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School Building Programme

Volume 496: debated on Thursday 28 February 1952

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

8.48 p.m.

I am naturally very happy to have an Adjournment Motion at this time of night, particularly in view of the importance of the subject I wish to raise, and I hope it will enable quite a number of hon. Members to participate in discussing educational problems. The opportunities for discussing education are, in the normal way, comparatively few and far between in this House, and, therefore I intend to be fairly brief so that as many hon. Members as possible will be able to participate.

It is a matter for regret that the Minister herself is either unable or unwilling to be present. Whatever respect is due to the Parliamentary Secretary, I say that this is a matter of very great importance. Since this Government came to power it has become clear, as is very natural, that education has been picked on as the first and chief victim of the Government's "cold war" on the Welfare State. First of all, the Minister of Education herself is excluded from the Cabinet. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer postpones the starting dates of new school buildings for a period of three months. Then we have the Minister asking for a 5 per cent. cut in the education budgets, and, finally, we are confronted with Circular 245 which, in my opinion, reduces the school building programme this year to a shadow of what it ought to be.

To hear some people talk, one might imagine that the school building programme had been developed merely for the purpose of catering for the bulge in the birth rate. I do not under-estimate for one moment the great problem presented by the rise in the birth rate and in the school population. We have to bear in mind in this debate that the school population will not reach its peak of 6,500,000 until 1958 and that continuously for the seven years from 1954 onwards the secondary school population will rise rapidly by numbers amounting to 750,000.

We must bear in mind that the principal reasons for the school building programme are to carry out the promises of the 1944 Act. First, the programme is intended to enable a reduction to be made in the size of classes, and secondly, to provide generally a better school environment for the children of the future than was provided in the past. Thirdly, and not least, important, it is to make a reality of the promise of secondary school education for all.

I ought to remind the House of what was said in the 1950 debate on education, both by my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Education, the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson), and by the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer whose name has been associated with the 1944 Act. It was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth in the education debate on 4th May, 1950, after the devaluation crisis, that 1,450,000 new school places were required between the end of the war and the end of 1953 if we were to have a progressive implementation of the Act of 1944.

In that debate my right hon. Friend gave an assurance that there would be no reduction in the 1951 school building programme. He also said it was vitally necessary to maintain the momentum which the school building programme had so slowly and laboriously gathered. I am not going into the reasons why the school building programme did develop so slowly and laboriously from 1945. As my right hon. Friend emphasised, once this programme had developed, as it had really started to develop in 1949, it was essential to maintain its momentum if we were to achieve our purposes by the end of 1953.

I want to quote from what the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said in that same debate, There was at that time talk of cuts and crises, as there is now. He said:
"… I calculate that no fewer than 1,450,000 new places will be wanted by 1953… I consider the Minister is right up against a very serious problem if … he is going to make it possible for teachers to retain that vital principle of all in education—some personal relationship between the teacher and the taught by a reasonable size of classes in our schools."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th May, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 1912.]
He referred on that occasion to the fact that in his opinion many teachers in our schools were compelled to be circus masters—as he put it—rather than teachers, because of the swollen size of the classes they had to take.

What have the Government done? In the first place, what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done—last November —has been to nip in the bud 75 per cent. of the programme that had been planned and approved for the financial year 1951–52. I propose to illustrate that in relation to my own county when I come to that in a moment. Seventy-five per cent. of the planned and approved programme was nipped in the bud by the standstill order of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in November, 1951.

Secondly, the 1952 programme has been cut to a size that, in my opinion, is disastrously inadequate. All work for the purpose of relieving over-crowding in the schools is forbidden. All work for the purpose of replacing black-listed schools is forbidden. Therefore, any possibility of making a reality of the promise of secondary education for all is indefinitely postponed.

Besides that, the Minister has even gone so far as to impose a restriction at this time on the development of facilities for technical education. On 4th February of this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, addressing the London University Institute of Education, described the programme of this Government as "marking time." I say it is a headlong retreat from the promises made by the right hon. Gentleman when he presented the 1944 Measure.

Let me refer to the way in which this affects the county of Stafford, a part of which I have the honour to represent and whose needs are particularly great for the development of education. The original programme of school building for the county of Stafford which had been approved for the financial year 1951–52 was worth £650,000—in round figures—of school buildings, and in the course of the year my right hon. Friend had increased that to the sum of £736,000 because he regarded the needs of Staffordshire as being particularly great, and was able to include some additional projects.

The effect of the Chancellor's stop in November, 1951, was to kill £568,000 worth of the £736,000 that had been agreed to and approved by my right hon. Friend. That was stopped in November. 1951. In September last year, the former Minister of Education had approved for Staffordshire a school building programme for 1952–53 worth the sum of £387,000. What the Minister of Education now suggests to the County of Stafford is that its programme for 1952 should be of a value of £472,000.

What is the total effect of that? If that proposal is carried out, the effect will be that at the end of March, 1953, the County of Stafford will have lost £483,000 worth of school building, which means 1,500 primary school places and more than 900 secondary school places that were to be provided under the original programme.

My right hon. Friend, the former Minister of Education has recently issued this statement to the Press. He said,
"The programme fixed by the Labour Government left no margin, and we knew it would have to be faithfully followed if we were to keep faith with mothers and children."
Bear in mind, too, that these are the children of the people who are digging the coal and producing the pottery. We know from the background of educational development in Staffordshire that, unless that programme is fulfilled, the chances of making a reality of the promises of 1944 are the same as the chances in the 1920's of making a reality of the promises held out by the Fisher Act of 1918.

