HC Deb 26 November 1969 vol 792 cc573-84

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

10.42 p.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

I wish to base my remarks on the Scottish Education Department Circular No. 600 of October, 1965, and to refer specifically to how it is affecting my own constituency of Banffshire. I begin by quoting from paragraph 8 of the circular, which says, inter alia: The Secretary of State asks authorities to organise their secondary"— that is, their secondary school— provision on comprehensive lines and to introduce this form of organisation as circumstances permit. Banffshire Education Committee has faithfully carried out the necessary review of its plans for the reorganisation on comprehensive lines and has thus espoused the comprehensive course, a course which I fully agree with and support the committee in. It did this particularly bearing in mind paragraph 11 of yet another Scottish Education Department Circular, No. 609, of 19th May, 1966, which spoke of a co-ordinated building programme arranged by the Scottish Education Department. That circular was followed by a letter to the County Director of Education from the S.E.D., dated 19th July, 1966, which said, in essence, that the S.E.D. approved of the list of priorities as laid down by the Education Committee at that time.

It was eventually decided that there would be built in the county three large comprehensive schools, one each at Keith, Banff and Buckie, each being fed from a large catchment area around those three main towns. Subsequently, after strong pressure from a joint committee formed on Speyside, Banffshire Education Committee agreed in principle to the establishment of a school on Speyside.At the same time, the Government agreed in principle to the same project after strong representations by myself, and for that the county and myself are very grateful.

The present position is that Keith Grammar School and Banff Academy are fully operative, and it is perfectly true to say that already they are bursting at the seams. Buckie High School is woefully inadequate, and unable to cope with the secondary school pupils from what I have called its catchment area.

Taking the overall position of the county into consideration, Banffshire Education Committee has done its utmost to meet the Government's policy, but it has not been given the tools to finish the job, that is, the necessary finance. At least three newly-built or reconstructed secondary schools have been discarded, and others have been closed, because of the change in the central Government's policy which came about after 1965. Thus, large capital expenditure on secondary has been wasted. That is no fault of the education authority, and it is not use looking back in anger, for that certainly will not build new schools. The county is now being penalised because it has carried out Government policy, and not only is the authority suffering, but the pupils and indeed the parents.

It is essential that equal opportunities —and this is Government policy—should be available for all children throughout the entire country. The reason why only those children who reside in the Banff catchment area are enjoying the benefits while the rest of the children in the county are not, is that there is a shortfall in the capital building allocation by the Government. The county now has four types of secondary school, and only one is fully comprehensive. That in itself is a complete negation of the Government's policy of all-through comprehensive schools.

The Banff Education Committee, at the behest of the Scottish Education Department, has drawn up, in three parts, a list of priorities, as follows. First, Buckie High Schol; to alleviate the present overcrowding—the roll is 728—to take in 203 extra secondary pupils from the Buckie catchment area and to prepare for an approximately 10 per cent. increase in students in 1972 as a result of the raising of the school-leaving age, the allocation required is no less than £650,000. The authority has planned to adapt and enlarge the building which was put up in 1927. We are not asking for an entirely new building to be constructed. The county council realises the necessity for economy and is perfectly willing to adapt where possible.

Second on the list of priorities is the new Speyside school. Again, it is pertinent to quote from S.E.D. Circular 600, paragraph 10: [The Secretary of State] appreciates, however, that in some areas geographical factors will make the 'all-through' comprehensive school impracticable, because it would impose on very many of the pupils an intolerable burden of daily travel, or even the need to live away from home. That is precisely why the education authority has agreed to have a new school at Speyside and have put it high on the list of priorities.

Many secondary school pupils travel more than 50 miles per day to Keith, during many months of the year in darkness, and often in wild weather. They are accommodated at Keith Grammar School, which was never designed for the large numbers which it now has to house. For the new school at Speyside £450,000 is needed. The difficulties in Banffshire are not confined to secondary building alone. The Buckie primary school is packed to capacity and is forced to operate a three-stream system of education which has been harshly criticised by the Scottish Education Department.

I turn to the third on the list of priorities of the education committee, Whitehills primary school. That has been described by H.M. Inspector of Schools as being in the worst condition of any primary school in the north east of Scotland. It is in a deplorable state. The capital required to reconstruct the school is £90,000. Thus the capital required for Buckie High School, the new Speyside school and the reconstruction of Whitehills primary school amounts to £1,190,000.

This figure should be borne in mind when one remembers that in a letter of 22nd August, 1969, to the authority the Scottish Education Department announced a capital allocation for the first half of a two year period to March, 1972, of £100,000.That is a shortfall of nearly £1,100,000 on requirement.

At the meeting on 31st October at St. Andrew's House, to which the Minister referred in his Answer to me last Wednesday, he stated that the allocation for the second half of the period to March 1972 is likely to increase towards the end of the year. I hope that tonight he will be able to give the House some information on this subject.

The delegation from the authority agreed to go back to see how best they could utilise about a twelfth of the sum of £100,000 which they really need. They have decided in principle at least to build a three-storey block at Buckie High School, leaving the ground floor unfinished. All that will achieve is that the rector will be able to bring into his school the remaining secondary pupils in his catchment area. There will be no technical provision, no physical education provision, nothing for school means, and no refurbishing of the 1927 building.

