HC Deb 09 July 1975 vol 895 cc503-5
1. Mr. Alexander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps have been taken to alleviate hardship following the closure and reorganisation of grant-aided schools; and if he will make a statement.

17. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make an up-to-date statement on the outcome of his negotiations with the grant-aided schools in Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Robert Hughes)

Before I answer, I should inform the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is heavily engaged today in Scotland with the State visit of the King of Sweden. I am sure that the House will appreciate why he is not here.

The answer to the Questions is as follows. In the light of the discussions which have taken place between the Depart- ment and representatives of the grant-aided schools, my right hon. Friend has decided that grant to the schools that elect not to join the public system will be phased out over six years beginning in 1976–77. Amending regulations for this purpose will be laid before the House in due course. Discussions between the schools and the education authorities concerned are now in hand and the schools will shortly be asked to make known their intentions for the future.

For schools not joining the public sector, a six-year phase-out of grant should give protection to existing pupils at least until they have completed their primary or secondary courses. As before, it will be open to the managers of the schools to use the grant to alleviate any serious financial hardship.

Mr. Fletcher

It is helpful that the Under-Secretary has given us some idea of the phasing out of the grants to these schools. Is he aware, however, that many parents are deeply concerned about the shortage of school places for their children due to the reorganisation? Will he tell the House why, in these serious times of financial stringency, schools such as John Watson's in my constituency have been put out of business and closed down as a direct result of the Government's policy?

Mr. Hughes

What happens to children who are unable to continue in the grant-aided schools is of concern to all of us. Discussions of a detailed nature on how many children will come into the public sector and the amount of resources that are needed are taking place at local level. In times of financial stress there is no justification for continuing a selective system of education which is subsidised from State funds.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Will the Minister give an undertaking that the general phasing out of the grant will take place over at least a six-year period in order to give plenty of opportunity to the children at these schools to stay on and complete their education?

Mr. Hughes

I thought I made it perfectly clear in my original answer that the grant was to be phased out over a six-year period beginning 1976–77.

Mr. MacCormick

Does the Minister appreciate that his answer is very close to a motion tabled a few months ago by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor)? Does he appreciate that we expect to hear the Conservative benches congratulate him on what he has just said?

Mr. Hughes

I shall be surprised if anything that the Government do receives the congratulations of the hon. Member for Cathcart.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does the Minister agree that what he has announced has nothing at all to do with what we propose, namely, the maintaining of the real value of grants? Does he agree that what he proposes will involve enormous hardship to the parents concerned because of inflation eroding these grants? Will he also agree that the acute financial problems facing local authorities are a reason for abandoning his plans, bearing in mind that to transfer a substantial number of children to the public sector will not only disrupt the life of those children and their education but will put a further burden on the ratepayers of the cities concerned?

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is always very quick to leap to the defence of people who expect educational privilege at public expense.—[Interruption.] Yes, we shall be saving money. However, it is not being done for that reason. It is an educational policy that we are pursuing to get much better education in Scotland. We believe that this policy will work and we see no reason why there should be immense financial hardship because it is within the resources of the schools to take care of it themselves.

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