Between 200,000 and 300,000 children will be affected by this cut in the school building programme. Who are these children? These are the children of the men who came back from the war with the promises of 1944 ringing in their ears —because they are the men whose children enter school in this period when the school population is rising so rapidly. The Parliamentary Secretary need not take it from me; he can take it from what I think is politically a quite impartial source. Let him read and digest the editorial in "The Times Educational Supplement" of 22nd February, which said:
"Circular 245 means at best the continuance in many places of conditons already intolerable and at worse such a deterioration in them as will make even the pretence of teaching impossible."
Why does it say that? It is because Circular 245 means the continuance in use of nearly 600 schools which were blacklisted in 1925. There are nearly 600 schools in use today which were condemned for educational purposes in 1925, and Circular 245, which forbids building work for the purpose of relieving overcrowding and replacing these blacklisted schools, means the continuance of these schools in use. It means the continuance of 34,000 classes in each of which there are more than 40 pupils and the continuance of probably more than 1,000 classes in our schools, each of which has more than 50 pupils. These are the classes to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred on 4th May, 1950, he said the teachers can be no more than circus masters; and in which "The Times Educational Supplement" says, "The pretence of teaching is impossible."

What is the reason for this policy? Simply to save money? The Chancellor of the Exchequer can find another £200 million for arms, but not one tithe of that, apparently, for the increase of the school programme. Is it, as has been reported, to save 30,000 tons of steel? What is 30,000 tons of steel? It is less than one-quarter of 1 per cent. of the national output of steel. Are we to condemn these children to possible exclusion from school for the sake of less than one-quarter of 1 per cent. of the national output of steel?

There is a very strong suspicion that the Government are creating an ability for cutting the school age in 1953 and that the Government, which refused before the Christmas Recess to deny or confirm that they were considering cutting the school age, have now taken a step which they know will have the effect of preventing the provision of accommodation for between 200,000 and 300,000 children in 1953 and 1954, and therefore are providing themselves with an excuse and an alibi for reducing, at one end or the other, the school age at that time.

We do not blame the Minister of Education for this. The Minister of Education has been excluded from the Cabinet, and it is not fair for the Opposition to cast all the blame upon her. She has received her instructions in this matter from a Cabinet the majority of whose Members are determined to bury the 1944 Act, in the same way as the Fisher Act of 1918 was buried, who believe in one education for the rich and another for the poor.

I say that a very heavy responsibility will lie upon those who take their instructions and orders from this Cabinet, who held out such great promises in 1944, to which they paid such great lip-service, during the period the Labour Government were in power, in all the education debates since 1945, but who, since they came to power in October, 1951, have picked upon the educational system to carry out the same old economy drive, producing the same old cynicism about the promises that have been given.

I demand that this educational programme, in particular for the area which I represent, which has been so neglected in the past in provision for education, be reconsidered; that we attempt—what has been made very difficult by what the Chancellor has done—to regain the momentum to which the school building programme had gathered in 1951. If we carried on with that and were prepared to make the sacrifices to provide the materials, labour, and money, we could create for these children the reality of secondary education, a reduction in the size of classes, and the progressive replacement of these "black" schools. If we do not do that, I say that we shall postpone indefinitely the fulfilment of the great educational promises made at the end of the war.

9.7 p.m.

I am sure that we can congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) on his good fortune, both in obtaining the Adjournment Debate and in its happening to fall to him on an evening when we can have a more extended debate than is usually the case upon Adjournment Motions. At the same time, while we feel that this is an extraordinarily difficult and important question which it would be well to approach, as much as we can, in the spirit of a Council of State, in which we so often do conduct our education debates, I cannot feel that the hon. Gentleman has approached this problem in anything like that spirit.

I will come to the Government later. Let us take them one at a time.

The hon. Gentleman accused the Government of making education the chief victim of a "cold war" on the Welfare State, and any person who was unacquainted with the facts and who listened to his speech would think that the result of this Government's programme was that education was being almost abolished in this country. What is the fact? The fact, of course, is that this Government is proposing to spend more money on education than was ever spent by the Socialist Government or by any other Government in the history of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, doubtless hon. Gentlemen opposite saw the Education Estimates this morning; they are greater than ever they were before.

The hon. Gentleman also accused the Government of wishing to create an alibi for lowering the school-leaving age. Why the Conservative Party, which had a majority at that time, should have put itself to the inordinate trouble of passing the Butler Act if it wished to abolish it later on, I cannot conceive. As we know, that Act was carried through by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, a leading member of the Conservative Party, at a time when there was a Conservative majority, and a work of supererogation more ridiculous than going to the enormous trouble of carrying through this complicated Act if we did not believe in it and did not wish to have it would be difficult to imagine.

The hon. Member talked about an alibi for cutting the school age. I do not think that the Government need an alibi on this particular topic. We know what happened. The Government came into power, and the only person who had even discussed the question of whether it would be necessary to cut the school age up to that time was the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell). He said that the previous Government had considered it and had rejected it.

In the first few days this Government were in power, the responsible Ministers, especially at such a time as this, could not be expected to say precisely what they would do and what they would not do before they had even had time to look at the books; and before the opportunity had come to the Goverment to decide upon their policy, friends of hon. Members opposite went about spreading the rumour that the school age was to be cut down—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then there went on the most time-honoured of political dodges. First they said that the Government were going to do it and when the Government did not do it, they said, "Of course it would have been done but for our agitation against it." I do not think that hon. Members opposite really expect such arguments to be taken with very great gravity.

Then the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme indulged in a lot of rhetoric about the cruelty of bringing financial considerations to bear upon educational policy. But I do not think that he can take that very seriously, and certainly his Government did not take it very seriously when they were in power. Whether we dislike this or that in detail that they did, yet they were not so foolish as to imagine that we do not have to pay some attention to practical conditions when we draw up an educational programme, and, therefore, when they found that times were not so easy as they had anticipated, they did not hesitate for a moment to economise on education. Whether they were right or wrong in detail, I do not propose to argue, but there has never been a Government in history that carried through so many education cuts as were carried through by the last Government.

