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Orders of the Day — Education [Money]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 28th January 1944.

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Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I gathered during the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) that the only thing he said that was in order was a compliment he paid to the Parliamentary Secretary. As modesty prevents me from doing that I may find myself in some difficulty even in dealing with some of the points made by my hon. and gallant Friend in the course of this Debate. But I would like to thank the Committee for the way in which they have recognised the determination of my right hon. Friend the President that there should be no limitation, so far as we can avoid it, upon the discussions in Committee. I think the manly and democratic way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) acknowledged that and said that after discussions had taken place he would be willing to accept whatever decision the House arrived at indicated that the offer was being accepted in the spirit in which it was tendered. We do not desire that at any stage anyone should be ruled out from submitting a proposal to the House on the ground that it is outside the Money Resolution. I have spent more time in Opposition than in office in this House and I know the annoyance felt when one rises on the Committee stage of a Bill with a proposition that seems perfectly reasonable, and when one feels one has the majority of the Committee with one, and is told that the narrow drawing of the Money Resolution has ruled one out of Order. We hope that no one will suffer that feeling of frustration in the course of our forthcoming discussions.

We have had a characteristic speech from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) who suggested an amendment to the wording of Clause 8 that would alter the position of the Minister and the local authorities as it is set out in Clause 1. We are well aware that in England and Wales there is so wide a diversity of the spread of the population and of the pursuits of the people who look for employment for a great majority of our children that it would be impossible to lay down in the office of the Board the way in which education should be carried on, except in the most general terms Therefore, we regard the local authorities as our partners in the work of administration. It is true we take more powers in this Bill than we have hitherto had to spur the laggards. I recollect Lord Eustace Percy saying in my presence that the duty of the Board was to restrain the hasty and spur the laggards. I replied that I had noticed him more frequently exercising his first office than the second. We have drafted a Clause which we hope will enable us to spur the laggards without unnecessarily restraining those who are anxious to experiment. I am bound to say that it is my experience, after 35 years of local government, that the higher the percentage of grant the more Departmental control comes in. I am quite sure that, if this House was paying 100 per cent. of the cost of education, there would be an insistence that national ideas should prevail, sometimes against the legitimate wishes of the locality. I often recollect that, on my own County Council, where at one time we would not meet the men employed on the highway through their trade union, the minute the trunk roads were 100 per cent. the Ministry of Transport insisted that we must have a Joint Industrial Council with our men. While I rejoice at the result, I am not sure that in other cases it might not be wrong to apply the same principle.

The hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) spoke on behalf of the County Councils Association. We recognise that there is grave misgiving—I use the adjective advisedly—in some quarters as to whether the existing grant regulations, even as we have proposed to amend them, will enable the benefits of this Bill to be extended to secure, as Clause 1 makes imperative, a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area. The principle on which we proceed is that, according to age, ability and aptitude, every child in the country, no matter where he is born or where he may reside, shall have an equal opportunity of developing his talents. We shall have to pay attention to the feelings expressed in the House, both to-day and on Second Reading, that this may be denied to certain children because the incidence of local expenditure may be too high. Last year my local authority gave a boy £230 a year with which to go to Cambridge because they thought that he was worth the investment. A penny rate produces £52,000. In my hon. and learned Friend's constituency a penny rate produces £600. If his local authority gave such a grant people would turn round to see a halfpenny rate walking down the street. We know of these problems and there is a genuine desire on the part of the Board that they shall be solved, because, unless we are able to solve them, it is quite clear that a large number of children of our country, often those most in need of help, will not secure the benefit of great parts of this Bill.

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins) supports the view I take with regard to having no 100 per cent. grant. He thinks he would like to get nearer to 100 per cent. than I, but I hope he will not be too certain of that too soon. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Pancras North (Wing Commander Grant-Ferris) supported the view expressed by the hon. Member for Leigh. The hon. Lady the Member for Bodmin (Mrs. Wright) asked the President not to allow his mind to crystallise. May I say that of all people I have come across in my experience I know of no one with a mind so crystal as the Minister, but I have also observed that he never allows its crystalline clearness to be obscured by letting ideas crystallise too soon. Having watched my right hon. Friend closely for a very long time, before I took office, when I used to sit opposite, I can now assure the hon. Lady that she will be perfectly wise in trying to worm her way not into his heart but into his mind. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) asked for certain capital figures. I want to assure him that we will do our very best to meet him. I hope that on the question of priority he will recollect that it is a very great thing to get into the Pool of Bethesda first. So far as the social reform programme of the Government is concerned, we stepped into the waters as soon as we saw the Angel troubling them. We hope we shall receive the blessings that were promised.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) made a suggestion about 100 per cent. grant in certain circumstances. We shall examine everything that conies from him with the utmost care, but I am not sure that his suggestion that we should rely on the A.R.P. precedent was a very helpful one, because by giving some people 100 per cent. after others had done the job well, we did not get very much satisfaction expressed by the local authorities. In fact there were accusations that there had been a breach of faith in the matter—quite unjustifiable, as I said in the House at the time. We have to be very careful that, by increasing the grant to a considerable extent after certain people have done the job reasonably well, we do not penalise those who have been getting on with the job. For instance, some authorities have got a very long way with the task of reorganisation, while some have not started at all. To give the latter 100 per cent. in respect of jobs which other people have been doing with a lower scale of grant, would not, I think, encourage local authorities to work the grant system in partnership as it should be worked.