HC Deb 11 November 1975 vol 899 cc1123-5
10. Mr. Edmund Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether it remains his policy that control of the public sector of education should remain with local authorities.

Mr. Mulley

I have no plans to change the existing basic division of responsibility between the local education authorities and my Department.

Dr. Marshall

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the financing and the control of the public sector of education must go together, so that the transfer of financial provision to central Government, as is widely advocated, would effectively mean the end of local education authorities?

Mr. Mulley

I agree about the importance of the financial support for education by central Government being administered by the local education authorities. My hon. Friend knows that the Layfield Committee has been studying all aspects of local government finance, including this one. It will be reporting soon. When that report is available, we shall want to consider carefully whether existing arrangements are satisfactory.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does not the Press notice of 17th September sent out under the Minister's authority contain a threat to coerce those education authorities which decline to go comprehensive? Does it not also threaten them with restricting their rights under the Education Acts to take up places in independent schools, and does not that mean a major shift—a constitutional change—of power to the Government from local education authorities? Ought not an announcement of that importance to have been made to this House rather than in a Press notice? If government by circular is bad, is not government by Press notice worse?

Mr. Mulley

This was not a matter of a decision being communicated by a Press notice. As I was consulting the local authorities on certain matters, I thought it advisable that other bodies should have the consultation document available to them in the same way that it was available to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). In my view that was desirable.

I turn to the hon. Gentleman's strictures. In view of the number of times that the hon. Gentleman has urged me to interfere in the most detailed administrative decisions of local authorities, I am surprised that he has put forward the point he has made today. However, I do not view my proposal as a major constitutional innovation. It would give some legislative support to Section 1 of the Education Act 1944.