In 1947 they put an almost complete embargo on the building of nursery schools. In 1949—the time of the gathering momentum of this programme, as the hon. Gentleman said—they stopped all new building for school meal services at existing schools. In the same year, they reduced the facilities for free transport, and in 1950 they increased the price of school meals from 5d. to 6d. and in 1951 to 7d. The whole educational programme of the late Government in that great year of momentum involved a reduction in proposed capital expenditure of about 10 per cent.—about twice as much as the present Government have dared to suggest.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is challenging what I said about the building programme gathering momentum at that time. Will he give the figures of the value of the school building programme in 1949 and 1950 and how they compare with the years 1948 and 1947? I think that they will bear out my argument that the school building programme was built up over that period and reached very considerable strength in the years 1949 to 1950.

I have not the exact figures, but, of course we built no schools at all during the war.

I have not the figures, but my argument is that there was this economy—no doubt a very justifiable economy—in school buildings. The Government reached the conclusion, very wisely, no doubt-I think that it was wise—that it was necessary to have some economical standards. All I am arguing is that there was a degree of comparative sanity in the educational policy of the late Government. The hon. Member may wish to challenge that, but all I was concerned about was that his Government behaved in a reasonable fashion.

Is it not a fact that twice as much school building occurred between 1946 and 1951 as in any previous five years in the history of the country?

So far I have been expressing an opinion defending the policy of the late Government. In our education debates there was very little party division. We used to congratulate one another because there was no party division. We went forward on this in general agreement and we were all very anxious that there should be as much building as possible. When building was possible we applauded it, and when the Government thought it necessary to have economies, on the whole they received support from both sides of the House. It is not part of my argument to say that nothing sensible was done by the last Government.

When the late Minister of Education embarked on his standstill policy for building, did he not say that full provision would be made by the end of 1953 for the extra children coming into the schools?

All I have been dealing with is the fact that it is not reasonable for an hon. Member to talk as if economy was a thing to which one could be completely indifferent in drawing up an educational programme. We are all very anxious to do what can be done within the limits of what is possible in this extremely difficult time. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be telling us more exactly what this Government is doing and is proposing to do at present.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme gave the impression that there were to be extraordinary and drastic cuts in accommodation, and he said that 75 per cent. of building activity in Staffordshire was to be nipped in the bud. I am not quite clear what happens to a building when it is nipped in the bud.

The problem which the Government inherited was that in school building, as in many other things, a great deal of work was under construction and would take a very long time to finish. Educational projects to a value of about £120 million were under construction. The Government and the Minister decided that, instead of starting up new projects so that an enormous amount of building would be going on and very little would be finished, it would be better first to concentrate on finishing what could be finished. The Government therefore closed down the 1951–52 building programme, but compiled a revised programme so that by the end of 1953 they would include as much as possible of the balance of the 1951 and the 1952–53 programmes.

Hon. Members talk about "drastic cuts," but what are the figures? The new programme is differently distributed—the Minister is rightly concentrating on the most pressing needs—but the sum total is almost exactly the same as the previous total. New building has already provided 636,000 places, it is anticipated that the completion of existing building will provide another 400,000 places, and the revised building programme for next year will provide a further 114,000 places. It is far from true that the provision of places is a problem that has been neglected, even under these present and serious circumstances.

Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, in 1950, agreed with the then Minister of Education that 1,450,000 new places were required by 1953 to make up this programme? I agree with the figures which my hon. Friend gave of a deficiency between 200,000 and 300,000, and that is a gap to which I am objecting today.

I have spoken so far about the provision of places. Then there is the phenomenon that the bulge is moving up the age limit, and, therefore, it is not unreasonable that we should, at a time when new building is extremely difficult, allow ourselves to make flexible the age of transfer from one sort of school to another. No one says it is a desirable thing in itself. It creates its incidental problems. But it cannot be seriously pretended that such problems as that which we heard at Question time, of bigger children wanting bigger furniture, are beyond solution.

Take a town like Coventry. It has a secondary school population of 17,000, but by 1956 it will have a school population of 19,000. What is the use of talking about a flexible age of transfer when 50 per cent. more places will be required? That is the dilemma we have to face. We have to find these new places without doing any building at this moment.

No one says we should not do any building at the present time. The hon. Gentleman talks of Coventry as a place with a rapidly growing population, and if his facts are right special consideration should be given to such a place. But my argument is that this talk by hon. Members opposite of building is a travesty of the facts, as when they suggest that as much as possible in the way of building would not be done.

Hon. Members opposite must agree that we live in a time of desperate economic disturbance and desperately serious shortages, in particular of raw materials that are required for school building and for other purposes at the same time. There is also a desperate housing shortage. Let us do all we can for school building at such a time as this, but in the last resort the people have got to face this issue—do they prefer to have houses or do they prefer to have schools? One can make speeches in which both are demanded, but in this world of limited materials that is the issue we have to face.

The hon. Gentleman for Newcastle-under-Lyme may oppose our present rearmament programme, which was put before the country by his own leaders. That is the subject with which we can hardly deal in a limited debate like this, but it is the contention alike of the Government and the late Government that the armament programme is desperately necessary for the country's survival. And indeed, if we did not have the armament programme we would have plenty of problems with raw materials. In the last analysis, in so far as we have to choose between houses and schools, houses are more important than schools, not only for other large humanitarian reasons but even from the purely narrow education point of view.

The late Government, as hon. Members Know, produced an interesting little booklet called "Reading Ability" in which they showed the alarming fact that in spite of the momentous building programme, in spite of the amount of money spent and in spite of the devoted work being done, there had been a substantial decline in literacy during the war and there had been no arrest of that decline in the years since the war. They inquired into the reasons for that, and one of the most important reasons was the bad housing conditions from which so many of the children came.

So I would say, even from the purely educational point of view, that to some extent we have to choose between houses and putting up with some of these blacklisted schools for a little longer. That is undesirable in itself, but if I were a child and were asked if I would prefer to have a nice house and go to a black-listed school or live in the gutter and go to a new school, I would prefer a nice house and to go to a black-listed school, and I believe that I would even be better educated if I made that choice.

