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The Government cannot complain about the fact that elected representatives of the Scottish majority are using every means at their disposal to prevent the disruption of our children's education. This matter is far too important to be left to the unfettered malice of the hon. Member for Stirling. That is the only way of describing the legislation. It was not in the Conservative manifesto. I suppose that, by some convoluted logic, the Conservatives could say that, because it was not in their manifesto and because they were resoundingly defeated in Scotland on that manifesto, they were entitled to legislate in that way. That is the way in which those people operate. There can be no justification for this imposition on our people.
Column 269Opting out seems to be the Bill's theme. We know that the hon. Member for Stirling has already in a sense opted out with his family. I understand that members of his family are being educated at a private school in my constituency.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : As someone who was educated in a private school in England, does the hon. Gentleman take the view that his parents thought that its purpose was to disrupt his education or that it was to obtain it?
Mr. Home Robertson : I doubt whether it is relevant to the timetable motion. What I and my constituents hear about most is how my children and my constituents' children will be educated in Scotland. That is the serious issue to which the House should address itself, and which it clearly is not addressing.
Those of us who want the Scottish education system to develop on the well- proven pattern of partnership between teachers, parents and local authorities--and, until comparatively recently, the Scottish Education Department--want that system to continue to flourish. We deplore the fact that the Under-Secretary of State responsible for the Scottish education department seems to be more interested in playing a politically motivated cat-and-mouse game with education in Scotland. His objective appears to be to foster constant friction between parents, the teaching professions and local education authorities. He is trying to foster highly motivated cliques seeking to indulge in prejudices of one kind or another and to impose them on school boards in the opting-out procedure.
If the Bill is another outrageous imposition on our children, the Committee which is supposed to scrutinise it is a travesty, as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has confirmed by his intervention. In the last Session the hon. Members for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) and for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Maclean) were brought in to top up the Standing Committee on the Bill to regenerate private landlordism in Scotland. The Government amended Standing Orders exactly one year ago tonight to make it possible to pack Scottish Standing Committees with impunity. That is what has happened to this Standing Committee. Significantly--the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) skated over this point--although the Government have been prepared to set up any number of Committees to impose alien legislation on Scotland, the one body which they will not set up and on which the hon. Member for Tayside, North is not prepared to serve is a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs to scrutinise the work of the Scottish Office. The Government want it both ways.
The Standing Committee is plainly not composed in a way that is conducive to proper consideration of a Scottish Bill. For a start, the party that got just 24 per cent. of the votes in Scotland--I suspect that it would be below 20 per cent. by now--has about 60 per cent. of the seats on the Committee. Conservative Members are over-represented by a factor of three. They have an overall majority of four in a Committee of 22.
Obviously there are not enough Scottish Tories to man the Committee, so it has been packed with people who would be regarded anywhere in Scotland as complete
Column 270aliens. These people are not just Tories ; they are hard-line Thatcher freaks. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) is happy to accept that accolade. As well as the hon. Gentleman there are the hon. Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), for Brigg and Cleethorpes, for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine), for Hexham (Mr. Amos) and for Penrith and The Border- -six English Tory Members.
Do any of them have children at schools in Scotland? Do any of them have constituents at local authority schools? [Hon. Members : "No, at Fettes."] Fettes, perhaps. We have already established that the Under- Secretary has children at a private school in my constituency, but we shall skate over that. It is a travesty that these people should determine the future of education for my children and those of my hon. Friends. It is highly offensive to the nation of Scotland that a Committee constituted in this way should determine policy on the future of education for our children and exclude those of us with a direct interest in these matters.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : Would my hon. Friend believe that, early in the proceedings of the Committee, the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) informed us that his qualification for serving on the Committee was that he was the son of a border farmer's daughter?
Mr. Home Robertson : That sounds rather convoluted. Perhaps it will give the House some idea of the level of debate that took place in Committee. It is self-evident that these people cannot contribute anything significant.
