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Mr. McAvoy: Can we take it from the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the practicalities of the present composition of the Scottish Grand Committee that he accepts that he, his party and the Government are unrepresentative of the people of Scotland?

Mr. Gallie: No. I accept that, at the previous general election, we did not get as many Scottish Tories elected as I should have liked. I think that we shall rectify that next time, but that remains to be seen. More Scottish Tories will be elected at the next election and they will be sitting on the Government Benches, attending key debates such as this.

I do not accept that the Scottish Grand Committee is a talking shop. We have achieved much. The Scottish people have gained much from the fact that the Committee has moved around Scotland, engendering interest wherever it goes.

If we were to follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, we should not have been able to pass important legislation such as the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1995. That Act tightens law and order provisions, but the Opposition would not have supported it. The same is true of the legislation introducing single-tier authorities in Scotland--having heard the debates on it, I am sure that we would not have been able to pass it in a Scottish Grand Committee. However, many people recognise the wisdom of what the Government have done in Scotland. Perhaps some Opposition Members might support us in changed circumstances--I leave that as a matter for further thought.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland also said that three-year-olds could lose out if the nursery voucher system were introduced. I do not think that that will be the case. We should consider the matter more positively, although the hon. Gentleman's remarks were more positive than those that I have heard from the Labour party.

We must recognise that when we talk about provision for three-year-olds we are not necessarily thinking of education but of social services. I shall address the points on playgroups and playschools later in my speech.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland made one interesting point about the cost of service provision. He said that nursery schools in Orkney and Shetland can provide approximately £1,000 to £1,500 for full-time sessions. I am quite surprised about that, and I compliment them if they can provide that service. We must come back to the basics. We are not offering a full-time nursery education service for all pre-school children. Our hope is that we can work towards that. This provision is a major step forward, and all hon. Members should realise that great benefits will come from it.

I should like to list a number of reasons why I welcome the Bill. It addresses several key issues about the education of our children for the future and recognises a

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need for some change. "Change" is a word that we live with day to day. It is not a popular word with everyone. At times, change can create a great deal of uncertainty. I suggest that the word "change" puts a damper on what I believe is the current feel-good factor in the United Kingdom, and in Scotland. Change has that effect, because people worry about it as it is a move away from what they recognise and understand. It causes anxiety.

Regardless of the anxiety that is caused by change, a responsible Government must recognise the need for it. Change is essential, whether in the world of work, in the world of leisure or in the world of education.

Mr. Connarty: Does not the hon. Gentleman think that change should be welcomed when there is some doubt about the current system, whether it is a system of work or of education? Is he really saying that the pre-school nursery provision that is available--when the money is available--needs to be changed to provision that is cheaper, and therefore less substantial and less successful?

Mr. Gallie: I am saying that nursery education has been talked about right back to 1973, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) introduced his plans for the provision of nursery education. He did not get that opportunity, because a Labour Government were elected and did not subscribe to the line of providing nursery education. That was regrettable.

No doubt there were other priorities in the 1980s, but the Conservative party has always aimed towards providing nursery education. The Conservative party is making additional resources available to take a first major step towards creating a national nursery education system, which I should have thought every hon. Member would welcome. I am absolutely astonished that people want to turn their backs on additional Government money being made available for such a service. When the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) talked about change, he dealt with one part of the Bill. There is another very important part of it, which I shall deal with shortly.

Major changes to our educational structures have occurred in the past 17 years, and there have been major improvements in a variety of ways. The Government have introduced standard grades to the great benefit of youngsters in my constituency and across the country.

The introduction of vocational qualifications was a major step forward. That was something new, and it was a part of the Government's vision. I do not believe that any hon. Member would now seek to repeal the legislation that introduced those changes in vocational education. The changes were good for Scotland and for young people. They set a goal for young people--people who were perhaps not good in theoretical matters but who were good in practical matters. Vocational qualifications are good for those people, and Conservative Members should take great pride in that fact.

Let us consider primary school testing. There was occasionally great dispute about testing, but that change was necessary. I have recently been watching events far across the waters--in Taiwan and in China. Testing is a part of everyday education in those countries. There is testing at every stage. If we consider the example of Taiwan, we find very high levels of success and extremely high standards are achieved. Achievement levels among their primary school children frequently exceed those of our children.

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We should learn from their achievements, and we should not mock. I detected some mocking among Opposition Members when I was speaking about the Chinese and the Taiwanese. We should not mock those people. They have their own cultures and their own ways. We can learn from them, just as they can learn from us.

Mr. Connarty: Does the hon. Gentleman know anything about the five-to-14 programme? Can he tell me where assessment fits in the modes of learning in five-to-14? Can he tell me where assessment is currently deficient and where it does not exist from 5-to-14, from primary 1 to S2 in Scotland?

