§ 6.24 a.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I welcome this opportunity to speak on the cuts in the school building programme and to say a few words about the general financing of education. I should like first to deal with the problem of the cuts in educational spending, which affect us harshly in North-East Essex and which, in spite of having to sit up all night, I am anxious to bring to the attention of the House.
The major capital building programme for 1968–69, originally prepared by the divisional executive of North-East Essex, totalled just over £2 million. The county education committee reduced the programme to nearly half for submission to the Department of Education and Science. The Ministry originally approved most of this programme, but in reviewing the list the Ministry slashed the figure of approved works to nearly £300,000, representing a cut of 77 per cent. This left work costing nearly £1¾ million outstanding from the programme originally prepared by the divisional executive.
871 There were 24 projects in the original programme. Fifteen of these were approved at county level, 13 received Ministerial approval generally, but only four were approved in the final Government list. This means that by 1970 we in North-East Essex will be 670 places short in our needs for education. This includes the loss of a new village school of 150 places, which has been slashed, and a proposed new primary school of 360 places.
I wish at once to ask the Minister of State whether similar cuts of 77 per cent. are being made in other parts of the country. Does the right hon. Lady realise that in the last 10 years we in North-East Essex have absorbed the equivalent of a new town without anything like the assistance that a new town gets? More and more residents are coming into North-East Essex, and schools must be provided for these new families. The cuts are cruel and harsh and, to me, a sign of completely incompetent government.
Side by side with one of the most modern and radical of the new universities, we find country children being denied the proper opportunities of primary education. This illustrates well the facts of the Government's spending on education. By 1970, the number of children at school since 1964 will have risen by 12 per cent., and much the greater part of the increase is due to the surge of births in 1955. One would, therefore, expect the costs of schools and related expenditure to rise disproportionately and to call for a slowing-down of public expenditure elsewhere, as the total of Government spending would not be forced up by the same amount.
In examining educational spending, however, one finds the educational spending on the schools, although the largest, is the slowest growing. The biggest growers are the universities at 33 per cent. over 5 years and, above all, further education at 58 per cent. over 5 years. I must ask the Minister whether it is really necessary to allow one-third of the total expected increase in all expenditure on education to go to the universities and to further education and to starve primary education. It is rather like building a village hall before the houses have been built.
872 I have been on record on many occasions as having said that there should be cuts in Government spending, but, surely, there are other economies which should be made without punishing our children so severely and getting priorities wrong in educational spending. I know that I should be out of order in this debate in talking about other economies in Government expenditure, but in a debate in the House on 17th April, 1967, I proposed economies in Government expenditure totalling between £500 million and £1,000 million, which did not include any cuts in education.
I understand that a possible cause of the cuts in North-East Essex is that the Government are having to spend more and more on educational provision to meet the needs of immigrant children. I estimate that since 1964, over 130,000 children have entered the country. I estimate that the building of primary and secondary schools for these immigrant children would cost £42½ million. The cost of primary and secondary education for a child is, at a conservative estimate, between £100 and £175 a year. All this gives an annual cost of educating the immigrant children entering this country since 1964 of about £15 million. Again, I think that that is a conservative estimate. At the independent school of which I am a governor, the fees for day boys are £330 a year.
Is it any wonder, therefore, that the the Government are having to cut back on their education spending when they have allowed as many as 130,000 extra children into this country since 1964? Their failure to act early enough on the question of the children and dependants of immigrants has aggravated the problem.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I sympathise with much of what my hon. Friend says, but on as sensitive a subject as this we ought to have the facts clear. Presumably, the figures which he gives include a large number of children born in this country. If one considers those children, one ought also to consider the children of other immigrants as well, for example, the considerable growth of the Roman Catholic child population in the schools from immigrants of different racial groups.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I obtained these figures from the Home Office today. From the information given to me, I understand that the number of children entering since 1964 was 130,000. But I appreciate the second point which my right hon. Friend makes—
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)
We do not want this to develop into a debate on immigration so that I have to reply to that as well. We had a debate on immigration earlier this evening. I wish merely to make one observation. Accepting the figures which the hon. Gentleman gives as right—I have not seen them—most of the children who entered this country in the past three or four years are children of parents who probably came some years ago. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that, once a man has settled here, he should not have the right to bring his wife and children. These are probably children of men who entered some time previously.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I do not wish to dwell further on the problem. I pose it for inquiry because I am anxious about it and anxious also about the cuts which are being made in primary education in my own constituency. I am just not certain that some of the facts and stories which I have heard do not lead to the conclusion that there should be tighter controls in the Government's immigration policy than there are at present.
I hope that the Government will not aggravate our education problems by interfering with private education. Private education should be given all possible help. Two of the primary schools being built or in the pipeline in North-East Essex are church schools. Both are private commitments for which much of the money was found elsewhere. I know from my experience as a governor of an independent school what a great saving the private education can make for the Exchequer. In the light of the present economic situation, I hope that the Government will do nothing to interfere with private education. On the contrary, they should do more to encourage it so as to lighten the burden 874 on public educational standing. Any alterations, especially those proposed in the recent Newsom Report on the independent schools, can only lead to more burdens being put on the Government purse.
I want to say something about the financing of education through taxing property. We want a much more stategic plan than the piecemeal legislation we have been having to pay for the growing cost of education. The present position is leading to an increasing dependence on the national Exchequer for grants, and to putting a burden on householders, particularly the retired, out of all proportion to the amenities they enjoy for that expenditure. Having pinched and saved to pay for the education of their children they are now having to pinch and save to meet the educational charge in the rate burden, while those who enjoy the benefit of that education, and whose parents could afford a little more, are getting away with paying far less.
That is why I am anxious to see the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government published as soon as possible, and why I had a Question down to the Prime Minister today asking what thought is being given to local government finance. This is one of the most important subjects that face the House at present, far more important than the reform of the House of Lords. I want to see larger units of local government, and a sales tax used to help finance educational spending and take that burden off the rates. Such a charge would give councils a much-needed source for financing immediate educational needs, now so much hurt by the cuts in Government spending.
I hope that the Minister will be able to do something to alleviate the harsh cuts which are being made inNorth-EastEssex, totalling 77 per cent. of the original programme submitted to the Ministry. I hope that she will be able to do something to stop the avalanche of dependant children coming into the country, and that she will concentrate educational spending on primary education and not so much on universities and further education.
I underline again how vital it is, if the retired and those living on small fixed incomes are not to have to bear a completely unfair burden in financing education, and in order to give more flexibility 875 to those running our educational programme, that we press ahead as quickly as we can with the reorganisation of the financing of local government. I am sure that the country would benefit from the reorganisation for educational needs.
§ 6.38 a.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) on introducing this important question. I understand that it is nearly six months—it certainly seems like six months—since the House last debated education. I feel that in this Session we have debated education far less than the importance of the subject warrants.
