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Public Expenditure

Volume 887: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the substantial reduction in expenditure promised in the current expenditure White Paper compared with the 1973 White Paper.

No, Sir. Pages 94–97 of the White Paper "Public Expenditure to 1978–79" provide ample comment on the Government's plans for education expenditure.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree, particularly in the light of research that has appeared in The Times Higher Education Supplement, that of all spending Departments Education is to gain the least from the present Government? Further, does he not agree that there has been a collapse in growth in real terms, as forecast, which is related in no way to the cuts of December 1973 or to the fall in the birth rate but to a change of Government priorities? Does not that show up as a total cover-up the Prime Minister's speech in Newcastle on 21st February? What is the right hon. Gentleman's strategy for distributing the cuts?

The White Paper that we have recently published provides for a growth rate in real terms of about 2¾ per cent. a year over a five-year period. If the hon. Gentleman compares that White Paper with the White Paper issued by the previous Government in 1973, he should bear in mind that on the very day that the December 1973 White Paper appeared the then Chancellor of the Exchequer announced substantial cuts. The result was that that White Paper was strangled at birth. In the sense that our White Paper represents lower figures, this is partly due to those cuts and partly due to a new demographic trend which has become apparent since then.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to disregard the hypoc-p risy that comes from the Opposition? Is he aware that while continually emphasising the need for reduction in public expenditure they continually seek to identify programmes that involve such expenditure for the Government? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that many of his right hon. and hon. Friends are extremely concerned by the implications of the public expenditure programme? Is he aware that it appears as if the Government may be in danger not so much of pigeon-holing but of burying the Russell Report on adult education?

All of us share a common desire to see faster progress towards our education objectives. I repeat that the White Paper we have recently published represents a growth rate in real terms. That is not as fast a rate as any of us would wish, but it is not true to describe it as cutting education expenditure. It is a programme for slow but steady growth.

Speaking as one economic illiterate to another, would I be wrong in assuming that there would be much more cash available for education if less money had been wasted on the municipalising of housing and if there had been a more faithful observance of the social contract?

It is of vital importance that we should have a coherent housing programme as well as a coherent education programme. Therefore, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point. As for adherence to the social contract, I believe strongly in that and in recent days I have made my views on that matter very clear.

Has my right hon. Friend made any calculation of the effect on the social contract of the recently announced 25 per cent. increase in the cost of school meals?

The increase that will take place later in the price of school meals will add a very small part of 1 per cent. to the cost of living. Of course I regret doing that, but in a time of rapid inflation I do not think we can expect the price of school meals or anything else to remain at precisely the same level year after year.