At best, this can be described as a makeshift arrangement and it still depends on the fulfilment of a further £150,000 being allocated before March, 1972. So far, we have no promise of that. This is not good enough. As one county official said to me only yesterday, "How can we plan anything if we do not know sufficiently far ahead what we will have to spend?" A headline in yesterday's Banffshire Journal speaks for itself: Parents will be told Government are to blame for lack of progress in school building. I think that that is fair comment.

I conclude by impressing on the Under-Secretary of State, with all the power at my command, the urgency of the situation. Without a substantial part of the required allocation being made available quickly, the proposal to raise the school-leaving age in Banffshire in 1972 is total nonsense. I know that I have the support of the entire country behind me in my plea tonight. Let the Government meet their responsibilties in an equitable and just manner.

10.55 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Millan)

The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) has dealt almost exclusively with the Banffshire situation.But I am sure he will understand if, first, I say something about the general background, especially as the title of his Adjournment debate slightly misled me, though I know that he was in no way responsible. I thought that he had intended to say a number of things about the Scottish programme as a whole. In any case, I would have preferred to deal with what he has said by dealing first with Scotland and then with the particular points about Banffshire. I hope that in the time available to me I can take up all or most of the points made by the hon. Gentleman about his own education authority.

It is useful to remind hon. Members of the present scale of the school building programme. In 1965 and 1966 the average annual value of school building projects in Scotland as a whole was about £17 million. With the raising of the school-leaving age then projected originally for 1970–71, the level of starts was raised to £26 million a year for the three-year period from 1967–68 to 1969–70, giving a total programme of £78 million.

When the raising of the school-leaving age was deferred to 1972–73, the programme was reduced to £73 million and, as I announced in some detail during the debate on the Education Estimates on 3rd July last, the three-year programme of £73 million was extended to make a five-year programme for the period 1967–68 to 1971–72, aimed at starting school building to the value of about £125 million, or £25 million a year on average.

That is the programme for the full period, and the authorities have made an extremely good start with it In fact, the progress has been so rapid in the years 1967–68 and 1968–69 that, assuming similar progress is maintained in the present year—and there is every indication that it will—we estimate that the authorities will have started about £89 million worth of building by March, 1970.

This means, as I explained in the debate I have mentioned and as was explained in a circular subsequently sent to local authorities, that the starts in the remaining two years of the programme, 1970–72, will be at a lower level than the starts for the three years to 1970. Authorities have had the advantage of being able to start the projects which are necessary for the raising of the age in most cases in very good time indeed—

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

While We can understand that with the postponement of the raising of the school-leaving age for two years a slight decline in the number of starts was to be expected, can the hon. Gentleman explain how it is that the number of approvals given for new school building in Scotland has fallen in the first nine months of the year by well over 15 per cent.?

Mr. Millan

With respect, if I am to answer the points raised by the hon. Member for Banff it is not possible for me to take up the point just mentioned by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur), but I should be glad to discuss it on another occasion. I will be referring to starts figures for this year, which are the important thing. Approvals are not so important. We are talking basically of the starts to meet the 1972 date.

What I have said about the general scale of the programme and the way in which it would move over the next two years is simply a repetition of what has been given out in the circular, and of what I said in the Estimates debate earlier this year—

Mr. MacArthur

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Millan

No. There may be time at the end of my remarks, but if I give way now I shall not be able to deal with the schools in Banffshire, which will not, I am sure, please the hon. Member's hon. Friend.

The total value of school building started rose from £16.7 million in 1966 to £25.4 million in 1967 and £35.5 million in 1968, and the 1969 figures are also very good. A high proportion of starts is now for secondary accommodation and we ought to have a substantial number of projects completed in very good time for the raising of the school-leaving age in 1972–73. In the immediate period beyond 1970, the overriding requirement will be to continue to provide accommodation for the additional number of pupils resulting from the natural growth in the school population, the movement of the existing school population, for example, to new towns and other new housing areas and, of course, the raising of the school-leaving age. This does not mean, however, that other aspects of the programme are being neglected. For example, there is scope for replacing and improving old schools.

Inevitably, the demand for roofs-overheads will mean that authorities will not be in a position to make as much progress as they would perhaps like. I explained to Banff education authority that I had to consider not only its programme, but all the other programmes which authorities have sent in for the period 1970 to 1972. For the first part of that period the £17 million is only part of the allocations to be made available for the two-year period. As the hon. Member said, we hoped by the end of this year to give specific allocations for the rest of the two-year period and also the allocations for 1972–73. It is likely to be a little later than I expected— some time early in the New Year—when I shall be able to give the allocations. That is for the reason that I am considering the representations made by Banffshire education authority and other representations by other authorities about the allocations they have received already for the first part of the two-year period.

I want to take all this into account before putting out the allocations for the next part of the two-year period. Once we have done that, the scope for adjustment by listening to representations by authorities, and so on, is likely to be very limited, but we must try as far as possible to get this absolutely right when we put out the new figures early in the New Year.