The title of the hon. Gentleman's subject seemed a little restricted, but despite the fact that he announced that he might be out of order if he went further, towards the end of his speech he perhaps went much further than the title might suggest. A good deal of what he said was quite unreal and unrelated to what the Government are doing. For example, when he talked about the burden of education on the rates no one might have supposed that no Government in the country's history has ever increased capital gains to local government services to the extent that the present Government have, and that the burden of public expenditure in local areas financed by the rates is less onerous now than it was four years ago. There has been massive increases in Government grants to local government services in the last four years. It must be remembered that the greatest single burden of local expenditure is on education. The hon. Gentleman talked of the Government "starving" primary education. That seemed a gross abuse of the English language. One of the first steps taken by the Government four years ago was to increase expenditure on primary school building as against universities and fur-building. The hon. Gentleman talked about the slow rate of increase in school building as against universities and further education. He should recognise that the massive increase in building in the technical field was made necessary by the fact that for so many years little was done.
One should look at school building over the last 20 years and ask how much has been spent on school building in that 876 time, on universities and on technical education, and one should particularly relate this to building in the other social services. I have a more than passing interest in the Health Service. There is no doubt that hospital building has not had the priority in the last 20 years that school building has had. It may well be that in a certain period of two or three years there has to be a slight overemphasis in another field to catch up on the gaps that have been noted.
The hon. Member spoke about immigrant children. One ought to balance that by pointing out that a great many children leave the country every year with emigrant families. It might be interesting if my right hon. Friend could indicate the estimated number of children who no longer need our education services because they have emigrated to Canada, Australia, the United States, New Zealand and so on with their families.
I hope we shall get the figures of expenditure on building in all fields of social endeavour in perspective. I mentioned the Health Service. One could ask, for example, how much has been devoted to slum clearance in the last 20 years and whether it is not time to look at the whole field of social building— education, health, housing and so on— to try to relate it to real needs. The Government have shown a much wiser attitude to development areas than some previous Governments have done and have thought of the social priority areas to a far greater extent than any previous Government have.
I said we ought to get this in perspective. I noted in a newspaper yesterday a reference to the Seebohm Report; it referred to a vast hidden ocean of desperate need among the vulnerable sections of our society being revealed in this Report—the sick, disabled, elderly and so on. It is astonishing that, depending on what Tory speaker is talking on what particular day, we get a call for a new priority on different occasions. Today at a quarter to seven in the morning it happens to be school building. I have no doubt that on another occasion another Tory will say that the Government have neglected the building of hospitals and that that should be the priority. It reminds me of a defunct newspaper, theNews Chronicle, which some years ago carried a leading article calling for the 877 building of houses to be the great priority in this country. A fortnight later they carried another editorial demanding that school building should be the priority. Name it—and that is their priority. But such an approach is unreal unless it is related to social endeavour generally.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
Their greatest priority in the Conservative Party is cutting taxation.
§ Mr. Hamling
I will come to that in a moment, but my hon. Friend is absolutely on the ball.
Have we built enough houses, schools and hospitals? We all agree that we have not done enough, but the present Government have a finer record than any other Government in the history of the country in respect of educational expenditure and educational buildings.
The notice given by the hon. Member for Harwich is a little vague. I am not sure whether the hon. Member has in mind cuts in the financing of primary or secondary or further education or university education or over the whole field of education. There is no indication whatever that there have been cuts in educational expenditure under the Government because expenditure has gone on rising month by month over the last four years. How can hon. Members talk about cuts? One can say that a local authority has put forward a programme for £4 million and the Government have said, "We are sorry but you can have only one-tenth of that". That is not a cut. The fact that there is more building this year does not indicate a cut. That is an increase over the existing body of school building. How can one talk about cuts in that context? Have there been cuts in technical colleges? The hon. Member must admit that there have not been cuts.
§ Sir E. Boyle
Surely the moratorium in 1965 resulted in a considerable cut in technical college building—in programmes which we had announced before we left office. That was not disputed, and the cuts have never been made good.
§ Mr. Hamling
The right hon. Member is much too fair too overlook the fact that an announced programme is not buildings in existence. The present Government built the technical colleges and expanded them enormously. The right hon. Member would be the first 878 to admit that in the last four years we have seen the greatest expansion in building for technical education in the history of this country—not programmes, not words, not on paper, but schools and colleges. I used to work in one. What about the technical colleges which ought to have been planned in 1951 when the Conservative Party took over and which ought to have been built in 1961? That is a contrast which we should make. I will return to it in a moment. What do we mean by cuts? Are fewer schools being built today than at this time last year? The answer is "no". More schools are being built now than this time last year, more than in 1966 and more than in 1965.
Are fewer places at technical colleges being provided than last year? Again the answer is "no". More are being provided. Is less being spent on university building than last year? I am waiting for the voice of the U.G.C. to tell us.
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Gentleman says "less". The hon. Gentleman should have a word with his right hon. Friend, who complains that the Government have given greater priority to university building than previously. Is the record of these four years of Labour rule worse than the record of the last four years of the Tory rule? Or is it better? I pause for an answer but answer there is none. If it is not worse, what do the Tories mean by saying that we have cut education? If it is better, why have they the cheek to say that we have cut it?
Are hon. Members opposite saying that educational building is not taking a fair proportion of the increase in the gross national product? There is no figure that they can quote which would support that contention. Educational expenditure is taking an increasing share, year by year, and a geometrical increase. That is the story of the last four years. Do the Opposition contend that this increased expenditure can go on regardless of the growth of the gross national product? The hon. Gentleman talked of cuts in educational expenditure. Teachers' salaries have gone up 21 per cent. in the last four years. That is educational expenditure. In what four years of Tory rule did they go up as much? In none.
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Gentleman also talked about cuts in the financing of education. He cannot have it both ways. Which is the Tory voice to which we should listen this morning? A pamphlet was put out by the Industrial Policy Group called "Government Expenditure". It was prepared by the T.U.C. of the Tory Party. The Chairman was Sir Paul Chambers. The other members included: Mr. D. H. Barran, Chairman of Shell Transport and Trading; Sir George Bolton, of the Bank of London and South America; Viscount Boyd of Guinness's; Sir Stephen Brown, Chairman of Stone-Platt; Sir Nicholas Cayzer, a ship owner; Lord Cole, Chairman of Unilever; Sir Reay Geddes, Managing Director of Dunlop; Sir Cyril Harrison, cotton spinner and banker; Sir Maurice Laing, a builder; Mr. H. G. Lazell, Chairman of the Beecham Group; Sir Joseph Lockwood, Chairman of E.M.I.; Mr. A. F. McDonald, Chairman of The Distillers Company; Lord Netherthorpe, Chairman of Fisons; Sir John Nicholson, a ship owner; Mr. E. J. Partridge, Chairman of Imperial Tobacco; Lord Pilking-ton, Chairman of Pilkington's; Sir Peter Runge, Chairman of Tate and Lyle and a director of Vickers; Lord Sieff, President of Marks and Spencer; Mr. R. G. Soothill, Chairman of Turner and Newall; and our old friend from Scotland Sir William McEwan Younger, a brewer.
These people say that Government expenditure, particularly in the last four years, has gone up too fast, notably on education and other forms of social expenditure. They say that it must stop, the direct taxation must come down and that social expenditure must be cut.
