HC Deb 12 November 1975 vol 899 cc1505-7
2. Mr. Robin F. Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has reached a decision on the application by Lothian Regional Council for borrowing consent to purchase Mary Erskine School.

4. 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 Lothian Regional Council and the Merchant Company regarding the future of the Mary Erskine School.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Frank McElhone)

I am still considering a request from the regional council for an increase in its capital investment allocation to enable it to make this purchase, but I am not yet ready to announce a decision.

Mr. Cook

Is my hon. Friend aware that if a decision is not reached in the next month, there will be serious difficulties for the regional council in making preparations for the autumn 1976 intake? Will he bear in mind that many who welcomed the policy when it was announced last spring nevertheless said that there would be clear capital consequences for Edinburgh? Will he also bear in mind that those who wish the policy well and want it to succeed hope that the money necessary to make it work will be made available?

Mr. McElhone

I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's concern in this matter. Substantial extra public expenditure will be involved if the proposal to acquire the school is accepted. That decision cannot be taken lightly. Relevant factors, such as the probable number of pupils transferring to the public sector, the distribution of those pupils, and the capacity of existing school provision, need careful assessment. However, I shall make a decision as soon as possible.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Will the Minister do everything within his power to try to end the uncertainty being experienced by pupils, teachers, and parents connected with this school, which is in my constituency? Will he bear in mind that if the £2,750,000 for the purchase of Mary Erskine School has to be taken out of the financial allocation already made for education provision for Edinburgh, there will be intense resentment throughout the capital and it will be regarded as being very unfair?

Mr. McElhone

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about this matter. Indeed, he has sent me a letter and consulted me about it. The buying of the Mary Erskine School has implications for other grant-aided schools in Scotland. Apart from the £2.75 million which is involved, an extra £600,000 will be required for its conversion to a co-education school.

Mr. Reid

In the negotiations for grant-aided schools, will the Minister take steps to ensure that parents with children currently attending or about to attend such schools are consulted before any final decision is reached? Does he agree that too many negotiations to date, with special reference to Dollar Academy, have been conducted behind closed doors?

Mr. McElhone

That is a different question. If the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question on that matter, I shall attempt to answer it.

Mr. Rifkind

Is the Minister aware that the acquisition of this school by the regional council, although welcome, will not provide a single additional school place in Edinburgh? Does he accept that it would be more sensible, in the interests of education in the east of Scotland, for the Government to cease their petty, puny and pathetic persecution of grant-aided schools and to concentrate on the requirements necessary to improve education in Scotland?

Mr. McElhone

No, Sir.

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