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Mr. Channon : The House will form its own judgment of the merits or otherwise of the hon. Gentleman's latter comments. Until I heard his comments, I would have said that the hon. Gentleman was not making party political points, but I am not sure about whether to say that now.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Mr. Hall's article. I understand what he is saying. He alleges that the
Column 617investment may have been adequate but that the running expenses are not. I answered that earlier when replying to a question about the increase in resources that have been available to Network SouthEast in the last three years. When the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will find that I gave a full answer to that point-- [Interruption.] I clearly understood that, but whether the hon. Gentleman does must remain open to doubt.
I was asked about making a statement on the Glasgow accident. We shall consider the matter and decide upon the most appropriate course.
Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to register my protest that sufficient information about the Scottish rail accident is not available to make a report to the House. [Interruption.] There is no point in Conservative Members moaning. The tragic accident at Lockerbie happened in a much more remote area than Glasgow. From my recollection, it took place at 7.15 and within two and three quarter hours the House was suspended so that a Minister could make a statement at 10 o'clock. It is simply unacceptable that an accident which took place in Glasgow before 1 o'clock today cannot be reported on by Ministers at 18 minutes past 4 in the afternoon. One cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that Ministers are evading their responsibilities in relation to this Scottish accident.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : I must put the record straight. After the Lockerbie disaster, I made a business statement at 10 o'clock to the effect that a statement would be made the following day. The hon. Gentleman is wide of the mark.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. I am sure that I voice the feelings of the whole House when I express sympathy to those who have been injured and to the relatives of those who have been killed in both accidents, especially as one of them was close to my constituency in Croydon.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the escalating international crisis arising from the publication of the book The Satanic Verses'."
My application is clearly specific because an international crisis has been provoked by the publication of the book.
The matter is important. Cardinal Hume and the Chief Rabbi this weekend joined the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Foreign Secretary in issuing statements about the international crisis. Representatives of Moslem and non-Moslem organisations overseas, the Archbishop of Canterbury, several bishops and a thousand writers from around the world have also issued statements on this escalating crisis. The media, both newspaper and broadcasting, have been pre-occupied by comments and events concerned with the publication of the book. Demonstrations have taken place in a number of places, including Blackburn, Oldham, Bradford and London. Over last weekend there were others in Halifax, Nottingham, Sheffield, Derby and Keighley. Overseas there have been a number of protest demonstrations in which, unfortunately, scores of people have died and hundreds have been injured. More demonstrations are planned. More than 50 Members of Parliament, of all political parties, have signed early-day motions noting the offence caused to many Moslems by the publication of "The Satanic Verses".
This matter is urgent. Tomorrow Iran is expected to end all links with Britain. On Sunday the Foreign Ministers of more than 40 Islamic countries meet. They are expected to take decisions that will have important repercussions for the non-Islamic world, especially Britain. I believe that those repercussions will be social, political and commercial.
It is imperative that the House of Commons is allowed to discuss all the issues surrounding the publication of "The Satanic Verses." That would allow all hon. Members to speak on behalf of their constituents, Moslem and non-Moslem, the Government to give the House reports as to what actions they have taken, the House to be told the current views of the Executive on this escalating, international crisis and the Government to receive views and suggestions from hon. Members as to how this dangerous and difficult crisis can be brought to an end.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the escalating international crisis arising from the publication of the book The Satanic Verses' ".
As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 20, I have to take into account the requirements of the order and announce my decision without giving reasons. I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said, but I regret that the matter that he has raised does not meet the requirements of the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the action of the Home Office in regard to the investigations into the Leicestershire constabulary".
