I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
In putting forward their proposals on education, the Government start from three premises, all of which, I believe, will be acceptable to both sides of the House.
We start, first, with the premise that the purpose of education is to enable every youngster at school in Scotland to realise his or her full potential. That is the only rationalisation of and justification for an education system.
Secondly, I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House would accept that education does not consist only of what happens within school, and nor does what happens within schools interest only the teaching profession. The involvement of parents and of the wider community in our schools is likely to bring results that will ultimately be to the benefit of the pupils themselves.
Thirdly, I believe that I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that the debate takes place in the context and against the background that, over the past 10 years, education standards in Scotland have continued to improve, to the benefit of all the pupils in Scotland. It is important—[Interruption.] I am surprised that there is some objection to, or protest against, that proposition. I use as evidence for the proposition a recent Labour party document which was produced by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish). A passage on page 2 of the document states:
It is important at the outset of this review to reaffirm our belief in the excellent record of Scottish education. Standards are constantly improving.
It is significant that it took the publication of the Bill for the Labour party to admit that over the past 10 years standards of education have been improving. For the previous nine years, Labour Members have been trying to tell us that standards have been deteriorating. All of a sudden, they agree with the Government on the high quality of education. They recognise that under the Government, and with the various reforms of the education system that have taken place, the net result has been constant improvement in the standards of education that are enjoyed by our young people.
I am interested in the three premises on which the Secretary of State began his remarks. Does he agree that one of the reasons for the strength of the Scottish education system is its distinctive nature? Is it not, therefore, appropriate that legislation dealing with Scottish education is left to Scottish Members? Does he agree that, on that basis, the Scottish Grand Committee should consider the Bill in Committee?
I agree with the hon. Lady's premise, but not with her conclusion. One of the benefits of a United Kingdom Parliament—I cannot expect the hon. Lady to understand this—is the mutual exchange of ideas. Our English colleagues are learning the advantages of a national curriculum, which we in Scotland have enjoyed for some time, and we should all be free to participate in these debates in this, the Mother of Parliaments.
I suggest that it is common ground that the standards of Scottish education have improved over the past 10 years. A factor to which I must refer was the almost unknown involvement of parents in any significant way in the school system in Scotland in the recent past. In that respect, we were behind the rest of the United Kingdom and western Europe generally. It is common ground now, even if it was not a couple of years ago, that the involvement of parents by giving them practical responsibilities, not merely in an advisory capacity, in the schools which their children attend is beneficial in terms of the education that the children ultimately receive.
The Government took the first steps in that direction when they introduced the parents' charter. The House will recall the great scepticism, indifference and in some respects hostility that was displayed by Opposition Members when it was proposed that parents should have real rights in respect of the schools that their children would attend. It was said that there was little interest in that, and little demand for it. Since the charter has been introduced, however, over 120,000 parents in Scotland have exercised their rights. That has been to the benefit of their youngsters and to the education system as a whole. I do not believe that any political party represented in the House suggests that the charter should be repealed or that parents should not have the rights that the Government gave them, against the advice of Opposition Members.
Does the Secretary of State not realise that one of the reasons why more and more parents have become involved in Scottish schools is the cuts that the Government have imposed on schools and their budgets? That has made it necessary for them to engage in fund raising. It has led also to a greater level of awareness. In my constituency—even when the Conservative party ran the local council—we have lost specialist teachers, such as music and physical education teachers. Teachers left, never to return. It is no wonder that parents have become more involved and that they feel strongly about the education of their children.
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. He might like to discuss these matters with those who occupy the Opposition Front Bench. The Labour party is on record as saying that over the past 10 years standards have constantly improved. It recognises that they have improved constantly, not occasionally. That is a fact in which we can all take great pride.
The proposals in the Bill cover a wide range of issues. I wish to deal especially with the proposals for self-governing schools. It is right to emphasise that in one profound sense the proposals are different from those for school boards, which the House considered in the previous Session. It was the wish of Parliament that boards should be established in all primary and secondary schools in Scotland. Inevitably and properly, there was enormous interest in what the implications might be. It is significant that over the past year the debate on school boards has been entirely won. Those who share my political philosophy and education philosophy and Opposition Members are now committed to school boards. The Educational Institute of Scotland has said that it intends to work with school boards. Opposition spokesmen are on record in calling on parents to join school boards to help the education system.
Will the Secretary of State accept that Opposition Members and teachers are recognising the existence of the law and the need to ensure that schools are properly managed? That does not mean that they support school boards. Parents are extremely concerned that they should have to fight other parents rather than entrust their education of the children to professionals.
The hon. Gentleman may be living with reality, but he will know that every test of opinion in Scotland in recent months has shown a large majority of Scottish parents in favour of school boards and believing that they are a desirable innovation.
I wish to develop my argument.
As I have said, there is an important difference between the school board proposals and the proposals in the Bill. The proposals for self-governing schools are optional. The question whether an individual school will become a self-governing school will be decided by the parents in the locality. It will not be a question for the Government or local authority to determine. In some places, parents will decide that it is appropriate and in others they will not. That is entirely proper.
I shall explain the basic thinking behind the proposition and its relevance to Scottish education. It is a legitimate and proper matter to address. We are all conscious, as the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) said, of the distinctive nature of the Scottish education system. Those who are familiar with the system know that its roots go back to the involvement of the local community in its local school. That led to a distinctive and traditional type of school in Scotland, which gave literacy to a far wider section of the population than was common elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It established an international reputation for excellence. They were local schools—parish schools. They were schools in the local community.
That structure changed—it was inevitable that it would—for two reasons. It did not change because there was objection to the community being responsible for its local school. It changed because the local community could not generate the resources that are properly expected in the contemporary system to provide the quality of education that is required. Secondly, it changed because parents, equally properly, over a number of years grew to expect national standards for the education that their children would receive. There had to be a basis for being satisfied that the education received was of a national standard. That gave reassurance to parents and offered the maximum prospects for their youngsters to have access to university or to higher or further education, or to the seeking of employment.
I shall develop my argument and give way to the hon. Gentleman in a few minutes.
The considerations to which I have referred led inevitably to education being less controlled by the local community. There is an additional consideration that stems from 1975 and the reform of local government. Education had been the responsibility of local authorities for many years, but the effect of reorganisation of local government was to make education one of the responsibilities of the regional councils. It was inevitable that, for most of Scotland, that meant control—
I shall develop my case for a moment, and then I shall give way.
The effect of the reorganisation of local government meant that control over local schools became concentrated in the regional councils, which were often many miles away from local communities. Strathclyde is the most obvious example of that, as its education authority is responsible for the detailed administration of schools as far apart as Campbeltown, Oban, Motherwell, Cumnock and other places.
It is equally true in other regions. We might have to live with that if those factors were inevitable. However, essentially we are suggesting that the Bill provides an opportunity for parents and local communities, if they so desire it, to have much greater control over a school with the resources required in the modern world and a guarantee of continuing national standards. I believe that that is consistent with the Scottish tradition and it enables the Scottish education system to get the best of both worlds if parents so wish it.
Without following the Secretary of State's analysis of the scope and nature of control, many hon. Members remember the review of local government and we made points then about the size of Strathclyde. However, that legislation was forced through by the Conservative Government. Is not the Secretary of State missing one important and distinctive Scottish criterion which commands attention in relation to giving opportunities to all on the same basis? Every child should have a similar and equal opportunity to exercise his gifts and so benefit the community. Is that not basically what the Bill transgresses? In one way or another, the Bill is selective and that goes against the inherent character of Scottish education.
I agree with most of the hon. Gentleman's comments, but I can state categorically and without equivocation that the Bill is not designed to reintroduce selectivity; nor is it designed to do anything other than to add to the opportunities available to Scottish youngsters and their parents in the education system.
Does the Secretary of State accept that as resources will be limited—as they always will be under this Government if they remain in office—the pressure on school boards to ensure that the parents of children they accept are capable of raising money by contributions or through fund raising will be immense? As in private schools at the moment, parents will be invited to raise more of the funds. The: Government are encouraging a similar practice in the Health Service. Does the Secretary of State accept that in that way selection will occur? Fees may not be charged, but fund raising will be encouraged. There will be selection by the back door. That is the whole reason for school boards. Surely the Secretary of State should be honest and just tell us that that is what he wants.
I am very encouraged by the fact that the hon. Gentleman finds it so difficult to find anything in the Bill to oppose that he erects Aunt Sallys to attack, because he knows that there is nothing in the Bill to encourage a school board of a self-governing school to be any more interested in raising money than any other school in the state system. The hon. Gentleman must know that, because I do him the credit of assuming that he has read the Bill.
The Secretary of State said that the Bill is not designed to encourage selection or encourage the return of selection in our education system. He knows that when an opted-out school considers its fundamental characteristics after a period of years, it clearly has powers to reintroduce selection. Will he assure us that while he is Secretary of State—or if he is not, that he will use his influence on a future Secretary of State to ensure this—the Secretary of State's veto will be used to stop the reintroduction of selection?
That is a very important issue and I am well aware of the allegations which have been made.
Hon. Members want to know whether there are proposals in the Bill which will change the character of schools in the state system. Let us consider the existing position. At the moment any local authority can change the character of all its schools overnight. There is nothing to stop any local authority in Scotland, either because of a change in political control, or simply because it has changed its mind, changing the character of every school in its locality. It does not have to consult the parents, the electorate or the Secretary of State or gain approval or permission from anyone. It is important that I should remind the House that local authorities can change the character for selectivity or for ending co-education in all schools in Scotland, if they wish.
Clearly it cannot be made impossible ever to contemplate any change in a school in the state sector if that is not impossible at the present time, but the Bill introduces infinitely more safeguards than exist at the moment. For the benefit of hon. Members who have not read the Bill, I will explain why that is so.
Any proposal to change the character of self-governing schools requires a ballot of the parents. If there was a proposal to end co-education in a school, it is somewhat improbable to believe that the parents whose children were of the different sex from the character proposed for the school would find that proposition attractive. There must also be consultation with the education authority, the Scottish Office and others involved. The Secretary of State must also give his approval.
Quite properly those are substantial hurdles to changing a school's character. In response to the points raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), I am on record saying that I do not envisage it being appropriate in the first few years for a school that has achieved self-governing status to want to change its character in any major or fundamental sense. What happens in the longer term, as with local authority schools, is something that we will have to address in future.
At the moment I have no clear knowledge how long my term of office in my present post is likely to last. I should not like to address this matter in terms of whether it will be me or my successor who will have to consider it, but clearly it would be considered by a Conservative Secretary of State, whichever approach was used.
The purpose of the Bill is not to change the character of schools. Its purpose is to allow parents to achieve self-governing status for their schools if they so wish. As local authorities at the moment have a completely untrammelled ability to change a school's character without any external consultation or approval, it would have been quite unreasonable to say that a self-governing school could never, irrespective of the safeguards, contemplate any minor or significant change in the school. The safeguards that we have proposed are far tougher than those which exist at the moment.
The Secretary of State has been most generous in giving way. However, what is he actually saying? Is he saying that he will give his authority or use his powers to help schools that want to opt out and become self-governing to do that but, if at a later date, possibly very soon thereafter, a school wants to opt back into the state system, he will withhold his authority and not allow schools to opt back in? That seems to be what he has just said.
No, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. We originally proposed to suggest that, once a school became self-governing, it would not be able to revert to local authority status. However, we said some weeks ago, in the light of various proposals and consultations, that we would not want in all circumstances to rule out a self-governing school opting back in if the local education authority and parents took that view and if it was the common-sense outcome in the circumstances. There is nothing in the Bill to rule that out.
That does not need to be said in the Bill, because it was never forbidden by the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman had read the Bill, he would know that.
The second allegation that is occasionally made, particularly by the hon. Member for Fife, Central, is that the Bill is a centralising measure. The hon. Gentleman used the rather quaint expression that the Government propose to "nationalise" schools. I am not sure whether, in using that particular word, he was trying to put my own right hon. and hon. Friends off the proposal or put his own hon. and right hon. Friends on to it.
In considering whether the Bill is a centralising measure, the only question that needs to be addressed is whether parents, teachers, and other representatives of the local community serving on the board of management will have far more or far less control than in a school run by a local education authority. If one addresses oneself to that question, the answer is obvious. The board of management of a self-governing school will have responsibility for staff, for finance, and for a whole range of matters that are currently determined by the local education authority, which may be many miles away.
While the Secretary of State will provide the block finance, he will have nothing like the day-to-day control that an LEA has, because the Bill gives him no such powers. The hon. Member for Fife, Central will realise that when he re-reads the relevant clauses.
Why does the Secretary of State believe that a ballot only of parents currently having children at the school is important? Why should there not be included in the ballot parents who expect to send their children to the school in future? Why not a ballot of the whole community? One cannot argue that the community as a whole does not have an interest in the matter simply because some residents have no children or have children who have left school.
There could be certain practical problems in trying to determine those who may have children at the school at some future time. We recognise the interests of the wider community, which is why, in the case of a self-governing school, the parents will not by themselves have an overall majority. That provision reflects the legitimate interests of the wider community. Because the local education authority will no longer have overall responsibility for that school, it is right and proper that that should be the case.
Part I of the Bill deals with self-governing schools. Its first 12 clauses determine how those schools should be managed. Important provisions ensure that the essentials of existing legislation on public schools will continue to apply to a school that becomes self-governing. In addition, each self-governing school will have its own scheme of government that will define its basic characteristics and policy and provide for the composition and proceedings of its board of management. The board will include the school's headteacher, elected members drawn from the teaching staff, parents and members appointed from the local community. The board will include all elected school board members who wish to transfer and serve out their terms of office on the new board of management. However, we have allowed for boards of management to include more appointed members and for them to serve a longer term—partly to strengthen links with the local community and partly because external expertise will be particularly valuable to a body taking on those aspects of running a school.
What is the democratic case for co-opted members being elected for a period of five to seven years? Also, what criteria does the Secretary of State apply in allowing for the election of outsiders for a period of up to seven years, given that the Bill is meant to ensure that the school is an extension of the local community?
Certain schools are denominational, and in our view it is right that the church in question should have representation on the board of management. Also, if one did not include representatives of the wider community, the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) would be a factor, because parents of children currently at the school would have an overall majority. It is important to have wider representation, because longer-term interests may not simply be those of the parents of children currently at the school. That is a point which the Government themselves are making.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should consider its composition again before he repeats that statement. As we understand that the hon. Gentleman is now a believer, in some circumstances, in self-governing hospitals, he should not be upset at the prospect of self-governing schools, because the same principles apply.
Wider interests may be represented by a board member who is a trade unionist or a local business man. It will not be the Secretary of State who decides that, but local people on the board itself. If Opposition Members are being so scurrilous, it implies that they do not have confidence in parents and teachers to select members of the local community who have a contribution to make to the board.
The hon. Members for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), and for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) spoke at Question Time for the English Home Department and Welsh Office last week, so I ask the hon. Gentleman not to give me that nonsense.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is surprising that Opposition Members should be so opposed to parents' rights? Does he agree that they should take a trip to Buckinghamshire, to the manor owned by their hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who will instruct them in the new-found consumerism that is Labour party policy? Does he agree also that putting power in the hands of the parents is the ultimate form of devolution?
It is, and the opposition of Labour Members is rather curious.
Once a school becomes self-governing, the education authority will no longer have any responsibility for overseeing its day-to-day running. That duty will fall to its board of management, which will have responsibility for providing education, managing the school's staff and assets, and overseeing its day-to-day running.
Perhaps I may be allowed to continue for a moment. I have given way several times, and many right hon. and hon. Members wish Ito participate in the debate. I must show some self-discipline, much though I enjoy the hon. Lady's interventions.
The Bill requires boards of management to promote links with the local community and to encourage wider use of the school's facilities. It places on the board a duty to consult regularly with the parents of children at the school. Boards will be required to run schools in line with the description included in the articles of management. Self-governing schools will, of course, remain in the public sector and could not become fee-paying.
Clauses 13 to 19 set out the procedure to be followed by a school seeking to become self-governing. The schools not eligible to do so include nursery schools, special schools, and schools for which no school board has been established. The Bill provides for the procedure to be initiated in either of two ways—by the school board passing a resolution or by a written request signed by 10 per cent. of the parents. A secret postal ballot of parents of children at the school would have to be held within three months. That ballot will be funded by the Secretary of State and conducted by an independent body that he will appoint. If the majority of parents voting were in favour of self-governing status, proposals would have to be published and submitted to the Secretary of State. The Bill gives outside parties one month to make representations before a final decision is reached. If approval is given to the proposals, the school will become self-governing on a specified date, which is referred to in the Bill as the incorporation date.
As the Secretary of State well knows, in many rural areas—not least, the Scottish islands—there may be only one secondary school but a large number of primary schools. What rights, if any, will the parents of children at the feeder primary schools have in a ballot relating to the wish of the secondary school to opt out? Parents of primary schoolchildren may have no choice if the only secondary school to which they can send their children is one that has already opted out of the local authority system.
The electorate will comprise parents of children already at the secondary school. However, I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman that access to that school will not be denied to any youngsters living in the locality. The same rights available under the present parents' charter will continue to be available, which is something that the hon. Gentleman should welcome. No doubt those who vote at such an election will take account of that point when considering the proposal before them.
As the hon. Gentleman says, the ballot does not itself decide the question of opting out; it simply determines whether the process can reach the next stage. As Secretary of State, I would of course take into account the proportion who had voted in a ballot—which I accept is relevant—but I think it right to give most weight to the views of those who have chosen to exercise their vote either for or against the proposal.
Clauses 21 to 23 cover staff matters. The members of teaching and non-teaching staff of a school that becomes self-governing would transfer to the employment of the board of management, and their contracts of employment would also transfer unchanged. Once a school had given notice of its intention to hold a ballot of parents, the education authority could not appoint, transfer or dismiss staff without the consent of the school board.
Clause 24 provides that if an education authority has the duty or power to provide benefits or services for pupils in the area, such as school transport, it is not to treat pupils at self-governing schools any less favourably than those at schools under its management. Clauses 25 to 27 provide for the financing of self-governing schools. Grant will be paid direct to the board of management, and recovered by the Secretary of State from the local authority. We intend it to be in line with what the school could reasonably have expected to receive had it remained under the management of the education authority.
May I return to the point that I tried to press earlier? What will a board do if it simply cannot make ends meet on the grant that it receives from central Government because the average is not sufficient? Will it raise funds from other sources or will it be required to pay off staff? What will happen?
What will happen will be exactly the same as what happens at present if a school receives less than it would like from the education authority. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that this is an exceptional problem that would be relevant only to self-governing schools does not match the experience of successive schools under successive Governments of varying political complexions.
The Secretary of State is a lawyer and I am not, and my question is purely interrogatory. He talks about the management of assets and of staff. Are there not likely to be continuing problems? By their very nature, the personnel of some of the governing bodies will change. Parents will go off to take jobs elsewhere, and there will not be continuity. I can imagine hideous legal cases going on for a long time and creating endless problems. As a lawyer, the Secretary of State may say that there is an answer, and I should like to hear it.
There is an answer: it is called by-elections, which happen regularly in local authorities. People change their employment if they are councillors, or they move to another part of the country, and it is necessary to fill vacancies. I have never heard that used as an argument against the whole structure of local democracy, and I do not see it as a fundamental problem.
The hon. Gentleman is not addressing the real issue. A large proportion, indeed the majority, of the board of management will be either teachers or co-opted members. Parents will form a minority, albeit a large minority. It is not realistic to suggest that on a given date all the members of a school board will suddenly decide to move their homes or employment.
Clauses 32 to 42 make provision regarding property. The basic intention is for all property rights, liabilites and obligations of an education authority relating to a school to be transferred to the school's board of management when it becomes self-governing. A commissioner for school assets will be appointed to assist the school board and the education authority to determine how property and rights over property are to be apportioned between the education authority and the school when it becomes self-governing.
Another basic provision is that after a school has given notice of its intention to hold a ballot on self-governing status, the education authority should not enter into any transaction involving the assets of the school, used for the purposes of that school, except with the consent of the school board. Nor is it expected to remove any property from the school without the consent of the school board.
I am occasionally asked whether the Government have a target for the number of schools that they wish to achieve self-governing status in Scotland. We have no such target and it would be wrong and foolish to attempt one, because the matter will be determined not by Government but by parents in the individual localities.
We are already able to point to certain significant advantages accruing to parents that have resulted purely from the Bill's publication. Already a number of important spokesmen are giving advice to their local authorities. For instance, councillor Malcolm Green, chairman of the education committee, has said to his colleagues in Strathclyde region:
If we want to stop parents in Strathclyde going for self-governing schools, we will have to make sure that our schools are so acceptable to the parents that they will not wish to use the rights in the bill.
On 14 February, Mr. Fred Forrester of the EIS is reported to have said:
Some fine tuning of authorities' policies could satisfy some groups of parents and reduce the impetus for opting out. In general there should be the greatest possible sensitivity to local parental opinion, even if this seems perverse when viewed from the education offices or the regional chambers.
Dr. Farquhar Mackintosh, who takes a much more balanced approach to all these matters, has been quoted as saying:
If the possibility or threat of opting out helps to make education authorities more sensitive to local needs and more even handed in their dealings with schools that will clearly be a benefit.
Even if the Bill has achieved nothing else, it has converted councillor Malcolm Green and Mr. Forrester of the EIS to the belief that education authorities should be sensitive to the interests of parents. I emphasise the simple point that until now an education authority has been able to say to parents, "Like it or lump it." Parents have had no alternative. Now there will be an alternative, and if the provision of education is made so much better and more
sensitive to parental wishes that the parents' wish to use the powers in the Bill is reduced I shall be entirely happy with such a development.
Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the proposals in the Bill will make it almost impossible for a local authority such as Strathclyde to rationalise in the way that he wants? As soon as any school is threatened with the possibility of closure it will be likely to plump for opting out. How does that square with the statement in the Bill that there will be no significant cost? The Secretary of State will have to pick up the cost of the opting-out schools, and Strathclyde will have to mop up the rest.
The hon. Gentleman should consult the leader of the Democratic group on Strathclyde regional council. Councillor Mason has gone on record as supporting such proposals precisely to ensure that good schools are not closed by an intransigent authority. The hon. Gentleman might like to get his own act together before commenting further.
There will be no question of a school's being given self-governing status if its numbers are so few that it would not be viable. We are concerned with schools that are so popular that they are packed to the gunwales but whose closure has nevertheless been proposed by the education authority for reasons other than educational ones. [Interruption.] I am as intrigued as Opposition Members by the movements on my left, but no doubt there will be a rational explanation.
