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Mr. Bennett : There is absolutely no reason whatsover for that and there is absolutely no reason why the Scottish Office should not accept the new clause, which seeks not only to extend the law that applies to England and Wales to Scotland but to improve it and to give Scotland a lead.
Mr. Leigh : Has my hon. Friend noticed that his characteristically able, but lengthy, speech has given rise to a considerable number of interventions from Conservative members who have shown an unprecedented degree of interest in these matters, which is matched only by an unprecedented lack of interest from Opposition Members? Should we not remember the wise words that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is that good men should do nothing? If Scottish Office Ministers claim that there have been few incidents, they should recall that a lack of freedom anywhere diminishes all our freedom everywhere.
Mr. Bennett : My hon. Friend quotes the words of Edmund Burke which are extremely valuable. They remind us that freedom is indivisible and that we must always defend free speech and not allow the Left to decide who should speak and who should not.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : The hon. Gentleman probably does not know that the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) went to Durham university and became the president of the student union there ; but he was not elected : he was appointed by himself. Is that freedom?
Mrs. Fyfe : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given that the debate has to end at 11 o'clock and the Opposition are still not certain whether the Minister intends to accept the new clause, are we to be permitted to make a speech opposing the new clause or is this an example of the free speech to which Conservative Members pretend to adhere?
Column 264where free speech is allowed and it would be a good idea if other voices from other parts of the Chamber could be heard.
Mr. Bennett : I cannot be accused of not giving way to hon. Members who wanted to intervene. I have certainly not restricted the free speech of Opposition Members. I have given way. I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine), but I want to conclude my speech and hear the Minister's response.
Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich) : I had the honour to serve with the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) on the Standing Committee considering the Electricity Bill. At regular intervals during the sittings of that Committee, the hon. Member for Ashfield threatened various Conservative Members that he would take them outside. What is more, it is on the record. Is that not exactly the extravagant behaviour from which university vice- chancellors need to be protected when they are standing forth in the name of freedom? Is that not another example of how important it is that the new clause is accepted tonight?
Mr. Haynes : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I never threatened anybody on that Committee. All I did was ask somebody to come outside so that I could have a word with him, and he happened to be the Minister.
Mr. Bennett : The deliberations of the Committee considering the Electricity Bill certainly sound more exciting than the debates in some of the Committees on which I have served. However, I wish to finish my speech.
Mr. Allan Stewart : Does my hon. Friend agree that, the new clause is also about another principle--the principle of the citizens of the United Kingdom. It is quite clear from her intervention that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) believes that the rights of freedom of expression of students in England and Wales should not be extended to Scotland. Does he agree that, as the Conservative and Unionist party, we must reject that proposition tonight?
What possible excuse will my hon. Friend the Minister give from his Scottish Office brief for not accepting the new clause? I am minded to push the new clause to a vote unless we get from him an assurance that, even if he is not prepared to accept it tonight because he has a brief, he will take it away and allow his real principles and philosophy and what he really believes in to overcome the Civil Service belief.
I finish by reminding my hon. Friend of what Voltaire said about freedom of speech. We have to defend people's views that we do not believe in and, even until death, defend their right to say it. I hope that my hon. Friend will support the new clause.
Mr. Douglas : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. For about 45 minutes, including interruptions, we have listened to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), who moved this new clause, yet he has no intention of pushing it to a vote. [Interruption.]
Mr. Michael Forsyth : Perhaps it might help the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) if I were to respond to her at this point, but I inform my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) that I know what it must have been like to be the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) during our deliberations in Committee. I do not think that I have experienced anything quite like this in the 150 hours or so in which we considered the Bill. There seems to be some strength of feeling on the matter among my hon. Friends. I appreciate my hon. Friend's motives in tabling the new clause. My right hon. and learned Friend has carefully considered whether legislation is necessary for Scotland. I could go on to read the remainder of my speaking note, but I get the distinct impression that my hon. Friends would not find its content palatable. I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) that I questioned--
My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry asked what evidence there was for the view that had been expressed by the Scottish Office that there was no problem in Scotland. I asked the Conservative Collegiate Forum to provide me with some examples in Scotland, which it failed to do, apart from he examples that were mentioned by my hon. Friend. The basis of the view that was taken at the time of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986--that this was not a problem in Scotland and that, therefore, the law should not intervene-- still stands.
