Education (School-Building)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st July 1953.

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Photo of Dame Florence Horsbrugh Dame Florence Horsbrugh , Manchester Moss Side 12:00 am, 1st July 1953

What it is quite clear were not foreseen, and are not included, are the financial crises. I realise the difficulties of 1949 and the financial crisis then. I realise that the then Prime Minister, now Leader of the Opposition, had to come to the House and say that because of it there must be a slowing down in the advance. But in 1948, in spite of the fact that this amount had been approved, and some of it started, and so little completed, an even larger programme was started.

This time it was to be projects up to £51·7 million which were approved. What happened? The same weary story which has been repeated the whole way through. At the end of the programme year only one-third was completed. The year after the end of the programme 40 per cent. of the work was still undone. So that is the stage at which we had arrived at the end of 1949. When I took office at the end of 1951 that is what was not done.

What are the facts? I was confronted with a situation where there was £120 million worth of work on the ground which was not completed—[Interruption]— I am giving the House the facts. When I took office there was £120 million worth of work on the ground not completed, and no use as schools. That figure included 400,000 school places. An amount of £15 million was for technical purposes, but we will not go into the rest of it because we are dealing with schools. There were 400,000 school places not finished; £120 million worth of work not completed.

What was the reason? Why did the representatives of Hertfordshire and others say that it was a good thing that we had a moratorium? In November, as the House will remember, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the new policy, the moratorium on new starts for three months. I was absolutely convinced, and it is only common sense, that these places were wanted urgently and would be completed more quickly if no new starts were made for a short time.

There was also a shortage of steel. One of the reasons building has been so slow is that too many schools had been started and the materials were not available. When one makes inquiries one is told by the architects, "We started; we had to wait; we were waiting for steel from such and such a date.'" At the next place they say that they were waiting for something else. There was a shortage of steel. There was £120 million worth of work on the ground. It was urgently required, and I was quite convinced then that it was right to make that change.

We can tell whether or not it was right by the result. The amount of work done went up in the next year. I am not talking of completions and of starts. I am talking of actual building work done. I want to apologise to the House. Last week or the week before, in a Parliamentary answer, a figure was given wrongly. The figure for the amount of work done in 1951 was not correct. It was £34,500,000. I came in at the end of that year. I regret that the figure for 1952 was not given correctly. It was given as £36,400,000. I apologise for the mistake. The figure was found to be £38 million.