Orders of the Day — Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th February 1968.

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Photo of Mr Quintin Hogg Mr Quintin Hogg , St Marylebone 12:00 am, 14th February 1968

The melancholy fact is that, as a result of a large number of hours' debate, the Secretary of State has no friends at all in the House. Not one speaker has come to his aid, except one one point. One member of the Conservative Party agreed with him about the school-leaving age. One member of the Liberal Party agreed with him about the school-leaving age. As I understood the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), although I found it difficult to follow his speech, one member of the Labour Party agreed with him about the school-leaving age. Apart from that, no speech has been in favour of the Secretary of State. This is a matter of fact.

Two hon. Members who condemned him much more roundly than I propose to do—the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) and Epping (Mr. Newens), who has on the Order Paper a far more savage denunciation of the Government's cuts than we have—have sought to comfort themselves with the argument that this is a debate about the Government's general policy on education.

However, it is nothing of the kind. They sought to comfort themselves with the reflection that, if it were a debate condemning the postponement of the raising of the age for full-time compulsory education, they would either have abstained and thus been disciplined, or perhaps even voted in our Lobby; but that, as it was a general condemnation of Labour Party policy on education, they could not. However, that is not what the Motion says, and it is right to recall it to the memory of the House.

It says: That this House regrets that the education service should have been subjected to cuts …. It has been subjected to cuts, and the whole of the Motion relates to the cuts to which it has been subjected.

It says that it … regrets that the education service should have been subjected to cuts which are educationally damaging …. We have not heard a single speech which has not regretted that the cuts are educationally damaging, and that regret was shared by the right hon. Gentleman.

It regrets that the cuts should have been based on a false sense of priority. With three exceptions, one from the Conservative benches, one from the Liberal benches, and one from the back benches opposite, we have not heard a single speaker, except the right hon. Gentleman, who has not condemned them for springing from wrong priorities.

The third ground of criticism is that they are disproportionate to the cuts as a whole. Again, with the solitary exception of the right hon. Gentleman, who tried to "fudge" the argument by a reference to percentages which I shall explore presently, not a single speaker pretended that the educational cuts have borne a due proportion to the whole of the cuts to which public spending has been subjected.

The only excuse, tentatively and rather shamefacedly put forward by the hon. Members for Epping and Southampton, Test, has been that they regard the Motion as a general attack on Labour Party educational policy, which is a view which bears no relation to the terms of the Motion.

As it is St. Valentine's Day, I pause in the explosion of raspberries which I propose to blow across the Floor of the House to say how pleasant it is to be sitting once more opposite the right hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon). She and I have a tolerable working relationship in home affairs. It is a pleasant surprise to find that we are now moving ahead to the next logical phase, which is to discuss the education of children.

How I wish that I could think of something nice to say about the Secretary of State. I came into the House with the best of intentions and with a genuine sense of sympathy for the right hon. Gentleman. I knew that he had been through a great deal in past weeks, as he had in past years. I thought that I really must take hold of myself and think of something nice to say about him. It is not an easy task to be at the head of his Department. One is at the head of a body of enthusiasts to whom one has to preach the unwelcome gospel that, as important as education is, there are other factors in public policy as well. And they do not like to hear it.

They are highly articulate and very well organised into bodies of teachers and of local education authorities, with a very well publicised Press and a very powerful lobby, and the task of a Secretary of State is not an easy one, even when there is no financial crisis abroad.

We all know that, when there is a financial crisis abroad, each colleague around the Cabinet table is asked to make his contribution. There is a hideous conflict between loyalty to the Department and loyalty to the other members of the Cabinet, and they are perfectly genuine, real loyalties which have to be reconciled.

I came into the House with sympathy for the right hon. Gentleman, even though I had won my battles and he has lost his. But I am bound to say that my sympathy evaporated with the last words of his speech when he began to attack my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) for hypocrisy in prosposing this Motion. He said that it was a hypocritical Motion. It is our Motion and I am with him in it, but my right hon. Friend drafted it. After 30 years' experience in Parliament, I must say that there is no hon, or right hon. Member in the House whose knowledge of education is deeper than that of my right hon. Friend, whose reputation in the world of education stands higher than that of my right hon. Friend, and whose every word reflects his sincerity more patently than that of my right hon. Friend.

Yet the right hon. Gentleman comes to this House with this shoddy attack upon him.