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Mr. Bill Walker : I would not wish the House to be misled any more than I wished the Committee to be misled. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) asked central office in Edinburgh about that matter. He was given an answer that was not in accordance with what I understood the position to be or with the platform on which I stood at the last election. Hon. Members must ask themselves why, then, my result improved. I made my views about this legislation clear --I wanted it, I worked for it and I look forward to its implementation. I said that during 44 speeches in my constituency.
Mr. McLeish : I am sure that the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) will want to put on the record what was actually said in the telephone calls between him, the Scottish Office and the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro).
There is a betrayal here, and "betrayal" is one of the dirtiest words in politics. The Ministers here tonight have betrayed the people of Scotland. It was made quite clear in the general election campaign, even to the extent that the Government's principal spokesmen were paraded before The Scotsman, that the Government categorically denied that opting out would be on the agenda. However, that is history.
The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside had an excellent piece in this morning's edition of The Scotsman. He gave advice to which the Secretary of State for Scotland should listen. It is clear that, after the debacle of the European elections and the impact of Thatcherism in Scotland, where the Tories were completely wiped out, the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside has made some excellent observations. He has offered the Secretary of State and the Conservatives some ideas on the way forward. He stated that, in education, most people regarded the schools opt -out legislation as an irrelevance and continued to be offended by attitudes towards the universities. Those were courageous comments, and it is not for the Opposition to exploit them further.
There is compelling pressure on the Secretary of State for Scotland to listen to the Opposition, to the Scottish people and to the reasoned, rational sane voice of Scottish Conservative politics like that espoused by certain distinguished Tory Back Benchers. The Opposition are listening to those Tory Back Benchers. It is often asked : if that voice is good enough for the Opposition, why can it not be good enough for Conservative Members?
The Government parade choice and parental power. However, this Bill, like education legislation in England, centralises power in a way that we have not seen in Scottish education for many years. For "choice" we should read centralised control. The Minister referred to standards, while my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) spoke about selection. The Bill is not about standards in Scottish education. Most of the Conservative Members who have spoken tonight know nothing about the standards in Scottish schools. All the evidence suggests that Scottish schools are doing extremely well, although they could be doing much better.
We should also be concerned about parents. The involvement of parents was clearly the brainwave of the Minister and of the Prime Minister. They must have asked themselves how they could sell unpalatable policies throughout the length and breadth of the country. They decided to hi-jack parents. For parents we should of course read privatisation.
Scots are not fools and very few Scots will be taken in by this parental nonsense. If the Government were serious about parental choice, they would give every parent the chance to be involved in schools instead of the rather selective situation which will ensue through the school boards, and the more selective approach through self-governing schools.
Earlier in the debate, the Minister chided me for suggesting that we should not be making statements about future education policy. We were buoyed up by last week's results. It is clear that politics is about mood and morale. We look forward with increasing confidence to the day
Column 276when we can rid the Scottish Office of its present incumbents and bring some sanity back to Scottish education.
The Minister may not like what was said about his precious assisted places scheme. That scheme may disappear on day one when the Opposition regain control of the Scottish Office, but much will have to be done in the rest of the week. The people of Scotland who are considering opting out, or technology academies, should be aware that the Opposition want to ensure that schools which opt out and any technology academies will be reintegrated into the education authority sector.
The reason is simple : both those so-called innovations have nothing to do with extending choice or creating diversity. They are all to do with destroying, step by step, the comprehensive system of education that has been built up by Conservatives, Labour, Scottish nationalists and Liberals during the past few years. When we take office, we shall have none of this nonsense. We shall give back to Scotland investment in education and policies to strengthen the comprehensive system. In the interim, we shall ensure that there is constructive resistance to such education policies.
It is a tragedy that a Bill which is so uniquely despised in Scotland has taken up so much time in the House. We had nearly two months in Committee. The Minister had the cheek to suggest that he had accepted 100 amendments in Committee. Without preaching Anglicisation, may I say that the sad fact is that this shabby Scottish Bill does not even have the safeguards that were included in the English Act. What the Secretary of State for Education and Science thought was good enough for English and Welsh people has not been accepted by the ideologue who is the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.
This is a disappointing day for Scottish education ; but morale in education is high. There will be a struggle against this legislation, and I assure those taking part that the Labour party will be in the forefront of the struggle. I urge my colleagues to vote against Third Reading. This Bill does not deserve it.
Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith : I need no advice from the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) on what I should do or where I may stand. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), but I am perfectly happy to answer for myself. Nothing that has happened in the past few days has given me cause to change my views on this issue or on any others. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will acknowledge that I have consistently been saying the same things about education in Scotland for the past two years. I am genuinely sad, as we come to the Third Reading of the Bill, that nothing has happened during our consideration of it to convince me that it has merits and should be supported. I still regard it as irrelevant. I do not believe that there is a serious demand for it in Scotland, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) has repeatedly said, there is a demand in some areas. Those to whom I have talked have sensed some confusion over that demand. Is it being demanded for its own sake, or is it being demanded as a way out of problems such as a threatened closure? I acknowledge that
Column 277there is demand in some areas, but no one can contradict my assertion that there is no general demand for the Bill in Scotland. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State have said to me several times, "If it is irrelevant, and if there is no general demand, why worry?" I worry because I believe that the Bill has deep implications for the structure and future development of education in Scotland. I ask them in return, "If it is irrelevant, as I believe it is, and if there is no evidence of great demand, why waste precious parliamentary time in this Session on a Bill which is unnecessary and which has created needless controversy?"
The Bill will change the structure of education in Scotland because it contains the seeds of division for the system generally and, worst of all, for those communities where schools may consider opting out. There is scope in the Bill for extreme groups from any background to exploit problems. The Bill is not in the line of succession of our Scottish educational tradition.
As I said at the outset, in recent years we have witnessed considerable changes in Scottish education--changes in the curriculum and in examinations, for example, and the introduction of school boards, which I supported once the original proposals had been moderated. The Government are imposing far too heavy a diet of change for no clear educational reason or advantage, and in doing that they are wrong. The Bill follows far too closely on the establishment of the school boards. Hon. Members will have addressed parent-teacher association meetings and other school meetings in their constituencies, and will know of the confusion in many people's minds about the establishment of the school boards, which I support, and the opting-out proposals, which follow so closely on it. The Government are doing a disservice to the successful establishment and operation of school boards by introducing the Bill so soon afterwards. The school boards should have been up and working before further change was contemplated.
I am one who believes in evolution, not revolution--as all good Conservatives should. Nowhere in our national life is evolution more important than in education. I am sad that the Government should have proceeded in this way, and equally sad to say that I still cannot support the Bill.
Sir Russell Johnston : The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) has made a speech of clarity and courage. We all know that it is not easy to speak out against one's party, and that must be especially true given the difficult position of the Conservative party in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman made a straightforward speech, and I agreed with almost everything that he said, although our impression is that the school boards are not proving as acceptable as some claim. But let us leave the school boards aside because they are not the main issue tonight. The Minister has said that we are wrong to oppose the Bill because it is only permissive--people can choose to opt out or choose not to. We oppose the Bill because, as the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside said, there is no demand for it in Scotland. It is worth repeating that it is passing strange that, while the Government at least accept that more than 50 per cent. of parents should
Column 278have to vote for opting-out before it can take place, the Bill stems from a Government with only 25 per cent. of support in Scotland.
The Bill has been rejected throughout Scotland, and its rejection has been coupled with a lack of comprehension of the motivation behind it. People are asking why it is being introduced. As the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside asked, why have we spent all this time putting the Bill through the House?
The Government say that the Bill is about increasing choice. The Scottish Consumer Council, on the other hand, argues :
"Proposals to allow schools to opt-out' of education authority control are ill-timed and do not offer parents a significant extension of choice."
The Church of Scotland's education committee says :
"The exercise of powers being proposed by the Bill are likely to be to the disadvantage of children in the sections of the community already suffering most deprivation."
The presbytery of Inverness education committee says :
"The committee is not convinced that the proposals in this paper are to the best interests of Scottish Education."
The great majority of those involved in education seem to be saying that the Bill is not relevant and will not expand educational opportunity. The Minister has attacked the Educational Institute of Scotland ; in Committee he did so often. Far be it from me to say that the EIS is a perfect organisation, but its reason for existence is to advance the quality of education and that is what it strives to do. It makes no sense for the Minister responsible for education in Scotland to spend so much time attacking the EIS rather than discussing matters with it and trying to move forward.
Many people feel that the Bill could represent a covert means or reintroducing selectivity, at least in certain areas. That was also in the mind of the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside and it was certainly a view felt by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council which
"believes that comprehensive education might well be compromised by these proposals and that it would have been more honest to have an open and informed debate about its successes and failures, rather than allowing it to be eroded as a consequence of this proposed legislation."
Our view is that unnecessary legislation is being imposed on the people of Scotland by a minority. The Minister referred earlier to something being a travesty of democracy. This is a travesty of democracy in a country that is increasingly becoming the least democratic in the European Community.