The Committee was not designed to consider a Scottish education Bill. It was deliberately selected to force any measure on to the statute book and to provoke the maximum outrage in the process. Clearly it is succeeding only too well on both counts.
Like a number of my hon. Friends who have spoken I have sat in on some of the debates and watched the work being put in by my hon. Friends who are members of the Standing Committee. I pay tribute to their hard work and dogged determination in the face of provocation of the kind that we have heard tonight. I have every sympathy with my hon. Friends, having endured similar treatment on the poll tax Bill Committee, the Housing (Scotland) Bill Committee and many others. One of the most sickening aspects of this business is the highly effective management of the news coverage applied by the Scottish Office and its press officers, one of whom--Alex Paget, I think--went on to work as press officer for the Conservative party in Scotland until he recognised that he was on a hiding to nothing and jacked that in, too.
The Conservative party, the Government and Scottish Office civil servants know that they are on impossible ground when it comes to the substance of the Bill, so, in accordance with the worst traditions of opting out in the school playground, they side-step the issues and go for the personalities. As we have heard this evening, their line is that Opposition Members are doing a bad job because they are having no impact on the Bill. How could they have any impact on the Bill when they are outnumbered on the Committee and when the Government have built in a majority of apparatchiks like the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes to ensure that anything that they want to
Column 271put through goes through on the nod? That is a spurious and unreasonable argument for the Scottish Office press office to advance.
Several Lobby correspondents faithfully churn out the Scottish Office line and produce knocking copy against the majority opposition in Scotland. It is easy for them to do that. I suppose that it is also prudent if they hope to continue to be fed material by the Scottish Office. But at a time of constitutional crisis in Scotland it is incumbent on the Scottish press to reflect its duty to tell the truth and to explain the background to the truth so that people in Scotland know what is going on in this Parliament-- how their business is being abused and their education and children are being put in jeopardy by Bills such as this.
Then we have the greatest allies of the Conservative party in Scotland--the Scottish National party. Last Thursday at business questions I referred to the new alliance between the hon. Members for Moray and for Brigg and Cleethorpes--apparently now sealed with a bottle of champagne. If that is disruption of Scottish business and of the Tory minority Government in Scotland, I suspect that the Government will welcome all the disruption that they can possibly get.
Mr. Home Robertson : The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to speak presently. Her hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) detained the House for four hours this afternoon. We have had enough self- indulgence.
Mrs. Ewing : I have no intention of trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is trying to turn a sip into a magnum. No doubt he thinks that the offer of shaving foam to his Friends was just a good clean plot. As he is spending a great deal of time attacking the Committee's work, will he mention why the Government did not require the vote of one English Conservative Member to carry the sittings motion?
Mr. Home Robertson : Not having been a member of the Committee, and not having read that part of the proceedings--I generally find that sittings motion debates are not always the most edifying and informative debates in any case--I will leave it to my hon. Friends to comment on that point.
We know what is going on. The hard Right of the Conservative party would be very happy for Scotland to be out of the Union of the United Kingdom. The SNP is not choosy about its bedfellows. Never let us forget that the Scottish National party, including the hon. Members for Moray and for Angus, East, who were present on that fateful day in the spring of 1979, voted with the Conservatives to bring the Thatcher Government into power and to ensure that a Scottish Assembly could not be set up in that year.
Those of us who want to preserve the Union and to develop Scotland's role of independence in Britain must recognise the dangers in this guillotine motion and all that lies behind it. The Conservative party in Britain, as in Scotland, is not exactly what it used to be. The absence of the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) is conspicuous. He must find these matters extremely embarrassing. The triumphal sneering
Column 272of Scotland's Tory minority, safe as they are behind the Secretary of State's proverbial Gatling gun in the House, know that they can rely on people such as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes to see through their legislation, however unpopular it may be in Scotland. They got their people to defend them in the House. That must be a great embarrassment to one-nation Conservatives such as the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside.
