§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
I welcome this opportunity of raising the subject of the school-building minor works programme. Compared with other fields of public investment, these minor works do not account for such a vast sum of money, but their importance to local education authorities is out of all proportion to their financial value. Thus, the fact that the total amount allocated to them in 1965–66 is less than that spent in 1964–65 will have a correspondingly highly detrimental effect on the plans and hopes of those responsible for educational building.
First, I want to make the strongest protest at the manner in which the announcement with regard to the 1965–66 minor works school building programme was made. This public relations-conscious Government attempted to give the impression that an actual cut in the amount allocated to minor works was, in fact, an increase. They tried to conceal their attack on the school improvements by such phrases as "certain administrative changes". This deceitful presentation has already provoked the justifiable protests of local government and teaching organisations throughout the country.
Week after week there are fresh examples of broken election pledges. The broken pledge with regard to this sphere is a particularly regrettable one as it will have an extremely detrimental effect upon the environments in which our children are taught.
Many a parent will recall the television broadcast of the First Secretary a few weeks before the last election, in which he said:Our children are entitled to a full education in good schools. As a nation we can't afford to deny them this right.But what of Labour's election manifesto? It contained such phrases aswe face critical and neglected needs such as the provision of new hospitals and schoolsandin education we are faced today with far too many scandalously outdated school buildings.1669 No wonder that with such a manifesto and such pronouncements by Labour Party leaders, parents throughout the country surmised that Labour intended to increase school building. Indeed, no education authority would have been surprised if its programme had been impressively enlarged.
But, instead, what has happened? The only announcement made so far by the Government about school building has been the announcement that the minor and mini-minor building programmes must be amalgamated, this resulting in a corresponding loss of freedom of manœuvre for local education authorities; and contained in the announcement was the sad news of an enforced and sharp cut in the total allocation. This is a grave disappointment. Its effect will be serious, not only in the rural areas but in the numerous towns that contain Victorian primary and secondary schools. Once again, the words, as opposed to action, of Labour spokesmen and Labour pamphlets have become apparent to a population already beginning to suffer the inadequacies of a Labour Government.
During the 13 years 1951–64 remarkable progress in school building was made. More than 6,700 new schools and 3½ million new school places were provided. In spite of a rise in the school population of 1½ million during those years, nearly half our children are in classrooms built since the war. But this is not all. As the Department of Education and Science's Report, "Education in 1964", discloses, the advances made in the later years of the Conservative administration were even greater than those made earlier.
During the year 1964, 598 new primary and secondary schools were occupied, providing more than 278,000 school places. In addition, 626 schools were in course of construction, and, on top of this again, a three-year programme, 1965–68, had been announced, totalling £200 million in all, including starts on 787 projects in the first year. This was the legacy of the Conservative Government as reported in the Ministry bulletin published in March this year. Naturally, a very high proportion of these projects were built under the major school programmes, but it is noteworthy, too, that the total value of all educational build- 1670 ings—schools, universities, C.A.T.s. and others—doubled in less than 10 years.
But, in spite of this progress, very large problems still remain. Some of these were listed in the school building survey of 1962. We heard a great deal about this document during the General Election, but it took Labour five months to publish, and then, when it was published, the Department's Report on Education No. 18, January 1965, entitled "School Building", commented:Many of the defects identified in the survey will by now have been remedied.Could this sentence provide the reason why the Government thought it unnecessary to increase, unnecessary even to maintain, but necessary only to cut and amalgamate the minor and mini-minor programmes?
What I think the school building survey has served to do is to throw light, once again, on the very considerable problems and improvement still with us. In addition, with the constantly growing school population there is a never-ceasing demand for extra school places—basic needs for children who otherwise would have no school to attend.
With the minor works programme, it is possible to undertake work within both these categories. A small village school can be built for as little as £14,000 or £15,000. Basic needs can be supplied by the use of temporary hutted classrooms. A staffroom, electricity supply, small kitchens or main water supply can all be provided.
The trouble in the past was that by the time the more expensive projects within the overall limit had been budgeted for, there was very little money remaining for the smaller ones. No wonder the announcement in October, 1961, that in future local education authorities were to he given discretion on projects costing less than £2,000, was greeted with relief and acclaim by all those who for so long had been trying to extract a quart from a pint pot!
It was welcomed as a great step forward. It reduced overall administrative control and, therefore, the total of work at the Ministry. It recognised the responsible approach and efforts of the authorities, and it acted as an encouragement to those of them which were enterprising. The introduction of the mini-minor 1671 scheme was an enlightened move by the then Conservative Minister of Education, then Sir David Eccles. But now a Labour Government have seen fit to abolish this local authority discretion and revert to former practice.