Considering their views—these people who comprise the T.U.C. of the Tory Party—we are bound to wonder whom to trust; them or the hon. Member for Harwich. The hon. Gentleman wants us to spend more while these influential members of his party want us to spend less. The pamphlet states that in 1968–69 there will be increased educational expenditure of £75 million compared with 1967–68. Would the hon. Gentleman call that increase a cut? In 1969–70 there will be an increase of £83 million, according to 880 the pamphlet. Is that an increase or a cut? The pamphlet says:This persistent growth of Government expenditure … made … devaluation inevitable …That is turning language upside down. It goes on to say that we need… the reversal of the trend towards higher taxation for the provision on a rising scale of services which the taxpayer might prefer to pay for out of his own net income.Who is right, the hon. Member for Harwich or the supporters of his party who were responsible for this pamphlet? According to the figures given in the pamphlet, in the last four years of Labour administration, expenditure on education went up by £550 million, whereas in the last four years of Tory rule it went up by £384 million.
§ Mr. Hamling
Did not the hon. Gentleman say that Government expenditure on education should be increased?
§ Mr. Ridsdaleindicated assent.
§ Mr. Hamling
The Tory spokesman on health will demand that the Government spend more on hospitals; and the same can be said of demands for increased expenditure on social security, Service and other pensions, defence, roads and the rest. You name it, they want more—and they also want reduced taxation.
Who is the authentic voice of the Tory Party on education in the House? Is it the right hon. Member for Wolverhamp-ton, South-West (Mr. Powell), the hon. Member for Harwich or the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle)? Hon. Members may recall a speech made by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West at the annual conference of the Conservative National Advisory Committee on Education at Overseas House on 22nd June, 1968. He said:On any view, the margin by which public expenditure has overshot the growth of the national income is the major cause of the disastrous financial events of the last four years, which still pursue us. … The most important single driving force in all this has been the upward thrust of expenditure upon education.Would the hon. Member for Harwich echo that sentiment? I do not see how he could, since he is calling for an even 881 greater threat to the economy, according to his right hon. Friend, who went on:…. of all political sacred cows education is the most sacred and the most cowlike …He added:… those who presume to discuss, not to say question, the size and rate of increase of educational expenditure, as I am bound to do, must expect to be denounced as barbarians and enemies to all progress and sound learning.I do not know where the Tory Party stands on this question. The big growers are the universities—33⅓ per cent. over five years. As I indicated, this trend has been, to some extent, modified by this Government and the U.G.C. has complained about this reversal of policy by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that nowhere in that speech did my right hon. Friend say that there should be cuts in primary education?
§ Mr. Hamling
I know, but what he did say was that people who could afford to pay for education should be permitted to do so. That applies to parents of children at primary schools too. It may be that the hon. Gentleman has a particular love for primary schools, but one must look at the whole question. He may say today that primary schools ought to be favoured, but one of his hon. Friends will get up tomorrow and complain bitterly about the cuts that the Government are making in university expenditure, and will demand that the U.G.C. should become the sacred cow.
When my own University Chancellor came and spoke at the annual dinner of the London Branch of the University of Liverpool Society, what did he complain about? He complained bitterly about the actions of this Government in cutting back universities so that technical colleges could get a little more. The Conservative Party has supported the U.G.C. in its attitude. It cannot have it ten ways at once. The Government have a tremendous educational record. Let no one deny it. In the last four years despite the economic difficulties, there has been tremendous expansion in university expenditure. Expansion may have been greater in one area than another, but in every case there have been advances, and it is about time that this House said so, with 882 a loud voice, so that people will not get away with the idea that this Government are cutting social expenditure when the opposite is the truth.
§ 7.3 a.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Silvester (Walthamstow, West)
I am not in a position to query all the facts put forward by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), but I have here HANSARD for the last debate on education. He was asking whether there was any example of a cut. The previous Minister here quoted the programme of school building for the current year as £129 million as compared with £134 million. That is a cut. That includes £8 million set aside for the comprehensive schools, which had to be bailed out as a result of cutting school milk.
§ Mr. Hamling
Would the hon. Member tell me of a single year, when a Conservative Government were in power, when as much building was being carried out as is being done this year under this Government?
§ Mr. Silvester
I think that I am right in saying in no year was the school building programme as high as it is this current year.
§ Mr. Silvester
With respect, that was not what the hon. Gentleman was saying. We were discussing a cut this year as against last year, a cut on the Government's programme—was that not so? I am simply quoting the words used by the previous Minister.
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Member must be honest with himself and the nation. A cut of £4 million this year as against last year ought not to allow him to get away with the fact that he is hiding from the nation the tremendous increase in building this year as against last year.
§ Mr. Silvester
I did not propose to pursue this line of argument until I heard the hon. Gentleman's speech. I take the view, which he expressed himself, that there has been an educational advance when both parties have been in power since the war and that priorities have varied from one year to another. It is not a sensible argument on the hon. Gentleman's part to say that we should 883 expect to judge this year with five years ago when we would all sensibly expect social programmes and others to increase as the years go by as the wealth of the country increases.
The question which the House must ask itself and which I am sure asked himself is whether at any time a cut in one year as against another is having a particular serious effect, or whether the priorities between one area and another are right. Of all the economies which the Government were forced to make at the beginning of this year, they come under particularly grave criticism in education. It does not depend on juggling with statistics, as the hon. Member did.
I would advance two fairly simple reasons for that conclusion. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), I would make a special plea for education in these specific circumstances which the Ministry could reasonably accept. The effect of the cut depends not only on its absolute figure, but on the policy which the Government are requesting local authorities to conduct. Therefore, a very small adjustment may have a disproportionately bad effect. One of the economies which the Government could not permit themselves to make in the last batch was to cut out the £8 million they set aside for the comprehensive schools.
When the Government came to power, their view, properly, was that they wanted to proceed with reorganising secondary education. They forced the pace on that policy and, therefore, obliged local authorities to gear their programmes in the foreseeable future to that policy. This did not merely affect the reorganisation of secondary education; it affected the plans which the schools had for raising the school-leaving age and the priority which the local authorities gave as between primary and secondary education. Therefore, if later we say that because of the exigencies of the situation we must abandon raising the school-leaving age, we throw the whole of that planning into chaos. The Government, even in this difficult situation in January, felt obliged to maintain the £8 million for the comprehensive schools, although other crying needs had to go by the board.
May I give an example in my constituency of how this has worked out in 884 practice? I am delighted that in the last school building programme we have three projects which enable us to carry out the comprehensive scheme. If that had not been the case, we should have been "up the creek" at this time, because we could not postpone the scheme and we could not have carried it out properly without the money. But had we been asked whether we would rather have had these schemes now or to postpone the comprehensive scheme for a year and adopt another scheme which had to be left out, the local authority would, I am sure, have said, "Let us have the scheme", which I now propose to describe.
The scheme which has been left out which the Minister will receive when he gets the bids in August concerns a primary school, which has been on and off the list for years and was last on, which is in the middle of a redevelopment area where buildings are being pulled down and where the question of the security of the place is being made steadily worse. The whole redevelopment is being help up because the redevelopment of a factory is being stopped, and this is affecting the employment position in the factory.
In such circumstances, any local authority will say, "This is a specific situation facing us. We will build this into our programme and request the necessary funds". The Government say, "No. We want you to carry out our policy." If the Government say that, they must ensure that the funds are maintained for those purposes.
