Education (Scotland)

Orders of the Day — Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Bill – in the House of Commons at 10:50 pm on 29th February 1988.

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Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire 10:50 pm, 29th February 1988

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Publication and Consultation Etc.) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 107), dated 26th January 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th January, be annulled. I hope that the House will agree that there is an important function to be served in discussing the regulations. The negative order procedure requires a prayer against orders to be tabled. That was the only way in which we could apply pressure on the Government, so that they would concede a debate on the Floor of the House. I fully recognise that under the statutory instrument procedure it would have been possible to table a "take note" prayer, seeking to persuade the Government to debate the matter in a Committee at some time. However, I do not believe that the Government would have responded seriously enough to such an attempt to deal with the position in which we found ourselves. As soon as I found out that the regulations had been tabled on 27 January and that they were to take effect on the same day, I immediately took steps to table a prayer to secure this debate.

The regulations have significance in a strictly parliamentary context. If there was any doubt about that previously, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that the recent report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments confirmed that these regulations — the Education (Publication and Consultation Etc) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations—are a significant document.

The Committee took the view that there were serious flaws in the regulations as laid. It concluded that there was a failure to comply with the Statutory Instruments Act 1946. That Act makes it clear, among other things, that statutory instruments should lie on the table for a minimum of 21 days prior to the implementation date. Of course, the 1946 Act gives specific exemptions for when the Government feel that they have to implement statutory instruments immediately. If that is necessary, the stipulated provisions are laid out in the Act. The Speaker should be advised, as should the equivalent authorities in the other place. The Government should make a statement saying why the legislation needs to take effect on the same day as the instruments are laid.

The Statutory Instruments Committee took the view that there had been a failure to comply with that part of the procedure. The Government said that there was a need for haste—we could argue about that — in letting the Strathclyde regional authority know what the Government's view was. They never at any stage argued a case for enforcement to take place immediately. In that respect, the conclusion of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments was right.

The Committee also took the view that the drafting of the statutory instrument was substantially defective. The figure of 80 per cent. in regulation 2 is the formula for defining capacity and is left to be decided by persons unknown and undetermined. That leaves a substantial area of doubt within the regulations and the Joint Committee asked the Government to clarify their view on that matter. The Government's view was that the calculation would require to be made by the local authority, having regard to the three criteria set down in the regulations. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments also took the view that that was an unsatisfactory way to proceed, which left a wide margin for error.

The question of the retrospective provisions in new paragraph (c)(ii) left areas for substantial doubt. There are real problems, therefore, in terms of the parliamentary precedent that is to be set by those regulations. For that reason, if for no other, there was a need for a debate tonight.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) mentioned parliamentary precedents. Surely he is aware that the existing regulations, where the Secretary of State is involved in the closure of a primary school of more than five miles' travelling distance or a secondary school of 10 miles' travelling distance, he does not find it necessary to specify who should determine whether the route is five or 10 miles. Surely the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that there is a precedent.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

There is surely a difference between geographical distance, which can be measured and about which there can be little argument, and these procedures and criteria, which are subjective. The analogy is not as exact as the Minister suggests.

In the context of the comments made by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, the Government have a duty to tell the House exactly what they are doing and why, and to give us an explanation of the procedure adopted.

The politics of the situation is inextricably linked with the Strathclyde schools organisation. Alliance Members recognise that, prior to 1981, the closure of any secondary school required the sanction of the Secretary of State. At that stage, the Labour party claimed that that was an abdication of responsibility by the Secretary of State. For the Conservatives, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) said that it was an appropriate devolution of power. But 1981, it now appears, was a long time ago.

In 1987, there was a further development of that policy, which was clearly in the direction of further devolution to local authorities. The regulations were further amended to increase local power. They gave local authorities the ability to put out options for consultations and enforce any of those options without further reference to the Secretary of State. The aim was also to increase the local authorities' power in respect of the closure of some nursery schools.

Here we have in 1988—

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Putting the boot in is not my style. It may be something to do with why I am a Liberal.

In 1988 we suddenly find the whole process being slammed into reverse. The House has a right to know whether the Government will pursue this policy further or whether it is a one-off reaction and a matter of reacting expediently to political events.

I was interested to note the claim made by the Secretary of State in announcing the new regulations that this intervention was necessary because the schools were so highly regarded by the parents that they happened to be full to capacity. Eighty per cent. capacity is an arbitrary figure. Such capacity can be affected by a series of factors, not just parental choice. Small schools can be 95 per cent. full, but, because they are small, they have fewer pupils and parents. Larger schools can fall below the 80 per cent. capacity rule. I should be interested to hear how the Minister arrived at that figure.

It is surely also important to consider other factors, such as whether those on school rolls are attracted from within the catchment area of a particular school. That factor has been left out of the equation by these new regulations. It can be argued that the regulations are defective and that they will not even serve to bring about the Government's stated intention.

Judging by the educational precedent in England and Wales, there may well be a case for a rational and well-thought-out process of appeal. The proposed system is certainly not rational. It is arbitrary, inconsistent and legally dubious, and it subverts the legitimate rights of local authorities.

The House will, however, want carefully to consider the short-term practical effects. Although the regulations will apply throughout Scotland, there is a special concern, and hon. Members from Strathclyde constituencies will obviously want to take part in the debate. Opposition to the regulations is considered by some to imply unqualified support for the proposals advocated by Strathclyde regional authority, but that authority has carried out the procedures of consultation hopelessly inadequately. We are opposed to its lack of sensitivity, consultation and consideration of the parents' wishes and to the disregard shown for the quality of education. The authority has conducted itself in so blatant way that the Government's heavy-handed intervention may even be justified.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how long the consultation period by Strathclyde lasted? How long did it take over the consultation?

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

That depends on one's point of view. A lot of people in Paisley take the view that the Paisley proposals were cooked up by the Strathclyde education authority a long time ago and that the consultation process that it went through was something of a sham. But as far as I can make out, the consultation process started officially last summer, and has been continuing ever since.

The relative merits of the area review groups and the way in which the regional review group operated in conjunction with the area groups left a great deal to be desired. The situation that we are left with is, to any rational, objective observer, one of Hobson's choice—between the devil of the Secretary of State and the deep blue sea of the local education authority, which can be accused of not properly conducting the consultation process necessary to give expression to the real wishes of the local parents, which have been largely ignored.

The Minister has a difficult task in trying to explain how it is that he got himself into this situation and brought regulations forward in this way. We are anxious to hear just how the Government explain both their method of procedure and the dubious technical legality of the regulations. It is with great interest that I wait to hear what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire 11:07 pm, 29th February 1988

The best description of the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) is that it was a fraction muted. A quieter call to the barricades the House has not heard for some time.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is legitimate to table a prayer against regulations for the purpose of having them debated in the House. These regulations may affect many schools. They may affect notably two which have been the subject of press comment — Paisley grammer school and Notre Dame. I had the probably unworthy thought that, in the past week or two, Liberals from the west end of Glasgow and the east end of Paisley, if such still exist, had perhaps been in touch with the hon. Member to express their views.