I believe that the reason why is contained in one sentence of an article written by the Minister of State for Education on 18th February in a Labour pamphlet called "This Week". He wrote:It was distorting the distribution of capital spending between different areas—the more enterprising authorities were taking so much of the allocation this way that far too little was left for other areas with equally urgent needs.Once again, this is the old cry of equality—legislate against the enterprising on the assumption that this will assist the slothful; level down, never level up. It is against the political prejudices of Socialism and so, once again, we see Socialism first and modernisation a poor second.
Of course, we have been given other reasons. The amount of work carried out under mini-minor programmes has grown impressively, from £1.4 million in the first six months after the announcement in 1961 to an estimated £7 million in 1964–65. This is a fine record and a feather in the cap of local authorities who have made such good use of this opportunity offered to them.
But the Minister of State has dismissed their initiative by saying—and again I quote from the publication "This Week":This was simply a case of slipshod control by the late Government and would have had to have been put right in the coming year either in the way we have done it or by making a much more realistic assessment of the amount that authorities would spend on mini-minors.A Conservative Government would not have done as Labour has done.
Last summer, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) announced, not a limitation on minis, but rather an extension. As from 1st April, 1965, the limit of cost of these projects was to be increased to £2,500. Furthermore, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) 1672 has given an undertaking that the next Conservative Government will restore the rights previously held by local authorities with regard to this type of school building.
It cannot be argued that minis place a strain on building resources, for the improvement of existing schools by means of mini works clearly does not affect in any way whatever the promotion of major building projects. It simply does not concern the larger building contractors. It involves the jobbing builder, the local plumber and the local carpenter. These men do not undertake the building of schools, but can replace the dry earth closet, or provide the hot water system.
By now the Minister must be aware of the national protest which his new regulation has generated, for he has been subjected to a steady stream of deputations from urban and rural areas, from Labour and Conservative-controlled councils, all violently against this totally unjustified, reactionary decision. But, above all, I believe that it matters because of the fact that this country is beset by the perennial problem of the shortage of teachers. It is essential that every aid is provided so that the teachers available can make the best use of their skills in an environment conducive to the children receiving the greatest possible benefit.
Minor and mini-minor works can do a great deal to improve the environment, and they have done so. Particularly is this true in the rural areas, where often four or five separate improvements at four or five separate schools can all be carried out at a total cost of less than £2,000. But proportionately the effect of these very small improvements on village schools is far in excess of their monetary value. I trust that the Minister will not attempt to argue that these projects are still possible within the minor works allocation. How can they be when the allocations are so small?
During 1964–65, a total of almost £22 million was spent nationally on the minor and mini-minor programmes together. Having regard to increases in building costs, as well as a progressive rate of increase of mini-minor expenditure, it has been estimated that this year 1673 expenditure would have been about £23½ million. The Government have allowed £21 million. Thus those small improvements so advantageous and so helpful must be cut from authorities programmes as a result of Labour meanness.
In my own County of Wiltshire, in 1964–65, the total amount spent on the combined programmes was £250,000. For the coming year, the county council budget provision was £325,000, a reasonable increase. But the total amount allocated by the Labour Government is £210,000, £115,000 less than the budgeted figure and £40,000 less than the previous year. This is in a county where numerous schools are in need of urgent improvements. I have checked on the position in other counties and other education authorities and found that many are as badly if not more affected than the County of Wiltshire.
Many of my constituents have reminded me of the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government, then Labour's spokesman on education, when, in a party political television broadcast on 5th October last, he referred to the fact that the Conservative Government had not allowed every pound requested by local authorities for school building programmes. He said:I call that rationing, even if another name is used today.After six months of a Labour Government, we are not just being rationed, but we are having our rations substantially reduced. On the one hand, Government action has resulted in a sharp rise in building costs; it has raised the Bank Rate to 7 per cent.; it has increased the National Insurance contribution; it has increased the petrol tax and increased company taxation. On the other hand, the Government have drastically reduced the amount to be spent on building improvement.
If this is Labour planning, it is planning against the interests of our children. I implore the Government to reconsider this whole question and, instead of reducing the amount to be spent on school improvements, to decide to increase substantially this sphere of expenditure, for this is an investment vital to the future of the nation.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) has shown very conclusively how the minor works programme for school building for this year has been literally murdered. He mentioned the intention to raise the mini-minor works level from £2,000 to £2,500 if there had been a Tory Government. Instead, it has been abolished. The effects have been disastrous. My hon. Friend said that the result would be a reduction for the coming year compared with last year. There has been a reduction this year compared with the year before from £21 million to £21.1 million. One might say that that is only a reduction of £100,000. But, in fact, the position is much worse.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science gave me the figures on 18th March in reply to a Question. Leaving out the voluntary schools, teacher training and the special services, local education authorities' expenditure for the year before last, last year and the current year are £18.24 million, £18.61 million and £17.15 million respectively—a severe reduction of £l½ million compared with last year and a £1 million reduction compared with the year before.
