Mr. Leigh : I am delighted to find a sporting gentleman on the Opposition Benches. Those of us who served on Committee will remember that my hon. Friend the Minister offered us a bottle of whisky if we could answer the Highlands and Islands board's examination of 1890.
Column 171Only four of us took part and I came a very close second only because I had some small historical detail about a battle wrong. I was interested that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) intervened in the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). The hon. Member for Hillsborough obviously thinks that English Members have an important contribution to make in these matters. We must have a contribution to make because we can inform Scottish Members about what has been happening in England.
Clearly the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has not done his research. If he had read the Committee proceedings or carried out research into what has been happening in England, he would have discovered that far from schools choosing opted-out status because they are in danger of being closed, or because they want increased capital allocations, they have chosen that status because the parents want to run their own schools.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan should have considered what has happened in Lincolnshire, in Skegness grammar school, which was the very first school to opt out. If he had considered that, he would have found that Conservative-controlled Lincolnshire county council had not the slightest intention of closing the school or cutting its capital allocation.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : The hon. Gentleman could save himself a great deal of trouble. Due to the benefits of Scottish education, we can read the national newspapers and we can find out what is happening in England.
Mr. Leigh : I read national newspapers and Scottish newspapers with great interest. The hon. Lady may have noticed that The Scotsman published an article of mine recently about Europe, entitled "The Nightmare and the Dream". I am grateful to The Scotsman for giving me the opportunity to make my point.
Mr. Salmond : Is it not possible that Scottish and English parents take a different view of these things? Does the hon. Gentleman agree with his right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan- Smith) that the prosecution of this legislation is a reason why the Conservative vote sank so low in Scotland last Thursday?
Mr. Leigh : That is nonsense. The hon. Gentleman knows that that cannot be true. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have made clear, this is permissive legislation. If it is true that this legislation is deeply unpopular among Scottish parents--and I do not know whether it is or not--I am prepared to give them the chance to find out what it is about. In Committee I asked the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) time and again whether he thought that any schools would opt out. He refused to answer me. We are facing entirely permissive legislation about which the House should not be too worried.
Mr. Bill Walker : In response to the comment made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), is my hon. Friend aware that, in an election in Kirriemuir, the region responsible for education in my constituency, the nationalist candidate was hammered? My constituents have never failed to understand my views or those of my
Column 172colleagues in respect of education, and they support me and my hon, Friend the Minister. There is no better way of showing that support than in a regional election where education was an important issue.
I must reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East about the unitary Parliament. That point has been made again and again in our debates. No doubt he was a Member of the House when the debate was going on, and he must be aware that grammar schools in Lincolnshire were being threatened with closure simply because a Labour-dominated Parliament was trying to force Lincolnshire to close its grammar schools. That Parliament was dominated by Labour Members because of the preponderance of Labour Members from Scotland. The arguments about a unitary Parliament do not hold water.
These debates have revealed fear among Labour Members. They are afraid that there are Conservative Members who are prepared to take these arguments into the very heartlands of Labour party support in Scotland. We are not trying to ape what the Labour party has done. Our radical ideas will bear fruit. They have already borne fruit with the sale of council houses in giving ordinary people choices and opportunities which they would not have had before.
One point comes out strong and clear from our arguments : this is not an attack on the state sector. If we wanted to attack--and I use that phrase carefully--the state sector, would we not be talking about education vouchers or tax relief for sending children to private schools?
Mr. Leigh : The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) should consider what is happening. We are strengthening the state sector. We are talking about creating magnet schools, flagship schools and schools which will provide an opportunity for the whole state sector. This debate is not about destroying the state sector ; it is about improving it. I have no doubt that when people look back on these debates, they will see this legislation as a watershed in Scottish politics. They will see that for the first time, we had the courage to go out there and give choice and freedom to the people. I will not let the hon. Member for Fife, Central forget his article in the Glasgow Herald. He stated :
"The new right has temporarily defined the terms of the debate because they are willing to engage--the hijacking and exploitation by the right of parental choice is one of their most significant victories."
Was it not also significant that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said that English Members--I presume he meant me, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) or one of my other colleagues who are present--dominated the debate? Perhaps we began to dominate the debate because we are in touch with what people really want. This is not about giving rights to minorities. It is about giving rights, opportunities and choices to people who have not been able to afford them
Column 173or take those opportunities hitherto. That is why we will find that this legislation is a watershed and why, from this moment on, we go onwards and upwards in Scotland.
Mr. Leigh : I think that it is significant that the Opposition might not be prepared to vote on amendment No. 33. I challenge them to vote on their amendment. Are they not going to do that because they realise that the amendment is completely unnecessary and misguided? Perhaps they will not vote against it because my hon. Friend the Minister said in Committee :
"the amount of recurrent grant will be comparable to the provision made for schools still under education authority management self-governing schools will remain in the public sector. Therefore, it is right that they should be treated no better and no worse than would be expected for equivalent schools managed by the education authority".--[ Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 20 April 1989 ; c.854.]
Amendment No. 33 is unnecessary and misguided. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West is really worried not about what this narrow technical part of the Bill contains, but that his heartland is being eroded by my hon. Friend the Minister, who will sweep back to power in Scotland in two or three years' time.
Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central) : We have just heard eloquent testimony to why Scots want some control over affairs such as education. We have endured such speeches for nearly eight weeks in Committee. I am deeply apologetic to my hon. Friends for their having to listen to another two or three minutes.