I have no wish to be partisan. I wish to be helpful and constructive. Perhaps, first of all, I can be helpful to the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), who raised this issue first on 27 January, when he said, The documents contain a letter which had been sent to the headmaster of a grammer school in my constituency". —[Official Report, 27 January 1988; Vol. 126, c. 341.] In the spirit of comradely help, I will send the hon. Member a map of Paisley, South, because Paisley grammar school does not come into his constituency, and has never done so; it is very clearly in the Paisley, North constituency.

The regulations, of course, raise a general issue, but the issue that concerns my constituents has been the treatment of a substantial number of parents whose sons and daughters attend Paisley grammar school.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

The hon. Member asks how many. I have had just under 200 letters from constituents. I do not know the precise figure, but, as a reasonable indication, I have had just under 200 letters from constituents in Barrhead and Neilston.

The hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mr. Adams) will have the opportunity to express his views later in the debate. It is with some interest that one reads in his local press that he says of himself that silence must not be taken as a sign of inactivity. The hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the hon. Member for Paisley, South and others had a meeting, on 16 January with the convenor of Strathclyde region. When the hon. Member for Paisley, North left the meeting, he said, "I defended my constituents' interests," but of the meeting he said, I have to say at this point that I will not report what else was said as the meeting was largely confidential. He has an opportunity tonight to express his views.

As hon. Members will know, I have been the subject of letters from the hon. Members for Paisley, South and for Paisley, North accusing me of interfering in an outrageous manner in the affairs of Paisley. Only one of those hon. Members bothered to sign his letter. Above the hon. Member for Paisley, North, it said "PP" and then there was a blank; what that signifies I leave to the imagination of the House.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South has made the motivation for the proposed closure of Paisley grammar school brutally clear to the House. Referring to the parents of Paisley grammar, he said that the Secretary of State knows perfectly well why they are fighting against moving to a new school in Merksworth. It is because they would be sharing with kids from working-class housing estates." [Official Report, 28 January 1988; Vol. 126, c. 502.] I do not know whether the hon. Member for Paisley, North agrees with those sentiments, but it is outrageous for hon. Members so to describe the motivations of their constituents.

Speaking for my constituents, I can tell the House that that absurd charge is not true. I shall give a flavour to the views of my constituents. One says: I cannot believe that the Government would condone this apparently rigged closure of a full and very successful school serving all areas of the community including a large proportion of families either unemployed or single parent who will suffer greatly if this 'merger' goes ahead.One fact which is apparent in all this deviousness … is that the authorities seem totally against placing requests. Another letter says: There is a political will to close Paisley grammar school". Another letter says: My son attends this school through parental choice, a choice the Regional Council clearly intend precluding through the review process. Strathclyde region is determined to continue its social restructuring in spite of complete opposition from parents, teachers and pupils.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

I am listening with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Will he say what criteria should operate for the retention or closure of a school?

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

When a clearly popular school is targeted for closure against the wishes of parents, it is right that the Secretary of State should review it, in precisely the same way as he reviews closure proposals for rural schools or, in certain circumstances, denominational schools.

The hon. Member for Garscadden will have an opportunity tonight to tell us of the Labour party's attitude to the regulations. He may adopt the views of the hon. Member for Paisley, South—the chief Opposition spokesperson for Paisley on this issue—who, in his article in the Glasgow Herald, said of these fairly minor regulations: I know of no such dangerously arbitrary action by any Government since the introduction of the emergency powers at the beginning of the last war. The mind boggles.

That view is not universal among Labour Members. At Scottish Question Time last week, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), representing his constituents, said: Why is the Minister not prepared to intervene and help out those schools?"—[0fficial Report, 24 February 1988; Vol. 128, c. 291.] The hon. Gentleman wants more intervention; he wants my hon. Friend the Minister to go even further.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin , Glasgow Springburn

The hon. Gentleman hits the nail on the head. Strathclyde has made an absolute mess of the consultation procedure. I am asking the Minister, why make flesh of one and fowl of the other? The children in Springburn are entitled to the same attention as the children in Paisley, even if Paisley does not want to come up to Springburn.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

The House will recognise the voice of an hon. Member genuinely representing the views of his constituents.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

The hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier that the Secretary of State should look at schools which are popular with the parents. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Saint Conval's primary school and Moss Edge primary school in my constituency, which are up for closure, are both excellent schools. The parents would love them to remain open. Strathclyde has been forced to close them because of the lack of funding from the Government. Will the Secretary of State intervene and support the parents by keeping those two schools open?

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. The debate should be confined to the particulars of the regulations before the House.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

The schools mentioned by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) would not fall under the regulations. Of course, Strathclyde is right to pursue a general policy of schools rationalisation. It is a question not of resources, but of school numbers. The proposition before the House is simply that, in certain circumstances, the Secretary of State should review proposals where schools are, by any standards, very popular with parents, and are full or nearly full.

A number of hon. Members wish to speak. Before closing, I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister that there is concern about the future. I shall read just a couple of Sentences from a letter from a constituent: It is not possible to predict how the region will react when parents are forced to appeal to the Secretary of State under the regulations. Parents have doubt about support and funding from the educational department and the security of staff. For these reasons I consider that some form of legislation is necessary to provide parents with the right to opt out of regional council control. I have received more than 2,500 letters on this issue. It is an important general issue and it is important for the principles of parental involvement and parental choice which underlie so much of the Government's educational legislation.

The proposition before the House is sensible and reasonable. I do not expect for a moment that the Labour party will not oppose it, despite the honest reservations about what has happened expressed by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). I hope that the House will reject the prayer and that we shall have the support of the Liberal party.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 11:17 pm, 29th February 1988

The regulations are important, as they alter the boundaries of responsibility between local and central Government in regard to the closure of schools. Any school threatened by closure or by rezoning must be referred if its current roll is more than 80 per cent. of its capacity.

The debate is not about a particular school; it is a debate of general application, which will affect every part of Scotland and an unknown number of schools as councils in every part of the land face up to the problems of falling school rolls.

No one knows when these powers will be called into play in future. We are painfully aware why they are before the House now. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) asked, a little naively, why the Government had decided upon 80 per cent. The reason is, simply, that 80 per cent. was the neat figure that ensured that one particular school fell on the right side of the line. That is the basis on which laws are now being made.

