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Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : I am sorry that I was not here at 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?
Mr. Stewart : 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.
Mr. Buchan rose --
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
Column 654council 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.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : 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
Column 655have had the grace to allow the Secretary of State at least the illusion that he is the motivater, supporter and promoter of the Bill.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Forsyth) : For the sake of accuracy in the record, I said nothing. Mright 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?
Mr. Bruce : 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.
Column 656I 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.
Mr. Michael Forsyth rose
Mr. Bruce : 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
Column 657opted 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 of just 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 take 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
Column 658wishing 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 over 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 I 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.
Mr. Harry Ewing : 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.
Mr. Bruce : 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
Column 659from 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.
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : 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
Column 660improving 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
Column 661appreciate 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 be weakened.
Column 662I 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.
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
Column 663sector 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
Column 664was 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.
Mr. Allan Stewart : 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.
Mr. Ewing : 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.
Mr. Stewart rose --
Mr. Ewing : 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.
Mr. Stewart : 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.
The Bill's detailed proposals are dangerous because of the divisions that they will create in the Scottish education
Column 665system. 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.
Mr. Stewart indicated dissent.
Mr. Ewing : 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.
Mr. Ewing : 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.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Falkirk, Eest (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
Column 667manifest 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.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : 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.