Orders of the Day — Educational Expenditure (Priorities)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th April 1951.

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Photo of Sir Hubert Ashton Sir Hubert Ashton , Chelmsford 12:00 am, 17th April 1951

That is a very large question. I should not have thought that statement was true and I do not think it has anything whatever to do with the subject we are discussing. Perhaps I may leave the question of the primary and secondary State schools and the independent schools for my hon. Friends to develop.

I turn for a moment to the other end of the batting order to discuss one or two things which, for the time being at any rate, I feel most assuredly should be left in the pavilion. First is the provision of new community centres. At this present juncture, it seems to me that in towns where there are many facilities for public meetings, and where there are cinemas and where people can meet together, to spend money on new community centres is not justified in any way whatever.

If any money is available for any of these things—and I doubt it—it is better spent on small village halls in isolated villages. We are still considering the provision of these community centres in my own county; it has not been stopped. I suggest that it is a waste of time and effort at this juncture and should be stopped at once. My next point is that we are getting rather a lot of designation of land which may be used in eight or 12 years' time. In some respects this may be necessary, but in others it works out most unfairly for the owners of the property concerned.

I referred earlier to the question of youth centres. The Minister referred to it in his Report and to the importance of leadership in these centres. I do not want to criticise people, but I must say it is rather difficult to get the right leaders. It seems to me that these centres have been extremely lavishly equipped and that the small classes in needlework and such subjects have been maintained far too long in the hope that additional members would be forthcoming. We must be quite ruthless in such matters.

Again, in the Report for 1949 good things are said of the part played by voluntary bodies in education, and it is right and proper that we should give public funds to assist this admirable work. People like members of the Women's Institute give excellent lectures in the country, but occasionally there is overlapping. Perhaps I may mention a case which occurred in a village recently where in one week there were two separate lectures on the arranging of flowers. My wife has had no instruction whatever in the arranging of flowers but she does it admirably.

I agree that these things do not amount to a great deal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say "Hear, hear," but I should have thought that when we are dealing with public funds we should bear in mind, in spending small sums of money, that hon. Members are faced with exactly the same sort of problem every day of their lives. If we here or all education committees, in dealing with matters of public money, would deal with public funds as if they were handling their own money, there would be a great deal less waste than there is at the present time. These things may not amount to much; they come out of "Further Education." If hon. Members can bear yet one more figure, I would point out that the cost of further education in my own county has increased by three-and-a-half times since the beginning of the war.

Having travelled this rather long material way, this rather unspiritual way, perhaps hon. Members are asking whether I have ever heard of teachers, schoolmasters and schoolmistresses because, after all, we are discussing a most vital human problem. I can assure hon. Members that I have and I know a great many of them. Reading a publication entitled "Reading ability: Some suggestions for helping the backward"—I am sure the authors had in mind backward back benchers—I found it a little depressing in some places. One paragraph which caught my eye says: Thus when all has been done that can be done by administration and through increases in administration and through increases in knowledge, the teacher will still play the crucial part in the educational process. Those words are absolutely true and I should like to pay my tribute to the teaching profession. I hope the Minister will tell us how recruitment is going, because the size of classes obviously must depend on the number of teachers. My information, especially in respect of teachers in primary schools, is not particularly encouraging.

The quotation I have read refers to administration. May I make a plea, which I am sure will not fall on barren ground, that it should be the intention of the local manpower committee that there shall be a devolution of responsibility, that local education authorities shall be enabled to get as far as possible with their own affairs and, in return, they should allow schoolmasters and mistresses such latitude as they can.

We must regret the circumstances under which it is necessary to cut down education. Last night the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education stated that the increase in school meals from 6d. to 7d. was a contribution to the prevention of war and preventing our own children from taking part in a third world war. Unfortunately, we must look at this from a rather material angle at present and we are, so to speak, limited in the number of garments we can have by the amount of cloth to be obtained. We must see that those garments include the secondary, primary schools and independent schools and that they are given every opportunity, if it means leaving temporarily by the wayside some other thing such as community, or youth centres. If we do this by concentrating what we have on the most formative years of the younger generation we shall be providing for them the best opportunities we can. When all is said and done, the youth of our country are our greatest asset.