9.26 p.m.

hope the day will arrive when education will be a non-party subject in this House and in the country. However, the events of the last three months, and even the speech of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis), expressing willingness to sacrifice the children of everybody except those who sit on the opposite benches, shows that it is still a party matter.

If I want to underline the seriousness of what we are discussing tonight, it is revealed in the fact that Labour Members of Parliament are doing their best at the moment to prevent trade unionists up and down the country who feel so indignant about what has taken place during these last few months from withholding their labour as a protest.

I expressed the hope on the first day of this Parliament that this Conservative Minister of Education would depart from the historic practice of recent Conservative Ministers of Education and not make cuts in our educational programme. We asked the Prime Minister from these benches at the end of last year to assure us that he did not intend to break the law of the land during the recess by depriving children of their right under the 1944 Education Act to education between the ages of five and 15. We could not get that assurance.

Hon. Members opposite are deeply interested in what they imagine to be divergencies of opinion on this side of the House. I suggest that between the closing of Parliament at the end of last year and the opening of Parliament this year there were conflicts in the party opposite. One serious thing happened. It was that the Trades Union Congress went on record in bitter opposition to any tampering with the school-leaving age. Conservative education authorities up and down the country, including the education committee of Southampton, went on record in protest against any tampering with the school-leaving age. It is not too much to imagine that the effect of the one contribution which the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this Government made out of loyalty to his own Education Act was to resist those in the Tory Cabinet who would have deprived children at one end of the scale or the other of full education.

What we are saying, and what the country is saying ever-increasingly and ever more powerfully, is that if we carry on with this programme of retrenchment in school buildings, then physically we shall do what legislatively the Cabinet has declared that it will not do: we shall deprive either an age group at the bottom of the scale or an age group at the top of the scale from room in the schools in the months and years ahead.

Those of us who protested at our own Minister's educational retrenchment—and there was educational retrenchment—want to emphasise just how desperate is the need and how true is the fact that we have gone as near to the bone as we dare do.

If the hon. Member is explaining the action and the protest made by the Socialist Party, perhaps he will explain why, when their Circular 210 was placed before the country, there was no letter from the N.U.T. to Members of Parliament or to local authorities, there was no Motion on the Order Paper by hon. Members opposite, no Adjournment Motion or Question was raised by them, and there was not a chicken's cheep from any of them? How can he pretend that what he is doing is non-party?

If the hon. Member accuses me of pretending to be non-party, he does not understand what I have said. I am not responsible for the behaviour of the National Union of Teachers. As for the views which I have expressed, I refer the hon. Member to the debates on education in which I have taken part.

I want to give the House a picture from my area of just how serious the position is. The county of Hampshire has some 400 schools. Under the development plan of the Hampshire County Council, 100 of them are due to be pulled down because they do not conform to the minimum standards laid down in the Act. Another 100 need substantial alterations.

Grammar school places in the county are provided for less than 14 per cent. of its children. We in Southampton have experienced this terribly unjust disparity between the provision of grammar school education as between town and county as our own children have over-spilled from the town and no longer have one chance in four, or about that figure, of finding their way to a grammar school, but by moving over the border had one chance in seven.

In South Hampshire, a grammar school which was built for 600 pupils now houses 900, and the headmaster on speech night pointed out that he could not conceive how he was going to conduct his school certificate examination in the summer term of this year. As far as modern secondary education is concerned, the children of Lymington—which once, by the way, sent two Members to Parliament—receive their modern secondary education by travelling five miles in a bus to Brockenhurst to occupy the old grammar school—

Secondary modern. It is certainly not modern. Children in New Milton receive their primary education in an Army hut, which was erected in 1918 and was first protested against four years later and is still housing children.

Let me make my argument. The Fawley oil refinery, with a great new population around it, with people demanding for their children—as people all over the country are demanding—the education they did not manage to get for themselves, is in the middle of an area where there are one or two excellent new schools and some of the oldest and poorest schools in the county.

My own town of Southampton, with a quarter of its schools damaged in the blitz, has in the playground of every school Army huts—and rather poor Army huts—to house the infants and the extra classes of children.

On the edge of the town, in these last weeks, the first infants are being refused admission in an overspill area. Yet we in Hampshire are having our school building programme seriously cut. At Southampton Education Committee on Monday this week its director of education was pointing out the inevitability of lack of accommodation for children if the original programme was not carried out. What is true of Hampshire is, I am certain, true of the whole country. One million of our children, or 950,000, are still being educated in all-age schools, the older children in these schools being deprived of anything like secondary education because of physical conditions.

I pay tribute, and have done from the other side of the House, to the late Minister of Education for an excellent school building programme. It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) has said, that we have built more schools under Labour Governments than under any previous Government in the history of this country. Even so, the provisions of the late Minister of Education provided the accommodation for all this vastly expanding population to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) referred in opening the debate, only on the assumption that all the children happened to be born in the right places where the new schools were. We were physically providing a programme with a place somewhere in the country for every child, but I pointed out in this House that even with that programme we would have infants being refused admission to schools, even if the whole programme was carried out.

The moratorium in school building and the cuts in the programme mean that in the next 12 months in every corner of the country we shall not only have large classes but infant headmistresses will be compelled to refuse admission to young children. We have the junior Minister here tonight and, as an old university man, I urge him to use every influence he can to stop this policy of retrenchment in education. We went too far back in the education building programme under the last Labour Government, and if we proceed at this rate it will indeed be a tragedy.

9.39 p.m.

I am one of the members of the National Union of Teachers, one of the few on this side of the House, and I was horrified to find —I hope the hon. Members for the Southampton Divisions of Test (Dr. King) and lichen (Mr. Morley) will support my horror—when I found that my union card was a month out of date. I am sure I have paid my dues, but that is the situation.

