HC Deb 02 February 1970 vol 795 cc158-80
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Any hon. Member who catches my eye on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House is entitled to be heard if he raises a proper subject, that is, one which does not involve legislation, but there is a convention which previous Speakers have always maintained that notice should be given to a Minister to enable him to reply. May I ascertain that this convention has been complied with this evening?

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for reminding the House of the position which has arisen by convention and precedent. May I give you an assurance that I approached the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland at about 8.15 this evening to ask if he would be good enough to agree to reply to this debate.

I wish to raise the matter of local authority fee-paying schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow. May I say at the outset that I am grateful to the Minister for being here at such short notice to reply to the debate. Although he and I disagree about the Government's approach to these schools and to the local authorities which run them, I appreciate very much his ready willingness to reply at such short notice and, I feel sure, at some inconvenience to himself.

This debate may be our only opportunity to save the local authorities in Edinburgh and Glasgow from being crushed by the overriding will of the Secretary of State for Scotland. This may be our only opportunity to save some of the finest schools in Scotland from extinction by a Socialist Government.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by the word "extinction"? He knows perfectly well it is nothing of the kind. This is grotesque language.

Mr. MacArthur

The hon. Gentleman's view of the Government's proposals is clearly very different from mine. My view is that the Government's proposals represent the extinction of some very fine schools. If the hon. Gentleman disagrees, no doubt he may be able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the hour or so that remains to us.

May I remind the House that this debate has its origin in the Education (Scotland) Act of last year, which provided for the abolition of fee paying in local authority schools in Scotland, the effect of which is to require the ending of the arrangement in Edinburgh and Glasgow whereby fees are charged in certain local authority schools. For the benefit of those hon. Members who may not be familiar with the position in Scotland, may I emphasise that these are local authority schools and that they occupy a unique position in the educational system not only in Scotland but in the United Kingdom. It is true that until just after the war there were also local authority fee-paying schools south of the border, and that they ceased to exist in the 1940s, but they are not comparable with the fee-paying schools that exist in Edinburgh and Glasgow today.

As I have pointed out before, the local authority fee-paying schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow provide a middle sector of education. There is no requirement on the grant-aided schools in Scotland to provide a proportion of free places, whereas in England and Wales direct grant schools have this obligation placed upon them. It is, therefore, the local authority fee-paying schools which provide this middle sector of education and make selective education available by merit to children in those two cities.

The Government's proposal in the Act was to abolish fee paying. Our objection is not so much to the intention to abolish fees as to the clear indication given by the Government as to their intentions thereafter. During the Committee stage of the Bill we many times asked the Government what would happen to these schools once the fees were abolished. We were given a clear indication that the Government intended these schools to be brought within the comprehensive system as territorial comprehensive schools.

If there were any doubt about the Government's intentions it was brusquely dispelled in a Written Answer given by the Secretary of State to the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) on Thursday last. The right hon. Gentleman asked the Secretary of State for Scotland: … what approaches he has made to Edinburgh and Glasgow education authorities about the future of their selective and fee-paying schools after 1st August, 1970. The Secretary of State replied: My Department has written to both authorities on 23rd January, 1970, telling them that I consider that with the abolition of fee-paying for school education from 1st August, 1970, that existing special arrangement for the admission of children to these schools must be discontinued. I have asked that they submit revised admission arrangements for my approval."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January, 1970; Vol. 794, c. 389.] We opposed from the beginning what we believed to be the intention. We oppose it now. The local authorities in Edinburgh and Glasgow oppose it in the interests of the people who elected them in their own local authority. The Government are seeking to override and to crush the elected representatives of the people of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Their actions are totally opposed to our concept of democratic freedom.

Furthermore, the Government are now actively cheating. When the Bill was originally before Parliament the intention was that fee paying should be abolished from a date to be fixed by order. We made it clear during the various stages of the Bill that a Conservative Government would restore to local authorities in Scotland their right to charge fees in their schools should they wish to do so. The Government promptly responded to that pledge by writing into the Bill the date 1st August, 1970, by which time, they insisted, the fee-paying system should cease.

We said then, and I say again today, that the Government were trying to sabotage the next Government, a Conservative Government. We made it clear then, and I repeat now, that in Government we shall introduce the necessary amending legislation in order to restore this right to the local authorities.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman's remarks about who is going to sabotage whom. Is he saying that it should be the declared intention of Glasgow and Edinburgh to disobey the decisions of Parliament and to try to frustrate what Parliament has passed in an Act of Parliament? Does he approve of Labour members of councils doing the same, should a Conservative Government ever come to power?

