HC Deb 07 December 1976 vol 922 cc219-20
12. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the total cost to public funds of the legal proceedings in which her Department was involved in connection with secondary education in Tameside; and what was the breakdown of the costs involved in: (a) the High Court, (b) the Court of Appeal and (c) the House of Lords.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

The matter has not yet been settled.

Mr. Gow

Is the Secretary of State aware that the likely figure for legal costs in this matter is in excess of £20,000? Since the House of Lords decided unanimously that her predecessor was fundamentally misguided and misdirected in this matter, does she not think that her predecessor should make some contribution towards the legal costs?

Mrs. Williams

Perhaps my right hon. Friend would consider this if there was a major contribution from the local authority which brought the case.

Mr. Gow

But it won.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if it did cost £20,000, some of us who sat through all three cases are convinced that the Government did not get the value for money from the legal profession which they should have received? Is she further aware that 30 years ago, when Section 68 of the Education Act was introduced by Lord Simon in the House of Lords, he said that it was quite inappropriate for judges to interfere at all with that section? Now that the House of Lords Judicial Committee has had its go at legislating, will my right hon. Friend bring forward legislation to put the matter right?

Mrs. Williams

My hon. Friend is probably aware that something called the Education Bill was enacted recently. I cannot comment on the costs of the Tameside action. I am not as well informed as the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) on that matter. I understand that it is still under considera- tion by the Treasury Solicitor's Department. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has heard a leak.

Dr. Boyson

Does the right hon. Lady agree that there are two lessons to be drawn from Tameside? Does she agree that, first, there is the point made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) that it is advisable for the Government to get good legal advice before tangling with a democratically elected local authority and, secondly, that if the Government want the advance of comprehensive education because of a genuine belief and not for reasons of political dogma they are more likely to get it by winning the approval of local authorities and not threatening them with legal force, as in the new 1976 Education Act?

Mrs. Williams

It is not for me to comment on the House of Lords decision. However, I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that the original decision to go for comprehensive education was made by a duly elected House. Secondly, many of us feel that the children in Tame-side are not well served by this sort of battle.