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 Mr Charles Pannell Mr Charles Pannell , Leeds West 12:00 am, 17th April 1951

I do not think the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall) has matched entirely the tone of the speeches of the hon. Members who preceded him. I should like to associate myself with the thanks expressed to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) for introducing this Amendment. As one born in the borough of Walthamstow I knew far more about him in his earlier days when he was more familiar with the county ground at Leyton. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have moved the ground."] They have moved the ground since then and they have improved the revenue.

I am interested in this subject as it affects one who is chairman of a divisional executive for education and has been chairman of the finance committee of the local authority. What was said by the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. A. Maude) about the Chancellor of the Exchequer fixing priorities is also true of the local chancellor of the exchequer. I have introduced about 12 budgets for the local authority and the difficulty for the chairman of the finance committee is to make a tidy picture of the many competing claims.

If I were asked what my pet enthusiasm was and what claim I should like to put above all others at the present time, I should say it would be the reduction of the size of classes in our schools. As we have often been reminded by hon. Members opposite, and even by our own Front Bench, other people put other claims higher than that. But we are all enthusiastic for education here. Let us consider the claims. First there is housing. Surely, nobody is going to suggest that real education can begin unless every family is decently housed. The best form of education is in the home itself. Education does not stand apart from the home. The family is older than the State. Education only complements the training given to the child by a good father and mother.

We cannot push the claim of housing on one side. Then there is the Health Service. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam is chairman of Surrey Education Committee or of Surrey County Council now. I know he has been prominent in the public life of Surrey. He tried to make the point that the school health service was not part of education itself. I do not think many people will agree with that. When one considers the competing claims on the Chancellor one also has to remember the question of equal pay. The post bags of hon. Members today will also show the there are claims from old age pensioners, and, in the industrial districts of the North at least, claims for spinsters' pensions.

If we grant the need for re-armament—and nobody denies that need on the other side of the House—and if we grant that there must be a ceiling to taxation, where are we going to impose cuts? The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) said last night that the food subsidies should not be cut, but, to my sorrow, he seemed to imagine that in the field of education there were all sorts of unspecified economies in administration that might be made somehow. He said: I think that the education service in its administration is top-heavy and swollen. The method of county administration, particularly in the manner that divisional executives have been created and then given budgets to spend whether they want the money or not, is one of the reasons why our county finances today are strained to the utmost."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 1581–1582.] That has come from Essex. I can say from the largest executive division in Kent that it is just not true. It is rubbish. In many cases if it had not been for the divisional executives, the demand on the counties would have been very much higher.