Section 1 — Duty of Scottish Ministers and of education authorities to promote involvement of parents in school education etc.

Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:37 pm on 10th May 2006.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 2:37 pm, 10th May 2006

Group 1 relates to parental involvement in pre-school education. Amendment 7, in the name of the Deputy Minister for Education and Young People, is grouped with amendments 8, 27, 12, 14, 15 and 19.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

The Executive amendments in this group are of one purpose: they seek to recognise the importance of involving the parents of children in pre-school education in a way that is proportionate and appropriate to the overall focus and aim of the bill.

The Education Committee took an interest in the area covered by this first group of amendments, when amendment 47 was agreed to at stage 2. That amendment extended the duty on Scottish ministers to promote parental involvement to cover the parents of children who attend pre-school publicly funded nurseries. I am grateful to Fiona Hyslop for raising the issue. We have considered it very carefully and feel that amendment 47 took the wrong approach. This is not really a matter for the Executive; arrangements that are much more local are required. Accordingly, amendment 7 now asks the Parliament, in effect, to take back amendment 47.

Similarly, the Executive will today ask colleagues in the Parliament to reject Fiona Hyslop's amendment 27, which seeks to take things a stage further and extend the duty to education authorities. In fairness, the new amendment 27 is much more relevant than the previous amendment 47, but we still feel that what it proposes is not the right way to proceed. It does not reflect what happens on the ground.

We are committed to joining up early years and primary school education to ensure that all children transfer smoothly from one sector to the other. To achieve that effectively, we must use the methods that are right for each sector. The bill has been designed with school education in mind and we do not believe that it is necessary to apply all the bill's provisions to the early years sector. They would not always be appropriate.

Parental involvement is already a significant feature of pre-school education—probably more so then than in the later stages of school—in that parents have strong and, in most cases, daily contact with the staff who are working with their children. The opportunity for parents to engage in their children's learning and to keep in touch with their children's development is much greater at this stage of education than it is later on. We therefore do not want the bill's provisions to be applied indiscriminately to pre-school provision.

However, we recognise the importance of contact between the primary and pre-school sectors. Therefore, we have lodged Executive amendment 14 to help to develop closer ties between primary schools and pre-school centres. Amendment 14 seeks to add to the functions of parent councils the promotion of contact between school parent forums and providers of nursery school education. That will build on the provision that the bill makes for councils to promote contact with parents of prospective pupils of a school. Amendment 14 is a useful amendment that reacts to the concerns that were expressed by Fiona Hyslop and the rest of the Education Committee.

The definition that we have used in the context of promoting contact is broader than that proposed by Fiona Hyslop because it includes the independent and voluntary sectors. I would argue that the promotion of contact between parents at local level is a more direct and beneficial way of promoting parental involvement than the approach that Fiona Hyslop advocated at stage 2 and the one that she proposes in amendment 27.

The approach that we are taking will be supported by statutory guidance. We will issue guidance to education authorities on the development of strategies for parental involvement. That will highlight the need for education authorities to consult early years providers when developing those strategies and to support parent councils in their promotion of contact with those providers.

In addition, the Executive already provides statutory guidance on the delivery of pre-school education that local authorities must take account of in meeting their legal duty to provide such education. That guidance is due to be redrafted, and we will take that opportunity to reflect the bill's provisions on the need to involve parents in pre-school education and to help them to support their children in the transition to primary school.

Ministers also issue care standards, which require early years education providers to work in partnership with parents. We will consider whether those standards need to be strengthened in the light of the bill. Similarly, we want to explore the scope that inspections offer to encourage promotion of parental involvement in the early years. The strong package of measures that is already in place, together with the new provisions on promoting contact between parents and providers that are contained in amendment 14, will create the proper balance and focus.

Amendments 12, 15 and 19 are consequential to the approach that I have outlined. They will ensure that parent councils notify interested parties of their function of promoting contact with providers of nursery education. I ask members to support amendment 7 and to resist amendment 27. I hope that Fiona Hyslop will recognise that we have responded appropriately and properly to the point that she made at stage 2 by not moving amendment 27.

I move amendment 7.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I will focus my remarks on amendments 7, 27 and 14. I am pleased that the Executive has responded to the Education Committee's demands that early years education be addressed. The Executive has proposed a three to 18 curriculum. Three-year-olds and four-year-olds attend nursery education that is provided by the state. There will be an anomaly in the bill unless we accept the arguments of the Scottish National Party and the committee on the need to address early years education.

