|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 21265, Lords Amendment 92, Lords Amendments 68 to 78, Lords Amendment 9, Lords Amendment 47, Lords Amendment 52, Lords Amendments 56 to 61, Lords Amendments 63 and 64, Lords Amendment 79, Lords Amendment 91, Lords Amendments 93 and 94, Lords Amendment 3, Lords Amendments 5 to 8, Lords Amendments 11 to 13, Lords Amendments 20 and 21, Lords Amendments 26 to 29, Lords Amendments 48 to 51, Lords Amendments 53 to 55, Lords Amendment 4, Lords Amendment 17, Lords Amendment 39, Lords Amendment 10, Lords Amendments 14 and 15, Lords Amendment 82, Lords Amendments 89 and 90, Lords Amendment 16, Lords Amendment 19, Lords Amendments 22 to 24, Lords Amendments 41 to 43, Lords Amendments 30 to 38, and Lords Amendments 45 and 46.
(3) Subject to the provisions of the Order [3rd May], each part of those proceedings shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion at the end of such period beginning with the commencement of the proceedings on the Motion for this Order as is of the length specified in the second column of the Table set out below.
Table file CD891114.002 not available
2.--(1) For the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1 above--
(a) Mr. Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has already been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided and, if that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment, shall then put forthwith the Question on any further Amendment of the said Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown and on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth agree or disagree with the Lords in the said Lords Amendment or, as the case may be, in the said Lords Amendment as amended ;
(b) Mr. Speaker shall then designate such of the remaining Lords Amendments as appear to him to involve questions of Privilege and shall--
(i) put forthwith the Question on any Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment and then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth agree or disagree with the Lords in their Amendment, or as the case may be, in their Amendment as amended ;
(ii) put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in a Lords Amendment ;
(iii) put forthwith with respect to the Amendments designated by Mr. Speaker which have not been disposed of the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendments ; and (
(iv) put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the remaining Lords Amendments ;
(c) as soon as the House has agreed or disagreed with the Lords in any of their Amendments Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith a separate Question on any other Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown relevant to that Lords Amendment.
(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
Column 213Stages subsequent to first Consideration of Lords Amendments 3.--(1) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion one hour after the commencement of the proceedings.
(2) For the purpose of bringing those proceedings to a conclusion-- (
(a) Mr. Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has already been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided, and shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair ;
(b) Mr. Speaker shall then designate such of the remaining items in the Lords Message as appear to him to involve questions of Privilege and shall
(i) put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on any item ;
(ii) in the case of each remaining item designated by Mr. Speaker, put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in their Proposal ; and
(iii) put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.
Supplemental provisions with respect to certain proceedings 4.--(1) Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons.
(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.
5.--(1) In this paragraph "the proceedings" means proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments, on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill, on the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and on the Report of such a Committee.
(2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
(3) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(4) If the proceedings are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration), the bringing to a conclusion of any part of the proceedings which, under this Order, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
Column 214that we are left with 15 minutes in which to consider 40 amendments to this important legislation. When he opened the debate, the Minister said that many of these amendments are technical, but the first group that we are about to debate contains some significant ones, including those relating to special needs. The system does not allow Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies adequate time in which to debate these vital issues. I want that clearly on the record. I ask you whether there is any way in which we can remedy this ridiculous situation.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Let me answer the last point first. There is no way in which I can make any alterations. I am bound by the resolutions of the House. Secondly, the hon. Lady is correct to say that we had very little time. These points of order are taking time from these important amendments.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Within the rules of the House, how is it possible for us to make an adequate protest against the fact that Scottish National party members were deliberately kept off the Committee considering this Bill, and that even the SNP Member who did serve on the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), was not allowed to participate in the guillotine debate? Ours was the only party not allowed to participate in the debate--not because we do not want to, but because the House does not allow us in.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order to ask whether this contemptuous treatment of Scottish business and the debating of such important amendments in such a ridiculously short time was agreed through the usual channels?
Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill
Lords amendments considered.