The regulations do not deal specifically with Paisley grammar school, but the educational policies of Paisley are dominating the debate. I must say to the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) that it is an extraordinary story of backstairs influence and intrigue, culminating in the Prime Minister's thunderbolt from on high. When Paisley grammar school was threatened with closure, the parents banded together—as they were entitled to do, and as parents from other schools had done — to try to influence the course of the debate. No one would complain about that.

What was unusual, so far as we can piece the story together, was that Paisley grammar had some very unusual and powerful allies. In particular, Mr. Neil, the editor of The Sunday Times—whose precocious talents had been noticed at an early stage by Mr. Rupert Murdoch, who had therefore made him a great man—decided, with the aid of one of our ex-colleagues, Mr. Gerald Malone, to start a public campaign in The Sunday Times on behalf of Paisley grammar. Subsequently, the matter was drawn to the attention of the Prime Minister, who decided to intervene. On that basis, the law was to be changed.

According to The Sunday Times — I do not know whether it is accurate, although Mr. Neil is near to the centre of events—a dramatic tale then unfolded. A note was fired off to the Secretary of State, and a reluctant Minister was carpeted and sharply reminded of his duty. The right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) has said that that is not so; he has asked us to reject the credibility of Mr. Neil. That is a dispute that they may conduct between themselves, but the Secretary of State does himself a disservice by trying to pretend that these regulations were his idea and that he wanted to act in the way that he has acted.

It is not just The Sunday Times that has produced that version of the events. I shall quote a short BBC précis of what happened. There was a description on television of what happened. [Interruption.] The Minister laughs, but the précis says: Mrs. Thatcher confronted her Scottish Secretary with the background and told him that she wanted a swift and positive solution. He returned to the Scottish Office to bang civil servants' heads together"—[Interruption.] Yes, it is comic, but all the evidence points to the fact that at least the general drift of this account is correct. That is why we find it alarming.

From then on the school's future was never in doubt. To make maximum political capital, the Scottish Office, No. 10 and the party political advisers planned that the decision would be announced in a letter to the school's rector, signed by the Prime Minister. I do not say that that account is accurate in every particular, but I believe that the general picture of the Secretary of State having been bounced in the way that I have described is right. It is a sad commentary on what is happening.

I object to what has happened, because I believe that a complicated, difficult and often bitter process was under way. I believe that many people felt ill used by the local authority's decisions. I suspect that in the circumstances it was inevitable that people would feel ill used, but at least the Government and the Opposition have one thing in common: given the enormous and dramatic fall in school rolls, which is particularly accentuated in the Paisley area, schools had to close. However, I do not believe that the Government were entitled, on a completely arbitrary basis, to pluck one school out of the whole system and say that, whatever the consequences for the other schools in the area, that school was inviolate and would be preserved. But that is what happened.

I, too, have received many letters on this issue. Before the Prime Minister's intervention, I received many letters from parents whose children are at Paisley grammar school. I have also received many letters from parents whose children are at St. Aelred's, Merksworth, Stanley Green and a number of other Paisley schools. When the Prime Minister took that decision and signed the letter that went to the headmaster of Paisley grammar, I wonder whether she considered the implications for parents with children in those schools. That decision may have been right or it may have been wrong, and every hon. Member will make up his or her own mind, but what the Government have done will result in a bitter legacy. I see evidence of that bitter legacy almost every day in my mail bag, and I suspect that the hon. Member for Eastwood and other hon. Members have had the same experience.

The hon. Member for Eastwood says that it is deplorable to suggest that people are talking in terms of class and social divisions, but let me quote one parent who is actively involved with the Merksworth school. He wrote to me the other day: The main points of the arguments put up by Paisley Grammer School Parents are invalid when you consider what lies behind them. Essentially they do not want their children to mix with those from Shortroods or Ferguslie Park—two areas of deprivation. They also feel that their house values will decline without the magic ethos of Paisley Grammer School nearby. Both arguments are clearly absurd in the context of children's education … We ask for your support in righting this wrong. We are not fighting for house values, nor do we care about the class of our children's friends. We do care about the quality of choice for our children's education. The hon. Member for Eastwood may say that those are deplorable views, but he cannot deny that they are heartfelt and increasingly widespread, and are encouraged by what the Government have done. That will be the legacy of the Government's handling of this business.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

From what the hon. Gentleman is saying about Paisley, it appears that he believes that the regulations would apply only to Paisley grammer and Merksworth in Paisley. Is he aware that Castlehead and John Neilson high schools in Paisley will also be affected, and if he is, why is he making such intemperate remarks?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

As I understand it, the only school in the Paisley area that will he covered by the regulations is Paisley grammer. I have spent the past few minutes pointing out that all schools will be affected by the knock-on effect of the regulations. Is the Minister saying that other schools in Paisley meet the 80 per cent. criterion?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman does not appreciate that. The regulations will affect schools that are subject to rezoning, whose occupancy will be in excess of 80 per cent. More than 20 schools in Strathclyde will be affected, and those in Paisley include Paisley grammar school, Merksworth, Castlehead and John Neilson. Before the hon. Gentleman criticises regulations, he should try to understand what they mean.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

The Minister has said something extremely surprising. Is he saying that Merksworth's roll is more than 80 per cent. of its capacity? Is the Minister saying that other schools in Paisley have more than 80 per cent. of their capacity? If they do not, how are they covered?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

If the hon. Gentleman needs me to explain the regulations to him, I will. They are clear. They relate to the schools that will be subject to rezoning or closure, where the occupancy will exceed 80 per cent. He asked me about Merksworth, and he must know that, following the laying of the regulations, Strathclyde made three separate proposals involving Paisley grammar and Merksworth—

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Paisley South

What does this have to do with rolls?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I am explaining it. One proposal involves the closure of Paisley grammar and its merger with Merksworth. The other involves the closure of Merksworth and its merger with Paisley grammar. Where there is rezoning of schools' catchment zones and their occupancy is more than 80 per cent., they will come within the scope of the regulations. In Strathclyde alone, more than 20 cases of closure or rezoning of catchment areas are likely to come before the Secretary of State as a result of the regulations.

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden

The Minister is confirming the fact that this is total chaos and confusion. The regulations refer to proposals to discontinue any school or any stage of school education in any school or to change the site of any school or to vary the delineated area of any school, where the number of pupils in attendance at any such school is greater than 80% of that school's pupil capacity. They refer only to a school whose roll is 80 per cent. or more of present capacity. That does not include Merksworth or the John Neilson institute. The Minister is talking arrant nonsense and he should be ashamed of himself.

Of course, the Minister is right to say that not only Paisley grammar school will be affected. Other schools, some as yet unknown, will be affected, including Notre Dame, which is on the borders of my constituency. If it is to be saved on that basis — we do not know — what about the feelings of the parents of pupils who attend Our Lady and St. Francis, which falls just on the wrong side of the 80 per cent. criterion? What will be the impact on St. Thomas Aquinas, whose future was apparently secured by plans to amalgamate it with Notre Dame? I say that because there is bitterness and confusion in my area as well, although it is not so widely publicised. The situation has been made much more difficult.