The other clauses are equally important and should, I think, be accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Clauses on further education form part II of the Bill. Clauses 48 to 54 provide for the appointment of new college councils for further education colleges managed by education authorities, which should be in place by April 1990. The Bill provides for a maximum membership of 20, of whom at least half will be nominees of employer organisations, and not more than one fifth will be members or employees of the local authorities. By October 1990 education authorities should have made arrangements to delegate further education functions to college councils and to provide the means for the councils to carry out those functions. The Bill also gives college councils the power to raise funds, accept gifts and retain income.
Clauses 55 to 57 give education authorities the power to conduct commercial activities through further education colleges. Authorities may set up companies to undertake these activities and may make loans to them if required. These powers are among functions that may be delegated to college councils. Education authorities are also to have the power to form companies to take over the management of colleges previously under the management of the authorities.
Given that there are now no parliamentary restraints on this Government, and, hence, that the Bill will go through all its stages unamended, may I ask the Secretary of State whether "employer organisations", in clause 48(5)(a)(ii), includes the representatives of community businesses, producer co-operatives and worker co-operatives?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his confidence about the smooth passage of the Bill, which, naturally, I hope will be vindicated. But who knows? The hon. Gentleman might just come up with a constructive amendment that we are able to accept. He must not be too surprised if that happens. I will certainly check the point that he has raised, but I expect that all those who are representative of wider community interests will be eligible to be considered for appointments of this kind. I hope that that is the point to which the hon. Gentleman was referring. I will look further into it.
I must move on.
Clause 61 makes provision for the abolition of the Scottish joint negotiating committee on further education, whose remit is to settle pay and conditions of service for teaching staff in colleges of further and higher education. That committee has not worked effectively, and it will be replaced by separate non-statutory arrangements for the two college sectors, which should enable the negotiating machinery to be more responsive to the requirements of both staff and management in the two sectors concerned.
Among the other provisions of the Bill, the establishment of privately sponsored technology academies will be another means of widening the range and diversity of schools available to parents. These academies will provide young people with access to a type of school that will equip them well for adult life and for work in an advanced industrial society. They will also offer an opportunity for raising standards and expectations of pupils, parents and teachers generally. The provision of this new type of school, with the teaching of technology and science a predominant theme, reflects the Government's awareness of the needs of industry and commerce and of the necessity to develop the qualities that employers in these fields seek. [Interruption.] I hope that Opposition Members are not suggesting that technology academies are some doctrinal proposal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Well, those hon. Members might explain that to councillor Charles Gray, the leader of the Labour group on Strathclyde regional council, who tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade his more doctrinaire colleagues that such an academy would be a great asset to the city of Glasgow and to Strathclyde as a whole. I would pay more attention to councillor Gray's views on these matters than to those of some of his more doctrinaire colleagues.
I will happily give way to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) so that he may inform us whether he agrees with councillor Gray, or with the rest of the Labour group in Strathclyde region, on the question of technology academies.
It is well known that there is a plan to found one of these technology academies in Glasgow. Can the Secretary of State say whether there are any on the stocks for other areas? For the sake of public knowledge, can he list the principal backers of the Glasgow academy that is planned?
We look forward to that. We will listen very carefully. Indeed, we shall go in for a detailed textual analysis to see whether we can divine the hon. Gentleman's real views on these matters.
As for the location of technology academies, there has been a very generous offer from Lord Forte to contribute towards the first of them. We are currently considering the possible location of such an academy, which might be in the west of Scotland or elsewhere. That is a matter on which I cannot report further at this stage.
When we announced last October our proposals for curriculum and assessment, I referred to the existing powers, which enabled me to prescribe general requirements for education authorities and which could be extended in order to put arrangements for national testing in primary schools on a formal basis. I am now taking the opportunity, in the Bill, to do this. Incidentally, it would appear that the public as a whole in Scotland are behind the Government in their proposals for national testing in primary schools. Some 50 per cent. of parents, when asked last May, said that they were in favour of these proposals. We are very pleased about that.
I have noted with interest also the views of the Opposition spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). It will be interesting if the hon. Member for Garscadden can tell us whether he agrees with the hon. Member for Blackburn, who is the shadow spokesman on education—[Interruption.] Yes, in England and Wales, but it would be interesting to know whether these principles apply also in Scotland. On 26 November the hon. Gentleman said:
The performance of teachers in schools has always been judged and will always be judged, for judgment is inherent in choice. But in the absence of any formal system, schools will be judged by reputation and rumour, by crude examination results, by newspaper stories of prizegivings and sports successes on the one hand or of drug stories or truancy on the other.
He went on to describe a method of scrutinising exam results that could be used. He said that he would want a system
to judge each individual school's own progress year by year to provide a twin focus by which schools not only compete with other schools but, more importantly, pitch themselves against their own previous performance.
He went on:
I do want flagship schools"—
I ought to remind the House that these are the words of a Labour spokesman on education celebrating these schools—
which, with similar resources to others, have achieved great things for their pupils, so that when, in the future, people think of comprehensives they do not think of an impersonal system, but of real schools, of paradigms of excellence, which can provide the best for all.
That, we are told, is the Labour party's policy on education and on testing in England and Wales. Is it the Labour party's policy on education and testing in Scotland? If so, why has it not said so? If not, why not? We wait to hear whether the EIS has given permission for the adoption of such a policy north of the border.
Last month we issued our consultation paper on school teachers' professional development into the 1990s. Like the members of other professions, teachers must constantly refresh and replenish their skills and knowledge. Only through a well-planned and properly managed programme of staff development can they maintain their professional competence and expertise. To be effective, staff development programmes for teachers must start from an accurate identification of their needs, through assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of their teaching.
After the most careful consideration, we have decided to seek enabling powers, which, if necessary, can be used to ensure that appraisal within staff development programmes is introduced on a national basis. I hope that progress on appraisal can be achieved voluntarily, but I believe that reserve powers are necessary in case there should be continued resistance to appraisal despite its many benefits, which the more enlightened members of the teaching profession now readily recognise. I welcome in particular the statement of the SSTA, emphasising that, for its part, it has always been in favour of appraisal, and saying that it looks forward to developments in that direction over the next few weeks and months.
Does the Secretary of State not feel that it would have been better had the consultation process on appraisal taken place without clause 64? Surely this is the reverse of the normal process: consultation and then legislation. Now we are having legislation followed by consultation—indeed, the consultation process will not be completed until the end of June.
As I have just indicated, this is a purely enabling power. I hope that it will not have to be used, as will be the case if the response of the teaching profession as a whole follows that of the SSTA. I hope that the EIS will also give the proposal very serious consideration, because it is genuinely in the best interests of individual teachers that there should be a proper appraisal system. If that can be confirmed, a voluntary scheme will be available.
The Bill clarifies the power of education authorities to send children to special schools outwith Scotland and to pay the necessary fees and expenses. It is common for them to do that now, where the needs of a child are most appropriately catered for at a school not in Scotland that specialises in that child's particular learning difficulty. The practice represents a useful widening of educational choice for some of our most unfortunate youngsters. Unfortunately, a recent court case suggested that authorities may not have the requisite powers under the Act to place children in schools in other parts of the United Kingdom. We are now putting the position beyond doubt.
I do not know the answer to that question, but my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) will respond to it when he replies.
Clause 66 brings about the repeal of section 88 of the 1980 Act, which provided a form of procedure for the dismissal of teachers. The additional protection that that provision affords teachers against dismissal has been overtaken by the safeguard contained in the general employment protection legislation. This proposal is therefore appropriate.
Paragraph 1 of schedule 12 strengthens the management of the four ancient universities. At present, the courts of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews universities are chaired by the university rector who is elected by the students. The courts of these universities recently considered whether that arrangement is still appropriate, given their responsibilities for the financial management of the universities. Three of the four courts concluded that it was not and they asked the Government to bring forward the proposals that are contained in this part of the Bill. Consequently, if the Bill is enacted, the chairman will be elected by the court from among the lay members. The rector would remain eligible for election, so long as he or she was not—
I think that the Secretary of State means schedule 10, not schedule 12. Schedule 10 is entitled "Minor and Consequential Amendments." Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us, by means of that careful textual analysis for which he is renowned, which substantive clause in the Bill provides the basis for which paragraph 1 of schedule 10 is a consequence? Does the Secretary of State agree that it is not a minor amendment to remove from the students of Scottish universities a right that they have held for many centuries and that they have traditionally discharged with great responsibility?
The hon. and learned Gentleman says that students have traditionally exercised that right with great responsibility. That has been true on many occasions. However, this is not a Government proposal. We have responded to a request from three of the four universities. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that in certain cases the rector has been overseas and has been unable physically to carry out that responsibility. On other occasions, rectors have not been interested in doing so. That led to the universities' proposal. However, I emphasise that the rector will still be eligible to be elected to chair the court. It will be for the court to decide who the chairman should be. I should have thought that a member of the Social and Liberal Democrats would be only too happy to endorse a democratic way of deciding who the chairman of the university court should be instead of its being determined on the court's behalf by another body.
Given the tenor of the other proposals, would it not have been appropriate to put such an important proposal as displacing the rector as chairman of the courts of the older universities to a ballot of the students in those universities?
That is entirely a matter for the universities. No doubt they will hear about the hon. Gentleman's interesting proposal.
The debate takes place against a wider educational debate. For some time we have been critical of the Opposition because of their unwillingness or inability to put forward an alternative educational philosophy. Recently I thought that that was no longer going to be a criticism that we could validly make. On behalf of his party, the hon. Member for Fife, Central produced a document that purports to be the Labour party's alternative policy.
I am told that it is a discussion document, so presumably it has something to discuss and represents what may be the Labour party's policy.
As the hon. Member for Fife, Central would expect, my hon. Friends and I have studied the document with great
care and attention. It is a weighty document—21 pages. I thought that it would contain a mountain of new ideas, initiatives, policies and proposals. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) obviously expected that to be the case, but clearly he has not read it. If he chooses to read it, he will find that, of the 21 pages, a mere three and a half are about what the Labour party describes as its policy, while 17 pages contain an attempt to criticise the Government's policy. If we have to listen to the criticism that the Goverment's proposals are not consistent with the best traditions of Scottish education, I must point out that the evidence supplied by Opposition Members points in the opposite direction. At page 17 the hon. Member for Fife, Central says:
equality of opportunity lies at the heart of the Scottish education tradition.
The Conservative party strongly believes in equality of opportunity.
Although Opposition Members may not realise it, they do not believe in equality of opportunity. I have no better authority for saying that than the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). On 31 July 1983 the right hon. Gentleman, when talking about the Labour party, said:
We are not the party of equality of opportunity. That is a view of society of the Conservative Party.
That is an interesting statement. The Labour party says in that document, quite rightly, that equality of opportunity is at the heart of what the Scottish educational tradition is all about, but the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook says that Socialists do not believe in equality of opportunity; that is Tory policy and Tory philosophy.
That explains the final statement in the hon. Member for Fife, Central's policy document. I shall quote his words because they will be his epitaph. At page 17, on behalf of the Labour party, he says:
we have failed to properly develop the desires of parents to be more involved in their children's education; and we have failed to embrace the real and changing needs of education into a radical and imaginative Agenda.
The Opposition have failed. We do not intend to do so.
The Secretary of State plays with consummate skill, which comes from long practice, the role of a reasonable man struggling with an unreasonable brief. His problems have never been deeper than they are today. He complains bitterly that the Labour party's document deals at some length with the case for opting out. He may have read the 21 pages of text but he clearly did not read the title, which is
Opting out—the Government's case examined.
Not surprisingly, he spent some time establishing to my satisfaction, as well as to the satisfaction of my hon. Friends, that there is no case for the Government's proposals. If the Secretary of State is a little worried about the fact that the Labour party is showing signs of developing self knowledge and a critical faculty, I suggest to him that that kind of humility is something that he should consider importing into Conservative thinking. It would do a great deal of good.
This is a dishonest Bill. Even its title is dishonest. All the talk about self-governing schools is spurious window-dressing. I am sorry that even the draftsmen are being dragged into the Government's propaganda war. The Bill adds to the confusion, because this is an inexact new category. On this occasion I should have preferred the Government to take a leaf out of the Department of Education and Science's book and talk about grant-maintained schools. That term would at least have had the virtue of being understandable, and I shall continue to use it.
The core of the Bill is opting out. The first contention is that no one in Scotland, wants it—not even the parents in whose name it has been introduced. I notice that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), whose words I always follow with interest, told a rather sceptical Scottish Question Time on 1 March that
the Hungarians expressed considerable admiration for the emphasis that we place on increasing competition in our education system".—[Official Report, 1 March 1989; Vol. 148, c. 270.]
I am prepared to believe that one has to travel as far as Hungary to find support for the Bill, but I find it difficult to believe that a man is sitting on a Budapest bus, lost in envy and admiration for the activities of the hon. Member for Stirling. There must be some mistake.
Local government is almost united in its opposition. The teaching profession will have none of the new proposals. I know that there is a tendency for the Minister to treat one with contempt and express some hatred for the other but those are significant opinions and should not be swept aside, particularly when very strong reservations have been expressed by bodies in Scotland on whom the Minister has relied for his rather thin support in the past. For example, I have a press release from the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. There are disputes about how representative that body is, but it has been prayed in aid by the Minister in the past. It states:
the successful establishment of School Boards will be jeopardised by the undue haste with which the Government is pursuing these proposals.
The council goes on to say that it believes that
comprehensive education might well be compromised by those proposals and that it would be more honest to have an open and informed debate about its successes and failures rather than allowing it to be incidentally eroded as a consequence of this proposed legislation.
The Scottish Consumer Council, which on some occasions has taken the Minister's side, refers to the Bill as "ill-timed" and states that its proposals
do not offer parents a significant extension of choice".
The kindest thing that I can say is that the Bill has very little support. It is significant and regrettable that almost all the research that the Minister has mounted in conjunction with the proposals has examined parental and public attitudes to the present system. He has made no attempt whatsoever to canvass the views of the wider Scottish public—parents, teachers or anyone else—about the proposed measures. According to the MVA consultancy study, £121,715 of public money has been spent, I suspect as a trawl in the hope that it will produce critical material that the Minister can use in a totally negative way to attack the present position. It is the brunt of the bunker mentality which has marked Scottish Office debate for a considerable time.
The signs have been bad from the beginning. There was the bizarre episode of Paisley grammar school with the Prime Minister telling the Scottish Office its business, and no nonsense from the Secretary of State for Scotland. We received a fairly detailed account of that from a number of sources, including the roving journalist who acted as go-between. There were also the activities of the Minister, before electoral chance promoted him to office. I remind the House that if one looks back to the proceedings of the House on 21 October 1986 considering the Education Bill (Lords) which applied only to England and Wales, a young, keen Turk of the Right, the hon. Member for Stirling with the experience of a number of years at Westminster city council, proposed opting-out clauses almost exactly parallel to what he is now trying to foist on to the people of Scotland. He argued specifically that they would
bring tremendous support and morale among the teaching profession"—[Official Report, 21 October 1986; Vol. 102, c. 1040.]
and were what parents wanted. If those were the grounds on which the Minister introduced such a measure in England, the same test should be applied to his proposals for Scotland, but if they were, they would bite the dust immediately. The arrogance with which the measure is being pursued is alarming. It has been put forward as a matter of faith and dogma, and is not based on the existing Scottish education system or the wishes of people involved in the education system.
An interesting article appeared in the Financial Times on 23 February under the heading:
Radical waves stir new hopes for beleaguered Scots Tories.
That is a snappy populist heading if ever there was one. But the article contained a direct quote from the Minister, the hon. Member for Stirling, who said:
With the position we're in, with socialist policies entrenched in local government and the media, I can't afford to take prisoners.
Sometimes paranoia is associated with a Rambo complex, but it is peculiarly inappropriate. The Minister does not challenge those words, but dealing with Scottish education in terms of taking no prisoners is a somewhat unfortunate approach.
I am glad that the Secretary of State made the point that standards were not dropping. My honest impression is that the Minister responsible for education takes a very different view and argues, perhaps more by innuendo than anything else, that there is an undermining of confidence in Scottish education, declining standards, slipshod teachers and inadequate pupils. I do not believe that that is the case, but there is always a temptation for him to say that because it is the only way in which he can justify the present proposals.
I do not think that it is enough for me to argue simply that the Bill is an alien proposition, although that is true. Our objections are root and branch and can be put briefly. Opting out will fragment the school system and make it harder to provide educational opportunity across the social scale and across the range of ability. There is no demand, but a determined Government can create a false demand in certain circumstances.
We all know that certain schools are threatened with closure. It is a very real threat; indeed, the Minister is constantly urging local authorities to think in terms of rationalising school capacity to meet falling rolls. The Minister will say that the Bill contains protection and that
under clause 13, if a school is scheduled for closure, it cannot opt out. That is similar to section 52(8) of the English legislation, the Education Reform Act 1988, which states:
A county or voluntary school is not eligible for grant-maintained status … if proposals by the local education authority to cease to maintain the school have been published
under certain statutory enactments.
It appears that the same protection is being offered in Scotland, but I am sure that the Minister has examined the English experience which demonstrates that that protection is a total illusion. At the last count available to me, there had been 37 ballots in England and Wales by schools wishing to opt out. Of those, 27 were in favour of opting out and 10 were against. Of the 27 schools which voted for opting out, two thirds were threatened with closure. That is one reason which will create similar problems in Scotland if those unfortunate proposals reach the statute book.
I shall quote a source to which the Minister might pay some attention, the report by Her Majesty's inspectorate "Standards in Education 1987–1988" produced by the Department of Education and Science. It states:
Plans to reorganise secondary schools, in order to provide more economically and rationally for 16 to 19 year olds, appear to have been slowed by uncertainty over the effects of recent legislation, especially that relating to grant-maintained schools.
It is put pretty cautiously, but I find it extraordinary and significant that there should be such explicit criticism of the machinery which has been introduced in England, and which we are now threatened with in Scotland, from such a responsible body of educational opinion as Her Majesty's inspectorate. The fact that it has come to that conclusion ought to make the Secretary of State, if he is prepared to be fair, stop and think again.
We shall look closely at clause 13 to establish when the gate comes down on opting out. Is it when there is a draft plan? Is it when there is public discussion of a possible closure? Is it when a recommendation is made to the education authority? Is it when a final decision is made? I fear that, in Scotland, as in England, unless we are careful—there is no adequate protection in the Bill at the moment—the most common reason for opting out will be the threat of rationalising school accommodation. That is not a good basis on which any school should set out on this experiment.
Schools which take this road will be those that are confident of their survival—perhaps falsely confident. They are the ones that think that they will get additional cachet—the smack of independence without the financial risk. The Secretary of State said that that is an opportunity that does not exist under the present system. I take his point, but it depends on how one looks at these matters. I feel that there will be snob appeal and that schools will try to distance themselves from the common run. I put it as bluntly as that because we have to face up to it. They believe that they can attract funds and travellers, bussed or driven, from afar. The arguments will be social as well as educational, and they will be divisive.
There is the problem of rural areas. The Secretary of State may say that, if a school is the only secondary school in the area, and its opting out would leave a massive hole in provision, that may be a factor that he will take into account when deciding whether to approve opting out. That does not seem to be a big contribution to good educational order or parental satisfaction. The trouble with this exercise is that, if we begin to eat into the universality of provision, we will have a less efficient school system—even arguing the educational case in Conservative terms.
Ministers tell us that costs have to be spread and overheads more efficiently shared. If the Government have their way, we shall be contemplating an educational landscape littered with free-standing schools which contribute little and represent disunity where there ought to be unity. That is not a sensible use of resources. Nobody who has read the arguments advanced by the Secretary of State and his colleagues on these matters would have any doubt about that.
The Secretary of State is to pay the schools, negotiate per capita funding, talk through their financial situation and satisfy their needs, but it is the local education authority that will have to pay because the money will come directly from its budget. That is an unhappy state of affairs. The more generously the grant-maintained sector is funded, the worse off mainstream provision will be. We are entitled to put up a serious warning about that.
Teachers who have spoken to me are worried about their promotion prospects and career structures. They can dodge backwards and forwards between the maintained and the education authority sectors, but they envisage the danger of being locked into one school and the problems that may result from that. We want to consider that carefully in Committee.
We are also worried about the position of auxiliary staff as they will have less protection than teachers under the new set up. That is unsatisfactory, even in the guise of a democratic exercise in parental power. There are points to be made in Committee about the interests of the community and of primary parents, and the odd fact that, by the time a school has opted out, some of the parents who voted in favour will no longer have an interest as their children will have left, and other parents, whose children will enter the school in the year of opting out, will have had no vote. That is one of the many inconsistencies that are built into the Bill.
There is a problem about changing a school's fundamental characteristics. I take the Secretary of State's point that his intention is that, initially, when the ballot shows a majority in favour of opting out, the school's fundamental characteristics will not be altered. I am prepared to accept that he, at least, means what he says about that, but after the first few years—I think that was his phrase—a further ballot can be held and there could then be a change in a school's fundamental characteristics; in the uniform, religion or—a key issue—the means of entry.
I believe that selection is ultimately incompatible with parental choice and that, in his heart of hearts, the Secretary of State knows it. The Secretary of State managed to give the impression that he opposes the introduction of selection in schools that decide to opt out, but he would not be drawn on that matter. I recognise that his tenure of office may be short for all manner of reasons which we do not need to go into and which are irrelevant at the moment, but it would be interesting if he could make it clear that he, a politician who represents a Scottish constituency, would oppose the reintroduction of selection via the back door as a result of the opting out process. Will he give such an assurance?
I can happily give that assurance. I have no intention of endorsing a proposal that would so change the character of a state school as to return it to the selective system that existed some years ago. That is not the purpose of these proposals.
This has been an afternoon of debating points, but debating points can become important ones. I entirely accept that the purpose of the Bill is not necessarily to reintroduce selection. The practical consequences, however, may be that we shall introduce them, at least in some parts of the education system. I do not think for a moment that we can contemplate that prospect with equanimity, and the best way to get rid of that danger is to get rid of the Bill and the scheme.
Will my hon. Friend note that the Secretary of State used very few words to answer his question? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he does not envisage altering the present means of selection, but the Bill introduces novel means of selection. That is what many of us are afraid—of we fear that the Bill is a precursor to a new form of selectivity.
However straightforward the Secretary of State is being—I still think that his position is a little obscure—he is putting in train something which is extremely difficult to control, although the consequences are easy to foresee. I do not get any satisfaction from contemplating that approaching danger.