The motion is a much greater threat to the Union of the United Kingdom than anything that members of the Scottish National party could do by themselves. The Bill, the grotesquely distorted Committee which is supposed to be considering it, and the guillotine are an intolerable abuse of the nation of Scotland and of our children's education. The House is failing in its duty to protect the interests of the nation of Scotland and properly to scrutinise its legislation. This travesty of a debate underlines the importance of the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which must fill the democratic vacuum which has been left by the present Government. Every vote in the Aye Lobby will be a vote not only against the proper consideration of Scotland's children but, in effect, against the Union.
Mr. Alan Amos (Hexham) : I do not intend to speak for too long. I regret that the guillotine is necessary, but necessary it is. I have now served on several Committees, and I have been amazed and appalled at the deliberate time wasting and sheer ineptitude of Opposition Members in Committee. Much time has been spent on covering up tactical blunders and on personal attacks on Conservative Members of the Committee. I do not mind personal attacks--they are part of the political game--but I object to Opposition Members devoting a great deal of time to such tactics and then complaining about the lack of time to discuss the principles and policies contained in the Bill. That personal abuse reached its lowest point last week, about five weeks after the Committee had begun its deliberations. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, believe it or not, in a press release of 26 April referred to Conservative Members of the Committee as
"a very unpleasant collection of Right-wing, hard-line extremists."
He then spoke about
"some of the most offensive members of the Tory party."
[Interruption.] I note the chorus from Labour Members. However, I believe that those statements say more about the hon. Member for Garscadden than about my hon. Friends. The hon. Member for Garscadden did not serve on the Committee when he had the opportunity to do so. He fielded the second eleven, when he could have sat on the Committee himself. It is therefore not for him to criticise hon. Members who sat on the Committee and played an active part in its deliberations. I will not impugn the integrity of Labour Members who served on the Committee. I know all of them ; I have worked with them for a few weeks now. I know that they are all sincere people with genuine convictions. I am prepared to leave the matter there.
I made it clear at the beginning of the Committee stage that, as a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, I have the right and the responsibility to speak on any matter that affects the United Kingdom, whatever and
Column 273wherever. I will continue to do that, and all hon. Members have the right to do the same. Just as my hon. Friends and I are being criticised for being English Members on a Scottish Bill, so the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) continually rushed out of our Committee to Committee Room 9 to vote on a Bill dealing with English matters. I do not object to that in the slightest, but some would say that he was being inconsistent and illogical. Others would say that it reeked of double standards and hypocrisy.
I wanted to serve on the Committee because the Bill is about education, a subject on which I believe I have some personal direct knowledge and experience. I am not an expert on Scottish education ; I have never claimed to be and I may never be. In any case, beware of the so-called experts on any matter. It is amazing how many experts suddenly appear. However, I have always been willing to listen, learn and debate, and that is what these Committees provide the opportunity to do. It is not desirable to put on them self-appointed experts who know all the answers before the consideration of matters has even begun.
I support the guillotine motion because I believe that there has been ample opportunity to discuss all the clauses before us. Too much time has been wasted by an Opposition trying to cover up their frequent tactical blunders. So many of the amendments would, had they been carried, have achieved precisely the opposite effect of that intended to be achieved. For example, there was the provision of a mechanism to trigger a ballot on whether a school could become self-governing. There was confusion about whether 10 per cent. referred to parents or pupils. Another example was the case of a ballot needed to change the character of a school. Amendments were designed to make it more difficult. Had these amendments been passed, they would have removed any need for any ballot at all. What the Opposition did was appalling and disgraceful. Once is a mistake, twice is incompetence, and three times is a foul-up.
The Opposition has had no clear overall strategy. They have been flailing about blindly from one defective amendment to another, and this has taken up the time of the Committee. They should act on their own ideas and not as the mouthpiece for every pressure group and interest group to which the Labour party seems to feel beholden. Had they done that, they would not have made these mistakes.
