There has been no alteration of the policy announced on 11th March last year—that the grant will be phased out over a period of six years beginning in the financial year 1976–77.
Is the Minister aware that his decision last week to refuse the Lothian Regional Council permission to acquire Mary Erskine's School was a direct consequence of Government policy and has been greeted with contempt and derision, not merely by opposition parties but by the Government's own erstwhile supporters in the region? Is the Minister totally unconcerned about existing overcrowding in Edinburgh, or is he prepared to be blind and foolish rather than depart from a policy which has already been shown, in the eyes of Labour supporters, to be disastrous for the provision of education in Edinburgh?
The hon. Member should stop exaggerating the situation week after week both on the Floor of the House and in the Press. The school has 1,000 pupils. The programme will be, first, that the primary school will be phased out, leaving 600 secondary pupils. The number of schools involved in the catchment areas from where these pupils come is 13, with another 91 outside the Edinburgh area. We are therefore talking about the remaining 250 pupils. No evidence of serious overcrowding in the West End of Edinburgh has been put to me or my right hon. Friends. In any case, we are not fairly disposed to a scheme that will commit the Government to allow over £400,000 a year for 25 years.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the result of the decision will be no endowment of the fees of the remaining Merchant Company schools, and that there is a serious fear among the Labour movement in Edinburgh that more than 1,000 pupils will drop out of these schools and come into the State system next autumn? If that situation develops early in the autumn, will the Government be prepared to respond to it as a matter of urgency?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland encouraged all grant-aided schools to enter consultations with the local authorities with a view to becoming local comprehensive schools if they wished? By their recent decision the Government have completely gone back on their word.