HC Deb 06 February 1969 vol 777 cc557-8
6. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many approvals for school building and improvements which had previously been given were withdrawn by him during the present year; and how many of these approvals related to primary and secondary schools, respectively.

Mr. Edward Short

The right hon. Gentleman doubtless has in mind the revision of the major programmes for 1968–70 which took place last year and which resulted in some projects previously authorised to start in those years, or earlier being deferred. I cannot say without special inquiry how many of these are still regarded as "live" projects but have not yet been reinstated in a major programme.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has announced additional provision to cope with the proposed raising of the school leaving age, will not he give priority to those projects previously approved which he cancelled when he decided to defer the raising of the age?

Mr. Short

I do not think that this would be an appropriate way of doing it. By the end of the last financial year, local authorities had built up a large backlog of work which had not been started in previous years. Some of it was no longer appropriate, so some would no longer find a place. The only sensible course was to wipe the slate clean. Last year, I introduced a three-stage system for authorising building projects: preliminary lists, the first year; planning lists, the second year; and starts lists, the third year. For the first time, this has brought sanity into the school building programme.

Sir E. Boyle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the decision to defer the school building programme and Circular 6/68 which followed caused great dislocation to local authorities? Has not my right hon. Friend a real point here? If I put down a Question to the right hon. Gentleman asking for details of the specific work involved, will I get a specific answer?

Mr. Short

It is extremely difficult to get information on that specific point without a lot of labour and expense. I agree that it caused some temporary chaos, but, since then, the position has been very much better, and the school building programme is very much bigger. In fact, it is twice what it was when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) was Minister.