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Mr. Gallie: The hon. Gentleman has used the word "confusion", and I must admit that I am a little confused. He initially complained about the setting up of a quango, but he fails to realise that by setting up one quango, we are demolishing two, so a gain is made. He also suggested that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chickened out of addressing the issue of nursery vouchers today, but the hon. Gentleman complained about the length of time that my right hon. Friend took to advocate nursery vouchers. Is there not something wrong with the hon. Gentleman's argument?

Mr. Robertson: I shall take a couple of seconds to clarify the hon. Gentleman's mind--a difficult enough task at any time. First, I did not attack the creation of a quango. We are in favour of a Scottish Qualifications Authority. I simply made the point that three quarters of the places on that new quango will be in the sole gift of the Secretary of State for Scotland--unlike the old Scottish Examinations Board, which included a fair representation from the various constituencies involved in the examination boards. That should have been the model for the new authority.

Secondly, I did not accuse the Secretary of State of being chicken. He was the one who made a huge fuss about my not speaking in the Grand Committee debate in Stirling. I made the point that, until lunchtime today, we had been authoritatively told that the junior Minister would open the debate on this flagship Bill. Indeed, I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State came here and has attempted to defend his policies.

The Secretary of State can hide behind his tartan soundbites, but these ideological transplants, such as the voucher scheme, offer compelling evidence of the sort that will eventually send him and the Government packing from power. What is the Government's real agenda? It is certainly not nursery education--

Mr. Forsyth: I have just been perusing the Bill--I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has not had an opportunity to do so yet--to find the relevant words, since the hon. Gentleman has accused me of misleading the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell) in respect of powers of inspection. He will find them in schedule 5(2) to the Bill.

Mr. Robertson: That just refers to the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. The Secretary of State, I must remind him, told the Grand Committee:

The right hon. Gentleman was referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, East at the time. The standards are not specified in the Bill; they will be

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specified by order, and they were outlined in a document on quality assurance that was thrown to the press at the end of the debate in question.

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman is wrong. If he reads schedule 5 carefully, he will see that it is an amendment to the 1980 Act, inserting a paragraph which enables inspections to be made by Her Majesty's inspectors on behalf of the Secretary of State to ensure that standards are maintained. That is the provision to which I referred in Stirling.

Mr. Robertson: Let me read it again slowly, so that the Secretary of State can understand what he said in January:

Schedule 5 merely gives the Secretary of State the power to cause inspections to be made. It is not about any standards that may be required.

So it is clear that standards for public inspection are not included. The Minister has merely given himself a blanket power--

Mr. Forsyth: It is true that we are taking a power to get the inspectorate to inspect nursery providers. When this Government take powers, they intend to use them. We do not take power only so as not to use it. We are taking the power to hold inspections because we are going to do just that--it is just like the tartan tax in that respect.

Mr. Robertson: So that is what the Secretary of State means by compulsory voluntary testing, is it? He is saying that he will produce legislation that will introduce testing to secondary education, but that parents who do not want that can opt out of it. Will a statutory obligation be included? The right hon. Gentleman says that the Government do not take powers unless they intend to use them. In that case, will parents be forced to have their children take the tests?

Mr. Forsyth: No, they will not be so forced--but they will not be in a position in which local authorities make no provision for testing, either. There will be a nationally organised programme of testing. Children will be able to participate in it, and parents who want national, objective assessments of their children's skills in the three Rs will be able to have them done, just as they can get information about standards.

I find the hon. Gentleman's position amazing. He is against externally marked tests for S1 and S2, but in favour of standard grade and, presumably, of highers. What is the difference? He seems to be putting dogma before the interests of pupils and their parents.

There is no question of compulsion, but the opportunity will be given, and there will be a national system. If the hon. Gentleman were true to the principles of new Labour, he would endorse that.

Mr. Robertson: So there will be no compulsion. Remarkably, people can pick and choose with this system of compulsory voluntary testing. Again, I remind the Secretary of State that last time it was the parents who brought about the downfall of his scheme--not teachers

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or education authorities. And it is the parents who will ultimately decide whether his ideological experiments work or not.

Mr. Forsyth: It is important to be quite clear about this. Why is the hon. Gentleman making such a meal of it? No one is compelled to take standard grades, which are organised nationally. This is an external assessment of ability. So why is the hon. Gentleman against the idea?

Mr. Robertson: We know nothing about the costing or the administration of the scheme. The Secretary of State has now returned to the old qualifying examinations: the standard grade and the highers. On the one hand, he is offering these voluntary compulsory tests; on the other, he compares them with examinations that result in qualifications for those who pass. I do not think that he has thought the matter through. When told at lunchtime today that he would have to speak to the Bill, he decided, on a whim, to go for the failed old experiment for which he virtually fell on his sword last time. He will not get away with it this time, either--

Mr. Bill Walker: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robertson: I have given way generously, almost to the point of abusing the House's procedures, but I may give way to the hon. Gentleman later, as he perhaps represents a different strain of Conservatism.

All this certainly has nothing to do with nursery education. The right hon. Gentleman's mentor, Baroness Thatcher, said a long time ago that she was in favour of nursery education, but in her 11 years as Prime Minister she did nothing about it. Then came the memorable words of the political adviser to the current Secretary of State for Scotland, who wrote an article on 4 June last year--

Mr. Wallace: Today is the anniversary of the article.

Mr. Robertson: On this very day a year ago,Mr. Gerald Warner, yet another failed Tory candidate for Hamilton, penned an article that deserves to be read to the House in its entirety. I, however, will quote only a small part of it. Under the title "Sick Trustees of Posterity", he wrote:

The peroration to this remarkable article deserves a hearing:

    "We have heard much about the problems of our underclass. These are real and must be addressed; but they are less daunting than the threat to the social order posed by a rising generation of affluent, ill-educated, spiritually dead and amoral androids. In Rutter and Smith's report we have seen the future and it does not work."

This is the man who pens the speeches of the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)--the man who ghosts the right hon. Gentleman's soundbites. This is the man whose views are repudiated in public. He is cossetted to the tune of £40,000 a year of public money. Perhaps he is expressing the Government's secret agenda.

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The Bill is not about nursery education. Over the past 17 years, the Government have done nothing to suggest that they give a damn about early age education. What is going on? What is the hidden agenda of school vouchers? It is quite simple: next there will be vouchers for primary, secondary and, ultimately, higher education. The Government desperately want to extend the market place into what is, for them, real education. They will do it if they can get away with it.

I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland unreservedly to state today that he rejects the idea of primary school vouchers. Will he repudiate secondary school vouchers? Will he, without any ambiguity, disclaim any idea of university or higher education vouchers either now or in the future? Would the Secretary of State like to give the House these assurances?

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