My second criticism is that the Government are transferring some of the economies from themselves to local authorities; they are shunting off some of their responsibilities. An obvious place to look for this is in the question of the leaving age. The previous Minister estimated that by 1970 the proportion of children who would voluntarily stay on would rise from 48 per cent. to 55 per cent. My local authority has introduced a scheme the cardinal point of which is that as many as possible should be encouraged to stay on. The scheme is not educationally very viable for, say, transfer at the age of 14 unless the children stay on. The Government have abandoned the programme for raising the leaving age, but the local authority must 885 continue to bear the burden of a higher voluntary school leaving age. Therefore, the local authority, and not the Government, is. bearing the burden.
Now, the 3 per cent. limit on the rate support grant. I understand the needs for economy. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West pointed out the importance of the education element in the rate. We are not talking about capital investment which can perhaps be postponed. We are talking about current expenditure on the maintenance of a service. In answer to a Question the Minister has stated that he estimates that an extra £8 million will fall on local authorities in respect of teachers' salaries in the current year. Experience has shown that the annual rate of increase needed to keep the services where they are is about 6 per cent.
§ Mr. Hamling
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the burden of education on the rates is greater now under this Government than ever before?
§ Mr. Silvester
I am sorry if I am not following the hon, Gentleman as he would wish. I do not seek to make this direct comparison. I am discussing the current situation. I am not even criticising the Government for making cuts, because I think that cuts are necessary. I am saying that in these circumstances the cuts which have fallen on education are especially unfortunate. As a result, there are indications from some authorities that the hiring of part-time teachers is slowing up. The Government are right to say that it is up to local authorities to decide where they will make their adjustments to fall within the 3 per cent. limit and they need not make them at any of the points I have indicated. If the Government want authorities to review expenditure as a whole and to make various reductions, they must expect local authorities to review their income as a whole.
At the same time as we are having a rate support grant maintained at no more than 3 per cent. increase, we are having local authorities burdened by not being able, for example, to adjust their rent rebate subsidies, such as the G.L.C. are currently experiencing. I make two points. First, because the Government have pursued the policy of stimulating their particular educational organisation 886 programme, they have an obligation to see that, by making local authorities pursue it, they do not damage other sides of education.
Secondly, by this particular kind of restriction on the rate support grant, they are putting a heavy burden on current expenditure in education, and this will be increasingly damaging as time goes on.
§ 7.16 a.m.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Meriden)
I am grateful, at this early hour of the morning, to be able to highlight what I believe is a desperate situation in my constituency where educational cuts are already causing considerable hardship and anxiety to hundreds, if not thousands, of my constituents living in Chelmsley Wood.
It is important to give a little background, because Chelmsley Wood is a large Birmingham overspill development in the course of construction which was authorised and was an act of Government policy by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government three years ago. The scale of the development is such that within the three years up to 1970 nearly 16,000 houses will be built to house a total population of 60,000, all within my constituency. My researches show that this is the fastest development of its kind certainly in Western Europe and probably in the world.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that the City of Birmingham builds and owns the houses, although the houses lie within the administrative County of Warwickshire, which is the local education authority. It would have been perhaps more fortunate three years ago if a new town corporation had been set up to cope with the development, but it was not, and we are faced with the situation as it is today.
In the early stages of the planning of this development in Chelmsley Wood the Department of Education and Science found that there were hundreds of school places available in the eastern part of Birmingham and it insisted at that time that reasonable use should be made of those places. It was reluctant to let Warwickshire build new schools in Chelmsley Wood while there were these places available. I believe that there was a 887 breakdown in communication, because many of the people moving out from Birmingham to Chelmsley Wood were not informed that this was to be the situation. Consequently, they hoped to be moving out to new houses and new schools, but they found that their children were having to go back to schools in the eastern part of Birmingham. Indeed, some of the very young children were having to travel quite considerable distances. This is already making the parents very angry.
The situation was made worse by the fact that some children attend the few new schools that have been built in Chelmsley Wood, particularly the primary school, while their next-door neighbours are having to travel quite a number of miles back into Birmingham to continue with their primary or secondary education. This has caused a feeling, which may or may not be justified, that the children going back into Birmingham are being treated as some form of second-class citizens. I have a deal of sympathy with the parents in this situation.
That was bad enough, but the situation is becoming critical. By the end of this year, 5,000 houses will have been built and there will be 5,000 more built in 1969. After allowing for all the children who can attend the Birmingham schools— and I believe that this is unsatisfactory, but it is an emergency solution in the present economic circumstances—the need for essential minimum additional accommodation over and above that already approved by the Ministry will be 1,400 secondary school places, and 3,500 primary school places by the end of 1969. These are considerable figures, on which a decision has to be taken very quickly indeed. If, in 1970, building continues at the pace that is forecast, this will mean a further 5,000 houses, and the need for still more school places.
In the original master plan for Chelmsley Wood as set up by the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, the minimum educational requirements were to keep the provision of school places in line with the building of houses. This has now been abandoned because of the cuts in education. If these places and new schools are not forthcoming—and Warwickshire County Council has made urgent representations to the Minister— the outlook for literally thousands of Chelmsley Wood children is bleak.
888 They may have to go to schools miles away in all parts of Warwickshire and Birmingham. They will have to attend schools in completely different communities, and with different backgrounds from their own homes. I believe that this could gravely jeopardise their educational opportunities, apart from involving them in travelling considerable distances and the expense to somebody which that will involve. The educational considerations are paramount, and the position must be educationally damaging to the children.
Their parents are already angry, and if the Minister does not believe me I shall be delighted to send her many letters which I have received on this subject. They arrive day after day. Parents do not know where their children will be going next year, particularly for secondary education. They take the view, and quite rightly I think, that with a development which, by 1970, will be the size of a town like Bedford, or Warwick and Leamington combined, and which is being built in three years, their children are entitled to a good education in their own community. There are many children who, for emergency reasons, have to go to a neighbouring authority, and there are many thousands more whose parents do not know where they will be going.
I raised this matter with the Prime Minister on 16th May of this year. I asked whether the provision of schools and other essential services would have the same priority as houses being built at Chelmsley Wood, and the right hon. Gentleman replied:My right hon. Friends"—he meant the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Minister of Health—will certainly co-operate in this matter, though the initiative lies with the councils concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1968; Vol. 764, c. 1395.]Unless the Minister provides the cooperation of which the Prime Minister spoke, this exciting new development will be a social and educational disaster, because the local education authority has taken the initiative on many occasions, and as the right hon. Lady may be aware, is at the moment again making representations to her Department.
I believe that the situation at Chelmsley Wood is more serious than in any comparable area in the country. This is a 889 great imaginative scheme to help relieve the housing problem in Birmingham. The scheme was set up by the Government as an act of Government policy, and was authorised by the previous Minister of Housing and Local Government. If the Government are not now prepared to back their judgment by giving equal facilities for the development of education as for the building of houses, the long-term effects, the social disharmony, the frustration and anger of parents, but most important of all the lost educational opportunities of the children who, in every other respect, are living in wonderful houses and a wonderful environment, will be tremendous and this great experiment will end in disaster.