I feel that I ought to respond to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's challenge. I have read the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), to which he referred. My hon. Friend did indeed make the points which the Secretary of State quoted, but he was saying—I should have thought that the Secretary of State would welcome it—that we believe that it is possible to have excellence in the comprehensive system. I entirely agree. Comprehensive education is not, as is sometimes suggested by idealogues, grey and uniform education which allows no room for excitement, for variation or for catering to the needs of individual children. Of course one wants to encourage excellence within comprehensive education, but one will not achieve that by introducing selection and social and educational division.
I shall quote again from the same speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn. He said that policies
for City Technology Colleges, and for opted out-schools are designed systematically to sabotage the central value of the comprehensive school—the idea that each child is of equal value, of equal worth.
I approve of that sentiment as well.
As the hon. Gentleman approves of the sentiment, which referred to city technology colleges, am I to assume that that is his answer to my earlier question about whether he agrees with councillor Charles Gray about the attraction of a technology academy in Glasgow?
I was not at the debate to which the Secretary of State refers with such pleasure. If he wants to take that as an answer he may, but I was going to answer fully later on. I am happy to give him that reply as an advance taste of my later answer.
The introduction of opting out is wholly wrong-headed and has no part to play in the Scottish education system. When we come to consider the discontinuance—an especially unpleasant new Scottish Office word—of the opted-out schools, there is clearly an implication that they may move from that into the fully-fledged private sector. When one considers what the Scottish people want, one should look at the market system and the Secretary of State may have done that.
My attention was drawn the other day to a case reported on 23 December 1988 in The Times Educational Supplement for Scotland, which concerned a redundancy at Westbourne school, for girls. The unfortunate absence of any consultation with the threatened member of staff resulted in an award for unfair dismissal. I draw to the House's attention that Professor Curtis, the chairman of governors of Westbourne school explained that the school
faced a crisis as falling rolls reduced demand for single-sex private education. The combined primary/secondary school has fewer than 300 pupils.
I mention that because, of the 300 pupils, 71 are paid for by the taxpayer under the assisted places scheme at a cost of about £151,000. That school would fail wholly if it were not for that subsidy because of the lack of public demand for its services. That is interesting in view of the debate about the worth of public sector provision, universal education and the advantages it brings. If we move away from that, people will find to their cost that we betray an important educational trust.
The Bill is not merely bad, but goes beyond that. It is a breach of faith and concerns a matter of honour, if I can say that without sounding too pretentious. I remember, as will many of my colleagues, when we were discussing the ceiling proposals on the School Boards (Scotland) Bill. There was consultation with educational and public opinion and there was an almost universal no from every conceivable interested body and thousands of individuals as well. The Government agreed to abandon the ceiling proposals on that basis. I took that Government action at face value, so I take it amiss when, only a few months later, we find ourselves considering an educational leap in the dark that goes massively beyond those ceiling proposals. It is a form of sharp practice—which is as near as I can go in the House, although in private conversation I would go a great deal further—in the light of the assurance given when the ceiling proposals were not included in the School Boards (Scotland) Bill, to unveil his horror show now. The Bill is extreme, objectionable and, above all, friendless. The Bill also introduces a false prospectus, given those earlier matters.
Even on the Conservative Benches—I do not want to put the spotlight on any hon. Members—there are hon. Members who have been quoted publicly as having fundamental doubts about the proposals. I do not know what their attitude will be as the Bill progresses, but I must say to the Secretary of State—I do not want to overdramatise—if there are moves to exclude such hon. Members from the Committee, we shall see that as an outrage. We expect available Scottish Tories to serve. It is bad enough to face the prospect of a Committee where the Government majority is maintained by hon. Members whose interest in Scottish education is, to say the least, only as a comparative study. It would be monstrous for hon. Members to be excluded or for a coalition of Scottish Members of all parties, including Conservatives, to be considering essential safeguards and to be overwhelmed by the votes of troops gathered by the parliamentary press gang. I hope that the Government will pay attention to that.
No, as I want to get on.
As the Secretary of State will have noticed, I do not like the Bill. I do not want to spend a great deal of time going through the rest of it in detail because I recognise that I have already spoken for some time, although not as long as the Secretary of State. Let me hasten to assure him that I do not believe that the technology academies—although non-selective in statutory terms, they will make selection according to attitude and motivaton—represent educational progress in Scotland. We shall oppose in Committee the rigid testing in primary schools. It is educationally distracting and has almost no educational support.
I am not happy about the proposals for colleges of further education with boards of a minimum of 50 per cent. drawn from local employers. One of the great fallacies and a rather insulting assumption is that a horde of under-employed industrialists in Scotland nothing better to do than sit on boards of further education colleges, the Scottish enterprise boards and the crimebusters panels. Most industrialists I know have their hands full trying to maximise the return on their capital and trying to obtain orders to keep their work force in being. I take no delight in the idea of a further education plc, with all the fears that that will bring for the teaching of special subjects that are not commercially attractive.
Even the ancient office of rector of our universities is to be cut back at the behest, so rumour has it, of principal McNicol of Aberdeen university. I warn the Secretary of State that I—and, I suspect, many of my colleagues—took a close interest in that office when I was a student at the university of Glasgow. I should want a more substantial argument than the weak assurance that there have been approaches from certain universities. There would be. It does not seem to make the case for change very adequately.
The Bill is arrogant, ill judged and insensitive. That is the heart of the matter. The cause is the capitulation of the Secretary of State. Once again, he has fallen meekly into line, although there is always a mystery whether he is behind his hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr Forsyth) or the Department of Education and Science.
The Secretary of State proudly says both. In that case, if they go different ways in future, we shall see a nasty case of split personality. Whether the Secretary of State has fallen into line behind one or the other, the effect is unpleasant. Almost certainly the Prime Minister has a great deal to do with the present atmosphere.
The Secretary of State may laugh, but some of us remember the correspondence in the Glasgow Herald and the leaks that emerged at the time of the case of Paisley grammar school. Perhaps the Prime Minister has found time on occasions to look at Scottish education. If we are to use the royal "we", which is so much in vogue in Downing street these days, I only wish that we would turn our attention to education in Scotland and recognise the damage that has been done.
The Bill is a caricature of Government action. There has been no consultation, no preparation, no sympathy or feeling for the problems in Scottish schools. The result will he uncertainty, a return of privilege and a course of reckless prejudice. The Bill may be reasonably presented, but ultimately it will be damaging to pupils and staff and the communities that the schools serve. We will protest tonight in the Lobby but I have to say to the Secretary of State that it will not be a formal parliamentary minute of dissent. We will protest with a degree of anger that is unusual in this place because I genuinely believe that there is no case for what is being proposed and no one in Scotland wants it.
I felt when the debate opened that we were perhaps about to break new ground with the new-found agreement between both Front Bench spokesmen on the quality of our education in Scotland. To that extent, the debate has made some progress in at least producing a degree of unity. It is good to begin discussions on the Bill in that context.
I intend to confine my remarks to self-governing schools. Having listened to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, I am more bewildered than I was to begin with about why we should make these changes now. I understand what my right hon. and learned Friend said about the size of regional authorities and trying to make education more personal and closer in its administration. If that is what we are tilting towards, perhaps we should look at the future of our regional authorities. I know that that matter has been previously discussed because I was a member of the Committee on the Bill dealing with that issue. If that is the problem, we do not necessarily need a Bill such as this.
I must emphasise that the only letters I have received in support of the Bill have been from parents whose schools have been threatened with closure. I understand their fears and worries. However, surely there are other means of dealing with problems of threatened closure if there is a legitimate case.
As my right hon. and learned Friend said, I do not think that the measure will necessarily change the character of schools that choose to opt out. However, that is a matter of opinion. My right hon. and learned Friend has to address himself more to the fact that, even if it does not change the character of schools, it will change the structure of Scottish education as we have known it for many years. I do not think that that change will necessarily be for the best.
In practical terms, I am worried about the timing of the proposal. Even if one supported the merits of the Bill, this is not an appropriate time for its introduction. We have seen schools in Scotland pass through a period of considerable difficulty. We had the industrial dispute over teachers' salaries. I keep in touch with the schools in my constituency and that dispute disrupted the schools and caused divisions—I will not go into the reasons now—between staff and parents and staff and pupils to a degree that I have never seen in all the time I have been involved in public life. We are just beginning to get over that and return to greater unity in our schools. Parents are working with teachers and there are better relationships between staff and pupils. We need a period of peace in order to get over that unrest.
In recent years we have seen an enormous amount of good innovation that has helped to restore some of the high standards in our schools and the respect in which Scottish education was held generations ago. In many ways we in Scotland have been pioneers in some of the new measures. For example, we were pioneers in relation to the curriculum, the new examinations system and, more recently, the school boards. However, as politicians we have to be careful. We have to assimilate change. Often we find it difficult to cope with change and we should have more concern for those at the sharp end of education who will have to apply the changes in the classroom. I have many friends, and an even wider range of acquaintances, among teachers. There is enormous demand on their time in coping with changes to the curriculum and examinations. They may have to attend in-service training and be involved in the extra administration necessary to make the system work. All new systems need dedication and time if they are to work properly. We need time to recover from the disputes in our schools and to consolidate and ensure the success of recent changes. Therefore, this is not the time for a new measure.
I support strongly the principle of school boards and I welcome them. I will continue to do what I can to support them. When school boards were introduced last year, we saw in many areas of Scotland—this is one of the reasons why I supported them—the first major involvement of parents in schools. In my area many of us did not see the need for school boards because our school councils were relatively effective. However, I supported the principle because I realised that other areas of Scotland, for various reasons, were not benefiting from the extra and required involvement of parents in schools. If that did not happen voluntarily, I thought it necessary to see that the benefit was extended to other areas.
I support that and believe that it is good. I want to see greater parental involvement in schools. Surely in education we want to get under our belts and see working the changes that have only recently been enacted. That is another reason why the timing of this Bill is inappropriate. There is much more chance of seeing the school boards working efficiently if they are given time to get under way before additional changes are superimposed on our school system.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) mentioned the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and the Scottish Consumer Council. I agree with them. I want to see evolution in our education system. I want to see changes assimilated and working before moving on to the next stage. Alas, that is not happening in regard to this legislation.
I am not persuaded that this measure is appropriate for Scotland. My right hon. and learned Friend briefly described the history of Scottish education. For want of a better phrase, we have a two-tier system in Scotland—a public sector and a private sector. They work relatively well together. However, my right hon. and learned Friend is creating a third tier—a second tier within the public sector. Ultimately that could be divisive. In Scotland over the years we have had a much more universal system of education than the rest of the United Kingdom. In my part of Scotland the burgh school has been the tradition of education.
The introduction of comprehensive education caused a hot political debate, but that was never so in my constituency. Because of our traditions, we already had a universal comprehensive system. Those who did not want to send their children to schools in that system had an opportunity to send them to schools in the private system. They fairly and properly exercised their choice. Therefore —I say this particularly for my part of Scotland—this measure has the seeds of division. It may divide the structure of education in Scotland which has proved itself over the years and which is highly acceptable to parents in my part of Scotland.
Another aspect worries me. On this fundamental ground, I might be persuaded in relation to the structure of the Bill, but many of its implications have not been worked out. Simply to pluck schools out of the local authority sector is bound to create imbalance within it. With time, we might further examine the matter and perhaps conclude that it is not too dangerous and could be tolerated, but we have not had time to do that. We are not yet clear about the effects on costs and the running of schools in the local authority sector and of schools that have opted out. How will common services be apportioned? How will we accommodate special teachers such as remedial teachers or music teachers? Obviously there is not a full-time demand for such teachers in certain schools. Many practical problems are revealed.
I am worried also about the status of teachers. It was said that teachers will be free to move from the opted-out sector into the local authority sector, and vice versa. Will it be as easy as that? If local authorities resent schools opting out, for purposes of promotion or other reasons, will teachers from opted-out schools be welcomed back? What about those teachers who find themselves in the opted-out sector when they may not have wished for it?
Most fundamentally of all on the practical side, I am deeply worried about the position of a primary school feeding into a secondary school that may choose to opt out. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) pointed out, it will be a real problem, particularly in rural areas. Under the Bill, parents will have no say in what happens to a secondary school. Many of their children will possibly enter a school as it becomes an opted-out school. That could be divisive in the present structure of education.
As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, sadly, there has not been adequate consultation on the Bill. Although I have some fundamental objections—I hope that I am not an unreasonable person—I should have felt much happier about the Bill if there had been adequate consultation. My right hon. and learned Friend introduced his School Boards (Scotland) Bill in August 1988. I was much against some of the extreme elements of his proposals, but I can have no complaint about the adequacy of the consultation procedure. If my memory is right, consultation continued until November, and we saw the Bill in January or February. We were all encouraged, and we gave my right hon. and learned Friend credit because he reacted to consultation. Many people, even those who did not like the ultimate proposals, could not complain that there was not adequate consultation.
The consultation paper on this Bill was introduced on 6 December, and a 70-clause Bill was produced at the beginning of February. I have been involved in three Government Departments and I do not know of one which could produce a Bill of that size having published a consultation paper just two months previously.
My next point is purely party political. I am saddened by what my right hon. and learned Friend is doing. The idea of opting out was launched on a surprised country during the middle of the 1987 general election campaign. I remember being totally surprised by the idea, and my right hon. and learned Friend probably was, too. I remember asking, "Does this apply to Scotland?" We were immediately reassured that in no way would it apply to Scotland, and that it was to meet special situations in England and Wales.
My right hon. Friend is mistaken. During the election campaign we made it quite clear that the first priority in Scotland would be to establish school boards. I remember quite explicitly saying that that was the first step and that only thereafter would we consider self-governing schools opting out.
It is a pity that my right hon. Friend did not speak to me personally during the general election campaign. Fighting as a candidate in my part of Scotland, when I consulted on the matter I was quite clearly told that it did not apply to Scotland. I do not want to make a great thing of it. Of course policy moves on and new ideas arise.
No, I will not give way. I want to conclude my remarks in a minute.
If something was to be introduced within two years of a new Parliament, one would expect mention of it in the manifesto. This matter was not included in our manifesto. The advice I received was to say to my constituents that it was not expected within the foreseeable future. Within two years is the foreseeable future, and I regret that the legislation has been introduced in this way.
I remind my right hon. and learned Friend of an important Conservative dictum which perhaps our party does not remember enough today: "When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change." This change to self-governing schools is not necessary. For that reason, I regret that I cannot support my right hon. and learned Friend tonight.
This is the first opportunity that I have had to wear my new Gregorys. For the purpose of reading, they are excellent, but they serve the secondary purpose that I cannot see the countenances of Conservative Members.
I listened intently to the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), as did all hon. Members. We regard his remarks as not only reasonable but intelligent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) clearly said, the core of the Bill is simply to allow schools to opt out. It has nothing to do with parental choice and will merely concentrate education in the hands of the Government, to be controlled by that undemocratic, centralist organisation.
The proposals are a foil to remove the current system of local democratic control by elected representatives of the community. There will be no choice for rural communities. Furthermore, proposals to allow opted-out schools to change their characteristics are an open invitation to return to academic selection and privilege. The two parts of the Bill clearly refer to that point. Schools selecting pupils is the direct opposite of parents and pupils selecting schools.
The Bill represents a serious erosion of choice for parents of pupils whose academic performance has been low. Moreover, it is a threat to the parents of academic achievers. Creaming off high fliers will leave local authority schools geared to low achievers, not the current broad base. High achievers will not be truly served in local authority schools. Naturally, the response to that scenario—it is the Government's aim—would be to send a high achiever to an opted-out, selective school. The physical limitations of such schools will not allow all children to attend, and borderline cases will have no chance at all.
Research shows that the ending of selection in Scottish schools brought significant improvements in performance by all children, not just low achievers. It should surely be the aim of Government, Parliament, industry and the community that all children achieve their potential. That is the guiding principle. These proposals can only harm education in general and take us back to the bad old days of secondary modern sink schools for the majority, and selective academies for the minority of high fliers from privileged homes and backgrounds.
The ultimate ability to select is not the only effect of the opting-out proposals. Education authorities will be left with a duty to provide for pupils who are rejected by opted-out schools, but their resources will be severely curtailed. The direct financing of opting-out schools by the Goverment will decrease the money available to local education authorities, as costs for central services fall upon fewer and fewer schools. Unit costs for buying services and equipment will rise dramatically.
Thus, pupils in local authority schools will not only be even more poorly equipped with text books, science materials, new technology and even pencils, but the increased unit costs and reduction in central service financing threatens the vital psychological and other advisory services. So the very children who are likely to need such services will be robbed of them by the Government proposals.
Is this any way to upgrade education? Of course not. I do not believe that the proposals will even upgrade education for a minority. The experience south of the border shows that the schools likely to opt out will be those that will not be considered viable by local education authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden gave figures that clearly showed that out of the 37 schools opting out, only nine were legitimately seeking to do so. The majority were either against it or were forced into doing it because they were being threatened.
No provision has been made for schools to opt back into local education authorities when it becomes obvious that they are not viable, or when they run into financial difficulty. The Secretary of State for Scotland said that he would not put any barriers in the way of such a provision, but he was not forthcoming enough to say that he would actually introduce legislation to ensure that it was included. Again, we are left with a mysterious area of which many of us are suspicious.
The proposals show a distinct irresponsibility by the Government and complete dishonesty about the reason for them. To give the reason of parental or pupil choice is highly misleading. The balloting proposals make this clear. A majority of current parents will be allowed to make the choice—usually at a time when their backs are against the wall due to falling rolls or threatened reorganisation or closure. Prospective parents and the communities serving the school will not be consulted. More important is the Government's dishonesty in not declaring their aims, which have nothing to do with extending choice and everything to do with the Government taking central control of Scottish education.
Direct funding of schools follows the pattern of legislation enacted to remove democratic control from local authorities. Local authorities which provide education in such circumstances will be forced either to increase the poll tax charge to pay for the increased costs of education or dramatically to reduce the service.
For me and for most of the Scottish people, the Bill is nothing more than a blatant attempt to anglicise the Scottish education system. At Scottish Question Time the surrogate Secretary of State said that he had discussed the matter in Hungary and had the support of his Hungarian comrades. I doubt whether that is the case. Perhaps they were nodding in agreement because they were excellent hosts and did not wish to upset him. If our Hungarian comrades had studied his proposals, they would come to the same conclusion as their comrades in Haringey—which is much closer than Hungary. Perhaps the Minister should hear what those in Haringey have to say about the provisions on opting out.
The Scottish people have much more with which to concern themselves than the dangerous nonsense contained in the legislation. The people in Scotland to whom I have talked have a real and honest yearning for relief from the Thatcherite policies which are being thrust on them by Conservative apparatchiks.
The people of Scotland are more concerned about social justice than complete independence. Quite frankly, they would prefer a return to the democratic structure which they held in such high esteem to waving a flag on a Scottish gunboat. We need a directly elected Scottish assembly to assign this kind of dangerous nonsense to the dustbin where it belongs.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) on his new Dennis Taylor lookalike appearance. It was perhaps unfortunate that he had clearly written his speech before listening to the Secretary of State and did not revise it in the light of what he said. The Secretary of State answered during his speech the hon. Gentleman's criticism about selection.
I am not sure who first enunciated the principle, "My country, right or wrong". This afternoon we heard the amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) to that principle—"My local authority, right or wrong". That is the nub of the debate.
Are there certain circumstances—[Interruption.] I shall come to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) in a moment. Are there certain circumstances in which it is right to give parents the opportunity to use a school outside local authority control?
The view of the Opposition that the local authority is always right was aptly shown during last year's debate on Strathclyde's rationalisation and closure proposals. Strathclyde was right to attempt that exercise, but, as I recall, the hon. Member for Garscadden supported every proposal put forward by Strathclyde regional council.
The hon. Member for Garscadden took a delegation to see the convenor, Charles Gray, and, as I understand it, simply ended up with him—[Interruption.] I apologise; Charles Gray, the leader of the council—
That is the hon. Gentleman's term, not mine. As I understand it, the meeting ended with the hon. Member for Garscadden leading his colleagues in a rousing chorus of "Charlie is my darling".
There was certainly no criticism at any point of the aspects of these proposals which converted me to the principle of self-governing schools. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) that the aspects, principles and questions brought up by Strathclyde's rationalisation proposals are for me what have changed since the last general election.
The approach taken by the Labour party has continued with the new document produced by the hon. Member for Fife, Central to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State referred and is in marked contrast to many of the principles put forward by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). That was true, even in the Committee that examined the Schools Boards (Scotland) Bill last year. When the hon. Member for Blackburn produced his proposals for "Parents in partnership", they were discussed in Committee and it immediately become obvious that the only Committee Member to have read them was the Minister. The then Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg), said that the Opposition would study the documents.
It is clear that moves towards increased parental involvement in education and towards testing, to which the hon. Member for Blackburn has reacted positively, have simply stopped at the border.
We have had examples of yuppie Socialism from the Labour Scottish spokesmen. The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) is not here—he produced proposals on health and talked about Tory concepts such as more information and choice for patients—[Interruption.] These principles have not been followed by the hon. Member for Fife, Central perhaps because he used to represent Windygates and Kennoway. Possibly there are no yuppies there.
The opposition to these proposals is based on two incompatible propositions. First, it is alleged that there is no evidence that parents want schools to be able to opt out of education authority control—so says COSLA. Secondly, it is alleged that the proposals will create extensive damage to the structure and ethos of Scottish school education. Both propositions cannot be correct: if there is no demand there will be no change. The Bill will merely be on the statute book and will not be used—
From memory, about 1,500. I have been photographed with piles of them in the Glasgow Evening Times.
I want to give an example of why self-governing schools are important. The hon. Member for Garscadden referred to single sex schools in the private sector; my example will come from the public sector. On 17 April last year there was an interview on Radio Clyde involving councillor Malcolm Green, the chairman of Strathclyde education committee, and councillor Peter Edmondson, the Conservative councillor for Eastwood, North. In answer to a question from a Mr. Keegan of Baillieston, councillor Malcolm Green made it absolutely clear that the Labour group had taken a policy decision to abolish single-sex Catholic schools. He added that he was opposed to that decision. The proposals to close Our Lady and St. Francis and Notre Dame in Glasgow—other schools were involved, too—were not a rationalisation of school provision; they derived from a decision in principle to deprive minorities of parents of a form of education to which they attached considerable value.
Moslem as well as Catholic parents attach importance to this form of education. The interviewer on the programme I have mentioned said:
But ethnic minorities simply do not want their daughters to go to a co-educational school.