I therefore want to be a bridge, as I hope, between rival views and to do what I can to re-establish a non-party attitude to this educational problem because we are, surely, in this House really convinced that the solution to all problems is an educational one and that education is the foundation of it. We are all here in this House agreed that one of the most important things in progress at any time is that there should be a free and vigorous presentation of the case from both sides of the House and that truth and justice is really obtained in the balance.

I maintain that at the present moment we are losing our sense of balance about what are the facts. It seems it is an issue of facts and of opinions based on those facts. If we leave out of account for the moment the absolute equality of marking time, the two rival views are whether educationally we are going forward or back. I hope we can establish undoubtedly as a fact that we are going forward educationally and that what we are really talking about is the degree of speed at which we are going forward.

We can all say that we cannot go forward educationally fast enough, but do not let us, in misinterpreting the facts give the impression that we are going back when we are making considerable forward progress. That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) was saying, that during the period of the Labour Government the building of school places was going forward at a very decent pace. But nevertheless there were cuts and the brake was put on by the Labour Government.

How can the hon. Member argue that there were cuts in the school building programme under a Labour Government? What the Minister of Education under a Labour Government did was to see that the schools were built more economically, at a less cost per place. There was no cut at all in the provision of school places. As many schools were built and the programme continued uninterrupted so far as the total number of schools built were concerned. All that happened was that they were built at less cost, by more economical standards. It was not a cut.

I was coming to that point. I think it is most important to establish the point of the pipe-line. What in fact the Minister is now doing is reducing the number of places being incomplete in the pipe-line and accelerating completion. So she is getting this very substantial figure of 1,150,000 new places within the year which is within striking distance, not only of the target set by the former Minister but is, I suspect—and I hope we shall be enlightened on this—actually what would have been realised by the former Minister. It is a question of concentrating on that which is within the pipe-line and bringing it to completion.

We all know we cannot progress, much as we would like to, as fast as we would wish in education. Otherwise there would not be the 600 black-list schools which both parties wish to abolish, but which after six years of Labour Government are still there. It clearly indicates that in education, as in everything else, there is a list of priorities and we can do only a certain amount at a time or else we wreck the whole programme.

What the former Minister of Education did was to take the facilities which he had and divide them in priority with those things which he thought most important, and that is precisely what the present Minister is doing. I would not accept the view advanced from hon. Members on the other side of the House that they have a knowledge of what is going on in the Cabinet and that they nave only to say that it was intended to cut the school leaving age. I never for a moment accepted that the school leaving age would be lowered.

I regard it as a great challenge to teachers in this country to show that they really can make the best of that extra year of school work for the people who are not at secondary grammar schools but at secondary modern schools; and that was why I interposed when I thought the hon. Member used the term "modern secondary" which has a different significance. It is a great challenge to the nation and to the teaching profession. I strongly support the Minister, because I feel that, in keeping the school leaving age at that level, we are really accepting a challenge and trying to get somewhere.

I say that, in terms of the school building programme, to have not only 1,150,000 additional places built during the year but additional money provided within the Estimates for the operation of education within those places, shows very clearly that we are moving forward. Let us join in wishing the Minister well, so that she may accelerate her speed as conditions improve in the country, but let us remember that the solution of our difficulties does not lie in dividing this House on a party attitude to education, but in solving the economic problems which have made the temporary slowing down of an otherwise forward progress essential.

9.47 p.m.

I do not wish to draw this subject of education into the cockpit of party politics. On the other hand, as a former district education officer, I cannot help remembering the severe cut which followed the return to power of the National Government in 1931.

Let us get the facts right when these things are said. The May Committee was set up by a Socialist Government and made the recommendation of a 20 per cent. cut. The Socialist Government negotiated with the teachers on the basis of 15 per cent., and a maximum of 10 per cent. was introduced by the Government.

I am not going to enter into a detailed argument. I am not talking about the teachers' salaries which were cut. I say to the hon. Member that the disgraceful thing which was done by the National Tory Government of 1931 was the wiping away of the free scholarships which hitherto had been awarded for children in the grammar schools. In 1931, for the first time since 1907, there were no free places guaranteed to a child from a primary school in the county grammar schools of this country. Before that, there was originally the provision that 25 per cent. of the number of admissions into a grammar school in a year had to be free places—really free places.

In many areas before 1931 the percentage had increased to 40 per cent., and after that in many cases schools had made all their places free, though I am not sure on that point. After 1931, the parents of every child who won a place in a grammar school had to submit to a means test to determine whether the child should go into the school or not. As a district education officer, I had the painful experience, time after time, of parents coming to me and saying that they could not afford to allow the child to take up the scholarship.

As a matter of fact, the hon. Gentleman is inaccurate on that point as well. He says that 25 per cent. of the places were absolutely free before 1931. The fact is that 50 per cent. of the places were free only to children coming from public elementary schools.

I said primary schools, and in the generally accepted sense of the term primary schools refers to local education authority schools, formerly known as elementary schools.

Referring to Cornwall, which is my county, I quote the following to the House:
"A total of £71,830 for loan charges, compared with £41,465 in 1951–52, was reduced by £5,710 because it will not be possible to complete the capital expenditure programme by the end of the year. The sum of £60,000 which was to have been spent on the second stage of the Cornwall Technical College was cut by half; £50,000 for the first part of a new county secondary modern school at Falmouth was reduced by £30,000; and £123,000 of a similar school at Newquay was cut £85,000."
Apart from that, I draw attention to Circular 242 and to what it has to say about capital expenditure out of revenue. The circular says:
"Authorities are, therefore, asked to restrict the charging of capital expenditure to revenue within the specified limits to the utmost possible extent so as thereby to lighten the charge upon the Exchequer."
One hon. Member opposite referred just now to the year 1949–50 and implied that in that year the Labour Government stopped school building. Let us take this one item of capital expenditure out of revenue and the figures for Cornwall. In 1949–50, £10,173 was spent on capital expenditure out of revenue to improve old school buildings. In 1950–51 the figure was £67,700, in 1951–52 it was £12,400, and for the next year,1952–53, the estimate is £4,900.