Mr. Tebbit : It might help if my hon. Friend the Minister came immediately to the point of whether he is saying that this new clause would be effective if there were those problems but that he does not think that there are those problems, or whether he is saying that this is not an effective clause to guard against such incidents if they should arise. Would he be quite clear about what he is saying?
Mr. Forsyth : Yes, I am quite clear ; I am saying both. Without getting into the merits of whether the backbone of my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) is stronger than mine--my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) raised this point during the discussion--my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage is looking at the effectiveness of the provisions in the 1986 Act. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke said, there is considerable concern about the operation of those provisions.
Although I had intended to say to the House that there was no prospect of introducing this measure in Scotland, because there has not been a problem, I could go some way towards helping my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke if I were to give an undertaking that we will look at this matter again on a rather more relaxed timetable in the light of my hon. Friend's review of the operation of the provisions in England. I am sure that the House would not think it sensible for us to proceed at a breakneck pace without having an opportunity to consult and to take up the suggestion of my hon. Friend the
Column 266Member for Boothferry. There will be a United Kingdom legislative opportunity shortly to deal with the commitments that have been made in respect of student finance.
Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston) : The powerful argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) has occasioned an echo of support from the Tory Back Benches. We feel concerned that, while he made an excellent case, the Minister in response simply says that the answers cannot be given because they are unpalatable. I for one would have liked to hear those answers.
Mr. Forsyth : The answers are sound, but I do not think that they would meet the views that have been expressed. The argument is that, as there has been no problem in Scotland, it is not necessary to legislate. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) argued that higher education is organised on a United Kingdom basis and that guarantees of freedom of speech should apply on a United Kingdom basis. I am prepared to look at that argument, but only in the context of being certain that the provisions contained in the 1986 Act would be effective and would provide for the security about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) asked.
Mr. Tebbit : The easy and straightforward course would be for the Minister to accept the new clause ; then he would have the leisurely progress of the legislation through the other place to consider the matter. During that time, if it was found not to be quite right, it could be amended. He has not advanced any argument so far to show how it would be harmful. He merely says that he hopes it will never be necessary. I do, too, but it would be jolly good to be in ahead of the problem. If we had had the foresight to have this type of legislation in England and Wales, we would not have had the problems we have there. He owes it to the decent students of this kingdom to legislate in this way, unless he has good reason to show that the proposed clause is defective or in some way would be offensive.
Mr. Forsyth : The bulk of the clause has applied in England and Wales and was embodied in the 1986 No. 2 Act. There is great unhappiness about it. I share the views that have been expressed about the imposition of charges on students who have attempted to run meetings, and that is one matter into which the Under-Secretary has looked. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke that I will look at the matter again in the light of the review which the Under-Secretary carried out into the operation of the Act and that we will consider whether the judgment that has been made by my right hon. Friend should apply in the future.
Mr. Dewar : As we have the unusual spectacle of the Minister at bay- -a boy standing on a burning deck--I would inform him that my hon. Friends and I feel that he is right in his initial reaction that what is proposed is unnecessary-- [Interruption.] We know a little more about student life at Scottish universities than does the right hon. Member for Chingford. I hope the Minister will not consider us to be handing him a poisoned chalice when I tell him that he should hold to his present stand of principle and that if he does, he will have our full support.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : I am listening carefully to what my hon. Friend the Minister is saying and appreciate that he has thrown away his civil servants' brief, which is a considerable thing for a Minister to do. He is listening to what the House is saying on this issue. However, I am concerned about what my hon. Friend said about the timing and because my hon. Friend talked about "leisurely". Will my hon. Friend give us an undertaking that he will reconsider this matter, in conjunction with the English and Welsh Department of Education and Science, and that the review will take place within the next six to nine months and not within a "leisurely" timetable?
Mr. John Carlisle : I believe that my hon. Friend should support the new clause because several of us have turned down invitations from Scottish universities because they do not offer the same so-called "protection" that is offered at English and Welsh universities. My hon. Friends and I who receive such invitations do not feel that we can accept them until we can go with the assurance that my hon. Friend and the Government are right behind us in terms of the provisions that apply in England and Wales.
Question put and negatived.
Column 269Order for Third Reading read.
The deliberations on the Bill have, from time to time, been lively, but none more so than the discussions that we have just had on the last of the new clauses.