Lords amendment : No. 18, in page 9, line 32, leave out "this section" and insert--
"section 19(2) of this Act ;
(aa) having regard to paragraphs 2 to 4 of Part I of Schedule 1 to this Act, specify the respective numbers of parent members, staff members and appointed members who it is proposed should (with the person for the time being head teacher) constitute the board of management which succeeds the interim board of management ;" 5.11 pm
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang) : I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment. Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos 25 and 80.
Mr. Lang : I can tell the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that the Opposition said at an early stage in the Committee that they were looking to spending 120 to 130 hours debating the Bill, but we have spent about 160 hours doing so. It is not the fault of Her Majesty's Government that the Bill has not been scrutinised in full detail in all its clauses.
All these amendments deal with the principle of ensuring a majority of elected parents on the board of management. There is a little history to amendment No. 80, which I shall need to explain to the House. However, so as not to keep the House in suspense, I shall reveal the end of the story straight away : this amendment was introduced by the Government in direct response to pressure from the Opposition.
The Bill as it was when first introduced provided that, when a school became self-governing, the board of management should have the same number of parent and staff members as has the school board ; that the head teacher was to become a full member and there was to be an increase in the number of appointed members. That meant that the parents would have lost their overall majority.
It was quite clear in Standing Committee that there was a will on all sides to preserve the parental majority as it will be on school boards. Indeed the Opposition moved an amendment to that effect. In response to that, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) undertook in Committee to consider whether boards of management should have an in-built parental majority, just as school boards will have. He also undertook to reconsider the provisions for the term of office of appointed members, a point on which the Committee did in fact make some amendment to the Bill. Amendments were made on Report reflecting the outcome of our reconsideration of
Column 216these matters ; and since there was no opportunity to explain them at the time, I think it will help the House if I do so now. They provide the necessary context for the understanding of this group of amendments.
Although we needed little persuasion that there should be a parental majority, we do also attach importance to the provision that a board of management should have some increase over the school board in its outside representation. A board of management will have greater responsibilities than any school board can have ; and it is likely to want to call on a wider range of experience among its members. However, if we increase the number of outside members and still want to have a parental majority there obviously has to be provision for an increase in parent members. That would be necessary in any case because the head teacher becomes a full member of the board of management, and that in itself would remove the parental majority.
Then a question arises. If extra places have to be filled by election, when will be the most convenient time to hold the election? Should one hold it during the run-up to self-governing status, or immediately after? This led us into a further consideration. If elections are going to have to be held in any case, it seemed to us that, for wider reasons, it would make sense simply to have new elections for the whole board. The change from being a school board to being a board of management is a considerable one, and individuals who may have been happy to serve on a school board, and even to support a proposal for self-governing status, will not necessarily want personally to take on the extra commitment and responsibility involved in serving on the board of management of a self-governing school.
It might also seem logical to get this new board elected and put in place as soon as possible after the decision has been taken that the school is to become self-governing. However we concluded on balance that this might complicate the transitional period unduly. There will be much to do for the management of any school during that period, in taking over from the education authority and preparing for the assumption of full responsibility, and it would be better not to add to that by a requirement to conduct elections and hand over to a new board.
Therefore, we concluded that the best and most convenient option will be to have the school board continue unchanged right through to the point where the school becomes self-governing. At that point, the school board will be incorporated as an interim board of management, and its duty will be to conduct elections to the board of management proper as quickly as possible and then to hand over to the newly elected board, whose members will in turn select the appointed members of that board. The board of management will thus be, in its composition, a slightly expanded school board.
That is the gist of the amendments which we tabled for Report and which were incoporated into the Bill as it left this House. Among them was this one which now appears as amendment No. 80 in today's list. It is the key amendment which discharges my hon. Friend's undertaking. However it was omitted by printer's error from the Notice Paper on the day of the Report debate, although it had been tabled and had appeared on the Notice Paper for the previous day. It was necessary therefore to table it again in another place, and that is how it comes to appear today as amendment No. 80.
Column 217I should have liked to explain to the House in more detail the implications of Lords amendments Nos. 80 and 25, but as the time for consideration is short, it would be sensible for me to finish- -
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) : this is ridiculous. Ignorant comments from the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) on Scottish education only exacerbate an already bad situation and increase the frustrations that the Opposition feel.
