§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
One of the great advantages of the Adjournment debate is that it gives an opportunity to hon. Members to raise matters of the first importance in their constituencies. Tonight I propose to raise the Question of the Llandaff Church in Wales School, which is held in very great affection in the City of Cardiff. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education told me that it was difficult for him to be here and I am very glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour in his place. As a Welshman, he will know how great an affection we have for schools of this sort, and I look for greater encouragement in his reply. The Llandaff Church in Wales School is situated in the very shadow of our cathedral, a cathedral whose 1,500th anniversary we shall celebrate very shortly with pride and with gratitude to God.
I wish to raise the question of the inclusion in the 1962–63 building programme of the Cardiff Education Authority of a new Church in Wales School in Llandaff. Provision for this school to replace the present inadequate century-old building is regarded as urgent and necessary by the Cardiff Education Authority. It therefore included provision for a new school in its building programme submitted to the Minister of Education.
Unhappily, although local people who are well informed about the needs of Cardiff realise that this school is an urgent necessity, the Minister of Education thinks otherwise, and he has treated the Church in Wales School at Llandaff as he has treated the Roman Catholic Secondary Grammar School, St. Illtyd's. After considerable agitation on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), supported by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box) and myself, the Minister has given way on the St. Illtyd's proposal and has agreed to bring it forward. I hope that the Minister will display an 1092 equally forthcoming attitude tonight with regard to the Church in Wales School.
There is a cast iron case, which I now propose to submit. I understand that within the terms of Circular No. 245 the Minister is not prepared to sanction the building of new schools merely to relieve overcrowding, or to replace or improve unsatisfactory premises, or, indeed, merely to provide denominational instruction. But if, even under Circular No. 245, a denominational school is required to meet the needs of a new housing development, or because of an increasing school population, the Minister will agree to a new school being built. This is the major premise on which I shall build my case.
Llandaff, within my constituency, is a growing community. During the past year housing developments have taken place on a considerable scale in Verland's Close, Dean's Close, Western Avenue, Windway Road and Fairwood Road, all within the Llandaff city area, and in the Pentrebane area of that ward the local authority plans to build another 1,000 houses within the next year or two. This will impose an impossible strain upon the school staff and the Church authorities unless a new building is provided. Alternatively, children of parents who believe in the doctrine and teaching of the Church in Wales will not be able to be brought up in the tenets of their own faith in their daily school.
I know the Llandaff Church School very well. I know each member of the staff by name, and I readily pay tribute to the outstanding work they are performing under serious difficulties. No school could wish for a more devoted, hard-working staff than there is in this school, but it is grossly unfair to expect them to work under the present conditions, which I now seek to outline.
During the past three years the school roll has increased by 10 per cent., and during the next two years it is clear that there would be a 30 per cent. increase in the number of children seeking admission to the Church in Wales School at Llandaff if the accommodation were available. For the past eight years standard I—the lowest standard in the junior school—has had to be accommodated in a separate school, with the infants. This is educationally and psychologically bad. A school is an entity, and 1093 the junior classes belong with the senior classes. To separate them is to do harm to the school itself.
There are other impediments. When a medical inspection takes place in this school a major upheaval occurs. Desks have to be pushed around and classes moved, all because sufficient accommodation is not available. I hope that the Minister will tell me that he is prepared to bring forward this school project into the 1962–63 building programme.
The Minister of Education was good enough to send me a confidential report on the school, following the last visit of Her Majesty's Inspectors. I respect the confidence of the Minister and do not propose to quote from the report tonight. I would merely say—and I think I may do so in justice—that the report gave high praise to the quality of the school and to its tone, but it also emphasised difficulties of which the Minister must be aware.
This Victorian building is quite out-moded. Its poky little playground is inadequate and, indeed, dangerous for the ever-growing number of children who have to use it. This is a school without a staff-room. An elementary provision in the interests of the health of the school itself is that the teachers shall be able to withdraw to a common room away from the children. I could continue with other defects, but surely the Minister knows them.
To me it is astonishing that such excellent results are obtained in this school under such conditions. I want the Minister to appreciate that the whole community in Llandaff is very proud of its school and the results, but is supporting the Dean and the governors in the request for this new school, like the other church school which I mentioned, to be brought forward to the 1962–63 programme. In 1956 the Church in Wales accepted controlled status for this school because it found it hard on the people to raise the 50 per cent. of the cost necessary to rebuild a church school. It might as well have kept its aided status. Certainly it has no new church school there. It is almost as though a confidence trick were played in the church authorities. I do not want 1094 to use too strong language, because I am hoping for a favourable reply.