Another matter is the allegation that Conservative members are trying to impose English ideas on an alien Scotland. I reject this word "alien". We are one small country, yet we hear these awful terms "alien" and "foreign". We are one country and that is how we will remain, whatever Opposition Members say. They do not believe their own rhetoric.
There is a belief that we are imposing English ideas on Scotland, but it is significant that the Opposition have constantly tried to make the Bill conform more closely to the provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988, which covers England and Wales. Those are double standards.
The Opposition have been too confused. They should have directed and focused their attack. They should not have wasted so much time on irrelevant technical amendments. On that basis, I am almost minded to oppose the guillotine motion--[ Hon. Members :--"Hear, hear."]
Column 274Opposition Members should not build up their hopes. Clearly, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is suffering again from the virtues for which he is renowned.--over-generosity and compassion towards the Opposition--
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That, at this day's sitting, the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill (Allocation of Time) Motion, the Companies Bill [Lords] and the Ways and Means Motion may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr Dorrell.]
Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill (Allocation of Time)
Question again proposed.
By moving this timetable motion, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is allowing the Opposition to get themselves off the hook of more incompetence and more embarrassment. So much for the Opposition's promised unremitting attack on the Bill. Perhaps it will materialise next week before consideration of the Bill is completed. We look forward to that.
The Bill is essentially about education. It deals with the same concepts as those in the Education Reform Act, except that the terminology of this Scottish Bill is better. The phrase "self-governing schools" is a more accurate description than "opting-out schools" because the schools will not be opting out of state control. Indeed, they will not be opting out of anything unless the parents vote for it in two ballots, and opting out can then take place only if the Secretary of State confirms that decision. The Bill is about a permissive power. The philosophy of the Conservative party is that people are free, that people should be free to do what they want within reason and that it is up to the state to justify why that freedom should be curtailed. The near-hysterical reaction by the Labour party and the original disruption by certain Scottish National Members showed what they really fear--parental choice. They do not trust parents to come to sensible decisions for their own school, their own children and their own community. If they trusted parents, Opposition Members would not object to them having the opportunity of a ballot. They do not trust parents even with the safeguard of the second ballot and confirmation of the Secretary of State. That hysteria springs from the Opposition's realisation that the concept of schools becoming self-governing will prove popular. If they believed in their own rhetoric and that the idea will never catch on in Scotland, why have they opposed it with such vehemence?
On the question of a change of character for a school--a power that already exists, except that no ballot is needed for it--why should parents not have that right? Comprehensivisation is not the last word in education and never will be. The hon. Member for Dundee, East referred to this point and I repeat : if parents want to choose selection on academic grounds, I say that we should let them. We should break down the barriers between the second-rate inner-city comprehensives and the nice
Column 275middle-class suburban comprehensives. Let us have social mixing based on merit and let us not prevent it by selection based on parental wealth or simply on where people happen to live. We have selection at the moment, but it is selection by stealth. Let us have selection in the open and on merit. The present comprehensive system of selection by stealth is wrong.
In conclusion, I believe firmly that the Bill is about choice, responsibility, diversity and freedom. It is not so much about schools opting out of an education authority's control, but rather about opting in to a new era of opportunity and diversity in the state sector. The question which the Opposition must face and not duck is not how they can prevent schools from becoming self-governing, rather why are schools so dissatisfied with education authority control that they want to become self -governing.
Let us grasp the challenge of change and the opportunity to extend responsibility. The Bill has nothing to do with market forces, rather the conscious, rational and democratic decision of parents and local communities to have a greater say in the future of their children. 10.4 pm
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : I will not follow the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) in going through his reasons for supporting the Bill. It strikes me as strange that any Conservative Members who are serving on the Committee should support the guillotine motion : they seem to have enjoyed the Committee so much that they might want it to continue ad infinitum. They seem to have had an enjoyable time, but whether they have advanced the thinking on Scottish education is another matter.
