Ministry of Education

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th February 1947.

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Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden 12:00 am, 19th February 1947

I do not wish to let this occasion pass without making a short intervention. Unfortunately, an engagement has prevented me from hearing the full Debate, and therefore, I do not think I am really entitled to take part in it, but I would like to say that I consider the priority that education is retaining in the present economic blizzard is extremely satisfactory. We are in face of undoubted difficulties of great magnitude in the economic sphere, and I always envisaged, in framing the Education Act, that we should come into this sort of crisis. I was not blind, and I foresaw it, if I may say so. Therefore, I think the fact that extra moneys are being asked for is not in itself a bad thing. Nor do I think that the fact that the moneys are required for certain purposes, such as the raising of the school-leaving age, is a bad thing either. I shall not enter into that subject tonight. because I do not think this is the occasion to do so, and I have expressed my view on that subject outside the House, and it has been reported. But I think it is satisfactory that hitherto, unlike the Fisher Act, we have managed to preserve a priority—and a first priority—which is a very satisfactory thing to all educationists who are devoted to this subject and art determined that, on this occasion, we are not going to allow the same thing to happen as happened after the 1914–18 war. After the 1914–18 war, the crisis occurred over continuation, and in my view, the Minister of that time, although the architect, did not press his point enough.

I would say to the new Minister, and to the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I agree with another hon. Member, has had a heavy burden, that they should press ahead and retain this priority in other fields, particularly in the technical, industrial field, where I think they will have the sympathy of industry, and the sympathy of those who are grappling with the economic crisis. I would only say, in passing, that the other field in which we must retain our priority is in trying to deal with the very large classes which exist up and down the country, and which impose an intolerable strain upon teachers at the present time.

I do not want to go into details on this occasion, but I should like to give due warning to the Minister that, in due course, I may have some ideas to put before him on a suitable occasion when I shall be in Order, for I do not think I would be in Order tonight in touching on all the topics with which I want to deal. I would like also to say that—I think I am in Order in this—I do not sympathise with much of the correspondence which has taken place recently about the type of Minister of Education that we ought to have. I agree with the letter from Dr. Albert Mansbridge in "The Times" today that one should get a practical bloke who is interested in the subject and devoted to it, and encourage him to do his best. That, I think, we have got, and I think we are lucky to get him. Of course, if the Prime Minister had had the range of talent that we have on this side of the Committee, it would have been quite an easy task for him. But I consider that the educational qualifications of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education, his excellent character, his knowledge of the subject, and his knowledge of the administration of the subject, are very valuable at the present time, and certainly I wish him well in his very onerous task, and I hope I may be able to retain with him the same relationships as I retained with his predecessor, whose passing we all regret.

I conclude by saying a word about U.N.E.S.C.O. I think that the grant for U.N.E.S.C.O., as far as I understand it, is to make part of a revolving fund. It has, therefore, a very peculiar financial significance which I will not go into tonight, but it is not as expensive as it looks. I think that this development, at a moment when the prestige of Britain needs maintaining, is one which owes a great deal of its inspiration to this country. It owes its inspiration to an act of faith performed in the war. Therefore, I hope that we shall by degrees see practical results from this act of faith, and if any of us can contribute in any way to the success of this organisation, I want to say that we would like to do so, and that I am very glad to see that the Government are taking their part in U.N.E.S.C.O.

There are a great many other subjects cm which I could touch. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall) referred to the difficulties of local authorities. Those are obvious. There are very great difficulties at the present time, and I hope, as I said to the Minister in a message which I sent to him when he was appointed, that he will take his good works with him, because it is the good works we want. His practical knowledge of huts I hope will be extended to an even more practical knowledge of school buildings, and I hope he will bear in mind what the London County Council has said in their report—that some of the modern buildings are a great deal too expensive. I hope he will look into the whole question of building regulations in the light of modern circumstances.

We on this side of the Committee, and I think many hon. Members opposite as well, are devoted to the cause of the rural schools. We do not wish to retain small schools which are unsuitable, but we trust that the individual school associated with the life of its own village will be retained That is oui desire, and I hope the matter will be decided on educational grounds and social grounds. When I say social grounds, I mean that education has its part to play in society, and the place of the school in its locality must be retained, if Britain is to remain a healthy place. I hope that on some future occasion I may raise some more severe problems.