A parent of a child who attends a nursery that is associated with a primary school will be encouraged by ministers and the local council to become involved in their child's education, but a parent of a three-year-old or a four-year-old who is in a standalone council nursery school will not receive such encouragement. There will be an imbalance in the bill unless members support amendment 27 and reject amendments 7 and 8.

We recognise that early intervention and support and early years education can allow youngsters to make a great start, but we know that the transition from nursery school to primary 1 can be highly problematic. If we acknowledge that parental involvement is a key factor in successful attainment for youngsters, it is important that we support such involvement. That is why, both for continuity purposes and so that there is equity in the rights of parents across the sector, it is vital that parental involvement in the education of three-year-olds and four-year-olds is recognised.

The effect of amendment 7 would be that Scottish ministers would have no duty to promote parental involvement in early years education. That is a highly questionable proposal, especially when the committee decided unanimously that the Executive should be responsible for promoting parental involvement in the education of children who attend publicly funded nursery schools. Amendment 27 is about imposing on councils a responsibility to promote parental involvement.

I have no problems with amendment 14. I am pleased that the minister has suggested that contact with the providers of nursery education should be promoted, but why is he happy to give the responsibility for establishing such contact to parent councils and parent forums when he is shirking his responsibility—and allowing councils to shirk their responsibility—to promote parental involvement? The two things are not mutually exclusive. We can build into the bill a recognition that early years education is a key factor in education and that parental involvement should be encouraged at all levels, and not only by the local authority.

I urge the chamber to reject amendments 7 and 8 and to support amendment 27, which would ensure that councils also have a responsibility in this area. I am pleased to support the minister on amendment 14, which provides for a useful arrangement for the promotion of parental involvement at the local level. We should not forget the big picture: the Executive should not be let off the hook, but should ensure that local authorities have a duty to promote parental involvement in early years education.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 2:45 pm, 10th May 2006

I support the case that Fiona Hyslop has just made. The minister has lodged a number of extremely useful amendments on parental involvement in pre-school education and we will support his amendments 12, 14, 15 and 19. Amendments 12 and 14 will give the parent council the function of promoting contact between primary schools and nurseries. We support and welcome that aim.

Unfortunately, the minister also lodged amendments 7 and 8 to delete provisions that place a duty on Scottish ministers to promote parental involvement in nursery schools. We do not support those amendments. The early years of a child's development are pivotal to his or her future development and we believe that ministers and parent councils should promote parental involvement in nursery schools.

We will support Fiona Hyslop's amendment 27, which provides for a duty on local authorities to promote the involvement of parents of children who attend local authority nursery schools. We urge the chamber to support amendment 27 for the reasons that I have set out.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

If the bill is to reach beyond changing the structure of parental representation to encouraging the greater participation of parents in their children's learning, we will need to achieve a culture change in parental attitudes. That can best be effected by building parental involvement from early on. We should start with the parents of children in early years child care and education settings and continue with the parents of children in primary and secondary school years.

I welcome the concessions that the minister has made to the committee following the debates at stage 2 in adding contact with parents of pre-school children to the functions of parent councils, which Fiona Hyslop mentioned. However, the provision is considerably weaker than one that would place a duty on education authorities to promote the involvement of parents of prospective pupils. Surely education authorities are better placed and resourced to make contact with and inform such parents than parent councils would be. Fiona Hyslop's amendment 27 strengthens the Executive's amendment 14 and I urge the chamber to support it.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I speak in support of the minister's approach, which reflects the concerns that the committee raised on the need for parents of pre-school children to become more involved in their children's education. The problem with the way in which the committee amended the bill at stage 2 is that parents of children at publicly funded nursery schools, which are only one form of pre-school education, would be treated differently.

Obviously, in some local authority areas, large numbers of pupils are in school nursery classes, and I assume that their parents will be able to get involved in the parent forum for that school. We also have publicly funded nursery schools that disperse children to a number of primary schools and, in rural areas in particular, agreements are in place with the private and voluntary sectors for the delivery of pre-school provision. Amendment 27 will not encourage the parents of pupils in publicly funded nursery schools to become involved in the same way that other parents will be involved.

It is difficult to find a form of words that encompasses the parents of pupils in all the different forms of pre-school education, but the solution that the ministers have gone for is the most appropriate one.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I have listened with some care to the points that have been made in the debate. With great respect, the approach that has been taken was a little superficial, as it does not recognise the breadth of vision that is contained in the bill, the guidance that I spoke about earlier and the surrounding framework of educational structures.

I will make three points in reply to the debate. First, as Elaine Murray rightly mentioned, there is a relative narrowness in the definition that was used in the committee's original stage 2 amendment and in the amendment that Fiona Hyslop lodged for debate today. In the Executive amendments in the group, the situation is dealt with on a wider and more sophisticated basis.