Dr. Green replied:
That was the very point that I made to the education committee. I am afraid this appears to have been ignored or dismissed as being a marginal issue.
I believe that self-governing schools could have a role in these circumstances. There are minorities who genuinely want a form of education that the education authority, for reasons of principle, does not want to supply.
I regret that Opposition Members sneered at this case when it was raised in Committee. When I asked him about Notre Dame, the hon. Member for Fife, Central replied contemptuously:
I have not been to Paris recently".—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 3 May 1988; c. 169.]
That sort of sneering at a form of education that is valued by minorities is beneath contempt.
I welcome the Bill's proposals on special educational needs, which have not yet been mentioned—
I am sorry that I was not here al the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech. If I had seen his name go up on the television screen I would have been in like a shot. Is he saying that the Bill is necessary to provide secondary education for minority groups of any religion—Protestant, Catholic, Baptist, Jewish or Moslem, male and female? If so, on behalf of which group were his efforts in the case of Paisley grammar school bent?
The point I am making is that self-governing schools would give parents a chance to continue a form of education that they wanted when an education authority had ruled that out on grounds of principle. That is unrelated to the issue of Paisley grammar school, although, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, I was strongly in favour of continuing it. It was a school to which many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents and mine went. Many of the letters about which I told the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) just now came from Paisley.
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman, who was not here for the beginning of my speech.
Technology academies are another part of the Bill. I respect councillor Charles Gray's honourable position on this subject. It is extremely unfortunate that the regional council appears bent on ensuring that it does not receive the £1·5 million that Lord Forte is prepared to put up. No doubt others elsewhere in Scotland would welcome such extra resources.
An issue that is not mentioned in the Bill is the compulsory membership of the National Union of Students. I see that Opposition Members are wearing badges declaring, "I am opting in." I take it that that is a reference to the need to reform the membership structure of the National Union of Students. If they consult early-day motion 306, which is to do with opting in, they will see what I mean. I hope that I shall have an opportunity under the long title of the Bill to raise this matter in Committee.
My right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend have already won much of the argument. Not only has there been an EIS U-turn on school boards—a recognition of reality which I warmly welcome—but we have heard councillor Green and others talking about the need for local authorities to be more responsive to the sensitivities of parents. An example from my constituency is relevant here. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his co-operation and understanding of the eventual decision taken to provide an extension to Neilston primary school—an idea that was bitterly attacked by Labour Members during the Committee stage of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill. It is widely believed that my hon. Friend's television broadcast, in which he mentioned the possibility of Neilston opting out, resulted in a focusing of minds within Strathclyde regional council. I do not know whether that is true. I welcome Strathclyde's decision, but the importance of self-governing schools applies not only to schools who adopt that stance. The option provides an important safeguard that parents can take up.
Opposition Members will oppose these changes as they oppose all changes that lead to more involvement by and say for individuals. My right hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues are winning the battle. I warmly welcome the Bill and wish it well in its progress to the statute book.
The contrast between the speech by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) and that by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) could not be wider. The right hon. Member demonstrated a genuine understanding of the division that this kind of legislation can create coming so hard on the heels of the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988. The hon. Member for Eastwood should not confuse acceptance of the law with endorsement and support for the thinking behind it. Many people are still less than convinced that the parental majority on school boards is entirely the right way forward in terms of improving parental consultation. That was not suggested in the Conservative party manifesto any more than was opting out as suggested in the Bill. I shall return to that.
The first thing that the House must accept is the ideological thrust of the Bill. It was cheeky of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who is sitting alongside the Secretary of State, to acknowledge that he was pulling the strings. We all know that that is the case, but he might have had the grace to allow the Secretary of State at least the illusion that he is the motivater, supporter and promoter of the Bill.
For the sake of accuracy in the record, I said nothing. My right hon. and learned Friend made a joking remark in response to what was obviously a joke by an Opposition Member. Perhaps the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) could explain why he responded in the way that he did to my right hon. and learned Friend when he spoke about our suggestion that the leader of the Democrats in Strathclyde was opposed to opting out. I have here a letter which he sent to me on 4 July 1988 and it pleads with me to intervene in respect of Our Lady and St. Francis school. He said:
The Order declared their willingness to gift their part of the property to the Region if the Region agreed to the school's continuation. It would be worth asking the Order if they would transfer their part of the property on the same terms to a company formed to run the school.
He goes on to argue that it is essential that we deliver the promises that we have made in respect of schools in the area and allow the school to be run as a company. Does the hon. Gentleman repudiate the policy put forward at that time by the leader of the Democrats on Strathclyde council?
I seek your protection, Mr. Speaker. The Minister has chosen to intervene and make a speech and I have only just started to speak. It will obviously make my speech longer if I have to deal with points raised by the Minister.
The leader of the Democrats on Strathclyde regional council is an able and effective councillor who fights hard for his community. He does that within the framework of what he thinks is achievable. He knows the ideology of the Minister and he is squeezed between that and the monopoly position of the Labour party in Strathclyde region. He seeks a compromise to protect a good school and I commend him for that. However, that does not justify the Bill.
If the genuine point at issue is that Conservative Members are interested in ensuring that good schools continue, this is not the way to go about it. That can be done in many ways within the framework of existing legislation rather than creating a divisive, elitist two-tier system. That is the ideological thrust that the hon. Member for Stirling has put into the Bill. I repeat that the hon. Gentleman and not the Secretary of State was the architect of the Bill. I do not think that anyone believes differently.
The hon. Member for Stirling is so obsessed with his single-minded crusade to impose Thatcherism on Scotland that he is prepared to undermine a valuable and distinctive public service. To do that he uses the ethic of the market by saying that the structure of the future should be demand driven. He sees the ideology of Marxism in every public service and his response is to bring us his philosophy of Marks and Spencer, consumer-led, demand-led education. That is wholly inappropriate. The hon. Gentleman's Christian name may be Michael, but his conduct in running education in Scotland is anything but saintly.
I am worried about the way in which the Bill has been introduced. The Conservative party has brought before the House a totally dishonest representation of the policies that it presented to the people of Scotland. The Government have no right to say otherwise. The right hon. Member for Kircardine and Deeside knows perfectly well that the issue was raised in my constituency and in other areas. When I raised it directly with the Secretary of State he made it absolutely clear that there was no intention whatever to introduce opting-out. Now the Bill is before us and the Secretary of State is utterly unconvincing in his attempts to suggest that that was not the case. Even if he does not show respect to me, he might show some to his right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside who is, after all, telling the truth as he knows it.
This issue was raised at the last general election. It was put before the people and was decisively and comprehensively rejected. That possibly explains why my majority went up from 850 to 9,500. That is the kind of public consultation that has been put to the test, and it is a pity that the hon. Member for Stirling is frightened to have consultation on this matter. Perhaps he is frightened because he knows how little support he has. He is not even able to say whether he can provide a speaker for the conference to be held in Aberdeen a week on Saturday to discuss this very issue. That is extremely regrettable.
I am grateful to hear that. The Secretary of State will know that as of the day before yesterday the organisers of the conference were unable to secure such an answer. That is a helpful and welcome intervention.
The status quo in education is never an option. Education must always move with the times. It must always be ready to change and to adopt new ideas. We support and welcome that. Some of the changes that have been imposed on education have not led to improvements and have not always achieved the kind of improvements that those who advocated the changes wanted. When it took place, the forced and rapid comprehensivisation lowered standards in many cases, and nobody can support measures that are likely to lower standards or create divisions. I fear that that is likely to happen as a result of the Bill.
We have had a discussion about standards in Scottish schools. There are some serious shortcomings in Scottish education and the educational attainment of many of our young people is inadequate. One of the reasons for the introduction of standard grade was to give a wider range of opportunities and a greater measure of attainment. That was a welcome change. The participation in further education by children from poorer families and from deprived areas is still low. That is especially true of girls from such backgrounds. I should like the Minister to point to a clause in the Bill that addresses that problem. The Bill will make that problem significantly worse. It will create a widening division between the elitist schools that have opted out because they have parents of drive and resource and schools that are under-resourced and left to fend for themselves with inadequate support.
The Secretary of State and the Minister should confront the issue ()Oust how divisive it will be simply to go through the process of testing whether a school is to opt out. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) quoted a specific example of what might happen if Kirkwall grammar school were to opt out. I can point to rural schools in my constituency in which I know there are people who are likely to make use of this legislation. No doubt when the Minister finds out about those schools he will be happy to rush in and fan the flames. Many people are concerned that an articulate, elitist group of people will want to take over a country school that serves a wide rural area and turn it into the kind of school that they think will meet their own children's needs, even though children in the wider community may have different needs. The problem is that people in the wider community are often less involved and less articulate. Some people may be just as articulate, but, as hard working and busy people, have reasonably assumed that their children will get a decent education as a result of the taxes that those parents have paid, without having to run the schools themselves. The Minister has not considered the kind of people who will wish to lead the move to opting out. If the vote is decided on a 51–49 per cent. result of those who turn out, the Minister should be aware how divisive that will be, and how it will affect for almost ever after a community that had been united in its support of its school.
Some points in the Bill highlight some of the problems and anomalies. Clause 3(1)(c) specifically denies an opted-out school board a parental majority, but many people wonder why that should be, given the force with which the Minister told us that a parental majority is a sine qua non of establishing a viable school board. That principle seems not to apply to the board of an opted-out school, which is inconsistent to say the least.
Clause 11 shows another way in which an opted-out school could be divisive. It allows an opted-out school, which will lake with it the assets that have been paid for by the taxpayer, to charge for the use of those assets by the community, as a fund-raising exercise. That is an absurdly divisive and unjust proposal. If the Minister can tell me that that is not the case, I should welcome him doing so. Under clause 11, although schools will not be able to charge fees, they can charge for ancillary services such as sports, and can insist that children wear expensive school uniforms, which would start to create selectivity. Fund raising through such charges can also be divisive.
The Secretary of State's assurance that the Bill is not the precursor to selection is worthless. He gave us assurances that there would be no proposals for schools to opt out, and that he was in favour of increasing school councils—he said nothing of abolishing them in favour of school boards. I must not trespass beyond the rules of the House, although I am sorely tempted to do so, but the Secretary of State's assurances are not worth the air that he wastes in giving them.
The testing provision in the Bill provides the ideal basis for selection at a later date because schools will be able to say that they will accept children who have passed certain acceptable standards at primary 4 and primary 7 as the basis for entering. That will also cause concern among teachers. There will not be a huge queue of teachers wishing to teach primary 4 and primary 7, given the intense pressure that they will come under while these changes take place.
Special schools have expressed concern about the results of the Bill. Small special schools are having considerable difficulty in getting enough people to enable them to establish a board. As a consequence of that, a small school may be taken ever by a large neighbour, which may subsequently opt out, leaving it exposed. The Bill does not give adequate assurance that that cannot or will not happen.
Some hon. Members may be surprised to hear that welcome clause 65. The Minister will not be surprised, because we have discussed this clause, which will benefit parents of children with special needs. It will help to ensure that such children get access to what parents believe is the most appropriate form of education. That may mean that parents, for example, those in the Central region, whose children qualify might be able to go to the Mary Hare school for the deaf, where the children will receive the best possible education.
That is an unfair comment. I know the case about which the hon. Gentleman is talking and Central region's point is that it could provide the same kind of education for that child as it is claimed could be provided at the Mary Hare school. Why should a local education authority denude its schools to feed other schools? The hon. Gentleman should not have made that remark.
I do know the case, in considerable detail as it happens. I also know several other cases; and if it is any consolation to the hon. Gentleman, I have taken issue with members of my party who take the same view as him. As I have a deaf child, I may have a different perception from that of the hon. Gentleman. I believe that that level of choice is both necessary and desirable. Being deaf is a big enough handicap without being denied access to what is seen, by the parent and the child, to be the best available education.
The parts of the Bill dealing with further education are indicative of the market-driven approach. They create a basis from which further education colleges can be taken over by the business community. Those who work in further education colleges feel that ideas that they have, and module education on which they have worked and which they have developed, may be sold at a profit to private training agencies. They have every reason to resent that.
Schedule 10, labelled "Minor and Consequential Amendments", and referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), concerns university rectorships. As a former rector of the university of Dundee, I regret this part of the Bill. That university does not have the advantages of the four ancient universities. Those who have the advantage, as an ancient right, of electing a rector as a representative of the students to chair the university court should not have it taken away from them by this legislation, and especially not have it taken away on the instigation of the principal of another university.
More trouble has been caused at universities by principals taking the chair than by rectors taking the chair, and that is particularly true at Aberdeen university. The students' right to have a rector elected as chair of the court should not be denied. A simple modification of the Bill would allow for the election of the chair of the court when there is an absentee rector. I would support that reasonable proposal. What is being proposed is highly motivated, but unjustified and unnecessary. It is a pity that the Secretary of State, having intervened in Scottish universities to this level, could not have done so in other ways to try to ensure a more democratic structure in the overall management of universities. Students have little voice in that management as it is, and he is weakening what they have.
This is particularly evil, wicked and malignly motivated legislation. Given the Government's situation in Scotland, and the fact that at the one test of their support, at the last general election, they denied any intention of introducing such a Bill, and given that at that election their support was halved, it is despicable to insist that the Bill is imposed on the people of Scotland, who have adamantly rejected such a Bill. Their reaction to the Bill is evidence that they want their own Parliament and their own domestic policies. It would not get through its First Reading, never mind a Second Reading, in such a forum. I urge Tory Members who oppose it to join us in the Lobby, because that is the only opposition that the Government will recognise.
With my past involvement in education I welcome education debates. It is rather sad, however, that we have before us a Bill which provides for opting out. It is rare for me to disagree with party policy, though I did so last year when the Government introduced what is now the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, and it is not so many years ago that I shared a disagreement with my party over devolution with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), who is now the Secretary of State for Scotland. My right hon. and learned Friend knows that I would fail to support him only if I had a strong feeling of conscience.
I felt during the last general election that the major piece of education legislation ahead of us was the introduction of school boards. I am glad that the original plan was modified following consultation, and that the plan, as modified, eventually became warmly acceptable. I am pleased, too, that the Dumfries and Galloway pilot scheme has been so successful. I know that those who are involved in it welcome the support of Ministers for their initiatives in that direction. It has been a much more expensive policy than my ministerial colleagues were prepared to accept when the School Boards (Scotland) Bill was being considered in Committee. I forecast a cost of about £600,000 for Dumfries and Galloway, and that is what it has turned out to be.
I am extremely pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has set his sights on improving the quality of education. A major plank in that policy has been the involvement of parents and the introduction of parental choice. Parents are interested particularly in good examination results, order and discipline, choice of subjects, better buildings and an opportunity for their children to develop character. All these issues are being looked after ably by the policies of my right hon. and learned Friend.
As my right hon. and learned Friend rightly said when he opened the debate, we are proud of our education in Scotland and proud of its breadth. Five highers in Scotland constitute a much better qualification than three A-levels in England. In addition, there is the extra year at universities in Scotland. All that is good for Scotland, and it is only right that we are proud of the quality of education that we provide.
In saying how pleased I am with the current developments, I recall where we were 15 to 20 years ago, when we were fighting for money to provide roofs over heads. That was a common expression at the time. We were trying to increase the supply of teachers, almost at any cost. All that belongs to the past and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State can take credit for the major achievement that he recorded in solving the problem of teachers' salaries and the introduction of the new curriculum more recently.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said, there is so much going on that education is suffering from indigestion. It is calling out for time to put into practice the new policies and legislation, but we are now embarking on another major change for which there is no enthusiasm among our people. It is certainly not an election promise. When the matter was raised during the general election, I was on to Central Office in Scotland as quick as a knife to find out what it was all about. I was assured that what I had heard did not apply to Scotland. I conveyed that assurance to my local press and it was widely reported in the local newspapers. That is one of the reasons why I feel that I could not let down my constituents by supporting the Bill.
One of my many concerns is about timing. The opting-out proposals in part I would come into effect on Royal Assent. Give or take a month or two, that could be July or October. By then we shall hardly have implemented the school boards legislation. That will come into force only in the autumn. In theory, we could set up a board of management to opt out before a school board had been established. I find that an astonishing procedure. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), the Under-Secretary of State, to consider a two-year moratorium so that school boards can at least consider all the issues before opting out becomes a possibility.
We have a good structure of education in Scotland. At a time when quality is improving we do not want to embark on an issue that could cause a great deal of confrontation. It is not the moment to take that course. We need more time to consolidate our policies. Now is not the time to introduce an additional policy that might cause a great deal of harm. The National Consumer Council states in a well-argued document that it feels that time is required before the new policy is introduced. The pace of change is extremely important, as is the priority of each individual part of our overall policy.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has not said how many schools he thinks will opt out. I appreciate that it is a difficult figure to assess. There are about 2,800 schools in Scotland. If about 10 per cent. decided to opt out, the 300 schools would cause a great deal of chaos within the school structure. My right hon. and learned Friend and everyone else accepts that there is opposition within local authorities and among teachers. The differing attitudes of education authorities should be emphasised, whether we talk of authorities in the north-east or the south-west. Some authorities are strongly Socialist, some are independent and others are of a mixed variety. The generality feel that the Bill will not assist them in providing quality education. It has been said already that we shall set parent against parent over a highly confrontational issue. We may end up politicising school boards, with one group of parents being against another and with teachers being against parents. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will bear in mind what the National Consumer Council had to say about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) was probably right when he said that he had received 1,500 letters in support of opting out. He should have highlighted, however, that that was very much relative to Paisley. I have had only two letters in support, and both have come from Paisley. We can read into a statistic almost anything that we want.
I am concerned that opting out will become important in dodging the school closure issue. I know that there are safeguards in the Bill that theoretically should stop that, but I do not think that they will do so in practice. I have always been disappointed that in 1980 the then Secretary of State for Scotland relinquished his veto on school closures. The Secretary of State now has an involvement only with denominational schools and remote, rural schools. When he had the veto he could take a broad view.
School closures are becoming more frequent because of the decline in the number of pupils, which means that opting out will become extremely prominent. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) referred to the 37 schools that have voted on opting out in England. I understand that only 10 voted on self-management and that 27 voted to opt out because they faced closure. I believe that opting out will become a prominent issue when the Bill comes into effect in Scotland. My right hon. and learned Friend will be left in a strange position. He will appreciate the need for rationalisation as a result of falling school rolls and the need for closures, but he will have to accept votes in favour of opting out. He will have to pay the cost of running such a school within the state system. During my time in Parliament I have always argued against rural school closures. I have sought always to prevent them. I do not want to see any more closures for whatever reason.
We must also consider the structure. We all accept that there are many common services including meals, guidance, careers, psychology, in-service training, sport and recreation and so on. It will be very difficult to resolve many of the anomalies which will arise between schools which are trying to use the same facilities, even if the opting out school has to pay the education authority for the services that it wants to purchase. If we were considering a school or authority that had opted out willingly, so be it. However, I do not think that that will ever happen. The education authority will feel resentment and there will be no co-operation even if safeguards are written into the Bill. The structure of education in the state system will he weakened.
I am also worried about the teachers. At the very moment that parents invoke opting out, the teachers' position will be frozen. A teacher will not be able to move in or out of that position and that situation might last for six months or a year. That is unfair and must be considered very carefully in Committee.
I am also concerned about a teacher's career. I cannot see that it will be easy for a teacher in an opted-out school. whether he wanted to be part of that school or not, to receive promotion—for example, a head teachership—in the state sector. I know that such schools are broadly in the state sector, but I believe there will be divisions between schools that have opted out and those that have not.
We must accept what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has said, that all the mounting controversy is about permissive legislation, even though he has taken power for himself through legislation no fewer than 28 times. I am glad that he has accepted the point that there is a right to opt in. I cannot see a warm welcome for a school wishing to opt in, though the major change in Dumfries and Galloway has involved the opting-in of St. Joseph's college, a very fine Roman Catholic school, which is now in the state sector in Dumfries and has a very high quality of education.
It is very sad that we must face this confrontation when it is not really necessary and when there is so much good happening that can be continued by my right hon. and learned Friend's administrative action. Parts II and III of the Bill contain good points about technology, further education, testing in primary schools, teacher appraisal and performance and assessment. The heart of the Bill is perfectly acceptable to me. However, in total I am most disappointed that the Bill concentrates on opting out and on things which I believe should not matter in Scottish education today. We should not be creating divisiveness. We should be aiming for harmony, quality, discipline and achievement.
If the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) does not mind, I will refer to his speech in a moment. I do not want him to think that I am ignoring him.
I want first to refer to the case raised by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). That was one of my constituency cases and the hon. Gentleman gave me no notice that he would raise it today. If he has been dealing with that case, he has no business doing so, because that would be a serious breach of the conventions of the House. If the hon. Gentleman wants to argue that I have been dealing with the case but not to the satisfaction of the parents concerned, that is a matter between my constituents and me. If my constituents so desire, they can campaign against me publicly and record their displeasure about my handling of the case in the ballot box.
I want to put the record straight about the case. The hon. Member for Gordon was less than full in his recording of the facts. Central region, as the Minister responsible for education at the Scottish Office will know, has excellent facilities at Bantaskine primary school, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), for educating profoundly deaf children. The child concerned went through the primary sector and did brilliantly at the Central region's education facility at Bantaskine school. Only when he became eligible for secondary education did a dispute arise.
The child's parents, rightly from their point of view because they have a right to think that they know what is best for their child, wanted the child to go to Mary Hare school for the profoundly deaf. Central region, from its point of view, decided that, having educated that child to a very high standard during the child's primary education, it had the facilities to complete the child's secondary education. That is what the dispute was about.
I take strong exception to the throwaway remarks made by the hon. Member for Gordon. I am prepared to leave it at that. I would not have mentioned those points if the case had not been referred to today. I have spoken without the permission of the parents concerned, and I have not identified them or the child. I just wanted to set the record straight.
The hon. Member for Dumfries and the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) expressed their opposition to the Bill. That is not surprising. They are both right because, after all the changes in education over the past 10 or 15 years, the education system needs a rest. For various reasons, the standard grades have not yet been fully implemented in the Scottish education system. Not only will this legislation be implemented in addition to the legislation on school boards before that legislation is properly introduced; we will also implement the school boards legislation and this legislation before the standard grades are properly implemented throughout the secondary school system in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member are right to express concern about what is happening in Scottish education and at the turmoil and upset which the Bill will cause.
In a debate on the Government's failure to set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, I said that one of the problems in Scottish politics and in Scottish society today is the way in which opposition to anything which the Government think up is completely ignored. I have not complained, and I do not complain tonight, that the Labour party is being ignored. Nor do I complain that the Democrats, the Scottish National party or anyone else will be ignored. However, the fate of the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside and the hon. Member for Dumfries is that they will be ignored.