I will hurry, in order to allow time for the hon. Gentleman to reply, but I wish him to know that the Cardiff Education Committee feels so strongly about the urgent need for a new church school in Llandaff that Mr. Robert E. Press-wood, Director of Education, accompanied the Dean, the Very Rev. Eryl S. Thomas, on a deputation to the Welsh Office of the Ministry of Education. Unfortunately, no change was forthcoming. Writing to the Dean, the Director of Education for Cardiff said, among other things, in his letter of 29th September:I share your feeling of disappointment and discouragement that the replacement of the Llandaff City School is not included in the 1962–63 building programme. The school was submitted in the programme, and all the urgent reasons for its inclusion are well known to the Ministry of Education.When I notified the Dean that I proposed to raise this question tonight, he sent me a letter in which he said:The deferring of our new school from year to year has been a constant disappointment to all of us. The staff have to work under very difficult conditions, and it surprises me that they produce such good results. In some cases 80 to 90 children in two separate classes in one large room.May I digress for a moment to say that I have had a taste of that—teaching two classes in one room—and it is torture for the teachers and the children. The letter continues:The amenities are, as you know, quite obsolete, and the playground is inadequate and in some cases, dangerous. Were it not for the fact that we are able to have the use of the Llandaff Institute to help with the infants school, we would be in still more sorry plight, but the institute is really very unsuitable for teaching. The rooms are dark, nothing can be permanently displayed in them; each evening it is used for billiards, table tennis matches and other social activities.I hope that I have established a case for urgency and for the Ministry of Education to reconsider the placing of a new school for the Llandaff Church in Wales School in the 1962–63 building programme. Otherwise, the Ministry will sentence another generation of children to suffer under conditions which ought not to be tolerated in the 1960s, and I look forward to a favourable reply from the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Peter Thomas)
First, I should say that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education is very sorry to be unable to be present tonight. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) was good enough to understand and accept the reason for the absence of my hon. Friend and to tolerate the fact that I have been asked to reply.
I am deeply conscious of the fact that I am not an adequate substitute for my hon. Friend. I hope that such deficiencies, of which I am fully aware, will be compensated for to some extent by the facts, first, that I have a great interest in the subject of education, secondly, I have a great interest in particular in the subject of Welsh education, and thirdly, despite the fact that I come from the north of Wales, I have a deep affection for that part of Wales which the hon. Member and our colleagues who come from Cardiff and district represent so well in this House.
Perhaps it is right that I should declare an interest at the outset of my remarks. Two of my children are at the moment being educated in a Church in Wales primary school. I have no doubt that the accommodation in that school could be greatly improved, but I personally have nothing but the greatest admiration and gratitude for the instruction they receive in the school. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West is a very high up person in the Methodist Church. I believe he is vice-chairman of the Methodist Conference.
§ Mr. P. Thomas
Vice-president of the Methodist Conference. That places him in an extremely high position. I certainly do not think it inappropriate that he should have supported the Church in Wales as he did because I am sure that that great forerunner of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, who throughout his life remained a staunch supporter of the true principles of his mother Church, would have applauded the hon. Member this evening.
As the hon. Member said, Llandaff Church in Wales primary school, in the shadow of the Great Llandaff Cathedral, is a controlled school with about 420 1096 children attending it. They are divided almost equally into the infants and junior departments. It has been a voluntarily controlled school since 1956 under the local education authority, Cardiff City Council, which has to find the money either for altering the existing premises or removing the school to a different site. As the hon. Member said, and as I entirely agree, the accommodation is inadequate and not up to standard.
The hon. Member has received the reports of the inspections which were made, of the infants department in November, 1958, and the junior department in January, 1959. Both those reports leave no doubt on this score. The hon. Member has mentioned where the inadequacies are and I think what he has said is quite right. They are inadequacies of accommodation because the premises, although old, are well maintained both internally and externally. In spite of admittedly inadequate accommodation, especially inadequate in terms of the Standards of School Premises Regulations, what the hon. Member said is quite right. I think it right that I should say also that the headmaster and teaching staff of this school have achieved and are achieving considerable success. I am very happy to add my tribute to the tribute paid to them by the hon. Member.
He will have noticed in the reports he received from my right hon. Friend that Her Majesty's Inspectors were greatly impressed by the educational standard and behaviour of the children of this school and the generally satisfactory progress they are making. I saw those reports and two matters rather interested me. One was that the inspectors were very much impressed by the command the children had of the language and the other was that they thought their musical standard very high. That all goes to show that the native talents of speech and song refuse to be submerged even in difficult conditions.
In this debate we can reach agreement on at any rate one important thing—that the school should be replaced. The point at issue is not whether but when it should be replaced. The national school-building programme to which we are committed is the biggest which the country has ever had, and I have a tremendous admiration for the 1097 way in which my right hon. Friend is tackling this great task, but, as the hon. Member knows, and none better than he, my right hon. Friend is beset by priorities, and by priorities within priorities.
That is where difficulties are met and where disagreements arise. Local education authorities want to make the best possible progress with their school-building programmes. It is of the first importance that they should, and their efforts in this direction are the greatest encouragement to the Government and to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education. Our great hope for maintaining and increasing the general progress in education rests to a great extent on the progress made in building new schools and improving old schools.
Obviously adequate accommodation is vital, and I am glad to say that there is plenty of evidence to show that authorities throughout the country are ready to co-operate to the utmost in carrying through the large and expensive programme which was forecast in the 1958 White Paper.
