HC Deb 08 June 1976 vol 912 cc1181-2
6. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will pay a visit to Tameside.

Mr. Mulley

I have at present no plans to do so, but I am meeting representatives of the authority in London tomorrow to discuss their plans for the transfer of children to secondary schools in September.

Mr. Arnold

Is the Minister aware that the Conservative council took control in Tameside on the basis of a manifesto that pledged not to go ahead with the plans for comprehensive education drawn up by the previous council? Does it not have a clear duty to fulfil that pledge?

Mr. Mulley

One of the difficulties is that the council, as a council, has taken no decision in these matters at all. It is meeting to discuss the subject for the first time this afternoon. In the light of that meeting, the members of the council have agreed to explain their policy to me. I do not wish to make any public judgments of what the council intends to do until I have had a chance to hear what the decisions are and I have discussed these with the council's representatives tomorrow.

Mr. Noble

When my right hon. Friend meets representatives of Tameside will he bear in mind that almost 90 per cent. of children go to a first-choice school and 96 per cent. to a first- or second-choice school? Is he aware that the teaching profession in Tameside and throughout the country unanimously support the need to retain a comprehensive system? Will the Secretary of State deal with the educational wreckers in Tameside in a form that is appropriate to meet the needs of the parents there?

Mr. Mulley

It would be wrong for me to prejudge what the council's decisions today will be. I would not expect even a Conservative-controlled council totally to rule out the possibility that the proposed resolutions might be subject to amendment, and that reasoned argument might produce changes. Therefore, I am not forming a view until I know what the council, as distinct from various members of it, proposes to do.

I am concerned about the time factor. It is a matter of trying to get clear and settled what the policy for the children and the parents will be in September. For that reason, I asked the council as early as 11th May to let me know the position. I later asked it to let me know last Friday what it intended, but it asked for extra time and I thought it reasonable to allow sufficient for its council meeting to discuss the matter before coming to meet me tomorrow.

Mr. Montgomery

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when the Prime Minister assumed office he said on television that his Government would preserve our existing freedoms? In the light of that, why are they adopting this attitude to the Tameside authority? Why are they going against the clearly expressed wishes of so many parents who do not want comprehensive education but want some choice in the education of their children?

Mr. Mulley

I am not prepared to do what the hon. Gentleman is asking me to do, which is to prejudge the decisions of a meeting that has not yet taken place. In case the House is still sitting tomorrow, I have made contingency arrangements for the meeting to be held here, and I hope that the House will excuse me if I am absent from the consideration of the Education Bill until I have met the councillors. Until then I am not forming a view. I shall be interested to see whether the proposals that the councillors bring forward are in line with those that they submitted to the electorate in May.