Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
Most hon. Members who have spoken in the debate are concerned about education and must therefore regret tremendously the cuts that are being made. Our argument is not that the priorities for cuts within education are a problem but that education and the social services are suffering heavily at a time when there could have been cuts in private sector expenditure.
Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow, West)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the point about regret, does he find it remarkable that there are so few backbenchers on the Government side in this important debate? In fact, I do not see one.
It is regrettable that the House is not full.
Sir William Alexander has referred to these cuts as far and away the worst in his professional lifetime, which must have included the period of the Labour Government and of the non-Cabinet member of the Conservative Government, Florence Horsbrugh.
Village schools have been mentioned. I should tell hon. Members on the Government side, if they were here, that the reason why village schools have declined so much is that the people who have gone to live in villages are not, strictly speaking, part of those villages. They are, in the main, well off and they send their children not to the village schools but to Sunningdale and other private schools.
I support the Secretary of State on one matter, which apparently her own side does not—namely, maintaining the raising of the school leaving age. I regret that any economy is used as a basis for [column 84]attacking that policy. The problem where it exists among difficult children applies not only to the fifth forms of secondary schools but throughout. It is a social problem which should be tackled.
From the facts that we are given it is extremely difficult to discover exactly what is happening about the building cuts in this year, next year and the year after. The cuts apply over three years' building programmes—1973–74, 1974–75 and 1975–76. I suspect that the cuts will be considerably more than 20 per cent.
On 16th January the Under-Secretary of State said:
“Thus, despite the pressing need for economy, the Government have preserved a building programme for each sector of the education service. Out of programmes for the remainder of 1973–74 and for 1974–75 totalling some £570 million well over £300 million has been preserved.” —[Official Report, 16 January, 1974; Vol. 867, c. 608.]
That is not a 20 per cent. cut; it is more like an 85 per cent. cut. It is a difficult matter, and there may be an explanation.
Before the right hon. Lady intervenes, I suggest that it would help if she would tell us what the programme was last year, is this year and will be next year and the year after.
I agree that this is an extremely difficult matter. The figures quoted by the hon. Gentleman are in starts terms—the costs of projects that have been deferred. The expenditure cuts are in actual expenditure terms during the year.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. I shall examine that reply later.
Local authorities will have great difficulty in making a 10 per cent. overall cut in current items with the advice that they have been getting from the Government. The £48 million saving is to be made in libraries, museums and galleries. That is difficult to maintain. They may not buy anything this year. On the whole, it is difficult to make a cut there.
The areas of expenditure that the Government have in mind are in repairs and maintenance of buildings and grounds. Many local authorities, especially in city areas, will find that extremely difficult. Schools which were to be demolished [column 85]this year and next year because new schools were to be built in their places will have to continue in being for another two, three or possibly four years. It will be impossible for the authorities concerned to cut their expenditure in that direction.
The Department of Energy has stated that schools are exempted from all heating and lighting restrictions and that heat and light should be maintained in them, yet we are asked to make heating and lighting economies in those schools. The efficient authorities which have always tried to do that will suffer most.
Another area of saving on cuts concerned books and equipment.
The Under-Secretary, in his speech on 16th January, in effect, looked both ways and said, “You should cut books, equipment, and so on, but I hope you will not.” The area is so narrow that, like Sir William Alexander, I believe that the cuts here will be not 10 per cent., but 20 per cent. or 30 per cent.
Mr. William Hamilton
My hon. Friend is clearly putting questions that will not be answered. He will be aware that there is in existence a sub-committee of the Public Expenditure Committee that can demand answers in great depth from the Minister. Does he agree that that sub-committee should have as its first priority the hauling before it of the Secretary of State to demand the answers that neither he nor anyone else will get in this debate? Does he further agree that the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office ought also to be hauled before that sub-committee, so that we can have the matter fully exposed to the public?
I agree that a Select Committee can demand papers and interrogate the Minister, as we did when we had a Select Committee on Education and Science. We interrogated the Secretary of State and gave him a rough time. But the Conservative Government abolished that Select Committee as soon as they came into power.
The Government's amendment ends with the words
“to reduce during 1974–75 the demands on resources for the education programme, whilst substantially preserving the Government's essential educational priorities” .[column 86]What are those priorities? The direct grant schools issue has been raised and the Under-Secretary of State replied to me in an intervention but did not give any reasons for the Government's proposals on this issue. If the cuts are to take place, all schools should bear some portion. It would be reasonable for the recurrent and building expenditure on direct grant schools to be cut to the same extent as that on other schools. That would not make a substantial difference to the problems of local authorities, but, in justice, it ought to be shown to be done.