HC Deb 09 March 1972 vol 832 cc1633-5
12. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science on how many occasions she has refused permission for a school to become part of a comprehensive scheme proposed by local education authorities; how many letters of protest she has received after any such refusals; and what replies she has sent.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have rejected under Section 13(4) of the Education Act, 1944, as amended, statutory proposals relating to 21 schools, where the proposals were to implement some part of a scheme of secondary reorganisation. In reply to a total of 72 letters opposing these decisions, I have explained the main educational considerations on which they were based.

Mr. Ashley

Is the right hon. Lady aware that by rejecting part of the scheme she could cause chaos to the whole of it and effectively damage the overall comprehensive scheme? When making decisions does she take this significant fact into account, or does she disregard it?

Mrs. Thatcher

I carry out my statutory duty, which is to consider each scheme on its merits. That is the duty contained in Section 13 and I must discharge it.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will my right: hon. Friend continue to refuse those applications where the two parts of the proposed schools are a long way apart, particularly in areas such as Derbyshire, where the result may be extremely inefficient and bad for both pupils and teachers?

Mrs. Thatcher

Schools on sites which are a good distance apart from each other face considerable difficulties. We have taken this factor into account when deciding whether to give or to withhold permission.

Miss Lestor

Can the Secretary of State explain how she squares that reply with what was said in "A Better Tomorrow" under the heading "Better Education": In secondary education, a number of different patterns have developed over the years, including many types of comprehensive school. We will maintain the existing rights of local authorities to decide what is best for their area.

Mrs. Thatcher

Many different patterns have developed. They come to me for approval. I have maintained existing local authority rights, and I discharge my statutory duty under Section 13 of the Education Act 1944, as amended. I undertake to maintain the local education authorities' existing rights.

13. Mr. Molloy

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what further plans are envisaged to help local education authorities in developing their programmes towards comprehensive education.

Mrs. Thatcher

Secondary 'school projects to the value of nearly £200 million are expected to start in the next two years. These have been authorised to meet basic need for new school places, but they will also contribute to the development of comprehensive schools in those areas where local education authorities are proceeding with plans for the reorganisation of secondary education.

Mr. Molloy

There appears to be a ray of hope in what the right hon. Lady says, but is she aware that in the past some local authorities, particularly Conservative-controlled ones, have argued that the only real answer is to have purpose-built comprehensive schools? This was not possible under the Labour Administration in one fell swoop, and it may not be possible under this Administration. However, would she be prepared to consider looking into cases where a scheme could be spoiled unless it received a little help from her Department—for example, would she examine the situation with which Ealing is now struggling?

Mrs. Thatcher

The main programmes which exist in secondary education are the basic needs programme and the raising of the school leaving age programme. With so many improvement projects still queueing up in secondary education, I cannot undertake to give any special money for comprehensive reorganisation beyond that allocated by those two programmes.

Mr. Madel

On the question of school places and reorganisation, will the Secretary of State pay special attention to those education authorities which face an above-average rise in school population, such as those in Bedfordshire?

Mrs. Thatcher

An above-average rise in school population should be taken into account in the basic needs programme, which is aimed at meeting that kind of situation.

Mr. Edward Short

How does the right hon. Lady square the recent decision in the Kidderminster scheme with the last sentence in a speech made in this House on 8th July, 1970, when we were discussing Circular 10/70, when the right hon. Lady said: The main purpose of this circular is to honour an election pledge to reject compulsion on democratically elected local authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1970; Vol. 803, c. 688.]

Mrs. Thatcher

The decision in the Kidderminster scheme was widely welcomed locally. It was on an application by the local authority to change the character of the school under Section 13. I discharged my statutory duties under Section 13, and I note that it is the right hon. Gentleman who does not wish me to discharge my legal duties.