My hon. Friend mentioned the deputations. I was particularly unlucky because I took part in a deputation to the Minister of State in December before this cut was announced. We then pleaded with the Minister for a very substantial increase in our minor works programme. He agreed—or I certainly understood him to agree—that it was very necessary that Hertfordshire should have an increase. Instead, we have suffered a reduction. Compared with Hertfordshire, Wiltshire is rolling in riches. We have had a cut of more than 30 per cent. I tabled a Question to the Minister asking what other counties had had a cut of as much as 30 per cent. He could not tell me, so the position must be pretty desperate. Hertfordshire is not alone in this.
Our minor works programme has been cut from £560,000 last year to £380,000 this year. We were confidently expecting and planned for a substantial increase over the figure of £560,000 for last year. Instead, in February, Hertfordshire learned that it was to take a 30 per cent. 1675 Cut. All sorts of projects must be cancelled at the last minute. Some of these mini-minor works are very important. For example, at the Tring primary school over 200 children are taking meals from a kitchen equipped for 100 children. The proposal was to provide a servery to help with the problem. This would have come under the mini-minor works scheme. Under the Minister's programme, it will not be possible to do anything this year and probably for years ahead. However, I am glad to say that Hertfordshire, with its usual skill as a really progressive authority, got the contract signed before 31st March and it will come into last year's Budget. Happily, this problem has been solved. But there are other schools which are facing a very serious situation.
It is most regrettable that the Minister has not even "come clean" and admitted that he is making a cut. This is a very severe cut. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes has raised this matter so that we might have the opportunity of discussing it.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)
I should like briefly to support what my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) and Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) have said. The mini-minor programmes are an outstanding example of a little money making all the difference. New classrooms, lavatory facilities, new kitchens and things of this kind can make an immense contribution to an old crowded school which cannot come within the major building programme perhaps for some years. This cut is a great blow to modest but essential improvements and to the freedom and initiative of local education authorities.
This is Maundy Thursday, and I should be charitable. I can quite see that the Government might perhaps have had to say that, in view of the substantial increase in the mini-minor works programme during the last few years, they had this year to moderate the increase in the programme. But to impose a cut of over £2 million is extremely harsh and it is playing havoc with the programmes which local education authorities have already worked out.
My hon. Friends have referred to the effect of the cut on their counties. I can 1676 assure the House that the effect on Somerset is equally severe. We have been allocated less than half the amount that we wanted. Programmes have had to be scrapped and worked out again. Expectations for improvements have been widely disappointed. The allocation for this year is only £180,000, less than half the amount which the Somerset education authority was planning to spend. This compares with £350,000 and £264,000 spent in the previous two years. This allocation is no more than the allocation of five years ago. It means that a smaller programme will have to be undertaken than five years ago because of the rise in building costs.
This is immensely serious to Somerset for two very good reasons. First, the school population is growing at a much faster rate than the national average, owing partly to people moving in from other parts of the country and partly to natural increase. The birth rate in Somerset for the last two years has exceeded the peak of 1947. The second reason why this is immensely serious is that the school building survey showed that the South-West as a region has more children in old schools than any other region. The figure is 57 per cent.
I therefore strongly urge the Minister to think again and to thump the table at the Treasury a little harder. He should at least maintain this year the level of last year's expenditure on minor and mini-minor works.
§ 12.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)
This has, unfortunately, to be a brief debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison), with his concern for education, his knowledge and his past experience as a county chairman of an education committee, has put the facts before the House in an admirable speech. Let us have it clear right from the start that there has been a cut. I hope that the Minister of State will not today seek to conceal this. As a number of my hon. Friends have said, the earlier attempt to pretend otherwise was rather discreditable, and I hope that it will not be repeated.
Sir William Alexander, writing in "Education" in February, said as follows:Most unfortunately, they"—1677 The Government—seem to be concerned to misrepresent the facts and to suggest that they are not cutting but actually increasing the allocation for minor works. Let it therefore be stated bluntly that less money will be spent on minor works in 1965–66 than in 1964–65 by reason of Her Majesty's Government's decision.That, I hope, is accepted.
