HC Deb 16 January 1974 vol 867 cc559-613
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), I point out to the House that, taking into account the Ministers who will seek to reply, well over 60 hon. Members will be seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. I hope that there will be some restraint on the length of speeches.

4.19 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

I hope to be brief, as usual, Mr. Speaker.

The Bill gives the House an opportunity to consider a number of matters concerning the education service which are causing great anxiety to members of local authorities, administrators, teachers and parents.

The present situation, financial and otherwise, can be described only as cuts, confusion and chaos. That applies not only to education but to other services, particularly local authority services, and is connected with the mess the Government have got themselves in on the financial sections of the Local Government Bill, which has still not had its Report stage. The Government are seeking to put the blame for their failures and wrong decisions on local authorities.

There has not been one cut but a series of cuts. I shall take school building as an example. At the beginning of 1973 the Government were making an overall cut in the school building programme on the grounds that there was not the same demand for the basic roof-over-heads programme and that the pressure was off, as the White Paper said, at the end of 1972.

The new phase was the Chancellor's announcement of 21st May 1973, which called for heavy cuts in local authority expenditure as part of the £500 million cut in public expenditure. On 8th October the Prime Minister announced that public building contracts which would have been placed before the end of 1973 would be postponed until after 1973. We were assured by the Secretary of State for Education and Science that approvals would start again on 1st January and that the cost limits would be increased at the same time. Circular 12/73 was sent to local education authorities with a promise of a further circular which would give more guidance. That further guidance did not come until the day after the Chancellor's statement of 17th December, when Circular 15/73 was issued. That made nonsense of the Government's claims about the priority for getting rid of the out-of-date Victorian schools and for expanding education.

Such an example is to be seen in my constituency. The St. James Junior and Infants School, Gorton, was built in 1834. There have since been some additions. It is a school which my mother attended from five to 12 years before she went to work in a cotton mill. My mother is now almost 80, and she tells me that the school building was fairly grim when she was in it. Final approval for the replacement of that school was expected in 1973. Now it will not even be considered for approval for another 18 months. That means that it will not be considered until July 1975. The site is cleared and is ready for work to start. Houses will be built in the area, but it will be at least 1976 before the building is available.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House could continue for some time giving such examples. I could do so about my own area, but I have nowadays an ally in my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Hatton). Part of my hon. Friend's constituency will be merged into the Moss Side constituency, for which he will be a candidate. My hon. Friend is Chairman of Manchester Education Authority and the AMC's Education Committee. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that he will catch your eye and will have an opportunity to talk about the effect of the changes in Government expenditure and public expenditure on one of Britain's outstanding education authorities.

Some immediate effect will be felt in the area of recurrent expenditure. Just over a year ago the Government published a White Paper entitled "Education: A Framework for Expansion." In view of the Chancellor's decision to cut public expenditure and investment it should now be retitled "A frame-up for contraction". Paragraph 44 of the White Paper refers to non-teaching costs. It says: The salaries, superannuation and National Insurance contributions of teachers account for about 70 per cent. of the total cost of running the schools. 'Non-teaching costs' as they are called account for the remaining 30 per cent. The White Paper then gives the figure for 1971–72, which was £355 million. It continues: About one-half of the non-teaching costs is directly attributable to the upkeep of grounds and buildings, and nearly a further quarter to the pay of staff employed for this purpose. Expenditure on textbooks, library books, school stationery and materials accounts for about one-eighth of the non-teaching costs ; when educational equipment and other supplies are added this proportion rises to about one-sixth. That weird combination of figures, percentages and vulgar fractions means, briefly, that the vast majority of recurrent expenditure is teachers' pay and that another 7½ per cent. of it is other employee's pay. The upkeep of buildings amounts to 15 per cent. There is expenditure of 3¾per cent. on books, stationery and other materials and 1¼ per cent. on other equipment. I appreciate that those figures do not add up to 100 per cent. Neither does the combination of vulgar fractions and percentages which is contained within the White Paper.

Paragraph 46 of the White Paper says: Expenditure per head on books, while varying considerably among the authorities, has on average been below what is recommended by the Association of Education Committees as necessary to achieve a good standard of provision. The Government believe that local education authorities will generally recognise the importance of an adequate supply of books in schools and hope that, where this is necessary, they will aim at improving standards. The recent decisions of the Government make absolute nonsense of the proposals contained in the White Paper. The area in which local education authorities can make such cuts is very narrow. We are told that teachers' salaries should not be touched and that the number of teachers is not to be touched. That applies also to the wages of non-teaching employees.

The Chancellor, in his statement on 17th December, said: There would be no point, in the wholly unique situation we face, in saving public expenditure by deliberately reducing the number of public servants."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December 1973 ; Vol. 866, c. 963.] Can the local authorities manage to make the cuts without taking such steps? So we shall get a reduction of £63 million in recurrent education costs. It is estimated by the Association of Education Committees that a cut of £50 million to £54 million will be made in the schools. I ask on what basis the figure of £63 million was arrived at. If it is 10 per cent., of what is it 10 per cent.? Local authorities face an enormous problem in obtaining such a cut. I suggest that the cut on items such as books, equipment and the repair of buildings will be consideraby more than 10 per cent.

In a memorandum which was issued today Sir William Alexander, the Secretary of the Association of Education Committees, says: I am advised that chief education officers who were advised by their treasurers as to the total that must be saved on their estimates, are finding that when they cut all procurables by 10 per cent. they have achieved little more than half the savings required. Sir William takes a particular point in illustration. He says: the provision for books and stationery or for per capita allowances to schools has not in recent years kept pace with the increase in prices. The purchasing power, therefore, of such allowances as been dropping. In the present year I am advised that the increase necessary on per capita allowances might be as much as 20 per cent., if purchasing power were to be maintained. If that is so, it follows, therefore, that the cut of 10 per cent. may well mean a cut in terms of the purchasing power of these allowances of nearly 30 per cent. That is the view of a responsible and highly respected man who has been Secretary of the Association of Education Committees for many years.

Sir William takes another example. He says: it was proposed this year to initiate a pilot experiment in five areas on the induction of teachers. That was also dealt with in the White Paper. It will not now be possible for the pilot scheme to be carried out because of the proposed cuts. The Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers is to advise the Secretary of State that the pilot experiment should be reduced. That is a further example of the Government's failure. That has arisen not because of an energy crisis but because of the Government's failure in financial and economic matters to do their job.

Where will local authorities make these cuts? They will make them in repairs and maintenance of buildings, in the provision of books, stationery and equipment. If we have to postpone the building of new schools to replace Victorian schools, then it will mean spending more money on the Victorian schools, which will have to make do for another three years or so. We all know the disasters which have occurred in the past when Conservative Governments and Conservative councils have suddenly cut expenditure. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange and I know of schools in our areas which have fallen down through lack of maintenance. If schools are to be maintained in a habitable state, more money will need to be spent on them. What will suffer will be what teachers call the "bread and butter" items, and this will have a disastrous effect on the education of children.

The Government will try to blame local authorities—and also, I suppose, the miners—for all this. This shows the utter collapse of Government policies and will be a disaster for the children who are now at school. Some of the cuts being considered by local authorities are appalling. As well as the inevitable cuts in books and equipment, they are considering a reduction of the protein in school dinners, cuts in auxiliary staff, reductions in the number of swimming lessons, and curtailment of in-service training for teachers. I have not referred to universities and higher education because I am sure that Vice-Chancellors and everybody else are in the dark about the Government's intentions.

The situation is confusing and chaotic. It would have been chaotic in any case, because these cuts are all taking place against the background of local government re-organisation, which in itself is a difficult matter. The new councils and their officers have been working under very great difficulties. The job of treasurers and chief education officers and their staffs must now be a nightmare. The new education authorities hoping to bring their educational provision in the new areas up to the standards of the best will find themselves reducing their standards below the worst. There is chaos because the local authorities do not know what grants they will receive. Indeed, the legislation under which they will receive grants has still not passed through the House.

When the Local Government Bill went into Committee on 20th November, there was an atmosphere of rush and haste. That was not surprising, since the Bill was promised in the Queen's Speech in 1972 and it did not appear until October 1973. When the Bill went into Committee we were told that the local authorities would require the legislation at a fairly early stage and that the Committee should complete its deliberations on the Bill by 11th December. This was to enable the Report stage to be taken before Christmas, but we have still not yet taken the Report stage on the Floor of the House although it was promised for this week. Furthermore, because the Bill contains non-financial provisions it will have to go to the other place. When will this urgent Bill be given Royal Assent? What will happen if there is a General Election in the next few weeks? I hope that the Under-Secretary of State or one of his ministerial colleagues will give an answer in this debate.

How do the Government expect the new councils, their officers and the various departments which have been set up to do their job in this situation? The mess the Government are making—and the mess they will make—of our education service has little connection with the energy crisis. The cause of all the trouble is the Government's failure to get their priorities right in past months, the anxiety of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his mini-Budget of 17th December to ease taxation for the better-off, and their failure to make the right provision for public investment in education. The education service will suffer as a result. This does not simply mean that the effects will be felt by teachers and in the provision of buildings and administration. This will affect the children who are now at school and those who will be attending school in the next few years.

I do not blame the Ministers in the Department of Education and Science for the Government's failure. It has been suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has killed the Department of Education and Science—and certainly I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's policies will mean disaster for the education service in the months to come.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Middleton and Prestwich)

I would never lightly dismiss the words of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), because of his knowledge and experience of education. However, I would counsel the House to remember that when we discuss cuts in expenditure, which is always an unpleasant task, there is always a danger of special pleading. We must look at the situation overall to see what is being done year by year, and there are many of us who seek to champion particular causes.

It is sometimes hard to place in degree of importance a particular subject in education within the whole sphere of the social services. Obviously, there is disappointment that the total amount of money available for education is to be cut. But this does not mean that the whole education service and all it comprises are ruined or torpedoed. Therefore, I would not go as far as did the hon. Gentleman in describing the present situation in the way he did. In examining cuts we must look at priorities within the whole education service.