Mr. MacArthur

The right hon. Gentleman has pinpointed the difference between us. There is no question of local authorities obeying or disobeying. What I object to is that the Secretary of State is giving orders to the local authorities which I do not believe he has the moral power to do. Secondly, I believe that it is wrong for the Secretary of State now to try to bludgeon the local authorities into a meek compliance with his will by insisting, only a few days ago, that they should come forward with their proposals on the reorganisation of those schools by the end of next month.

I remind the House that throughout the Committee stage we asked the Minister over and again a number of questions on the future of these schools. We asked how could they be turned into territorial comprehensive schools, and how could the Minister attempt to make a nonsense of the structure of these schools by forcing them into a system for which they are totally unsuitable, and the Minister knows it.

The Minister, who rarely replied to the questions we asked during these debates, kept repeating parrot-like, "I am waiting for the local authorities to come forward with their proposals". We told the Minister that he was requesting the local authorities to do the impossible or, at best, the impracticable. It cannot be emphasised enough that these schools are not suitable for distortion in some way which will fit them into the territorial comprehensive system. Now, we find that the Government have taken their folly further by pointing a pistol at the heads of the local authorities.

We believe that there is room in the education system for comprehensive schools and local authority fee-paying schools in these great cities. Comprehensive schools have been part of the Scottish educational pattern for a very long time. We support the development of comprehensive education where it is the wish of a local authority to pursue that pattern. We do not believe that it is right to force comprehensive education on a local authority which does not wish to observe it as the single pattern of education within the area for which it is responsible.

Moreover, we believe that it is necessary for Scottish education to provide variety and choice because it is from variety and choice that comes the excellence which has been the hallmark of Scottish education over generations.

Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

Is the hon. Gentleman advocating to his own local authority a system such as that which he has just put forward?

Mr. MacArthur

I would not dream of trying to ram my views down the throat of my local authority.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

It has no fee-paying schools.

Mr. MacArthur

Whether it has fee-paying schools is not the point. Edinburgh and Glasgow have them and wish them to continue.

Mr. Manuel

They also have Members of Parliament.

Mr. MacArthur

We believe that we should support them in this House in their refusal to obey the orders issued by the Secretary of State against the wishes of the local authorities and against the wishes of the electors who put their local representatives into office.

Dr. Miller

I am not arguing about that. If it is a good system, however, why is not the hon. Gentleman advocating it in his own local authority?

Mr. MacArthur

These schools have existed in Edinburgh and Glasgow for a long time, in one case for eight centuries. They do not exist in Perthshire. The hon. Gentleman may think that it is a good idea to extinguish a school like the Glasgow High School, which is not far from his constituency, and to get rid of the excellence of the education provided by that school in its present form. I do not agree, and that is the difference between us.

It is clear that the Government's assault on these schools does not spring so much from the existence of fee paying as from the fact that these schools are selective. They select children by educational merit. Not once during the passage of the legislation last year was there any criticism by the Government or by any supporter of the Government of the quality of education provided in these schools. There was no real educational argument advanced by the Under-Secretary of State and his supporters for the extinction of these schools. Indeed, tributes were paid by hon. Members on both sides to the excellence of the education which they provide. However, because right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that selectivity in education is a sin, they propose to suppress the very qualities which have produced this excellence.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

While not joining in the hon. Gentleman's adulation of fee-paying schools, I am sure that he recalls that we defied hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that the kind of education provided in comprehensive schools in Glasgow was less good than that provided in selective schools.

Mr. MacArthur

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and he will recall in turn that I joined with him in calling attention to the excellence of the education provided in all Scottish schools. However, that is no reason for the Under-Secretary of State to pluck out those schools which provide excellent education—simply on the ground that they are selective schools. This is the way that they operate and have operated for generations. It is wrong to pluck them out and try to turn them into comprehensive schools, a rôle for which they are totally unsuited.

We asked time and again in Committee how the Minister proposed that this change should take place, and we had no reply. We asked the hon. Gentleman a great many questions. We asked him, for instance, how he proposed that the Notre Dame R.C. School for Girls in Glasgow should be turned into a comprehensive school. We asked whether he was aware of the contract which we understood existed between the Glasgow Corporation and the Notre Dame School which ensures the continuance of that school in its present form. But we had no reply from the Minister then, and we have had no reply since.