Secondly, the Executive bows to no one in its support for early years education and input. We have done more than any Government before us to advance the cause of provision for early years education, which is at the heart of the approach that we are taking.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

If that is so, why did the bill as introduced make no mention of nurseries?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

The bill takes a structural approach and its objective is parental involvement. I have made it clear that, as part of the guidance that will be associated with the bill, a toolkit for effective, practical and non-bureaucratic involvement with nurseries and other pre-school providers will have prominence.

I accept the point that was made about three to 18 structures.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

If the Executive's amendments are not agreed to, what sanctions will the Executive be able to deploy against parents who do not become involved when their children are at the pre-school stage?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

It is not a question of sanctions; it is a question of there being a much more positive and dynamic approach to encouraging, enthusing and supporting parents in their involvement in the education of their children.

That brings me to an important point. We heard no detail about how the supporters of Fiona Hyslop's amendment 27 and the people who supported amendment 47 at stage 2 think that placing the suggested duty on the Scottish Executive or on local authorities will make a difference and add value to how parental involvement is talked about and operated in a way that goes beyond the Executive's proposed approach. Amendment 27 would merely tinker with the arrangements and misses the point about the centrality of involvement in early years education in the bill and the proposed guidance.

I do not want to lose sight of the consensual point. Members of all parties are concerned about the matter and accept the importance of links between primary schools in particular and the early years sector. The important point is how those links are made through an approach that is as non-bureaucratic as possible and which recognises the varied provision in the pre-school sector and addresses that effectively in a way that adds value to the overall position. We should not lose sight of those points in this slightly party-political debate. In that context I sustain the position I set out in my opening remarks and ask members to support amendment 7 and to disagree to amendment 27.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The question is, that amendment 7 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

There will be a division. As this is the first division, there will be a five-minute suspension.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Division number 1

For: Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinburne, John, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Frances, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Tosh, Murray, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The result of the division is: For 68, Against 38, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 7 agreed to.

Amendment 8 moved—[Robert Brown].

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The question is, that amendment 8 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 2

For: Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinburne, John, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Frances, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Tosh, Murray, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The result of the division is: For 68, Against 38, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 8 agreed to.

Amendment 27 moved—[Fiona Hyslop].

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 3:00 pm, 10th May 2006

The question is, that amendment 27, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 3

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Frances, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Tosh, Murray, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinburne, John, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The result of the division is: For 38, Against 68, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 27 disagreed to.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Group 2 is on a national parents forum. Amendment 1, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, is the only amendment in the group.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Amendment 1 is fairly straightforward. It recognises that there will be a national parents forum to represent the views of parents, and it proposes that should be the duty of ministers to consult that forum. Section 1 is a high- level, strategic element of the bill and sets out the duties of ministers. It is the appropriate place to recognise that there will be a national parents forum. When a similar amendment was lodged at stage 2, the Education Committee was split 4:4, and the convener's casting vote led to its being disagreed to. I hope that the Executive has had time to reflect on the appropriateness of recognising that there will be a national parents forum and that it is willing to support the amendment.

When the committee took evidence at stage 1, it was struck by the need for a national body. I pay tribute to the work of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and the Scottish School Board Association, which have represented the views of parents very well and have been influential in the progress of the bill, adding their opinion about what would be appropriate.

We do not want to be prescriptive about the bill, nor do we want the minister to have a statutory responsibility for establishing a national parents forum. Since the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 was passed, we have had to be increasingly careful about the bodies that ministers establish under the law. In this case, were the ministers to establish a national representative body for parents, that body would not necessarily attract charitable status. A national parent organisation such as the Scottish Parent Teacher Council can raise charitable funds without being taxed in a way that affects the organisation adversely. That is one of the reasons why we agree with the minister. The national parents forum should not be established by the ministers. However, if the bill stipulates that ministers should consult any national body that is established at the grass roots by the parent forums and parent councils, that would be one way of ensuring that such a national body is recognised.

The Parliament could send the signal that it is in favour of such a national body being representative of grass-roots organisations in schools and communities throughout Scotland. That would also be a signal that we do not want to follow the Scottish Consumer Council's model, which would provide for an Ofcom for parents. Amendment 1 is simple; in that spirit, I hope that the Executive has had more time to consider the issue and that it will be able to support the amendment.

