HC Deb 15 June 1967 vol 748 cc746-8
5. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is aware that some local authorities are obstructing the progress of comprehensive education; and if he will now introduce legislation to ensure the unhindered development of a non-selective educational system.

11. Mr. Charles Morrison

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he proposes to take when a local authority has clearly shown that it does not intend to submit proposals for the reorganisation of secondary education in their area which will be acceptable to him.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

The great majority of authorities have responded willingly to the request made in Circular 10/65. Until I have made further progress in the examination and approval of the plans submitted, I shall keep an open mind about possible future action.

Mr. Roberts

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on this side feel that, if we are to have a non-selective equal-opportunity system of education, it is high time to stop playing noughts and crosses with Tory local education authorities and to introduce legislation to get on with the job?

Mr. Crosland

I am not sure about stopping noughts and crosses, but I think that my hon. Friend may not appreciate the facts of the situation, which are that an extraordinarily small number of local education authorities, of whatever political complexion, are showing themselves reluctant to abolish selection, and by far the great majority are responding willingly to the request which we made in the circular.

Mr. Morrison

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, far from obstructing progress in any sort of education, local education authorities are doing their utmost in the best interests of the children and families in their areas, and will he assure the House that it is not his intention to usurp the authority of local education authorities in their own areas?

Mr. Crosland

What the hon. Gentleman has said is absolutely fair. The huge majority of authorities are carefully and conscientiously doing what they believe to be in the best interests of children, and, in fact, this huge majority takes the view that what is in the best interests of the children is the abolition of the 11-plus. As to future action, I have said many times already, and I repeat briefly now, that I do not think that there will be any need for legislation because I believe that we shall continue to have the active co-operation of the great majority of authorities. If a very large number were to defy the clearly expressed national will on this subject, any democratic Government must reserve the right to express that will in legislation. However, I believe that this is a purely hypothetical question.

Mr. Longden

There is no question about abolishing the 11-plus. Everyone agreed long ago that it must go. Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the crux of the Opposition's objection to his education policy is that it abolishes all selection throughout secondary education?

Mr. Crosland

If hon. and right hon. Members opposite took that view about the 11-plus so long ago, it is curious that they did nothing to get rid of it when they were in office.

Mr. Molloy

Reverting to the original question, is my right hon. Friend aware that many authorities, particularly the London Borough of Ealing, have endeavoured to observe the requirements of his circular but feel to a degree that some obstruction has come from his Department? When the Borough of Ealing submits new proposals, will my right hon. Friend give them more sympathetic consideration?

Mr. Crosland

I shall certainly try to be sympathetic, but, as I think my hon. Friend knows, the only obstruction which came from my Department in the case to which he refers was that I did not happen to agree with the precise proposals which his council put forward. I emphasise how small is the number of cases in which we have had reason to object to the detailed plans submitted by authorities in response to Circular 10/65.

Sir E. Boyle

Reverting to the right hon. Gentleman's reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden), is it not the case that a large number of the most workable schemes of reorganisation were started by Conservative-controlled counties some time ago, and is it not totally unfair to suggest that Conservative authorities have nowhere been concerned to abolish the 11-plus?

Mr. Crosland

That would be totally unfair. I was referring not to Conservative authorities but to the Conservative Government. A large number of Conservative authorities showed a most striking initiative in this direction before the circular was issued. What was lacking before this Government came in was any national lead on the question.