Orders of the Day — Science and Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th November 1963.

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Photo of Mr William Hannan Mr William Hannan , Glasgow Maryhill 12:00 am, 19th November 1963

The Leader of the House ought to exhibit a little decorum in this matter. The hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is bored to tears already because she has heard all this so often. But despite reports and speeches, no action is taken. It is no use the Government coming, in a "death bed repentance" after 12 years of neglect of educational problems to try to convince the nation and hon. Members on this side of the House that they believe in the case which has been advanced, because very few of us will believe them.

This is the "bonus year", just before the election, and the idea is that hon. Members opposite can make any promises they like because if they were to win the General Election—it will not be won by hon. Members opposite—but if they were to win, they could revert to the former policy of cutting down. I will not bore the House with details which are contained in the four Reports which I have before me, except to say that by 1966 Scotland will be short of 5,000 teachers if the education quota is observed. Of course, all this means that buildings will have to be erected and extra expenditure undertaken. But the Government have refused to face the problem until today and, as the Robbins Report indicates, we are now faced with an immediate crisis in these schools.

As was said by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Government have neglected the problem created by lack of school buildings. At the beginning of this year the figures submitted by every local authority in respect of school buildings were cut. The hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State knows this and. in a recent speech she tried to excuse the cuts which had been made.

In 1958, which was also a "bonus year", just before the last election, in a publication entitled "Education Scotland—the next step" which was part of the election propaganda it was stated: If every pupil is to be able to pursue to the limit of his capacity the education suited to his individual needs, the most urgent requirement amongst other things would be buildings and equipment that satisfy modern standards". Everybody would cheer that. These are sentiments which any normal parent or citizen would applaud. It was also stated Scotland has too many schools housed in nineteenth century buildings which remain much as they were when first erected. The hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for Scoltand knows that when the Scottish Committee debated Estimates in June and July, hon. Members spoke of the growing problem of buildings and it was indicated clearly that in 1958 about 50,000 places were provided. The next year that figure was down by 10,000 and has remained at about the same figure. Next year the number of places is likely to show an increase. But this is an old "dodge". It is the same as the business about the interest rate. In 1951 it was 3½per cent. Under the tutelage of the present Government it rose to 8 per cent, and then went down to 6 per cent. The Government say, "Look what good boys we are, we have reduced the interest rate from 8 per cent, to 6 per cent." They think that the people have been hoodwinked and have not noticed that the rate of interest has been doubled since the date on which the Government took office.

I shall not dwell on the building programme any longer, but turn to what was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) and other hon. Members. None of us dissents from anything that is to be done for the provision of more places in universities for our young people. Their course is quite clear from primary school to senior secondary school and then to university and the professions. What some of us are more concerned about in the present state of Britain's development is the forgotten army of 65 per cent, or 70 per cent, of young people in junior secondary schools, who also are due for some consideration.

It is from these young people's ranks that we shall get the technicians, the engineers, the draughtsmen and skilled people in factories who will produce-more efficiently we hope, and with the aid of science—the material goods upon which this country depends for exports and its very life in future. It is to the great shame of the present Government that after 12 years, despite the Reports and speeches, they have only recently, when an election is imminent, come round to the view that these young people matter to the nation.

The background of many of these young people, their home, social and environmental background, is not helpful to success. The very fact that they have been allocated to junior secondary schools is a blow to their self-esteem. This fact is misinterpreted by the general public, by their relatives and parents as a mark of failure. This is to be deplored because there are different ways of being clever in this world. The girl who is a skilled nurse or matron in a hospital is as valuable to society as a physiotherapist. Incidentally, why have we not paid sufficient attention to the ability and aptitude of girls at school to follow many of the jobs which men do?

These young people will respond and achieve modest success if they are stimulated by the real things of life and the happenings in the world rather than by ideas and concepts. We should try to link junior secondary schools with local technical colleges so that the best products can go on to the Royal Technical College and university status. We want to see for a large precentage of these young people a highway marked out from the primary school to something akin, perhaps, to junior secondary school but certainly a school where their aptitude and abilty will be enhanced. Those whose aptitude lies rather in their hands than in their brains should be able to go on to further instruction.

I come to the Government's failure in the recruitment of teachers. The only success the present Government have had was when they united the teachers of Scotland in a mass demonstration against themselves in the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, Then 5,000 or 6,000 took a day off from school to protest against the Government's actions. In Scotland we need more university graduates for male teachers. Despite that knowledge, the Government failed to make provision for the necessary increase in places. As far back as 1955, in debates in the House, the need for increased places at universities has been mentioned, but in 1962 the present Government cut back the amount for the universities, despite the desire of those institutions to provide for our young people.

In the House we have been met with complacency and evasion. For the last 18 months the Government have sought refuge in the need to await the Robbins Report. Now we have that Report. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will galvanise the present incumbent of the Scottish Office to take action about it.

The Robbins Report says that at least one university ought to be provided in Scotland, and probably two. We have been pleading for this for 18 months. May we not have at least a decision about that? Let the quarrels about teachers and other matters wait, but give us a decision about a university for Scotland. We recall the disappointment when seven new universities were provided in England Wales and none in Scotland. We have the ingenuity and the enthusiasm, and a site is already available at East Stirling. Surely it is possible for the Government to give a decision on this university for Scotland and to try to make up for their past errors.