HC Deb 27 April 1988 vol 132 cc333-5
3. Mr. Michael J. Martin

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet the Strathclyde regional council to discuss education facilities in the region.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

I have no plans to meet Strathclyde regional council to discuss education facilities.

Mr. Martin

The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), are on record as saying that they want to save Notre Dame school, Lady and St. Francis school and Paisley grammar school, from closure. The Secretary of State even went to the length of getting the Prime Minister to intervene in the case of Paisley grammar school. Parents want to keep open schools in my constituency, such as Colston, Elm Vale and St. Bede's.Why is the Secretary of State making flesh of some schools in Strathclyde and fell of others?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is under a profound misunderstanding. The new regulations enable an appeal to be made to the Secretary of State where schools that are full, or substantially full, are proposed for closure. If schools in the hon. Gentleman's constituency fall within those categories, they will be subject to appeal. I understand that St. Bede's is a denominational school. If its Catholic hierarchy is opposed to its closure, under existing regulations it would be subject to an appeal to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen copies of extremely offensive letters that parents of pupils at Neilston primary school in my constituency have been receiving from the leader of the council, Commissar Charles Gray? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that yesterday Commissar Gray announced to the Evening Times that he would refuse to meet the chairman of the Neilston action group, the local minister? Will my right hon. and learned Friend or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State agree to meet me, because people in Neilston are outraged that their letters will not be read by the leader of the council and by the implication that, because parents have had the temerity to write to Charles Gray, Neilston will be victimised? Is that not an outrageous way to behave towards parents and ratepayers?

Mr. Rifkind

I should certainly be concerned to hear that the convenor of Strathclyde regional council was not replying courteously to the representations of local people. Strathclyde regional council has often asserted its belief in the desirability of consultation. The Government believe in consultation, and we hope that the Labour party in Strathclyde region also believes in consultation. I am only too happy to meet my hon. Friend when he is making representations on behalf of his constituents.

Mr. Norman Hogg

Will the Secretary of State recognise the problem of falling school rolls in Strathclyde and other regional authorities? Would not his time be better spent on helping education authorities to deal with their problems than on making matters worse by pursuing unwanted ideas, such as school boards, proposals for testing, the curriculum and opting out, which were foisted on him by the Prime Minister and which have made him a figure of derision in Scotland?

Mr. Rifkind

I recognise the legitimate desire of Strathclyde regional council to rationalise excess capacity, but whether that is best achieved by closing popular schools is another matter. On the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I should have thought that today of all days he might have desisted from such comment. We are all slightly intrigued by the Labour party's latest proposals to allow parents and pupils to write confidentially to their local authority about the quality of schools. It would appear that the Labour party believes that assessment is all very well so long as it is conveyed by parents in confidence to a local authority, but not if it is conveyed in public so that teachers and the local authority can be made aware of the matters involved. The Labour party should stop playing double standards in this matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are making slow progress today. I ask for briefer questions and answers.

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