HC Deb 27 July 1967 vol 751 cc944-7
5. Mr. Onslow

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to approve a major building programme for secondary school purposes for the years 1968–69 and 1969–70 for the county of Surrey.

34. Mr. David Howell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science by what date he intends to give approval to the county of Surrey's secondary school building programmes for 1968–69 and 1969–70.

39. Mr. Maurice Macmillan

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proportion of the Surrey County Council's secondary school building proposals for 1968–69 and 1969–70, respectively, he has refused to sanction; and how many of these refusals stem from his rejection of the county council's proposals under Circular 10 of 12th July, 1965.

51. Sir G. Sinclair

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what projects in the programme of secondary school building for the years 1968 to 1970 put forward last October by Surrey County Council he has approved; what projects he has deferred approving; and when he intends to reach a decision on these.

Mr. Crosland

I have approved four projects for the 1968–69 programme but have deferred my decision on the remaining 17 proposals until I have received further information from the authority about its proposals for secondary reorganisation. I have not yet announced my decisions on the proposals of any authority for 1969–70.

Mr. Onslow

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what legal power he thinks he has to withhold funds from Surrey schools as a means of blackmailing Surrey County Council—[Interruption.]—blackmailing Surrey Council into destroying a system which it believes is best suited to local needs?

Mr. Crosland

There is no question of blackmail—

Mr. Onslow

Not much!

Mr. Crosland

It is a matter of ordinary prudence and common sense. It is quite clear from statements made by Opposition leaders that, whatever Government are in power, 11-plus selection will not continue. It would therefore be, for anybody in my position, wasteful and frivolous to approve school buildings based on 11-plus selection without seeing how they fitted into the reorganisation scheme. As for the powers to which the hon. Member referred, I am acting under the general powers conferred on me by the 1944 Act and the Regulations of Parliament—exactly the same powers that enabled Conservative Ministers, much more brutally than I am doing, to turn down reorganisation schemes put up by Labour authorities.

Mr. Macmillan

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Surrey scheme meets most of his criteria? Secondly, does not he realise that it envisages the abolition of 11-plus selection and, thirdly, that the number of schools that he has approved are not even enough for the bare minimum which will be required no matter how Surrey education is developed? Does not the Minister think that this is a gross abuse of his powers?

Mr. Crosland

It is in no way a gross abuse of my powers. As for the Surrey scheme, I do not think that any objective reader of the scheme could maintain that it met the objectives of Circular 10/65. On the other hand, I want to emphasise that Surrey is particularly well placed to produce an excellent reorganisation scheme, and to do so would be in many ways regarded as a further continuation of the existing Surrey plan. I do not want to go into details because, as the hon. Member may know, I have invited the Chairman of the Surrey County Council to see me next week. I insist that what I want is not blackmail; I want an agreement of a sort which will reflect both the educational needs of the county and the national consensus, which is now strongly opposed to selection at 11.

Mr. Doughty

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his actions are holding up progress in education both in Surrey and Croydon, and that by threatening to refuse education for children there and destroying the grammar schools in these two counties he is not fulfilling his duties as Minister of Education?

Mr. Crosland

I am not responsible for this delay. The responsibility for any delay that is occurring must lie on authorities which cannot make it clear how their school building programmes will fit into the kind of non-selective system that we all know will exist, whatever party is in power. We must be clear where the responsibility lies. I am as anxious as Surrey to enable it to get on with its school building programme a quickly as it can.

Mr. Winnick

Why did Surrey County Council Education Committee turn down the proper plan submitted by an all-party sub-committee of the Education Committee? Does my right hon. Friend feel that the Surrey County Council will see common sense at long last and end its 11-plus, which penalises children not only in Surrey but in other parts of the country where this form of selection is continued?

Mr. Crosland

On the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I have no detailed information. I understand that the education committee has sent back to the working group the plan which the working group has produced. That is how the matter now rests, except that I have said that I propose to meet the chairman of the county council next week. On the second part of the supplementary question, I have no doubt that Surrey, which is an exceptionally progressive education authority, will, at the end of the day, produce one of the best reorganisation plans that we could see.

Sir E. Boyle

Irrespective for the moment of the educational merits of this question, does not Section 8 of the 1944 Act lay a specific duty upon a local authority to provide a sufficient number of school places for its area? Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there is an obligation upon him to ensure that the Surrey local education authority is in a position to provide the 15,000 extra school places that it will urgently need by the 1970s?

Mr. Crosland

I also have an obligation to carry out the wishes of Parliament, which were clearly expressed in this matter two and a half years ago. I do not want to get involved in an argument about this. The last thing I want— and I hope that one or two hon. Members opposite share this desire—is a confrontation with Surrey. What I want and what it wants, at the end of the day, is an agreement that will enable me to enable it to get on with its school building programme as rapidly as it can.