§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Edward Heath.]
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
After such a vital debate as that of East-West trade and China, this may seem a trifling matter to raise. I merely want to draw the attention of the House and the Minister to a purely local problem, but it is fitting that this House should be used sometimes in that way.
I have in my constituency the problem of a lack of school buildings and about two weeks ago I asked questions about the position. I was told by the Minister on 2nd April that two new schools had been built in Newcastle-under-Lyme, a primary school and, apparently, a secondary school, but that none had been built in Leek, Cheadle and Biddulph, although one has been completed in Biddulph since 1939 and one in Leek.
The schools that were completed in Biddulph and Leek were actually needed before 1938, and consequently they only took in the school population of that time. From a further question, I discovered that the school population has grown in the three towns in question from 7,650 pupils before the war, to 9,160 in January, 1953. The Minister said that 1,000 new places had been provided and that 300 additional places were now in the course of provision, but that leaves over 500 places in those three towns in the Leek Division without suitable school building accommodation.
Certain very important local problems and national problems arise out of this. North Staffordshire is a growing coalfield and the National Coal Board are bringing houses into the area, into the city of Stoke-on-Trent, which is adjacent to my division, into Newcastle-under-Lyme, which is contiguous, and into my own division. The first question I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to answer is whether there is a definite liaison, understanding and discussion between the Coal Board and the Minister of Education, when there is the intention of building in 2106 the towns and villages on the borders of the coalfields of Britain, about the possibility of the future school population.
In Biddulph itself we have a problem of a boys' secondary school. They are running all round the town and even to the moorland above looking for rooms to house the school children. Some of this territory is bleak moorland in wintertime, and some of the buildings they are using are old chapels, old church rooms, and old Wesleyan schools which are either inadequate, or break up the spirit of the school. It is very difficult for headmasters and headmistresses to build up a sense of esprit de corps if the classrooms are scattered all round the district. At the moment, in the town of Biddulph three schools are sharing their classrooms and gymnasium, and trying to solve the problem of an overburdened school population. Then we have, in addition to this, the new miners' houses coming into the district. I desire the Minister completely to forget Newcastle-under-Lyme when he talks about the new schools, because the schools there do not help to solve the problem of Biddulph, Leek or Cheadle.
I beg of the Minister to look into the problem of the provision of school accommodation in the village of Weston Coyney on the borders of Cheadle. At the present moment the National Coal Board are building 400 houses. The rural district council are themselves building 200 houses, and 138 of these 200 houses have already been let, so that there will probably be an influx of 480 children to the primary school and there may be 200 more to the secondary school from Weston Coyney in the near future.
Three miles away is the old village school of Caverswall, which is now a county primary school. It is the nearest school to Weston Coyney and is completely inadequate for the modern population which has grown up in that village. It is due to the need of the rural district of Cheadle to find land on which to build their houses and the fact that the coalfield in North Staffordshire is growing.
I understand that there has been approval of the building programme for 1953–54 by the Minister of Education. That approval was given before the proposals of the National Coal Board 2107 became known. I also understand—and the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that the Ministry of Education are fully aware of the exceptional nature of this problem in these two villages. If I were to talk around that point I would be befogging the issue, and I could not put it any further if I spoke for hours on the subject instead of being brief.
I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to give me some assurance that this part of my constituency is getting top level attention from the Ministry of Education, and that the Ministry are taking every step possible to help a very harassed director of education in North Staffordshire, who has been concerned with this problem for some time.
If the Parliamentary Secretary speaks of finance, I hope that he will refer to the answer given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House on 2nd April last. He told the House that in the year 1873–74, 3 per cent. of the Government's total expenditure was spent on education. In 1913–14, 9.7 per cent. of the Government's expenditure was on education, but in the year 1953–54, it has dropped to 6.4 per cent. That is a retrograde step.
I do not want the Parliamentary Secretary's answer to be based on financial stringency. I believe that if we fail now to give children milk—and I am speaking metaphorically—it cannot be made up to them by stuffing them with cream 10 years hence. It is essential that we get an education system in Britain that will give the British people that commonsense for which they have been noted for centuries. It would be penny wise and pound foolish for any Government, whatever their political complexion may be. to neglect primary education, which, after all, is the basis of the pyramid of Britain's greatness.
§ 11.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I rise for two minutes to support my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies). In some answers to questions put by my hon. Friend, I noticed that the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the position in Newcastle-under-Lyme, which I represent. I want to tell the House that the schools at present under construction in my constituency will not help my hon. Friend's constituency. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, 2108 we are in a position of being behind in our provision of school accommodation, and we are appalled at the prospect that no provision has been made or approved by the Minister for the new schools to be started in Newcastle-under-Lyme itself in the coming year.
