HC Deb 11 May 1972 vol 836 cc1528-9
3. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many education authorities will serve a population of below one-quarter of a million after 1st April, 1974; and if she will seek to discuss ways in which her Department can offer special assistance.

Mrs. Thatcher

On the basis of the 1971 census figures of population, 14 in the Greater London area, nine in the rest of England and two in Wales. I have no reason to think these authorities need special assistance.

Mr. Hardy

Does the right hon. Lady agree that there is continuing anxiety about the position of smaller authorities following reorganisation? Will she therefore agree to confer with representatives of local authorities which are likely to bear responsibility in those areas on the ways in which the needs can be met and the arrangements that are necessary?

Mrs. Thatcher

Good local education authorities can be found in all size ranges. Size is not the only criterion of efficiency. I have no reason to think that the smaller authorities will require any special assistance.

Mr. Edward Short

I agree that size cannot be equated with efficiency or quality, but would not the right hon. Lady agree that there is a minimum size below which no local authority should be able to fall? Since it is understood that 15 metropolitan districts will be below the Government's figure of 250,000, will the right lion. Lady discuss with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the possibility of supporting our idea, which seeks to give her the power at any time in future to combine two or more metropolitan districts?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not agree that there is any rigid minimum. Certainly neither the Department nor the Royal Commission ever set a rigid minimum; indeed the Royal Commission avoided doing just that. There are already powers in the Education Act, 1944, to have joint education authorities where both authorities agree.

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