HC Deb 28 November 1968 vol 774 cc708-9
23. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on the meeting held on 22nd October between officials of his Department and representatives of the County Borough of Reading relating to the reorganisation of secondary education in the borough.

33. Mr. Astor

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement concerning his negotiations with the Reading Borough Council in respect of its plans for the reorganisation of secondary education.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)

My officials had a full and useful exchange of views with representatives of the authority, and I am informed that the education committee has now decided to reconstitute its working party on reorganisation to discuss the points raised at the recent meeting.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Can the right hon. Lady confirm, what I think is the case, that this useful exchange of views to which she referred proceeded on the basis that the Secretary of State, under the present law, has no power to enforce upon an authority his reorganisation plans of which the authority disapproves, and that on his own admission the law is unlikely to be changed in the present Parliament?

Miss Bacon

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the proposals which Reading put to us were referred back for discussion, and when these proposals were referred back on 30th May I offered to arrange for discussions to take place between Reading's representatives and my officials, and a meeting was held recently in response to that offer. I have had no complaints whatsoever from the local authority about this, nor about the way in which the discussions were conducted.

Mr. Astor

Would the right hon. Lady give an assurance that she will not press for the implementation of any scheme of reorganisation till adequate facilities are available for the children of the whole ability range?

Miss Bacon

It is the Government's view that we should proceed as quickly as possible towards a full scheme of comprehensive reorganisation and we continue to press local authorities to go ahead with such schemes. I recognise that we must have resources as well, but at Reading it was not the resources which were the trouble but the fact that Reading wanted to retain its two grammar schools.

Sir E. Boyle

But have not both the right hon. Lady and her right hon. Friend agreed in recent debates that the issue of resources is extremely important here, and have not many authorities, as, for example, Warwickshire only yesterday made it plain that they are perfectly prepared to implement the plan but only when adequate resources become available to do a proper job for the whole ability range?

Miss Bacon

Yes, we have never pretended that resources are not important, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a few—not a lot, but a few—local authorities have been opposed to comprehensive education even if resources were there. In this case Reading wanted to retain its two grammar schools. The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that, in spite of the fact that we could not go ahead as quickly as we hoped with the building programme, we have another £7 million in each of two years to spend on comprehensive reorganisation, and it means that the schemes due to come into operation in 1968–69 will come into operation.