Our case in North Staffordshire is based on three points. In the first place, we have always been behind in the provision of school accommodation, and we are still behind. Secondly, we have been badly affected, particularly in primary education, by the cut made last year. The original 1951–53 allocation was the provision of 3,840 primary places, but this figure was cut to 2,760; that is, more than a thousand primary places taken from the 1951–53 Staffordshire school building programme. Now we have the situation where we have agreed to the extension of the North Staffordshire coalfield and the influx of more than 3,000 miners and their families for work in the district.
In view of these facts, will not the Parliamentary Secretary reconsider the projected programme of school building in North Staffordshire again for next year and say he is prepared to add these projects required, at any rate to accommodate the children of the miners coming into North Staffordshire?
§ 11.44 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn)
I should like first to refer to one or two general points and then go through the remarks of the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) and deal with the details which have been mentioned tonight. It is difficult, even when hon. Members have been so kind in giving notice as was the hon. Gentleman, and when one's case is put in such moderate language as he has used, to deal with specific cases and to give exact figures in relation to them. However. I do beg the hon. Gentleman who opened this debate to believe that I do not consider this to be a trifling matter; nor should I if it were a purely local problem. With all respect to his language, however, I do not think it can be regarded as a purely local problem, in the sense that one can afford to neglect other local problems of a different kind, but affecting this one.
2109 From my own constituency circumstances I have some reason for appreciating the point he made about the movement of a considerable proportion of miners. He asked whether there is a definite liaison between the Coal Industry Housing Association—I will call it the Association for the rest of my remarks— and the Ministry, and the local education authorities: I can tell him that there is liaison of a sort which I would say is definite; and which, I hope, is effective. It is something too, which we have tried to keep an eye upon, and we will, without criticising what any of these three parties have already done, always try to see that they are conscious of the necessity for giving information to each other.
I can sympathise with the gentleman referred to as the much harassed director of education, and while I cannot tonight spend much time on the point, I do beg the hon. Member to believe me when I say that this is not a financial question. If it were, I do not think that I could accept some of his assumptions: the assumption about percentages is not a sound argument, and in following it one would clearly get into logical difficulties. But it is not a financial problem; it is a question of the actual amount of resources in labour and materials which we find it possible to allot to education and which those responsible for education find it possible to allot to a particular county. It is a matter of actual men, and actual goods, and I hope the hon. Member will believe that to be true, as I am sure it is.
I will leave out the remarks which I would have made about the general situation, and come to the particular problem of North Staffordshire. The houses erected by the Association are over and above the normal allocation to the local housing authority. Secondly, they are generally built quickly, for various reasons into which we need not go now, taking not more than eight or nine months. The programme is large and is carried out speedily.
However close my right hon. Friend may keep the liaison between the parties concerned, the probable dates of completion can hardly ever, if ever, be known in time for schools to be completed by the same date. Schools take a good deal longer to build—three or four times as long to build as these nine-month houses 2110 —and it is not possible for the local education authority to get the sites and complete the plans for schools until it is sure the Association is going to build x houses in a particular spot. Even then it is not easy for the L.E.A. to know how many children x houses may mean. We can get a kind of rule of thumb in the normal business of decanting people out of London into an L.C.C. estate, but it is a different matter when we are not sure how many are going to be new families from outside and how many are going to move inside the authority's own borders.
Next, almost invariably—and the hon. Member will forgive me if he can correct me from his local knowledge—the Association's estates are built, as it were, in the jungle, a long way from very large villages. If there is an existing school handy, it is apt to be a small village school and nothing more.
Those are the reasons for the difficulty which we must all face; hon. Members opposite will have the candour to say that all these reasons would exist whoever was in charge. If my right hon. Friend places an additional school on a building programme, that in itself does not provide the necessary places at the most desirable time, not even when the local education authority has been able to be advanced in its plan so that building can be begun at once.
If I may read one sentence which I have written out, my right hon. Friend is fully conscious that exceptional factors in increasing the need for school places must receive exceptional consideration. She will try to see that any building project so exceptionally justified is not delayed by a failure to place it on a building programme.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I should not have taken the trouble to raise this issue again if it were not exceptional.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am sure we are in agreement here. I am saying what can be done in exceptional cases—these are exceptional cases—and that my right hon. Friend will see that in a case exceptionally justified, a building project is not delayed by failure—I do not use the word failure in any way to criticise the L.E.A.—to place it upon a building programme, provided that the L.E.A. can demonstrate 2111 that now putting it exceptionally on the programme, putting it on the programme after the bus has left the queue, will be a reality. Obviously it is no use our merely lengthening the paper programme. I am sure hon. Members would not wish us to do that.