A year or so ago, Colin Pitchfork was jailed for life for the brutal murder of two Leicestershire teenagers. Two weeks ago, an American best-selling author and former policeman, Joseph Wambaugh, published an account of the killings and the police investigation entitled "The Blooding". It was clear from the account in the book and the credits given by the author that persons, possibly police officers, were involved in divulging confidential information to the author. This information was never published by the police, it caused great distress to the parents of one of the children, and it raised crucial questions concerning the conduct of senior police officers. Three investigations into this case have already started. The first was launched by the complaints department in Leicestershire, and this was superseded by an investigation by Mr. Don Dovaston, the deputy chief constable of Derbyshire. Last Friday it was confirmed that the Police Complaints Authority would supervise the inquiry. Last week the matter was raised by a senior police officer during the annual visit of the inspectorate.
During the past month, the head of the CID, one of the officers named in the book's credits, has been moved from his position, as has his deputy. Both have many decades of service, and were highly regarded by fellow officers. The chief constable has now announced his retirement, the deputy chief constable has asked to leave to become the chief constable of Suffolk, and one assistant chief constable is being questioned about this inquiry. The situation is rapidly becoming farcical, and with constant and bizarre developments it is more akin to a soap opera than to the workings of a respected constabulary of police.
Column 620The officers of the Leicestershire police force are among the finest in the country, but morale is low, as has been revealed by letters sent to me from senior officers. It is vital that the public knows the current status of the various investigations and the stages that have been reached. We need an estimate from the Home Secretary as to when these investigations will be concluded. The Home Secretary must give the House an assurance that the results of the investigations will be published. Nothing less will reassure the public and restore morale. It is of the highest importance that confidential information given to police officers in trust should not be given to best-selling authors for material gain. If senior officers were entertained by or entertained Mr. Wambaugh, the public has a right to know, especially at a time when the chief constable has asked for more police officers because of pressure of work. I ask that leave be given to adjourn the House so that we can discuss fully the recent and serious developments in the investigation of the Leicestershire constabulary.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the action of the Home Office in regard to the investigations into the Leicestershire constabulary".
I listened with care to what the hon. Gentleman said about this matter, but I regret that I have to give him the same answer that I gave the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). The matters raised do not meet the requirements of the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I listened with interest to the second application under Standing Order No. 20, and I wish to put the record straight about the chief constable of Leicester. The present chief constable is seeking the permission of the police committee, which I understand is meeting today, to move to another job, with the British Transport police. Therefore, it is not strictly correct to say that he is retiring.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that last week, possibly on Thursday, you were rudely assailed on many occasions by Opposition Scottish Members during Scottish Question Time because English Members wished to ask questions. Today, six out of the first 11 questions on the Order Paper were tabled by Scottish Members, of whom four did not turn up to ask their questions.
Would it not be in everybody's interest to avoid the unseemly behaviour directed towards you, Mr. Speaker? All the questions tabled by Scottish Members today, as with my question to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, could have been automatically transferred elsewhere--in this case to the Scottish Office, to be answered at Scottish Question Time--so that all of us representing English constituencies could get in more often.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We would be happy--I am sure that I speak for all Scottish Opposition Members--if the House would leave all the proceedings on the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill to the individual votes of Scottish Members.
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.
Column 623strength 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?
Mr. Rifkind : 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.
Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) : 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.
Mr. Rifkind : 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
Column 624profound 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.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : 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.
Mr. Rifkind : 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.
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.
Column 625That 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.
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--
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.
Mr. Douglas : 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.
Mr. Rifkind : 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. Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central) : 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
Column 626raising 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.
Mr. Rifkind : 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.
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : 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?
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.
Column 627Darling), 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.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Will the Secretary of State clarify what he means by a reasonable number of years? Is he setting a time limit? Does he envisage his successor using powers which the right hon. and learned Gentleman may leave behind precisely for that purpose?
Mr. Rifkind : 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.
Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : 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.
Mr. Rifkind : 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.
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
Column 628using 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.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : 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.
Mr. Rifkind : 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.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : 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
Column 629a period of up to seven years, given that the Bill is meant to ensure that the school is an extension of the local community?
Mr. Rifkind : 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.
Mr. Harry Ewing : Will the Secretary of State give one or two examples of the "wider community"? What special interest will such representatives have in the Raploch primary school in Stirling, for example?