On Friday, 30th January, 1970, the Glasgow Herald, in a leading article about this matter, said: Most of the corporation fee-paying schools in the two cities are situated in areas which are already adequately served by existing non-fee-paying local authority schools or with declining populations. The integration of these schools within the comprehensive system could only be effected either by condemning the schools to less than their proper quota of pupils or the pupils to lengthy bus journeys. The case for the retention of schools like the Boys' High is that they have an exceptional academic record and that their doors are open to the bright children of parents who need have little money to pay the comparatively low fees. I remind the House that the fees at that school are roughly equivalent to the price of two packets of cigarettes per week.

Far from being socially divisive these schools have mixed populations and encourage social mobility. The neighbourhood comprehensive in the large city reflects the social bias of the area in which it is situated. That is the very point that we were trying to make to the Government during the Committee stage of the Education (Scotland) Bill.

If the Minister contemplates the area of Edinburgh in which the Royal High School stands, he will see that, by being made into a territorial comprehensive school, it would become socially divisive because it would draw its children from a wealthy class of parent. There would no longer be the social mix that there is today.

Mr. Manuel

indicated dissent.

Mr. MacArthur

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will read a list of the occupations of parents at one of the schools. I am not being selective. This is part of a complete list.

Mr. Manuel

Every one?

Mr. MacArthur

Every one, as it were, in this order.

Mr. Manuel

At that school?

Mr. MacArthur

They are typical of all. These are the occupations of the parents: company director, police constable, pharmaceutical assistant, journalist, traveller, bookseller, draughtsman, solicitor, housewife, widow, another company director, inspector, welder, insurance inspector, civil engineer, inspector, doctor, teacher, mechanical engineer, joiner and widow. That is a typical list of the occupations of the parents of children at one of the schools which hon. Gentlemen opposite hate so much and regard as socially divisive. There is nothing socially divisive in that list.

Mr. Woodburn

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman knows where in Edinburgh the Royal High School is, but there is very little population there, so the pupils will have to travel.

The hon. Gentleman makes two suggestions. First, that there is selection by merit. That would not be denied in a comprehensive school. Children in comprehensive schools go into streams according to merit. The second point is that the only selectivity objected to is that people will pay. If it is selection by merit the money should not matter; it should depend on brains.

Mr. MacArthur

The right hon. Gentleman knows, or he should, that many places in these fee-paying schools are provided free. The Minister, who was totally misinformed about this point in Committee, conceded it later. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are many free places, and even for those places in respect of which fees are charged the fees cannot be regarded as large, or as a heavy burden. The point of selectivity is not selection by wealth but by merit, as the right hon. Gentleman knows.

It is abundantly clear from all the evidence we have, and from our knowledge of these schools, that if they were forced into becoming territorial comprehensive schools, which is what the Government wish, they would become far more socially divisive than they are and would draw their pupils from the neighbourhood in which the school stands, which in nearly every case is not a representative neighbourhood, and indeed in many cases are in neighbourhoods with declining populations, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly points out.

It is wrong to propose this change. No explanation has been given by the Minister about how the change can come about. He is simply asking local authorities to propose the impossible. What will be the position if the local authorities are unable to come forward with proposals by 31st March? Has the Minister any statutory power to force them to obey his will? I do not believe that he has. Is it the Government's intention to wait until 31st March and then bring in yet another education Bill to force the local authorities to act against their better judgment in this matter? Is it the hon. Gentleman's intention to try to beat the General Election yet again by introducing an unjust law before the election is held and electors have an opportunity to express their wishes in this matter? I hope that the Minister will tell us what will happen on 1st April and thereafter if the local authorities in Edinburgh and Glasgow have not been able to produce the proposals on which the Government now insist.

I ask the Minister, even at this late stage, to remove himself from this doctrinaire path of compulsion. I ask him, even now, to let the position stay as it is until the next General Election, after which the next Government can look at this problem afresh, and after which the next Government, a Conservative Government, can restore this long-standing freedom to the local authorities in Scotland.

9.52 p.m.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I hope that the House and my hon. Friends will pay no regard whatsoever to the speech of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur), which can be summarised as "cauld kail het again".

This subject has been discussed interminably, and with only one object in view. Apparently the more often certain distortions are repeated the more likely they are to be believed. What are the facts? The Bill which we discussed and passed in the early part of last year, and in particular the Section under discussion, did no more than what was done for England and Wales in the 1944 Act under the guidance and statesmanship of one whose stature is not equalled on the benches opposite when one is talking about education, namely, Lord Butler.