When the Secretary of State for Scotland sits down—as I am sure he does from time to time—and ponders what is causing the tensions in Scottish politics and society, he should ponder long and hard about the way in which he simply ignores the expression of opposition to anything that he introduces.
I do not believe for a minute—and of course the Secretary of State will deny this—that the Secretary of State believes in this legislation. Had he believed in it, as the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside and the hon. Member for Dumfries said, it would have been an issue at the last general election. I am prepared to accept their word for it—I did not notice any arguments about it at the time—that they received an assurance from the Scottish Conservative Central Office that this proposal was not on the drawing board for the lifetime of this Parliament. It is the Secretary of State who brought it forward.
I do not regard the Bill as being particularly anti-teacher or against everything that teachers stand for. However, I do regard the Bill as being anti-education. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) gave the other "anti" game away. I refer to the Bill's anti-local government provisions. In England, the Greater London council and the metropolitan county authorities were abolished because they were giving the Government far too much trouble. They were simply legislated out of existence. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside was far more honest and forthright when he stated that, if the problem is local government, something should be done about local government. No one will convince me that the Central region, part of which I represent, is anything but a viable and well-run region. There may be points for debate, in which I should be pleased to join, but the hon. Member for Eastwood gave the game away.
In a peroration that the Secretary of State started but did not finish, he was on the point of attacking regional authorities in Scotland, but he allowed himself to be diverted and did not complete that peroration. The Bill is both anti-local government and anti-education.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that my position in relation to Strathclyde regional council's reorganisation was not only to say that it was right in principle to try what it did, but to argue publicly for increased resources for Strathclyde to help in that process. It is one aspect of that process that I oppose, but I have supported the general principle and many of the proposals.
People talk about supporting general principles, but I prefer to hear them talking about supporting detailed proposals. I do not wish to become involved in the issue of Paisley grammar school, because I am not fully acquainted with the circumstances and with the situation that prevailed in that case. However, from all accounts, the role played by the hon. Member for Eastwood was, to put it mildly, less than honourable.
Perhaps I can introduce a note of light-heartedness. It interested me that, during his speech, the hon. Member for Eastwood tried to convince the House of what had persuaded him to support the Bill. In truth, the hon. Gentleman would never dream of opposing anything put forward by his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The hon. Gentleman made up his mind to support the Bill as soon as it was published.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the reverse is the case? Last year I tabled an amendment in the School Boards (Scotland) Bill Committee concerning what I then called grant-maintained schools that the Government did not accept. I am delighted that the Government now accept the kind of principles that I proposed last year.
They say that confession is good for the soul, and now we discover the real culprit.
The Bill's detailed proposals are dangerous because of the divisions that they will create in the Scottish education system. As was said by the hon. Member for Dumfries, the changes in relation to school boards are due to be implemented on 1 October. On top of that, schools will be permitted to opt out. In his opening speech, the Secretary of State omitted to describe the way in which the governing bodies of opted-out schools are to be established, but clauses 3 and 4 describe in detail the way in which that is to be done.
Of the three sectors comprising the governing bodies, that comprising teachers will remain of exactly the same size as when the school was in the state sector. The sector comprising parents will also remain exactly the same. But the sector comprising representatives appointed from what the Secretary of State described as the wider community but failed to define is to be increased in size. Two thirds of the board will remain the same, but the independently appointed sector will increase.
Incidentally, nothing in the Bill states that those appointed will have to serve for a term of from five to seven years. My understanding is that that provision appears in briefing material circulated by the office of the Minister responsible for education and science in New St. Andrews, South. Nothing in the Bill gives any indication of the term of office. It is interesting that the size of the independent sector on the boards of opted-out schools, as opposed to those remaining in the state sector, is to be increased.
From where are those people to come? What is the definition of the "wider community"? I can speak only for my own constituency, which, in Grangemouth, embraces Scotland's most highly industrialised region. I mean to cast no aspersions when I say that I do not know of a single manager in any of the industries in Grangemouth who lives in Grangemouth. I go further. I do not know any who live in my constituency. That may be a reflection on me, but I shall not take it personally.
Are those people to be appointed to the board of Grangemouth high school? Are they to be appointed to the board of Bowhouse primary school? They have no children at those schools. Their only interest in Grangemouth is in managing the industries there, yet the independent representatives must come either from that sector or from a new sector that the Conservative party in Scotland is using extensively—chambers of commerce. My experience is such that I would not allow them to run a Sunday school picnic, let alone a primary or secondary school.
The hon. Member for Eastwood is entitled to his opinion. Perhaps his experience is more encouraging than mine.
In Central region there are a number of five-year and six-year comprehensive schools. The Secretary of State cannot possibly say what will be the effect on the education provision in Central region if one of those five-year or six-year schools opts out. I represent a collection of villages as well as a fairly large urban area. What will happen to the children living in village communities if schools opt out? We all know what will happen—education will be divided and ruined.
My hon. Friend will know what I mean if I ask him why "Black Bitches" in Linlithgow should have their education run by people who work in Grangemouth. There is another side to the coin.
My hon. Friend emphasises my comment, although he does so from his point of view, and I was doing so from the point of view of my constituency. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly what would happen.
I turn to the question of schools becoming selective. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) asked the Secretary of State for an assurance that there would be no selection, and although his question may have been couched in lawyer's language, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's reply was couched in even deeper legal language. Clause 16 cannot be read without clause 28, which states explicitly that to change the character of a school—including its method of admitting pupils—it is necessary only to put together a scheme and submit it to the Secretary of State, who will either accept or reject it. If the Secretary of State has no intention of accepting any of the proposals, they should not be in the Bill in the first place. The only reason for them to be there is that the Secretary of State is minded to accept them.
We should not be surprised at that. My hon. Friends will remember that, in the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh, the Under-Secretary made it clear that he preferred to make educational choices with his cheque book. We are moving towards a system of cheque-book education: that is the danger posed by the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden made a plea that Conservative Members opposed to the Bill should not be excused from membership of the Standing Committee. It would be bad enough if they were excused from serving on the Committee, but it would be appalling if Government Whips kept them out deliberately. If the motion tonight were to be decided purely by Scottish Members, and if all 72 of them were here, we should know the result of the vote before the tellers went in. 64, including two Conservatives, would vote against the Bill, and there would be only eight Tories in favour. That is the measure of support for the Bill., and that is why it should be thrown in the dustbin.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Falkirk, Fest (Mr. Ewing) on his speech. I always enjoy listening to what he says, and he said it tonight with reason and moderation. Nevertheless, I did not think that what he said was very sensible. That is the hon. Gentleman's objection to what is called "testing".
It has always been a boast—or a concept—that Scottish education is somehow better than any equivalent. That bracard has frequently caused a good deal of embarrassment. There have been times, however, when Scottish education has been particularly excellent. My constituency contains a small library, the first lending library not set up by a local authority but by the local laird. It is called the Inverpeffray library. The borrowing book shows that local shepherds and craftsmen in the 18th century borrowed the most sophisticated books. They were essentially self-educated, under the aegis of either the minister or their—as it then was—private school. At its best, in all its ages, the parts of Scottish education that have been most successful have been the self-governing parts, and that important characteristic should not be forgotten.
Some hon. Members on both sides of the House were at self-governing schools throughout their education. A manifest characteristic of such schools was that those who ran them were intensely interested in ensuring that the education of those who went to them—whether they were primary, secondary or nursery schools—was the best that could be provided. Plenty of schools in my constituency are self-governing, and it is wonderful to visit them and to see the enthusiasm of those who run them, those who teach in them and those who learn.
This week I went to a PTA meeting at a school in my constituency which at present is not self-governing. The rector said that he desperately wanted me to visit the school, but that for that to happen he would have to obtain the permission of the officials and the education committee in Dundee. In the name of what principle should education be run on such a basis? The Bill's aim is—rightly—to escape from such an abominable concept.
The example of Strathclyde is the most absurd of all. What possible business can some officials in the middle of Glasgow have to be running—or permitting decisions in the running of—a primary school in Tyndrum? Let me take the example of Central region, given by the hon. Member for Falkirk, Eest. One could stand in the middle of the village of Doune after regionalisation and see the little yellow vans going backwards and forwards with circulars and officialdom and all that goes with it. I do not think that that is a good way in which to run education. Schools should be institutions run by the enthusiasm of those who work there, those whose children go there and the local community in general. They ought to be self-governing. It is an entirely Socialist precept that we should all be run by a distant bureaucracy.
Why should schools not look after themselves? What is wrong with that principle? If the principle that now applies to schools applied to shops—on the basis that there was only one village shop in Bridge of Garn, or Kinross, or Abernethy, and that there could be no choice—it could be said that all restaurants must be British and run by the Ministry of Food. It is the same jealous, rotten concept.
No, but if the hon. Gentleman had his way I would be compelled to get my demob suit from the local Co-op. The hon. Gentleman's question suggests that he is jealous. He loathes choice and individuality. We do not agree, which is why we like the idea of self-governing schools. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got his clothes or his taste or his lunacy, but I know where he got his education—and by God, it was at a self-governing school. It was not even in Scotland. He may think that it was a village shop, but, by God, it turned out some things that I would never be able to buy in a village shop.
Let us be clear: if we are to continue the historical boast that Scottish education is the best, it has got to be the best. We must not continue to describe it as the best simply because it was once the best—when schools were self-governing, and education was central to family and church thinking. Scottish education should be the best because those who run the schools still have that enthusiasm and do not regard them as a fiefdom of the Department of Education. That is of very great importance.
Before regionalisation, before reorganisation, when I represented a much larger part of rural Perthshire, the difference, in terms of excellence, between schools from Aberfeldy to Aberfoyle was very clear. The degree of excellence depended on the extent to which a school was essentially a self-governing institution rather than simply an object of officials of the regional authority. The difference was huge and was easy to notice as one went from one end of the constituency to the other.
I welcome the principles of the Bill. I welcome the principle of self-governing colleges of excellence. We made a terrible mistake in turning Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt into universities. Anyone who talks about snobbism should realise that that was the crown of snobbism. Here we had colleges of excellence, world renowned in particular disciplines, and we diluted them for the sake of the absurd concept that everybody should be allowed to go to a university. The colleges of excellence that this Bill introduces in order to provide special training are most important to Scottish education. A graduate of Heriot-Watt, when asked, "Where were you trained as an engineer?:, used to be able to say, "I went to the Heriot-Watt". Now he says, "I got an engineering degree at Heriot-Watt university", and that does not have the same magic, the same validity.
Let us get back to the great qualities that the peculiar characteristics, the self-governing, self-generating, excellence of Scottish education produced.
The hon. Lady says that I rejected a self-governing Scotland. A " self-governing et cetera. Scotland" might be a better description. The claim of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) is that it would give Scotland more say over its own affairs. Assuming that to be true—and I do not accept that it is—why does not the hon. Lady agree that the people of Scotland should have more say in the running of the schools in which their children are educated? I am very suspicious of those—
Does my hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that this Bill gives the people of Scotland the choice? Those people have the choice also whether to be self-governing. Thus far they have not expressed that desire.
This Bill does indeed give the people more choice, and I believe that that choice will be exercised in favour of more excellence. That choice, together with the individual educational institutions that were self-governing and those that still are, is the foundation of the reputation of our education. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill.
Let us make no mistake: the proposals in this Bill are inspired more by a particular philosophy than by any real desire to improve the quality of education in Scotland. There has been no genuine attempt at consensus regarding a progressive improvement in education. As The Scotsman says, this is
not a challenging leap into the unknown, but a huge step back into the known, and unhappy past.
In 1989 we find ourselves in the situation in which the Conservatives are the ideological party. When formulating their policy, they are unwilling to consult interested bodies or to take account of the views of others.
Before this debate I received several items of correspondence from the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, from Strathclyde School Parents Federation, from the Scottish Consumer Council, and from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, every one of which is critical of the undue haste with which the Bill is being introduced. We have other recent examples of the Government's approach. When the Government were looking at the National Health Service, one body that they did not consult was the British Medical Association. When they put forward their proposals on Scottish enterprise the SDA had already commissioned a study from Conran Roche, but they ignored that.
This is all the more shameful since the Secretary of State, in his address today, was lucid and erudite. But, sad to say, the Prime Minister has eliminated any alternative social policy emanating from her Cabinet. We have no alternative to Thatcherite tunnel vision, and Scottish education is in danger of feeling the full ideological impact of that detrimental approach. There is nobody here to stand up for Scotland's needs. During the course of this debate we have found out that 40 per cent. of Scottish Tory Back Benchers are already against this proposal. It just needs one waverer—perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn)—to create a Tory Back-Bench majority against this proposal.
In determining to characterise the state system as a failure, as undisciplined, as a system with which parents have manifested dissatisfaction, the Government have ignored all the available evidence. Every opinion poll over the past nine years has shown a high level of parent support for comprehensive education, and satisfaction with the performance of comprehensive schools. The parents have seen that, with comprehensive education, standards have risen, and children from all social classes have improved—not least, working-class children. Yet, with their proposals for school boards and for opting out, the Government are pretending that they are responding to parental demand. The proposals purport to be an exercise in the extension of democracy and in the decentralisation of power.
What the Government are hoping to do is to utilise the genuine desire of parents to become more involved in the education of their children in order to undermine the role of the local authorities. The Secretary of State is on record as having said in this House that only if there were evidence of real and substantial demand would he introduce this Bill. I challenge the Government to tell us exactly where the evidence of real and substantial demand is. Our proposition, right from the time the school boards legislation was going through its Committee stage, was that the Government would invent demand—and invent demand is what they have done—to destabilise the education system.
Some schools—perhaps those with modern buildings and better resources—will anticipate the financial rewards of following the Government's path and will possibly opt out. The evidence from England is that opting out appeals to schools that are threatened with closure because of falling roll numbers. But it has to be said that, even if the uptake is small, this Bill's effect on the state system will be considerable because once opting out is a possibility for a school it opens the way for an increasing number of activities which require subsidy from parents. There is little doubt that in the longer term selection will be available.
Yes, I saw that report. However, when the Minister put forward the school boards proposal he received 7,600 replies against his proposals. That was tangible evidence of parental feeling. When I look at grass roots responses, I find that there has been a total rejection of the Government's view.
The hon. Gentleman has not answered my point about the opinion poll. The purpose of the consultation exercise was not to measure demand. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the school boards, I wonder whether he saw the System 3 poll that the Scottish Office commissioned. It showed a 2:1 majority in favour of school boards and a very high level of awareness—at 64 per cent.—of their functions. Why is the hon. Gentleman so selective about the evidence that he puts forward?
The hon. Gentleman has been involved all along in diversionary tactics. He is trying to divert me from the real point. He is very good at that, but I shall ignore his attempt.
Selection will undoubtedly be introduced if schools are allowed to opt out. Last Friday evening I was debating the education proposals in Lenzie—not a hotbed or bedrock of Socialism—with the vice-chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland, Mr. Hirst, who was a Member of Parliament. When we were questioned about selectivity, the vice-chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland said that he hoped that selectivity would not be introduced. He believes that selectivity is invidious. Clause 16, in conjunction with clause 28, makes selectivity much more of an option. It does not remove that possibility. Selectivity will therefore return. The re-emergence of the old, discredited selectivity is envisaged by the Government. Baroness Hooper, a former Under-Secretary of State for Education in the other place, has stated that if, as a consequence of the Government's proposals, we end up with a segregated system, "so be it."
The Government intend to establish a national curriculum and to introduce testing for primary 4 and primary 7. The only consequence of that will be a narrowing of the state education role. The Government believe that that will equip the workers of the future with marketable skills. Their proposals will result in a narrowing of the curriculum. They are antagonistic towards any other system. They are certainly antagonistic towards the concept of the 1968 Plowden report that put the individual child at the centre of educational provision.
The Government say that insufficient time is given to the core skills, but that runs contrary to the evidence of Her Majesty's inspectorate, which is asking for a broader view of the curriculum. The Government say that in primary 6 and primary 7, pupils should be tested with much more rigour. The Government want to fire pupils with the competitive spirit, but in doing so they are flying in the face of all the evidence that has been laid before them.
As for the national tests, the Government refer to age-related criteria. The Cockcroft report was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The report suggested that there may be as much as a seven-year spread within the mathematical attainments of 11-year-olds. The national tests that the Government intend to introduce are bound to be arbitrary and unrelated to the needs of the individual child. To have any diagnostic value, assessment must determine how much learning has taken place. That must therefore be at the end of a teaching unit, not at the end of a stage in a pupil's school career. The Government's timetable rules out the possibility of devising any of the sophisticated forms of assessment that would be required to test the full range of a pupil's abilities.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science commissioned a report from the Centre for Educational Studies, King's College, London. The report said that it would take nine years before assessment procedures could be put in place. The Government's readiness to disregard the report's conclusions illustrates the degree of their ideological commitment and the political nature of their assessment proposals.
The Government's plans for assessments are motivated by a crude management philosophy and by a desire to control teachers whom they hold responsible for the increasing ills of society. The Government say that teachers have failed to inculcate attitudes in pupils that they believe are desirable—a proper appreciation of market disciplines. The establishment of national standards would result in the establishment of league tables of school performance which would be based on assessment results. The net effect would be to put pressure on teachers to teach to the test, which would result in a further narrowing of the educational focus.
How well thought out are the proposals? I received this morning a document from the Scottish Council for Research in Education. It considered the Government's assessment proposals, the curriculum, tests, the use of test results, report cards and evaluation. The Government say that attainment targets and objective criteria in primary education are to be identified. The Scottish Council for Research in Education asked:
Will those areas of English and Mathematics for which there are no 'objective criteria' be taught and tested?
It goes on to say:
Curriculum objectives for the primary school may be readily selected. The identification of 'targets' or 'objective criteria', however, has proved elusive for many important areas of learning. In addition, wide variation of attainment within each age group suggests that if stage-related targets were identified they would carry the risks of lack of challenge for some pupils and sense of failure for others.
That is where the Government's assessment proposals are leading us.
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. My memory may be defective, because I have read a number of reports commissioned by various impartial sources from the Scottish Council for Research in Education, but my recollection is that the report begins by pointing out that because the council does not have the details of the Government's proposals it is not in a position to make an assessment of their efficacy. Is that not right?
The Scottish Council for Research in Education looked into the history of assessment and saw nothing in the Government's proposals that would assist in the assessment of individual children.
How will nationally standardised tests be constructed to reveal how a child's progress measures up nationally and at the same time to identify what specific help or challenge he or she needs? The answer to that question is that a test that serves both purposes is an attractive prospect but that efforts to achieve such a test in the past have been unsuccessful. The Government's assessment proposals have not been tested. There is no precedent for them. That is what worries politicians, teachers and educationists.
When he put forward his school boards proposals, the Minister obviously did not listen to his alma mater. When I visited the Scottish Office and looked at the responses to the questions that had been asked about school boards, I found that they were against his proposals. Perhaps the Minister will listen to what is said by the Central region in which his constituency lies. It undertook a case study at McLaren high school in Callander regarding opting out. Using McLaren high school as a model, it found that there would be waste involved in the establishment of grant-maintained schools, since these establishments will not be in a position to get the same value for money as schools which are part of the local authority provision. A per capita share of central spending cannot compensate for the reduction in spending power which would result from a loss of access to the economies of scale.
To compensate for the loss of purchasing power which will result from the decision to opt out, schools will have to look to areas of their school provision that they feel can be cut back. McLaren high currently makes provision to meet a minority demand for Gaelic. That is expensive in terms of overall staffing provision. The opted-out school would have to decide whether it wished to continue that specialist provision, and the decision is likely to be based on economic considerations rather than educational or cultural needs, the interests of the pupils, or even parental choice. Music is a feature of the curriculum at McLaren high and that is made possible because the authority provides 10 visiting music teachers. That facility would be withdrawn if the school opted out and the school would be withdrawn if it opted out and the school would beunable to replace those staff, consequently disadvantaging pupils. The school would also have to decide whether to replace the school librarians and technicians if the school opted out.
An important consideration is the provision for special needs, which was raised with me at the meeting at Lenzie on Friday evening. That is another decision to be made when schools opt out. McLaren high received a very high commendation by HMI in respect of support to a pupil with physical disabilities.
McLaren high has been allocated a special lift which connects the floors of the main building, a lift within the new library, ramps at various points in the school and an adaptation of a toilet. A further toilet incorporating a shower is currently being planned. The quality of inter-professional co-operation between the special duty attendant, the school nurse, subject staff, medical services and so on is very high. Close liaison is also maintained with the pupil's family. All concerned must draw satisfaction from the fact that the pupil participates in the entire curriculum, enjoys a good relationship with her peers and involves herself in sponsored swims to raise money for others similarly disabled.
Will such provisions still be high on the agenda, as it was for Central region, when schools opt out? The critics of the Bill say no, and nobody other than Ministers say yes.
The greatest dangers that would be faced by opted-out schools would be isolation. They would be cut off from the support offered by the directorate, advisers, development officers and the many committees and working parties within a local education authority which help to develop and advance policy, deepen the knowledge and hone the expertise of practitioners. Opted-out schools could not possibly hope to have the same access to the regional in-service training, computer centres and teacher resource centres that the local authority schools enjoy. All that would seriously impair a school's ability to respond to curricula change and could lead to a narrowing of the curriculum on offer to the pupils.
When the Minister puts out his videos and his high tech promotion, he should consider the grass roots aspect and give parents the opportunity to discuss the full meaning of opting out, taking into consideration categories such as special needs.
I conclude by referring to the meeting in Lenzie and to the remarks of the vice-chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland. I gave him notice that I would raise the issue. I was asked to outline the advantages of school boards and he was asked to outline their disadvantages. Obviously that was a hard question for me to answer and my reply was not very bold, but Mr. Hirst gave the disadvantages. In reply to a question about unrepresentative parents on a board, he replied that he accepted that in the meantime those unrepresentative parents will do damage, but the situation will correct itself at the ballot box. However, within the Government's timetable, within three of four years the decisions taken by parents, individuals and other co-opted members of the school board could destroy a school and could destroy the relationship between the school and the local authority. The vice-chairman of the Conservative party said that the problem would be solved by reverting to the ballot box, but that will be far too late because under his proposals the prevailing school system could be changed out of all recognition within two or three years.