The Leader of the House said at one point that the allocation was being increased and we had the rather servile little Motion signed by Labour back benchers also seeking to conceal the cut and to whitewash Government action. Incidentally, it is rather remarkable that not one Labour back bencher is present for this debate today.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. R. E. Prentice)
The hon. Member and his hon. Friends keep using the word "allocation" and discussing whether there is a cut or an increase. Would he agree that the allocation for the 1964–65 year was £18 million, that the allocation for the next year is £21 million, and that this is an increased allocation of £3 million?
§ Mr. Chataway
I shall come presently to the point that troubles the hon. Gentleman. The fact is—and he will not deny this—that estimated expenditure on minor works for 1964–65 is £21.85 million. The hon. Gentleman must not shake his head, because that was an Answer given to me by him and his Department. That is estimated expenditure for 1964–65. Estimated expenditure for 1965–66 is £21 million. On the lowest estimate, therefore, the amount by which the minor works have been cut is £850.000.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government's decision caused real distress in the education world. It will mean particularly the withdrawal of freedom to local education authorities to spend on mini-minor works. It will mean that modernisation of many of the worst and oldest schools will be stopped. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes gave the figures for his own county. Others of my hon. Friends have given figures for Hertfordshire and for Somerset. There are many others which I could give. I have a letter from Kent giving a most distressing picture of what the cut is likely to mean in that county. In the few minutes that remain to me, however, 1678 I do not want to repeat figures which will be known to the Minister of State.
I want the hon. Gentleman to understand the depth of feeling which exists about this matter. Hon. Members opposite would understand it better if they were to look back over the yawning chasm that now divides present Government education policy from Labour Party pre-election promises. They must understand that it does not relate only to school building. University students are rightly disgruntled at the way their reminders of Labour's pre-election promises to abolish the means test on grants are brushed aside.
We on this side always said before the election, and we still say, that the means test should not be abolished in the years immediately ahead, but many students thought that Labour speakers meant what they said. So did hundreds of people in the adult education world. For all the massive promises of the present Minister of Housing and Local Government, the Minister of Land and Natural Resources and the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, the grant is smaller this year than the average annual grant over the last ten years. It is no wonder, therefore, that the National Institute for Adult Education and others are somewhat disillusioned.
Last May, the present Minister of Housing and Local Government held a Press conference to announce official Labour policy on teacher-training. He said that on this issue the Labour Party found itself divided from the Robbins Committee and thatWe propose to bring forward to the years 1965–1970 the increase in training which the Government has postponed until 1969–74.It is important to remember that that was a Press conference announcing a formal statement of Labour Party policy after a high-powered study group had looked at the problems of teacher-training. It was a solemn declaration of party policy.
In office, the Government have done nothing of the kind. Instead, they have rather quickly produced a target for 1973–74 in advance of the recommendations of the Advisory Council and they have picked about the lowest figure they could for 1973. We will not say whether 1679 it is right or wrong until we see the Report of the Advisory Council. All that can be said is that it bears no relation to the statement of party policy given last May.
Again, there was hardly an election speech by Labour candidates, from the Prime Minister downwards, which did not promise vastly increased pay to teachers. Now, negotiations have broken down on an offer of £43 million, which, in real terms, is just slightly less than the Eccles 1961 award of £42 million, about which the party opposite made impassioned speeches for the following four years. It is somewhat ironic that the figures should be almost identical. The present Government may well be thankful that they now have a sensible arbitration machinery, thanks to the action of their Conservative predecessors. I for one hope that that arbitration machinery will produce a settlement that will be satisfactory to both sides.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) said, it is Maundy Thursday, and I, too, feel the need to be charitable. I am bound to say in fairness to education Ministers that this startling contrast between present performance and pre-election promise is not confined to their Department. There probably never has been a Government in this country which bought a small majority with such a reckless spate of promises. In no field, however, were the promises more prolific than in relation to school building. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes has given examples.
I hope that when he defends himself today, the Minister of State will not defend the cut in minor works by boasting that he has not also cut the Conservative major building programme. That has been the line taken in one or two speeches made by the hon. Gentleman and by the Secretary of State. To hear them, one would sometimes think that they had fought the election on the Conservative education plans. One would think that they had gone to the electorate, pointed to the £300 million school-building programme that had been successfully carried through during the last Parliament and argued that the further increase to £80 million annual programmes from 1965 was a reasonable 1680 advance. Of course, hon. Members opposite did absolutely nothing of the kind.
I will give just one example. At Question Time on 7th May last year, I suggested that the Labour Party were not committed to higher building programmes than the then Government for 1965–68. The present Minister of Land and Natural Resources, who was then the official spokesman on education for the party opposite, jumped to the Dispatch Box to say:The Parliamentary Secretary"—that was myself—should know that he is quite wrong. We have discussed the school building programme in previous debates and made quite clear that we regard the present Government programme as wholly unsatisfactory and inadequate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1964; Vol. 694. c. 1442.]That was a reference to the present 1965–68 building programmes.
