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Comprehensive Schools

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 15 July 1954

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40.

asked the Minister of Education if, in view of the small number of comprehensive schools under construction, she will take steps to encourage a greater number of local education authorities to provide such schools in order to offer parents and children a wider field of choice.

While I am prepared to sanction the building of some comprehensive schools, and I have already done so, I am not willing to press local education authorities to experiment with this form of secondary school in cases where they do not suggest it themselves.

Does the Minister agree that whereas 50 authorities are now building traditional grammar schools, only four authorities are building comprehensive schools—they are, of course, the best authorities in the country, such as Staffordshire, London and Coventry? Is she aware that her apparent partisanship in the matter is having a most unwholesome effect on authorities and is greatly resented in the country?

No, I would not say that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that out of 146 local education authorities, 23 have included one or more comprehensive schools in their plans.

55.

asked the Minister of Education in how many cases she has refused approval, wholly or partly, of local education authorities' plans for new comprehensive schools; in how many cases she has taken similar action in respect of grammar schools; and what are the grounds of her disapproval in each case.

Of 13 proposals made to me under Section 13 of the Education Act, 1944, for the establishment of comprehensive schools, I have deferred a decision on two, approved six in full and four in part, and refused approval to one because I did not consider it educationally advantageous.

The answer to the second part of the Question is, "None."

Does the Minister include in that statement the case of Eltham Hill and the more recent case of the Bec School? It has been widely published that she has disapproved of two schools in the London area. In view of her speech some weeks ago to London women Conservatives and the views that she then expressed, is the right hon. Lady aware that in the London area it is impossible to regard her views as unbiased towards this authority?

As to the question whether I have refused two proposals, I have stated that I have refused one. That is the enlargement of the Bec School by 1,500 places to accommodate 2,000. I refused that because I did not think it educationally advantageous and because I received objections from the borough council and from 8,116 people who had the statutory right to object. That is the only comprehensive school proposal which I have refused.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the decision that she has made with regard to the Bec School is resented by a very large number of people in South London and in my constituency? Is she aware that it is absolutely certain that, if an attempt were made to obtain another petition, more than double the signatures which she mentioned could easily be secured in favour of the Bec School being rebuilt and equipped as a proper comprehensive school?

The hon. Member has not quite understood. This was not a case of presenting a petition. As the hon. Member knows, when a local authority proposes to build a school or to close one it has to advertise the fact in the local Press. That advertisement includes the statement that 10 or more local government electors can send objections if they wish, as can also the managers and the governors of any school, This was not a case of a petition being prepared. These electors had a right to object.

Could the right hon. Lady say whether or not she has a settled view and policy against comprehensive schools, or for them? Secondly, if that is not the case, has she a settled view or predisposition to disagree with Labour local authorities and tries to upset their plans? Which is it?

I said that I have deferred a decision on two, I have approved six in full and four in part. The reason for approval of the four in part was that the entire school was not needed at present. I have refused only one. The decision must be that of the Minister, according to the Act. At the same time that I decided it was not, in my opinion, educationally advantageous to increase the Bec School to 2,000 and make it a comprehensive school, I approved the building of a new comprehensive school in Finsbury.

In view of the Minister's misleading reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

That is not the proper language to use in giving notice to raise a matter on the Adjournment. The proper phrase is, "Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply."

On a point of order. Are you now ruling, Sir, that to use the word "misleading" is an unparliamentary expression?

The hon. Member ought not to stretch my Ruling beyond its context. I say that in giving the customary notice to raise a matter on the Adjournment the proper expression is, "Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply."

On a point of order. The Minister's word has been imputed by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler). Ought he not therefore to withdraw the expression?

Perhaps the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) will leave that to me. A reply may be called misleading, without imputing that it is so intentionally, and I could not rule that word definitely out of order, but I am expressing the opinion—which I hope the House will understand—that in giving formal notice to raise a matter on the Adjournment it is better to stick to the traditional form and not to import argument.