We are pleased that the Minister has taken the point that we made in Committee about the parental majority. He is right to say that we made that point. When the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988 was going through its stages in the House, we were against parental majority. We are for it under the provisions of this Bill, for the simple reason that schools dealt with under the School Boards (Scotland) Act still retain a link with the local authority, whereas for the schools dealt with in this Bill, that link is destroyed. For that reason, we think that a parental majority will enhance the democratic process of governing the schools.
The Government have not adequately answered the question of what constitutes the community and what constitutes the appointed members. As it stood, the number of community members or parents could be overruled by appointed members. We are concerned about the wishes of parents. During the recess, I visited every primary and secondary school and spoke to the parents of children in almost every one of those schools. I got the message that there was not much interest in the Bill's provisions. I told these parents that the Government were interested in doing their business by stealth. They have a public agenda and a private agenda : the public one says that they are interested in parents, while the private one sets out their naked ideological objectives.
If the Government were interested in parents, they would have consulted parents in Scotland. The hallmark of the Bill is the lack of consultation with parents or public representatives. It is sad that the Under-Secretary who was responsible for the Bill has moved on, because he will not get his comeuppance. He has left it in the hands of his friends.
I visited Dallas in Texas two years ago and looked at schools there. I was taken round many fine magnet schools. I am sure that the hon. Member for Stirling would say that that is the objective for Scotland. Yes, the schools were good, but that afternoon I also went to see the supervisor or superintendent of education in Dallas and said that it was true that the city had good magnet schools in literature, business and science and so on. However, when I asked him about the attendance figures for Dallas, he said that the official drop-out rate--that is what it is called in America--was 45 per cent., but unofficially the figure was 55 per cent.
Column 218That shows that, if the Government go ahead with the Bill and ignore the parental majority, they will be saying that they do not care about the majority of the population, only about the minority. That is what happened in Dallas. That view is underlined in the Government's philosophy towards education and society in general. That is why there has been such an outcry in Scotland against the provisions, and that is why we do not see the Bill as a liberating or enabling measure-- that is just a kid-on from Conservative Members--because if anything, it is a centralising Bill.
Ultimately, the Secretary of State has all the aces. In this capacity he is nothing more than a Stalinist, because he is taking exactly-- [Interruption.] No, I never called the hon. Member for Stirling a Stalinist--I shall leave that to other people--but this is a centralising Bill. The Secretary of State will have all the aces. He will say what each and every school can do. The Secretary of State is showing his naked ideology by looking at Scottish education and saying that, although local authorities may have served their communities well, because they are non- Tory, they will have to go. Scottish education and the interests of our young people are being sacrificed for those narrow ends. That is the message that we must put across, even at this late stage. It would have been one thing if the Secretary of State and his Ministers had consulted the public, but there has been absolutely no consultation. That is why the Bill will be thoroughly rejected. The only chink of light is that the Secretary of State was good enough--if one can call it that-- to retain the parental majority on the board, thus enhancing, or rather keeping some, democracy and community involvement.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Not only do we have the farce of a timetable being forced on Scottish Members of Parliament as a result of the hypocrisy of Conservative Members, but the new Minister at the Scottish Office, who is responsible for education, is not prepared to allow one hon. Member who served at length on the Committee and who spoke at length, moving many amendments--which is more than the Minister did--to intervene to ask a simple and straightforward question.
Mr. Lang rose --
Mrs. Ewing : It is only because of that that I have to rise to put that question to him. [ Hon. Members :-- "Give way."] The Minister has spoken at length about the procedures, resolutions and ballots, but I wish to pursue him on the issue to which the Secretary of State gave voice on Report. Will there be encouragement from the Scottish Office for a moratorium between the establishment of a school board and the possible holding of ballots on opting out? The Secretary of State suggested that he would not encourage that procedure in the first one or two years of the establishment of a school board. When the Minister replies, please will he make clear the time scale that we are talking about? Will school boards be able to start that procedure almost immediately, or will there be a moratorium?