§ 7.25 a.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I am sure the House feels that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Speed) has performed a valuable service in raising this debate. I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides and also to the right hon. Lady and her advisers who have remained with us to take part in this debate at nearly half-past seven in the morning. There were moments during the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) when I was beginning to wonder whether it was worth it; still more when I listened to some of his rather hostile interventions in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester).
As he said, it is now several months since we debated the subject of education. I want to make one comment on the Government's record. I am quite ready to debate the record of the Conservative Government with the hon. Member for Woolwich, West. I base my case on the fact that the proportion of the national income devoted to education rose steadily under a Conservative Government, from 3.4 per cent. in 1955 to 5.4 per cent. 10 years later. During those years education was taking a steadily rising share of a gross national product which itself grew by 34 per cent. That is a record we have every reason to feel proud of.
I am not denying that there was much that remained to be done, and I always hoped that as the 1960s proceeded we would not lose the impetus of educational advance. The hon. Member for Wool- 890 wich, West does not meet the point just by drawing attention to the fact that more money is now being spent on education. Of course it is—because there are more children to educate. Let me give him a set of figures before he intervenes in my speech. Between 1963 and 1965, the primary school roll was up by 150,000; in 1966, by another 95,000, and in 1967 and 1968 by another 150,000 in each year.
It was the present President of the Board of Trade who said specifically in the debate on the Plowden Report, a year ago, that it was the amount of money that we devoted to educational improvements which was the measure of our priorities. It was in that context that we felt strongly about what we regarded as the very harsh treatment of education in the cuts in the early part of this year. I need not remind the Minister that it was no less an authority than Sir William Alexander who said, on 19th January, that the education service had suffered a very severe setback and that it would take a good many years before it recovered. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West referred to my right hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, West (Mr. Powell) and asked who spoke for educational policy on this side of the House.
I do not want to sound immodest, but, just as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) made it clear that he speaks for the Opposition on race relations, if I am asked who speaks for Conservative policy on education I would not like there to be any doubt that it is the official spokesman on educational matters, namely, myself. If we are to bring my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West into the debate I hope that the hon. Member will read at some time what I thought was the excellent speech that my right hon. Friend made on the Newsom and Robbins Reports in January, 1964, an admirable speech which, in my view, not even its author has satisfactorily succeeded in refuting.
But it is not only my right hon. Friend who has begun to question the value of educational expenditure; I was disturbed to find that the Minister's colleague, the Minister of State who deals with higher education, has also felt inclined to try to refute the theory that economic growth 891 and educational expenditure are logically linked.
I noticed that in her speech to the Liberal Education Association on 6th July, she said that the days of unquestioned educational expenditure and expansion were numbered. It is all very well for the hon. Lady to say that, but I should like to make two points in reply. First of all, I am not at all sure, despite all the distinguished names the hon. Gentleman read out, that the majority of businessmen would, in fact, agree with her. I am certain that my friend, Professor Vaisey was right earlier in the year, when he said:Our industrial competitors in Japan or America would not have postponed the raising of the school-leaving age.In other words, this is a matter of concern to businessmen no less than to educationists. In any case, the language to which I have referred in the speech of the hon. Lady is very different from that which we used to hear in the days when the party opposite was in opposition. The Labour Party election manifesto of 1964 said things likeOur country's 'investment in people' is still tragically inadequate.At that time expenditure on education was 5 per cent. of the gross national product: it is now 5½ per cent.
I notice that the Secretary of State has recently written:Education today is a growth industry.He pledged that even… in the present financial difficulties that proportion "—i.e. 5½ per cent.—will be maintained.That proportion will only be maintained because the gross national product itself will under the present Government be rising at a very slow rate.
But to return to the hon. Lady the Minister of State. What does she mean when she speaks of maintaining existing standards? It is important to remember that even existing standards include severely oversize classes in many areas despite the fact that the party opposite is pledged to reduce classes to 30 as early as possible. Existing standards also include a very serious backlog in primary and secondary school building improvements, made worse by cuts in the building 892 programme, and virtually no nursery school provision.
Again, and this is the nub of the matter, it is generally becoming recognised that in order to maintain these standards expenditure on the education service must go on increasing at about 6 per cent. a year in real terms. If the rate of increase is to be cut to 3½ per cent. overall and to 3 per cent. for local authority expenditure, even existing standards, with all their inadequacies, are bound to fall.
I was amazed to hear the hon. Member for Woolwich, West asserting that the burden on the rates had become less onerous. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the Government's decision to peg back rate support grant to an extra 3 per cent. next year will involve a direct transfer of educational expenditure to the rates. I do not believe that many people have any idea just how severe a measure this will prove to be.
One of the reasons why I, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Waltham-stow, West particularly asked for this debate was that I wanted an opportunity to emphasise, as I did in January, the point about the rate support grant and the tremendous difficulty in which local authorities will be placed even over the maintenance of existing standards. It should be clearly understood in the country that it is the failure of the Government's economic policy and their own disproportionately severe treatment of the educational service last January that has led to this position.
The Government should admit it, and not pretend, as the Prime Minister did on 18th January, that education is not being cut back. I must also say that having put local authorities into this position, the Government must give them a certain amount of assistance and definite ideas how local authorities can best cope with the situation, which is the Government's responsibility.
As we know, there is some tendency to cut back on the recruitment of part-time teachers. I cannot think that the hon. Lady or the Secretary of State will want to go down to history to the education Ministers who were in office when we started to reverse the trend towards smaller classes.
§ Mr. Hamling
Would not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the present 893 Government have increased tremendously the amount of grants towards education to local authorities and that, although it may be that next year there will be a cut as against this year, local authorities will still, at the end of the day, be paying a smaller proportion of their educational expenditure out of the rates than they were when we come to power?
§ Sir E. Boyle
I do not believe that this will prove to be true of the out-turn for 1969–70. In any case, local authorities do not feel it as the hon. Member said. To give him one example which bears closely on his own special aspect of edua-tional knowledge, the extra burden put on local authorities as a result of the Burnhani technical award was not made up to them. That is just the sort of action that has made local authorities very justly fed up with the Government's handling of this matter.
I come to my second point, which concerns the major school building programme, to which all hon. Members have referred. The Prime Minister said in January that still more important than the highly desirable new reform of raising the school-leaving age at the date previously fixed, wasthe maintenance of the fabric of the educational programme",including school building and other priority programmes. I said at the time that this; reference to the "fabric" was one of the sicker Downing Street jokes of the year. The facts of the situation have turned out rather worse than I suggested at the time. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I remind the House of what I said in January and then seek to justify my remark that things have turned out to be rather worse than I suggested they would in January.
We had, in January, Circular 6/68. It said that the outstanding major school building projects totalling about £70 million which would not have started on the ground by April next must be resubmitted to the Department, and would have to compete with projects already approved for the 1968-69 programme within the limit of £88 million. I said that was a serious matter and I went on to point out that up to now when an important project had found a place in the programme it stayed there. The circular, I said, cancelled all this and must lead to the postponement and cancelling of much needed school building projects.
894 Then I quoted from the circular to show that it was improvement projects which would be severely affected by the decision that the programme must be re-submitted. I believe that the position has turned out to be worse than I suggested. When I made that speech on 14th February I certainly had the impression that local authorities would be free to start what they could by 1st April and that when we got into the new financial year there would be £88 million to be allocated to local authorities— partly to meet the backlog and partly for new projects which the authorities would want to submit.
