Schools (Government Policies)

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 8:39 pm on 23rd January 1986.

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Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West 8:39 pm, 23rd January 1986

About 10 days ago, a new Secretary of State for Scotland was appointed. The right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) came to the Scottish Office with the reputation of a man who thrives on crises. During his political career he has benefited from various Government crises. The Falklands crisis in 1982 catapulted him out of the Scottish Office into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Westland crisis has helicoptered him back to the Scottish Office. The right hon. Gentleman has come back to a Department that seems to stagger from one crisis to another.

I said publicly at the time of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's appointment that a new Secretary of State would present an opportunity for someone to take a fresh look at these crises and to solve some. Earlier today, he shirked his responsibilities with regard to the crisis facing the Scottish steel industry. He is now attempting to wash his hands completely of the gravest crisis that Scottish education has ever faced.

The teachers' dispute in Scotland has been dragging on for about 18 months—even longer than the miners' strike. Although it is not all-out strike action, selective strike action has reduced the learning week of some children from five days to two or three days. Work-to-contract action has had an adverse effect also, resulting in a lack, or even the non-existence, of curriculum development, threatening examinations and limiting sports, recreational and the extra-curricula activities that enrich a school.