If the criterion is the popularity of a school, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) has said, other criteria might be thought to be equally valuable. Community needs, social considerations, and the deprivation strategy of the education authority should all be taken into account and, I hope, are taken into account by Strathclyde region in reaching those decisions. But the Minister has merely taken one arbitrary criterion of an alleged popularity rating, which he endorses only when it is convenient, as the recent history of the Inner London education authority debate illustrates. If there was a universal validity in that criterion, we would certainly shut down the Scottish Conservative party.

I should like to ask the Minister one or two specific questions. Will he try to clear up the point that we have been debating about how many schools are affected? If he is saying that schools that do not meet the 80 per cent. criterion are covered by the regulations, the situation is infinitely more complex than any of us, including the education authority, guessed. Are there schools in Grampian, for example, which will be covered by the regulations?

The 10-year rule, in regulation 2(c) (ii), is as follows: the maximum number of pupils in attendance at the school in any one year in the period of 10 years preceding the proposal". Is that merely a factor that has to be taken into account when the local authority judges the capacity of a school, with the 80 per cent. count being based on current rolls only? There has been some confusion about that.

Will the Minister say a word or two about the time scale? Assuming that the Government go ahead, will there be a proper consultation process? At least on this occasion, will the Government observe the law as it is applied to education authorities when it comes to consultation? Will the Minister assure us that there will be consultation with other schools in the area that will be affected if the school that has been referred is to be preserved?

We know that Mr. Corbett, the present rector of Paisley, wrote in a report on the building in 1976: The rooms in the main building were handsome and fitting in 1898, but no longer meet the needs of the 1970s. Those rooms certainly do not meet the needs of the 1980s, so prima facie there is an argument on whether, if Paisley grammar is to be preserved, it should be preserved in the same building. That will affect other schools in the area. Will we look al the other schools' record and give them a chance to have their say in the decisions that will affect them?

If we are to talk about success, the Minister should read the letter that appeared on 23 February in The Scotsman, which referred to Merksworth school. It stated: in 1987 Merksworth High School students gained more 'A' passes in Higher grade science subjects than any school in Paisley". I make that point because Merksworth has been the target of some slighting remarks, particularly by Mr. John MacKay, an ex-Minister responsible for education, who referred to it as a school of lesser merit … whose academic record has been far fom excellent. as he attempted to justify what the Government have been doing.

As time is pressing, I shall not deal with the valid criticisms by the Statutory Instruments Committee. The House is well aware of the trenchant criticism that was rightly made of the drafting and the way in which the rules of the House have been observed by a Government in haste, cobbling together an unsatisfactory measure.

This is a shabby little power play, based on political opportunism. It has been almost universally condemned. There has not been a kind word about it in any serious leader column of any paper that I have come across. It is an affront to the normal courtesies of the House. It is an arbitrary use of power. There is in it a strong dash of populism. Most importantly, it is a dangerous educational precedent, which commands no respect. The Government were right in 1981 when they decided that the matter should be left to the education authority, which could weigh up all the complicated and sometimes conflicting factors. It is a tragedy that we have now rushed to a judgment that will be regretted and reflects no credit on those who are responsible for it.

Photo of Mr Allen Adams Mr Allen Adams , Paisley North 11:34 pm, 29th February 1988

The regulations show a disgraceful contempt for democracy. If any council decides, at any time on any issue, to take a policy decision which the Government do not agree with, the Government will abolish the council, take away its money, restrict its powers or do all three.

Strathclyde regional council may or may not have been correct. However, it is an elected body, it has certain democratic rights and it took a decision. I do not necessarily agree with the decision completely, but the council had the right to take that decision. We are in great danger of obscuring the basic issue. A fundamental threat to democracy is involved. We cannot repeat that point often enough and many people stressed that point before the regulations reached the Floor of the House. This is a very serious matter, quite apart from the educational issues that are involved.

The educational issues are complex and detailed and they are worthy of more than the pseudo-intellectual, petty, pedantic lower middle-class mentality approach shown by the Members for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) and by the Minister. They know nothing of the detailed problems in Paisley. I suggest that they stop visiting my constituency because they are frightening the horses. Only yesterday I had to hide a copy of the Paisley Daily Express because it contained a picture of the hon. Member for Eastwood and we were frightened that the children would see it when they came home from school.

This is a complex issue and no one is completely right or completely wrong. Paisley grammar school is located in the east end of the town and the local residents in the east end of Paisley have a right to a local community school. No one would argue about that. I believe that the grammar school should remain for the local people. The Government cannot get round the simple fact that 50 per cent. of the pupils attending Paisley grammar do not live in the east end of Paisley. Indeed, a substantial number of them do not live in Paisley at all, but come from the area represented by the hon. Member for Eastwood. People talk blithely about a community school. It must be a far-flung community, as it stretches almost 25 miles. Indeed, two pupils come from Kirkintilloch.

The solution is simple and I want to put it on the record. Castlehead high school in the centre of Paisley should have been designated as the town's Catholic school, and it should have been renamed St. Mirren's—[Interruption.] This is very important. The name "St. Mirren's" is synonymous with Paisley and we want to retain that name in Paisley. There is no doubt that St. Ailwood's in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) should be retained because the alternative would mean that children would have to travel two or three miles to the other Catholic school.

The two Catholic schools should be retained in Paisley. Castlehead should be renamed St. Mirren's and should be retained and we should also keep St. Ailwood's. The other obvious solution to the non-denominational problem is to keep Paisley grammer as a community school. We should also keep the John Neilson school in the west end. Many people say that that is not viable because the school has only 250 pupils. However, those people tend to forget that 150 adults attend the John Neilson. The school is in a deprived area. It can be extended and developed as an educational facility in such an area. Camphill school—another old traditional Paisley name—is in the south of the town and should also be retained.

My two daughters attend the Merksworth high school in the north of the town. I do not like to hear people denounce that school because I am proud of it and proud of what it has done for my children. Let me give an instance of the educational excellence of the school. My youngest daughter Kirsty is 16. She is in her fourth year at the school. Her English class has 20 pupils and two teachers. If some people do not wish to avail themselves of such educational facilities, I do not intend to force them to do so, but I will do so. It is a good school, and it needs to be said that it is a good school.

Apart from that, however, the north end of Paisley is entitled to a centre of educational excellence. In this whole argument, one simple fact has been forgotten: the Government are not giving the council enough money to provide working-class children with a decent education. We want enough money to run the Neilson, the Merksworth, Paisley grammar and the Camphill, and to provide for the children in Fergusley Park and Shotroots the additional teachers and educational back-up that they need. They, more than anyone else, have never had that, and it is high time they did.

