HC Deb 23 October 1979 vol 972 cc178-80
5. Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on his proposals for strengthening the legal rights of parents regarding the education of their children.

Dr. Boyson

The Education Bill which my right hon. and learned Friend will present to the House shortly will contain provisions to ensure that parents' wishes are taken into account in the choice of schools for their children, and that there is a local appeals system, and provide for parents to be represented on the governing bodies of their children's schools.

Mr. Latham

Is my hon. Friend aware of the great importance that many parents attach to being able to send their children to the school of their choice, especially if it is a traditional school outside their own catchment area? Will he bring forward the appeal procedures, which will be widely welcomed, as soon as possible.

Dr. Boyson

The Bill to be published shortly will contain proposals for parental choice, including the publication of results, what goes on in schools and how parents can apply for a certain school. There will also be an independent tribunal, whose decisions will be binding upon the local authority, to which parents can appeal if they do not get the school of their choice. I am sure that these proposals will be welcomed throughout the country by supporters of both major parties.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Will the proposed Bill apply, or in the usual way be applicable, to Northern Ireland? If not, may it be taken that the principle of the policy that is to be applied in the rest of the Kingdom will be applied in Northern Ireland?

Dr. Boyson

I do not think that this Bill will apply to Northern Ireland, but the principles that we hold within the Conservative Party will, in the long run, obviously influence legislation throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. Beith

What value will these measures be to parents if the Bill establishes operating limits which local authorities can apply to schools, thereby declaring that they are full when they are not really full at all, if the same legislation takes away existing parental rights and if expenditure cuts lead to many small village schools being closed?

Dr. Boyson

The Bill will give full details of how these matters will be dealt with. The Bill contains requirements with regard to local authorities which desire to reduce the intake into schools, and there is a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. Therefore, there is no power within the Bill for local authorities indiscriminately to reduce the size of schools against the wishes of people in the area.

Mr. Armstrong

Is it not time that the Minister was honest with the House and, indeed, with himself? Whatever we may build into any Act of Parliament about legal rights and other matters, the great mass of our children and their parents will have no choice at all about the schools they attend, and the hon. Gentleman had better direct his attention to improving standards in and the supply of resources to the State system. The only choice that will be left is to those who have the money to exercise that choice.

Dr. Boyson

I do not see that the question of money comes into the matter at all. This is a State system, and no fees are being charged. That may amuse Labour Members, but that is what happens. In answer to the point made by the right hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong), it is important to say that there is no means by which there is absolute choice of school for all children. In any form of society there is no absolute choice. If one then says that one does not want any choice at all and that this matter is all phoney and dishonest, that is fair enough. That is usually the view of Labour Members. It is the view of this side of the House that where we can extend choice, whether in owning houses, in schools or in other ways, it should be done. That is the great division between the two sides of the House.