HC Deb 24 February 1966 vol 725 cc606-8
17. Mr. J. E. B. Hill

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science which local education authorities so far have requested an extension of time in which to submit their proposals for the reorganisation of secondary education in response to Circular 10/65; and what answers he has given.

Mr. Redhead

Requests have so far been received from twelve local education authorities. In six cases (Lincolnshire (Kesteven), Dudley, Smethwick, West Bromwich, Wolverhampton and Walsall) limited extensions have been agreed. All these authorities are involved in the reorganisation of boundaries. Five authorities (Burton-on-Trent, Bromley, Kent, Norfolk and Shropshire) have been asked to press ahead as quickly as they can and to re-apply for an extension nearer the final date if they are then still in difficulty. The request of the remaining authority (Oxfordshire) is being considered.

Mr. Hill

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that if local education authorities feel unable to make any useful plan until more is known about the age of transfer in future after Plowden has reported and, for that matter, until more is known about the future building programmes and the future reorganisation of local government itself, they are under no obligation to submit a proposal by July and that, strictly speaking, although they may request an extension, they need not do so?

Mr. Redhead

The considerations to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention would not of themselves justify an application for an extension, but my right hon. Friend will be prepared to consider representations from any authority which for exceptional reasons finds itself unable to meet the target date.

Mr. Park

Is my hon. Friend aware that the reorganisation of secondary education in 1944 was carried out by legislation? While it is preferable to proceed by agreement in this case where-ever possible, will he make it clear that he will not hesitate to introduce legislation if the negative and obstructionist tactics of some Tory-dominated education authorities make it necessary?

Mr. Redhead

The view of Her Majesty's Government is that this is an urgent reform which should be undertaken at the earliest possible time. It is our belief that the great majority of local education authorities share this view, and we hope, from their response to date, that persuasion will suffice to achieve the purpose.

Sir E. Boyle

Returning to my hon. Friend's very well phrased supplementary question, is it not clear that as the law stands at present there is no power to compel an authority to send a particular reply to this circular or to comply with it? Whatever our views of the merits of the question, is it not very important that the present legal position of the Ministry and of the local authorities should be made quite plain?

Mr. Redhead

I am sure that local authorities would not defy what has been the normal tradition of observing circulars on Government policy and requests made to them to conform to that policy. Nevertheless, it is true that there is no absolute statutory power to enforce some part of that circular, except in so far as an application is required under Section 13.