Let us not get away from two fundamental issues. One is the denial of democracy by the Government. I repeat this without apology: the minute that any body does anything that the Government do not like, it is abolished. And—this is the second issue—if it is not abolished, it is underfunded. The basic problem is that Strathclyde regional council has not been given enough money to provide the education that children in the west of Scotland deserve and need.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross 11:41 pm, 29th February 1988

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mr. Adams), because he is the hon. Member for whom everyone should have the greatest sympathy. He is the man who backs a decision to keep Paisley grammar open against the decision of Strathclyde regional council, and who must in some way justify the defence against the regulations—which, oddly enough, are prayed against, not by the hon. Gentleman or by any Member of the Labour Opposition, but by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), whose speech defied comprehension. It had neither principle nor purpose; nor did it take sides. I can only imagine that the reason why the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire found it necessary to pretend to be both on all sides, and on none—I must say that he was better at pretending to be on none than at pretending to be on all—is that by the end of the week he may belong to a different party, whose name he does not yet know.

It is important to remember that the hon. Gentleman is praying against regulations that would save Notre Dame—or, at least, could do so. The Liberal councillor in Strathclyde region is now claiming that he has already saved it. Here we have the Liberal spoke—I presume that they are called spokes — for education, praying against the very regulations that might do what the regional council claims it has already done. He is praying against himself—and prayer might be a suitable matter for him this week.

I was impressed when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garcadden (Mr. Dewar) said that the Opposition care for the quality of choice for children's education. The purpose of the regulations is to give choice. It is no good the hon. Member for Paisley, North, who is in an impossible position, saying that he wants Paisley grammar school, but a different Paisley grammar school, which the children of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) cannot attend. That is apparently the hon. Member's definition of caring about choice. In other words, he would have it that only certain children should be forced to go to that school to change its nature. That is not parental choice.

The hon. Member for Garscadden said that the Opposition believe in parents' choice. The hon. Member for Paisley, North said that there should be no choice and that certain people should be forbidden from going to the school. What is the Opposition's rationale? I understand that they have been attempting to keep New Temple college open.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Minister (Disability)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to New Temple college. That is an important matter, but I question its relevance to the debate, especially when there are projected closures in many of our constituencies — unlike the hon. and learned Gentleman's — and many of us are hoping to catch your eye.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

I hope that hon. Members will keep to the regulations.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

That is exactly what I am doing. The regulations centre on the fact that any school or education establishment which is proposed for closure but is 80 per cent. full should be referred to the Secretary of State. The Opposition are saying that that is wrong. They want to rephrase that principle when it comes to a college which is only 10 per cent. full.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman believe that the 80 per cent. of capacity consideration is the only criterion on which closure or retention should be decided?

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

No, indeed, I do not believe that 80 per cent. of capacity is the only reason why such a decision should be made. I believe that if there is 80 per cent. of capacity that demonstrates that the school is popular and, in this case, immensely successful, and that very good reasons should be given for closing it, but the Opposition tell us that somewhere which is less than 10 per cent. full should be kept open for doctrinaire reasons.

The Opposition may say that this is a doctrinaire proposal to keep Paisley grammar school open because it happens to have that word "grammar" in its title, although it is a comprehensive school. If that is so, one might equally argue that the reason why Strathclyde regional council decided to close a school was that it was also deceived by the word "grammar" and thought, "Let us get rid of that school."

It is not the Labour Opposition who are praying against this matter, but no doubt they will get on the little go-cart of the Liberals. At least the Liberals have had the courage to test the matter. It is not a real prayer, but a probing prayer, but no one on the Labour Benches has put his name to it.

We should be clear that parents now have the choice of sending their children to any school. They have chosen to send their children to a school of immense success, which is what we want in Scotland. No local authority should be able, for doctrinaire reasons, to close a school that is popular and successful, unless the Secretary of State is entitled, taking all matters into account, to ensure that that decision is equitable and right.

Mr. Bruce Milian:

Naturally the debate has been dominated by Paisley grammar school, because it is the subject of the regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mr. Adams) spoke with obvious detailed knowledge and great passion about Paisley. He made a case that the Minister must answer. However, given the Minister's intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) I do not believe that we will get an adequate answer or anything else from the Minister. We should not be debating the details of education in Paisley. We have heard the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) pontificating about the issue, but he knows absolutely nothing about it.

It is absurd that such regulations were introduced. Before the Education (Scotland) Act 1981 was introduced, all school closures came to the Secretary of State for approval. At the time of the 1981 legislation, the Opposition believed that there was no need to change that provision — it had worked perfectly well. Why was it changed? At the time, the then Secretary of State said that it was being done to take the Scottish Office off the backs of local education authorities and to allow them to make their own decisions. However, even at that time the Government were urging local authorities to close schools, especially rural ones. They wanted schools to be closed, but they did not want to be associated with such unpopular decisions. For that reason, the 1981 legislation was introduced.

We believed that there was no reason for change, but we argued that if the legislation were changed, it had to be done on a non-discriminatory basis. For that reason we objected to the provisions dealing with denominational schools that gave them certain additional protections unavailable to non-denominational schools.

We also wanted to ensure that parents were properly consulted about any matters that affected their children's education. Under the old system, when the Secretary of State's approval was required for the closure of a school, such consultation took place. No Secretary of State—I did not, and I am certain the same was true of my predecessors—would agree to the closure of a school unless he was sure that there had been consultation with the parents before that closure came forward for approval.

Before 1981, parent consultation used to take place. However, in 1981, the Secretary of State's excuse was that regulations would be introduced to provide for such consultation. That argument does not bear serious examination. The regulations went into considerable detail, and did not just deal with school closures, but other proposals that could affect particular schools. That is the background against which we are considering the regulations.

If there is a criticism of Strathclyde region in all this—I do not intend to go into detail about Paisley grammar—it is that the authority has evaded the issue of school closures for far too long. It has long been known that Strathclyde had an excess of school places and that sooner or later action would have to be taken to close certain schools. That is common ground on both sides of the House. From 1981 onwards Ministers — including the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who was a junior Minister at the Scottish Office—have repeatedly urged Strathclyde and other authorities to close schools and reduce their capacity to correspond more closely to the number of pupils. Strathclyde failed to grasp the nettle early enough, and I do not particularly blame it, because every school closure causes local agitation and concern. Schools with no particular local reputation suddenly become schools of tremendous local reputation when there is a closure proposal. School closures are matters of acute local difficulty for any education authority, so one must not be too critical of Strathclyde.

