HC Deb 10 December 1975 vol 902 cc451-2
18. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give an up-to-date statement on his negotiations with the grant-aided schools in Scotland, including the grant-aided schools in Edinburgh.

Mr. McElhone

Nineteen of the 26 grant-aided secondary schools have told me that they intend to become independent. The managers of John Watson's School, Edinburgh, have decided to close the school. Negotiations are continuing between the appropriate education authorities and the managers of Marr College, Troon, St. Joseph's College, Dumfries and St. Mary's Cathedral Choir School, Edinburgh. I understand that the education board of the Company of Merchants of Edinburgh, which manages the other three schools, intends that its schools should become independent, though it has offered to sell the Mary Erskine School building to the Lothian Regional Council. The council has asked for my consent to purchase the school, but I have decided that the extra capital expenditure involved would not be justified at the present time.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of the comprehensive schools on the western side of Edinburgh—namely, the Royal High School, Craigmount School, Firhill School and the Forester Schools—are already very hard pressed and will be unable to take all the children in their district? They will not be able to cope with the influx that will follow as a result of this decision.

Is the hon. Gentleman further aware that this decision will be regarded in Scotland not as a decision by Scottish Office Ministers, but as a decision on the part of the Treasury? Scottish Office Ministers have shown themselves to be completely impotent to push their own policy to a logical conclusion. This decision will be wholeheartedly condemned by every political party on the Lothian Regional Council.

Mr. McElhone

I am not sure that we are condemned by every political party on the Lothian Council. I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that the children who go to the Mary Erskine School do not all come from the west of Edinburgh, as the scattergraph used by the education authority shows. The authority has pointed out that the children come from the catchment areas of 13 different schools, some outwith the area of Edinburgh District Council. It is not true that the pressure will be entirely on the west side of Edinburgh.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Will my hon. Friend accept that his statement will cause grave disappointment to many people in Edinburgh who support the Government's policy of creating a comprehensive system in that city? Does he appreciate that without money from the Mary Erskine School the fees will be that much higher and more pupils will seek a transfer into the State system than was revealed in the scattergraph? Will he give an assurance that the decision is not final and that, if the position proves intolerable, he will be prepared to look at the matter again? Many people do not see how the Lothian region will be able to place 1,000 extra pupils in the autumn of next year.

Mr. McElhone

Two points arise from my hon. Friend's supplementary question. The number of pupils involved is not 1,000 but could be around 250 as an approximate guess. Of the three schools in Edinburgh none will be put under pressure by the decision. I have not closed the door finally on this matter. If it appears that accommodation difficulties in the public schools are likely to become acute. I shall consider the matter again.