Sir William Alexander said recently that the Department told local authorities in January that there would be new work in 1968–69 to the value of £88 million in the new programme and that this would be for projects put up for approval in 1968–69, but it has not happened that way. The aftermath of Circular 6/68 was that the value of projects started before 1st April in excess of last year's authorised total have been deducted from the figure of £88 million. The value of the remainder of the programme is only £56 million, which is the lowest total for many years.
In other words, as I understand the position—and this was not forecast in Circular 6/68—in so far as authorities started projects before 1st April and the total of those projects brought the total for the year above the authorised figure for 1967–68, the excess has been deducted from the £88 million for 1968–69, so that the value of the remainder of the programme and the new projects which have been authorised to authorities for the current year is not £88 million, but only £56 million.
There is very considerable ill feeling among local authorities at the way they have been treated by the Department and there are grave doubts whether the revised programme for 1968–69 will be sufficient to provide roofs over children's heads for the year 1969–70. This is a serious matter.
When I was Minister, I know very well that there was often disappointment over the improvement element in the programme. I have never concealed this. Particularly in 1963 when, as a result of the legitimate pressure which was put on me, I was subsequently able, as the 895 right hon. Lady may recall, to double the improvement element for the succeeding years. At the lowest, the improvement element was never less than about £12 million for 1964–65. I was able to rather more than double that for the programmes which I announced for the two following years.
Now, however, we not only have virtually no improvement element, but the £56 million, which is all that the right hon. Lady can allocate for 1968–69 for new projects, simply will not be enough, in the opinion of many authorities, to meet the problem of roofs over heads. To give only two or three examples, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman), in an earlier debate this morning, quoted the instance of Leicestershire, about which great concern has been expressed inThe Times this morning. The Chief Education Officer for Buckinghamshire has said:Unless we can get an increased programme and speed up the rate of building, in two years' time we shall find that children are out of school.Inner London has had only £1½ million allocated compared with £3½ million last year. I assure the hon. Member for Woolwich, West that when I was Minister London did considerably better than that for 1965–66 and 1966–67. He must know that, at least, when the Conservatives were in power, we tried to give decent notice of the school building programme, and in April, 1964, I allocated the whole of the programme for 1965–66 and nearly all of it for 1966–67. The authorities were very glad to have the long notice, for which they have always asked.
§ Mr. Hamling
Surely, the right hon. Gentleman would agree the Conservative Governments sometimes did not fulfil the programmes which they announced. For example, the election programme, announced by them in 1959, was certainly not achieved in 1960–61 in school building.
§ Sir E. Boyle
The hon. Member is wrong about those two years. Before the 1959 election—I do not want to go back into too much past history—we announced those programmes in one. They were carried out to the letter, and when I became Minister in 1962 something like 896 £200 million worth of school improvements were going through the pipeline.
§ Miss Bacon
Will the right hon. Gentleman repeat what he said about London and just over £1 million? I did not quite catch what he said.
§ Sir E. Boyle
£1½ million is the figure which I have been given, and I shall be very pleased if the right hon. Lady can correct it. I was, however, told that only £1½ million has been allocated for 1968-69 compared with £3½ million last year. Mr. Chataway said that in two or three years there is a danger of part-time schooling or serious overcrowding in some areas.
§ Miss Bacon
May I clear up this important point? In the original 1968–69 programme, I.L.E.A. was allocated £3½ million of major programme, for the raising of the school-leaving age just over £1 million and for minor works £1,100,000. In the revised programme it has been allocated £1,731,000 for newly-authorised projects. They have started in the last few days, before this year's programme, over £1½ million. Minor works are still running at £1,100,000. They have been allocated over £1 million for e.p.a., which makes a total of £5½ million worth of school building which I.L.E.A. will start this year.
§ Sir E. Boyle
The right hon. Lady has confirmed my figure for 1968–69, save that I gladly amend it from £1.5 million to £1.7 million in the light of what she has said. But I am talking about the major school programme, a concept with which we have been familiar for a long time. The minor works programme is a separate matter. I was discussing the major school building programme. I am glad that London has a reasonable share of the Plowden sum allocated for priority areas. I wish that Wolverhampton could have done better. We have always said on this side of the House that we should have been more impressed with the money allocated for Plowden if there had not been, at the same time, such a drastic curtailment of the amount allocated for primary improvements as part of the normal major school building programme.
There is no doubt that many authorities are anxious. As the right hon. Lady knows, money allocated for the Plowden 897 priority areas will not solve Mr. Chataway's problems of overcrowding in other areas. One effect of all this will be that the minor works programme will have to be used to provide roofs over heads, whereas it is exactly the minor works programme which we like to count on to provide a measure of the improvements we need.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West said what he did about comprehensives in connection with the school building programme and referred, also, to what local authorities particularly want. My hon. Friend was fair and realistic when he emphasised that the world is not divided into those who are as a matter of doctrine against all secondary reorganisation, and those who wish to go helter-skelter for reorganisation at whatever cost to the rest of the service.
My hon. Friend was right to point out that educational opinion does not divide neatly into those two categories. There are many people—he is one and I am another—who, if there is a proposal for a soundly based reorganisation scheme, are often thoroughly in favour of it on educational grounds and we are glad if it can be properly provided. But one must see what is suffering as a result. That is my hon. Friend's point. I have always believed that the difficult question of reorganisation—how we can preserve academic standards, keep the confidence of teachers in all kinds of school, and, at the same time, widen opportunity and avoid premature selection—will be solved much better if we can carry local opinion with us. In the same way, one must always be sensitive to those projects which local authorities most want in their programmes.
My hon. Friend was right to emphasise, too, that there is one big difference between capital projects and current Spend-ing: capital projects can be competed for again, but the difficulty about current spending is that it cannot be postponed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) spoke about immigration in relation to primary education. I put to the right hon. Lady two questions about the Government's recent proposals to help areas of special need. First, can she explain the machinery of government and how it will work? Can she assure the House that this is not to 898 be looked at just as a Home Office matter; but that her own Department will be fully engaged in it and have its proper position? I would much rather see the educational aspect of the programme handled in Curzon Street than in the Home Office.
Second, can the right hon. Lady assure the House that a proper balance will be kept between new projects and cash aid for local authorities? I am sure that she will realise that the great problem of a large sudden increase in the school population is its extra cost. I remind the House of what I have always thought was that very important article on immigrants and the social services in the N.I.E.S.R. Economic Review for August, 1967. Contrary to much mythology, about this matter, the average cost per head of the health and welfare services for immigrants was probably in 1966 about 5 per cent. lower than the national average cost for the population as a whole. But the average cost of education per head was rather higher for the children of immigrant families, which is natural. There is not a real cash problem.
Speaking as one who, I hope, as much as any hon. Member absolutely loathes seeing immigrants made the scapegoat for problems we have not solved, I feel that we must be realistic about the extra cash burden on authorities when there is a sudden unexpected increase in child population. I hope that this will be given priority attention by the Government in operating their new policy.
The second of my final points concerns raising the school-leaving age. We have, unhappily, postponed this for two years. I hope that the right hon. Lady can assure us that planning is going forward and can give us some idea when a new announcement will be made about building programmes. About a quarter of the two-year postponement has already gone, and we must not forget this objective.