On the process of consultation, about which Strathclyde has been severely criticised, it is ironic that Strathclyde has done more in the way of consultation than is provided for by the regulations. The irony is that all the consultation so far has been in addition to the statutory obligation to consult that is laid down in the regulations. It is only when one produces a specific proposal that one has to go through the specific process of consultation laid down in the regulations. Until now, all that has happened has been outside the statutory obligations of Strathclyde regional council. It has not been provided for by the regulations introduced by the Government apparently to look after parents' interests. Let us not have any cant, hypocrisy or humbug from the Government about the regulations, because they have not been effective in Strathclyde.

The regulations are about Paisley and about nothing else. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) asked how the 80 per cent. criterion was arrived at. It was arrived at simply to include, and save, Paisley grammar. Incidentally, when a proposal comes before him, the Secretary of State is supposed to behave, if not in a quasi-judicial manner at least objectively. But we know that the decision about Paisley grammar was already made when the Prime Minister wrote to the headmaster and wished the school well for the future. That was a complete abuse of central Government power. The regulations have been introduced cynically for populist reasons relating to Paisley grammar. They are arbitrary in their operation and essentially authoritarian — in line with the Government's authoritarian approach to education authorities and local authorities generally.

Quite apart from all that, the regulations are the worst drafted that I have had the misfortune to read. The Select Committee criticised them not just because of the failure to observe the proper procedure — which may be considered a technical matter, although I consider that it is a matter of considerable importance—but because of the inadequate drafting. If I understood the Minister aright — it was difficult to understand what he was trying to say when he intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden—he was giving an interpretation of the regulations that I believe to be fundamentally wrong. The regulations do not seem to bear the interpretation that the Minister attempted to put on them, although no doubt he will have an opportunity to clarify that matter later.

Whatever the interpretation of the regulations, the fact is that they work in an arbitrary way. There is no objective consideration involved in the 80 per cent. criterion that has been adopted for the purpose of the regulations. The hon. Member for Eastwood talked about schools being popular with the local population and local parents. There are schools with only 50 per cent. capacity that are as passionately involved with the local community and about which local parents feel just as passionately as any school that has an 80 per cent. capacity. Therefore, considerations of that sort do not bear serious examination.

This is an intervention in a sensitive local issue which, under the terms of the regulations as we have had them before and under the terms of the legislation introduced in 1981, should have been decided by Strathclyde regional council itself. It should not have been the subject of an intervention in this arbitrary and authoritarian way by the Government. That is why we shall vote against the regulations.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South 12:01 am, 29th February 1988

I shall be brief, but, as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which reported the regulations to the House, I feel that I owe the House an explanation in addition to the printed report. It is worth pointing out that there is a majority of Conservative Members on the Committee. The House lays a duty on the Committee to report measures which, in effect, are an abuse of the procedures of the House. We do not consider the merits of the measures; I shall be brief because I will not go into the merits of these regulations.

The Committee was concerned that the 21-day rule, which applies to measures made under the negative procedure, was breached. No adequate explanation was provided by the Scottish Office. It was asked to provide memoranda and was given a full opportunity to provide information to the Committee. It claimed that it wished to make its attitude known to the Strathclyde regional authority. Of course, it could have written a letter. It did not have to produce regulations or bring them into force. In bringing the regulations into force, the Scottish Office was supposed to notify the Speaker and the Lord Chancellor of the reasons for doing so. It failed to do that and, therefore, was in breach of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946.

I know that the Statutory Instruments Committee is not often much regarded in the House. In fact, by and large it does its work without much attention being paid to it. The Committee was established after an outcry led by a Conservative member of the judiciary. Lord Justice Hewart described the powers that the House was giving to Ministers as the new despotism. There is an obligation on Ministers not to abuse the powers they are given. If they do, it invokes descriptions such as new despotism or elective dictatorship. It is on such occasions that criticisms are directed at the Government because they are abusing the procedures of the House, which are designed to safeguard the powers given to them.

The regulations have the force of law. They are not simply codes of conduct or notes for guidance. The Minister knows that they have the force of the law. That is why the Committee drew the House's attention to the fact that there is no exact formula for calculating capacity. It is not clear in the regulations who will make judgments on the capacity. The memorandum says that it will be the local authority. However, the Committee looks at the regulations. The people who are carrying out the law as the Government expect them to will be guided by the regulations. They are required to follow the law, yet the law does not say how the capacity is being defined. Therefore, the regulations are defective in drafting. When the defective drafting is coupled with the rush to get the measure through, it is not surprising that the Statutory Instruments Committee reported it to the House.

It does credit to all members on the Committee that they were aware of the shortcomings and agreed to the report. I can say only that, since a Liberal Member moved the prayer, it comes as something of a surprise to note that the place reserved on the Committee for the Member from the Social Democratic party has not been used since the general election, shortly after which the Committee was established.

It is a convention that the Chairman of the Joint Committee is an Opposition Member. In scrutinising the work of the Government, it is therefore a considerable surprise that a member of the SDP has not considered it sufficiently important to participate to a greater extent.

I have not dealt with the merits of the measure, but it is an important issue. I am grateful that Parliament has debated a statutory instrument and the report by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. It brings to light the way in which the Government are using procedures with scant regard for the democratic and accountable procedures of the House.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In a debate of such importance, which has been introduced by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) as the spokesman for the Liberal party and in which the principal spokesman for the Opposition in Scotland, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. McMillan), a former Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), have participated, is it right that, when the Secretary of State, who is the Minister responsible, is present, the speech on behalf of the Government should be made by an Under-Secretary of State for Scotland?

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Could we not have the regulations—

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. The hon. Gentleman is taking up valuable time in this short debate.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling 12:06 am, 29th February 1988

We have had an interesting debate, but, having listened to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), I am still puzzled as to whether he was for or against the regulations. I shall do my best to convince him of their worth.

The Government believe that parents have a right to be involved in schools and that the school system should take account of parental preference—

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I say to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who said "Rubbish", that is not a principle that we have invented; it applies throughout our education system. We differ from Opposition Members because we have done something about the matter and have introduced measures to extend parental choice through the parents' charter, through our proposals which we will bring to the House on school boards and through the regulations.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I hope that the Minister will have regard to the strictures that I levelled at the House earlier, about the need to keep the debate to the regulations before the House.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The regulations take account of parental choice in decisions on school closures. I make the point about the background, so that the House is fully aware that this is part of a continuing policy.

Choice may be limited by the constraints of public expenditure. I fully accept the points made by the Opposition Members, that Strathclyde regional council and other educational authorities are right to seek to rationalise their school places and to seek to avoid keeping open half-empty schools, heating buildings and using money which would otherwise be spent on extra books and equipment.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

If the hon. Gentleman allows me to make progress, I shall try to give way.