In the present situation it is important to ensure that the money available is spent on items which most people recognise as having the greatest importance. I follow particular aspects of education with special interest because of their relevance to my constituency. Therefore, I was relieved to see that the building programme for special schools—an important and perhaps underrated feature of the White Paper "A framework for expansion"—was left undisturbed in the new situation. I regard this as an important recognition by the Government that there is a considerable amount yet to be done in special education. Many thousands of children who, on present classifications, would normally be seen to be in need of special education cannot obtain education in special schools. Therefore, the building programme foreshadowed by the White Paper is most necessary.

I was also relieved to see that plans for nursery education are not to be thrown overboard, but surely in the present situation more attention than ever should be paid to the rôle of the pre-school playgroups. There are many reasons for taking this view, one being the particular value in the pre-school playgroup system of parental involvement. We all want to see more involvement of this kind in the educational structure. There is also the factor that the pre-school playgroups can be run inexpensively compared, with more sophisticated nursery schools. If we are living in days of shortage of total funds, we must consider how the rôle of the pre-school playgroups can be enhanced. In many cases such playgroups can be provided for the expenditure of relatively trivial sums compared with other more ambitious programmes of nursery education. I hope that this point will not be overlooked by the Government in considering overall expenditure.

What do the cuts in the education service mean in terms of the youth service as part of total education expenditure? The youth service at present has a low priority in certain local authorities, and even in the eyes of the youth service itself. I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that the morale of people working in the youth service and those connected with services for youth is very low. I certainly hope that there is not to be an especial twist to the agony for them because there have to be cuts as a whole. But the present situation is sad.

We are recognising more and more new needs in the area of dealing with young people, not only within the formal education structure but outside it, and also the needs of young people when they have left school. We know that we are short of many people to be the youth leaders of the future. In the circumstances it is particularly gloomy that one should be thinking of restraints on expenditure. However, I suggest to my hon. Friend that there are things which the Government can champion which do not necessarily involve large sums and which, because of the atmosphere of economy in which we operate now, ought to be pressed further with local authorities.

Such statutory provision in the youth services as there is rests upon the slender foundation of Sections 41 and 53 of the Education Act 1944, and 30 years on this looks a very slender foundation indeed. More has been discovered about the needs of youth in our society than perhaps the wording of those sections of the Act could ever have envisaged. One of the most obvious things which people will point to is the present age range for the youth service as it is presently understood. This has no statutory foundation in the Education Act 1944 but is commonly accepted to cover an age range of 14 to 21.

When we know that currently one of the most alarming features in the whole youth area is a growth in crime and delinquency in the age range 10 to 13, it is a worrying thought that we are talking of overall cuts to a service in which already we know that youth service takes the lowest priority.

We have to consider urgently how we can re-channel existing expenditure if necessary, if there cannot be any increase, to help these paramount social needs. I do not believe that there is the right balance at present between what might be termed formal education and the wider aspect of social education.

I suggest that there could be—and the Government should examine this point—a most infinitesimal switch of resources from the formal education structure to the general field of social education, because there would be more benefit for the young people thereby affected if money were spent in the area of social education rather than necessarily through the formal structure. For example, I suggest that if money were to be expended on a teacher in school, which would enable the pupil teacher ratio to be improved from 1 to 37 or from 1 to 36, or something of that order, if money were spent on someone to be a worker amongst unattached youth there might be better value for the community and for society in such expenditure. I believe that our priorities are not the most excellent in this respect, and such a shift of resources could be pressed on local authorities.

I believe, too, that greater attention could be given to the rôle of the voluntary bodies—and never was it more important that we should recognise the rôle of voluntary bodies in the provision of youth service. Tremendous work is being done by those bodies at relatively economic rates. Sadly, however, there are local authorities throughout the country which do not accord status to them. They do not regard them as being the equal partners that they can easily be in planning provision for young people in their areas.

Other action could be taken relatively cheaply to improve youth services considerably. It is important that we should do so, despite the current atmosphere of economy. More could be done to switch the emphasis to positive activities for young people in the area of community service opportunities, which are not done as a form of cheap labour to benefit the recipient but done more to help the person who is the doer and the giver and to encourage that person to question why such services have to be provided from the voluntary sector, and to encourage young people to take a positive, questioning rôle in society rather than a negative and possibly anti-social attitude.

I hope also—and this is entirely a matter of cheapness—that greater use can be made of facilities that exist in the community. There are at present some scandalous cases where buildings which have been provided at great expense by the State are not being fully utilised and yet could provide an enormously beneficial rôle for many of the agencies which are operating in the community, particularly those affecting young people. I hope that if we are considering economies and it is not possible to devote large sums in future to the new service, we shall grasp the nettle concerning the multiuse of buildings that already exist, because it is a scandalous waste in certain parts of the country.

I hope that we need not send out a message to the world outside, and to those involved with the youth service in particular, that because we are having, unhappily, to consider cuts in the education service those people who are already at the end of the queue really face no exciting prospect of an improvement in their conditions and in their status. As I believe new needs and new problems have been revealed in the area of youth provision in recent years, I hope that these will not be ignored because the overall provision of finance for the education service has unfortunately to be limited now.

4.48 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

Contrary to the view of the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Haselhurst), I see the immediate future of the education service in this country in gloomy terms.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) on covering the whole subject. I do not intend to follow him but will confine myself to asking one or two specific questions dealing with Circular 15/73. First, would the Under-Secretary be clearer as to what is meant in paragraph 2, which states: Only the following major projects from the 1973/74 starts programme will be eligible for approval…". It goes on: School projects to meet basic needs for additional places. Special school projects. How are the Ministry officials interpreting basic needs for additional places"? Is there any difference in the way they interpret this in the primary sector as against the secondary sector? Does it mean that when an authority has applied for an extension for 200 or 300 places in one part of the town, if the Ministry officials find 10 empty spaces five miles across the other side of the town they will say, "You will have to reduce the number of new places and send children across to the other part of town?" There is an indication that a much more rigid approach is being made by Ministry officials in dealing with local authorities on the definition of needs. Secondly, when does he expect to publish the revised allocations for minor works, which we are told will be available shortly?

When people talk of cuts in public expenditure and the Chancellor says that £1,200 million must be cut, the first reaction of many people is a sigh of relief because taxation has not been increased. It is only when they realise what the cuts mean to them that they start getting alarmed. There are to be cuts of £119 million in capital expenditure and £63 million in current expenditure in education. These are large figures and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton has shown what they mean by instancing a school in his constituency. I want to show what they mean in Southampton.

In the financial year 1973–74, Southampton had planned seven major school building projects, at a total cost of £895,000. How many times have I heard the Secretary of State say, "It is the Government's intention to replace old Victorian primary schools"? And what was the first casualty in Southampton? We have there the Bitterne Church of England School, a first and middle school combined which was built in the Victorian period. It is a scandal that it has not been replaced before now, and I have tremendous admiration for the teachers who work in the conditions there.

At last this has got to the top of the priority list and there is to be a replacement first school and also a new middle school. Despite considerable initial difficulty, to our amazement, we eventually got a tender within the cost limits for the two new schools. That was then caught by the previous Government's circular deferring such work for three months. The Secretary of State assured us here that all these projects would be dealt with after 1st January. Under the latest Government circular, it will be at least 18 months before these buildings get under way. Goodness knows what the extra cost will then be.

The parents of children at this school who have been enduring these conditions for a long time and whose hopes were raised will now have to wait 18 months to two years and it will be three or four years before the school is completed. Another old school due for replacement, the Sholing Middle School, will come out, too. I hope that the Minister has a list of all these schools, having seen my name on the list of speakers.

Then we come to extensions to a secondary school in the bottom end of Southampton, in an urban aid area. This is a very old school. Due to representations made by both Members of Parliament for Southampton, one on each side of the House, the Minister was persuaded about a year ago to bring it forward slightly in the programme because it was in an area of social deprivation. Again, we had obtained tenders last September and again the scheme was caught by the previous circular. Shall we be allowed to go ahead with the extensions to Deanery School? At the moment there is doubt. I plead with the Under-Secretary to allow that to go ahead.

There are other extensions to schools in our capital programme of which I hope some will be allowed to go ahead, including St. Monica Middle School and Bitterne Park Secondary School. I understand that a project concerning a school for maladjusted children will be allowed to go ahead. But the two crucial ones are those for which tenders were approved-Bitterne Church of England and Deanery Schools.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the reductions in current spending on educational equipment, books, decoration and the rest will be much more substantial than appears at first sight. The memorandum by Sir William Alexander shows that in many cases the reductions will be well above 10 per cent. and in some cases may be as high as 20 per cent. or 30 per cent.

I have been interested in the youth service for a long time, directly at one stage. Perhaps I had better declare an interest. My wife has been and is a part-time assistant in a youth centre. The youth service, I fear, will suffer in its current expenditure on such things as instructors in crafts and sports. Perhaps the building programme will not suffer so much. It will depend on what is in the pipeline in different parts of the country. As the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich said, perhaps some local authorities have given this service a low priority, but obviously, if there is a choice between books for children at school and instructors at youth clubs, most local authorities will give the higher priority to books and equipment in schools. They must consider the compulsory school period first.

I fear that there will be substantial reductions in many parts of the country in the services provided in youth clubs. A youth club without the ability to pay instructors in judo, canoeing and other activities offers a much poorer service and is much less attractive to those, generally called the unattached, one wants to attract. The effect of the latest round of cuts will be inevitably to harm the youth service.

Mr. Haselhurst

Would the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that there are some children who should get high priority? He said that, naturally, those within the structure got the highest priority, but what about those who have been sent home by head teachers because they are so disruptive and who have not yet come within the jurisdiction of the courts, who are caught in the middle with no provision? Are not they a higher priority than what he referred to generally as the formal education structure?

Mr. Mitchell

I agree absolutely. The youth service starts before youngsters leave school. In Southampton we have developed a junior youth service which caters for youngsters of 13 and 14. I believe in continuity. The number of pupils who have been sent home from school as being incapable of learning any more is not very large, but there is a large number of youngsters in their last year in school who benefit tremendously from the facilities provided by the youth service.

I did not say that I thought the youth service had a low priority. I said that I suspected that, faced with a choice of school books or instructors in sailing, canoeing and judo, the majority of local authorities would provide books for the classroom. It is the ancillary services that are likely to be reduced severely and it is a sad day for the education service.