That has a very great bearing on what is said so often in this House, and what was said at Question time this afternoon by hon. Members opposite, that we must not close any village school. I said in this House over 18 months ago that some of our village schools were disgraceful slum buildings, and I think that what applies to Cornwall applies all over the country. I am not asking that village schools should be closed, but I do beg the Minister to see that every year a proper sum is set aside to help bring these old school buildings up to a reasonable standard, particularly so far as water supplies, drainage, lighting, windows and that kind of thing is concerned.

Circular 242 will have the disastrous effect that once again the improvement of these old school buildings will be postponed to the dim and distant future. Reference has been made to black-listed schools. In the area in which I live there is a building now being used as a secondary modern school which was on the black list in 1919, and very little has since been done to improve it. Even after six years of Labour Government we were unable to redress the previous 30 years of neglect by the Tory Party.

I said that some of us were inclined to lose heart at times. I can assure the Minister that throughout the local government service those officers engaged in education administration feel very cynical when time after time these platitudes are spoken and promises made that are not fulfilled. In 1918 we had the Fisher Act, but what did the party opposite do to try and redeem the promise made in that Act? In 1926 the Hadow Report was published, and in 1928 Lord Eustace Percy issued a special pamphlet telling local authorities how they should proceed to get the new modern schools, as they are now known. In 1936 the Tory Government issued circulars to local authorities about plans for modern technical schools. How many were provided?

There was a blank for the period of the war and now a brake is to be applied to the provision of schools. In Cornwall, as in other areas, a greater number of places in secondary schools are being secured by simply altering the name of the building which, from being a primary school building, becomes a secondary modern school building.

I can assure the Minister that some of those buildings are hopelessly and dreadfully overcrowded. They are a disgrace to the educational system of this country, and I hope that something will be done to rectify these conditions. The Cornwall Education Committee are talking of altering a number of premises from primary schools to secondary schools, but I could take the Minister to junior schools in Cornwall where the authorities simply do not know where to accommodate the next child that comes along.

The effect of Circular 242 is also to postpone still further the provision of new primary school places. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King), referred to school huts. Within 50 yards of where I live there is an old wooden Army hut of the 1914–18 war which still does duty for grammar school accommodation. There are many such huts still in use in Cornwall and the Minister will know, if he looks at his file, that most of the secondary grammar schools in Cornwall are as overcrowded as, and even more overcrowded than, the primary schools.

An hon. Member opposite referred to the need for more houses. We all agree. He said, "Houses before schools." But surely there should be a balanced building programme. What is the use of putting up large new housing estates if we do not provide school accommodation for the children who go to live there? One of the greatest problems facing education authorities today is this problem of the great new housing estates which intensify the difficulties of providing education.

I appeal to the Minister to withdraw Circular 242 and to hasten the time when we can spend much more money on building improvements to existing schools and on the new schools which are so badly needed.

9.59 p.m.

I did not expect to have an opportunity to take part in this debate tonight as I thought there would be the usual short Adjournment. I promise the Parliamentary Secretary that I will not be more than two or three minutes.

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

I am very surprised that the party opposite have drawn all these red herrings across the trail of education. Since the 1944 Act we have been almost unanimous in the House in regard to its implementation in almost every possible way and we honestly did not anticipate the increasing difficulties that have been created year by year since the Act was first put on the Statute Book.

With regard to the buildings, which is the topic with which we are supposed to be intimately concerned tonight, I have not the fears which have been expressed by the Socialists opposite. I think I have had as much to do with building programmes since the 1944 Act as anybody in the House. I did feel that at times we were going a little too fast and that in many ways the Minister was not leading us the right way, because in the 1949 specifications we were led to build rather expensive schools and we did build some very very nice ones. I can assure hon. Members that I was very proud to think we were able to build such schools; but we did not foresee the stringencies which were coming and were about to be imposed upon us.

It was natural that when we came into power last October and discovered the revenue and capital expenditure which had been going on so glibly last year we should cut it very considerably at once. It was obviously essential that one Ministry or Ministerial Department alone should not bear the cut; it had to be spread in every department of every Ministry, and obviously the Ministry of Education could not be the one which would be left out entirely. I do not think it at all unreasonable that education should make its contribution towards the forced economies which we have to endure at least for the next year.

En spite of the fact that the Minister has had to call a halt to the building programme, I do not think that in actual fact it has done any harm whatsoever because without any doubt it has enabled us to make up a little leeway in the programme of school building which have taken two years and ought to have been completed in one year. It has enabled us to complete those schools—

I have very great respect for the hon. Member's past educational administration, but can he tell us how the halting of building for three months is enabling us to make up the leeway?

I have already said it did not. In most places there were schools still in building and these schools had no chance of being completed because we could not get the materials to finish them. We were held up for cement and we were held up for steel for months and months. We have one estate at Merstham where we are held up because we have empty ground and no foundations laid.

We cannot make any progress, but the three months we have waited have been very helpful. As regards the application of economies in education I do not fear them too much. We were going rather fast in the ancillary side of education itself. The Minister told us that the cuts which had to be made must not interfere with the basic fabric of education. I do not think any of the cuts made by the Ministry will do that. I hope that every county authority under the direction of the Ministry will take the greatest possible care in making their economy cuts, and only make those cuts which they feel will not interfere with the progress and the fabric of education itself.

With regard to the number of places, we shall be behind the number we require for years. We cannot help it. We are behind in every possible way in the building of anything at all in this country.

I believe that by careful management the county authorities will be able to provide the places which it is expected they will need. I appreciate that we have the 1953 bulge to deal with, but I believe we can cope even with that by careful handling and by the provision of huts, some of which are very good today—far superior to what they were three or four years ago. We shall be able to lessen to a great extent the fears which have been expressed by hon. Members opposite about the reduction in the school building programme. It is not nearly so fearful as hon. Members opposite suggest. They have certainly put a great deal of fear into people's minds by their ill-considered and ill-founded statements.