One interesting thing about the way in which the Opposition have chosen to oppose the legislation is that they have failed utterly to recognise that the part I provisions are permissive in nature. They simply set up an opportunity for the majority of parents to have the chance to run their schools in a way that meets their needs. The difference between the Government and the Opposition is that we are prepared to trust the parents and that the Opposition are not. It has been suggested that this legislation is unwanted in Scotland, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) repeatedly pointed out in Committee, the Opposition have refused to state the number of schools in Scotland that they expect to opt for self-governing status. Indeed, the hysteria with which they have greeted part I suggests that they believe that there will be a significant number.
The effectiveness of the legislation, even before it reaches the statute book and before we reached Third Reading, was clear for all to see in the statements made by the secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland and by people such as the convenor of the education committee of Strathclyde, Malcolm Green. They are saying that the effect of the legislation will be that education authorities will have to take far more account of the wishes of parents and that education authorities will no longer simply be able to follow the view of education headquarters. In the revision of the planning of the delivery of education by authorities such as Strathclyde and others, one can see that even at this stage the legislation is having a salutary effect.
Mrs. Fyfe : When confronted with one of his children not wanting to eat his or her dinner, does the Minister open the child's mouth and shove the dinner down that child's throat ; and if he does not behave like that with his children, will he explain why he is behaving like that towards the adult electorate of Scotland?
Mr. Forsyth : I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her somewhat indelicate analogy. The analogy of forcing things down people's throats is probably better applied to the kind of policies that are pursued by Strathclyde regional council in closing successful schools such as Paisley grammar school and in deciding that single-sex education is anachronistic and a choice that should not be available to parents.
Mr. Forsyth : I have answered the hon. Lady's question. No school will become self-governing unless the parents vote for it and unless the Secretary is convinced that they will be able to carry it through. Indeed, the Opposition seem to have been converted during our deliberations in Committee and elsewhere. I was rather struck by the statement that was made by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) to the press today claiming that the
Column 270Labour party would repeal some of these provisions. He said that they would be swept away. When we were discussing the matter in Committee he said :
"Some parts of the Bill might remain : some parts of it might be popular. It would be foolish for anyone to commit any Government of any political party to what they will do in two or three years' time."-- [Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 18 May 1989 ; c. 1501.]
Yet the hon. Gentleman did precisely that today. When I questioned him about it earlier, he said that it was because of the election results in Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman made his commitment in Committee on 18 May. On 19 May the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said on Scottish television :
"We will sweep away for ever all the embittering experience of the last 10 years--the poll tax, the schools Bill which were introduced in the face and need and teeth of Scottish public opinion. I think we'll also have a very much stronger assembly".
And so on. So on 18 May the hon. Member for Fife, Central was saying that anyone who made such promises was foolish and on 19 May the hon. Member for Garscadden was making exactly such foolish promises.
The point about self-governing schools is that they break the local authority monopoly. [Interruption.] I do not think that the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) is in a position to throw bricks in any direction. The hon. Gentleman will recall the Liberal leader of Strathclyde writing to me, pleading for the powers that are contained in the Bill in order to save Our Lady and Saint Francis school at the same time as the hon. Gentleman was denouncing the principle. When I asked him about the difference in policy between him and the Liberal leader of Strathclyde regional council, he explained that he was speaking on national policy and that the leader of the Liberal group on Strathclyde council was speaking on local matters.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : Obviously the election results were better for us than I thought, as the Minister feels the need to attack us. As he well knows, the argument that we put forward is that the Secretary of State would not have needed to introduce any Bill if he had retained his power to review any proposed school closure. That was the power that we wanted. It is reasonable for a local councillor to try to ensure that a school is not closed when he is caught between a Government and a Labour party who will not listen to the local people.
Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong again. The school in question was a denominational school where the Secretary of State retains his power. The difficulty in this case was that the hierarchy did not wish to refer the matter to the Secretary of State. Therefore, self- governing status was the option that was available to the school.
Self-governing schools break the local authority monopoly, create an opportunity for change and have resulted in local authorities being more responsive to the demands and wishes of parents. The Bill extends choice by the introduction of powers to set up technology academies. Is it not amazing that the Labour party in Strathclyde would rather have school buildings empty in the Gorbals than have brand new, high-tech schools available for the people who voted for them in the Glasgow, Central by- election? I hope that everyone in Glasgow is aware that a brand-new school
Column 271could be available and that the only education cut that has been made in Glasgow was the cutting out of a brand- new school because of the ideology and fear that dominate the Labour party.
One interesting thing about the progress of our discussions on the Bill is that the use of the word "Anglicisation" has almost disappeared. We do not hear about it any more. That is probably because we have had a succession of amendments from the hon. Member for Fife, Central desperately trying to bring the Bill into line with the legislation in England.
