HC Deb 02 April 1974 vol 871 cc1073-6
6. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is prepared to restore the full school building programme curtailed by the previous administration; and if he will make a statement.

23. Mr. Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has any immediate plans to restore the cuts in education expenditure instituted by the previous Government so that reorganisation of secondary education along comprehensive lines already proceeding in Lancashire and Liverpool will be strengthened by the allocation of additional resources directly associated with adaptations to school buildings; and if he will make a statement.

26. Mr. Graham

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on his review of the cuts in education expenditure announced by the previous Government, with particular reference to Edmonton.

41. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has any plans to restore the £182 million cuts in education brought in by the previous administration; and if he will make a statement.

45. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to restore the cuts in the school building programme made by the previous administration.

Mr. Prentice

During the debate on the Rate Support Grant Order on 25th March, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced the Governments decision not to rescind the cuts in local authority current expenditure in 1974–75 imposed by the previous Government. That decision, which affects all local government services, including education, was made in the light of our current serious economic difficulties. For the same reason, I cannot at present authorise larger education building programmes for 1974–75.

Mr. Cryer

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Nevertheless, may I ask him to pay special attention to intermediate areas such as Bradford, where 19 schools are in urgent need of replacement? I recognise that my right hon. Friend's difficulties were created by the previous administration, some of the supporters of which are now shouting from the benches opposite.

Mr. Prentice

The difficulties that we have inherited are of a most severe character. It should be pointed out—particularly in view of some of the noises from hon. Members opposite—that, since they imposed the December 1973 cut, the nation has faced a loss of more than £1,500 million in lost production in a totally unnecessary period of three-day working. It is that situation with which the Government are having to cope.

Against that background, the school building programme for 1974–75 will deal entirely with basic needs, rather than with improvement projects. I regret that very much, because in Bradford, as, indeed, in many other parts of the country, there are old schools that should have been replaced a long time ago.

Mr. Thorne

Is my hon. Friend prepared to put pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure a speedy taxation of the wealthy, in order to restore some of the costs that have hit Lancashire, particularly?

Mr. Prentice

I must not anticipate my right hon. Friend's autumn Budget.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Since, in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's earlier reply, the development of comprehensive schools is to have a higher priority, what sort of schools within the school building programme will have a lower priority?

Mr. Prentice

My earlier reply on comprehensive and secondary education did not include any reference to the size of the secondary school building programme. Reorganisation along comprehensive lines will proceed more rapidly if and when it is possible to increase allocations for secondary school building. I am not proposing to do that during 1974–75. I have had to accept the level of school building that I inherited for that year. Of course, that makes secondary school reorganisation more difficult, but not impossible. Considerable progress has been made in the past by many local education authorities in going comprehensive without having extra resources available for that purpose.

Mr. Mitchell

I find it somewhat difficult to thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Even if the cuts for 1974–75 cannot be restored, may the House have an assurance that some of the amount that has been lost will be made up during the 1975–76 programme?

Mr. Prentice

I should not want to thank myself for that reply, either. No one regrets this situation more bitterly than I. The 1975–76 programme is a matter for discussion and decision, on which I cannot make a statement today.

Mr. Carlisle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as recently as 28th January of this year, and during the continuance of the three-day working week, the Labour Party moved and voted on in this House a motion deploring the cuts in the education service? Does the right hon. Gentleman not therefore think that those who voted for the Labour Party at the General Election would now expect it to rescind those cuts, or was the debate a complete charade?

Mr. Prentice

I voted on that occasion, and with considerable support, for the motion put down by the then Opposition. I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman and the House to recognise that since then we have had the total effect of the three-day working week and the record trade deficit figures for January and February, amounting to more than £800 million in a two-months' period. That is the extent of our inheritance. I should like to see the situation improved as soon as possible, but the Government came to the collective decision, to which I am party with my colleagues, that our earliest priorities in terms of public expenditure were a substantial increase in retirement pensions and some money for food subsidies to try to fight inflation.

Against that background, the Chancellor had to announce last week that there could be no increases in other public expenditure programmes. That is the background—one which we can defend, although we regret having to do so.

Mr. van Straubenzee

But if the three-day working week is such a relevant factor—as the Secretary of State would wish us to believe it is—how was it that as recently as 13th February, when speaking at Stretford, the Lord President of the Council, as he now is, gave the country to understand that the cuts in question would be restored? Has the Secretary of State not now totally buried that statement, and should the Lord President not make a suitably penitential apology?

Mr. Prentice

The Opposition are playing the oldest political game in the world, which is to take statements out of context. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Labour Party Manifesto—I shall send him a copy if he does not have one—he will find at the beginning a statement that we have many objectives in social expenditure. However, the pace at which we can fulfil those objectives must depend upon the rate of progress that we make in tackling the economic crisis that we have inherited. That applies to improvements in education building and other matters to which we remain as deeply committed as we have always been. Therefore, I stand completely by what my right hon. Friend said during the election, but the timing of our ability to carry out these matters depends upon the economic situation.