It is against this background of what one must call really wholesale vote purchase that we discuss the minor works cut today. There are three excuses that the Minister of State has given in the past that I hope we shall not hear again. The first is the threadbare balance of payments argument. The decision to slow down school improvements has nothing to do with the Government's organised financial panic of last autumn or with the run on the £ that was then precipitated. Mini-minor works really are not paid for in American dollars or German marks. The Minister of State will know this.
I hope, in this connection, that the hon. Gentleman will not suggest that in 1961–62 there was a general cut-back on education because of an economic crisis. This is a suggestion which one sees made. I notice, incidentally, that it is made by one of Labour's supporters who writes the Peter Quince column in this week's "Teacher". It is worth recalling that education expenditure at the time of the economic crisis 1961–62 went up in a year from £943 million to £1,084 million. an increase of nearly 15 per cent., because this is a general line of argument that is too often wildly advanced from the benches opposite.
Secondly, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not try to justify this action on the ground that local education authorities have been tackling their mini-minor 1681 works programmes with growing efficiency and eagerness. Of course expenditure on mini-minor works has been rising. Of course, they spent more in the past year than was expected. If we give freedom to local education authorities to get on with jobs costing less than £2,000, we have to recognise that any estimate that we make of their expenditure is bound to be a guess.
I think that it might have been reasonable, in the face of this growing expenditure, not to increase the sum allocated to minor works costing between £2,000 and £20,000; but to withdraw the freedom to carry through the smallest jobs is a very serious blow to the schools, and, as my hon. Friends have said, will be a particularly serious blow to the older primary schools, many of which face no prospect of complete rebuilding for many years to come.
Thirdly, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not reproduce the rather bogus egalitarian argument to which my hon. Friend referred. It is just not true that the more enterprising authorities who do a lot of small jobs of this kind thereby necessarily reduce the resources available to other authorities. The small local firm which does this sort of job simply is not large or mobile enough to do the same work in another authority's area. It is sheer nonsense to argue that the freedom to do mini-minor works distorts the distribution of capital spending.
Rather than repeat any of those excuses, I hope that the Minister of State will address himself to the problem that is left. Having sold the pass on mini-minor works, the Government cannot, I appreciate, for this year, introduce mini-minor works freedom for jobs under £2,000. What I want to urge is that freedom be given below some figure, say £1,000. There are, I think, the strongest administrative arguments for this, quite apart from the fact that without some such dispensation there to be, as chief education officers have stressed, a halt to many school improvements, and enormous frustration. At present, anything that is in the nature of improvement is capital expenditure. That means that the smallest improvement has to go through the elaborate procedure of getting into a mini-works programme. If there is to be a new 1682 washbasin where there has not been one before, it has to get into the mini-works programme. If there is to be a new lavatory fitting where there was not one before, it has to get into the mini-works programme. The installation of the most modest little hot water system has to get into the mini-works programme.
Those jobs make no calls on the building industry. They are carried out by the sort of firms which do the decorating, maintenance and repairs for which authorities still have freedom, because they are not capital expenditure. To quote Sir William Alexander again, he says that a job of this kinddoes not involve the architect's department; it does not involve the kind of contractors who are concerned with major projects. It involves the local plumber and local joiner, who do not undertake building schools, but who can replace dry closets.This is an important consideration, and I urge the Minister of State to think very carefully about it and to set a limit—I have suggested one as low as £1,000—below which local education authorities should have freedom of action. If the limit were as low as £1,000, it should not he necessary even to estimate the expenditure and to calculate it in distributing the total minor works figure.
We have wanted today to register some of the deep disappointment that there has been over the Government's action with regard to minor works. This will, I think, have been an extremely valuable debate if the Minister of State agrees to the modest proposals which I have put to him. This is, I suggest, an opportunity to relieve some of the frustrations which have been caused by the Government's decision in February both to cut the total minor works allocation, and to reduce the freedom for local authorities to spend under £2,000. Some action is needed, and the proposals which I have put to the hon. Gentleman would, I believe, be of real value to local education authorities in the short term.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. R. E. Prentice)
At the end of his remarks the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) said that this would be a 1683 valuable debate if I dealt with certain matters in my speech. I do not think that he intended to imply that it had not been a valuable debate so far, but, in fact, it has not. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have raised a serious matter, but they have not tackled it seriously. What they have been attempting to do is to take up this new pose, which they have been trying so desperately to take up during the last week of a new militant Opposition, and they are scraping the barrel for any issues which they think will help them to attain that end.
