide only 5,805 new school places against an increase of 6,727 in the N.O.R. over the same period. In other words, 1,000 fewer new school places were built than new children came along. The building of school places has not been sufficient even to keep pace with the growth in the school population.

How can such a figure be related to the local education authority to which I have referred, which during those five years had an N.O.R. increase of only 302 and yet during the same period had 12,839 new places provided? I think I can safely say that Leicestershire is the only local education authority which has had more new schoolchildren coming on the scene than new places were built. It is probably the only county where the position is regularly and steadily deteriorating.

We have heard that in Lancashire, for instance, by 1964 every secondary-school child will be being educated in a post-war building. In my constituency of Harborough, which is a large portion of southern Leicestershire, we have places in the county like, for instance, the Hanbury School, Church Langton; Kibworth Grammar School; Welland Park Modern School, Market Harborough; the Grammar School, Market Harborough; the Modern School, Lutterworth, and the Grammar School, Lutterworth, all of which are major schools, but not one of these six schools has a separate gymnasium, not one of them has a separate assembly hall and the single dual-purpose room does not exceed 1,800 sq. ft., whereas a modern school hall and a modern gymnasium would each be at least 2,800 sq. ft.: that is to say, 1,800 sq. ft. as against at least 5,600 sq. ft.

In the County of Leicester generally, the same serious and appalling position is repeated. For instance, at the Stone-hill High School, Birstall—I warn my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, despite the lateness of the hour—an extremely dangerous position is developing. This school at Birstall was constructed to house 450 pupils. Today, it is housing 666 and by 1968 the figure will be over 700. It is managing to struggle along from day to day only by being able to use some of the buildings from the adjacent grammar school, but those borrowed buildings have to be returned in September and I am told by the county director of education that only the immediate provision of £100,000 will enable education to be carried on at all at the Stonehill High School, Birstall.

I have already referred to the Welland Park Modern School, Market Harborough. I should like to give my hon. Friend an alarming fact concerning this school. It now accommodates no fewer than 510 pupils in 14,000 sq. ft. of available teaching space, which is 10,000 sq. ft. less than the 24,000 sq. ft. which a school with that number of pupils should be allocated.

At Birstall, again, the Leicestershire education authority and its county director are seriously concerned because they have no idea how they will cope in the Longslade Grammar School with the children from the Hamilton High School, Scraptoft, for whom places must shortly be found.

Most hon. Members will agree that these statistics depict a very strange anomaly in education. It would appear that the startling growth of population which has been a largely unnoticed aspect of Leicestershire in recent years seems also to have escaped the attention of the Ministry. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was very good to me two or three months ago when he courteously gave a good deal of his time to discussing some of these problems with me.

I make no secret of the fact that after I had seen him I felt a great deal better and I felt quite certain that, with his well known perspicacity and commonsense, we should soon see a rapid increase in the sums allocated to the county for major school projects. I felt certain that he would see that Leicestershire got a fair crack of the whip and that this new deal would probably begin in the major projects allocation for 1964–65.

What happened? I now learn that out of a total application made by the county director of education, amounting to £2,224,000 for urgently needed major works, we have only been allocated £431,000–19 per cent. of what is required. That was why I felt constrained to bring this matter up at the earliest opportunity in the House.

Can he tell me why the percentage of proposals allowed for Leicestershire has steadily declined since 1960? In 1960–61, the county proposed projects costing £437,000 and the allocation was £279,000–64 per cent. I will not trouble the House with figures for the following years except to say that whereas the percentage of proposed works approved in 1960–61 was 64 per cent., it dropped the next year to 54 per cent., the following year to 49 per cent., last year to 29 per cent., and this year, in the allocation for 1964–65, to 19 per cent.

I hope that my hon. Friend will tell me when this rapid decline is to be halted. It has been steady for five or six years. Can he also say why it is that throughout the country the national average of allocations approved is some 22.6 per cent. whereas in Leicestershire it is only 19 per cent., despite the country's desperate position?

