Education (Expenditure)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th January 1974.

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Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , Isle of Ely 12:00 am, 28th January 1974

I should like to remind the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State that during the last education debate the Government accepted the Opposition's motion. We on the Opposition side of the House had hoped that that would be the beginning of great inter-party co-operation. Indeed, I was particularly hopeful because the right hon. Lady, visiting my constituency and making a speech which was clearly totally unconnected with the fact that it was believed there would be a General Election, was reported in that excellent newspaper—which is, unfortunately, not readily available in the House—the Wisbech Standard, as having said that One thing that would not be touched would be the teaching profession. I feel very strongly that that is a long way from the truth. While I am pre- pared to believe that the right hon. Lady was not proposing to hang or to execute any teachers, I believe that any cut-back in education will directly touch the teaching profession. The ratio between students and teachers touches the teaching profession. The fact that no extra buildings are being erected will touch the teaching profession. To say that teachers were the one thing which would not be touched was totally untrue.

I was also distressed to note the pleasure that the right hon. Lady had in announcing that fewer young people were taking up university education than she had expected. This is sad and shameful. She must know, as do we, that the reason for this is that fewer young people are able to go to university in view of the inadequacy of student grants which are now given to them.

Ninety per cent. of the annual educational budget in local education authorities is already committed in advance of the year of grant. Therefore, it follows that any cut in expediture is concentrated on the uncommitted 10 per cent. where the LEA has the choice and the potential to enrich its own service. I welcome the right hon. Lady's assertion that she believes in the individuality of LEAs, but I seriously question their ability to practise individuality on the educational cuts which are now proposed.

In my constituency, at the village school at Sutton there are two temporary buildings built in the playground which are currently being used as classrooms. The village of Sutton is expanding and even those two temporary classrooms will not be big enough. How, with the cuts in education, can they do anything but encroach further on the school playground?

A realistic and desirable educational policy should further the individual needs of the community and assess its development to promote a local identity. The Government promote belief in a free society where people have choice. This will not be easy on the proposed cuts. Nothing is as important as educational freedom, and yet the Government's measures will have the effect of dramatically reducing the freedom of our educational services. Let it be remembered that the educational requirements of East Anglia are not the same as those of East London. The trouble about the cut-back is that it severely affects so much. It affects the supply of books, which has increased by about 20 per cent. in the last year. In many of the larger towns and cities there is real illiteracy, and this will increase unless more books can be made available.

The shortage of money will now prohibit the improvement of the student-staff ratio, and this is particularly serious as there are 16-year-olds staying on, in many cases involuntarily, and teachers believe sincerely that, unless the ratio of staff to pupil is improved, the cases of violence and indiscipline will escalate and such good as might have come with the raising of the age limit will be actually reversed.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) brought up the question of defence. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) asked: where will the money come from? From defence £178 million is taken. Our defence needs are not linked with our national prosperity. How is it that we can do without £178 million worth of defence just because of a payments crisis? If this saving does not harm our security it should have been made anyway and the benefits redistributed where they could better be used.