I am anxious that children in thinly populated areas should have as good educational opportunities as children elsewhere, and we are considering with the education authorities concerned how this can best be achieved. Difficulties of communication, however, make it impracticable for all pupils to attend school within daily travelling distance of their homes for the whole of their school career.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there are other serious problems connected with the problem of schooling in that in the west of Sutherland we cannot get the fishermen who fish from Lochinver and Kinlochbervie to live in the area because their children have to go away at the age of 11 to schools on the east coast? If the fishermen are to remain there, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he must provide money to the county council to keep these schools open even if they normally would not be considered to have sufficient population to qualify for a grant?
This is a difficult problem in the remote areas, and here we have the bitter realities of the effects of depopulation, with the younger families going away and the school population falling to the point where one cannot give the children the proper breadth of courses and provide them with the kind of teachers required because of the size of the secondary school population. We are seized of the desire of parents that their children should be able to take up secondary courses and we must see that the children are given the best opportunities for career education in the same way as children in more populous areas.
While I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a difficult problem, may I express the hope that he will look at it as part of the problem of depopulation? If no schools are provided in these areas it is comparatively irrelevant what sort of education is provided for them elsewhere, because after that education they will not be there to help those areas.
This is why we have been giving considerable attention to the problem of depopulation in these areas. I hope that the Highland Development Authority set up by the Bill which we passed so recently will give considerable help and certain power to someone to do something about it in the area. The right hon. Gentleman knows the problem because he closed down some of these schools.