I assure my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) that when we take over the Scottish Office in 1991 or 1992 one of our first steps will be to phase out the assisted places scheme because it encourages nothing but privilege and it is a waste of public expenditure. The £10 million that will have been spent on the scheme by that time could be used more productively in the state sector, where I am sure that children get a better education.
"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.]
Why has the hon. Gentleman changed his mind?
Mr. McLeish : The events of the past two or three days may have confirmed in the minds of civil servants and the Government that we are now on course-- [Interruption.] It would be foolish for any party to give an overall commitment to everything, but let me make it clear that we shall phase out the assisted places scheme, and later on this evening we shall chart what we shall be doing with other parts of the Bill.
The Minister is still playing politics with some of the most sensitive educational issues in Scotland. I bitterly deplore the fact that special needs are still being used as a political football by the Minister and his colleagues on the hard Right, including the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown).
The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes mentioned earlier the letter he had received from Mrs. Lamond. I investigated that letter a bit more effectively than did the hon. Gentleman. Mrs. Lamond wrote to the hon. Gentleman, but on the back of a number of considerations that he has not outlined to the House, the first being essentially political. The lady was advised to write to the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), but he was regarded as too moderate to do anything purposeful with it. It was then suggested that somone a bit more extreme could deal with it more effectively on the Floor of the Committee. Therefore, the letter was sent to the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, allowing him to use it in a most disgraceful fashion by taking one example of a lady with a handicapped child. Since I have been a Member of the House there have been few occasions when an hon. Member has used a letter in such a way to bring contempt on the Government Benches and to illustrate that they have no policy on special needs. Under the guise of crocodile tears, they are seeking to suggest that they care about the future of Scottish education and special needs.
Mr. Brown : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) to cast aspersions on a lady who has a handicapped son and who wrote to me as a member of the Committee to ask me to commend to the Minister the reason for including special schools within the Bill? Surely you should rule against the hon. Gentleman misusing an ordinary lady with a handicapped child for his political purposes.
Mr. McLeish : At the end of that contribution, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you missed the hon. Gentleman laughing. That was interesting. Special needs is a sensitive issue and we are worried that special needs schools in Scotland will be eligible to become self-governing schools. I want to put on the record once more that we deplore the decision that was taken in Committee, supported by the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). The issues involved in special needs schools are far too emotive and sensitive to be divorced from the work of the education authorities which have served them well over many years.
The Minister should put on ice the part of the Bill that deals with special needs until he has engaged in some realistic discussions. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) made a good point when he said that there had been no decent discussions with special needs groups in Scotland. It is outrageous that an area of such sensitivity has been treated in such a cavalier way by the Government, especially the Minister.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman is making a great deal of the lady from Bearsden. Does he recall that the amendment that he tabled in Committee-- [Interruption.] --which he withdrew and which we acknowledge was a mistake on his part, was supported by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council? Is he arguing that not only the lady who wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) but the organisation which speaks for parents and parent-teacher councils in Scotland are out of step? Would it not be appropriate to take account of their wishes rather than responding in the prejudiced way that we have heard in the few moments that he has been addressing the House?
My third and final point relates to the possibility under clause 28 of the characteristics of a school being changed, which poses a direct and real threat to special needs provisions. Very few Opposition Members feel reassured by the Minister's words or actions on the amendments that have been tabled today. The Government should now take seriously special needs in Scotland, whether it be special needs schools or the integration of children with handicaps into local authority provision.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has tabled an amendment that has produced a good debate. I sincerely hope that when we call for a Division the Government will support what is a common sense and obvious way of moving forward.
Mrs. Fyfe : I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) has just said. There has been a disgraceful lack of consultation with bodies representing children with special needs. The imposition of the guillotine on the debate means that we have had no opportunity tonight to discuss the needs of Gaelic speakers and those adult users of school education who will have no opportunity to have their needs considered.
That is demonstrative of the Government's bullying attitude. They still believe, as we know from listening to the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), that they have a right to impose their wishes on the basis of a tiny unrepresentative minority of 10 Scottish Tory Members of Parliament telling Scotland what it will have to suffer. Despite last week's election results, they are still imposing their views on us. They have no European Member of Parliament in Scotland. Glasgow, Central returned a Labour Member to the House, and the Tory candidate lost his deposit yet the Government claim that they have a basis for imposing their views on us. The Government keep telling us about this being a unitary Parliament, which gives them the right to do what they are doing, but they seem to forget that under no circumstances could England have imposed upon it the views of a number of people who do not even represent one seventh of the Members of that Parliament. That is what happens to us and that is why their conduct risks breaking up the United Kingdom and they are complete fools if they do not realise that this is where this is leading. They should realise that once again last week the Scottish people told them that they do not want the Bill. In our doorstep discussions, a lot of anger was shown by people asking why we were having such a Bill when the vast majority of Scottish people clearly do not want it, any more than they
Column 176want the poll tax or the Government cuts, and so on. I hope that a Conservative Member will explain to us tonight on what grounds they can do this to the Scottish people.
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are not only imposing the legislation on the people of Scotland but have not even consulted them about many of its provisions? In Committee, I challenged the Minister in respect of certain matters affecting special schools, asking whether he had consulted any group of parents representing such children. It was obvious that he had consulted none of them.
Mrs. Fyfe : My hon. Friend is absolutely right when he says that the Minister failed to consult relevant bodies representing children with special needs. However, why should he bother to do so when he already ignores the needs and wishes of the Scottish electorate as a whole?
It being half-past Five o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to Order [3rd May] and the Resolution this day, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
The House divided : Ayes 193, Noes 266.
Division No. 248] [5.30 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Beith, A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Duffy, A. E. P.
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Heffer, Eric S.
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)