HC Deb 14 April 1976 vol 909 cc1366-8
14. Mr. Rifkind

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards denominational schools in Scotland.

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

I agree with the view which has been held by successive Governments that no action should be taken to change the basic statutory provisions relating to denominational education unless there is a wide measure of agreement between the religious and educational bodies concerned, and the general public, that changes are desirable. There would appear to be no such general agreement at present.

Mr. Rifkind

Is the Minister aware that substantial alarm has been caused by the recent demands of the Scottish Labour Party conference at Troon that the Government should end the system of denominational schools? Although the House will be pleased to have heard the words of the Minister, will he give a categorical assurance that the Government will not contemplate ending denominational schools against the wishes of the parents involved? Will he undertake that the Government will not make any change in that policy unless there is a demand for it from the parents concerned, and not simply on the basis of general agreement?

Mr. McElhone

That is a typical misunderstanding of the Scottish Council of the Labour Party conference at Troon. I am only sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not present during the relevant discussions. But this is a very important issue and I make it clear that there is no change at all planned by this Government to the 1918 Act. There will be no change without the consent of the Roman Catholic population in Scotland. I want to make that perfectly clear.

Mr. Buchan

Will my hon. Friend please not allow the spokesman of the Tory Front Bench to get away with an absolute untruth? This was not the decision that was reached at the Scottish Labour Party conference. On the contrary, the Scottish Labour Party conference made it perfectly clear—as my hon. Friend did in his closing remarks—that there should be encouragement towards co-operation and integration, that there was no question of a move in this direction by Government diktat, and that it would depend on a change of climate towards this issue in Scotland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdrawn his total misinterpretation of what happened at the conference.

Mr. McElhone

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that statement. It is a correct interpretation of what happened at the conference at Troon.

Mr. Monro

Has the Minister read the recent McKechin Report, which presents certain strictures on Roman Catholic schools in Strathclyde? Does the Minister agree with it? What steps is he taking to improve the number of teachers in Catholic schools in the West of Scotland?

Mr. McElhone

I do not necessarily agree with that Report. Although I have taken note of the Press comments, the Report has not been submitted to me for approval or consideration. The hon. Gentle man will not be unaware that Strathclyde education authority has budgeted, with the rate support grant that we have allocated to it, for 800 extra teachers. With the number of Roman Catholic secondary teachers coming out of college this year, I am confident—as I understand the Director of Education for Strathclyde is confident—that we shall see an end to part-time education in the West of Scotland for the first time for 25 or 30 years.