I detect a great increase in frustration amongst all sections of the education service. The cuts recently announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and supposedly agreed to by the Secretary of State can only add to that frustration. I have tried briefly to show the reality behind the phrase "cuts in public expenditure". Those words mean increasing frustration in the classroom, children having to attend schools which should have been pulled down years ago and a decrease in the facilities provided by the education service.

5.3 p.m.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

The hon. Members for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) and Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) have put forward the argument always put forward by the Opposition whenever there are cuts. They have deplored cuts in certain directions. When I listened to the list of things that the hon. Member for Gorton considered should not be touched, for a moment I wondered whether he was advocating that the number of teachers and teachers' salaries should be cut, but, knowing him, I knew that he did not mean that. I suspect that he would have no cuts and that he would increase the Government expenditure on education. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Itchen said that there should perhaps be increased taxation.

Mr. Marks

What I said was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not the Secretary of State for Education and Science had chosen the priorities between the educational service, private spending and the taxation of higher incomes. Educational investment is a far more valuable investment than that which is obtained from more private investment because of a tax reduction for the better-off.

Mr. Fry

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. There are many ways in which the Opposition intend to use the yield from the increased taxation of higher incomes. If the Labour Party ever came into power higher incomes would have to become very low incomes to achieve what the Labour Party wants to achieve. I suspect that the hon. Member for Gorton will hesitate to recommend in his election address—be it next month or next year—a tremendous increase in taxation, as that is not politically popular.

Neither hon. Gentleman has faced the basic fact that if an across-the-board cut in public expenditure is necessary, education, as all other sections of Government expenditure, has to play its part. Where the two sides of the House might disagree is in the areas in which these cuts are made.

If we have to check the increase of expenditure on education there is one area which the Secretary of State might consider carefully. For a long time we have been madly going ahead with increasing the amount of money we spend on university and further education without regard to what the country gets back. From talking to schoolmasters and students I have discovered that many young people go blithely on in full-time education until they are 21 or 22 without knowing what they want to do at the end of it. Industry and commerce are crying out for intelligent young people to train at an age when they are more malleable than they are in their mid-twenties.

For a long time I have argued that more young people should be attracted into industry and commerce direct from school. The more intelligent ones would be quite prepared to do this if there were a clear-cut avenue at a later stage for them to go to university or colleges of further education to acquire the technical or other qualifications they need. Many employers would welcome an influx of young people at an earlier age. By the time those young people were 21, 22 or 23 they would have had six or seven year's experience in industry, which would be of considerable value to their employers. In those circumstances many employers would be prepared to pay part of the cost of those young people undergoing further education.

Before I am accused of trying to stop people getting university degrees, I should say that I believe that more people should be given the opportunity to get degrees but a little later in life when they have had more practical experience than they get from vacation jobs.

There is one aspect of the cuts which might be of benefit. In my constituency the education committee, in a mad gallop before it loses power on 31st March, has suggested a scheme of secondary reorganisation which has met with almost universal condemnation both by those who are in favour of comprehensive education and by those who are not. The committee has suggested that all children in Wellingborough should be allowed to go to the nearest comprehensive school. The committee proposes to combine the existing grammar school and high school to make a comprehensive school for more than 1,000 pupils between 11 and 18. Other children in nearby towns who go to secondary modern schools or, by passing the 11-plus examination, to selective schools in Wellingborough will continue to take the 11-plus examination to enable them to go to a comprehensive school.

This nonsense should not be allowed by the Secretary of State when the proposals come before her. If the expenditure cuts result in this scheme not coming into effect a good turn will be done to many children in my constituency. I have already written to the Secretary of State, and I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is prepared to meet deputations of parents and councillors of all political persuasions from two towns in my constituency, Irthlingborough and Raunds. My constituents feel that those who live in one part of the constituency should not be privileged to attend a comprehensive school automatically whereas children in another part have to take the 11-plus examination to enable them to attend that same school. It makes a nonsense of the scheme. It will mean that some parents will deliberately buy a house within the catchment area of the school which they consider to be the better one, in which case money will be more important in State education than it has been for many years.

I hope that the scheme being put forward will prove abortive. I hope that there will be a thorough investigation of other alternatives. I trust that the middle school system will be investigated and suggested to the county education committee. If these cuts do no more than stop this scheme, then, although I regret that they have taken place, they will have done some good.

5.10 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hatton (Manchester, Exchange)

I very much welcome the opportunity which this debate gives to discuss some of the present difficulties, particularly financial, in which chairmen of education committees and chief officers find themselves. Framing estimates is never an easy exercise but on this occasion it is proving particularly difficult. I cannot remember another occasion when there has been such chaos in local authority finance. I go so far as to say that it is a horrific situation.

I want to explain some of the difficulties that have arisen in the past few weeks in my city, of which I have the honour to be a representative. There has been a good deal of discussion lately about our energy problems. In Manchester more than 200 schools are heated by oil. I am told that if we get deliveries of oil this year amounting to 90 per cent. of our needs there will be a 50 per cent. increase in cost over last year. That increase has to go into next year's estimates.

I turn to the subject of school meals. The increase in food costs on known contract prices compared with a year ago means that an allowance has to be made in the estimates for a 42 per cent. increase in this item. This is not slap-happy spending by members of local authorities. This is happening to responsible local authorities putting out contracts to tender. They have to meet this increase of 42 per cent. to provide the basic diet of schoolchildren.

Education committees will have to look carefully at expenditure on maintenance and repair of buildings. It is an area of expenditure which is slashed every year when the chairman of the finance committee comes along and asks for a cut in the estimates to make savings on revenue spending. I know that next year in Manchester even limited maintenance and repair is estimated to require an additional 15 per cent. compared with last year. These items—oil, school meals, maintenance and repair—are all areas in which local authorities are being asked by the Government to make savings of 10 per cent. If this is enforced I tremble to think where the cuts will come in education in the next year.

Let us look at some of the spending on what we call minor works. This phrase disguises such things as the provision of indoor toilets, the improvement of staff rooms, dining and kitchen facilities and the layout of playing fields. There is a general consensus that the future of the education service rests on its teachers. I have not known a time when the morale of teachers has been lower. The improvement of the items I have mentioned is part of the answer to the problem of bettering teachers' morale. It is not solely a question of salaries.

Manchester found itself allocated over £300,000 for minor works in 1973–74. In October last Circular 12/73 said that no further works should be started before the end of 1973. By that time all the money had been fully committed. I wish to draw attention to the chaotic way in which education committees are having to handle budgeting. Of that £300,000 the sum of £126,000 had been committed in a panic at the beginning of the year when the Minister asked local authorities to advance their starts on minor works to help in relieving unemployment. Local authorities which had wanted to do something about the severe problem of unemployment in the conurbations set about getting jobs in hand as soon as they could.

Within a few weeks they discovered that no further money would be forthcoming and that all further projects would have to wait until April of this year. In Manchester over £200,000 was to come to us in April with £190,000 promised for the following year. All of this has gone. It has been cancelled, and we find that we have £96,000, which takes us to the end of June 1974. There is an urgent need for a much less rigid attitude on the part of the Government towards responsible local authorities and their financial expenditure.

In the early part of last year in Manchester we had an unfortunate fire in one of our primary schools. Fortunately, no children were in the school at the time. The school was burnt down very quickly indeed. Following this, the chief education officer and the chief fire officer were asked to report urgently on a situation in which a school burned down so quickly. The chief fire officer reported that he believed that there could be an improvement in fire safety measures if the void between the ceiling and the roof were compartmentalised. As a result, the city of Manchester decided to do something about it speedily because of our concern for the safety of our children. We discovered that one of our schools of this type of construction was a school for physically handicapped children, so we decided to spend money ourselves immediately on that task. However, there were some 30 other schools which needed this very important and urgent action. We went to the Secretary of State and asked for approval to spend a sum out of key sector money which local authorities need for jobs of this kind. We met with a blank refusal. This is a disgraceful state of affairs when it involves the safety of our school children.

Previously the Government had given the city loan consent to convert its schools using solid fuel to gas-burning, and that is a little ironic today. Now we are asking that we should have an allocation immediately to spend money doing this important work. I hope that the Minister will consider that urgent request.

I conclude with a brief word about the education building programme. We face a situation where we shall have no replacement of old primary and secondary schools for another 18 months. In the city of Manchester we have many old voluntary and aided primary schools still in existence. Most people believe that we have too many. At present we have some seven primary schools involving a cost of £1 million in programmes which will no longer go forward. All of them will be lost. One of them, in my own constituency, is the St. Anne's Roman Catholic Infants School in Ancoats. The oldest part of the building dates from 1848. There were building additions in 1880. What are described as the "new buildings" were built in 1896. A short time ago metal guttering from the building fell into the school yard. The gutters are now held up by boards and brackets, and temporary measures have been taken to prevent slates from falling off the roof. The roof itself is sinking and the rain comes in. That is a situation which parents and pupils have to endure for another 18 months before even a start can be made on a new building.

In the city of Manchester we shall lose some £3.5 million worth of work on higher and further education buildings. I have no doubt that we shall have an announcement to the effect that some of these may well go forward. But no one can believe that there is anything other than a huge question mark hanging over them in the limited programme that is to be announced later.

The education service is in a tragic state. It cannot be removed from the general economic state in which we find ourselves, and I believe that we need more than ever, and more quickly than ever, a new Government which can grasp the problems of the education service.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)

I share the anxieties which have been expressed on both sides of the House about the impact of the cuts in public expenditure on the education service, and I share the relief which has been expressed that special schools and nursery education are not to be made to carry the brunt of the cuts and, indeed, are to be largely exempted from them.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will acknowledge that in the past I have not been very demanding on his Department in educational matters. I recognise that Oxford is not an under-privileged area in education. Probably nowhere in the country is there a constituency of the size of Oxford which contains a university, a polytechnic and a teaching hospital as well as a very wide range of secondary, primary and special schools. However, I want to take a minute or two to put one or two matters to my hon. Friend both of a general and of a particular character.