May I turn to Weston Coyney. It is an example of what I have indicated. Without disrespect to that undoubtedly agreeable and salubrious spot, I am informed it is barely a hamlet, a small collection of houses, near a crossroads. The neighbouring collieries are among those selected to receive miners. The Association is putting up some 400 houses, the rural district council some 200 houses, and there will probably be more building by private enterprise.
At this stage it is very difficult to estimate the number of school places, but I think the hon. Gentleman referred to some 480 more primary school places and 320 more secondary school places, and I am prepared to accept that estimate as being as good as can be made. The primary school children at present go to Cavers-wall School or schools in Stoke-on-Trent. Everybody is already overcrowded. Stoke-on-Trent L.E.A. have told Staffordshire that they will in future be unable to accept children from Weston Coyney because they have serious difficulties of their own. Senior children go to a secondary school at Cellarhead, where there is some room to spare.
With regard to school building proposals for Weston Coyney, there is no doubt that a new primary school would be the right thing and that one must be built. My right hon. Friend agrees that exceptional treatment is merited, and the only question is when it can be begun. The L.E.A. had not been informed by the Association—I do not say that either of them are to blame—about the new housing estate when the 1953–54 building programme was drawn up. This, however, is the time of year when the new programme is being drawn up, and it happens by pure coincidence that the gentleman in the Ministry who is concerned particularly with Staffordshire was, quite independently of the hon. Gentleman's question, visiting down there recently, and he will be visiting again quite soon.
2112 Accordingly, the school not having yet been added to the programme, the L.E.A. have not yet done anything about acquiring a site or drawing up plans. Not only is the director harassed but, what necessarily follows, the architectural department is overburdened, so one cannot expect all that to be done in 48 hours. We have quite recently asked to be informed at once of the date by which they think they could make a start and if, in reply, they indicate a date which is considerably before 1st April, 1954, my right hon. Friend is prepared to add the school to the current building programme, although it is coming in late.
If the school cannot be begun much before 1st April, 1954, there is no point in doing that, but it would certainly be placed on the 1954–55 programme. As the new houses are likely to be completed by April, 1954, it is evident that there must be, in any case, an interval of some months at the very best, and it may be 12 months, or rather more, before the school is ready. That is plainly so: unless we get an Aladdin's lamp nobody can help that. The L.E.A. are therefore still under the compulsion of finding temporary accommodation and at present they are scratching round as best they can to find places either in existing schools or in buildings which can for a short period be extemporised for school purposes.
With regard to secondary school proposals, the secondary school at Cellarhead has room enough to deal with the influx of miners' children for the time being. At present it provides for what is rather horribly called two streams, and the Authority have now suggested, as part of their proposals for 1954–55, that it should be enlarged to take at least five streams. My right hon. Friend will be considering this proposal, along with the others which have been put to her, before the thing becomes an official programme. The need for senior places is not so immediate and pressing as for junior places, but she will not allow those needs to be overlooked.
In Biddulph the Association has begun an estate of 350 houses, and has applied for permission to erect another 150. The local authority is erecting 200 houses, and has another 160 to build. That is a total of 860, which is a quite considerable community. Again, there will be 2113 more building by private enterprise. The local education authority estimates that some of the houses will be housing people from within its own bailiwick, and reckons that there will be about 350 additional children of primary school age and perhaps 150 senior children. What is there to deal with this problem? There is Knypersley Primary School; there is a new secondary school for girls; there are also, legally speaking, three other schools—because, legally and administratively, they are three separate schools, although they are in fact in a continuous building—for infants, juniors and senior boys.
I agree with the hon. Member for Leek who, I am sure, most faithfully represents his constituents in this matter, that the most satisfactory long-term solution of the problem is to erect a new boys' secondary school. This would allow the 2114 seven teaching spaces now occupied by the boys to be used by children of primary school age. The local education authority has pressed for the inclusion of this project in their 1954–55 building programme. The programme has not yet been settled and, although the case for building a secondary school is a strong one, I cannot say at this stage that my right hon. Friend will be able to include it in the 1954–55 programme. It would not be right for me at this stage to announce what the answer will be; I do not think the local education authority would like me to do that.
§ The Question having been proposed after 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 Three Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.