Next I should like to say a word about the Newsom Commission's Report. I had much sympathy with the general comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich on this matter, but in any case I feel that it is out of the question, even if one thought that the recommendations were right on other grounds, that we should commit ourselves to expenditure of £12 million a year more public funds 899 in order to provide a greater social mix at public schools, when there are so many other priorities in the education service, such as the subjects we have been discussing in this debate.
We have been talking throughout most of the debate about the schools. But let me remind the House that in addition to school education and university education there is also higher education, which comes within the sphere of the local authorities, and further education. A considerable expansion of expenditure on further education is inevitable, if only because of the results of the two White Papers that our party produced in 1956 and 1961 and the impetus given by Lord Eccles to the development of this service. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West says that there is no inherent need for expenditure on further and higher education to match expansion in school education I am a little reminded of a remark I once heard by a very able civil servant, who said, "It is extraordinary what pleasure that some intelligent Ministers can sometimes take in contemplating a model which makes it appear that water might one day run uphill".
The point is that we are to have an expansion in sixth forms—and, whatever else is true of comprehensive schools, they are certain to lead to an expansion of sixth forms, including semi-academic sixth forms—that expansion is bound to entail the need for a corresponding expansion in further education and what one might call the diploma level of education. But of course it is true that we must look at financial priorities, and there are some aspects of further education that must be sold ruthlessly at last, with no subsidy. And just as I have always taken a definite view about charges for school meals for those who can afford them, so I think that we must also be prepared over the years to expect a slightly less lavish staff-student ratio in university education.
I apologise for detaining the House for a long time. I believe that many of the economic difficulties were quite unnecessary, given a sounder economic strategy for 1964 onwards, but whatever our present difficulties let us not lose our sense of the importance of the education ser- 900 vice. It is important in personal terms and to the nation.
I have been lucky enough to have been to some extent identified with this service for more than 12 years, and I hope that I shall always preserve a sense of financial and economic responsibility in connection with it, but I am certain that it is not just a platitude to say that the potential abilities of our young children—I would add, of all races— are the most valuable asset that we possess. It is, rather, a saying whose full implications have to be thought through and, if necessary, fought through in each decade in this country.
§ 7.55 a.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)
In my innocence, I came here this morning prepared to speak about the school building programme. We have now had a debate which has developed into a major education debate, and I cannot think of any single subject within education that has not been mentioned during the last two hours. It is encouraging to find that hon. Members on both sides of the House set such great store by education. We can all echo the final words of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle).
The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) spoke at some considerable length about immigration, which I thought might have been better in a debate which took place earlier this morning. I emphasise that we have a responsibility in the Department of Education and Science to ensure that all children living within our shores get the best possible education no matter who they are, or from whence they came.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the numbers of immigrants coming into our schools. There are among those, as the right hon. Gentleman said, some who have been born in this country but most of them are the children of immigrants who came well before the present Government came to office. We would not, as Government policy, expect that a man who was here, and working here, would not have the right to bring to this country his children of school age.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) asked whether 901 I had the figures of children emigrating and the numbers coming in. I have not. But I saw last week, in connection with the general figures for immigration and emigration, that more people were leaving the country than coming into it. So the gist of what he was saying is right.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am sure my right hon. Friend would agree that immigrant families tend, on the whole, to be larger than emigrant families.
§ Miss Bacon
Yes, I accept that.
Before I deal with the points raised about the school building programme and the finance of education, perhaps I might deal straight away with one or two of the points that the right hon. Gentleman put to me. He asked for an assurance about the way in which the money set aside for areas of special need would be dealt with. I emphasise that the urban programme is to deal with all areas of special need and not just the immigrant areas, although we know that when we are looking at areas of special need the areas of high immigrant population will figure largely.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the programme this week, because it was a general programme covering the whole of the social services, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the educational part of this will be administered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and that in the Department at the moment we are going ahead with our plans. He will be pleased to know—he mentioned nursery school provision and said that there had been very little in the last few years—that one of our priorities in the areas of special need will be an expansion of nursery education, particularly in these priority areas.
The bulk of the money which will go to education out of the programme will be spent on nursery school provision. Although the details are not yet settled, I hope that we shall have an extra allocation for minor works because the visit which I made recently to areas of high immigration showed that there was a need for more minor works in many of these areas.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was a difference between new pro- 902 jects and cash aid. In fact, it is envisaged that there will be cash aid to these areas. Under Section 11 of the Local Government Act, we are prohibited from giving direct cash aid unless it is to pay for personnel. We shall need an Amendment to Section 11 in order to make it possible for the Government to make specific cash grants other than where they are payments for salaries and wages. It is the Government's intention that that Amendment shall be made.
Incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman asked when an announcement about the raising of the school-leaving age would be made. The announced intention still stands: we are raising the school-leaving age two years later than we had originally thought and we hope that the school building programme will be announced in the autumn. We are going ahead, too, with the discussions and we hope that it will not be too long before we can make an announcement about a single leaving date, which should be helpful.
I come to the subject of the school building programme. Some concern has been caused because recently we announced a revised programme for 1968–69, the previous programme having been announced in 1967. The frequent references to cuts in the building programme point to a misunderstanding of the situation. On 14th February, we debated the reasons for the review of the programme which had previously been provided for 1968–69, but it might help to clear up some misunderstanding if I repeated some of the points which I made then. In January the Prime Minister announced, along with other measures, that it had been decided to postpone the raising of the school-leaving age for two years. But local authorities had already been allocated £36 million a year for three years for building for that purpose and it was to save the £36 million in each of two years that the postponement was made.
The £36 million had been included in the original 1968–69 programme for the purpose of raising the school-leaving age. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that it would have been a difficult task to take that £36 million out of the programme which had already been announced because that money was not an easily identifiable part of each local 903 authority's school building programme. Local authorities did not take a school, add a classroom and say, "That is from the money for raising the school-leaving age". The money went into the general pool. Having to take out the £36 million which had previously been allocated for raising the school-leaving age inevitably meant that some schools which had been in the original programme were not in the revised programme. But I emphasise that, even after taking out this money, the total revised programme for 1968–69, including special schools and minor works, is £129 million compared with £134 million in 1967–68.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) made great play with those few millions, but included in the 1967–68 allocation there was a special allocation which the Government made available last winter to help areas where there was high unemployment, and that put the 1967–68 programme up by so much.
The only difference in the current programme from that previously announced is the withdrawal of the special allocation of £36 million in building for raising the school-leaving age. This has been partly offset by the addition of £7 million to the programme to help authorities whose plans for secondary reorganisation were linked with the prospect of raising the school-leaving age in 1970, so the amount taken out of the school building programme was not the full £36 million for the raising of the school-leaving age but £36 million minus £7 million set on one side for reorganisation.
Because of the adjustment, authorities were asked to review their proposals for 1968–69, including schools allocated in earlier years but not expected to start before 1st April, 1968. We thought it only right that we should ask local authorities for their revised priorities in the light of the new situation. Although the right hon. Gentleman talks about the backlog in a rather casual way, the method of allocating resources for school building which has grown up over the years has not been very satisfactory, as he knows.