My first general point is that I believe that it would be a false economy to be parsimonious in the current review of student grants just as it would be a false economy to be parsimonious in negotiating teachers' salaries. There is the important difference that, whereas everyone recognises that there are not enough teachers, many people consider that there are too many university students. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) said that it would be desirable to steer more potential or would-be university students into employment accompanied by part-time further education. I go along with him to the extent of saying that I believe that the Government would be economising in the long run by putting more money into careers advice in schools which might help to direct the interest of young people to a much greater extent along channels where they would find perhaps a more satisfactory working life than many would get out of going for a degree at a university for which their talents might not be well adapted. Even under the shadow of the axe, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will at least consider the desirability of improving the careers advice service and not cutting it down in secondary schools.

Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in introducing the Employment and Training Act his own Government restricted careers advice just to the first jobs which people take when they leave school whereas we advocated that the service should be available to all young people until they reached the age of 18?

Mr. Woodhouse

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that I was recommending just that for a number of years, based upon my experience as Director of Education and Training at the CBI. In my case the hon. Gentleman is talking to the converted.

My second general point, on which the hon. Gentleman probably will not agree with me, is to ask for an assurance from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the cuts will not fall upon the direct grant system. I know that the Opposition do not like direct grant schools. However, a considerable number of Labour supporters in my own constituency are anxious to continue sending their children to the two excellent direct grant schools in Oxford. I should not like to be a party to depriving them of that opportunity.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency children in secondary schools are out of school for two half days a week? They are not doing a full week's schooling. The Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State have sent people to visit the schools, but they are still in the same disgraceful condition.

Mr. Woodhouse

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. The problem is not confined to his constituency, nor to any one particular class of secondary or primary school. It is a matter that we must all lament.

My third and last point concerns the Cowley St. John's Church of England school in the Donnington area of Oxford, about which I have corresponded with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. This is a school with a fine new building. Unfortunately, the fields adjoining the building, which are intended to be the school's playing fields, have had to be left in a condition which is a quagmire in winter and a desert in summer because the funds for the necessary drainage work have run out. This is not the fault of the managers of the school or of the local education authority. The problem arises because of housing developments on the far side of the fields from the school which have necessitated a more elaborate drainage system than was provided when the school was built. There are now no funds to complete the work.

I hope that my hon. Friend will give sympathetic consideration to the representations that I have made on this subject, because to leave a school in this condition is to leave it incomplete. That is demoralising for the teachers, the children and the parents, and it is bad for education from every point of view.

Naturally, the Minister finds himself bombarded with advice from hon. Members on how to spend more money at a time when he has to make cuts. I should like to offer one suggestion about the principle on which economy should be based. It is unfortunate that when public expenditure has to be cut the axe is wielded in an indiscriminate way on the directions of the Treasury, which says that there must be an X per cent. cut across the board, whereas more realistically it would be preferable to agree upon, say, a 5 per cent. cut in one place balanced by a 20 per cent. cut somewhere else.

Whenever I have been compelled to take part in economy drives, I have found that a fundamental principle should be to wield the axe more firmly on commitments that have not yet been entered into rather than on pruning things that are growing. A commitment that has not yet been entered into can be indefinitely postponed without any real damage being done, but cuts inflicted on something that is already growing—for example, pruning a tree—will infallibly lead to further growth and further pruning will be necessary in future. Therefore, I suggest that the target for cuts should be not that that is incomplete and in progress but items of expenditure that have not yet begun and for which no commitment has yet been undertaken.

5.34 p.m.

Mr. David Clark (Colne Valley)

Most of our attention today appears to be focused on the Government's cuts. I want to follow that particular line.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), in his introduction, described the cuts as "confusion and chaos". I think that could be extended to "calculated, cruel and callous".

I do not accuse the Under-Secretary of State of adopting a calculated, cruel and callous attitude. He finds himself in a difficult position. Anyone interested in education, taking the job that he has just taken, must be extremely disheartened to find that the axe has been wielded over the Department. Inevitably, it must mean that the State education service must be impoverished. The whole responsibility, as I shall tell my constituents before too long, is not on the hon. Gentleman, but on the Prime Minister and the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Hatton), with his wealth of experience, spoke about items of expenditure and the alarming increase of 42 per cent. in budgeting for school meals and the 50 per cent. increase in the cost of oil.

In December last year I asked the Under-Secretary of State a question about books and paper in schools. I know that he is investigating this matter. There is a shortage of paper, and a shortage of paper affects education. A shortage of paper affects not only packaging and newsprint but schools. The Huddersfield Doily Examiner on 26th November reported a Stockport firm which supplies schools in my constituency as saying: We are rationed on a monthly quota. Ordering early is no help because the basic production materials just are not there. This is a world-wide problem. Clearly, when there is a shortage of almost any commodity or product, it is not surprising that in the type of economy that we have the price goes up. Unless ministerial attention is given to this item, with cuts of £63 million envisaged, the cost and the diminishing supplies of paper will make it difficult for local education departments to provide the necessary paper for schools. Clearly, we cannot envisage going back to the slate era, but paper and book supplies will be a major problem for some schools. As we have heard, many schools do not use or buy enough textbooks each year. I think that the situation will get worse.

Mr. Ronald Brown

Is my hon. Friend aware that in London school heads are having to use money which was put aside for that very purpose to try to attract staff to prevent children being out of school for two half days a week?

Mr. Clark

Yes. It is scandalous that in 1974 children are having part-time education. We have gone back to the 1870s with half-time education.

Another matter that has been raised that could be absolutely decimated by cuts is adult education. The hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Haselhurst) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) referred to youth centres. They pointed out that any cuts in non-formal services—I include adult education in that description—are bound to be minimal, yet their effect can be absolutely disastrous. We have only to consider the history of these services to realise that that is so.

It is all the more tragic for adult education. We had the excellent Russell Report on adult education at the end of last year, which raised the hopes of the service and of the people involved in it. However, there is now concern at the thought of the axe being wielded again. This point was made forcibly to me about two weeks ago when I accepted an invitation to meet the heads of the adult education centres in my constituency. I went round a further education centre at Holmfirth where I was shown all the activities from yoga to furniture repairing, English to first-aid, art, and so on. I talked to the students—perhaps "student" is a misnomer in one sense—who were obviously benefiting immensely from this service. It was education in the real sense as opposed to formal schooling. The expenditure on adult education in my constituency is absolutely vital, and a 10 per cent. cut at any adult education centre would destroy the system. This has happened in the past, and I am sure that it will happen again.

Hon. Members have put forward the problems affecting major cities such as Manchester, Southampton, London and Oxford. I want to try to relate the cuts to a county area of about 400 square miles consisting of small industrial villages. I propose to ask specific questions about the effect of the cuts on that area, which started to be developed during the Industrial Revolution. It has within it the wool textile industry and coal mines in the Pennine valleys, and because of its proximity to Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield the population has increased considerably. The education service has improved, but school building has not improved to anything like the extent that is necessary.

In December 1970 I raised in an Adjournment debate the problem of the Saddleworth Secondary School. This is an odd area geographically, in the sense that it is in the West Riding but being on the western side of the Pennines, is completely cut off from the rest of the West Riding by 10 miles of uninhabited high Pennine hills. Some services are provided from Lancashire, but the education service has always been provided by the West Riding. It does not have a comprehensive school, and the children have to pass the equivalent of the 11-plus in order to enjoy the privilege of travelling 12 miles across the Pennines, which is a hazardous journey in winter, to attend a comprehensive school. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, as the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State accepted when she approved a plan put forward by the West Riding and later approved the publication of a notice which would have made the school comprehensive. This involved considerable extensions to the school, and after disappointment after disappointment work was delayed under Circular 12/73.

As I understand it, the school is classed by the West Riding authority as one which meets the basic needs requirement, and I wonder whether the Minister can explain—not necessarily now but perhaps later by letter—the present situation. There is a fantastic amount of local support for this school. The area has an electorate of about 17,000, and no fewer than 10,000 of this electorate signed a petition calling for the establishment of a comprehensive school. It is an ideal area for such a project, and it would be a tragedy if approval for it were withheld.

There is a problem not only in secondary education, but in primary education, too. I do not know how many Victorian-type schools are in use, but only last year, which happened to be tree-planting year, with the assistance of the Forestry Commission I wrote to about 60 schools in my constituency asking whether they wished to co-operate in a project which we were launching for giving three trees to each school.

The idea was very much welcomed. More than 50 schools participated in the project, but a number of older, Victorian-type schools had to say that they were unable to participate, even though they would like to do so, because they had only small playgrounds with a tarmacadam surface, and in a number of other cases trees had to be planted in pots.

There will be grave disappointment if these schools are not renewed because, as I understand it, they are classified as replacement and not as basic needs schools. That situation exists in the Colne Valley, and difficulty is also being experienced at Denby Dale Primary School, about which the Minister was gracious enough to receive a petition.

There is an odd situation at the school, and I should like the Minister's guidance on the matter. As I understand it, this is a school at which the project is based partly on basic needs and partly on replacement. The school has leaky roofs. I do not know how many prefabricated buildings there are, but it gives the appearance of a circus. The school is grossly overcrowded, and every conceivable room, including the staff room, appears to be used for teaching. There has been a 20 per cent. increase in population in the area, and buildings have been revalued—I do not know by how much—because the area has been classified by the Treasury as a growth commuter area in spite of the fact that there are three coal mines and 17 mills there. I fail to see how the school can be regarded as partly basic needs and partly replacement, because there simply is no more space for temporary accommodation. Does a school get the go-head, or does one build half a school to meet the basic needs requirement? I ask the Minister for some guidance on the matter.

There is also a problem affecting Holme Valley Grammar School, because its change to a comprehensive school has been held up under Circular 12/73. We have organised a comprehensive education service in this area, and if that project is held up the position will be seriously affected.

I conclude by sympathising with the Minister because I know that he has a difficult job to do. The greatest effect of the cuts will be felt in new school building. Quite rightly, people have come to expect more and more out of the State education service. I wish that there were no private education and that all children were taught under the State system, because if that were to happen there would not be cuts such as those that have been imposed by the Government. I say that because it has not gone unnoticed by people in my constituency that Ministers' children are not affected because their schools are untouched by these cuts.

I read in the Yorkshire Post of 19th December 1973 that many villages in Yorkshire which have been waiting for final approval for new schools for years will be disappointed. The articles quotes Sir Alec Clegg, who is a recognised authority on the subject, as saying that 40 per cent. of new schools in the West Riding would be jeopardised and that most of these would be in disadvantaged areas. The Government are making a grave error. They could make savings elsewhere, and cutting schools in this way will be a grave disappointment to many people.