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles) : Amendment No. 80, on which the Minister has asked us to focus as the most important in this group, sums up much of the deception underlying the whole Bill. The amendment purports to enhance or to increase democracy in the Bill,
Column 219but we know that the Bill is nothing less than a diminution of local democracy and of genuine community control over our schools. As my hon. Friends have said, that is what the Bill is about. The Minister said that once schools became self-governing--I believe that I am quoting him--they would be "just as much a public and a community asset as before". How can that be when the Government are removing any powers, control or influence that the community may have over such schools when they become self-governing? If there is no community control and no community say, how can the community influence community use of the new self-governing schools? What is happening is not an enhancement of local democracy, but a reduction in local democracy because communities are being stripped of any democratic outlet or expression that they have over the conduct, future, or fate of self-governing schools.
The bizarre concept underlying the amendment, and, indeed the whole Bill, is that, in some way, the local education authorities do not represent the democratic will of their communities, that they stifle or distort the will of the people and what they want in the schools in their local education authority area. That bizarre concept--that local education authorities are somehow undemocratic but that the new self-governing schools will be democratic--is absolutely bizarre-- It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Madam Deputy Speaker-- then designated Lords amendments Nos. 65 and 94 as appearing to her to involve questions of privilege. Lords amendments Nos. 65 and 94 agreed to. [Special Entry.] Lords amendments Nos. 25, 80, 1, 66, 67, 81, 83 to 88, 2, 40, 44, 62, 92, 68 to 78, 9, 47, 52, 56 to 61, 63, 64, 79, 91, and 93 agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 3, in page 6, line 24, after "board" insert
"(a "first resolution")" to hold such a ballot and confirm that decision by a resolution (a "second resolution") passed at a meeting of the board held not less than twenty-eight days, nor more than forty-two days, after that at which the first resolution was passed".
Mr. Lang : The amendment requires a school board to pass two separate resolutions, the second in confirmation of the first, before it may call a ballot of parents on self-governing status, with a period of between four and six
Column 220weeks between the two resolutions. The other amendments in this group are all consequential, to deal with references later in the Bill to a resolution of a school board calling a ballot. Immediately on passing the first resolution the board must, under the terms of subsections (6) and (7) of clause 13, inform the education authority and, where the school is a denominational school, the denominational body concerned.
I said something about this amendment in speaking on the timetable motion earlier, and I should like to enlarge on it now. I note that the Opposition moved a rather similar amendment in Standing Committee. They did not develop their reasons for it at the time--indeed, they subsequently withdrew it--and my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), quite properly in the circumstances, dismissed it with a brief explanation of why we did not think it necessary to follow the English legislation in this particular. He stressed the desirability of keeping the opting-out procedure as short as possible, and I think that it has been accepted on all sides that at any rate the procedure should not be unduly drawn out.
A good deal of water has flowed under the bridge since then, however. Immediately after that amendment was disposed of, the Committee moved on to a discussion, which eventually was quite wide ranging, of the whole procedure leading up to a ballot, and particularly about how voters in a ballot should be made aware of the significance of what they would be voting for or against. There were, for example, amendments discussed on the lines that voters should be given a statement of the views of the staff at the school or that they should be given a kind of prospectus by the school board, outlining how the school would be managed, and under what policies, if it became self-governing.
I think that it is fair to say that those debates served to inform everyone's thinking, on both sides of the House and outside Parliament as well. Amendments were made both in Committee and on Report which are relevant to this matter. My hon. Friend accepted an amendment from the Opposition which was designed to guarantee that voters were given the information that they would reasonably require in order to make a decision in the ballot and, in response to points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) we introduced a new clause on report, which is now clause 17, designed to ensure that a local authority cannot use its superior financial resources to swamp the voters with propaganda, and to provide that the school board, if it is so minded, shall have a reasonable sum available to it to promote the case in favour of self-governing status.
The amendment was tabled by my noble Friend Baroness Carnegy of Lour, with Labour support, in another place and was also seen as relevant to the same general concern when it was discussed in another place. The House may therefore find it helpful if I set the amendment in the context of how we see a ballot being conducted.
