HC Deb 26 October 1967 vol 751 cc1866-8
15. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he intends to reopen Court Lees approved school under local authority management.

25. Mr. Bagier

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on his decision to withdraw his certificate of approval for Court Lees school.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I decided to withdraw the certificate of approval because I reached the conclusion that the managers of Court Lees did not fully appreciate the implications of Mr. Gibbens' report, and would not be able to give the school the fresh start it clearly needed. I very much hope that the school can be re-constituted in the near future under the management of the Surrey County Council. Delay in reopening, and consequent anxiety to the staff, has been caused by the refusal of the trustees to make the premises available, though the managers have now agreed that the Council may interview members of the staff with a view to making conditional offers of employment in a reconstituted school.

Mr. Barnes

While complimenting my right hon. Friend on the very prompt and correct action which he took—[Horn. MEMBERS "No."]—may I ask him whether he could give an assurance that he will not allow the delay in the transfer of the school to continue unduly, particularly in view of the public money spent on Court Lees in recent years?

Mr. Jenkins

I am most anxious that the delay should not continue. It must be said that, so far as there is uncertainty about the future of the great majority of the staff, it is because of the refusal of the trustees to agree to this transfer. Although the school is a private charity, in fact £197,000 of public funds have been advanced for improvements and the purchase of the school—probably substantially more than the school is worth—and, of course, we have paid all maintenance, upkeep and running costs since 1937.

Mr. Bagier

Has my right hon. Friend personally, through his own office, said to the trustees that it is on their shoulders alone that the delay is taking place and causing great anxiety to the staff? While on the question of the staff, will he pay tribute to the fact that the vast majority of teachers in this service—a very difficult service—do a first-class job and, therefore, the publicity which has been given to this matter does not necessarily rub off on any of them?

Mr. Jenkins

Yes, indeed. I attach the greatest importance to getting the school reconstituted at the earliest possible moment, which is clearly very much in the interests of the staff. There are two trustees who are themselves managers, although the trustees are not the same as the board of managers.

So far as the service generally is concerned, I am very glad indeed to take the opportunity afforded by my hon. Friend to pay this tribute and to say that I am sure that what occurred, what was brought to light and what was certainly disturbing at Court Lees is not typical of the service.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his last statement has been too long delayed, and that the way in which he has handled this matter has been well on the way to completely demoralising people in charge of the service?

Mr. Jenkins

I totally reject that suggestion. I must express the gravest surprise that, in view of the statements, some of them rather inflammatory, made by hon. Members opposite in August, not a single one of them has even put down a Question about this matter.

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