5.48 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)

I welcome the debate, but it is deplorable that the House should have to spend time discussing cuts in education. The Government's election theme in 1970 was that they wished to create a one-nation society. There can be few, if any, sectors of life that are more vital for developing a more just society than education, and it is regrettable that it is necessary to debate cuts in this service.

Members of Parliament, irrespective of which part of the country they represent, know that there have been many debates on the Government's education policy. Two of my hon. Friends who represent London constituencies and are listening to this debate, and myself, have never lost the opportunity of presenting to the Minister the problems that exist in education in London. We have a number of old schools, often in areas with the greatest housing problems and a shortage of teachers. The tragedy is that the situation has been worsened by Government policy. We now have the cut-backs announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They are very substantial. This again will hit areas such as the constituency which I represent.

In Wandsworth we have schools that were built 60 and 70 years ago. I have up-to-date figures from the Inner London Education Authority. In the authority's area there are 280 primary schools that were built before 1903. They are over 70 years old. The ILEA has continually tried to have moneys allocated to it so that it could start to get rid of those schools. In the current building programme which the ILEA was trying to formulate for its area it had 32 projects that it wished to tackle. Those projects have now been stopped as a direct result of instructions from the Department of Education and Science.

Against that background one can understand the problems which are expressed by teachers.

Mr. Ronald Brown

On page 134 of the Supply Estimates it can be seen that, alongside the cuts to which my hon. Friend is referring, the grants for direct grant schools are being increased by nearly £1 million.

Mr. Cox

I note my hon. Friend's comment with deep regret. He was the leader of a deputation of Opposition Members a few months ago. The deputation met the Secretary of State and discussed the problems of London. It received a very cool, off-hand reception from the right hon. Lady. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend's comment is of the sort which can only be expected in the circumstances of the present Government's priorities regarding education.

The ILEA has readily acknowledged the kind of problems existing in its area, especially that of old schools. It offered to help but, in relation to the minor works programme—which no one suggests would have solved all the problems—it was stopped as a direct result of the interference of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. That minor works programme would have enabled essential improvements to be carried out to the 280 very old schools in the authority's area and would have enabled some of the more important projects for improvement to be undertaken. The Secretary of State refused to allow the authority to spend its money on the kind of improvements that it wanted to make.

When the Government have been challenged by Questions, we have always been given the same answer. The right hon. Lady's answer is that school rolls in London are decreasing and that, therefore, the money does not need to be spent. When I have spoken to meetings of the parent-teacher associations in my constituency and conveyed that answer to them, which was not the answer that I wanted to give, it has been received with expressions of utter disbelief that the Secretary of State could be so out of touch with the views, feelings and needs of local schools.

On four occasions I have invited the Secretary of State to come to Wandsworth to visit our schools. I could have supplied a list of schools from which the right hon. Lady could have chosen that which she wished to visit in order to see the problems with which we have to contend. On every occasion she has refused the invitiation. It did not, however, escape the notice of my constituents, nor, I doubt, of those of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry), who is present today, that the right hon. Lady could find time to address a Tory public meeting in Wandsworth.

Mr. Ronald Brown

Even if the right hon. Lady sent her Under-Secretary, that may not solve the problem. A former Under-Secretary visited a school in my consituency to try to find means of avoiding the need for children to be out of school for two days a week. That Under-Secretary has now changed his job. There are still children in my constituency who are out of school for two half-days a week. I am not sure that it is a disadvantage that the right hon. Lady has not visited schools in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Cox

In view of the nearness of a General Election, it would be a waste of time to invite another member of the present Government. Perhaps if we wait for another month we shall be able to invite a Labour Minister to visit our schools. I would hope that the results would be far better.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Timothy Raison)

If it is any consolation to the hon. Gentleman I should like to inform him that I have a child who is attending an ILEA comprehensive school in the borough of Wandsworth, so I am not completely ignorant of what goes on there.

Mr. Cox

I am glad to hear that. I would certainly hope that the Minister would be aware of what is happening in primary schools.

On 28th December a report appeared in one of the local newspapers in my constituency. It was headed Toddlers forced to learn in classrooms. I apologise. I have misread it. I wish that it was "classrooms". The report was headed: Toddlers forced to learn in corridors. The Wandsworth Teachers' Association said in a recent report: Primary schools are particularly bad, with lack of space for both staff and children in some schools Sometimes there are two lessons going on in one classroom, and in other schools over-crowding is so bad that young toddlers were being taught in corridors. Primary school toilet facilities are appalling—very often they are outside the main building and completely exposed to wind and rain. Some schools have no inside toilets at all. With the weather that we are experiencing today, it is easy for hon. Members to understand the problems with which teachers are faced. They face not only difficulties caused by the lack of suitable teaching facilities, but those caused by youngsters having to visit outside toilets and returning wet. Teachers have to make sure that they are dry by wiping them with towels, and so on. The Chancellor's cut-backs affecting the education budget will worsen this position.

In this appalling situation I must pay tribute to the great loyalty of parent-teacher associations in my constituency. I am sure that the same applies in the constituencies of many hon. Members. They undertake fund raising to try to make improvements in schools. It is an appalling indictment against the Government that only a few weeks ago the nation was being told that we were living in booming Britain and that the financial resources of this country had never been better, yet it was left to the spare-time efforts of parent-teacher associations to make modest improvements in then-schools because the money could not be obtained from the Government.

I should like to refer to a comment reported to have been made by the present Under-Secretary at a recent conference in Birmingham. It was reported in Teachers' World on 11th January. Apparently, the hon. Gentleman stated at that conference that the cut-backs would not seriously affect the school building programme but would be only deferments. Surely, everyone, including the hon. Gentleman, now knows that when school building projects are being approved and when the buildings are under construction, there is very little opportunity at any stage in the future to make substantial improvements within the confines of a particular school. One cannot defer them. One might be able to defer some external improvements but one cannot defer the improvement of facilities inside a school until a time when one may have more money.

I recently wrote to the Minister concerning the St. Boniface School in my constituency. The headmaster and the local diocese are deeply concerned about the cut-backs in that school, which total about £30,000. The headmaster realises, after discussions with parents and teachers, that the cut-back will mean that future school developments will suffer. The head does not see any hope in the foreseeable future, even if the money is forthcoming, of the improvements taking place.

There is another serious aspect concerning teaching in London. It is the London allowance. This is directly relevant to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) earlier. For about the last 15 months there has been absolute uproar among teachers in London because of the way they have been treated by the Government over the London allowance. There have been teacher protests, schools shut, and massive demonstrations at this House by teachers from all over London expressing deep concern at the interference of the Secretary of State.

There was the case in the minor works programme where ILEA was prepared to enter into negotiations and agree to a far higher amount than the Minister finally suggested should be allowed. In the course of these negotiations she intervened and said that she did not agree with what ILEA proposed, and she laid down what the position would be, taking the attitude that she was the Minister and this was her opportunity to dictate what would happen. The same attitude was followed on the allowance. I had an Adjournment debate over a year ago about the London allowance. The right hon. Lady did not make clear at that time the disastrous effects her action would have on schooling in London. Young teachers, the very life blood of teaching in London, the people we need in our schools to provide teaching staff stability, have left.

These young teachers will not stay. The reasons are the Government's deliberate interference over the London allowance while offering no concession on two key factors for London teachers—housing and travel. Teachers do not waste their time even thinking about buying property in London—as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) v/ill confirm from his experience as a teacher. Teachers have received no help from the Government on the rising cost of renting property or travelling to work. It is appalling that this should happen, because the Government came to power declaring that they would be honest in their dealings with the people.

I have here a copy of the letter from the headmaster of the Ernest Bevin Comprehensive School in my constituency. It is dated 9th January, and it is being sent to the parents of all boys at the school. It deals with the problem at the school of part-time schooling—a problem which also afflicts another school in my constituency. We have to go back a long way to find part-time schooling not only in London but in other parts of the country. Yet at this school part-time education is the direct result of the Minister's interference over the London allowance. The letter from the headmaster says: No doubt you are aware from reports which have appeared in the press that in order to draw attention to the continuing serious shortage of teachers in London, and to the failure of the Government to approve a greatly increased London Allowance (a claim which is strongly supported by the I.L.E.A.), members of the Teachers' Unions… will in future refuse to supervise classes for teachers absent for more than 3 days, or for those time-tabled for non-appointed staff. To his credit the headmaster supports the action of the teachers—an action they regret having to take. They have been forced into it as a direct result of the Government's interference.

The terrible thing is that the cut-backs will worsen the two situations I have described—old, inadequate buildings and insufficient teachers wanting to stop in London because of inadequate salaries. We are entitled to ask the Minister what will happen, because we have not been able to question the Secretary of State on it. For example, what will happen to the White Paper on Education as a result of the cut-back? I can remember how the right hon. Lady spoke in glowing terms some months ago of what the Conservatives were doing for education and what her White Paper would mean for education generally—not one sector of it but the whole range of education. What is the relevance of that White Paper in the light of the cut-backs? Some Conservatives have commented on it today—to their credit—and on the bad effect it will have.

We are supposed to be in an election atmosphere. We are apparently led to believe that the Prime Minister will have to go to the country because someone must put the miners in order. I have received not a single letter either for or against the miners' claim, but I have constantly received letters from constituents expressing their deep opposition to the Government's action in cutting back expenditure on education and in creating part-time schooling in London.

I am sure that the Minister must be aware of the statement by the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Mr. Edward Britton, over the last few days when he spoke of the declining morale of the teaching profession. Teachers are beginning to feel that the Department of Education and Science does not understand their difficulties. Mr. Britton's views are being echoed by thousands of parents. The Minister and the Department do not appreciate that people these days are much more intelligent. They are not prepared to accept a Press hand-out issued by the Department but instead are beginning to question whether the Government's priorities are right.

They want to know whether their children will have to cut-back to three days schooling a week while the Government continue to spend millions of pounds on projects such as Concorde, Maplin and the Channel Tunnel. They question whether we can afford these projects while refusing to give to teachers a decent allowance which would attract enough of them into the schools to ensure full-time teaching for our youngsters.