Mr. Allan Stewart : With the greatest respect, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) is not in the strongest position to talk about electoral percentages, following the recent election results. I shall not extend that argument because I would not wish to add any further insult to the injuries that were inflicted upon the Social and Liberal Democrats by the electorate. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on a masterly presentation of the Government's case throughout the long Committee stage. He was flexible where he felt that there was a case for changing the Government's position. For example, he was flexible on the issue of the chairmanship of the university courts and in providing for a second ballot before self-governing status could be achieved.
It gives me particular pleasure to speak on Third Reading. I had the pleasure last year of tabling a new
Column 279clause to the School Boards (Scotland) Bill which would have provided for self-governing schools. I moved that new clause not because of ideology or any particular philosophical convictions but because of representations from constituents. That is my answer to all the nonsense about manifesto commitments and what was said and what was not said. During my election campaign I did not make a manifesto commitment to support opting out, but that was before the decisions by Strathclyde regional council which persuaded me as a constituency Member to raise this matter in the House. I am delighted that the Bill is to reach the statute book.
In Committee, we heard an enormous amount of nonsense about what are described as Scotland's educational traditions. In the Glasgow Herald this morning, we read about what the Labour party believes Scottish educational traditions to be all about. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) has described Scottish education in this way :
"Before 1979 Education was used by successive Governments in an attempt to engineer a more egalitarian society."
That is the kind of Scottish educational tradition in which the Labour party believes, and it should be rejected comprehensively by the Government.
We heard also that the concept of technology academies is alien to Scotland's educational traditions. However, one of the proposed sites for a technology academy agreed by the leader of Strathclyde council and by the chairman of its education committee is Allan Glens. Anyone who knows anything about the history of Allan Glens knows that it was always envisaged as the location of a technology academy. There has been much discussion about the number of schools that may opt for self-governing status. I may tell my hon. Friend the Minister that he has already won, even before a single school chooses to be self governing, because he has changed the way in which education authorities react to parents' wishes. That is what the Bill is all about.
I have referred, at excessive length in the view of Opposition Members, to the Neilston case and to others I know about. There is no doubt that when Scotland's education leaders take decisions in future, they will be aware of the importance of being responsive to parents, because parents will have the additional choice of opting for self-governing status. That is the key message that goes out from the House to the parents of Scotland.
The Opposition's performance on the Bill has been subject to a certain amount of press comment, and I do not wish to deepen their wounds. However, by far the greatest tribute, if that is the right word, to their lack of performance was that of the general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, who refers to the EIS providing Scotland's official opposition to the Bill. What does that say about the role played by the Labour party in Scotland? The Glasgow Herald article, commenting on Mr. Jim Martin, the EIS's new general secretary, stated :
"He has been impressive, partly because he has usurped the political role of the Opposition."
In his surprisingly honest article in the Glasgow Herald, the hon. Member for Fife, Central writes :
"There is a sense of being outmanoeuvred, yet no real alternative has emerged."
Column 280There can be no better description of the Opposition's performance during the passage of the Bill. That is their epitaph, and they wrote it themselves.
Mrs. Fyfe : When the Scottish public realise tomorrow morning that about 50 Conservative Members wasted a whole hour of the precious little time left for debate to urge freedom for Conservative students, the National Front, contra generals, and the like, and then revealed, by not pressing new clause 12, that they really wanted to store up their views for a future debate, that public will be bitterly angry. In debates lasting seven hours, no opportunity has been given to debate the needs of adult learners attending schools or colleges of further education, student rectors, Gaelic speakers, trade union rights, negotiating machinery, and the low wages of school workers. The subject of further education received only a brief mention on Second Reading and in Committee, and none at all tonight. Numerous other topics relating to the Bill--it would take too long to mention them all--have not been aired tonight, because Conservative Members thought that it would be more fun to create a diversion for an hour. That is how seriously they treat Scottish legislation, and that is why they are treated with such contempt by the Scottish electorate. During the recent by-election I spoke at several public meetings on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson). With my colleagues I knocked on doors every day for three weeks, and not once did I find anyone who was in favour of the Bill. The local electorate also knew that Allan Glen's school was in Townhead and not in the Gorbals, thereby demonstrating the superiority of their knowledge of education in Glasgow to that of the Minister. Not only did no one ask anything about the Bill, but when I raised it at public meetings not a single member of the audience professed to be in favour of it.
Hon. Members have talked of testing. It is clear that the Tories have failed every electoral test in Scotland, again and again. I remind them that someone with more wisdom than Robert the Bruce said, "If you try, try, try again and still do not succeed, quit : no need to be a damn fool about it! "
Mr. McFall : It gives me great pleasure to speak against the Bill, whose hallmark has been a complete lack of consultation with teachers, education managers or parents in Scotland. There has been more consultation with English Back Benchers than with anyone in Scotland.