The problem of minor works is of real importance, but, because of the way in which it has been presented to the House this morning the issue has been distorted beyond all recognition. It is nauseating—and I think that people outside the House who care about education will take the same view—that these crocodile tears have been shed by the party opposite who presided over us for so many years with such complacency, and without regard for the parlous state of school building.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, North spoke not only about school building, but about other election promises which, he said, we had broken. He said that we had broken a promise to take students grants out of the means test procedure. If he looks at the Labour Party's election manifesto, he will see that there is no mention there of taking students' grants out of that procedure. Many of us on this side of the House, myself included, are on record since October last as saying that we would like to take them out of the means test procedure, but the hon. Gentleman will not find that it was included in our list of priorities to be dealt with in a five-year period of office; so I think that the allegation made by the hon. Gentleman should he nailed straightaway.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the teacher training programme. He will be aware that we have announced an expansion of teacher training colleges which amounts to almost doubling the numbers in colleges in eight years, accepting the recommendations of the Robbins Committee which the late Government has not accepted by the time they went out of office.
1684 The hon. Gentleman attacked us for being mean about teachers' pay. I would not want to comment on this in detail, because the matter has gone to arbitration, but I must point out that the offer was one of 12½ per cent., way outside the norm of incomes which has been recognised as the basis for the price review body. The hon. Gentleman said that it was a good thing that there was now arbitration to settle these matters. He will be aware that during 13 years of Conservative government there was no arbitration to settle them. It has existed only during the last few weeks, since the Royal Assent was given to the Remuneration of Teachers Bill, introduced by the Government in the autumn.
I could go on giving examples of what has been done. If we are to have a debate on education, let us have a serious debate on the real issues.
One of the most extraordinary accusations made by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison) was that it took us five months to publish the school building survey. He will be aware that the school building survey relates to 1962. He will also be aware that the late Government refused, over a very long period, to publish it at all, and had no intention of publishing it because it was embarrassing to them in view of their record in office.
I take that as the starting point in a discussion on minor works. In this country, in round figures, we have about 29,000 schools. Taking the 1962 figures, which have been improved slightly since, but only slightly, in round figures 17,000 of those schools were found to have sanitation mainly out of doors. Approximately 6,000 of these schools have no central heating, 9,000 have no staff rooms and between 10,000 and 11,000 have seriously substandard sites.
This parlous state of school building was inherited by us after years of Conservative neglect. I can well understand that people who care about education —people on education committees and teachers' organisations, and so on—will nag and prod us, as a Government, as they did our predecessors, for larger building programmes. But it does not come well from hon. Members opposite, after we have been in office for about six months, to make the kind of speeches to 1685 which we have listened this morning. The minor works programme must be seen in its proper contexts. It must be seen, first, in the context of the grave economic crisis that we inherited from the last Government—the crisis that the hon. Member for Lewisham, North rejected as "a threadbare argument about the balance of payments". I can only say that there is nothing threadbare about a balance of payments deficit running at about £800 million a year.
Secondly, we inherited from the late Government an increased school-building programme. If the hon. Member wants to do so, he is welcome to take credit for that. It is true that in the last 12 months or so before the election took place, and with the election expected at any time, the late Government decked out their window for the election. The hon. Member said that we fought the election on their education programme. What happened was that in the last year they moved closer to what we had been advocating for many years, and announced an increase in school-building. They made a very big increase in the major school-building programme, from the rate of approximately £60 million a year at which it had been running to a new rate of £80 million a year. This was long overdue, but was, nevertheless, a substantial increase. But it was an increase which depended, as all the other promises did—in regard to hospitals, road building and the rest—on the country's attaining a rate of economic growth which it had never had in 13 years under a Conservative Government.
In that context it was a reckless programme. Nevertheless, despite the economic crisis, we have maintained it, and I say deliberately that a Conservative Government, bearing in mind their past record, would have cut these programmes, faced with the balance of payments deficit. We have stuck to them and have not cut any of them.
§ Mr. Chataway
It is wrong for the Minister to say that this was a reckless programme when every Labour speech throughout last year was to the effect that it was totally inadequate, and that it had to be increased. Does the hon. Member recall that total educational capital expenditure rose last April from £90 million to £200 million and that this 1686 increase in school building was on a par, and certainly not out of scale with, the increase in capital expenditure on education that had been taking place over many years?
§ Mr. Prentice
What I am saying is that for many years the school-building programme was completely inadequate. We asked for more. I also say that the total programme of social investment, including school building and other matters, announced towards the end of 1964, was reckless in the sense that the country could afford it only if it had a growth rate of 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. a year over many years. This was far in excess of the rate that had been achieved in economic terms by the previous Government for 13 years.
