HC Deb 26 November 1980 vol 994 cc417-8
1. Mr. James Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the latest situation with regard to the closure of Hamilton teachers training college.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alexander Fletcher)

My right hon. Friend has not departed from his decision that Hamilton college of education is to be closed.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the hon. Gentleman recognise that when the Hamilton teacher training college was constructed it was intended to serve a deprived area with the worst teacher record in the country? Will he concede that the in-service training at the college is second to none? Will he salve his conscience by voting as he did in the Scottish Grand Committee when the Labour Government were in power, namely, in favour of the retention of all the colleges? If he is not prepared to do that, will he do the honourable thing and resign?

Mr. Fletcher

The plan to close the Hamilton college is no criticism of the work done by the staff of the college. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that in 1973 there were peak numbers of children in our primary schools. In anticipation of that, in the early 1960s the Government built several new colleges in Scotland, including that at Hamilton. The position on the number of children has been reversed, and for that reason the Government have to take action.

Mr. John MacKay

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Hamilton college is designed for about 750 student teachers and that at present it has only about 300? Can he say whether the figure of 300 would decline or rise if the college were kept open?

Mr. Fletcher

The numbers quoted by my hon. Friend are approximately correct. There is no doubt that there would be a further reduction in the number of student teachers required from Hamilton and other colleges.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Why are the colleges to be closed before the committee chaired by Sir Norman Graham to investigate the position has reported?

Mr. Fletcher

The committee on tertiary education is investigating the whole area of tertiary education. However, the statistics on pupil population were so clear that my right hon. Friend was obliged to take a decision now.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Is my hon. Friend aware that the work of the Hamilton college is of considerable importance in Renfrewshire and that, therefore, the proposal to close it is a matter of considerable concern to my constituents? Is he satisfied with all the figures on relative costs and so on that have been issued by the Scottish Education Department?

Mr. Fletcher

I assure my hon. Friend that we are aware of the valuable work that has been done by the Hamilton college in training technical teachers and in in-service training. I assure him also that savings have to be made because of the reduction in the school population. Unfortunately, Hamilton college is one of those that have to be closed.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his personal integrity and that of the Secretary of State have been seriously damaged by their attitude to the colleges of education? Does he remember that the Secretary of State even joined a picket line outside New St. Andrew's House in an effort to keep the 10 colleges in being? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he has produced, no economic argument, because no figures have been produced and no education argument? Even at this late stage, may I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to abandon his silly proposal and to withdraw the document, or at least to postpone a decision for another 18 months, to give the committee on tertiary education time to report and to give us an opportunity to consider the whole subject?

Mr. Fletcher

On this subject, and on the question of integrity, the hon. Gentleman should be the last person to comment, bearing in mind that in 1977 he campaigned against the closure of Callendar Park but remained a member of the Government who were intent on closing it. The point is that the closure of colleges in 1977 might have been premature. Present statistics make it abundantly clear that college closures are unavoidable.

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