For 35 minutes the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) wittered on, encouraging interventions ; yet Scottish Members who were on the Committee, scrutinising the legislation line by line, can get in only two or three minutes at the end of the night. There is something wrong with the system : that is why the frustrations are building up in Scotland, and the Government are so blind that they cannot even see it. The conduct of this Bill shows how out of touch they are with Scottish education, and the narrowness of their view as put forward by the Parliamentary Under- Secretary. Is it the view of the Secretary of State? My interpretation is that Scottish education at present is dictated by a leak in the Glasgow
Column 281Herald and by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who has more power now than he has ever had : he is the Dirty Harry of Scottish politics. Whenever he says anything, it is put forward as education legislation.
I said at the outset of the proceedings on the School Boards (Scotland) Bill 1988 that a two-stage process was involved. I was departing from the view of my Front Bench, which had stated that the Bill represented a climbdown by the Government : my view was that the Bill had been set up to level the playing field between Scotland and England so that the legislation available to England could be introduced. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary said in this very Chamber that the Secretary of State for Education and Science was frit, because he would not go further and completely privatise English education. It was the real Parliamentary Under -Secretary who stood up then, but tonight, in the freedom of speech debate, we did not see him. But we see him in Scotland, however, each and every day, as do the electorate : we see him for all that he is not worth. Many aspects of the Bill are reprehensible--indeed, every aspect, not least that of academic selection. On Monday 6 March the Secretary of State said that the Bill was not about selectivity. If I were not in the Chamber, I would describe that as a gross mendacity ; I am in the Chamber, however, so I shall not. Writ large in the Bill is that it is about academic selection : it is about taking Scottish education back 100 years, and putting it in a Victorian political time warp in which the minority will be satisfied and the majority rejected. The Bill will destroy public education. Some say that it will Anglicise education in Scotland. That is nonsense. It only gives succour to the Scottish National party and others. [Interruption.] I am quite happy to say that.
Mr. McFall : The hon. Gentleman is quite right. As a consequence I went to the Educational Institute of Scotland's offices in Edinburgh and told them where it had gone wrong. It cannot be said too often that the Bill is about the destruction of public education in Scotland. It will loosen the links between local education authorities and the electorate. The Under-Secretary of State is loosening the links because for many years Labour-controlled local education authorities have been too successful. This is a naked political attempt to make a breach between electorates and councillors. The Under-Secretary of State knows that. I have asked him about it two or three times and each time he has smiled or smirked at me.
The Minister and the Conservative party in Scotland are ideologues. They have both public and private aspirations. The public aspiration is that the Bill will provide greater choice and freedom. The private aspiration was revealed when the Under-Secretary of State lowered his guard. It is about greed--about cheque-book education. At a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh the Under-Secretary of State said that for him education was about people using their cheque books in the way that they want. Education, for him, is a rejection of all that has been good in Scottish education during the last 100 years--an education system which has provided choice and diversity.
Column 282The Conservative party has not briefed its candidates or its officers in Scotland. I was on a public platform with a certain Michael Hirst, who used to be a Member of Parliament, but he was rejected by the electors in Strathkelvin and Bearsden. He said that the electorate would be able to get rid of individuals who do not come up to the mark as school board members or officers after four years. But four years is far too long. Scottish education will be destroyed within one or two years. The Minister was clever enough to see that, because he wants to destroy it within a year or two. The evolution of education in Scotland during the last 100 years has been a painful process. We stand for an egalitarian system and for equality of opportunity for boys and girls. That is why most of the Scottish electorate are behind us. That is why the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) are behind us. That is why 40 per cent. of Scottish Tory Back Benchers are against the Bill. They are listening to their constituents. They are not listening, as is the Under-Secretary of State, to the No Turning Back group.
Buchanan-Smith)--that, like all decent Scottish Tories, he believed in evolution rather than revolution? Yet in Committee on the School Boards (Scotland) Bill the Minister boasted that he was a revolutionary. Might that not explain the very bad results for the Conservative party last Thursday?
Mr. McFall : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside remarked that the legislation has appeared out of the blue. It is on record in Hansard that during the last general election in 1987 the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside phoned Conservative Central Office in Edinburgh and asked, "Is opting-out on the Tory agenda for this election?" He was told loud and clear, "No, there is no such thing as opting-out coming on to the agenda so you can be reassured and you can tell your electorate that we have no such thing on the agenda." But the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside did not consider the hon. Member for Eastwood or the Prime Minister's Private Office--
It being Twelve o'clock, Madam 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 245, Noes 191.
Division No. 254] [12 midnight
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)