HC Deb 02 May 1968 vol 763 cc1277-9
20. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will now introduce legislation to ensure that the non-selective principle in secondary education is adhered to by all local education authorities.

Mr. Edward Short

I hope this will be unnecessary.

Mr. Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the 1944 Act requires local authorities to carry out national policy under his control and direction? In view of the fact that many large authorities, in particular the Birmingham authority, have now made clear that they have no intention whatever of introducing comprehensive education, does he not think the time has come to prepare and introduce legislation?

Mr. Short

I certainly hope that that can be avoided. We should not underestimate the progress which has been made; 109 local authorities have had schemes approved and a large number of others have submitted schemes. So far only six have declined outright. I hope it will not be necessary to introduce legislation about this.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are two views about the interpretation of the 1944 Act and of the basis suggested by his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price)? If the right hon. Gentleman were to introduce such legislation, he should not expect it to be uncontroversial.

Mr. Short

I am aware of that, but I would not have thought that there were two views about the need to prevent the appalling brain drain at the age of 11 which has faced our society for too long.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that any such interference with the right of local education authorities to determine the shape and pattern of education in their areas would put in issue the whole administration of local education and the charging of a large part of it to the rates?

Mr. Short

I do not under-estimate the difficulties of this matter, but the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that those on this side of the House fought the last two elections quite clearly on this issue. We made no bones about this. This was our policy and it is regarded as national policy. I hope that local education authorities will comply with it, as the great majority are doing. It would be unthinkable that six local authorities should stick to the tripartite system when the rest had gone over to a comprehensive system. I sincerely hope that it will not be necessary to introduce legislation, but I remind the party opposite that this Government have still three years left before the next General Election.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

is my right hon. Friend aware that under the jurisdiction of Mr. Chataway the I.L.E.A. is trying to destroy the comprehensive system in London by reintroducing selective entry?

Mr. Short

I cannot comment on the Inner London scheme, which has been submitted but which I have not yet fully considered.