We said that with proper planning the economy could grow faster, so that we could afford better school building and hospital programmes and the rest, but that with the Conservative Government's record the increases they announced were reckless. That distinction was made quite clear by the Chancellor, in many speeches. He said that whereas we stood by these bigger programmes, we thought that they were reckless in the sense that the Conservative Government had neglected economic problems for so long that these programmes had to be judged as pre-Election window dressing.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
The hon. Member suggested just now that had the Conservative Party won the Election these programmes may have been cut, in view of the economic situation. In fact they had been almost fully authorised. The 1955–56 programme had been virtually fully authorised, and a large part of the 1966–67 programme had been authorised. Therefore, there could be no question of any Government's going back on programmes the details of which had been indicated to the various authorities.
§ Mr. Prentice
It has been known in the past for programmes which had already been authorised to be spread over a longer period. I cannot give the dates, but this happened at one stage in relation to school building when Lord Eccles was the Minister, and there have been many occasions of this kind under Conservative Governments.
1687 It is within that context that I come to the minor works programme. Even within this increased programme the figures that we inherited from the late Government were, for the year 1964–65, a minor works programme of £18 million, which was to be increased in 1965–66 to £19 million. That figure had not been announced, but in view of the discussions that have gone on, and the way in which the word "cut" has been thrown around in discussions on the matter, it is fair for me to say, as I have said previously in answer to Questions, that the figure we found to have been authorised by our predecessors was for a £19 million programme for 1965–66, and because we regard minor works as so vital, and because they are essential to the kind of deficiencies in schools that hon. Members have referred to this morning, we increased that figure to £21 million, in spite of the economic situation that we inherited. I believe that an increase in this context is something which we are entitled to say reflects some credit upon us as a Government.
§ Mr. Chataway
I do not want to trespass upon the time of my right hon. Friend, but the Minister must not use the figure of £19 million. He knows that a new Government have no authorised access to the papers that relate to the previous Government's decisions. I hope that he will accept it from me that no final decision had been taken about minor works for 1965–66, and whatever £19 million figure he may have found it did not represent a final decision.
§ Mr. Prentice
That sounds very much like an attempt to justify this extraordinary claim that is made that we have cut the Conservative Party's programme.
I have told the House what the previous Government's programme was. We are told that it might not have been final, and might have been increased if they happened to have won the election. I know, and I have said, that the figure that the late Government had in mind was £19 million. [HON. MEMBERS: "No. Withdraw."] I do not intend to withdraw what I have said. So much has been said to attack us and to distort what we have done that I think that I have the right to fight back, and I am going to do so. This is very relevant.
1688 Compared with the £18 million for last year and the £19 million plan for the coming year, £21 million is an increase, and not a cut. We are told by hon. Members opposite, quite fairly, that what was spent in 1964–65 exceeded £18 million. In other words, hon. Members opposite are trying to make political capital out of their mistakes. Having said that the allocation was £18 million, and having devised a system of control which broke down, they were faced with a situation in which the £18 million was probably exceeded by about £4 million—although the final returns are not in—so that £22 million was spent. Hon. Members opposite are trying to take credit, and are suggesting that we have cut their allocation.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, North and the hon. Member for Devizes both said that the allocation was cut. The allocation last year was £18 million, or £3 million less than our allocation of £21 million. This is a complex subject, and people always get fogged about the distinction between mini-minor works and minor works, but that is no excuse for the Tory Party's trying to extract political advantage from a discrepancy of this kind.
I wish to deal for a moment with the mini-minor situation. Of course, it was welcomed by local authorities in 1961 when they were told that the so-called mini-minor jobs—those valued at less than £2,000—could be carried out with- out being counted in the local authority allocation. This policy would have been very sound if the mini-minor works had been "off the ration" nationally as well as locally; if there had been minor works allocations to each authority for the jobs under £20,000, and then they had been given freedom to do the jobs under £2,000 and amounts under £2,000 discarded altogether in assessing the minor works programme.
That would have been a freedom to be valued, but it was never the case. The discrepancy arose from the fact that although local authorities had freedom to spend what they wished out of their allocation on projects costing less than £2,000, that amount had to be taken off the minor works programme nationally. Every year the Government had to assess how much would be spent and take that off the programme.
1689 This is the thing which has broken down. Enterprising local authorities like those in Wiltshire, Herts and Somerset have made the maximum possible use of the mini-minor concession and plan to make an even greater use of it next year. Had I been a member of an education authority—as I was at one time before these things happened—I should have urged my authority to make the maximum use of this concession. Of course, it was a good thing, and, looking back, I am glad that extra educational work was carried out which was never intended to be done by the late Government. The simple fact remains that this amount had to be taken as realistically as possible off the total allocation for minor works.