We have had a good example of the transformation of the views of the Opposition as they have had to argue their case against my hon. Friends in Committee. I pay tribute to the effective way in which my hon. Friends conducted themselves in Committee. They astonished even the Glasgow Herald which has found it necessary to say that it got it wrong as regards the performance of my hon. Friends. Perhaps the most remarkable conversion of all was the suggestion that the Bill should be amended to create a parental majority for parents on the board of management. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), who was a member of the Committee that considered the School Boards (Scotland) Bill, as it then was, condemned the Government for having a parental majority. He talked about the tyranny of the parental majority. By the time that the Bill that is before us began to be considered in Committee, the hon. Gentleman was arguing for a parental majority. We were happy to oblige the Opposition by introducing provisions for such a majority on Report.
Mr. Forsyth : I am merely surprised that a party that puts so much effort into telling the people of Scotland that a parental majority would be tyranny and that it would be wrong that we should seek to amend the Bill to introduce such a majority.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central asked his colleagues not even to vote against the provisions in the Bill that allow for the introduction of national testing. It seemed that the Opposition accepted the principle of testing but were worried about how it would appear in practice. I was surprised to read the article in today's edition of the Glasgow Herald in which the hon. Gentleman stated : "The Opposition need to form a triple alliance of parents, professionals and politicians. We must develop alternatives to the deeply damaging testing and teaching appraisal proposals contained in the new legislation."
If the testing proposals are so "deeply damaging", why did not the hon. Gentleman vote against them in Committee? He knows, as we all know, that parents want information about the performance of their children. They want that information communicated to them at home. In recognition of that, the Government have struck a popular blow. In the same article--this is especially touching for those of us who were members of the Committee--the hon. Gentleman states : "There is a sense of being out-manoeuvred yet no real alternative has emerged."
The hon. Gentleman is there referring to the Labour party. He continues :
"The forces of progressive education in Scotland must not only recapture the agenda and the initiative from the
Column 272Government. We must once again dominate educational thinking in addition to an effective delivery of the service on the ground." I have some advice for the hon. Gentleman : vote for the Bill's Third Reading and persuade the people of Scotland that the Opposition look to their interests and not to messages from the Educational Institute of Scotland. If he does that, he will make some progress in seeking to dominate the agenda.
Mr. Forsyth : I was reading the words of the hon. Member for Fife, Central, who has admitted that the Government have set the agenda and have dominated it, and that the Labour party has lost it. The Bill provides for the introduction of appraisal. What profession should not be subject to scrutiny of performance? What profession is more important than teaching? Opposition Members have found it difficult to work out their position on appraisal, and perhaps that is because the teaching unions are split on the issue. The EIS is against it but the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, the Professional Association of Teachers and the other unions are supporting it. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill told us in Committee that the PAT is a union that no responsible teacher should join because it was not prepared to advise its members to go on strike. That says much about the attitude of Labour Members. The EIS is claiming to be the official opposition. Its leader boasted that that was a sign of how effective it had been. Even the Glasgow Herald endorsed that view in an editorial on 12 June. It stated :
"If indeed the institute is the official' opposition, that says much for the tenacity and credibility of the union, its officials and members. But it doesn't say much for the performance of the Labour Party in Scotland."
Anyone who was a member of the Committee that considered the Bill would have made that observation. The hon. Member for Garscadden would have done himself more credit if instead of attacking my hon. Friends for their performance he had been in Committee arguing the Opposition's case.
The Bill also provides for a major extension of the parents' charter which the hon. Member for Fife, Central told us his party now supports. His party opposed it when we proposed it, just as it opposed school boards, which it now supports. We look forward to Labour telling the people of Scotland in a year's time that it supports self-governing schools.
We have also abolished section 88, which even the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities argued was anachronistic, but the Opposition have found it difficult to go along with that. We are liberating the employment of teachers through insistence on the advertising of all posts above principal, and the ending of ring-fencing around official appointments.
The Bill is a major reforming piece of legislation. Much of its provisions have not been discussed in Scotland. Much of it has been presented in terms of the Opposition's myths. It will strengthen the parents' voice, it will
Column 273strengthen accountability, it will extend choice, it will increase competition and it will raise standards, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. McLeish : We have heard a characteristic and highly personal speech from the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for education. It is always a grand sight to see him get animated and excited. One of the ingredients that he tends to miss out in his perorations, however, is the fact that the Bill is universally despised in Scotland.