The hon. Member is well known for his work in education administration, and I want to ask him a straight question. Is it not a fact that it is not only hon. Members on this side who have fears, but also responsible and long-experienced men connected full-time with education, and administrative workers in local government? Does not he himself feel that there will be many places unavailable by 1956?

We know the situation and we shall make adequate provision. I was dealing with some of the infamous statements made by hon. Members opposite before the Recess. I think that conduct did them much harm. They said certain things would happen, and they said it with authority—although I do not know from where they derived the authority. As a result, they made people nervous and afraid that their schools would be closed, that the school leaving age would be lowered or the entry age raised.

This was a false assumption by the Party opposite, and they made the most of it. Even tonight, when we are supposed to be debating only the slowness of school building, these fears are introduced. The slowness of building is not entirely due to this Government; they have been left the arrears of the late Government. I believe that if we had been a little more careful and a little more prescient in the last three or four years we could have provided many more places in our schools. I say that, despite my great appreciation of what has been done by the Minister and by this House in implementing the 1944 Act.

The 1918 Act is constantly quoted and has been continually thrown in the teeth of the Government tonight. I am not sure that hon. Members opposite do not hope that the 1944 Act will meet the same fate from this Government as the 1918 Act met. I do not think it will. Unlike some hon. Members opposite, we think we must keep education as a nonparty matter. Tonight the Opposition have put it into the political arena, for which I am very sorry. It is a pity that they have done so, because they have cast doubts on the bona fides of the educationists on this side of the House who are just as anxious for education in this country as are hon. Members opposite.

I feel quite sure that the Minister will take great care during the year to see that the cuts which we have to make will be made good in the shortest possible time and as soon as the economy measures, which we are bound to introduce, can be relieved so as to give us an opportunity of spending more money.

The hon. Gentleman adopted a very strong attitude about conduct from this side of the House, which he called infamous. Does he not welcome Parliamentary pressure upon any Government in power to make certain that the education of our children is not sacrificed to so-called economies?

My point was that I think the party opposite howled before they were bitten.

10.10 p.m.

I very seldom have that consciousness of fitness for function which is, I believe, a very great strength to most progressives and philanthropists, but on this occasion, after all the appeals to get away from party on this side of the House, I have almost face enough to feel a certain adequacy, because I am sure at least of this, that my own party has never thought me sound upon this subject. That will perhaps endear, if not me, at least my hon. Friends to hon. Gentlemen opposite.

I really hope that we shall not go on having what I beg hon. Members opposite to think is an unnecessary form of bitterness—this stuff about people who wish to see the rich educated and stop the poor being educated. At any rate, again I may say this personally, if that reproach were thrown at me I should certainly have remained illiterate, if that had been the view. It really is not worth saying that.

Nor, if I may say it to a learned Gentleman opposite, does it very well suit his learning to throw across the Floor the taunt that the Tories thrive upon illiteracy.

One second. If the hon. Gentleman would like to see educational tests as hurdles before the exercise of the franchise, I would suggest that he should introduce a Private Member's Bill to that effect.

As the hon. Gentleman has addressed the question to me, perhaps I might point out that my intervention came, as he will remember, at a point when hon. Gentlemen opposite were saying that houses came before schools; and at a point when my hon. Friend was pointing out that new housing estates without schools would be inadequate to communities in the kind of world we want. It was the jeer which greeted that observation that led me to make the remark that the Tories thrive upon illiteracy. That is, in fact, part of their record and their approach to this problem.

That does not meet the point I put. Let the hon. Gentleman then introduce a Private Member's Bill to have illiteracy tests before the exercise of the franchise, if that is really what he believes. Secondly, it is really no use saying that he was annoyed because somebody said that houses came before schools. Fingers came before forks; and I could tell the hon. Gentleman of certain professions that came before lawyers. But that is no proof of comparative indispensability, or of what limited resources are likely to come—

I am now going to answer other comments made by hon. Members opposite. I apologise if in this part of my speech I seem to be slightly disjointed, but I will come afterwards to a more consecutive part of the argument.

I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not get into the debate. That was not my fault. I waited until the point at which if I had waited another minute I should have been obnoxious to and reproached by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues for trying to avoid the ordeal of speaking. I am genuinely sorry; I do not wish to hurt the hon. Gentleman's feelings.

Now I want to make one or two rather disjointed remarks in the order in which my notes happen to catch my eye. About education always being the first and chief victim when the Tories come in, I say that really will not do. We have yet to see who will be the chief victim. I have no doubt that very soon hon. Gentlemen opposite will be telling some other supporters that they are the chief victims. Education has not really been the first victim. It is perfectly plain that the way in which education is managed, all the indirection between local education authorities, and so on, meant that notice had to be taken particularly early in the case of education.

We were told by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) that the real objection to the circular which is the nominal subject of the debate was the very strong suspicion that it was an alibi, an excuse, to be used later when the Government fulfilled their continual intention of shortening the school life. No man knows what the school life will be, whatever Government are in power, next year or the year after that. We are talking as if the crisis which we heard of recently had now been surmounted. It has not. Neither the financial crisis nor the strategic crisis has been surmounted yet. None of us knows where we shall be in two years' time. I hope and pray that we shall all be very much better off than we are at present.

I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, with no controversial intention at all, to think that it does not help public or private discussion of this subject to impute motives of that kind. I will let them into a secret. My hon. Friends and even my right hon. Friends are not clever enough to do anything so complicated of far-seeing as that.

There was a point about the Coventry population going up, I think from 1,300 to 1,900—

No, from 13,000 to 19,000 in 1956. At the moment the effective grammar school population is under 6,000.