Local authorities are given an allocation for a year but it has not been necessary for them to start the projects in that year. They could be carried forward to 904 the next year or for two, three and sometimes even four or five years. Local authorities over the years—it was the case in the right hon. Gentleman's time at the Department as well—had built up a backlog of unstarted projects which this year total £70 million which they could start at any one time.
If the Government had to take £30 million, which they had to, out of this year's programme for building, the local authorities could easily have made nonsense of this capital saving merely by dipping into the backlog of building and taking as much out of that as had been saved by postponing the raising of the school-leaving age. The saving from postponement of the higher school-leaving age might have been wiped out by switching to schools in the backlog.
Incidentally, we are having a new procedure for new school building programmes which we have drawn up in consultation with the local authorities and which will mean that in future we do not have this problem of the backlog every year. The right hon. Gentleman is aware of the difficulties inherent in the present school building programme system and I am sure that he will welcome a procedure which will establish a meaningful programme for starts for each financial year and so overcome the problems of the backlog which has existed for such a long time.
Local authorities were trying to beat the deadline of 31st March by starting as much out of the backlog as they could. Within 10 days in March, local authorities were trying to start about £25 million worth of these projects, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that something had to be done.
§ Sir E. Boyle
The right hon. Lady will not deny that Circular 6/68 gave the impression that authorities could start as much of their existing authorised programmes as they liked before 31st March and that then the full £88.5 million would be authorised in the form of new projects for 1968–69. The fact that only £56 million will be made available in the new year for authorised projects, because of the "gold rush" in March, means that local authorities are receiving more severe treatment than we thought would be the case when we debated this subject last February.
§ Miss Bacon
There was an unprecedented number of starts. In any event, the right hon. Gentleman is looking at the matter in a somewhat artificial way, because those projects which local authorities began whether on 30th March or 2nd April are going forward.
The figures show that local authorities are building more school buildings in the current year than in any previous year in history. In 1963–64, the total school building programme was £87 million. By 1967–68 it had risen to £127 million. Building in progress in 1964 was worth £145 million. Construction going on this year totals £200 million, which is an all time record. Whether or not this building work was started on 30th March or 2nd April, it is in progress, and the amount of building going on in school programmes amounts to £200 million, the greatest amount of school building in progress in any one year. The number of school places being provided has increased. In 1963–64, the number was 230,370. In 1967, it was 424,329.
The value of building in progress in London this year will be £5½ million. One cannot put on one side over £1 million worth of minor works. For this reason it is misleading to refer, as was done in the debate, to building in progress worth £1½ million. Under the minor works programme any project costing less than £25,000 may be undertaken. Some of this work was started in the last few days of March and some after 1st April. It is important to note the total amount of work in progress, and not to use artificial arguments relating to the dates of 31st March and 1st April.
Essex has a school building programme this year of over £2 million, comprising 15 primary and seven secondary projects. The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) concentrated on the problems of Essex, but we must consider local authorities as a whole. I appreciate that there are problems in Essex, but I suggest that that area has had its fair share of the school building programme for this year. We have not been able to apply a, flat rate percentage adjustment to every programme. We have authorised projects in the revised 1968–69 programme according to the readiness of a local authority to start, and the question of urgency and priority has been taken into account on the revised lists.
906 We have to take a local authority as a whole. I am not saying that there are no difficulties in Essex, but it has had its fair share.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
As the right hon. Lady realises that we have special problems in Essex, especially the problem of an expanding population, will she see a deputation from Essex to discuss the problem with her?
§ Miss Bacon
It is very difficult about these deputations. There are 162 local authorities in England, all of whom can tell me that they have some special problem. If I see a few of them, I have to see them all, and that would take up a lot of my time. I want to emphasise that the 1968–69 programme is not the end of the school building programme. We are now receiving requests for the 1969–70 programme, which will be announced in a few months' time. We will take into account the special difficulties of all areas.
I was rather surprised at the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West raising the question of Waltham Forest. I thought that it had been rather well treated. It got quite a bit of the £7 million which we allocated to help local authorities in special difficulties with secondary reorganisation. Waltham Forest had £335,000 of that money. If we look at it throughout the country, it was probably more than its share, but I was very pleased to be able to allocate this to help Waltham Forest in its secondary reorganisation, because I know that it would have been in difficulties without it. In addition, it had £169,000 out of the £16 million for the educational priority areas.
Although hon. Members have said that there are very few improvements in this year's programme, for the first time a Government have recognised that there are special areas where replacement of schools ought to take place. In spite of severe financial difficulties this year we retained in the programme that £16 million, and I am very pleased that we were able to do so.
§ Mr. Silvester
I would like to say that I am really just clearing the pitch for July. We were very grateful for the money given for secondary schools. There are schools which did not receive money, and one is in a terrible condition.
§ Miss Bacon
I am not denying that we have some terrible schools, many of them built in the 19th century. I would be very pleased to get rid of some.
The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Speed) raised the question of the overspill from Birmingham. I recognise the problem here and will try to do what I can to help. He pin-pointed our difficulty with the school building programme— that whatever Government have been in power they have had to give priority to areas of new population for schools rather than the replacing of old schools. In my constituency, the whole area might be considered an educational priority area, but it has been a bit difficult, because the local authority has had to give priority to building new schools in the new areas of population. This means that some of the old schools have been left, and it was because of this that the Government allocated £16 million for the educational priority areas.
It has been said that now that we have asked local authorities to keep within a certain percentage of increase for the next year, they might have special difficulties. The Conservative Government, some years ago, substituted the general grant for the percentage grant which has meant that we have not been able to deal with education separately in local authorities. That presents difficulties. For instance, we cannot tell local authorities to cut down on expenditure on roads without fearing that some of them might cut down on education. I will welcome the report of the Royal Commission on Local Government which, perhaps, will lead to a different way of financing local authority expenditure, particularly on education.
Every local authority should regard the cutting down of teachers as the last thing which they should do. We have been receiving in the Department the bids of local authorities for the teacher quotas for next year. I am pleased to say that a great many of the local authorities are asking for an increased teacher quota, which shows that some of the fears expressed about unemployment among teachers are unfounded.
Government expenditure on education in 1963–64 was £1,200 million. Today, it is £2,000 million, which is much more proportionately than the increase in the child population. It has been said from 908 the benches opposite that the increased expenditure is necessary because there are more children coming into the schools. Of course there are. The forecast figures for the next two years are over £2,150 million in the current year and over £2,250 million in 1969–70, which shows that this Government are giving high priority to education.
Much has been made of the priorities within the education service. This is a very difficult matter. But my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said —and I agree with him—that he wants to give priority to primary schools where-ever he can. Over the next few months there might be a readjustment as between primary schools and secondary schools and higher education. I cannot say more about that now.
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Handsworth would not expect me to make any pronouncement about the Newsome Report. I should like to say a great deal about it; I could keep the House another half-hour on it. We are studying it and we are watching the reactions. The Government are not ready to make a pronouncement on it.
I realise that we have been talking about money and buildings, and so on. But education is not primarily buildings and money, though we need those in order to provide good education. It is the children who matter. We are determined to ensure that high priority is given to the children in our schools in the way that the right hon. Member for Handsworth described in the latter part of his speech.