That Act took fee paying out of the area of public school education. All the arguments are there, and if my hon. Friends cannot convince the Opposition I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will read the cogent and lucid arguments which were adduced in respect of this principle.

Mr. MacArthur

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that the regulations which stemmed from the 1944 Act provided for free places in direct grant schools in England and Wales, and in that way provided the middle sector of education which local authority fee-paying schools provide in Scotland?

Mr. Hannan

I do not accept that. As my hon. Friends have often argued, it is not a question of choice in this matter. There is no choice. The child is either in or out. Those members of our society who want to pay fees to educate their children have that choice. We agree with that—but let them bear the full cost and not expect the public purse in large part to subsidise their idiosyncracies about fee-paying schools within the public system.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman is against grant-aided schools in Scotland.

Mr. Hannan

Personally, I am. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members opposite may make exclamatory remarks, but that is my opinion as an individual. Those who represent the teachers in Scotland may pay attention to what the E.I.S. has said in this matter—

Mr. MacArthur rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member has made a speech. He must allow others to make their speeches.

Mr. Hannan

That body is against fee paying in the public sector. That is all that this argument is about. The convenors of the Glasgow and Edinburgh education authorities are not making the question of fee paying an argument. The point is agreed among us even tonight. What is at issue is the question of selectivity. But in order to justify their consciences or attitudes in this matter hon. Members opposite must have some peg upon which to hang their justification of selectivity—and that peg is a small fee.

The local authorities are not talking about fee paying. Hon. Members opposite are concerned with the question of selectivity, the honour of respectability and the elevation above the common herd. That is what is at stake for them. The justification for adopting that attitude is the payment of fees. The question of selectivity or choice is not determined by how much money parents are prepared to pay; it depends upon the intellectual capacity of the child. The same problem confronts all our children. Within the comprehensive schools children with aptitude and ability are catered for.

Either a child has an aptitude or ability or it has not. It makes no difference how much money some people have; their children just have not the ability. In such cases rich parents look for special places where special attention can be given to their children. They can send their children to schools where the total cost is borne by them. The problem affects only five schools in Glasgow and three in Edinburgh.

The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire did not answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller). Is the hon. Member asking for similar facilities in Perth?

Mr. MacArthur


Mr. Hannan

It is very pertinent. The hon. Member cannot ride away on the excuse that it is only because this type of school has been in existence in Glasgow and Edinburgh. If the tradition is good—if it has certain virtues and values—why is the hon. Gentleman not urging his own local authority to provide similar facilities? Would the hon. Gentleman answer that?

Mr. MacArthur

I do not want to interrupt

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Armstrong.]

Mr. MacArthur

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman at length, but the question he asks is totally irrelevant. I gave the answer before; I have given it repeatedly in Committee. It is irrelevant to the matter we are discussing.

Mr. Hannan

I leave the House to draw its own conclusions.

If it is argued that it is right that it should be possible for a child to have a better education within the State system on payment of a small fee, that argument is reprehensible, because the comprehensive schools, like those in the constituency of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) and my constituency, are producing, whether for the technical colleges or the universities, just as high a proportion and percentage of passes as the other schools—and why not? There may be differences in atmosphere and in environment, but the teaching ability is the same, and that is one of the reasons why the E.I.S. is so opposed to the idea that there should be selectivity in teachers and why many teachers, rather than face the difficulties and challenges of schools in other areas, are in selective schools and prefer to be there.

It is not selection at age 12, as is commonly supposed: it is selection at age five, in some of the schools. One of the great things about Scottish education is that at least from age five until age 12 there is comprehensive education. Until recently, most children have gone to the same kind of school. In any case, it is not a practical proposition in the public administration of a service which is, as a matter of policy, decided democratically by this Parliament that there should be a selective system within the comprehensive education system.

We have heard some bitter words expressed, not only here, but in the Press, and I am not usually given to expressing views like those I am about to express, but the local authorities are being incited by hon. Members opposite to defy Acts of Parliament, whether it be in housing or education. It comes ill, and some of us take it very badly, when individuals not only parade their consciences but are critical of the consciences of others in the maintenance of law and order and yet consciously incite local authorities to break the law.

