asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many schemes for reorganisation of schools on a comprehensive system he has rejected since May 1979.
Does the Secretary of State agree that his decision on 18 February to reject the Kirklees authority's proposals for comprehensive education at Batley reveals that the Conservative promise to back local choice and to back comprehensive schools—where they are chosen—is a sham? Why did the Secretary of State not give a single reason for that rejection, either to me or the local authority? Does he accept that that was a high-handed way of treating local opinion since the parents, councillors, the Member of Parliament and all the teachers supported the proposed scheme?
Normal practice is just to announce the Secretary of State's decision. That was done in this case. The real difference between the hon. Member and myself about the Kirklees proposal is that Labour Members were determined to force local education authorities to go comprehensive and to close grammar and secondary modern schools, irrespective of local circumstances, whereas Conservative Members are determined to assess each case on its merits. We are determined to assess each case on educational, social and financial grounds and to attempt to make a fair assessment of the genuine views of local people.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his decision about north-east Kirkless has been received with great relief by the overwhelming majority of parents, thousands of whom signed a petition which I delivered to his Department? Is he aware that they signed that petition, whether they approved of comprehensive education or not, on the basis that the proposed scheme was out of keeping with the educational interests of the children in the area?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In rejecting the proposals by the Kirkless authority we were acting on educational and financial grounds and on our assessment of the views of local people.
Does the Secretary of State agree that when he talks about freedom for local authorities he means that local authorities should be free to implement the cuts that he is forcing on them? When it comes to basic decisions, such as that involving Kirklees, is he not overriding local authorities and not allowing them the freedom that they should have? The Secretary of State says that he rejected a case because it lacked merit. How are local people to know the demerits if he will not give his reasons for rejecting a proposition? Surely that makes it a political decision?
It was not a political decision. The decision was taken after an assessment of the merits of the case. If section 13 is to mean anything the Secretary of State must have the responsibility to assess not only an application but the objections to it. My responsibility is to do my best to take a view about what is the correct decision.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply that I received from the Secretary of State for Education and Science regarding the reorganisation of secondary schools in Batley, I give notice that I shall seek an opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.