It is clear that when a school board decides to call a ballot, the matter will instantly become news. There is no possibility of the ballot being, as it were, conducted by stealth. Obviously the parents must be informed, but even before that, the education authority must be informed as soon as the board's resolution is taken. Likewise, the staff at the school--even if they do not receive a formal
Column 221communication from the board, as one would expect them to do--will hear of the decision from their representatives on the board. Both the education authority and the staff will certainly have views on the matter. They will want to make them known to the board but, even more, they will want to publicise them and communicate them direct to the parent voters. Those actions will occur irrespective of whether we legislate for them. At the same time, the school board will itself almost certainly want to put its case to its constituents. Even if it did not do so, the parents would surely demand to know what their board had in mind.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Perhaps the Minister will now answer the question I asked earlier about a moratorium between the establishment of a school board and the possibility of moving towards opting out.
Mr. Lang : The provisions of the Bill are for no moratorium between the establishment of a school board and the starting of the procedure towards opting out ; it can set in motion the procedure, if it thinks it appropriate when it is constituted. But that process, as I have been describing and could describe in greater detail, is likely to take several months before reaching a conclusion.
As I was saying, the school board will almost certainly want to put its case to its constituents. Even if it did not do so, the parents would surely demand to know what their board had in mind. There are provisions under the School Boards (Scotland) Act under which a board is required to communicate with parents as often as seems to be necessary about matters which are its concern ; and there is provision also for parents to requisition an open meeting with the board. So the machinery is there.
We plan shortly to issue guidance to school boards, in addition to the general circular which we have already issued in draft, specifically on the details of the procedure for acquiring self-governing status. We shall reinforce there the message that it is desirable that a board should be as open as possible with parents about what it intends. In particular, we shall encourage boards to give parents the opportunity to express their views and discuss the issue at open meetings before the ballot is held. That, we think, is by far the most effective way of ensuring that parents get a chance to understand what is involved when they come to cast their votes.
Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to address the House when there is not on the Government Benches another Member who represents a Scottish constituency?
Column 222even if parents pass a vote of no confidence in a school board, that board need not take any notice. Until school boards have some accountability, there will be no faith in this legislation.
Mr. Lang : As the proposition about opting out would have to be put to the parents in a ballot, the parents would have an opportunity to express their view clearly and decisively in the context of that process.
In that context, the procedure required by the amendment will be a positive help. It guarantees that, in addition to the period that must elapse between a decision to ballot and the holding of the ballot, there will be at least four weeks' of public debate on the issue. In addition, at the end of that period the board is given an opportunity to reconsider its position, in the light of the feedback that it will have had from the education authority, from the staff at the school and from the parents who elected it. At that point the board will be free to decide whether it still wants to go ahead with a ballot, and it will have to take a positive decision, ratifying the earlier one, if it still means to go ahead.
The amendment will be wholly beneficial to the process from any point of view, and I commend it to the House.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : Like others, I have questions about the balloting of parents. The Minister said that parents would be informed--by methods that have yet to be revealed. He agreed that parents' meetings would be the ideal places for such information to be given. How will parents be notified? Is it possible that notifications of such meetings, or even the ballot papers, will lie at the bottom of school bags along with crusts of bread and empty crisp bags for perhaps several weeks? If the Minister has more precise proposals, will he tell us about them?
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood) : I support the Minister's remarks and wish at the outset to thank him for including clause 17 in the revised Bill. He will recall that, when I intervened in his speech in the guillotine debate, I expressed concern about sone of the experiences in England and Wales and said that such experiences had not filled one with confidence that the local authority would not use its overbearing power to intimidate--I used the word "bludgeon"--parents. The Minister has shown the Government's commitment to parental choice.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : I hope that the Minister will make it absolutely clear that he will not allow to happen in Scotland what has been going on in England. For example, The Birmingham Daily News wrote :
"Opt-out school banned by city council"
and under that headline noted :
"More than 1,000 Birmingham youngsters have been banned from using the city's libraries because their school has opted out". Such disgraceful behaviour must not be repeated in Scotland.
Mr. Howarth : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that to the attention of the House because it illustrates the pitfalls that can face schools when the local authority seeks to be overbearing.