I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not have regard to the remarks of the Opposition but will see through to a successful conclusion the policies on which the Government have embarked.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

While the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) always speaks with knowledge and sincerity about the problems of Glasgow, his speech tonight astonished me.

The hon. Gentleman said that he did not object in principle to people paying for their childrens' education so long as they paid the whole cost. In other words, he does not object to people paying to send their children to Eton, Gordonstoun and other schools which charge extremely high fees, but he does object to corporation fee-paying schools which charge £20. £30 or £40. This means that hon. Gentlemen opposite have nothing against choice for the rich but object to choice for those who are not rich. This is precisely the issue before us.

There are times when I despair of Parliament. Today in Scotland we have a record number—about 8,000—of children receiving part-time education. We also have a massive shortage of teachers, particularly heavy in some areas. The slashing of school approvals will have a substantial effect in future years.

Instead of concentrating on these urgent problems which affect all children, the Government are carrying out a vicious vendetta against a small number of Glasgow schools which cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be called class selective or socially divisive. These schools have made a massive contribution to education in Scotland.

What is the case against these schools? It is suggested that they divide children into classes. I am a former pupil of the High School of Glasgow. It has been argued that because these schools divide on what hon. Gentlemen opposite claim to be a basis of class, we should do something to ensure that there is equality; and the comprehensive system is said to provide that equality.

I wonder what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) would say about that, knowing his large constituency and the way in which he actively looks after his constituents? Would he consider, with the desperate teacher shortage, that the children of his constituency would have equal opportunity under a fully territorial comprehensive system? Would their educational opportunities be equal to those of children in the constituency of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill? I suggest that the answer is, "No".

The sad fact is that, through the planning of our cities—we are talking only of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen—we unfortunately have a straight division of class in this respect as well as in respect of employment comparing one district with another. If we imposed a territorial comprehensive system universally we would ensure that instead of having academic segregation we would impose class segregation.

The fee-paying schools of Glasgow have been a major factor in ensuring a mixture of children from both within and outside the city and from all walks of life. It is obvious that the real objection has nothing to do with fees. Time and again my hon. Friends and I have made it crystal clear that if the Minister were to withdraw his objection to selection we would then be in favour of the abolition of fees. At least, then, these valuable schools could continue, but they would be kept out of politics.

How does the Minister expect Glasgow to react to the request which he made in a recent Written Answer to a Question from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) and how does he think that Glasgow's fee-paying schools could fit into a territorial comprehensive system? The only way to make these schools territorially comprehensive and non-selective is to have a major bussing operation, bringing children from all parts of the city. Who would provide and pay for those buses? The Minister must answer these questions.

The real argument against the fee-paying schools is that they cream off ability from the comprehensive schools. The hon. Member for Maryhill has said that in some cases we have examinations at age 5, at age 7, or at age 8, but his is the party that has said that the 11 plus examination is a disaster. Hon. Members opposite have said that we cannot select children at age 11 or age 12, yet they cheerfully say that the selective fee-paying schools can be successful in creaming off talent in children at 5 years of age. So we have the 5 plus examination which seems to work, and the 11 plus which does not.

A law has been passed that local authorities may not charge fees, but no law has been passed giving the Government the right to force local authorities to abolish the selective schools. Hon. Members opposite are, it is crystal clear, making a nonsense of democracy by flying in the face of the declared opinion of the education committees in both cities, who know their cities, who know their children and who know the circumstances. The party opposite is making a desperate attempt to steamroller this provision through against the wishes of the councils and, I believe, against the wishes of education.

I am by no means unsympathetic to the Secretary of State for Scotland in the tasks he faces in education. He has many important and urgent tasks to face, but I plead: for goodness' sake let us get on with the real problems of education—such problems as short-time education and of the shortage of teachers. Let us concentrate on those problems, instead of introducing chaos into a system which works well, and which has made a magnificent contribution to our education over the years.

10.12 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Millan)

I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) at least to the extent that we have spent a disproportionate amount of time discussing the affairs of these schools. I would respect the Opposition the more if they spent rather more of their energies on those problems of Scottish education which the hon. Member has just outlined, such as raising the school leaving age, teacher supply, and so on. We have now discussed this present matter on innumerable occasions. We have heard the same speeches. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) actually quoted the same lists that he quoted in Committee on the Education (Scotland) Bill. At the end of the day, we are dealing with a problem which has already been illuminated, and which we have already discussed to an extent which, as I have said, is completely disproportionate in terms of the issue in the context of Scottish education as a whole.