On Second Reading, I remember crossing the Chamber to have a word with the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)--perhaps one should not do that. I said to him in friendly terms, which was stretching my tolerance quite a bit, that the trouble with him was that he actually believed that the Bill would make a great change to Scottish education. He has all the beliefs of the zealot. He did not argue with me. I also said that little of our legislation on education will alter children. At the centre of anything that we do about education, we must consider the children.
I want to consider the process of legislation in this House. I hope that I carry the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) with me, as I believe that, in a previous incarnation, he was something of a management consultant. If we were to look to our proceedings in managerial terms, does he believe in all honesty that anyone would support the way in which we deal with legislation? Here we are in the Mother of Parliaments in the closing years of the 20th century carrying on in an adversarial manner over something that affects the fundamentals of human life--how one educates a human being. We are considering the education of nursery school children as well as those aged five and over.
We have heard stories of how Opposition Members--who do not have the advice from people in the Box--have had to rely, rightly or wrongly, on information from pressure groups outside the House. In other systems of government, pressure groups are invited to the legislature and are party to what is tantamount to a Select Committee stage. Things are done in the open. The difference here is that the only pressure groups that have had anything to do with the formulation of the Bill are those that adhere to
Column 276Tory party philosophy. No other pressure group in Scotland, whether it is the Educational Institute of Scotland, the experts in education, the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association or those dealing with the sensitive issue of special needs education, have had any say in the formulation of the Bill.
To use a Shanklyism : "I left school at 14 ; I never had much education ; I had to use my brains." I am always sensitive about the educational process and I carefully guard how we change that process. In Scotland, rather vaingloriously, we prize what we do in education. I believe that we exaggerate our competence. We may have been extremely good in the past, but in international terms I doubt whether we will be as good in the 1990s as we were in the 1890s. That is another matter. We are altering the basis of education by a Bill that is adversarial. We cannot gainsay that.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood) : If the hon. Gentleman is complaining that the measure has been formulated only inside the Conservative party and by Conservative party pressure groups, how does he account for the fact that the leader of Strathclyde regional council, Charles Gray, said that he had dreamed up these proposals five years ago?
I do not know who has been caught out. I accept that there may be support for the Bill in Scotland. What I am talking about is the fact that the Government are trying to impose a timetable on the Bill. I have been around long enough in the parliamentary process to know that Governments win. I am complaining that we have become a legislative sausage machine.
When I show parties of schoolchildren through the House, I show them the volumes of Acts that have been passed by Parliament. If I take out an edition from the 1930s, it is a slim volume ; I know that there have been amendments to much of that legislation. When we get to the 1970s and the 1980s, there are numerous volumes. So we have become a legislative sausage machine. It is impossible for any hon. Member to have a comprehensive knowledge of the technical aspects of all legislation, particularly education measures.
We try to kid the electorate that we are experts and are competent on a range of legislation. That is not true. We cannot produce good legislation by the present process. The imposition of a timetable motion to back up the adversarial process is guaranteed to produce bad legislation, whatever Government are in power. We have to find different means of producing legislation. We have them, but the only occasion that I was involved in the Committee stage of a Bill when we started off with the Select Committee procedure was when we dealt with a measure on deep ocean mining. We had all the experts before the Select Committee. I am not saying that I agreed with the legislation, but technically it bears examination.
Putting aside the legislative process, I shall deal with the social philosophy underlying the Bill. The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) is not here at the moment. The Government can claim that, if it is possible to have self-governing schools, people will avail themselves of the
Column 277opportunity in the Bill to do so. Whether it is Paisley grammar school or another school that is under threat, someone will make use of the option.
