Both sides of the House will congratulate the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) in choosing the subject on which he has spoken as a result of being successful in the Ballot. He spoke this afternoon with the same ease with which he used to make runs in those days when he was the idol of every schoolboy in Essex and of many schoolboys outside Essex. I should also like, if I may do so without trespassing beyond the frontiers of good taste, to congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Angus Maude) who seconded the Amendment, on what I thought was an excellent speech, with almost every word of which I agreed.
The question we are discussing today, however, that of the size of classes and the overcrowding of our primary schools, is by no means new. For the past 50 years, the first motion upon the agenda for the public sessions on the National Union of Teachers has been one asking for a reduction in the size of classes. When I was on the Executive Committee of the N.U.T. I remember that none of us wished very much to be given the duty of moving that motion, because every possible argument about it had been exhausted years before. But although we have been asking, inside the N.U.T. and other teachers' organisations, for the last 50 years for a reduction in the size of classes, the classes today are almost as big as, and in some areas bigger, than they were 50 years ago.
Never has the path to nullity been paved with so many good resolutions. I remember that I began class teaching in 1897 because at the age of 15 I was, under the old pupil-teacher system, fully responsible all day long for a class. I continued as a class teacher, with intervals for training in college, for service in His Majesty's Forces in the First World War and for service in this House, for nearly 50 years. At the end of the 50 years I was teaching a class as large as the one I had been teaching at the start of that period. During the whole, or nearly the whole, of that time, when we were asking for a reduction in the size of classes and not achieving it, the Conservative Party were in power and were able to effect the reductions for which we were asking if they had wished.