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Mrs. Ewing: I noted that the Minister firmly shook his head in response to some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Should he not now make it quite clear that there is not a progression process through S1, S2 and S3? Should not the Minister firmly state that children will not, on an annual basis, be rejected or accepted for a particular course?

Mr. McAvoy: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: It is a pity that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) sought to enter our debate so late in the evening. I earlier gave the assurance that she sought.

Mr. McAvoy: I know that sometimes there can be an element of rough and tumble in the House--I am not one to give much quarter to the SNP as a political party--but there are ways of dealing with interventions and political rumbustiousness. The sort of personal remark that the Minister made does not do him or the House any favours.

Mr. Welsh: The Minister has said that the S1 and S2 exams will not be necessary qualifications to move on to standard grades and higher. However, in rushing this Bill, and not providing any background information, he has failed to mention the enormous repercussions of the examinations for the new syllabuses in terms of books, teacher training, production of questions, staff time and preparation. We have not heard a word about that from the Minister. Surely we deserve some explanation.

Mr. McAvoy: My hon. Friend--for the purposes of this debate, at least--is right. It is an example of the Government's approach. They have introduced a skimpy Bill with skimpy details. Then, under pressure, we get assurances such as that from the Secretary of State, who said that there would be no compulsion. It is a shambles.

The hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) is right about the lack of detail. The Minister, in his less than pleasant response to the hon. Member for Moray(Mrs. Ewing), confirmed that there would be no compulsion. The problem is--I am choosing my words carefully--that his record does not inspire any confidence to believe him. I am not referring to him in a personal sense, but as a Conservative Minister dealing with policies in Scotland.

I remember the qualifying examination--the qualye, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill(Mrs. Fyfe) called it. I remember standing in the room while the results were read out. It was a case of separating the sheep from the goats. Every child in the room knew that those who went to the junior secondary school would be the hewers of wood and drawers of water. Those children lucky enough to have passed the exam would go to senior secondary school and have an academic future.

I remember the tears and the tension; children were in a terrible state, and afraid to go home and tell their parents that they had failed. That qualifying examination set in concrete a child's place in society. That is socially

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divisive and wrong. Now there is to be a return to a qualifying examination, and it will be socially divisive. Our only consolation is that the Government have less than a year to run.

My final word is about school placing requests. Something must be done about that issue. Children in the Toryglen part of my constituency have to walk pass Holyrood secondary school to go to a school a mile and a half away--a school that, to put it bluntly, does not have such a good record as Holyrood. For many years, the children of Toryglen who go to St. Brigid's primary school have to go on to a secondary school well outwith the area. That is wrong. I want to put on the record the work of the late Councillor Hugh McKenna, who opposed that policy. I am glad to say that his work is now coming to fruition, and that there is some guarantee of access to Holyrood for the children from St. Brigid's.

I echo what has been said by many, if not all, Opposition Members tonight. I believe in a United Kingdom. However, the Government are wholly unrepresentative of the people of Scotland. They know that, but they do not take account of it. If only they used a little ingenuity and imagination, they could carry the people with them and get their support. I do not say this lightly, but when politicians do not know or do not care about the effects of their policies on the people of Scotland, that is dangerous to democracy and to the United Kingdom. The Government stand indicted on both counts.

8.18 pm

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde): Earlier today, the Minister and I were in the same Committee Room discussing the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. I said then and I say now that the Government have got it wrong. They do not listen to the people in the areas that their decisions will affect. There is no democracy in the Government.

I have sat here for some time. The debate has been dominated by the domini--the teachers. Almost everyone who has spoken has been a teacher, except my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy). I am not knocking school teachers, but I remember the days when I did knock them. I detested them. When I was a primary school kid I could not wait to get out of school at 4 o'clock. I seemed to get the belt every day. I became respectful of my mother and father. I loved them because I had someone to go home and share my problems with.

In defence of Scottish education, I was proud to serve for many years on one of the finest councils in Britain--Strathclyde regional council. I was never on the education committee, but I was involved in social work and I knew of the invaluable work that teachers and staff were doing to deliver an excellent education service in Strathclyde. I knew, however, that the difficulties that we were facing were caused by this Tory Government's continual harassment and the continual cuts that, year on year, constantly homed in on the education that our young people rightly needed and rightly deserved. Sixteen years on, what is happening?

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: Seventeen years.

Mr. Graham: The Minister rightly corrects me; it is 17 years. That is an even worse indictment. Seventeen

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years on, what has happened to local councils in Scotland? They have been forced into cutting further into education provision. Only this week, I have had representations from local folk who are desperate to see their young kids in nursery provision and the local authority cannot provide it because the Government have cut savagely.

Today's statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland was one of the most horrifying that any Government could have made in the House. It was a reversion to the secondary one and secondary two. It would be a disaster if anything happened to return Scotland to those days. I was born in 1943 and I remember the qualifying examinations. Perhaps the Minister will listen because that is what the Government are driving back to. That is exactly what is going on. That is the road that the Government are trying to take us down.

I know two young men who, if the Government had their way, would have been born to fail. I shall give their ages: one is 25 and the other is 18. From early on, both suffered asthmatic conditions, which killed them in relation to going to school. They could not get to school, they lost half their schooling, they had to receive special education and they had pre-five help. If that raft had not been there, those young kids would have been born to fail.

Those kids went through their whole education like that. During the first years of primary life, they lost half their schooling because of a health problem that seriously held back their education. If the Government had their way, those kids would have been born to fail because of their health.

I am glad that the education system and the courage of school teachers and Strathclyde education officials ensured that those kids were not born to fail and that they received an education. They did not, however, have to qualify in the S1 and the S2. I will go further.

By the way, those schools were state schools. In the league tables that the Government gave them, they came bottom, but one of those young men has a BA Hons. in computing and business. He has suffered badly with his health. He was born to fail under the Government's approach to education, but he now has his BA Hons. and is doing all right. At 18, the other young lad is probably going this year to university, but, under this Government, he would have been born to fail.

The nursery voucher of £1,100 would not give any young person decent nursery provision. In Strathclyde, the estimated cost is £3,000 plus and the Minister is prepared to say that he has given us a good deal. The only person to whom he has given a good deal is the one with plenty of money, who can top the £1,100 and send his kids to nursery school.

The kids that I have talked about were born to fail. Their mothers and fathers would never have the money to ensure that their kids have a good education. The Government deeply want the born-to-fail approach. They are not going to give such young people an education boost.

The £1,100 voucher is nonsense. Why does the Minister not recognise that he has a duty and responsibility not only to parents, but, more important, to children? Give every kid a place. Why give them a £1,100 voucher? Give them a place in a nursery school.

Today, I was delighted to have a cup of tea and a sandwich, so I will declare an interest, with the Scottish Pre-School Play Association. What a tremendous and

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incredible organisation and what do the Government do? They kick it in the teeth. They have denied it the appropriate money to survive. Because of its funding, it has not been able to continue improving and improving.

Minister, you are laughing.

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