As soon as a school--perhaps in Fife, although I hope not--is under threat of closure, a group of parents will form a pressure group. They will look for the medium-term advantage to be gained by coming out of the system. The result will not necessarily be chaotic or totally disruptive, but there will be an emulative effect related to snobbery. There can be no gainsaying that. I have nothing against Paisley grammar school, but the whole process will lead to people wanting their children to go to a school that is "better". In Scotland we have historically gone against that. Rightly or wrongly, people in England have been for it. They have had a tradition of grammar schools, but our tradition has been basically comprehensive. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who went to school in Arbroath, knows that-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) wants to go back to Burns's time. If we go back, we shall find that the farmers gathered together and put their pennies in to create a school. We have evolved from that system and said that the best and most equitable way to provide education is for state and local authorities together to finance it, to remove the concept of snobbery, which the Bill is designed to introduce. The Bill is designed to be socially disruptive, not only to the educational system, but, fundamentally, to the democratic views held in Scotland. If the English want their educational system, that is fine. However, the Scots have historically related their educational system to their view of democracy.
The Scottish educational system, which comes from the Church, is a democratic one. The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) asked about Scottish history. Anybody who knows anything about Scottish history knows that the Scots' views on democracy spring from, and are interrelated with, our educational system. That is what the Government do not like.
The person whose 10-year stay in power some people will celebrate tomorrow does not like or understand the fact that she is not liked in Scotland, and she does not like Scotland. The primary reason for that is the basic difference between her concept of democracy and that of the Scottish people. The Prime Minister has a Socratic, Platonic view of who should govern, which is that he or she who knows, should govern. I shall not return to basic philosophy but she thinks that she knows what is best. However, the Scots fundamentally reject that concept and believe that the individual knows what is best. The Scottish school system promotes that concept. That is why, if a disruptive element is introduced, it will destroy and undermine the social cohesion that we have in Scotland. That is why I am against this measure on educational, egalitarian and social grounds. It is not that I think that everything in the Scottish education system is perfect, but if we are to alter that system, we must listen openly, not covertly, to the people engaged in Scottish education today. We must listen to their views and try to determine what type of education will benefit the democratic and social cohesion of Scotland after 2000 AD.
Column 278The young people who will be involved in the education process are not merely those who will be affected in 1990, when the provisions of the Act come into force. They are the ones who will produce the type of society that, industrially, commercially and above all socially, we want after the year 2000.
This is not the way to deal with social and educational legislation. It is an insult--not just to the people of Scotland, but to the democratic parliamentary process--to deal with a social measure in this way. If the Government want to have timetables and if it is essential to them to have benchmarks and to pass legislation, we should look for a newer and better approach to this type of legislation and to open it up, initially, to Select Committee procedure.
Some people have talked about imperilling the Union, and some hon. Members have said that we are a unitary Parliament. I accept the strictures of that argument, but we are not a unitary Parliament. People in Northern Ireland have, and have had to have, a different view, and there has been great pressure for devolution there. There were many difficulties about Stormont, and I said to the then Prime Minister, "If you abolish Stormont, you will spend the rest of your time trying to recreate it."
I say to the House, rather obtusely, that if the Government continue to treat Scottish legislation in this way, they will be the disruptors of the Union : they will produce the friction. Scotland is not like Northern Ireland ; with respect to my Welsh colleagues, it is not even like Wales. Scotland is a nation, and the Government are imperilling the social cohesion of that nation. If they continue to do so they will also imperil the Union. Scotland will gang its ane gae, and the Government of this day will bear the responsibility. 10.20 pm
Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich) : When earlier this evening the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said that all six members of the Committee who represented English constituencies would be regarded as aliens anywhere in Scotland, he was not only being offensive ; he was being inaccurate. Some of us are of good Scottish stock and proud of it.
After the selection of Committee members had been announced, an article appeared in one of the less reputable Scottish newspapers saying that the Committee had been packed with six English bovver boys. I had my aunt on the telephone from Edinburgh : that good lady did not give a damn about my being described as a bovver boy, but was outraged that I had been described as an Englishman. Hon. Members such as the hon. Member for East Lothian who dismiss us so lightly and offensively should think again. It is, I think, quite noteworthy that even the Glasgow Herald was constrained not long ago to pay tribute to the assiduity of English Members' attendance in Committee, and the force with which we had put our arguments.