Many hon. Members might think that Leicestershire has been proposing an unusually large programme of school building. That is a reasonable supposition; people might be excused for thinking that one of the reasons why such a vast proportion of what it applies for is turned down is that it is applying for an unnaturally high allocation. But that is not the case, as my hon. Friend will confirm. For instance, in respect of 1964–65 no fewer than 24 local education authorities applied for greater allocations.

Can my hon. Friend tell me why in the last five years, although about 0.92 per cent. of the school children in England and Wales have been the responsibility of the Leicestershire education authority, the average allocation to Leicestershire of money for major projects has been only 0.62 per cent.? Consistently and regularly, on average for the past five years, it has been 50 per cent. below what the allocation ought to have been in proportion to the number of children for which the county is responsible.

I think it fair to assume that if a county has roughly 1 per cent. of the school children of the country, it should receive, subject to variations in connection with specific cases, roughly over the years 1 per cent. of the sums available for new school building, and certainly not consistently less. My hon. Friend shook his head just now when I said that in the last five years Leicestershire had received less than a proper proportion of the money due to it for major school projects if it were worked out on a per capita basis. I can only say that in the past five years on average nearly 1 per cent. of the school children of England and Wales have been the responsibility of the Leicestershire education authority, and yet during that time, as shown in a table which I received in answer to Question No. 22 on 18th March, only slightly over ½ per cent. of the sums allocated for major primary and secondary school building programmes have been allocated to Leicestershire.

Another Question which my right hon. Friend was good enough to answer for me recently was in connection with the number of new school places being provided in England and Wales at the moment. He told me that at 31st December, 1962, there were 2,480 new school places being built in Leicestershire out of a total number of new school places being built in England and Wales of 364,000. That is still about 0.60 or 0.61 per cent. compared with 0.91 or 0.95 per cent. of the school children of the country who are the responsibility of the Leicestershire education authority. So the sums allocated are consistently 50 per cent. below what they should be according to the national average.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not say that one of the reasons why Leicestershire has been receiving so little may he the fine modern school buildings that it has. He must not say that. If he does, I shall insist on his coming and spending a day or two with me there. I shall entertain him quite well and show him some really historic old buildings crammed with pupils and in a most dangerous state, buildings which I consider should—and, for all I know, may—be registered with the registrar of buildings of ancient and historic interest because they are so old.

Finally I should like him to give the lie to something that I have heard said more and more often recently. It is being said that one of the reasons that Leicestershire is not getting a fair crack of the whip is that the Leicestershire plan for education does not meet with the approval of the education authorities in Whitehall. I have told everybody who has said that to me that that is nonsense. I have reminded people time and time again that the Government's declaration, which has been repeated quite often by my right hon. Friend and his predecessor, is that the Government are anxious to see a variety of educational systems developed in the country. We are not dedicated to one or the other. We want to see a variety flourish, and we want to select that which, by trial and error, proves to be the most efficient for the rest of the country. I think that the Leicestershire plan might well, one of these days, be recognised as one of the most efficient systems of education.

I have every confidence in my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education and in my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in that, having heard my remarks, my hon. Friend will give me an assurance that what I have said will be looked into, and possibly he will be a little more forthcoming and will tell me that the meagre allocation of £430,000 for Leicestershire in 1964–65, which is not nearly good enough, will be considerably increased.

2.32 a.m.

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

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has had to show considerable patience in order to get the opportunity of raising the question of Leicestershire school building. Patience, too, has been demanded of the House by the lateness of the hour.

Although my hon. Friend has deployed his case very fully and with care, I hope that I may be able to satisfy him that the arguments that he has adduced have been very carefully considered, and that I may be able so to satisfy him without detaining the House too long.

First—and this is no more than a repetition—there is no question that the Leicestershire plan is viewed with disfavour by my right hon. Friend, or that that is in any way relevant to the building allocations that he makes. The Leicestershire plan is followed with great interest. I had the good fortune the other day to discuss it with the director of education, and I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no truth in that allegation.