The duty of a Member of Parliament is to fight for the interests of the people he represents. I shall do so at every opportunity. London Members and others will fight for the interests of their constituents against what we believe has become one of the most deplorable Departments of a most deplorable and totally inadequate Government.

6.10 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I strongly support what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) said in opening the debate, and I wish to call attention to the almost impossible position in which local authorities are put this year. I know of no past occasion when they have had to face a situation as difficult as that of today.

Local authorities are trying to draw up future estimates, but it is only now that they are able to discuss the nature of the cuts being imposed upon them. Local government reorganisation will affect many authorities, particularly those outside London. In my constituency we are still awaiting the Minister's reply on our comprehensive education proposals. Such matters, as well as staff difficulties in education offices, make enormous problems for local authorities.

One problem which has not yet been mentioned is that facing teachers trying to deal with the difficulties of older lads in their final additional year at school, which is one of great difficulty, educationally and socially. It imposes great pressures and problems on the teachers. Unhappily, in many cases it has not been possible to provide the facilities which these older pupils need.

There is a difficulty in my constituency, which must be common to many parts of the country, where facilities for practical education—such as' those dealing with engineering—have not been expanded to cater for the extra older children in the school. I have in mind the type of facilities which were badly needed and which schools had hoped to have available in time for the extra school year. But this has not been possible. Efforts are being made—very properly—to extend arrangements for linked courses with the nearby technical college in my constituency. This is a sensible arrangement which I hope could be extended in many cases. But so far it has proved to have had only limited possibilities.

There seems to be no hope of getting extra practical facilities in the immediate period ahead. The prospects may be even smaller because of the new cuts being demanded. Even the facilities for the linked courses may be in danger if the cuts are to proceed. If local education authorities are told that they must achieve a certain level of cuts, then the cuts must be made somewhere. Facilities such as I have mentioned, which I hope everyone agrees are of the greatest importance and value, may not be proceeded with. That would be another example of false economy.

There should be much better use of technical college facilities, linking with the higher forms in the ordinary secondary schools. It is foolish to duplicate facilities. Nevertheless, using existing staff and facilities imposes certain extra costs.

I do not recall any time since the war when local education authorities have had to face a more nearly impossible task.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

I apologise for not being present for the earlier part of the debate. I was in a Select Committee concerned with overseas development, where my attendance was necessary.

I am glad to follow, later in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Thomas Cox). Many of his constituents are parents of children attending two schools in the London Borough of Wandsworth, in which I taught for 13 years. I am pleased to hear that the Minister also has a child at school there. The Minister's hon. Friends would no doubt wish to see me back in my job as a teacher, while my hon. Friends may wish to see me on the other side of the House in the not-too-distant future. If the Minister's hon. Friends have their desire fulfilled I may have some share of responsibility for his child's education, and for trying to help and encourage teachers, who are under great strain and have been under enormous strain for the past five years at least, in coming to terms with the difficult situation in London.

My hon. Friend has described the situation admirably. It is a question not only of numbers and equipment but also of morale. Many teachers say that "they"—whether the head, the education authority or the Government—do not understand what the situation is all about. In education it is the personal electrification between persons that provides the quality of education in the last resort. Physical difficulties can sometimes be overcome, but not if the people who create the difficulties appear to be distant, or bureaucratic, or not to understand the problems of those concerned. That is what is happening in London. For too long the Government have compounded the problem, particularly in their attitude to the London allowance.

I shall refer to the problems in the London Borough of Ealing, part of which I represent. The announcement of the cuts in education expenditure has meant that there are many problems to be faced. The Minister may not have come to grips with some of them. My local authority is in the middle of a comprehensive reorganisation programme which was sanctioned by the Secretary of State and is due to start in September of this year. But school rolls are rising, and secondary school rolls will go on rising for some years.

The "roofs over heads programe", has been proved to be an essential part of the comprehensive reorganisation programme. In the announcement of the cuts it was stated that the programme would not be affected. But I understand from my local sources that it is possible that while the programme will be protected there will be a more rigorous examination of applications under that heading, and that the "roofs over heads" applications will be re-examined and re-vetted.

I do not understand how the Minister can assure us that the programme will be protected. It is an integral part of a planned programme. I criticised it because it was not good enough, and parents in my constituency are complaining because it does not provide the necessary degree of flexibility. The Minister says that the programme is protected, but I am told by local sources that there is a possibility of re-vetting and a reexamination of what is meant by "roofs over heads".

There can be argument about how much is net improvement and about how much is necessary. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give an undertaking that the criteria for "roofs over heads" will not be altered. This is of particular importance to the Bordeston-Elthorne School, Brentside School and the former Greenford Grammar School.

The second difficulty in my borough concerns minor works. Local authorities know from the circular that the minor works allocations up to 30th June this year are protected. But the onward programme after that is also very important. If education authorities are to suffer massive cuts in minor works grants and do not know for another couple of months or so what they are, and what they can spend after 30th June, the whole programme to provide these necessary extra facilities will be thrown out of joint.

Everybody knows how difficult it is even to get a builder to put in a tender, let alone to keep up a programme. If the Minister does not let local authorities know very soon what their minor grant allocations are after 30th June, irrespective of how big they are, the whole programme will be thrown out of gear. I hope that the Ministry will not take too long to vet the programmes and that the Minister will assure us that what he will permit—it may be small—will be known as soon as possible.

The third problem which has arisen in my borough concerns the hiring rather than purchasing of equipment and accommodation. One of the paradoxes of our education system is that the Government restrict what local authorities can spend of their own money. My authority has partly got round that problem, quite legally, by hiring or hire-purchasing certain equipment for the schools, as well as huts and other accommodation. This form of hire purchase is perhaps not the best way of obtaining the facilities, but it has the merits of avoiding some of the capital restrictions which the Government place on those necessary facilities.

My borough has been able to do that by putting down a certain proportion of the capital cost and paying off the rest over 20 years, and my constituency has benefited by an agreement to build a sports hall at the Twyford Comprehensive School. But the plan will be thrown out of gear by the Chancellor's changing the regulations on that sort of arrangement. The requirement is now for a down payment of a third, instead of only a modest proportion, and the remainder has to be paid over a much shorter period, of about three years. That means that the sort of facilities the borough expected to be able to provide, and had gone some way to providing, will not be provided or will have to be provided at a disproportionate cost to the rates.

I hope that if the Minister takes that point he will have a word with the Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and seek to provide exemption for the provision of educational facilities. Incidentally, I do not accept the Ministry's criterion of what is educationally necessary. I speak for most teachers when I say that it does not know anything about it, although it may know what the Treasury will allow. Without such exemption, more of the ratepayers' money will have to be spent than necessary.

The Chancellor may say that it is nothing to do with the Government, but it has everything to do with them in this case. First, they will not allow authorities to spend the money. Secondly, when authorities have got round that problem by a form of hire purchase, the Government have restricted that source of finance for what are fundamentally educational requirements.

My maiden speech was on education, when I deplored the difficulties facing London teachers. I hope that this speech will not be my last. In the past four years the London situation has become far more difficult. Some of my former colleagues told me only last week that they can see no way out for education in London in the next four or five years. The increasing inability of teachers to stay in London or obtain houses in London means that cumulatively the proportion of experienced trained teachers who have been in the schools for four or five years—they are the ones who count—is going down and down.

The result in human terms, which I know the Minister understands, is becoming more and more plain. I hope that he at least will experience some of the difficulties by his own son having to be sent home from school, which is happening to many children in London today, and that he will prevail on his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to do something about the situation.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) suggested that the present exercise was something that Oppositions could be expected to undertake in this kind of debate. I regard what we are discussing as very important, and I want to put the debate in its proper context by referring to two considerations.

I grew up in a community where we believed that education was not only the key to the quality of life but the instrument for social change, and that with a true education the community would be able to make automatic progress to a better quality of life and improved material well-being.

I find that today there is growing disillusionment with the results of education. I mix with parents and teachers, and I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Hatton) said about the morale of teachers. I have never known so many of them to be frustrated. Some are bitter, and many are angry. I think it is true to say that many dedicated teachers have lost confidence in the future. They are not sure where we are going. I do not place the blame at the door of any Government. Fundamental changes are taking place that have caused that reaction from the teaching profession.

Part of the cause is salary, but part of it is the changed status of the teacher in the community. The pace of change has been very rapid over recent years, and the instability of society has made teaching a much more difficult task than at any time in the history of public education.

I am fortunate in the north. Over and over again I recognise the stability of the community in the places I represent. The population of the biggest town in my constituency is less than 12,000. I still talk to teachers who have taught two generations, who have taught the fathers and mothers of the children they are now teaching. Those places have a continuity and stability sadly lacking in many of our big cities, particularly London.

The doubt about the usefulness of education, the basic disillusionment with schools, colleges and universities, have resulted in the teaching profession seeming to be more uncertain today than at any time in my life. Values and attitudes that we have taken for granted over the years are being questioned and challenged. The school often finds itself isolated, trying to inculcate values and attitudes that have obviously been rejected by the world which it is preparing its pupils to enter.

Secondly, we must recognise that the automatic growth which we took for granted is something which we can no longer assume. I believe that we have reached the end of that era. Britain has always enjoyed cheap food, cheap energy and cheap raw materials. For a number of reasons that era has come to an end. Therefore, we must be much more concerned about the priorities in our public life. Obviously, we must give great consideration to the use which we make of our resources in matters such as education.

My hon. Friends have spelled out the effect of the cuts in their constituencies. Lest we be accused of exaggeration, I remind the Minister that The Times Educational Supplement said: Even in a world driven dizzy by spiralling inflation, this is a huge sum. That is a reference to the cuts announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in December. It is clear that Britain's educational system faces one of the grimmest years in living memory. Sir William Alexander says: These are far and away the worst cuts in my professional life. I do not believe, whether or not there is a General Election and whatever Government come into power, that cuts in education of the kind which we are talking about can be easily overcome. It is not something which will merely last for six months. All the prizes which we have talked about for the last three years in terms of booming Britain will not be restored in six months. That is a situation which we must face when we determine the use of educational resources at our disposal.