Mr. Leigh : The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has just made a remark. He has not been a member of the Committee as we have ; he has not been reading the Glasgow Herald as we have. Whatever our views on the constitutional question, what the Glasgow Herald actually said --I am being entirely fair to it--was that the English Committee members turned up and
Column 279argued their case, and there had been no criticism from the other side of the work that they had put into the Committee or of the care and diligence that they had devoted to the Bill.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) has had rather a rough time in the debate. He started the Committee very well : his performance on the sittings motion was well up to standard. Things went wrong later, part of the reason being simply that in this Committee the Government case has been argued exceptionally effectively. It has not been one of those Committees in which Members on one side sit down and get on with their correspondence : quite the reverse. Debates have been very effective, and all Members on both sides have joined in with a will.
I think that that came as a surprise to Opposition Members on the Committee ; it certainly came as a surprise to the hon. Member for Fife, Central , and I think that that was what threw him. He had expected to spend the entire time haranguing the Government and attacking the Bill. Suddenly he found that his own policies and arguments were coming under detailed scrutiny, and their weaknesses were being exposed. Suddenly he realised that the Bill was not imposing anything on Scottish parents ; on the contrary, it was giving them greater choice. If they do not want to exercise that choice, that is a matter for them. They do not have to choose to opt out.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central had a difficult time. He had a particularly embarrassing time when we were debating amendment No. 40. He actually threatened to vote against his own amendment. Opposition Members have said hard things about the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), but he kindly and courteously intervened and guided the hon. Member for Fife, Central away from potential embarrassment. His threat was not carried out.
As all the Committee members will know, it was Strathclyde regional council, and in particular its leader Mr. Charles Gray, which eventually did for the hon. Member for Fife, Central. During the course of the Committee, we all came to describe Mr. Gray affectionately as Sir Charles Gray. Quite possibly one day he will reap his reward for the very convincing way in which he demolished the hon. Member for Fife, Central.
There was certainly filibustering in the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) has referred to the strange occasion when the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Madonald) stopped in mid-sentence. I do not want to say anything against the hon. Member for Western Isles or cause him undue embarrassment, because some of his contributions were very effective. However, Hansard records that he had been called to order on eight separate occasions within 10 minutes for wandering away from the point. After being called to order eight times, the hon. Member for Western Isles stopped at the end of his sentence and remained standing. This has been mentioned before, but I cannot refrain from repeating what happened ; it deserves recapitulation. The Chairman said : "Order. Let us be clear. The hon. Member must not stand without speaking, because it cannot be recorded in Hansard. It cannot be said that during the day the hon. Member has shown a lack of words, but, if he has now run out of words, we may make progress."--[ Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 21 March 1989 ; c. 250.]
Column 280That gives the House some of the flavour of what has been happening in Committee.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) represents the other extreme. Reference has been made to his behaviour. He never runs short of words. They pour out like a great Highland waterfall, whatever the hour of day or night. He rants. We heard a prize rant the other evening when he went on about political extremists and ideologies. A crazed look entered his eyes. He began to talk about the full moon and fangs growing. I think he had my hon Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) in mind. Again that gives the House the flavour of what has been happening in Committee. Most offensively of all, the hon. Member for Dundee, East ran down the Corridor to Committee Room 9 to vote in the Committee on the Local Government and Housing Bill which is concerned entirely with English legislation. Unlike the English members of the Committee on the Self- Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill, he did not have the courtesy to continue to participate in debate.
Opposition Members must be rescued from themselves. The guillotine is a kindness to them. The sooner it is introduced, the better for them and for us.
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : Several times this evening it has been said that a number of alien figures far removed from mainstream Scottish life were on the Committee. After the last speech, that point is not one that I need labour.
