HC Deb 08 July 1970 vol 803 cc639-41
3. Mr. Sproat

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has for discussing the future of comprehensive education with local authorities, with particular regard to Aberdeen.

17. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will enter into consultations with the Educational Institute of Scotland before changing Government policy towards the introduction of comprehensive schools.

50. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will state his policy on the development of comprehensive education in Scotland.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Edward Taylor)

I am sending the hon. Members a copy of my right hon. Friend's Department's recent circular to education authorities on the organisation of secondary education. The circular gives the local authorities discretion to decide what is best for their own areas.

Mr. Sproat

Is my hon. Friend aware of the very great concern and apprehension felt by parents that in Aberdeen schools of the highest academic excellence are liable to be destroyed? Would he give an assurance that he will bring the greatest reasonable pressure to bear on local authorities to see that these schools are preserved for children of ability from every section of the community?

Mr. Taylor

I must emphasise that there is no question of pressure. I am giving authorities discretion to decide what is best for their own areas. It is not my intention to cause authorities to disturb comprehensive arrangements which are working well and with which they are content.

Mr. Dalyell

Is it entirely wise to start by giving a gratuitous insult to the E.I.S.?

Mr. Taylor

There is no question of giving insult to anyone. All I have done is to give authorities freedom to decide for themselves what is best for their own areas.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his party has no mandate in Scotland for pursuing this or any other kind of policy? Does he not recognise that he is regarded in educational circles in Scotland as a political cave man? Is he to go on record as believing in selectivity and segregation of children at the age of 11 or 12-plus? He must give a categoric answer to that.

Mr. Taylor

I certainly cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's conclusions. We are not forcing any authority to do anything in particular. We are simply giving them freedom to decide for themselves what is in the best interests of the children of their area.

Mr. Galbraith

Can my hon. Friend say what he is to do for the Secretary of State's own school, the Jordan Hill College School, which was imperilled by the previous Administration? Will he keep it?

Mr. Taylor

It is too early to give any answer to detailed questions like that but I note my hon. Friend's interest in this matter and I will bear in mind what he says.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that freedom from interference will allow enlightened education authorities such as Aberdeen to implement a one-tier comprehensive system? Does he agree that this freedom can be exercised only if sufficient funds are available? Will he therefore make capital funds available to enable Aberdeen to complete its building programme by 1975?

Mr. Taylor

That is a different Question but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not my intention to cause authorities to disturb comprehensive arrangements which are working well and with which they are satisfied.

Mr. Brewis

Is it not the case that comprehensive education in certain industrial areas works very well but presents great difficulties in other parts of Scotland? Will the hon. Gentleman see that at no time he adopts a dictatorial attitude to local authorities but leaves the local education authorities to decide?

Mr. Taylor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because this is the position. We accept that circumstances can vary from authority to authority and that is why we want to restore this freedom, so that an area can decide what is best for itself.

Mr. Ross

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that there has been no controversy in Scotland about comprehensive education, that it was accepted in Scotland and in this House without demur? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense!"] Secondly, does he realise that there was an overwhelming majority of Labour Members returned from Scotland and that the Government have no mandate to make this change? Thirdly, will he explain to us why two days after the English Ministry produced its vicious circular we got this pathetic little one-paragraph circular from the Scottish Office? Where is Scottish independence?

Mr. Taylor

The right hon. Gentleman will accept that when education circumstances in Scotland are so different from those in England it is entirely appropriate that we should issue a separate circular. That is precisely what we did. If the right hon. Gentleman feels that there is no controversy on this matter and that all local authorities are satisfied with the present situation, then he has no need to feel concerned about what will happen. We are giving local authorities the freedom to decide what is best for themselves. If they all agree with the right hon. Gentleman there will be no problem.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a lot of Questions.