There was no educational argument in the Minister's speech. Rather we had a rich mix of personal animosity and the ideology that we have come to expect from him and his erstwhile colleagues who were recruited on to the Committee to do the job that they enjoy most--being destructive and counter -productive rather than having a sensible debate about education in Scotland.
It is remarkable that, despite suffering electoral casualties at every election in Scotland--we have a Tory MEP-free Scotland and there are only 10 Scottish Tory Members at Westminster--the one thing that the Government will not face is the view of Scottish electors as measured in district and regional council, general and European Parliament elections. I must ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, who I believe is beginning to tune into the fact that he faces a wipe-out of Conservative-held Scottish seats in 1991 or 1992, when he will get a grip on the continuing excesses of his Minister, who is projecting a form of education which is not liked.
The Secretary of State laughs, but why can he go to Wales and suggest there that there should be a triple alliance? He seems to have been converted to regional policies again. He does not argue their case in the Cabinet, though. He goes to Wales and suggests that Wales, the north and Scotland should unite as a triple alliance against the forces of Thatcherism to try to reinstate some sensible regional policy.
The Secretary of State has spoken about trying to put the Scottish scene back on a moderate footing. He has offered glasnost to COSLA. The most important thing that he can do tonight is to distance himself from the Bill and scrap it. At a stroke, that would help the Tories, possibly, to regain some lost ground in Scotland. The Under-Secretary of State and the Secretary of State would benefit from re-reading the letter that was sent to them by the Church of Scotland on 5 June. Its general assembly passed a motion which was highly critical of the opting-out provisions. On 5 June, Mr. Alasdair Morton, from the Church of Scotland's department of education, sent a letter to the Under-Secretary of State--I know that he does not like this, but I hope that he will listen--which ran : "Accordingly in the name of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland I must request the Government to delete Part 1 of the above Bill and to depart from the matters it contains."
That is not an extreme group ; it speaks on behalf of Scottish interests-- [Interruption.] Conservative Members may be disparaging about the Church of Scotland, but it captured in a single sentence the feelings of Scots towards the Bill.
The Under-Secretary spent two or three sessions in Committee attacking the Church of Scotland because it had the temerity to involve itself in political debate. The hon. Gentleman felt that it should concern itself with
Column 274religious education and religious observance and keep out of politics--[ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members may applaud that, but the Church of Scotland behaved responsibly and suggested that the Bill be scrapped.
It is interesting that the Prime Minister visited Scotland and addressed the Perth conference on 12 May. She said about Scottish education :
"Excellence has always been part of the Scottish tradition. And when it comes to the Glasgow Vets School, I'm with Malcolm--I support it all the way."
I am sure that she was referring to the Glasgow vets school, not to Malcolm. She continued :
"In a competitive world, Scottish children deserve to be given the very best education and the very best training."
In her distinctive and characteristic style, she then said : "It's not enough to be just good enough. The Scots need to shine--to be way out in front. And under Conservative Government, they will have the freedom and opportunity to do just that."
That is a rich, rich hypocrisy in view of the Bill and its potential impact on Scottish education during the next two or three years.
The tragedy of the past three months and of tonight's debate is that the Bill is irrelevant to the real needs of Scottish education and to the challenges that Scotland will face in the 1990s with the single European market, the advent of technology and major demographic changes. What does Scotland get?--a Bill that will turn back the education clock 20, 30 or even 40 years. Few, if any, Scots want the Bill to reach the statute book.
I listened to the Minister giving a brief re sume of the Committee stage. He can ignore us and treat us with contempt--that is one of his characteristics--but can he continue to treat the people of Scotland with the same contempt? I said earlier that the Secretary of State appeared to be distancing himself from the excesses and extremism of certain members of the Government, both in the United Kingdom generally and in Scotland. We need some stability in Scottish education.
The Bill, with its technology academies, opting out and testing measures, has the potential to tear Scottish education apart. In whose interests will that be? Will it be in the interests of the children, of the much-vaunted parents about whom the Minister constantly speaks, or of the future of education? The Bill is a miserable, mean and pathetic measure which has been dressed up under the guise of parental choice.
The Scottish people have had no real say in drawing up the Bill. At the last election, from Lord Goold through to senior Ministers, and even the Prime Minister, they all said that there should be opting out for England and Wales but not yet for Scotland. The Bill is not only tragic : it is a total betrayal of what Scotland has been led to expect.