A great education Minister, the late George Tomlinson, once said that without teachers we could go back to barbarism in two generations. It seems that many teachers feel that they are being made to fight a losing battle. They feel that they are fighting without the support of those who in the past they could expect to support them. Elitists and reactionaries, as well as honest doubters, are articulate in decrying education. Many good folk who have spent years in the service now want to dismiss reluctant learners from our secondary schools. They feel that they should be able to leave. We are using the arguments about the last year at school which was heard in this House and outside when Ellen Wilkinson decided that the school leaving age should be raised.

These matters are having a disheartening effect on teachers in general. One teacher, for example, has stated: We have put up with impossible conditions long enough. We could put up with them for a bit longer, but only if we knew we were going to get a new school and that work had started. That is a statement from a teacher who has been in a school which has been denied the educational facilities which many take for granted. That teacher has been loyally serving the community. Again, following many promises, the rebuilding of that school has not been started. Nobody knows when it will be started.

There is nothing more depressing than promises being made and then suddenly bluntly withdrawn by the Chancellor without consulting anybody. It seems that £180 million will be taken from the educational bill.

In the county of Durham there are five primary schools, including two aided schools, which are affected by the latest measure. I had a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) reminding me that in an area in his constituency, where youngsters live in unpleasant conditions, where they have had a raw deal all their lives, the urgent remodelling of a primary school and the replacement of a secondary school has been axed under the cuts announced by the Chancellor.

The Minister made a speech about education. He said that the major problems of secondary education are not resources but difficulties of philosophy, discipline and organisation. Teachers are getting tired of people who travel the country talking about the dedication of teachers and suggesting that it is the personal quality of teachers that matters and nothing else. It is true that the personal quality of a teacher is probably more important than almost anything else. At the same time adequate resources, the provision of necessary equipment, generous staffing at difficult schools and support from the Department of Education and Science and the local education authorities are all necessary factors if teachers are to do their job adequately.

One of my fears about the present cuts is that local authorities will find it easier to delay filling posts and to limit recruitment to present levels, in spite of all the circulars that go from the Department, than to cut the limited amount of resources available for cutting after all statutory duties have been carried out. Sir William Alexander said: An extra 20,000 teachers are due to be employed this year in addition to all replacements. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) reminded us that chief education officers have said that when all the procurables are cut by 10 per cent. they will find that they have achieved little more than half the required saving.

LEA's are faced with a terrible dilemma. I have been the chairman of an education authority. I have attended pruning committees before fixing the rates in a county borough. I have had notes from borough treasurers and finance committees suggesting that certain economies must be made. Of course, manoeuvrability is limited. The budget for County Durham is £42 million. It is estimated that at least £36 million is outside the control of the county education authority unless it starts sacking teachers, which it has no intention of doing.

If we are to make any real economies on the remainder it means that all kinds of cuts must be made involving the morale of the teaching profession and the efficiency of the schools. It is not exaggerating to say that many LEA's are faced with a difficult choice. They either appoint all the teachers expecting to be appointed and appoint replacements up to full strength, including all the off-quota part-timers and married-women-returners, about whom I hope the Minister will comment because I fear what will happen in that respect, or they will choose to starve the schools of all the material and equipment which they need and let buildings go to rack and ruin by postponing much needed repair and maintenance.

That is a cruel dilemma to inflict on local education authorities. Obviously, we will get the worst of all worlds because we will get a bit of both economies. It is no wonder that teachers are tired of all the reports and all the ambitious schemes which are put forward which suggest education innovations. It is my experience that they all go to the local education authorities and into the staff rooms, and that there is never an indication from the Department about how the resources are to be provided.

I represent a constituency in the northern region. Such regions have been first distressed areas and then development areas. They still suffer most by the kind of blanket cuts which have been imposed by the Chancellor through the Department of Education and Science. The Minister may have seen a Pelican paperback entitled Your Local Education. It was reviewed in the northern Press last week. The northern region was the basis of the statistics and the arguments which are to be found in it.

We are reminded in the book that in the Northern region fewer children stay on at school or go on to higher education. Some local education authorities in the northern region have the lowest educational resources in the country. The statistics clearly show that educational provision differs dramatically from region to region. Such regions as the northern region come out badly from the situation in terms of pupil-teacher ratio, expenditure on books, further education and other facilities.

This has nothing to do with the generosity of the education committee, nor is it related to the care they display over their educational services. In the north of England I know that some authorities are more than willing to give their children the best possible education, but their efforts are related to rateable values—in other words, to the wealth of the community—and all too often the disparity grows and is self-perpetuating. A smaller number of sixth forms means smaller grants from central Government. Therefore, the cuts are falling more heavily on the regions. The northern region struggles to catch up with the rest of the country, and because we have not had a large influx of population we shall have to keep our buildings a great deal longer. The priorities appear to favour the South-East and other more affluent parts of the country.

Durham is particularly mentioned in research set out in the pages of the Pelican book which I have already mentioned. That research conflicts with the remarks made by the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science throughout the country. The research provides clear evidence of the fact that the availability of resources makes a great deal of difference. Children do better when they are given better facilities and when resources and provisions for their education are generous. The fact that resources are now being withdrawn will bring harm to the children who most need education.

I should like to deal with a problem which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop). I refer to the raising of the school leaving age. I am wholly in favour on the Government's action over the school leaving age and I would defend it on any platform. It concerns the very children who should be at school. I am sorry to say that there are a number of my colleagues in the teaching profession who have now joined the doubters. It may well be that the media, particularly in the northern region, has made a meal of it in saying that there are many awkward, anti-social pupils and reluctant learners.

But, whatever the school leaving age, we have always had reluctant learners. There have always been difficulties in the last year of education. When teachers are trying to cope with the raising of the school leaving age, it is a tragedy that resources and equipment are being restricted. Suggestions for improving curricula and teaching methods to make the extra time at school more relevant involve the very items which will now have to be cut.

I have never believed that we as teachers, or anybody else in the education service have the right to say to any boy or girl, "School can do nothing for you. You must go." The great test is that we should make what we are doing in our schools relevant, useful and attractive to all pupils. I could take t he Minister to schools where ambitious, though not costly, plans have been put forward to make the last year more relevant in terms of the outside world. I refer to school visits, in-service training, out-of-school activities in industry, and the like, all of which need extra resources devoted to them. This will now be impossible. These matters will be put in cold storage and will make teachers even more dispirited and disillusioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton mentioned the pilot experiment in the five areas which arose from suggestions in the James Report. We now know what happened to that. That looks like going into cold storage, too. If there is a choice for a local authority either to spend money on a pilot experiment or some innovation or to cut the basic supply of paper and materials in schools, then obviously the basic supply must come first.

My last point relates to the private sector. I believe that this country faces a new challenge because we have come to the end of an era. People were prepared to make sacrifices as long as they felt there was a sense of fairness in the community. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his December budget missed a great opportunity—and I am sure that this will be the view of many people when they look back on that mini-budget—to spread the burden and to put it particularly on those who can most bear it.

I am not running away from the challenge which has been made in terms of consumer spending against public expenditure. I have been privileged to work in schools in working-class areas and I know that parents value very highly their children's education. The doubling of a child's pocket money is not half as valuable as making sure that the child goes to a good school where he has a better education and gets a real opportunity to develop. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, by clobbering the public sector to help private spending, will punish those very children who are in most need of community help.

I wish to put one or two questions to the Under-Secretary of State. More than one-fifth of private sector costs are paid for out of private funds in various ways. In the direct-grant sector some £17 million out of a total of £27 million comes from the Department of Education and Science and local education authorities together. Last autumn an increase of 11 per cent. in central Government grant was made by the Secretary of State. We have had no indication at all whether the private sector is to be called upon to make any contribution to the sacrifice that is being demanded of the public sector. Indeed, The Times Educational Supplement suggested that the private sector would be better off after the budget. I suggest that this requires an answer in the House.

I believe that we are facing a crisis in education—a crisis of educational thinking as well as in the supply of the necessary resources—if our children are to have the opportunities they deserve. Education is threatened not only by cuts but by a lack of confidence in the future, and also by disillusionment. We must give education a greater priority in the future than we have done in the past. I still believe that it is the key to the good life. The normal decencies and quality of life are related to our education service. People will pay so long as they feel that they are not being asked to pay more than their share, and if they feel that all our children are given full opportunity to reach their full potential.

I hope that the Minister will deal seriously with the many points that have been put to him. I hope that he will understand that this is not just an Opposition exercise in politics, but is an exercise displaying genuine concern for the future of the education service.

6.50 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Timothy Raison)

In the early part of his speech the hon. Member for Durham, Northwest (Mr. Armstrong) made a number of remarks with which I find myself very much in agreement. He made wise remarks about the social background to today's education problems and also said something which struck me as true when he described this as an important debate.

As a junior Minister answering a debate other than an Adjournment debate for the first time, I naturally think that this is an important debate. It is the first chance that the House has had to discuss the very important impact of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's measures of December on the educational service. It is right that we should have a debate, which perhaps has run a bit longer than debates should in the course of the Consolidated Fund, but it has given us a chance to look at many points.

I cannot hope to answer all the many issues that have been raised and I hope the House will understand, particularly as we have heard there are many other hon. Members who want to speak on other subjects during the rest of the night. Those points which are specifically of a constituency nature and about schools I shall deal with in correspondence. However, I can tell the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) that we are paying particular attention to the question of projects which are part needs and part requirements in considering the right way to deal with them.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) who opened the debate, talked about "cuts, confusion and chaos". I believe that the debate will be valuable if at least some of the confusion which seems to surround the issue is reduced. Frankly I want to try to help reduce any confusion.

An important point which has to be made, and which the Opposition have not fully understood, is that the aim of the Chancellor's measures in December was in particular to reduce pressure on those things which use energy. That is why he had to adopt the specific financial measures which he adopted. I beg hon. Members to bear that in mind. It was an attempt by the Chancellor to reduce the pressure on energy just as our earlier postponement measures were an attempt, again equally justified, to reduce pressure on the overheating that we have in the building industry.

I hope that as I speak on the subject I shall not prove myself to be in any way complacent, but hon. Members have talked in terms of these cuts as being quite unprecedented in the history of our education service. Therefore I will quote briefly a statement by Professor John Vaizey in The Guardian on 8th January, when he said: First, then, it is not as Sir William Alexander is reported to have said, the worst cuts in his lifetime. He was born in 1905. The cuts in 1921, 1931, 1950–51, were more severe as a proportion of expenditure then.