I ask the Minister to ponder deeply on those words which were the response of the vice-chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland to a genuine concern on the part of parents in Scotland. It sums up our worries and concerns about what will be nothing other than the destruction of Scottish education if the Bill is passed.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) began by suggesting that 40 per cent. of Conservative Back Benchers were not in favour of the Bill. That certainly appears to be the case from the speeches that we have heard. I find it interesting that at least 40 per cent. of Labour Members representing Scottish constituencies have not even bothered to turn up. He asked when the Government or their supporters had consulted parents. I have news for him—I consult parents in my constituency all the time. I must say that there have been objections to schools boards and to self-governing schools. Almost all those objections have come from teachers and not from parents. Of course we understand the fears and concerns of teachers, and I will address that matter later in my speech.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton spoke about unrepresentative parents. One can only assume that we have unrepresentative councillors because they are elected on a similar basis; people put themselves forward for election and get elected. That suggests that the electoral system is flawed. That may well be the case, and it may well be that the wrong people are elected. There are those who hold views on who are elected and who are not, but it all depends on their position at any given time.
I found the speech of the h on. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) interesting, and I am so pleased that he is in his place. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) called it a moderate speech. It may have been a moderate speech, but, if I recollect it correctly, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East spoke about principles and detail. Is it not interesting that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East is on record as saying that he is in favour of opting out when it suits him in his constituency?
We shall have a debate on the matter tomorrow morning and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is as diligent in his attendance tomorrow morning as he is today. I shall take his point on board and deal with it to his disadvantage and certainly to the disadvantage of the Minister, who offered me his dead body in exchange for the closure of the Falkirk infirmary.
The hon. Gentleman should have let me finish my point. The Bill gives people the choice. I read in the newspapers that he would make use of the choice that will become available to him to allow a hospital in his constituency to opt out because he would rather it opted out and that he would bury his principles if it were to the advantage of the people in his constituency for his hospital to opt out. I am not arguing against that; I am merely trying to put it on record. But that is exactly what the Bill does for parents and others in respect of schools in the parts of the country where they live. It gives them the very choice that he wished to exercise.
I shall conclude my comments on the hon. Gentleman's speech by agreeing with him. I agree with him that the Bill is not an anti-teacher Bill. It is anything but that. I would go further and say that good teachers have nothing to fear from the Bill. The hon. Member spoke about the turmoil and upset in Scotland. He would not expect me to agree with him on that. My view is that that turmoil and upset are a direct result of the Labour party's attitude since 1983 when it tried to pretend to the Scottish people that it had a mandate to govern Scotland and was going to do so. Labour Members went even further in 1987 when some of them did it in their own different ways by breaking the rules—even the rules of the House. The turmoil and upset are the result of what they have done. There is nothing worse than making promises that cannot be delivered. That also causes turmoil and upset.
The hon. Member also mentioned the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. He knows that I have a deep interest in the business of that Committee, past, present and some time in the future, I hope. It was never the Government's fault that the Committee was not set up. If ever arms were twisted, mine were. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I and other Conservative Back Benchers made sure that the Committee was not set up. It could not be set up without us. We had our reasons for doing that. I have put mine on the record, and I do not deviate from them.
My right hon.Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said in their interesting speeches that they think that the pace of change is too fast. Others may share that view. I think that this is the right time to make the change. There are two areas where I disagree with my right hon. Friend. During the 1987 general election campaign I made clear what I expected a returned Conservative Government to do with regard to school boards and what is commonly known as opting out. There was no doubt about the matter in Tayside, North. Secondly, I disagree with my right hon. Friend when he says that Scottish education is sound because we have a state sector, and that those who wish to exercise choice can do so by sending their children to fee-paying schools. He was supported in that view by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries. It is a funny kind of choice that is determined by the size of a cheque book.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) is not in his place. I make no criticism of that.
I am not being critical. I would not want to say anything about the hon. Member in his absence at which he might take offence. We all have to go out to eat, for example. I have never criticised hon. Members for leaving the Chamber.
I tried to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Garscadden but he would not accept an intervention, which I thought rather bad considering the number of interventions that my right hon. and learned Friend took when he introduced the Bill. He hoped that there would be no Conservative Members on the Standing Committee, or that there would be only Conservative Members with no experience or knowledge of Scottish schools.
I hope that there will be no Labour Members on the Committee who were educated in private schools, or who send their children to private schools. I say that because a lot of barbs come from Opposition Members on this issue. I do not criticise people for sending their children to private schools—I defend their right to do so—but I find it offensive when Opposition Members accuse us of not understanding.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) will defend himself, but that is not what he said. He said in simple language that it would be a scandal if the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) were deliberately kept off the Committee simply because they disagree with the Government.
When the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will find that the hon. Member for Garscadden did say that, but he went on to say what I said he said.
I welcome the provisions that establish self-governing schools. They represent an opportunity for choice for many people. The Government are right to increase the number of appointed and co-opted members to the board, and to include the head teacher as a full member of it if schools decide to exercise their choice to opt out.
The Government are also wise to allow non-elected members to serve longer periods, thus assisting continuity of management policies and to maintain the long-term interests of the school. I hope that few, if any, schools will exercise the choice, but I welcome that choice. There are many good schools in my part of the world, but many of them are starved of essential resources because the local authority is a long way away. It has failed to deal with the 40 per cent. overcapacity in schools in Dundee. The result is that resources essential for Highland rural schools are sometimes slow getting there.
I welcome the checks and balances in the form of a ballot of parents, consultations with local education authorities and the requirement to seek the approval of the Secretary of State. Each stage must be gone through before a self-governing school can introduce any form of selection of pupils. It is important to note that because there is a feeling among teachers and others that the Bill is a veiled attempt to introduce selection by the back door. I believe that the checks and balances will ensure that that does not happen.
I understand that education authorities already have the power to introduce selection. They need only consult parents before making a change. They do not need to refer their proposals to the Secretary of State. The Bill proposes a big improvement.
I welcome the assurance that a simple majority of parents will not necessarily be decisive, and that such a decision only allows the proposal to go to the Secretary of State, who will take account of the size of the majority and the percentage turnout. I want that assurance on the record, because it is important. We do not want the Bill to be regarded as a vehicle for things that will not be beneficial. If the majority of parents want change, and that is shown clearly in a ballot, there should be change.
Such powers and choices will put pressure on education authorities to be much more sympathetic to the needs of, for example, rural and denominational schools.
I am happy with what we are doing in Scotland. I always thought that we Scots argued to do things differently because we like to do things differently—our education system is different. It would be nonsense for us to explain why we are not doing things identically.
There has been a lot of misinformation about the Bill. There has been misinformation about specialist services, such as child guidance, school hostels, school transport and recording of special educational needs. I am glad that such services will remain and that education authorities will continue to be responsible for their maintenance if a school decides to become self-governing.
There has been misinformation about self-governing schools. I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to confirm that the board will have the same powers as other employers.
There has been misinformation about funding. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the funding of self-governing schools will be comparable with what a school would have received if it had remained under local authority control? I represent a massive rural constituency, where local schools are an essential part of the community, so I am delighted that my schools and parents will have a choice, which will be exercised only if parents feel that the local authority is no longer in tune with the wishes and perceived needs of the community schools.
I want to place on record my pleasure at the number of parents who have intimated to me their wish to stand for election to the local school hoards in my constituency. I have been holding public meetings throughout the constituency and I have been delighted at the response. Many hon. Members have been fortunate enough to enjoy the opportunity of choice both in their own education and the education of their children. The Bill gives the opportunity of choice to all parents in Scotland. They need not exercise that choice, but at least all of them will have the opportunity to exercise that choice. At present, it is the exclusive preserve of a few. I find it interesting that some hon. Members who are opposed to the Bill have already made a choice in their own and their children's education, and I find it fascinating that they are prepared to oppose the Bill.
I shall now deal with the proposals for colleges for further education. Few would argue that such colleges should not he close to industry in the local community and understand its needs. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East mentioned the problems of Falkirk. Sadly, it is often true that the mandarins of industry live a long way away from where they work. I accept that as a truism. In a lovely country such as ours, with its beautiful wide open spaces, people have the right to choose to live in a rural area and to commute to work. It is wise to have at least half of the college council members drawn from employers in the local area because they understand the areas of work for which the youngsters are being trained.
I believe that it is sensible that only one fifth of members should be drawn from the local authority and the remainder from other interested groups. I assume that that means that some of them will represent professional bodies, and I hope that there will also be representatives from organised labour, in whatever form. I am pleased to note that college councils will select staff, although the selection of the principal will continue to be the responsibility of the local authority and the principal will be an ex officio member of the college council. All those provisions are good, and I hope that they will receive support from all parties.
There may be some doubts about giving future Secretaries of State the power to make regulations about the testing of primary schoolchildren. On balance, I am in favour, but it is an area in which mischievous information may give many parents cause for deep concern.
I am pleased that the Bill contains enabling proposals about the appraisal of teachers. A high calibre, high quality teaching staff is vital to the well-being of present and future generations of schoolchildren. Most teachers to whom I have spoken seemed to take a fairly positive approach. The proposals will be extremely helpful and will provide the opportunity for teachers to add to and update their skills. There is no profession in which people do not have to do that regularly.
I welcome the introduction of technology academies. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross mentioned various academic institutions in the past. I remember that when I was a young boy I was told by many people that the only escape route in Scotland was through education. In Dundee there were some very good education institutions. There were schools of excellence there and the Dundee technical college was recognised as a place of academic excellence in technology. I was a student there and I have no regrets about the fact that I attended that college because it was beneficial to me. I hope that those who attend the technology academies will experience the same pleasure as I had in what the college gave me.
I hope that Tayside region—and this is an important point which I have raised already with the convener of education there—will take a positive stand on the technology academies and will accept the offer that may come to it to have a technology college on Tayside. I would expect it to be placed in Dundee where we have surplus school accommodation that could be used for such an academy.
We have had some interesting comments about university rectors. I am not qualified to comment on whether university rectors should automatically be the chairmen of the university courts, but it seems that the position has come about as a result of an approach by the universities themselves. One or two people have made observations about that time, but I have made it clear that I have no direct knowledge of the running of universities and I cannot tell whether that change will be beneficial. However, I am prepared to listen to the comments in the debate and to those hon. Members who have direct knowledge of universities. In principle, I probably support the change, but I would need to be given certain assurances about what lies behind the Government's thinking and why the provision has been included before I could say that I supported the proposal.
We have heard much about what the Bill is supposed to contain. I believe that it contains no draconian measures unless parents choose to exercise their rights. Choice is a principle that all Members should approve. The Bill will give parents a choice and I welcome the opportunities for the schools in my constituency. Some of those schools have long and distinguished records and are good community schools. I welcome the thought that in the future, if necessary, they can exercise choice. By the very fact that choice exists local authoritities will, I hope, be more responsive to the needs of local schools and communities.
The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) and his hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) made great play of the word "choice". I must remind them that at the general election the Scottish people made their choice through the democratic processes open to them.
People in Scotland exercised the choice of electing hon. Members to this unitary Parliament and the results were clear. That was their choice and the Bill seeks to provide choice about how schools will be run in the future.
The hon. Gentleman always resorts to hiding behind the cloak of the unitary Parliament. Clearly, the people of Scotland elected 62 Members of Parliament who believed in some form of self-government for Scotland. Their opinions may be of various shades, but the people of Scotland voted for Members who wanted to see a change in the system of government within Scotland. It is clear that the people of Scotland did not choose a Conservative Government or the policies that are being implemented. The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross spoke jocularly about a self-governing Scotland. Scottish Conservative Members should realise that in a self-governing Scotland people would have real choice about the way in which their education system was run—and about any other aspect of life that affected them directly.
The Secretary of State started with three basic premises and he seemed to bring an element of unity into the House. He then departed from that and began reading from a brief prepared, no doubt, by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He read it unconvincingly and seemed to reflect the reasonable doubts that many of his hon. Friends have shown in the debate. What worries the Secretary of State, as it worries many other hon. Members, is that it has not yet been demonstrated to us that there is a clear demand for the policies in the Bill. When challenged by the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary responded by quoting the single shred of evidence he has been able to produce—one MORI opinion poll showing that about one third of people think that the policies might be a good idea. It was not specifically about this legislation but on the general philosophy. That is one of the poorest excuses I have ever heard propounded for introducing legislation.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) in his place. He tried to suggest to me earlier that he thought I was having a bad day. He has misunderstood some of the questions that have been asked by my hon. Friends and the importance of the answers that were forthcoming. I asked the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) how many letters he has received expressing demand for this legislation. He replied glibly that he had received 1,500. Those of us who understand Scottish politics—I appreciate that it is difficult to understand it when the Scottish Whip represents an English seat—know that the letters referred to one area and one issue. It is interesting that the only letter that I have received asking for such legislation also came from Paisley. It was from the parents of a child in Neilston school; the school which was the loser in the debate about Paisley grammar. That is a straw in the wind. It is clear that the proposals will be used not for philosophical or ideological reasons but by people who see, under a rationalisation process, their local school being threatened.
I should be interested to know how many letters the Secretary of State and his Ministers have tucked away in their files in the Scottish Office suggesting that the people of Scotland are screaming for legislation such as this. The Secretary of State tells us happily that he never receives letters about constitutional change and that therefore there is no demand. I suspect that we could quote more effective opinion polls and point to many more letters about constitutional change than the Secretary of State could produce on this issue.
I receive many letters about education. They are generally about the fabric of buildings, the need for adequate resources and about facilities for the children. It is not adequate for the hon. Member for Tayside, North to suggest that somehow the starvation of resources is the fault of the local authorities. We all know that the money comes from the rate support grant, which has been cut back further and further by the Government, squeezing resources for education and making life difficult. He suggested that a school that wants additional resources should consider opting out because, through a special grant or a capital grant, it may be possible for the Secretary of State to help it out. The Bill does not address the main issues involved in education in Scotland or the difficulties we face.
Is it not important to point out to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and the House that any resources received by an opted-out school are taken from the resources that would have been allocated to the regional authorities to administer the state sector schools? It is as simple as that.
Yes, and it also represents the thin end of the wedge for a two-tier system of education, something which we would all resist.
I resent the implication that because we oppose the Bill we cannot accept criticism about our education system in Scotland. Opposition Members are not saying that everything is perfect and nor are the teachers' unions or anybody involved in education. We are willing to look at the criticisms, but we feel that they are not being addressed effectively by the Government. I would be more convinced of the Government's aims if some of the important issues were addressed in the Bill.
Conservative Members seem to have great difficulty making up their minds about what they mean by education. I have always understood that education should be child-centred. The Bill is proposing that education should become management-centred. Essentially, the same debate will occur in the Scottish Grand Committee tomorrow when we talk about how we manage our National Health Service. Nobody doubts that management has a role within education. I have worked on the administrative side of education as well as in teaching. I recognise the importance of management, but it should not be the driving force for our education system. If management becomes the driving force, it will be for only political reasons. That worries me deeply. There are strong political reasons why the Government wish to see changes in management to remove more powers from the local authorities and so on. It is political manipulation.
I wish to re-emphasise the point already made about the timing of the legislation. Education, particularly in our schools in Scotland, needs stability and consolidation. The schools do not need more upheaval or uncertainty. The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross spoke about the need to have schools in which the staff were enthused, the communities involved, and so on. The continuing changes and upheavals that have been enacted by the Government have lowered the morale of teachers. Despite that, as the Secretary of State admitted, they are still managing to do a great job and standards are rising.
Managerial upheaval such as this will bring more uncertainty and will do nothing to help teachers' morale. The Government should put the Bill away and forget about it. It is clear that the majority of Scottish Members do not want it. We have not heard a chorus of enthusiasm from Scotland. The Bill is not wanted, so let us put it on the shelf for a few years and see what happens. Let us leave our schools to consolidate and cope with the changes that have already been enacted.
I can reassure the Minister that I have read the Bill a couple of times. It is purgatory to have to plough through the Bill twice. No doubt, in Committee I will be able to raise many of the points that I have underlined and put exclamation marks beside. I wish to raise several issues and I hope that the Minister will comment when he winds up.
Essentially, the further education sector is being handed over to sectoral interests. I saw training courses in some of our further education colleges before returning to the House in 1987. It was clear then that the colleges were being encouraged to take on more youngsters from youth training programmes than youngsters looking for courses leading to professional qualifications. I am thinking about nursery nurses and people involved in social work training. The college fees extracted for such courses are not particularly high and, therefore, do not attract a great deal of money into the FE sector, so it was more attractive for principals to bring in youngsters on courses involving much higher fees and on which they would receive a good turnover of capital. I am not saying that those youngsters should have been denied those opportunities, but I have always had reservations about such schemes because they were not really offering training.
There is an attempt now to remove the idea of education from our FE colleges and to talk only about interests relating to the workplace. I thought that we had moved away from the Robbins concept that education is merely about training for employment. We believe—certainly my party does—that education is about much more than that. It is about encouraging people to recognise their talents and abilities, ensuring that they are stretched as far as possible and that they are equipped for life in its many facets. I am deeply concerned that the handing over of our further education college councils in the way suggested in the Bill will move us further away from the idea that education should be a rounded process.
Clause 22 seems to suggest the possibility of the ending of the requirement to register with the General Teaching Council before being employed in Scottish schools; there are references made to exceptions which may be prescribed. That is worrying for those of us who have been glad to see a fully qualified and registered profession operating in Scottish schools. I would not want us to return to having non-qualified teachers in our schools or a system of licensed teachers as is often the case south of the border. I should like some clarification on that point.
Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that a Conservative Member is so interested in the subject that he is dealing with his correspondence? He is practising for the Committee stage, which will no doubt be packed with Conservative English Members with no interest in, and even less understanding of, Scottish education.
I noticed the arrival of the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn). No doubt he is practising for the Committee stage.
Clause 63 refers to national testing. [Interruption.] My teacher's training comes in most effectively. Normally, if a teacher stops speaking, the class immediately becomes quiet. I am most grateful to Conservative Members for having effectively observed that principle.
I am worried about national testing, mainly because of my training in remedial education. I will not rehearse all the arguments. However, continuous assessment is the best way of identifying children's learning needs. The concept of a test which is suddenly brought in at the end of a certain stage in primary school seems to be a move from continuous assessment and the classroom teacher's right to define learning needs. If we really are concerned about standards and how most effectively to meet children's learning needs, we should look at more opportunities to enable our teachers to undertake additional in-service training to keep them constantly updated on new ideas that emerge rather than introduce national testing.
Many hon. Members have referred to clause 65. No one disputes the basic principles in the clause. None of us expects that every area will be able to provide schools for children with specialised needs and specific handicaps. We recognise that there must be a centralisation of resources. I should like to be assured that the Scottish Office will not use clause 65 as an excuse for not providing facilities for those children. All hon. Members recognise the need to centralise resources, but it must not be an excuse for not providing what is needed for handicapped children in Scotland. We recognise that ramifies should be close at hand for such children, because they need the warmth and love of their family surroundings perhaps more than anybody else does.
The Bill is based on a centralising philosophy. A rough count demonstrates that 66 new powers are being ascribed to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and that is without including the various procedural powers in the schedules. Scottish Members do not like the philosophy on which the legislation is founded. We do not like its proposals. The Bill is alien to our idea of an education system in Scotland. On that basis, we will reject it. No doubt, many other hon. Members, whether or not they are signing their mail, will trot through the Aye Lobby at 10 o'clock and ensure that Scottish Members are outvoted.
There have been broad hints in the press that five or seven English Back-Bench Conservative Members will be put on the Committee to ensure that the Government have their majority. I have sat through the debate, as have many other hon. Members, and I have carefully watched to see which English Members would listen to the debate, and show their interest and involvement in the subject.][congratulate the hon. Members for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) and for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine). They have sat faithfully and loyally throughout the debate, and I am sure that they intend to speak. If English hon. Members are selected to serve on the Committee, we would have expected to see more of them attending today. I exempt the Government Front Bench; I am talking about Back-Bench Members.
Scottish National Members believe that the Bill should be dealt with by a Committee of Scottish Members. The facility exists for the Bill to be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee and dealt with by Scottish hon. Members who, after all, were elected by the Scottish people and are seen as the protectors of the Scottish education system. As hon. Members have admitted, Scottish education is distinctive and different. Therefore, we cannot expect people to understand it unless they are involved in it.
The Bill says that simple majorities are enough to start the ball rolling for a school to opt out. A simple majority of votes cast at the last election demands that the Bill be dealt with by Scottish Members. I trust that the Minister will at least comment on how he envisages the Committee stage will be dealt with. We cannot win the vote tonight, but we are determined to win in Committee.
Order. The winding-up speeches are expected to begin at about 10 past 9. Four hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye. They have been present throughout the debate. I hope that they will divide the available time between them.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), who made an interesting speech. However, it was spoilt by the intervention of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh), who has a singularly inappropriate name for a Scottish Nationalist. It was also singularly inappropriate of him to refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), who had a most distinguished career in the Department of Education and Science. He was responsible for introducing some enlightened reforms in the education system in England and Wales. Nevertheless, I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks about my attendance during the debate. I do not think that I have missed one word.
I have been asked to be brief. The hon. Gentleman has intervened before. It was not an appropriate intervention, and I shall not allow him the opportunity of making another.
At a conference in Bournemouth, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who, needless to say, is not present, suggested that the Conservative party has run out of steam. This Bill demonstrates that that is far from true. We have certainly not run out of steam in Scotland, in particular.
This is the latest of several measures. We have seen the sale of National Bus Company subsidiaries, privatisation of the electricity industry in Scotland, and the school boards legislation which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, and we now have this Bill to give a much bigger say to parents. [Interruption.] Opposition Members might like to know that I wrote my speech myself.
The School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988 met opposition because it attacked vested interests by giving greater power to parents and reducing the power of local authorities. This Bill takes that process a stage further. The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) is reported in the Glasgow Herald of 15 December as saying that Scottish education is too valuable to be left to a politician who is as zealous and ideologically motivated as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. A great many things are too important to leave to politicians, which is precisely why this measure is being introduced and why we are seeking to reduce further the role of the state.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) referred to a visit that he wished to make to a school in his constituency. He required the permission of the local education authority before he could make the visit. Similarly, I visited a school in my constituency. When I turned up with a local reporter who wished to take a photograph of my attendance at the scene, he was told by the headmaster that there were to be no photographs; it had not been cleared with the local authority.
The idea that at the moment schools operate in an atmosphre of political neutrality is a load of nonsense. Schools, both north and south of the border, are very much politicised because local education authorities are accountable to locally elected politicians. The Bill gives parents further powers, in addition to those they received under the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988. They are given power to order their own affairs and to decide what is in the best interests of their children.