The hon. Member mentioned the question of priorities, and it would perhaps be useful if I reminded him and the House what we are trying to accomplish in this five-year, £300 million programme and of priority policy in this task. In the White Paper, "Secondary Education For All", of December, 1958, we find laid down that priority must be given to the building of new schools for increases in the school population; and then it mentioned the new secondary schools required to complete the re-organisation of the remaining all-age schools, and the improvement of existing secondary schools in buildings which are out of date or which are overcrowded. A further priority is the provision of adequate facilities for proper secondary education—above all, in scientific and technical subjects. The White Paper recognises that primary schools should be as good as they can be, but that the most urgent task is to provide secondary schools in which a sound secondary education can be offered to all children of secondary age.
For the five-year programme contemplated by the White Paper—that is, 1960–61 to 1964–65—the replacement of 1098 older primary schools cannot be undertaken on other than a limited scale. I mention that, but it is true that despite the priorities and the demands for new and improved secondary accommodation, a start has been made in Wales on the replacement of poor primary school buildings. For example, eight projects of this kind were included in the 1961–62 programme and four in the 1960–61 programme. I should, however, point out that other priority factors than those affecting the Llandaff school were present in those cases—even more serious overcrowding and insanitary conditions—and in all twelve cases the estimated costs were much lower than is the estimated cost of replacing the Llandaff Church-in-Wales School. These twelve cases were to cost a little more than £20,000 in each case, whereas the case which we have discussed tonight would cost about £80,000.
As the hon. Member said, the Cardiff local education authority included the Llandaff project in its suggested programme for 1960–61 and again in 1962–63, but in the latter programme it was the last of the authority's seven proposals. Unfortunately my right hon. Friend could not find a place for the project in either programme because of the higher priority accorded to proposals in the secondary field. Within that field, however, we expect that the building of the new Llandaff Church in Wales Secondary School will begin in 1961–62 and we are then anxious that the proposed secondary school in the Eastern parts of Cardiff should be considered. This latter project will help us to get on with the reorganisation of the remaining Church in Wales primary schools.
I should like to say a few words about what is called the minor works programme. That is for projects estimated to cost not more than £20,000. The Church in Wales authorities, in consultation with the local education authority and the Ministry of Education, have drawn up a tentative five-year programme of improvements designed to bring up to Building Regulations standard five aided primary schools at an estimated cost of £100,000. This work, the first instalment of which has been approved, will be authorised under the provisions of the minor works programme. It is therefore fair to say that the Church in Wales 1099 has secured a reasonable share of the resources which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education has been able to allocate to school building in Cardiff.
At the present time, we cannot say when the replacement of the Llandaff Church in Wales primary school is likely to be possible, but I certainly can assure the hon. Member that my right hon. Friend fully agrees that replacement is needed. It is simply the fact that we cannot do everything at the same time. I am afraid that no addition can be made to the 1962–63 programme, and the presure on the 1964–65 programme is already considerable. But I can certainly say this. As the Church authorities are aware, the Welsh Office of my right hon. Friend's Department is always ready to meet representatives of the Church in Wales to discuss possible ways and means of improving conditions at this school pending such time as it becomes possible to contemplate replacement of the building. In particular, I commend to the hon. Gentleman and to the Church authorities the possibility of making some improvements under the minor works programme.
As I have said, we have agreed that the school should be replaced, but the priorities we have decided upon make it necessary to defer its replacement in favour of the other categories of school building which I have mentioned. This precedence is likely to continue for some time to come, but in the meantime I suggest that the Church authorities explore the whole matter with my right hon. Friend's Department.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Cardiff local authority has had to buy the land all ready for this school? It was obliged to do that or lose the land. It will be paying interest on the capital from this very year. The hon. Gentleman has painted a most disappointing and dejected picture for us. Do I understand that he is telling me that it is likely not to be in the 1964–65 building programme? That is an appalling prospect.
§ Mr. P. Thomas
I was not aware of the matter which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, but I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will pay due regard to what he has said.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
The local authority will be paying interest on a considerable capital sum. The hon. Gentleman now says that money can be spent on minor works, but if that is to be of any use at all it will have to be a fairly substantial amount to improve these shocking conditions. This is a penny wise pound foolish policy. Would it not be better for the Government at least to give us a specific date—the terminus ad quem, or whatever the correct legal language may be—to which the authority can work? We are told that it is doubtful if it will be in the 1964–65 programme. If we cannot do it then, can we not be told definitely that we can do it in the 1965–66 programme? We should then at least have some knowledge of what degree of minor works it would be intelligible to undertake.
§ Mr. P. Thomas
If the Church authorities have discussions with my right hon. Friend's Welsh Office, these are the sort of matters which they will be able to discuss.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Minister of Education if he will receive a deputation from the Church in Wales and myself, because he has given us a very disturbing reply?
§ Mr. P. Thomas
Certainly. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman will approach him in the usual manner, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education will tell him whether he is in a position to receive a deputation.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes to Eleven o'clock