When my hon. Friend came to see me a few months ago he adduced some of the arguments that he has put to the House tonight. I tried to persuade him then that the yardsticks that he was using were really irrelevant. May I take one instance? He has told the House that the proportion of Leicestershire's proposals which are approved by my right hon. Friend have declined over the last five years. This is a most extraordinary way in which to present the facts. In 1960–61, the authority proposed projects worth £437,000. This year the authority proposed projects worth £2,224,000. Is my hon. Friend really suggesting that the former figure for 1960–61 is put forward on exactly the same basis as the latter figure for 1964–65, which is five times its size?

Clearly, the latter figure must contain many jobs which are not of such high priority as the relatively few jobs which were proposed for 1960–61. One cannot get any measure of an authority's success in the building programme by this device of taking a percentage of the proposals which are approved. The percentage of proposals approved will depend largely on the size of the proposals made by an authority. Some authorities will put forward a very large proposal; others will pare their proposals down to what they consider to be the bare minimum.

Mr. Farr

My hon. Friend has made one or two remarks about the Leicestershire proposal. Is he suggesting that the proposal by the Leicestershire education authority for 1964–65 is not work that is essential and needed at once?

Mr. Chataway

I am saying that if five times as much is put forward this year as in 1960–61 a less stringent yardstick is being used by the authority this year than was used five years ago. I think that this obviously follows, and would not be contested by the director of education or the education committee, and I do not complain that the Authority has put forward larger proposals, because it enables my right hon. Friend to have a broader picture of Leicestershire's needs, and some years ago there was a suggestion that Leicestershire was not putting forward large enough proposals.

So far from a decline over the five years which my hon. Friend's presentation would seem to suggest, the facts are that the estimated cost of projects approved has risen from £279,000 in 1960–61 to £392.000 in 1962–63, and to £431,000 for 1964–65.

My hon. Friend devoted a good deal of time to the tables which have been prepared by the Leicestershire education committee and which both he and I have studied. But, again, I must say that one cannot take any fair comparison between authorities purely on the basis of the number on the roll or of the increase in the school population, for this reason. My hon. Friend talked about equality. If he believes that we should aim for equality of provision in local education authorities throughout the country, he must agree that we have to take account of the differing starting points of authorities.

We could not achieve a steady educational advance over the country if we were to ignore the fact that many areas start with a far greater backlog and a far worse heritage a old schools. Some areas start with more spare places than others. Some start with more all-age schools than others. I cannot therefore concede that in the tables to which my hon. Friend has referred there is any valid basis for the sort of deductions that he has been making.

I remind my hon. Friend that we are making the allocations for 1965. We are making the last allocations for the £300 million building programme which is to run from 1960 to 1965, and these allocations have been made according to the priorities laid down in the 1958 White Paper "Secondary Education for All." Those priorities are as follows: first, that we should provide roofs overhead, or schools, in those areas where children would not otherwise have a school to go to; secondly, that we should finish the reorganisation of the all-age schools—I am glad to say that that reorganisation will be finished in 1964–65—and, thirdly, that we should improve or replace deficient secondary schools.

My right hon. Friend is well aware that Leicestershire has had an increase of population above that of the national average, but it is equally true that progressive authorities like Leicestershire, which built secondary schools before the war, start with an advantage as compared with many other authorities. It is significant that in the whole of the last five programmes only one small project has been needed to complete the reorganisation of all-age schools in Leicestershire. That is a measure of the advantage that the county has had over some other areas.

For 1964–65 careful consideration of the proposals submitted by the authority has produced a programme totalling £431,000—higher than for any of the earlier four years, and including four primary and two secondary school projects in growing areas, a new junior school in my hon. Friend's constituency at Market Harborough, and a project to improve and extend the rooms in a crowded grammar school. I am aware that many improvements and extension projects that were desired could not be included, but the fact that this last programme is higher than any of the others, in a year when many authorities have had to be given totals lower than previously, illustrates that Leicestershire's needs have been given very full consideration. I assure my hon. Friend that they will continue to be given that consideration.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Committee this day.