The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire normally starts off with a couple of sentences that are reasonable. He then leaves reason altogether, and we then have the normal emotive language of "crushing schools" "extinction" "unique nature", "sabotage", "bludgeoning", "steamroller"—these are all words and phrases from his speech. I shall deal with their substance, as far as they have any substance, as I proceed.

The real issue is that of selection. I am delighted that there seems to be greater realisation of this on the other side of the House than there was during the passage of the Bill. One could never have guessed from the many hours we then spent on fees that this was a minor issue in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that all they were concerned about was selection. But I always made it clear—and I do not know why, since I repeated it time and time again, it should come as a surprise to hon. Members—that selection is the issue here, not fee-paying. Fee-paying is important only so far as it buttresses selection, but selection is the issue. I have always made clear my view that selection, whether at the primary or the transfer stage from primary to secondary is completely discredited, and does not provide a school system which will give anything like equality of opportunity for all pupils. I am therefore committed, as are the Government, to the comprehensive principle.

Hon. Members opposite have never come clean on this issue. Despite the fact that we have had hours and hours of constant debate about it, at the end of the day we are no clearer about what they feel about the selective principle than we were at the beginning. We have had it all again tonight. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire manages to be in favour of fee paying simultaneously with saying that fees are not the important issue, and in favour of comprehensive reorganisation and selection simultaneously. This is the sort of stuff we have heard from hon. Members opposite during the whole of this controversy.

The question of freedom of choice is another matter. We have debated that at great length and I shall not go into all the detailed arguments but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Mary-hill (Mr. Hannan) said so well, wherever freedom of choice resides it does not reside in the selective system. Whether the selection is by merit or the length of one's purse, selection excludes freedom of choice. One is either selected or one is not, and freedom of choice does not come into it. The reason why the comprehensive system is so widely recognised by parents as well as educationists as being a very considerable improvement on the selective system is because it does provide the opportunity for widening freedom of choice in a way that the selective system could not possibly, by its nature, ever do.

It is also true that we are dealing here with matters which concern at the secondary level only two education authorities, Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is not irrelevant to mention the situation in Perthshire or Dumfriesshire or in Galloway. I take Perthshire as a good example. Perth City had a senior secondary selective system and is moving towards a comprehensive system. The principles involved in this, together with the practical problems, are essentially the same as we are now asking Edinburgh and Glasgow to tackle for their existing secondary fee-paying schools.

In principle, the problem is the same and if it has proved possible to eliminate selection and senior secondary selective schools in Perth City, why is it impossible in Edinburgh and Glasgow? Why is it impossible to do it in those two cities in particular when they are moving in any case towards a comprehensive system for the rest of their areas? This was the policy in Glasgow for many years under the Labour administration there and was inherited by the present administration, which, I understand, has no intention of changing the policy of comprehensive reorganisation, apart from this small sector we are discussing. Even Edinburgh, under its Conservative administration, has produced proposals, I am glad to say, and has been co-operative, apart from this one sector, in moving towards comprehensive reorganisation. So there is not an issue of principle between us. Both authorities, like all the other authorities in Scotland, have accepted the principle of comprehensive reorganisation.

The hon. Gentleman talked about steamrollering and the brusque answer he said I gave last week. I remind him of some of the history of this. The issue of comprehensive reorganisation was raised as far back as October, 1965, in Circular 600 on comprehensive reorganisation. It was repeated in Circular 614 in June, 1966, on the transfer of pupils from primary to secondary education, asking authorities to look at their transfer schemes again in the context of the proposed secondary reorganisation.

I discussed the matter of fee-paying selective schools with both Glasgow and Edinburgh, certainly twice with Edinburgh and probably twice with Glasgow —in the time available I have not been able to check the dates—long before the Bill was even contemplated. I discussed the whole matter again with Glasgow and Edinburgh just after the Bill was published and before any of the debates in the House. We debated the Bill for the best part of a year. Most of it came into operation in 1969. We deferred the abolition of fees to 1st August, 1970. To suggest that we have not given time to authorities, that we have steamrollered or are rushing this through is an arrant piece of nonsense.

The Scotsman, in its editorial last Saturday, expressed it very well when it said: Edinburgh's inability to change the fee-paying schools into non-selective ones is not due to lack of time but to the corporation's policy". What applies in Edinburgh also applies in Glasgow.