I congratulate my hon. Friends on their hard stint on the Committee. I particularly thank my hon. Friends the Members for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) and for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith). But I include in my thanks all Labour members of that Committee, who tolerated a great deal of provocation, operated in very difficult circumstances, and stuck to the arguments extremely effectively. It was hard pounding, but my hon. Friends did their job, and they wish to continue doing so.
Our basic complaint is that the guillotine will crush into the straitjacket of a timetable a very large number of important points concerning the future of Scottish education. They include the future of further education, testing in primary schools, the establishment of technology academies, the appraisal and dismissal of teachers, and even the office of lord rector and its position in our universities. Debate on all those matters will be compressed into a short time with only one pause for breath--when, very conveniently if somewhat illogically, the Committee will not sit on a certain Thursday simply because the Conservative party conference in Scotland is being held that day. We are entitled to protest about that, and we certainly do so.
Right hon. and hon. Members listening to the debate may have grasped the fact that this is an unusual Bill. It is unusual because it deals with a highly controversial remodelling of Scottish education, and makes a central attack on the basis of our school system, for good or ill, that came upon us totally unexpectedly. I accept that it was one of the very few occasions when the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) was out of step and doing his own thing in the Scottish Conservative party.
During the last general election, I clearly remember that, when the news came through about schools in
Column 281England opting out, the chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland, Lord Goold, and the junior Minister at the Scottish Office hurried to put out a statement reassuring Scottish public opinion that there was no question of opting out being introduced in Scotland. It was not a question of the Conservative manifesto being silent on the subject but of a specific assurance from the Conservative hierarchy that Scotland did not need to worry because opting out would not happen there. For that reason alone we are entitled to take a serious view of what has happened since. I recognise that, because of the Conservatives' weakness in Scotland as a result of the electoral disaster that overcame them there, the Government were unable to man the Scottish Standing Committee in the normal fashion and in the way that we have come to understand and expect. One might have expected the Government to handle that situation with a little delicacy and tact. I cannot prove this, but my opinion--it is shared seriously by a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends--is that, for perverse reasons, the Minister set out to pick a task force to ram the Bill through in the most offensive and abrasive manner he could possibly manage.
The Government put together--I use the term again--an offensive collection of English Back Benchers, many of whom are connected with the No Turning Back group. That group would be the first to admit that it is an extreme Right-wing group within the Tory party-- [Laughter.] Well, I had the misfortune to read one or two of its pamphlets, and the rather silly laughter from the Conservative Benches does nothing to destroy the weight of the point that I make. I pay a compliment to Conservative Members such as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). That hon. Gentleman came to the Committee with a well-deserved reputation for being offensive, and he lived up to it. He is, if I may say so, the parliamentary equivalent of a walking breach of the peace. [Laughter.] We can laugh about it, and I invite laughter at this stage--but I am making a serious point at the same time. I do not like that combination. I have not sat through the entire Committee proceedings, although I have dipped into the Committee stage. It became clear that many hon. Members on the Committee were treating it as if it were a public school jape in which points had to be scored. If they could irritate, that was a victory, and if they could reduce the Opposition to fury, that was a major triumph. That is hardly the way in which to conduct a serious debate about Scottish education. Much of the debate was conducted on the basis of total ignorance.
I read in the Committee Hansard that my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) referred to the "qualy". Anyone of my age group who has been to school in Scotland, or anyone who takes an interest in Scottish education knows what the "qualy" is, but it was greeted with cries of, "What's that?" from English Conservative Members. It was clear from one of the speeches about Roman Catholic education in Scotland that an English member of the Committee did not understand that Roman Catholic schools were part of the state system. He did not understand the fundamental basics of the Scottish education system, yet he was
Column 282clowning, cavorting, criticising and ramming down our throats his particular prejudices as though it were a virility symbol to do so.
Mr. Allan Stewart : The hon. Gentleman referred to his hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), but in col. 381 his hon. Friend referred to religious education as the teaching of witchcraft. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that?