HC Deb 03 August 1976 vol 916 cc1432-5
Mr. St. John-Stevas

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement following the decision of the House of Lords in the Tameside case.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

I explained to the House on 11th June my view of the arrangements proposed by Tameside, and on that day I issued my direction to the authority to go ahead with the original approved scheme for secondary education in September. The House of Lords has now given its ruling on the legality of that direction and I accept, without any reservations whatsoever, that decision from the highest court of law in the land.

The effect of the Lords decision is that my direction of 11th June no longer stands. Tameside is therefore under no legal obligation to implement the proposals which I approved last November. It is for Tameside to decide what now has to be done to achieve the most orderly possible start to the new school year in September, having regard to all the circumstances. My first concern throughout has been the educational welfare of the children caught up in that crisis, and I trust that all the parties involved will make that their first priority in the future.

I do not think that any further comment from me would be appropriate at this stage.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Now that the legal issues in the Tameside case have been finally and somewhat expensively decided, does the Secretary of State agree that what is important now is the education of the children of Tameside? To that end, will he seek to persuade those teachers who are in conflict with the council to forget the past and to do their best to make the selection procedure a success? Will he also place the resources of his Department at the service of the council in order to make this selection process successful? Will he, in fact, now abandon his ideological prepossessions and act, as is his duty as Secretary of State, to safeguard the educational interests of the children there?

Mr. Mulley

Let me make one point clear. It is not only a matter of putting the educational interests of the children first now. This was very much in my mind on 11th June. One thing that has been common to all the legal decision—and indeed I made it quite clear in the House in answer to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson)—is that this is not a dispute about whether comprehensive or selective education is right. It is about the arrangements proposed by the Tameside authority, and the shortage of time involved.

As to the dispute between the teachers, it was declared official, I think, in the middle of May, and a great many of the problems arose from the decision of the council unilaterally to cancel the conciliation arrangements. I would imagine that if the parties got together now they could probably resolve their difficulties. It is essentially a matter for the parties concerned.

As to the resources—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan) had much to say as second fiddle in the court case and perhaps he should contain himself now and listen to me for a moment. As to the assistance of the Department, my Department, as always, is ready to give what assistance it can and is requested to give to any authority to carry out its statutory duties. Indeed, I offered to have talks with the Tameside authority early in May when these difficulties arose. However, for reasons that I accept, the authority was unwilling to do this.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does my right hon. Friend accent that the interpretation put on the law by the judges this year is wholly different from the interpretation put by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Simon, when introducing Section 68 into the House of Lords in 1944? Does he agree that in acting in this way, in widening the law in this way, the Law Lords are in fact usurping the power of Parliament? Will my right hon. Friend support the Bill that I shall be introducing for its First Reading in a few moments to put the law back to the state it was proposed to be in when the Education Bill was introduced into this House in 1944?

Mr. Mulley

It would be wrong for me to comment on the reasons for the decisions in the House of Lords. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because we have not got them yet and I understand that it may be some considerable time before the judgments of their Lordships are made available. As to my hon. Friend's Bill, I observed that he had given notice that he wished to introduce a Bill. I shall study it with very great interest.

Mr. Gow

As it was the unanimous view of the Court of Appeal and of the House of Lords that the Secretary of State had misdirected himself in this matter and that his own affidavit was less than frank, would not the only honourable course for the Minister to take now be to resign? Secondly, as the Minister appealed to the House of Lords against the advice of his own legal advisers, ought not he, rather than the taxpayer, to pay the costs of that appeal?

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Gentleman would be a little more convincing if he checked the facts on which he relies before making such sweeping allegations. Not only did I not make an affidavit—it is not the practice, I understand, for Ministers to do so—but I made it clear to those acting for Tameside that, if they wished, I was available for cross-examination in this matter.

As to the other allegations, I should also like to mention the fact that the matter was not entirely without doubt. The Lord Chief Justice, for example, gave a different version of the events. It has been suggested that it was only new evidence, put in very late and which clearly could not have been before me on 11th June, that had a bearing on subsequent decisions.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There is another Private Notice Question, plus two major statements, plus a Ten Minutes Rule Bill, and a very heavy list of Bills under Orders of the Day.

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