HC Deb 11 December 1973 vol 866 cc186-8
16. Mr. Marks

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is her latest revised estimate of the school building programme for the years 1972–73, 1973–74 and 1974–75.

Mrs. Thatcher

The figure for 1972–73 is £312.3 million, including £75 million as part of the special programme for raising the school leaving age. I hope soon to make an announcement about the resumption of approvals of educational building work. It would be premature to say anything more about the 1973–74 and 1974–75 programmes in advance of that announcement.

Mr. Marks

Is the Secretary of State aware that the provisional figure for 1973–74 is £70 million below the one she has just given for the previous year, and that that is again being cut by 25 per cent. in accordance with her moratorium on approvals? Does she not realise that this is causing great difficulties for local authorities? What increase will she allow in the cost limits when she resumes approvals in January?

Mrs. Thatcher

The previous year—1972–73—included a figure of £75 million for the special programme for the raising of the school leaving age. That has been completed, so it is not surprising that a similar amount is not reflected in the next year's programme. The point about cost limits will be dealt with in the circular which will be going out shortly.

Mr. Burden

I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the urgent need for the provision of proper schooling for mentally handicapped children. Will she do all in her power to ensure that the school building programme for these children is neither cut back nor delayed and that this applies especially to the new school at Bobbing, near Sittingbourne, which is urgently needed and which, I understand, is now in jeopardy?

Mrs. Thatcher

I shall certainly examine the point raised by my hon. Friend. We are particularly anxious that this programme, which is relatively small, should have reasonable priority.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Does the Minister not feel the time has now come to come clean and admit that the Government are effectively cutting the school building programme, and that that is their intention? Does she not agree that by delaying the announcement of the approval of schemes, thus ensuring that local authorities cannot proceed for anything from five to nine months, she is effectively cutting the budget for the school building programme? Is this not "kidology" at its best?

Mrs. Thatcher

No. The maximum cut must be three months. That is the period of the moratorium. If local authorities had got on a little more quickly with their programmes more schools would have been started before the moratorium began. The local education authorities are free to start their programmes at the beginning of the financial year. The maximum period of the moratorium is three months.

Mr. Marten

Will my right hon. Friend be a little more forthcoming on the question of the time when she will allow contracts to be placed again? The date was 1st January. Cannot she tell the House that it will be 1st January?

Mrs. Thatcher

The date is 1st January.

Mr. Hattersley

The right hon. Lady is too ready to blame local authorities for her own shortcomings. When she talks about slowness in preparing building programmes, does she not recall a certain little difficulty over cost limits which was not met until an Opposition motion was tabled?

Mrs. Thatcher

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman recalls that cost limits went up by 22 per cent. towards the beginning of the year.

19. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received about the school building programme for 1974–75.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have not received any such representations apart from routine inquiries from local education authorities, and inquiries about Circular 12/73.

Mr. Whitehead

Is the right hon. Lady aware that I am holding in my hand representations made to her by the Derby and Derbyshire Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations? The letter makes a strong point about the delay which she has reiterated today. Is she aware that the cut-back for 1974–75 will severely hit education authorities such as Derbyshire? Is she further aware that in such areas there is a major problem not only in replacing outdated primary schools but in transferring secondary schools to comprehensive education? Does she accept that she has held up some of these schemes unreasonably in the past?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have received representations about only two projects in Derbyshire. One is a major project, namely, the Pringle Secondary School, Swadlincote, and the other is a minor project at the Findern County Primary School. Those are the only two representations that I have received. I hope that they will soon apply for approval on 1st January.