Mr. Gallie: The five-to-14 programme was introduced by this Government. They recognised the benefits of such a programme and introduced it. If I think back to my time at school, I cannot remember a time when there was not some formal testing. I cannot remember a time in secondary school, at first and second year levels, when there were not tests. The problem was perhaps that the tests tended to be fragmented and that there was no base level that everyone had to achieve. Testing will perhaps remove that problem in the future. I shall speak about testing later in my speech.

Parental choice is another very important aspect of the Government's treatment of education. Many of my constituents take advantage of the ability to move their children outside their catchment area. They do so for a range of reasons, and not only to send their children to the high-standard school to which everyone wants to send their children. They do so for family reasons. For example, it may be handy for parents to take their children to a particular school. Parents have that level of choice, which improves the quality of life for them and for their children.

Opposition Members dramatically opposed those provisions when they were introduced some years ago. Perhaps there has now been some change. Perhaps the Labour spokeswoman, the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell), will tell us that a Labour Government would never go back on those provisions for parental choice. I do not believe that they would go back on them. If such a Government intended to do so, I do not think that they would have the benefit of the backing of Liberal Members, on whom such a Government would almost certainly depend were they ever elected.

Parental involvement in school boards is another aspect of the Government's education policy. I accept what the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) said about schools, such as Arbroath high school, not having a school board. That is the parents' choice, and it is very sad, but perhaps they felt that school boards do not have enough power. Putting that right might be an opportunity that the Bill misses; perhaps we should consider it in the future.

Parliament sets the agenda in all these matters, but, ultimately, local authorities deliver. Perhaps that is a weakness in the education system in Scotland. Perhaps our devolving so much responsibility to local authorities is a flaw in the system. We have introduced major changes in secondary schools. We have affected the number of children who stay on at school--42.6 per cent. of pupils go on to the fifth year, and then on to the sixth year. That is quite a step up from the situation in 1979--it is almost double the number. It is a magnificent achievement.

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The number of school leavers who go into higher education now stands at 43 per cent. That is phenomenal. What is wrong with Scottish education? Why are we hearing all these gripes? I do not understand the complaints, because we are succeeding and we are achieving.

I am very impressed with the standard and quality of many of the young people who come out of our schools these days and go into university. They are absolutely tremendous; I am proud of them. I do not know what other hon. Members think, but I believe that there are many high fliers and high achievers coming through our schools. In many ways, our education system encourages them and gives them opportunities.

There are now 413,000 Scottish students in higher and further education. We have doubled the number since 1979. That is a remarkable achievement, despite the despondent and denigrating comments of Opposition Members. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State commented earlier on Labour's record in the 1970s and, thinking of that, I have to ask Opposition Members how on earth they can criticise us. They should look back at their own record. I shall read Hansard tomorrow, look at the figures and get my press releases ready for the weekend, because I think that they are blinking good figures.

Part I of the Bill is about the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which seems to have been a gleam in the eye since the mid-1980s. Now is the right time to introduce the change. People in the world of education recognise the need, have been consulted and have given their support. To his credit, even the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) supports the idea. I can tell the hon. Member for Falkirk, East that that is one element of change that he will support, because I do not reckon that he would want to cut across the aims of the hon. Member for Hamilton. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East criticised me when I was talking about some elements of change, but here is one element of change in the Bill to which he will give whole-hearted backing. That is nice, and I welcome it.

The Bill represents a forging together of secondary school qualifications and vocational qualifications. That is important. It must help with co-ordination and improve quality, and it recognises the needs both of academia and of commercial interests. Those steps will do much not only for educational provision, but will improve the standards of the youngsters who go into business, and on whom Britain's future will be built.

The Bill will set standards and create a quality assurance trail. It will blend in with, and build upon, what was there before. We should not denigrate what was in place before. We should recognise the achievements, and pay tribute to those who have served on the Scottish Examination Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council. All of them have contributed something.

I had just got used to SCOTVEC, NVQs and SVQs, but now I suppose I must start getting used to talking about the SQA instead. [Interruption.] I think that the Minister is telling me that those qualifications will still exist, and I take my hon. Friend's guidance on that.

The hon. Member for Hamilton talked about the composition of the new body, but I cannot imagine a composition very different from that recommended by my

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right hon. Friend. Naturally, the Secretary of State would want to control to some degree such an important body, and I have no objection to that.

However, the SQA will be obliged to establish an accreditation committee, which will be quorate only if it has a majority of non-SQA members. Perhaps either in his winding-up speech or by picking up the point now, my hon. Friend the Minister will say a little about the accreditation committee, because although I have read the Bill carefully I do not quite understand what it is for, or why it should be balanced in such a way.

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