I think that 13,000 to 19,000 is the increase about which he is worried. We all understand the difficulty at this particular time about the secondary school population. My information is that in the 1952–53 programme the amount of money spent in trying to meet that increase will be about £550,000, of which £400,000 will be for secondary education. I do not suggest that will put all Coventry's problems right quickly or even at the end of two years, but I think it is sufficient to indicate that something is being tried.

Similarly, I do not complain of the comparison given by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme about the amount of money to be spent. Staffordshire now finds that it is under the moratorium and under the circular, and I ask the hon. Member to look at the figures and if he has not got them to be kind enough to write to me at the Ministry and I will let him have them. If he will look at the figure of school places, because there the comparison is much less frightening from the point of view of Staffordshire than if we look at the comparison of the pounds being spent, I am told that, as far as secondary school places go, it will be 910 twice—what it was going to be before the moratorium—and so far as the primary schools go, 1,720 instead of 2,320, which was the amount left over from the 1951–52 programme.

I have an awful lot to say. I would give way but I have left it as late as I could and I think it would be better if I were left to go straight ahead with my continuous remarks.

Our belief is that, whatever Government had been in power, the 1952–53 programme would by now have had to be revised. I am sorry to restate obvious truths, but how much school building there can be in a given period must depend on the materials—in our case, steel—and the labour available. The shortage of steel had become a limiting factor before the General Election. The late Government had already decided to introduce the control of steel, and that by itself would have meant that the 1951–52 programmes could not have been started at the due dates. Therefore, the fact that they now have not been so started, and could not be so started, is not to be attributed to this Government.

Then the moratorium on new starts imposed in November was, as my hon. Friend said, not an attempt to stop the amount of building which will be done by the end of the next two years, but an attempt at relieving the immediate overloading without slackening the building projects at the end of two years. Again, on grounds of labour alone—particularly in the Midlands—even if it were not a matter of the shortage of steel, it would be impossible to start in 1952–53 both the residue of the 1951–52 programme and what had been the 1952–53 programme. That is ruled out by the steel situation if steel only were to be considered, and it is also ruled out by building labour distribution if that were the only thing to be considered.

Incidentally, about overcrowding, I have the deepest sympathy with people who regret over-large classes. I should like very much some day to have a complete debate on that subject by itself, because I think that the most important things about it have even yet not been said. But this moratorium on building, or this substitution of the existing programme for the old 1952–53 programme, plus the residue of the 1951–52 programme, will not add to the size of classes. If classes continue big or get bigger, it will be for the shortage of teachers and not for any holding up in building. That is the belief of those whose advice I can take and who are in the best position to know.

I shall not give way again. It may prove to be mistaken, and for all I know, it is mistaken in regard to Cornwall and in regard to the year 1931, for which I am not now answering.

That is the general point from which this thing has to be established. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) spoke clearly and very convincingly about the fact that the principle has been accepted by all Governments. No Government, including the Government which has just been replaced, has ever felt it possible to say that never, never, never must there be economies in education. I make bold to say that if the same men were in office who were in office six months ago, there would now be economies in education.

As to how it would be done, that was the question, and the Government reached a decision. I am not saying it is right; I think it is right, but it is not by any means one of those certain given truths that people are apt to assume. However, I think both parties at least do assume that the most important thing to hang on to is the 10 years' school life. I do not think there is any real burning doubt about that. I am not dead certain that it is always in all circumstances absolutely right. I think that matter is too easily assumed. At any rate, for our purposes tonight, we may say fairly certainly—because there is no one here who wants to assert the odds—that, even if that were to be done, some way would have to be found of economising. I use the word "economising" in its strict sense.

I use the word in its strict sense which I will explain to the hon. Gentleman afterwards if he does not think I am doing it fairly. I have no time now. Nobody has suggested that it was possible to try to make any substantial economies, even by holding down education costs to the point which they had reached, if nothing whatever was to be said or done about building. And that, therefore, was the origin of this circular.

Now, what is the effect of it? The Government decided not to shorten the 10-year school life. It has, therefore, somehow, without doing that, to provide for a 1.7 million increase in the school roll between 1947 and 1957 and, at the same time, to provide for nobody knows how many, but some scores of thousands, presumably, of families who perhaps would have had school places if they had stayed where they were but have had to move because of the blitz or industrial shifts, or what. So that is the size of the problem—1.7 million children plus those additional children who are additional in the places where they now find themselves.

How, in that situation, was it to be done? First of all, it had to be admitted —and hon. Gentlemen opposite talk as though this is now being admitted for the first time, but it has been admitted and asserted in the course of every single year during which their friends were in office; it had to be admitted that no building can be done for improvement purposes but only for providing new accommodation. That had to be admitted, as it has been admitted in every year since 1946 onwards. So that was not any particular Tory wickedness. It also meant that we cannot build new schools on housing estates where, with anything like reasonable transport, old schools can be kept going.

With those oddments we think it is just possible to make these two ends meet; partly with new schools, and even some not so new which may be made to accommodate more children, not by making classes larger, but—we admit with some inconvenience, especially to teachers—by making the number of classes in the school larger.

It would not be really awfully economic even in easier times perhaps to build very rapidly all the places you want for the primary school population now which would become redundant places when those children have gone off to the secon- dary schools. So it is hoped that sometimes an old primary school building can be converted to a secondary school house; that sometimes some primary school accommodation can be converted into an annexe to a secondary school so that the children will be on the roll of the secondary school, managed by the secondary school but geographically in the primary. And, thirdly, that sometimes it may be necessary to defer the transfer of children from a primary school to a secondary school, but with the local authority and the teachers very conscious that they have to do everything possible to see that the child's education becomes for that additional year secondary in effect.

Those are the ways in which we hope that the thing can, in the main, be done. We see that all of them involve some inconvenience. We all see that in times when there were ample teachers, ample building operatives, ample steel, this is not what would be done. It is indeed true that houses come before schools, and it is indeed true that defence must come before welfare—horrible as it is when one is brought up against it. We believe that those things are true, as we do not believe—

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

Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.