Orders of the Day — Education (Capital Projects)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd August 1965.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Prentice Mr Reginald Prentice , East Ham North 12:00 am, 3rd August 1965

It is a tribute to the seriousness with which this House treats education that we have had a debate of this length and quality at this unearthly hour in the morning. I will do what I can to reply to the points which have been raised in relation to the effect of the Chancellor's measures on education. I must restrain myself from replying to all the other points which have been raised by hon. Members who have ranged widely—naturally and properly—in some of their contributions. If I tried to reply in detail to every speech I should be at this Dispatch Box for the next two hours. Nevertheless, all the points raised will be studied within the Department.

I welcome very much the chance to discuss at this stage the effects on the education service of the measures which the Chancellor has had to announce. I accept straight away that these are serious effects and that all of us on both sides of the House will regret their necessity. At the same time, I do not face the House in any apologetic mood. We have to see this matter in the perspective of the economic situation facing the country and we have to recognise that that affects every aspect of our national life—education along with everything else. There is no such thing in an economic crisis as being able to contract out of it. The nation can only afford the education service that it earns for itself, just as every other aspect of its national wealth has to be earned. Everything has to be seen in that relation.

It is the easiest thing in the world to say that economic crises are for other people and that there are special cases and exceptions. The fact is that we as a nation have to face up to what we mean by the term "economic crisis" and recognise its harsh realities. I say as a member of the Government that we made it perfectly clear before the election and during the election that the social progress to which we were committed as a party was something in which we would give a lead to the country in terms of economic recovery and that the nation had to face the problems of the economic malaise which had been facing us for so long, that we had to find our way out of that and that it was only in that context that we could fulfil our programme. We said that before we knew the extent to which the country was running into debt under the late Government, and the situation which we have been facing since last October has made it more imperative to take the economic steps which have had to be taken.

Here I ask the House to see in perspective what we have done. First, it is wrong to speak of measures which have affected education as reductions or cuts. They are a number of postponements of improvements. In other words, we are dealing here with programmes which are improving and expanding, and the Civil Estimates for education in the current year are up, to a far larger proportion than the estimates of any other Department of State. We are seeing a service which is expanding and improving and saying that an economic situation has compelled us to enforce a postpone ment for six months of capital improvements in the education service as a whole, except for schools.

This is a serious matter but it is a postponement of improvements rather than a cut in an existing service. We must see this in that perspective. Some of the comments made by some hon. Members have been of a rather exaggerated nature and a rather alarmist character. For example, when the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) speaks, as he put it, of almost the impossibility of raising the school-leaving age to 16 in 1970 I need remind him only of two facts. One is that we are not imposing any postponement on the school-building programme. The other is that the teacher supply position, in terms of teacher-training and the numbers of teachers in training in our colleges, is somewhat ahead of schedule at the moment. For these two reasons there is no need to come to the conclusion to which the hon. Member came.