The regulations provide that, if closure is approved for a school which is fully utilised, there should be an opportunity for a review. I find it difficult to understand why the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) should find that so unreasonable. He referred me to a letter which appeared in The Scotsman last month.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I shall give way in a moment. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman wishes to comment on that letter.

That letter, dated 1 February, referred to the regulations and was from a Mr. Alex Wood. I believe that he will have some knowledge of the gentleman, who was the first Labour leader of Edinburgh district council and a former pupil of Paisley grammar school. He was critical of Paisley grammar. It was to be damned because it indulged in Rugby in an overwhelmingly football-playing area, the school motto in Latin, `Disce Puer Aut Abi' (Work, Boy or get out!) hanging over the school war-memorial; a rigidly enforced and distinctive school uniform; a prefect system; and a constant wallowing in the school's 400-year history".[Interruption.] I am asked whether Mr. Wood is for it or against it. At the beginning of the letter, referring to Strathclyde's closure programme, he said: It had, however, one plus-point. It threatened the closure of several of the magnet schools, archaic educational establishments which sought to maintain their old selective status in the comprehensive epoch and which, successfully, in this Parents' Charter age, drew countless students from local comprehensives in working class areas. That is the really damning thing to Mr. Wood and for the Labour party and many people on Strathclyde region.

The hon. Member for Garscadden may well make a lot of noise, but the fact is that he is saddled with a party that is opposed to those schools that are able to attract parents under the parents' charter.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Paisley South

I shall try to restrain my temper at that misuse of the time of the House. The hon. Gentleman referred to the crucial point of the 80 per cent. Will he explain what is meant by 80 per cent.? Clearly, an hour ago he did not know. The hon. Gentleman has again referred to the schools being fully utilised. What does he mean? Does he mean in any year in the past 10 years or does he mean now? Is it 80 per cent. as calculated by the local authority in terms of the capacity of the rooms, or can a school be fully utilised even if it is not at the 80 per cent. level, by using it also as a community school? Can the hon. Gentleman explain even that for us, because that element was grossly defective in the regulations?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Of course I shall try to help the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that it is a misuse of the time of the House for me to point out that a former Paisley grammar school boy, a leading figure in the Labour party — [Interruption.] I take it that Labour Members now wish to repudiate the first Labour leader of Edinburgh district council. That is a matter for them. I suspect that some of the thinking behind Mr. Wood's letter is behind the proposals in Strathclyde.

I should be happy to explain the point about 80 per cent. capacity. It is very straightforward. Whether a school has 80 per cent. occupancy will be a matter to be determined by the education authority. Under these regulations, if the education authority thinks that the school is 80 per cent. full or more, it is required to present to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State any proposal for closure or any proposal to alter the catchment zone of that school. It is clearly spelt out — [Interruption.] If hon. Members will listen, they will know what the regulations are about and they can decide whether they are for or against them. I suggest that that is the proper way to go forward.

If any school meets the 80 per cent. capacity rule, a proposal for closure or for alteration of the catchment zone will have to be referred to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. That will mean in Paisley that the matter of the Castlehead and John Neilson schools, may have to be referred — [HON MEMBERS: "May?"]—will have to be referred — [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—I say "may" because I am relying for my information on Strathclyde regional council. The proposal is to close the John Neilson school. That will result in a change in the delineated area of a school—Castlehead school—with a pupil population exceeding 80 per cent. of the capacity. So it will come to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. For all those hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches who said that this was about one school in Paisley, it is true of the Brediland primary school, Paisley of South primary school, Paisley, of Bushes primary school, Paisley, and of a large number of schools in Strathclyde. Opposition Members have based their opposition to these regulations on a reading of them which clearly shows that they did not understand what the regulations were intended to achieve.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Paisley South

If the Minister claims, as he did just now, that Castlehead, because of the shift of roll, will be brought within the 80 per cent., does he base this on the present roll or does he base it on the roll of any of the past 10 years—since that is part of the regulations? If it is on the present roll, how does he explain the non-inclusion in his remarks of John Neilson?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that he needs to sit down and study the regulations. They are very clear. If there is a proposal to alter the catchment area of a school or to close a school with more than 80 per cent. capacity, it has to come to my right hon. and learned Friend.

Hon. Gentlemen must allow me to make progress, so that I can try to answer the points made in the debate.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Paisley South

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order to adjourn the debate so that the Minister can be further advised by the Box over there?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

What is in order is to debate these regulations. If the hon. Gentleman will not take the time to study the regulations, he will find himself at a disadvantage in debate.

I was asked why the regulations came into force immediately. They were made on 26 January. We were aware that Strathclyde council would be meeting on 3 and 12 February, and we were anxious to avoid any question of the retrospective use of these powers. We believed that it was important that Strathclyde should be in no doubt that the regulations would hear on any decisions which it was to take at these meetings.

I was asked why the regulations came into force before being laid. It is certainly true that they came into force at midnight and that they were laid 16 hours later, at 4 pm, as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said. The Joint Committee acknowledged that the procedure required for this circumstance in section 4 of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 was followed, in that Mr. Speaker and the Lord Chancellor were notified by letter that regulations had come into operation ahead of being laid. So the Government do not accept that there has been a failure to comply with the 1946 Act.

Another criticism was that the regulations do not make it clear who is responsible for determining capacity. It was a point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire in opening the debate. Section 22(b) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and the context of schedule 2 to the principal regulations make it quite clear that the duty rests with education authorities to decide which proposals to put to the Secretary of State for his consent.

I say to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, who answered my intervention in his speech about the existing regulations—which are in respect of decisions which deem it necessary for the Secretary of State to decide, for example, whether a school is five or 10 miles distant — that they do not specify who is to take the decision on the five or 10 miles. The hon. Gentleman said that that was not a precedent. It was, he said, easy to decide whether a school was five or 10 miles distant. He has obviously never had that sort of case in his constituency, because there is considerable argument about the precise route followed by the child, and so on.

The regulations do not say who is to decide that, but they clearly point, because of their context, to the education authority. These regulations are no different in that respect.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

There have been a number of questions about the capacity of the school. Actual capacity depends on the curriculum, the teaching methods and upper limits on class sizes which may be negotiated from time to time. The fact that there is no unchanging yardstick does not mean that no measurement can be made.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington , Clydebank and Milngavie

If the way in which this has been done is even-handed, why did the Minister see representatives of Paisley grammar school twice but refuse to meet representatives of Merksworth high school?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

What is even-handed is that the regulations give Paisley grammar school and other schools an opportunity for their cases to be reviewed by my right hon. and learned Friend. By opposing these regulations, Labour Members are preventing parents from being able to have that review.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to order [26 February].

The House proceeded to a Division:

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Dunfermline West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that one's vote must go with one's voice, and vice versa. I understand that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) will not vote in the Division. I ask for your comment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on that posture.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

The House must assume that the hon. Gentleman has been influenced by the course of the debate. It may be unusual, but it can happen.