Mr. Spearing

Does the Minister recall the famous Dame Florence Horsbrugh cuts, which many of us in teaching remember only too well, which were aimed at a 5 per cent. reduction but which, after a great deal of effort achieved only 2 per cent.? Does he not think that the Government should take lessons from making such cuts in educational expenditure?

Mr. Raison

No one doubts the difficulty of making cuts in educational expenditure. It is true that in total the reductions were large, because that is what the situation requires, and the education share, as one of the biggest spenders, was bound to be large, too. Education takes about 14 per cent. of all public expenditure and, even when reductions have been made, the sum planned to be spent on education from public funds in England and Wales in 1974–75 will still be very big. Including universities, local libraries, museums and galleries the sum will approach £3,500 million.

I shall say a word or two in explanation of the steps which have been taken. The Chancellor's cuts, as the House knows, are of 20 per cent. on capital expenditure and 10 per cent. on recurrent expenditure in the form of procurement—that is, goods and services, other than pay.

I will take capital spending first. Although considerable cuts have had to be made in education building programmes to achieve the saving of 20 per cent. in expenditure in 1974–75, those building projects programmed as providing essential new places—what the Department calls basic needs—may go ahead. The definition of need is unchanged, although need projects will have to be scrutinised closely. For England they are worth £101 million in the remainder of 1973–74 and £100 million in 1974–75. The programme for special schools is going ahead too. This programme, of course, provides places for children suffering from various kinds of handicap and I am sure there will be general agreement in the House that we are right to maintain this programme. This programme is worth about £14 million in the rest of 1973–74 and £18 million in 1974–75. These figures cover England and Wales.

Then there is the minor works programme which local education authorities rightly value so much. This was admittedly subject to the three months' moratorium but the moratorium is now over and the programme has been retained intact. The allocations for 1st January to 30th June were announced on 31st December and the minor works include the provision of temporary classrooms, alterations and adaptations to ease local pressures on accommodation or to provide better working conditions. These are all important and we can rightly claim that we have enabled them to proceed.

Next, I shall deal with pre-school provision. The education White Paper of December 1972 introduced a programme for expanding the provision for under-fives beginning with a building programme in 1974–75. This was an educational advance of great importance, and one which I, as a member of the Plowden Committee, naturally welcomed. The 1974–75 under-fives building programme will start in July and its value, at some £17 million for England and Wales, remains as planned in the education White Paper.

Therefore, those people who talk in terms of the White Paper being a thing of the past are wrong. There has been no reduction here. Indeed, as with building for basic needs, building for special schools and minor works, there are areas where things are still very much on the move.

The total value of all these programmes in the remainder of 1973–74 is about £129 million and in 1974–75 about £180 million. Furthermore, as was announced in the Departmental Circular 15/73, a limited building programme for higher and further education for 1974–75 will be announced shortly. Thus, despite the pressing need for economy, the Government have preserved a building programme for each sector of the education service. Out of programmes for the remainder of 1973–74 and for 1974–75 totalling some £570 million well over £300 million has been preserved, the loss falling mainly on higher and further education and the improvements programme for school building. I do not want to play down the disappointment and difficulty which this entails, particularly in areas like Durham and Manchester, but I am sure that we have got our priorities right overall, and I think we can point with fairness to what has already been achieved so far in the area of primary school improvements.

Labour Members know perfectly well that this was something which their Government were never able to tackle. I remind them simply that 122 primary improvement programmes costing £14.9 million have started this year on top of the £60 million-worth in 1972–73. This is a real achievement, and those who are trying to pretend that we are doing nothing in this area are doing education and the Government no sort of justice.

May I turn to the recurrent savings for 1974–75? Unlike the savings on capital expenditure, where the immediate financial effect on the local authorities is very small, being nearly the first year's loan charges on the value of the work held over, the saving of £72 million on recurrent expenditure has an immediate impact on the rate support grant for 1974–75.

I have no wish to pretend that it will be easy for the local education authorities to make this reduction. It will not. But in some respects the authorities do have room for manoeuvre in that they have moved more quickly in taking up some of the policies set out in the education White Paper of December 1972 than the Government intended. For example, there is evidence that some authorities are admitting children in the under-five age group in advance of suitable provision and, in some cases, are admitting them full time more freely than was recommended in the education White Paper.

There are some authorities which do not seem to have succeeded yet in acting on the view of the Government, expressed in the education White Paper and supported by the local authorities in the pooling committee, that the financing of higher education institutions should assume that student/staff ratios would average about 10:1 by the end of the decade. Here then are two areas—the admission of under-fives and student-staff ratios in advanced further education—where, for some authorities certainly, economies can be made without damage to the standards of the service.

Another area in which, to judge from 1972–73 out-turn figures, it appeared that the rate of increase was likely to be significantly in excess of that judged adequate in the education White Paper was expenditure on non-teaching costs. Even before the Chancellor's 17th December statement, the forecasts of future expenditure would have had to face a reduction here. Now, in addition we have the cut of £48 million to be borne by procurement. I do not disguise that this will present the authorities with very real difficulties. The hon. Member for Manchester Exchange (Mr. Hatton) spoke from his own experience of what this means. Let me explain what this figure represents.

The total provision for current expenditure on procurement is about £680 million. The 10 per cent. cut has not applied across the whole of that. We have exempted some £200 million to cover rent and rates and certain important services to which I shall refer. The reduction falls on the remaining £480 million. It is, of course, true that, under our block grant system, we do not control in detail the way in which authorities spend their money. They are not bound to make savings on the items which come under the £480 million or not to make savings on the other items, but we hope that they will follow our guidance in making their choices, and at least the resources we are making available should enable them to do so.

The £48 million saving is intended to be made not simply in the schools and colleges but in libraries, museums and galleries maintained by the local authorities as well. The areas of expenditure the Government had in mind in specifying procurement are repairs and maintenance of buildings and grounds, heating and lighting and other services, books, including books for public libraries, and teaching materials, renewal and replacement of furniture and equipment, transport of pupils and equipment and materials, other than food, for the school meals service. It is from these heads of expenditure that the Government believe the saving can be made, though we recognise that it will not be possible to make a straight 10 per cent. cut across the board. To secure the savings will demand from the authorities every resource of judgment, skill and good management.

The House will note, however, that my list of items on which savings might be made does not include staff of any kind, rent and rates, food for the school meals service, discretionary grants to students, the payment of fees for pupils at non-maintained schools, maintenance allowances and grants for clothing. This means that expenditure on irreducible items such as rent and rates, on staff and on assistance to individuals has been protected. As I have said, it is up to each authority to decide how it shall make the recurrent savings required, but I hope that I have shown that, as with the capital savings, the Government have been concerned to preserve the essentials of the service and, indeed, rather more. I might say, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Haselhurst) and the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) that there is no reason to suppose that the youth service and adult education must wither away as a result of this.

Mr. Ronald Brown

The Secretary of State attended a meeting at which she heard it positively put to her by the local authority representatives that the savings that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting are not possible. She did not enter into that discussion. How can we preserve all staff and all salaries without reducing the service?

Mr. Raison

We believe that, with wise judgment, looking at the situation across the board, it will be possible to do so. Perhaps, in answer to the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, I could put in a plea for one item that I have mentioned among those which are at risk, and that is school books. I hope that authorities will do all they possibly can to spare them, even if it means making some other cuts elsewhere.

Mr. Marks

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that the payment by local authorities to non-maintained schools would be carried on. Does this mean that any fees that they pay to direct-grant schools should not be cut, and will the Government cut the direct grant itself to those schools?

Mr. Raison

It does mean that they should not be cut. I would tell my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) that there is no proposal to cut the direct grant. Again, I must point out that the philosophy behind these measures is that they are to do with the pressure on energy resources. I would ask hon. Members to try to take the energy problem seriously.

Finally, the universities will of course have to contribute their share to the economies that have to be made. The public expenditure White Paper already announced a decision to withhold a part of the supplementation of their grants for price increases in 1973 that the universities would have hoped to receive. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in touch with the University Grants Committee about the further reductions that will now be necessary in the building programmes and in recurrent and equipment grants. We shall give the House the details as soon as they are settled.

I noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford said about student grants and teachers' salaries, but these problems fall outside the scope of this debate.

The Government recognise that all these savings will impose some delay on the progress of the education service, but we feel that education must bear its share of the economies that the country has to make. There is every reason and every justification for responding seriously, as most hon. Members have done, to what is a serious situation. I have much sympathy with the local education authorities in the difficult job which they have to do. But there is no reason to respond hysterically or irresponsibly. I believe that that is what the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central did. There might have been some recognition by Labour Members of Labour's own record in many of these things, notably improvements.

We should, after all, remember that, despite its problems and imperfections, our educational system has great strength. As Professor Vaizey put it in the article I quoted: … education is now far more adequately provided for than it ever has been in the past. There are many more students, pupil/ teacher ratios are better than ever before, the proportion of new and remodelled buildings is exceptionably high. Let us also remember that in some of our education problems, the difficulty is not simply one of resources.

The hon. Member for Durham, North-West referred to something that I have said on this. I do not decry the importance of resources. Of course they are absolutely vital in everything we do, but many people—perhaps most nowadays—would accept that the things which cause most concern today are to do with educational standards and also social stress and discipline. Of course resources are important here, but so, too, is the frame of mind, the philosophy if one likes, with which we approach them. I believe that we can all work more closely together to provide teachers—who, after all, bear the brunt of these problems—with the moral as well as the physical support which they need.

My hope is that in spite of all our difficulties—economic and otherwise—1974 will prove to be a year when the true deep-seated strength of British education—[Interruption.]—some hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but others know that what I am saying is true and that it is one of the splendours of this country. I believe that this true deep-seated strength will assert itself, and that the professionalism of our teachers at their best and the skill and dedication of the local authorities at their best will make this, overall, a year of advance rather than of standstill.

Mr. Ronald Brown

On a point of order. I ask for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister has not once referred to the fact that children in my constituency attend school only for two-and-a-half days a week. Am I not entitled to have some comment from the Minister?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. It is not my business to tell the Minister what to say.

Mr. Ronald Brown

Somebody should do so.