HC Deb 18 April 1978 vol 948 cc245-7
13. Mr. Bryan Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will introduce legislation to integrate the public schools into the pattern of comprehensive secondary education.

Miss Margaret Jackson

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so but remains firmly committed to the long-term aim in our manifesto of phasing out fee paying in schools.

Mr. Davies

Does my hon. Friend accept that that is a disappointing reply? Surely there is a consensus in the House for the concept of equality of educational opportunity. Should we not therefore bring forward legislative proposals, with the support of the Opposition, to integrate the public schools so that we end the system whereby 10 times more resources are concentrated on the children of the privileged than on ordinary children? Is my hon. Friend aware that the privileged children then qualify for State subsidies in the form of higher education?

Miss Jackson

As my hon. Friend will be aware, it is not easy to work out legislative proposals for doing what he suggests. I am sorry to tell him that there can be no prospect of the Conservative Party supporting legislation which is designed to ensure equality of opportunity in our education system. Plainly, the Conservative Party is devoted to the opposite view.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the Minister make it plain whether it is still the Labour Party's policy to make the provision of private education a criminal offence? Will she be warned by the fate of her right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who enunciated that policy some years ago and has since sunk without trace?

Miss Jackson

There is no suggestion of making this a criminal offence. As for the fate of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I should be happy to emulate it.

Mr. Christopher Price

Could my hon. Friend make a little progress in this area by ensuring that, where the State provides money for boarding education through the Armed Services and the Diplomatic Corps, the grants are paid at a rate which will encourage the taking up of places in the maintained sector rather than at an inflated rate which serves only to perpetuate the public schools?

Miss Jackson

We are considering this matter. We are anxious to do all that we can for the maintained sector of boarding education.

Mr. William Shelton

Does the Under-Secretary accept that if she and the Government wish to phase out fee-paying schools the simple and easy way to do it is to raise standards in the maintained sector so that parents no longer wish to pay large sums of money to have their children educated privately?

Miss Jackson

I agree that many parents are sadly deluded into thinking that one receives a better education if one pays for it. Unfortunately, an examination of the standards of many of the independent schools does not bear out that contention.