This was the dilemma facing us when we had to consider the matter this year. We have been assured this morning that the former Government would not have removed the mini-minor concession. In other words, they would have allowed this system to continue. We had confirmed by the right hon. Member for Birmingham. Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) at Question Time that this would have been their intention. In other words, they left us with a £19 million minor works programme from which, I imagine, they would have taken £4 million for voluntary schools or some figure like that, leaving £15 million. Then they would have to have taken from that a realistic assessment of the mini-minor works expenditure and that having grown in a way in which it had, and reached something like £7 million in 1964–65, I believe an estimate of £9 million would have been fairly real, perhaps an underestimate.
If we take £9 million away, there would have been £6 million left out of their figure to allocate for all the rest of the minor works over the whole of England, for jobs from £2,000 to £20,000, with the most disastrous effect on the school building situation. As it is, out of our £21 million, having taken £4 million for the voluntary schools, we have allocated £17 million in total to the authorities. For example, the allocation to Wiltshire is £210,000 compared with the £120,000 last year. That is a comparison in the allocation. The hon. Member kept referring to allocations, but the allocation for Wiltshire is up from £120,000 to £210,000, and the allocation 1690 for Somerset is up from £120,000 to £180,000.
If these allocations had had to be contained within a total minor works allocation of £6 million they would have been at a derisory figure. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to shake their heads. They have told the House that they would not have taken away the mini-minor works concession. What would they have done? They would have had to make a realistic estimate. They could not have cheated the Treasury about this, even had they wanted to, because the Treasury would not have allowed them to do so. With a figure of £7 million or £9 million the basis of my argument is not altered very much. There would have been a derisory amount left for minor works building as a whole.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I can tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what we would have done. To the £4 million figure for aided schools we should have added, say, £8 million for mini-minor work. We should have realised that £19 million was insufficient for the total. The total of last year's allocations to authorities was £11 million. On the figures of the previous year, clearly the minimum justifiable total for the minor works programme for this year would be £22 million or £23 million. We should have accepted that in the light of the promise made by my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State at the A.E.C. conference last year.
§ Mr. Prentice
I was coming on to the promise made by the right hon. Gentleman.
It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman is saying that we have no right to compare our allocation with what the previous Government did. We have to assume that they would have had a further death-bed repentance after the General Election, which is unlikely because most death-bed repentances take place before and not after an election. This would have meant a much larger allocation than the figures we are talking about here. I do not see what evidence there is for that and I am entitled to assume that the figure to be spent on minor works was the one to which I have referred. The dilemma would have remained for any Government about what to do regarding mini-minor works in view of the way in 1691 which the whole thing was being distorted.
This distortion argument was dismissed by the hon. Member for Devizes as "phoney equalitarianism", but we are talking here about schools and children. A larger and larger slice of the minor works building was going to meet costs of job under £2,000. Therefore, by definition a smaller amount was available for projects costing from £2,000 to £20,000. Because enterprising local authorities, such as the ones represented in this debate, were making a bigger use of it, less money would be available for other and less enterprising local authorities whose needs were equal in terms of school building and children. Any Government must have control over the amount of capital expenditure. Any Government have to disappoint the expectations of local education authorities. The previous Government allowed the local authorities an average of about one-third of what was asked for in minor works every year. Of course, there had to be some decision of priorities throughout the country.
I acknowledge right away that the decision caused disappointment. I have received a number of deputations on this matter from local authority associations and other interested bodies in recent months. Having had the facts of the situation and the figures put before them, responsible persons dealing or taking part in any deputation, while regretting the need to bring the mini-minor works within the allocation, have agreed that we had made the right choice. They hope for larger minor work allocations in the future, but, having considered the matter and heard all the arguments, they have not disagreed with our decision in the difficult choice which had to be made.
They are entitled to ask for more, but I resent the way in which the hon. Members opposite, this morning and over recent weeks, have referred to this matter. I have seen the pamphlet, written by a "hack" in the Conservative Central Office, referring to the "cuts" we made and that sort of thing. I resent the way in which hon. Members opposite have tried to make a political issue out of this. Their record on school building 1692 does not bear examination. We have done better than they were doing. We are going along with a further minor works programme bigger than the one on which they decided, and, while people outside are entitled to demand that we do better, it does not rest with hon. Members opposite to take the "phoney" stand which they have taken in this debate.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
Order. We must be fairer to each other in the allocation of time.