However, the important point is that the opportunity to be self-governing will not be mandatory. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who both have Scottish constituencies, have declared their uneasiness about the Bill and about the pace of change.
Opposition Members have also made the point that this Bill, coming so soon after other changes to the Scottish education system, would impose too great a burden. It is vital to recognise that this measure permits and in no way imposes mandatory opting out on the school boards.
The Bill gives further choice to school boards and parents to say which alternative they wish to adopt. In so doing, it further enhances the choice available to parents. It shows that the principal purpose behind Government reforms is not to bolster the rich and defend the privileged but to give those at present trapped in the education system the opportunity to decide for themselves and to run their own show—a worthwhile step to take.
There have been complaints in the past that Parliament has imposed legislation on the Scottish people first and then introduced it in England and Wales. This case is different—an experiment has already started in England and Wales. We have experience of opting out, and since that opportunity was given to parents throughout England and Wales no fewer than 37 schools have voted. Twenty eight schools voted to opt out—13 of them were in six Conservative-controlled authorities, which demonstrates that the Bill is not simply a measure to allow parents opposed to Labour authorities to escape from them: it is designed to increase parental choice. That is why I welcome the fact that parents in Conservative-controlled authorities have decided to exercise their right and try something else. So far, two opt-out schools have received approval from the Secretary of State—Skegness grammar school and Audenshaw boys' comprehensive school—despite massive campaigning by some local authorities to intimidate parents into resisting opting out.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will ensure that the Bill contains provisions to protect parents who are subject to undue influence from local authorities—anxious not to lose part of their fiefdom—so that they will be able to make a rational decision, free from intimidation.
I believe that parents are clear about the responsibilities that they are assuming and are prepared to shoulder them—as has already been made clear by some who are involved in the process.
The headmaster of Skegness grammar school said—[Interruption.] These are important considerations because they give—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has not been in the Chamber as long as I have. I am—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to be talking about an English education authority on a Scottish education Bill? I understand that, on Second Reading, a wide latitude is given to speakers, but the speech of the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) is well outwith the proper scope—
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to continue.
It is pertinent to the debate to know what is happening in schools in which opting out is being considered. The headmaster of Skegness grammar school has said:
We shall consider the insurance, payroll and finance services offered by the council. But, if the banks or someone else can provide them more cheaply and efficiently, we will choose them.
Parents will be well aware of the responsibilities which they will have to shoulder. I recognise that those responsibilities will, in some respects, be quite onerous, but I am quite sure that parents will take that into account when exercising their judgment on these matters.
In conclusion—I know that time is short and that other hon. Members wish to speak—I believe that Scottish Office Ministers have made a significant impact on the Scottish economy and on Scottish social policy. As has already been said, the fact that, even in advance of the Bill's publication, the Educational Institute of Scotland has pointed out the need to be sensitive to parental wishes shows that the Ministers are having an effect.
In contrast to the positive and innovative policies of Ministers, the Opposition—whether the Scottish National party or the Labour party—are in total disarray. As has been clearly pointed out, first the Opposition were opposed to school boards, now they encourage parents to join them so that they can resist opting out. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) even got the title of the document wrong. In fact, it is called "Opting Out and Labour's Alternative Agenda". Labour's alternative agenda took up only two and a half pages of that 21-page document which states that the policy is "a" way forward—not, note, "the" way forward but "a" way forward. It is such a major policy document that it carries a health warning stating that the ideas contained in it do not represent a blueprint. In other words, they are not worth the paper they are written on.
The Bill is a sensible measure, based on experience. It will do excellent work for Scottish education, and will be endorsed by the Scottish people.
The ignorance of the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) about Scottish education was matched only by his selfishness: he used up 13 minutes of the remaining 25 minutes which should have been shared between four hon. Members. I shall try to confine my remarks to five minutes, as he should have done.
The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart)—long gone now, but not forgotten—said that Ministers had won the argument over the Bill. But it was obvious from the speeches made by his hon. Friends that they had not even won the argument among their Back Benchers or in their party; neither have they won it in Scotland, where the Bill is deeply resented and where it will be bitterly opposed when it comes to be implemented.
It would be fatuous to search for any sort of democratic mandate that might justify the extreme proposals in the Bill. As always with specifically Scottish Bills, there is no such mandate. So much was made clear by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), who pointed out that the Bill's proposals did not even appear in the Conservative party's Scottish election manifesto in 1987—no more than the poll tax appeared in the previous election's manifesto. That did not prevent the last Tory Government from goose-stepping the poll tax through Parliament in opposition to the wishes of the Scottish people. So we should not be surprised.
Perhaps we have entirely missed the point. Perhaps the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), sees Scotland as a school writ large. On such an analogy, the Scottish Office becomes the school board, and Scottish Tory supporters represent—albeit just—more than 10 per cent. of those eligible to vote for the school board. In line with clause 13 the Government have successfully passed a resolution through the school board and received the support of at least 10 per cent. of those eligible to vote for it in support of the resolution. Now they should put the proposals to the test of the ballot box among those eligible to vote, but that is where the analogy breaks down.
The Minister and his lackies are, to borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister, frit to put the question to the test of the ballot box in Scotland because they know that the answer will be an overwhelming no. That is why they have distorted and restricted the democratic process surrounding the Bill by insisting on ballots at individual schools. They know that they will lose the vast majority of those ballots, but that does not concern them. In the few places in which Ministers' appeals to self-interest and selfishness strike a chord in the Tory heartland the Government may be able to get away with this and begin to build a directly maintained school sector which is separate, privileged, elitist and entirely cut off from the rest of the comprehensive sector and Scottish school education. The overall loser would be Scottish education.
Scottish education has been almost wholly organised on the comprehensive principle, experience of which has been almost completely positive. I say almost, because the Under-Secretary was a product of comprehensive education in Scotland—the one black mark against it. Apart from that, it has been an outstanding success. More students than ever are sitting certificate examinations, in which more than ever are achieving higher grades. All the research shows that that is so.
So on strictly educational grounds there is no justification for the organisational turmoil into which the Bill will throw Scottish education. Not only opposition political parties, teachers, unions, and parents say that: the Minister's predecessor, Mr. John MacKay, said so. At a meeting with teachers' unions before the last general election he stressed that Scottish education needed a period of stability and time in which fully to introduce the new standard grade courses into Scottish schools—the stability and time in which to work out the primary curriculum and in which to ensure that the modular approach favoured by the 16-plus action plan could and would work. According to the previous Tory Scottish Education Minister, Scottish schools needed a period of relative calm in which to get on with the real job of improving the quality of education that is delivered at the chalk-face. It did not need and could not afford the time-consuming and resource-wasting organisational upheavals that make sense only in the fevered imaginations of ideologues like the Under-Secretary.
I want to say a great deal more, but I shall cut short my speech to allow other hon. Members to speak. I warn the Government that the Bill will be fought every inch of the way by Opposition Members in Committee.
Scotland has a proud and distinctive educational history and tradition. One of its particular merits is that over the years Scotland can justly claim to have allowed the less well off access to high-quality education. I am grateful for that, because my forebears benefited from it. It is important to consider the Bill in that light.
There is much to be proud of in Scottish educational tradition and history. We are deciding now whether the Bill is the best way of making a good educational system better. I submit most emphatically that it is. If there is an aspect of Scottish education that has justly been open to criticism in recent years it has been the lack of parental involvement. Steps have already been taken to correct that, but the Bill goes a good deal further. It brings parental choice into the heart of the Scottish education debate, and the parents of Scottish children will be grateful for that.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) gave the main reasons for the Opposition voting against the Bill. Their main reason—the first argument, as he put it—was that no one wanted it. Several times he described the Bill as objectionable and friendless and said that it had little support in Scotland. If that is so, why was the hon. Gentleman in such a state about it? Why are Opposition Members so overwrought and anxious about the Bill? It is because it gives a choice to the Scottish people, to Scottish parents of Scottish children, and if they do not want to exercise their right on the opt-out provisions there is no compulsion on them to do so. It will be for parents to decide.
I suspect that much of the anxiety, passion and wrath in the Opposition stems from the fear that is deep in the heart of Opposition Members that the Bill will prove rather popular with Scottish parents. That is because the Bill's provisions pose a challenge to the monopoly of local authorities. The Opposition have powerful allies on Scotland's local authorities. I am sure that if a local authority is doing well by its schools and parents are satisfied with the standard of education that their children are receiving, they will not exercise the choice that the Bill gives to them. Rather, they will stay with that local authority.
If a local authority is letting parents down and a school is not being properly run, parents will at last have the right to say, "No, we may not be well enough off to send our children to an independent school but we have had enough of this. We shall opt out." That is a massive advance. Not only will the Bill improve the choice that is available to Scottish parents, but it will put Scottish local authorities on their toes. It will make them much better prepared to take note of the wishes of the parents. At the moment the only sanction available to parents is the right to complain. The Bill will give them an opportunity to opt out and that will put pressure on Scottish local authorities to deliver better-quality education.
In bringing forward the Bill the Government had an opportunity to do something for further education in Scotland. In a few weeks time the Chancellor will have a great deal of money to dispose of and in that context the Government could have talked about more resources for further education. Various Governments have a history of not resourcing further education in the way that should be resourced. Further education has to cover abilities ranging from university preparation to basic literacy and numeracy. It takes in high flyers and those who have never left the ground. In view of that, it is appalling that it is left to do the best that it can with such poor resources.
I worked for nine years in a college in which the roof constantly leaked every winter, but the local authority, Strathclyde regional council, had enough money only to carry out minimum repairs and never enough to put on a new roof. A college of commerce that runs on paper had to cut its paper budget. I do not blame Strathclyde regional council for those things. I blame the Government who consistently over 10 years have refused adequately to fund Strathclyde council for the work that it has to do. The Government are short sighted because they are not only failing to cater for the needs of students but they are not properly addressing themselves to the needs of the country and the hopes for regenerating industry. They are treating students in further education in a miserable fashion.
Under the Bill, employers will fill 50 per cent. or more of the college council places. I have not yet heard an explanation from the Government as to why they think that this is appropriate. There is a history of poor attendance by employers on college councils, and I do not particularly blame them for that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) pointed out, they have their businesses to run and profits to make, and attendance on a local college council cannot be high on the list of priorities for many of them. Nor is it part of our argument that all employers take an unhelpful or unprogressive attitude. I know of employers in Glasgow whose work on the area manpower board has been constructive, and who have taken a great interest in proper training and in health and safety.
However, employers have their own view and they have their business interests to protect and foster, as we know from the history of employers' reaction to education and training. We have no reason to suppose that they are any different today. It is in the employers' interest that most employees should be well-trained and obedient hewers of wood and drawers of water. Employers do not want an educated work force that is encouraged to develop independent thought so that people think for themselves and possibly question not only the employers' decisions but the decisions that affect them in society at large and in Parliament.
Despite all that, Scottish colleges will have imposed on them a system in which employers will have massive influence, not only because of their numbers on the college boards, but because they will contribute gifts of money, take part in fund raising or produce investments. Inevitably, those who bring in the money will have more influence than the individual with one vote. What impact will all this have on fees for those who want, for example, to take an evening course to educate themselves further or for the whole range of people who are trying to get a second chance, which is part of what further education is all about? What will happen when colleges have to make their own way and raise money wherever they can? If money is short, I suspect that the answer will be similar to that given by the Secretary of State when we were talking about schools running out of money. When asked what would happen when schools run short of money, he gave the offhand reply "Much the same as what happens now." At the moment, colleges and schools get a fair share of the resources available, but in future they will have to struggle for whatever cash they can lay their hands on, and resources will not be available.
Some years ago, I worked at Falkirk college of technology. I congratulate it on its excellent work—as it celebrates its 25th anniversary this week. Hon. Members on this side of the House will want to join me in congratulating it. When I worked there, the then college council at one time wanted to cut the provision of classes in the ordinary grades and highers. Many of my colleagues said that as the college council had decided on that course, there was nothing to be done about it. However, we fortunately had an active Educational Institute of Scotland branch, and with our friends in other education unions we appealed to Central regional council, to Michael Kelly, who was a long-standing chairman of the education committee. We explained to him why it was so important for the people of Falkirk to have that second chance opportunity to achieve ordinary grades and highers. To its credit, Central regional council overturned the decision of the college council, and gave the people of Falkirk those opportunities. When colleges reach their own decisions without any further reference to anybody else, people will be deprived of that second chance.
Clause 61 deals with the abolition of the negotiating machinery. Both sides would agree that that machinery
has not been satisfactory, but the Government's proposal for an alternative is extremely unsatisfactory. Under the clause, where
any group of teaching staff employed in or in connection with the provision of further education in Scotland and those employing them agree, whether expressly or impliedly, to an alteration of the remuneration payable to, or the terms and conditions of employment of, that group of teaching staff'",
such a change can be implemented.
That is arrant nonsense. I hope that the Minister will respond to this issue when he replies. Are we to understand that if a group of Professional Association of Teachers members decide to accept a pay offer or a change in conditions, the offer or the change will be imposed on the rest of their colleagues? If in the course of negotiations on a new pay round a group of teachers at a college feel that they may as well give up the struggle because they are not getting anywhere and opt for accepting a low offer, that offer will take effect and will be imposed on the rest of their colleagues. The Bill does not make the position clear and I hope that the Minister will clarify the issue. I want to know what he anticipates the outcome will be. I suspect that we are on a road that will lead to staff being paid less well and to worse conditions of service. They will face a much more difficult negotiating position.
The non-teaching staff has not been mentioned. What will become of the office workers, cleaners and janitors who service the colleges? Will any change be made to their negotiating machinery? So much in the Bill will be the subject of future regulations. It would seem that other developments are in the pipeline. I want to know more about the Government's intentions.
I have waited in my place all afternoon and evening for a chance to participate in the debate. I thank the Opposition and Government Whips for allowing me a short time to make my contribution to the Bill's Second Reading. I say that with all respect to you, Mr. Speaker. I did not sit in my place thinking that if I were fortunate enough to catch your eye I would be able to change the minds and attitudes of Conservative Members. We all know what a foolish hope that would be. None of our amendments is ever accepted in Committee. That is certainly true of social security and employment legislation, and the same can be said of any other measure that is considered in Committee.
The Government have not accepted an Opposition amendment for as long as most of us can remember. My colleagues and I are not making speeches this evening because we think that we shall be able to change the opinions of Conservative Members. They will not listen to rational arguments. We want to be able to tell the people of Scotland that we are sticking up for them and doing the best job that we can. It is extremely important to get that message across to them.
I hope that the people of Scotland understand that once again they are having imposed upon them ideas on education and on how to run schools and colleges that are anathema to them. At 10 o'clock, however, the bunch sitting on the Government Benches and their right hon. and hon. Friends will troop through the Lobby in support of the Government. Most of them will not have heard a word of the debate, they could not name a single college in Scotland, yet they are intent on voting for the Bill's Second Reading and its subsequent passage through the House.
I am pleased to speak from the Opposition Dispatch Box for the first time. I am even more delighted to know that a document produced by the Labour party on education has been widely read by Conservative Members. It is rare that they want to pick up any document that the Labour party produces. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will refer again to the excellent document that has been produced by my colleagues.
Few hon. Members will have been impressed by the unconvincing words, the empty assurances and the Government's politically convenient conversion to parental choice that have characterised the debate. As my hon. Friends have identified clearly in their contributions, the Bill remains politically dishonest and is educationally divisive. It poses a real threat to the ethos, structure and achievements of Scottish education. In a nutshell, the Bill is unnecessary, unwanted and unworkable.
The Scots feel strongly about education. It has a special place in the hearts and minds of the Scottish people. It is a tragedy that a system that has been built up painstakingly over the past 30 years, and which has involved so many people, is about to be destroyed by a Government who do not care and who have only a casual regard for a distinctive and successful part of Scotland's heritage. It has a part which was even mentioned by the Secretary of State in a recent speech in Aberdeenshire. Speaking to a chamber of commerce on 15 April 1988, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
What was important to Unionists and remains so is the preservation and enrichment of traditional Scottish institutions.
He went on:
Thus as Unionists,… we attach importance … to our distinctive educational tradition".
It has not been evident this evening that the Secretary of State has remembered those words.
It is also important to point out that 119 years ago tomorrow the Bill that became the Education (Scotland) Act 1872 received its Second Reading. That Bill introduced compulsory schooling to Scotland. Despite two world wars, despite school boards, which were scrapped, and despite the current Scottish Office Minister responsible for education holding that post for the past 18 months, Scottish education remains in the forefront of everything that is positive and innovatory in education in Europe.
Even by the Government's appalling standards of hypocrisy, insensitivity and malice, this Bill plumbs new depths. The overwhelming majority of Scots consider the Bill to be educational vandalism of a high order. As we heard earlier from two distinguished and respected Conservative Back Benchers, the Bill is part of an alarming sell-out which has betrayed the trust of Conservative Members and the trust of the Scottish people. It is crucial that when the Minister replies he tells us why opting out plays such an important role in the Bill. Forty-seven of the 72 clauses involve opting out. I will give the Minister an opportunity to intervene now to tell us who wants opting out. Will the Minister tell us which groups and organisations in Scotland are clamouring to have opting out included in this menu for schools? Not surprisingly there is little activity on the Government Front Bench.
I can tell the House which important organisations are the inspiration for this divisive measure. These are not normal bodies within the democratic process. They include the Institute of Directors, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Grant-Maintained Schools Trust, the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies. That is a host of bodies accountable to no one except the raving Right of the Conservative party who used to be involved in fringe politics at university, but who now occupy centre stage at the Scottish Office.
It is important for me to highlight why there is such bitter anger in Scotland about the Bill and about opting out in particular. The source of the anger can be traced back to a comment made by the Prime Minister on 9 April 1988 on BBC Radio Scotland. When asked whether she would confirm that opting out of local authority control would go ahead in Scotland, she said:
No I cannot confirm that it will definitely go ahead. The first thing we had to do was to see that every school has a school board. Then we have to take further soundings to see if sufficient people would like to have opting out as an option. No one is compelling anyone to do anything.
That sounds to me like an assurance that school boards would be introduced and be up and running before opinion was tested in Scotland. That is the point of regret expressed by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). They are dismayed and disgusted by the double dealing by Ministers in the Scottish Office. That is on record to prove to the Scottish Office and the Scottish people that this is a shabby piece of legislation.
I can understand why the Government are running away from consultation. Opting out was never in the Conservative party manifesto and it has never been the subject of consultation. After the school boards consultation fiasco in which 96 per cent. of Scots rejected ceiling powers, it is no wonder that Scottish Office Ministers have run away from consultation. Although Ministers and the Conservative party have some friends, that friendship has been shaken by the Government's double dealing on this issue. The Scottish Consumer Council supported school boards, but in a press release it now comments:
Proposals to allow schools to 'opt out' of education authority control are ill-timed and do not offer parents a significant extension of choice.
The hon. Gentleman cites the submission of the Scottish Consumer Council to support his argument that people in Scotland do not want ceiling powers. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has read the council's full submission. If he does so, he will find that the council asks the Government to introduce ceiling powers for school boards. What is the hon. Gentleman's position? He cannot cite one part of the council's evidence with which he agrees and ignore those parts with which he disagrees.
I was making the point that an organisation that trusted the Government in respect of school boards now feels betrayed because it now feels used. School boards were never a vehicle for parental involvement but were a stepping stone to opting out, and that is what hurt the council. Even the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, which supported Ministers in the Scottish Office over school boards, stated in a press release dated 15 February:
We believe that the successful establishment of School Boards will be jeopardised by the undue haste with which the Government is pursuing these proposals.
What a difference there is between the slipshod and second-rate performances of Scottish Office Ministers and the performance of a real Tory statesman such as Rab Butler, who introduced the important Education Act 1944 into England and Wales. In a debate on that legislation on 19 January 1944, Mr. Butler said:
I now commend the Bill to the House as one which is warmly welcomed by the many active partners in the education service. It is they, as a team, who have helped to fashion it during the last two years. We have now come to Parliament and the Government look for the help of Parliament and the wisdom of hon. Members."—[Official Report, 19 January 1944; Vol. 396, c. 208.]
How different that is from the tawdry behaviour of the present ministerial team. Rab Butler spoke of two years spent on the Education Act 1944, but the Bill before the House was conceived in two months.
When Rab Butler spoke of a team, he did not mean the Adam Smith Institute or any of the other hangers-on that now subscribe to the development of Government policy. In 1944, Mr. Butler was able to say that the whole House welcomed the legislation. How different that is from tonight, when such a sensitive issue is being dealt with in a cavalier fashion and, quite rightly, receives no support from the Opposition Benches. Clearly, there is no accounting for the decline in political standards in some political parties over a long period.
Under the guise of opting out, there will be a move towards centralised political control of education and not parental choice. We shall also see the introduction of selection, not improving standards. Under the guise of testing, national testing will be introduced. There will be nominative testing—setting child against child, teacher against teacher, class against class and school against school. Instead, there should be diagnostic testing, locally conceived and locally delivered, that centres on the child and relates his or her potential to his or her attainment. That is the proper way to progress. Instead, we know that testing is being introduced because it is an essential step towards selection. Unless one has a league table, one cannot select.
Under the guise of teacher appraisal and the scrapping of section 88, there will be further attacks made on teachers rather than proper staff development. Under the guise of technology academies, there will be pandering to some of the educational illiterates who advise the Government on industrial matters. Technology academies are merely a Trojan horse, used to increase selection and to ensure that the comprehensive system is further undermined.
Taken together, the measures in the Bill will tear the heart out of Scottish education—and regardless of the crocodile tears and of the faint expression of understanding and knowledge from English Conservatives this evening, the Bill's powerful set of political reforms is designed to do just that.
Striking at the heart of our schools is the creation of a three-tier structure of educational provision. First, independent schools cater for 32,000 out of Scotland's 800,000 children—a rich preserve for the privileged. Next we shall have grant-maintained schools and then LEA schools. The strategy is so uniquely objectionable that it is—if hon. Members will excuse the expression—in a class of its own. We are offering a school menu of declining educational standards, restricted parental choice and the introduction, through clauses 16 and 28, of selective education based on academic criteria. What is worse, it is underlined by a highly centralised form of political control from the Scottish Office.
There is another interesting feature of the Government's concern for Scottish education. The Conservative manifesto of 1987 talked of
Raising Standards in our Schools".
This Government has provided more resources for pupils than ever before.
It said that the ratio of teachers to pupils was at its best ever, and that Scottish schools were among the world leaders in the use of computers.
