asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has now made an estimate as to the costs involved in the conversion of direct grant schools into comprehensive schools.
There will be some savings and some additional expenditure. The precise figures cannot be estimated, but the change is not likely to make much difference one way or the other to public expenditure.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how much the taxpayer and ratepayer save as a result of the parental contribution, over and above the direct grant? Will he also confirm that local education authorities will be able to send children in their areas to direct grant schools which are forced to go independent, once they do go independent?
The answer to the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question is "Yes, Sir". The answer to the first part is that the present annual figure is £10·.3 million in respect of capitation grants. The fee remission grant, which I think the hon. Member had in mind, is £2·1 million.
Since 90,000 of the 120,000 pupils in direct grant schools are likely to need places in the maintained sector, is not the financial position much more serious than the Secretary of State has allowed for? Would it not cost about £70 million to provide these places in the maintained sector? Could not that money be used to supply about 200,000 nursery places? Surely this kind of educational priority is more worthy of Alice in Wonderland than of the Department of Education.
The hon. Gentleman is a bit wild in his arithmetic. He ignores the fact that places will continue to be available in these schools. No one is talking about the closure of schools. The hon. Gentleman also ignores the fact that many of the schools—I hope a great many—will choose to come into the maintained sector. There is no question of suddenly abolishing a number of schools, as he seems to presuppose, and then paying for places that were previously provided free. As for the reasons for doing this, we put them forward clearly when the matter was under discussion a few weeks ago. We have not heard any constructive counter-arguments from the Opposition.