The House having divided: Ayes 173, Noes 199.

Division No. 199][12.20 am
AYES
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Cousins, Jim
Allen, GrahamCryer, Bob
Anderson, DonaldCummings, John
Archer, Rt Hon PeterDalyell, Tam
Armstrong, HilaryDarling, Alistair
Barron, KevinDavies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Battle, JohnDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Beckett, MargaretDewar, Donald
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDixon, Don
Bermingham, GeraldDobson, Frank
Bidwell, SydneyDoran, Frank
Blair, TonyDouglas, Dick
Blunkett, DavidDuffy, A. E. P.
Boateng, PaulDunnachie, Jimmy
Boyes, RolandEadie, Alexander
Bradley, KeithEastham, Ken
Bray, Dr JeremyEvans, John (St Helens N)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Fatchett, Derek
Buchan, NormanField, Frank (Birkenhead)
Buckley, George J.Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Caborn, RichardFisher, Mark
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Flannery, Martin
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Flynn, Paul
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Clay, BobFoster, Derek
Clelland, DavidFoulkes, George
Clwyd, Mrs AnnFyfe, Maria
Cohen, HarryGalbraith, Sam
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Corbett, RobinGodman, Dr Norman A.
Corbyn, JeremyGolding, Mrs Llin
Graham, ThomasMorley, Elliott
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Mowlam, Marjorie
Grocott, BruceMullin, Chris
Hardy, PeterMurphy, Paul
Harman, Ms HarrietNellist, Dave
Haynes, FrankO'Brien, William
Healey, Rt Hon DenisO'Neill, Martin
Henderson, DougPatchett, Terry
Hinchliffe, DavidPike, Peter L.
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Home Robertson, JohnPrescott, John
Hood, JimmyPrimarolo, Dawn
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Quin, Ms Joyce
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Randall, Stuart
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Redmond, Martin
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)Richardson, Jo
Illsley, EricRobertson, George
Janner, GrevilleRobinson, Geoffrey
John, BrynmorRogers, Allan
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Rowlands, Ted
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRuddock, Joan
Lambie, DavidSheerman, Barry
Lamond, JamesSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Leadbitter, TedShore, Rt Hon Peter
Leighton, RonShort, Clare
Litherland, RobertSkinner, Dennis
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Lofthouse, GeoffreySmith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
McAllion, JohnSoley, Clive
McAvoy, ThomasSpearing, Nigel
McCartney, IanSteinberg, Gerry
Macdonald, Calum A.Stott, Roger
McFall, JohnStrang, Gavin
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Straw, Jack
McKelvey, WilliamTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McLeish, HenryThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
McNamara, KevinTurner, Dennis
McWilliam, JohnWall, Pat
Madden, MaxWalley, Joan
Mahon, Mrs AliceWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Wareing, Robert N.
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Wilson, Brian
Martlew, EricWinnick, David
Maxton, JohnWise, Mrs Audrey
Meacher, MichaelWorthington, Tony
Meale, AlanYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Tellers for the Ayes:
Millan, Rt Hon BruceMr. Adam Ingram and
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)Mr. Nigel Griffiths.
Moonie, Dr Lewis
NOES
Adley, RobertBottomley, Mrs Virginia
Alexander, RichardBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBowis, John
Allason, RupertBraine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Amess, DavidBrazier, Julian
Amos, AlanBright, Graham
Arbuthnot, JamesBrown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Ashby, DavidBuck, Sir Antony
Aspinwall, JackBudgen, Nicholas
Atkins, RobertBurns, Simon
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Burt, Alistair
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Butcher, John
Baldry, TonyButler, Chris
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyButterfill, John
Bellingham, HenryCarlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Bendall, VivianCarttiss, Michael
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Cash, William
Benyon, W.Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Blackburn, Dr John G.Chope, Christopher
Bonsor, Sir NicholasClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Boscawen, Hon RobertClark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Conway, DerekLatham, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Cope, JohnLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Currie, Mrs EdwinaLilley, Peter
Curry, DavidLord, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Davis, David (Boothferry)Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Day, StephenMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Dickens, GeoffreyMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Dorrell, StephenMaclean, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMcLoughlin, Patrick
Dover, DenMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Dunn, BobMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Durant, TonyMadel, David
Evennett, DavidMalins, Humfrey
Fairbairn, NicholasMans, Keith
Fallon, MichaelMaples, John
Farr, Sir JohnMarland, Paul
Favell, TonyMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Fenner, Dame PeggyMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Forman, NigelMaude, Hon Francis
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Forth, EricMeyer, Sir Anthony
Freeman, RogerMiller, Hal
French, DouglasMills, Iain
Gale, RogerMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Garel-Jones, TristanMitchell, David (Hants NW)
Gill, ChristopherMoate, Roger
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMonro, Sir Hector
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Gow, IanMorrison, Hon Sir Charles
Gower, Sir RaymondMoss, Malcolm
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Neubert, Michael
Gregory, ConalPaice, James
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Patnick, Irvine
Grist, IanRifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Ground, PatrickRyder, Richard
Grylls, MichaelShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Stanbrook, Ivor
Hanley, JeremyStern, Michael
Hannam, JohnStevens, Lewis
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Harris, DavidStewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Haselhurst, AlanStradling Thomas, Sir John
Hayes, JerrySumberg, David
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneySummerson, Hugo
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Heddle, JohnTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Hind, KennethTemple-Morris, Peter
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Holt, RichardThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Hordern, Sir PeterThorne, Neil
Howard, MichaelThurnham, Peter
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Trippier, David
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Twinn, Dr Ian
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Waddington, Rt Hon David
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Walden, George
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Irvine, MichaelWaller, Gary
Jack, MichaelWard, John
Jackson, RobertWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyWatts, John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Wheeler, John
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Widdecombe, Ann
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineWiggin, Jerry
Key, RobertWilkinson, John
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Wilshire, David
Kirkhope, TimothyWood, Timothy
Knapman, RogerYeo, Tim
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Knowles, MichaelTellers for the Noes:
Knox, DavidMr. David Lightbown and
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanMr. Alan Howarth.
Lang, Ian

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Paisley South 12:32 am, 29th February 1988

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like some guidance and advice from you over what has just happened. The prayer was tabled by Liberal Members of Parliament. In the event, they decided not to take part in the vote that followed the prayer. Is that customary, is it precedented, is it democratic and is it fair?

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

I dealt with this point of order during the Division. I see no reason to add anything to the ruling that I gave on that occasion.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order to ask you to confirm that, if the alliance Members had voted with the Opposition, the prayer would have been approved?

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

It is not for me to indulge in hypotheses.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Might this incident be remembered in future as "Holy Archy's Prayer"?