The hon. Member particularly raised the question of building to facilitate the reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines and he quoted from Circular 600. If he looks at it again he will see that it has never been our intention to provide investment for school building on a scale which would enable all the necessary new building to be completed and adaptations to be done to existing buildings in a short time. We explained that it would not be realistic for authorities to plan on the basis that their individual programmes would be increased solely to take account of the need to adapt or remodel existing buildings on a scale which would not have been necessary but for reorganisation. The expectation was that the large volume of secondary school building which would have to be undertaken to meet other specific needs would provide opportunities to expedite reorganisation on comprehensive lines and this has proved to be the case.

This is basically what is happening in Scotland as a whole as there is need for providing additional secondary school accommodation for the raising of the school-leaving age and demands of population, and so on, at the same time as the move to comprehensive reorganisation is going ahead. In the circular, announcing the programmes for the first three years of the current five-year programme period, it was made clear that the available investment for secondary purposes over the authority's area as a whole would determine the pace at which reorganisation could be fully and adequately implemented, and we accept that this is not peculiar to Banffshire. Some continuance of existing arrangements or only interim changes in these arrangements would be inevitable in many areas.

I accept that in this interim situation there are bound to be difficulties. I also agree that it is difficult to persuade parents and others interested that equality of opportunity is being given in a situation where there is more than one system of secondary education operating simultaneously within a fairly restricted area between one authority and another.

We have reached a stage in Banffshire with the opening of phase 1 of the new Banff Academy where full secondary education is being given to pupils from one particular part of the county, but we have yet to move towards that particularly in the Buckie area and in the area of Speyside. The hon. Gentleman said that the scheme that the authority put to us for Buckie would have cost £650,000. He also said that this is not wholly required to meet the demands of roofs-over-heads and, in particular, the demands of the raising of the school-leaving age. There are substantial elements here of secondary reorganisation involved.

In view of the other demands on the school building programme in other areas, it is impossible for me to say that Banffshire can start a scheme of this sort, costing this amount of money, in the period 1970–72, even if there were not other projects, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned and which I know that the education authority is anxious to see started.

At the meeting which I had with the authority on 31st October, and at which the hon. Gentleman was present, I asked the authority if it would look at this project and see if it could be broken down into phases. The authority was of the view at the meeting that that would be difficult. We have since heard nothing officially from the authority, but the hon. Gentleman has given me some indication tonight of how the authority's mind is working, because he has said that it is now thinking of a scheme which, as I understood him, would cost about £¼ million and which would do what the authority considers to be absolutely essential in the interim period and omit some of the other matters which, although essential in the longer term, are not absolutely necessary for 1972.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

It does not take account of the raising of the school-leaving age, as I understand it.

Mr. Millan

In any case, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, as I have not seen details of the scheme, it is not possible for me or my Department to judge it. We will examine the new scheme very carefully, because it was the understanding from our meeting that this is what the authority would do. If it has done that, we shall certainly look very carefully at what it proposes.

As to Speyside, I do not think that there is any prospect—I made this clear to the authority—of doing anything in this area in the way of starting a major project in the period up to 1972. I understand the particular difficulties in Speyside. As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, we had a long correspondence about this over a considerable period. I understand the feelings of parents and others in this area. The Speyside project is, in terms of building, strictly a replacement project. It is not strictly to provide basic accommodation for the raising of the leaving age or for any other factor.It is basically a reorganisa- tion proposal. Because of the difficulties I have in meeting the demands on the building programme as a whole, I can see no prospect of dealing with that in the period to 1972.

The hon. Gentleman did not mention the question of an extension which will probably be necessary at Keith Grammar School, which was to cost about £80,000; but, as I think he knows, that is another scheme which we have to take into consideration in considering the priorities for the authority in the next two years.

There is also the question whether it will be possible in that period to do anything about the replacement of White-hills primary school, a project costing £90,000 which the authority considers to be the most urgent and essential project in the primary education field.

It is not possible for me to make any final pronouncement at the moment, because the allocation for the second part of the two-year period has not yet been decided for the authority, and it is, therefore, not possible to say what we shall be able to fit into the two-year period. But, as the hon. Gentleman will remember from my meeting with the education authority, in any case the key factor is the Buckie situation and what is likely to happen over the secondary school accommodation there. Only when we can see that clearly, when we can see what is possible in the way of breaking down into phases the extension which is required at Buckie High School and how much is involved, can we see the demands in the county for school building as a whole—not just in the two years up to 1972 but looking forward into the 1972–73 period. Our circular, which will be coming out at the beginning of the year, will give an indication of what might be available then. Therefore, I am not able at the moment to say much more than I said to the authority at our meeting on 31st October.

I should, however, like to make this point. There was some feeling at the meeting that I had with the authority that Banffshire had been badly dealt with compared with other areas of the country in regard to school building. That is not really so. One cannot make these comparisons simply in terms of population, but in the three-year period from 1967–70 Banffshire had a fair share on a pupil/population basis. It had over £900,000 in terms of starts including the first phase of the new Banffshire Academy, which was an expensive project, as well as the replacement of two primary schools at Cullen and Keith.

Therefore, the situation—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twelve minutes past Eleven o'clock.