I move amendment 1.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Amendment 1 creates a duty on Scottish ministers to consult a national parents organisation as part of their actions to promote parental involvement. That is very much in keeping with the Conservatives' view that parents and their representatives should have a substantial input to the system. We believe that parents, not the Government, should shape the way in which the system works. The amendment is therefore worthy of our support.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

As Fiona Hyslop mentioned, there was no majority in favour of the proposal in amendment 1 when it came before the Education Committee at stage 2. Therefore, I exercised a casting vote in the time-honoured way in which a convener should. It is not necessary to have in the bill the provisions contained in amendment 1. I cannot envisage any circumstance in which an education minister would not consult a national body that was set up by parent forums or parent councils. However, there is a danger that, if we put a duty to do so in the bill, that could allow ministers to claim that they had discharged their duty to consult parents simply by consulting the national body.

We should not be prescriptive about the sort of body parents that may wish to set up, as they may not wish to set up a national body or may wish to set up regional bodies. However, if we were to agree to amendment 1, we might be prescribing to parents how they should set up representative bodies for themselves.

Amendment 1 is not necessary and may be unhelpful at this stage.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

In the stage 2 debate on a similar amendment, the minister accepted the need to establish

"a strong national body to represent parents' interests".—[Official Report, Education Committee, Wednesday 29 March 2006; c 3121.]

He also accepted that such a body would be a key consultee on education matters, but denied that making such provision in the bill would add anything.

The minister also asked why the body should be singled out as a consultee above trade union and other interests. It seems fairly obvious to me why the bill should mention a national parents body. After all, it is a parental involvement bill. It aims to widen and deepen parental involvement in schools and in the development of education policy, so it is entirely appropriate that special mention should be made of the role of a national parents body. Indeed, the failure to make such a reference would surely be a serious omission from the bill—in some eyes, it would be a fundamental flaw.

I urge Parliament to agree to amendment 1.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

Although I agree that it is essential that ministers consult any national parents body, the new subsection that amendment 1 proposes could have an unintended consequence. Would every bill that went through the Parliament in future need to specify who would have to be consulted? If so, would ministers need to bother to consult any agency other than those that were specified in statute?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I agree entirely with the comments that Iain Smith and Elaine Murray made; they hit the nail right on the head. There is no argument about the fact that ministers consult, and will continue to consult, national parents organisations—and, indeed, many other bodies—in connection with education issues.

A statutory duty is a significant matter, and when we legislate, we should be careful to ensure that additional duties add value to what we are trying to enshrine in legislation. The Executive has made it clear that it is fully supportive of the principle of establishing a strong national body, but it is not up to us to determine the format of that body. The body must be led by local parents, in that it must emanate from parents groups throughout Scotland and build on the foundation that has been laid by the existing national bodies.

However, that is different from saying that there should be a statutory duty on ministers to consult such a body. The issue is what would happen if there was no such statutory duty, and the reality is that consultation would take place. Therefore, amendment 1 would add nothing to the way in which consultation will operate. We are arguing about nothing of substance. The central point is that we envisage that, once the bill has been passed and the implementation arrangements have begun, a new national body will emerge. That body will be parent led, not led by the Executive, and ministers will consult the body, as has always been the practice.

On Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's comments, it is worth noting that the legislation that set up school boards does not contain any such obligation. Lord James might even have been involved in that legislation as a minister, so there is a dichotomy in the arguments that he advances. It has not been the normal arrangement to have such details in bills, although I accept that there are exceptions.

I ask the Parliament to reject Fiona Hyslop's amendment 1.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I ask the minister to read the amendment, which refers to

"any national parents' organisation established by Parent Forums or Parent Councils".

That is precisely because we want the organisation to be led by people at the grass roots. Perhaps one of the reasons why the Scottish School Board Association has not been able to exercise the powers that it could have exercised is that they were not originally legislated for. The minister's arguments are defeated in that regard.

At stage 1, we identified that one of the biggest holes in the bill was the lack of a reference to a national body for parents. I suspect that the only reason why that cannot be included in the bill is that to do so would mean that the body would not attract charitable status. That is an anomaly, which deserves recognition. It is important that ministers have duties and responsibilities to consult parents under a parental involvement bill.

In response to Elaine Murray, I point out that we pass legislation all the time that says which organisations ministers have a duty to consult. Jim Wallace made such a proposal in the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Bill, specifically saying that students should be consulted on the introduction of variable fees. Yet, having consulted students, the Executive will tomorrow propose legislation to introduce variable top-up fees in Scotland. I am sorry to say that, despite such a provision to consult, the Executive has disregarded the views of students.

The principle is the same, however. In other pieces of legislation, there are duties on ministers to consult different organisations. The effect of amendment 1 is simply that it would recognise the importance of a national body for parents, which is what parents told us they need.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we all agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 4

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Margo, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Swinburne, John, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 36, Against 62, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 1 disagreed to.