Why, then, have we had cuts in real terms of 14 per cent., or £300 million, in the proportion of funds provided by the Government for local education authorities in the last decade? Why is it that between 1982 and 1987 we have seen cuts in capital expenditure for buildings of 44 per cent., or £35 million? Why, after a decade in which school rolls have dropped dramatically, have we seen barely an improvement in the pupil-teacher ratios? In primary schools they have fallen only from 14·4 to 12·9 to one, despite there being 83,000 fewer children. In secondary schools they have fallen only from 20·3 to 20·2 to one, despite 120,000 children leaving school.
Why has the number of full-lime equivalents in nursery places increased by only 3,100 in a decade—to 20,600—when another 120,000 Scots aged three and four have required places? Why, in view of that catalogue of cuts, is £7 million being spent in 1989 on assisted places schemes in Scotland? It is a financial and political disgrace that public money should be used to prop up private schools. Why does that miserable catalogue also include a loss of 8,750 teachers between 1979 and 1987? That is why pupil-teacher ratios have not improved. At a time of falling school rolls we should have been retaining teachers to improve the ratio, but the Government have shown that they want none of that.
Let us look at one of the tests that the Government always use to prove that they are doing well by Scottish education: textbooks and equipment. Over the past decade, provision in primary education has slumped—in real terms—from £5,300,000 to £5 million, and in secondary education it has fallen from £6·9 million to £5·9 million.
That is only a portion of what I could have read out to illustrate 10 years of Tory neglect. The Under-Secretary may be laughing to the Secretary of State, but people in Scotland demand to know why standards have not improved. Opposition Members have no reason to apologise for the success of Scottish education, despite such a catalogue of deliberate neglect. Yes, there are weaknesses that need to be tackled and improvements and innovations that we all want to see. Parents and children have legitimate aspirations that must be satisfied. The plain truth is, however, that it is not the Scottish education system but the Government who have failed our children and their parents.
The Bill talks about opting out. The first point that it makes is about expanding choice. I want the Minister to tell us how choice can be expanded when one group of parents, at one time, on a single ballot and on a simple majority, with no regard to turnout, can take a school out of the state sector. What choice is that for the 800,000 children in Scottish education? What is worse is that parents whose children are going from feeder primary schools to comprehensive schools will not have a vote but parents of children in their final two years at school will, although they will not be around when the school opts out. In any catchment area, parents of potential pupils will have no particular say in the matter. A once-and-for-all decision, a one-way ticket to ministerial mercy, is not real choice for the vast majority of Scottish parents or Scottish children.
There is another important question. What will happen to Scottish children with special needs? Can the Minister give us a guarantee that when clauses 16 and 18 become operative children with special learning difficulties and children with other special needs will be able to go to the school of first choice in their catchment area?
But, more important, can the Minister, unlike the Secretary of State earlier today, give an unequivocal guarantee that clause 28 will not be used to bring in selection? The nub of this Bill is selection. We challenge the Minister to reassure the House and Scottish parents that selection will not be used as a means of excluding those parents. This is not real choice. Real choice is about real options. This is a major restriction of choice. We should be investing in failure, not in the kind of hypocrisy that this Bill represents.
Let me make a final point about choice. There is choice in the system at present. The Minister will always talk about the 100,000 children taking advantage, over a period of seven years, of the parents' charter to seek a school elsewhere. He does not tell us, of course, that 6·5 million children will go to Scottish schools over that period. We find that 0·02 per cent. actually have been refused the place of their choice. That is a pretty formidable record by any standard.
The second main claim that has been used in putting the Bill before the House is that opting out will improve standards. Hon. Members have referred to the work being done by the Centre for Educational Sociology in Edinburgh, which shows that comprehensive education has not only worked, but has actually equalised attainment between social classes, and increased overall attainment. It is important also to consider outputs. The Government talk about processes. What about outputs? Has the Minister read the comments of the Scottish Examination Board on the results for 1987? The board says:
Candidates' performance in 1987 was, on the whole, maintained at the pleasing level achieved in the previous year.
It refers glowingly to accounting and mathematics. Has the Minister read his own figures from the Scottish Education Department? Between 1979 and 1987 there was a 40 per cent. reduction in the number of children leaving school without qualifications, and a 38 per cent. increase in the number of children leaving with more than five highers.
More important, the Bill will do nothing to improve the chronic under-resourcing of our education system; it will do nothing to tackle the £300 million worth of outstanding repairs, modernisation and building; it will do nothing to develop a coherent, imaginative and flexible system of real parental involvement; it will do nothing to improve nursery education for the under-fives to bring us into line with our European partners; it will do nothing to encourage more young people to stay on at school after 16; it will do nothing to prevent taxpayers' money from propping up private education while the state sector is starved of resources. The debate has proved that the Government have a bankrupt policy towards education. We know that education is not safe in Conservative hands. The Government are indifferent, complacent and arrogant. Indeed, the Bill is the perfect example of how out of touch they really are.
We accept that there are always problems to be tackled in any education system. However, Labour believes that key principles, such as equal opportunity and equal access, should be the foundations. We believe that self-confidence, self-discipline and self-worth should be the qualities that children take away from the education system. We believe that those should be linked to educational attainment. But, most important of all—and the Minister should listen to these words—education should be regardless of geography, regardless of income, regardless of social class, race or religion.
We believe that educaton is a right, not a privilege. Education is the most productive investment in people, in communities and in the economy; it is not a drain on the taxpayer. Education should be shared generously, not rationed. Education should be universal and free at the point of need. It should not be based on selection, or on the market, or on privilege. For all those reasons, we shall fight the Bill in the House and in Scotland and we shall vote against it.
I take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) to the Dispatch Box. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that I might live to regret it. His remark, which I hope Hansard will record, that
We should be investing in failure
may live to haunt him for some time to come. Having listened to his speech, I understand why that might be the conclusion he would reach at the end of his argument.
I noted that the hon. Gentleman said that the Scottish education tradition had been painstakingly built up over the past 30 years. Many hon. Members have benefited from Scottish education, and they believe that it took rather longer than that.
The hon. Gentleman described the Bill as a piece of educational vandalism. If it is a piece of educational vandalism, he has put parents in the role of lager louts. None of the self-governing status provisions in the Bill will be achieved without taking into account the wishes of the parents in the schools concerned. Opposition Members have consistently failed to recognise that this legislation—unlike the school boards legislation—is permissive.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the cuts that had been made by Labour-controlled local authorities, in the main, which decided on alternative priorities. He did not mention that expenditure per pupil in Scotland has risen by nearly 40 per cent. in real terms since 1979, that pupil ratios are far better, that expenditure on books and equipment has risen by 20 per cent. in real terms and that provision for local authority current expenditure next year is set to rise by 7 per cent. on the current year. I accept that the last Labour Government did not do as well—not out of malice because of their views on education but simply because of their lack of competence in running the economy and creating the necessary wealth.
If the hon. Gentleman looks into that question, he will find that the pupil-teacher ratio has improved. When the hon. Gentleman and his friends in the Educational Institute of Scotland get together and discuss the creation of more generous terms and conditions for teachers, they will find the answer to that question. I make no bones about that.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the self-governing schools being taken out of the state sector. They will not be taken out of the state sector. They will continue to be funded by the state. They will be run by boards of management.
Another point that has not been made in the debate and that Opposition Members do not appear to have taken on board is that the Secretary of State for Scotland will provide funding on the same basis as would have been provided by the local authority. It will not be for the Secretary of State to decide the level of funding. Schools that become self-governing in local authority areas where there are high levels of expenditure will benefit proportionately more.
The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I could guarantee that children from a neighbouring area to the catchment area of a particular school—I remind him that we do not have catchment areas in Scotland—would be guaranteed a place in a self-governing school or in any other school. I am happy to give him that guarantee, but that is no thanks to him and his party. The Opposition opposed us when we introduced the parents charter in 1980 that gave to parents the right to send their children to the school of their choice. The hon. Gentleman has been at great pains in the press and elsewhere to rubbish the fact that more than 20,000 parents every year are able to exercise that choice. He has argued that, compared with the total number of parents, that number is insignificant. Once again he has misunderstood the importance of a small number of parents being able to exercise choice and discrimination within the system.
I do not make a general practice of reading the Observer Scotland at the weekend, but I saw something this weekend which I feel I should quote because it is relevant to the debate. It says:
It is rarely sensible for a Labour spokesman to question standards of teaching; it is unwise to suggest evaluation procedures which parents can actually understand; it is anathema to advocate new ways of funding education, heresy to urge greater autonomy for individual schools, and unthinkable even to whisper that bad teachers must be weeded out with all speed.
The result is an alarming lack of new thinking.
I could not have put it better myself as a summary of the speeches by Opposition Members throughout the debate. That piece was written by a man called Ian Bell, and, judging from what he said about me, he is not a Government supporter. However, I felt almost certain that he must have read the hon. Gentleman's 21-page document outlining the Labour party's proposals.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find in the Library a copy of Sunday's edition of the Observer Scotland and he will be able to read its delights for himself. I shall not take up the time of the House on it now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) drew attention to the conversion of the Labour party to school boards. I welcome that. We were very surprised to be told in November that the Labour party was very much committed to school boards, when Opposition Members had used the arguments that they used tonight against self-governing schools—saying that they were irrelevant and were not wanted in Scotland. It was not until Boxing day that we discovered why the Labour party was suddenly forced to a conversion on school boards.
On Boxing day the Educational Institute of Scotland decided to issue a press release announcing to an unsuspecting world dealing with the aftermath of their Christmas dinners that the EIS had changed its policy and was now in favour of school boards. We learnt subsequently that it had changed its policy in November and the Labour party quickly came into line. Throughout the debate we have witnessed a party which has no idea and no policy and waits to hear what the major teaching union has to say before it can work out its own position.
I was fascinated by the views of the hon. Member for Fife, Central on testing. He told us that our views on testing were inappropriate and not necessary for Scotland. I remind the House that we propose to introduce testing in primary 4 and primary 7 in English and mathematics. The hon. Gentleman is a former leader of Fife council and very proud of the record of Fife region, so hon. Members can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the education authority in Fife has testing in primary 1, primary 3, primary 5 and primary 7.
It is widely known in the best circles of Scottish education that Fife became involved in diagnostic testing. It is sick and tired of the Government's attempt to force down its throat nominative testing which bears no relationship to IQ, potential or social background, but is a recipe for league tables and selection. Yes, Fife has diagnostic testing. Why does not the Minister allow the teaching unions, the local authorities and parents to devise testing procedures which are in the interests of children and not in the interests of political policies?
Who would have thought that that was a clear statement of Labour party policy in Fife? I shall return to that in a moment.
Imagine my surprise to find that the Labour party in Central region split. The hon. Gentleman obviously does not know that it split over a proposal by Mrs. Margaret Connarty, who is described in The Scotsman on 2 March as
the teachers' representative on the education committee
and a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland. She proposed to get rid of the diagnostic testing which the hon. Gentleman has just told us he favours and the Labour group split both ways and was only saved by other
opposition members. A certain councillor Corrie McChord—one of the six angry Labour members who voted for her motion—is on record as saying:
We have already been contacted by the group whips, and it looks as if we could be subject to group discipline. I am being told by the Scottish executive, the regional party, and my constituency party, to oppose testing. Yet this happens. It's crazy.
What is the Labour party's policy on testing? Is it in favour of some types of testing, or is it opposed to all types of testing? Why is it that Fife has successfully carried out testing proposals which the hon. Gentleman knows are so much in line with our policies? There is no question of people being put in league tables. We made that clear in our original consultative document. If the hon. Gentleman is defending what happens in Fife, he is supporting what the Government are proposing.
The Minister is not listening. Does he know the difference between normative and diagnostic testing? Does he know the difference between policies aimed at children and those aimed at league tables? Fife has an excellent system. The Minister's proposals will lead to league tables and selection in the opted-out sector. They are not about children. Tell the House.
I do not know how to cope with hon. Members who will not accept assurances given in consultative papers which say that there will be no league tables and that the results will be kept confidential.
The hon. Gentleman is, however, right about one thing; there is a difference between the sort of testing which is being carried out in Fife and that which we propose. There is only one difference. It is not that there will be league tables—the information will be kept private. We propose that parents should also get to know about their children's performance. In Fife, information is not passed on to parents. Therein lies the difference between us and Opposition Members, who do not believe that parents are entitled to be involved in schools or to have information. They think that it should be left to the professionals. They are entitled to put that that point of view, but they will get short shrift.
I am sure that the Minister would not wish to mislead the House. Will he kindly withdraw his remark about Fife? I assure him that Fife regional council's teachers discuss the results of tests with parents. I know because my children have been through its schools. As he believes that diagnostic and normative testing are the same, will he give us any evidence that suggests that that is so?
If the Minister is so worried about parents being consulted, why does he not consult them about his opting-out proposals and rely on their judgment? I find it astonishing that, in this comparitively lengthy speech, he has not yet turned his attention to a defence for his principal and most controversial proposal—opting out. He has succeeded only in chasing red herrings, and conducting what sounds a little like a personal vendetta against various people in his part of Scotland. Would he like to defend what the Government are about?
I am responding to the arguments that have been made in the debate. The fact that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have not made a single argument against the proposals for self-governing schools but produced a series of scare stories about selection and other matters is a problem for him. The hon. Gentleman asks me to respond to the arguments, and I shall respond to the arguments that have been made. His first argument was that the name was wrong—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) made it clear that the Minister has misled the House. I am not saying that he did it deliberately. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy, I have two children who have gone through the Fife education system. We get results from teachers at every stage. It is not on for the Minister to make a statement and then to refuse to withdraw it. He has impugned the reputation of Fife regional council and the teachers in Fife. He should withdraw what he said, if he has any decency at all.
Hon. Gentlemen cannot complain that they do not receive answers to points of substance if they raise such points of order. I am glad that I have the hon. Gentleman's support in the view that it would be impugning the integrity of an education authority if one were to suggest that it was not providing information to parents about their children's performance in the way that the Government are planning.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) began his argument against the Bill by saying that the phrase "self-governing schools" was wrong. He suggested that we should use the term "grant-aided schools". [HON. MEMBERS: "Grant-maintained schools".] I should say "grant-maintained schools". Perhaps we avoided the term "grant-maintained schools" because we thought there might be some confusion with "grant-aided schools". [Laughter.] The Opposition Front-Bench Members may laugh about grant-aided schools. They represented a tradition of many hundreds of years of Scottish education and the Labour party destroyed them out of naked ideology. Let us not have any lectures from them about Scottish educational traditions.
The hon. Member from Garscadden also described the Paisley grammar saga as a bizarre story. That was a revealing comment because it went to the heart of his antipathy towards the Bill. He regards any option in which a school is supported by parents, as it was in Paisley, and in which people, under the parents charter, send children to the school of their choice, which allows them to frustrate the wishes of an education authority like Strathclyde, as bizarre. The Bill provides for a breaking of the monopoly of which the hon. Gentleman is so contemptuous.
The hon. Member for Garscadden said that there might be schools that wanted to take advantage of that, such as those facing closure and others that he described as being interested in snob value. There we have it. The wish to send one's child to a particular school, perhaps because it has a uniform, a tradition, a discipline or academic standards, is now to be denounced as snob value. I have news for the hon. Gentleman: there are many people throughout Scotland who wish to have the advantage of such schools, and I repudiate the thinking of the education authorities. The Bill provides an opportunity for such parental choice.
The hon. Member for Garscadden also talked about the position compared with that of schools in England.
He said that the only schools interested in opting out were those facing closure. For the record, 59 schools have been involved, 26 of which are not subject to closure. The hon. Gentleman also asked about voting and consulting the wider community. There will be an opportunity to consult the wider community. The ballot will be held and the Secretary of State will consult on the parents' views.
The most bogus threat was that the hon. Gentleman argued that opting out would mean bringing back selection. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] We already have selection in local authority schools. We have made provision for children with special needs in Knightswood.
Yes Knightswood. Knightswood is an example of a school in the hon. Gentleman's own constituency which select children who are especially talented at dance for the school of dance. Self-governing schools would create an opportunity for schools to he established to provide for particular needs.
The Bill is a radical measure. It is the most radical change in Scottish education for a generation or more, and I freely admit that. Its potential is profound and the benefits it offers are obvious to some already. In time, they will be widely recognised. The concepts are novel, but as people realise what is on offer they will realise that they have a tool with which to reshape Scottish education to the great benefit of its users.
The Bill strikes a blow for freedom of choice, for diversity and for healthy competition. It promotes selection of the best kind—that is self-selection. We want to see parents and pupils selecting schools. That is the real issue, not whether schools can select pupils. It is no longer good enough that parents should have schools selected for them. It is no longer good enough that most parents have only one kind of school from which to choose. Uniformity breeds complacency and apathy.
Nobody has a monopoly of educational wisdom, so nobody should have a monopoly of provision. The Bill is designed to promote excellence. Equal opportunity must mean equal opportunity to excel. I commend the Bill to the House.
|Division No. 116]||[9.59 pm|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Fallon, Michael|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Favell, Tony|
|Amess, David||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Amos, Alan||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Arbuthnot, James||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Forman, Nigel|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Atkins, Robert||Forth, Eric|
|Baldry, Tony||Franks, Cecil|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Frseman, Roger|
|Batiste, Spencer||French, Douglas|
|Bendall, Vivian||Fry, Peter|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Gale, Roger|
|Benyon, W||Gardiner, George|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Gill, Christopher|
|Body, Sir Richard||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Boswell, Tim||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Bottomley, Peter||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Gregory, Conal|
|Bowis, John||Grist, Ian|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Grylls, Michael|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Brazier, Julian||Hague, William|
|Bright, Graham||Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hannam, John|
|Burns, Simon||Hargreaves, A (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Burt, Alistair||Harris, David|
|Butcher, John||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Butler, Chris||Hayes, Jerry|
|Butterfill, John||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hayward, Robert|
|Carrington, Matthew||Heddle, John|
|Carttiss, Michael||Heseltme, Rt Hon Michael|
|Cash, William||Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)|
|Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda||Hind, Kenneth|
|Chope, Christopher||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Churchill, Mr||Holt, Richard|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Clark, Sir W (Croydon S)||Howarth, G (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Colvin, Michael||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Conway, Derek||Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Cran, James||Hunter, Andrew|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Curry, David||Irvine, Michael|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Irving, Charles|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Jack, Michael|
|Day, Stephen||Janman, Tim|
|Devlin, Tim||Jessel, Toby|
|Dicks, Terry||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Dover, Den||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Dunn, Bob||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Durant, Tony||Key, Robert|
|Emery, Sir Peter||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Evennett, David||Knapman, Roger|
|Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Knowles, Michael||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Knox, David||Speed, Keith|
|Lang, Ian||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Latham, Michael||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Squire, Robin|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Lightbown, David||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Lilley, Peter||Steen, Anthony|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Stern, Michael|
|Lord, Michael||Stevens, Lewis|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|McCrindle, Robert||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Macfarlane, Sir Neil||Stokes, Sir John|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael||Sumberg, David|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Summerson, Hugo|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Malins, Humfrey||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Mans, Keith||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Maples, John||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Marland, Paul||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Thurnham, Peter|
|May hew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Tracey, Richard|
|Mellor, David||Tredinnick, David|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Trippier, David|
|Moynihan, Hon Colin||Trotter, Neville|
|Neale, Gerrard||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Norris, Steve||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Pawsey, James||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Riddick, Graham||Walden, George|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Waller, Gary|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Ward, John|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Rost, Peter||Wells, Bowen|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Whitney, Ray|
|Ryder, Richard||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Sackville, Hon Tom||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Sainsbury, Hon Tim||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Scott, Nicholas||Wolfson, Mark|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Wood, Timothy|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Yeo, Tim|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Shersby, Michael||Mr. David Maclean and Mr. Sydney Chapman.|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Buchan, Norman|
|Allen, Graham||Buckley, George J.|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Caborn, Richard|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Callaghan, Jim|
|Ashton, Joe||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)|
|Barron, Kevin||Campbell-Savours, D. N.|
|Battle, John||Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)|
|Beckett, Margaret||Clark, Dr David (S Shields)|
|Bell, Stuart||Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Clay, Bob|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nfn & R'dish)||Clelland, David|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cohen, Harry|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Coleman, Donald|
|Blair, Tony||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Boateng, Paul||Corbett, Robin|
|Boyes, Roland||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Bradley, Keith||Cousins, Jim|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Crowther, Stan|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Cryer, Bob|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Cummings, John|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Macdonald, Calum A.|
|Dalyell, Tarn||McFall, John|
|Darling, Alistair||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||McKelvey, William|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||McLeish, Henry|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Dewar, Donald||McNamara, Kevin|
|Dixon, Don||McTaggart, Bob|
|Dobson, Frank||McWilliam, John|
|Doran, Frank||Madden, Max|
|Douglas, Dick||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)|
|Eadie, Alexander||Martlew, Eric|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Maxton, John|
|Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)||Meacher, Michael|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)||Meale, Alan|
|Fatchett, Derek||Michael, Alun|
|Fearn, Ronald||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Fisher, Mark||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Flannery, Martin||Morley, Elliott|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Foster, Derek||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Foulkes, George||Mullin, Chris|
|Fraser, John||Murphy, Paul|
|Fyfe, Maria||Nellist, Dave|
|Galbraith, Sam||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Galloway, George||O'Brien, William|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|George, Bruce||Patchett, Terry|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Pendry, Tom|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Pike, Peter L.|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Gordon, Mildred||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Gould, Bryan||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Graham, Thomas||Reid, Dr John|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Richardson, Jo|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Robertson, George|
|Grocott, Bruce||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Hardy, Peter||Rogers, Allan|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Rooker, Jeff|
|Haynes, Frank||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Rowlands, Ted|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Ruddock, Joan|
|Henderson, Doug||Salmond, Alex|
|Hinchliffe, David||Sheerman, Barry|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Holland, Stuart||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Home Robertson, John||Short, Clare|
|Hood, Jimmy||Sillars, Jim|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Howells, Kim (Pontypridd)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Snape, Peter|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Soley, Clive|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Illsley, Eric||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Ingram, Adam||Stott, Roger|
|Janner, Greville||Strang, Gavin|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Straw, Jack|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Kennedy, Charles||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Turner, Dennis|
|Lamond, James||Vaz, Keith|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Wall, Pat|
|Lewis, Terry||Wallace, James|
|Litherland, Robert||Walley, Joan|
|Livsey, Richard||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Wigley, Dafydd|
|McAllion, John||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Wilson, Brian|
|McCartney, Ian||Winnick, David|
|Wise, Mrs Audrey||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Wray, Jimmy||Mr. Ken Eastham and Mr. Frank Cook.|