At all the meetings I said to both authorities—and I do not think they would deny this—that if they would make a genuine attempt to produce proposals for these schools I would judge them on their merits. We received no proposals from Edinburgh or Glasgow. We have had nothing since the passage of the Act. I do not know whether this amounts to what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill called defiance of the Act, to incompetence, to apathy or what. Some rather remarkable statements have been made by the convenor of the Glasgow Education Authority about defying the legislation and to the effect that it would not comply with the Act. It seems that this act of defiance has the authority of hon. Members opposite, which is extraordinary. [Interruption.] I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire disowning his Glasgow colleague on this matter.

Mr. MacArthur

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we are not encouraging or suggesting to local authorities that they should defy Acts. What we are suggesting to the hon. Gentleman is that he should not require local authorities to conform with a request which cannot be conformed with because of the nature of the schools.

Mr. Millan

The hon. Gentleman is not encouraging and he is not disowning the convenor. He is in the same position on this matter that he is in on every other controversial matter, namely, that he will not state clearly what he believes in.

I shall describe the powers under which we sent the letter to the authorities the other day. They are not new. They stem from legislation which we inherited from hon. Members opposite. The power to ask authorities to provide either schemes of provision or amended schemes of provision is under Section 7 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962. The power to ask for amended schemes of transfer is in Section 30 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1962. We replaced that Section with a provision in the Education (Scotland) Act, 1969, and the Section by which we replaced it had the support of hon. Members opposite who voted for it in Committee. These are the powers under which we are asking the authorities to prepare the amended schemes.

We said in the letter, and I said in reply to the Question last week, that the present arrangements in Glasgow are incompatible with the abolition of fee paying because the transfer schemes in Glasgow at the moment do not provide the normal arrangements for admission to fee-paying schools which apply to the rest of Glasgow, whether for comprehensive schools or the existing senior secondary schools in Glasgow. They provide basically that the appropriate head teacher is responsible for deciding which pupils are admitted to the schools. In the case of Edinburgh, no specific provision is made for the fee-paying schools in their transfer schemes. They work on the basis essentially that admission is by the headmasters concerned.

I do not know whether hon. Members opposite think that that can be justified. I do not think that it could be justified even when fees were paid. I certainly do not think that it is justified when there is no fee-paying at all. This applies not just to secondary schools but the primary schools. Since there has been a good deal of nonsense talked about the practicability or impracticability of absorbing the fee-paying schools into the general system of education at primary or secondary school level in Edinburgh and Glasgow, may I say that the Edinburgh education authority thought it practicable from the primary school point of view and, to a limited extent, from the secondary point of view to absorb them into the normal system because it took a decision to that effect which was reversed on a political vote by the Edinburgh town council. That is the situation in Edinburgh.

The present arrangements in Glasgow and Edinburgh are no longer compatible with the situation in which fees have been abolished. That is why under the powers available to us in the Education Act we have asked both Edinburgh and Glasgow to produce amended schemes of provision and amended schemes of transfer for the schools concerned.

The Government have not said to Edinburgh and Glasgow that they must convert all their schools into comprehensive schools overnight. Not only have we not said that to Edinburgh and Glasgow, but we have not said it to any other education authority in Scotland. Last year, of new entrants at the secondary level in Scotland to Scottish secondary schools as a whole about 60 per cent. went into comprehensively organised schools and about 40 per cent.—a figure which is dwindling and which I hope will dwindle more rapidly now—into senior secondary and junior secondary education.

I hope that the latter will disappear as quickly as possible, but we have not asked any authority to do anything impossible. We have asked them genuinely to approach the question of comprehensive reorganisation and to let us have genuine plans. So far Edinburgh and Glasgow have not done that, although they have been given ample opportunity.

It is not open to the convenor in Edinburg or anybody else to say that they are being asked to do something too quickly. They have had since October, 1965, to try to deal with the problem if there had been a willingness on their part to produce the proposals for the Government.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

can the hon. Gentleman explain how a comprehensive school can be organised except on a territorial basis?

Mr. Millan

I have already said that the problem of dealing with fee paying and the hon. Gentleman to start with is altogether ignoring the primary situation—

Mr. Brewis

The secondary.

Mr. Millan

On the secondary side the problem is essentially the same and it is being dealt with not only in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but in every area of Scotland. Converting a senior secondary school into a comprehensive school is not essentially different in Edinburg and Glasgow from the problem anywhere else, and it has been successfully tackled elsewhere. What will happen after the schemes are submitted to us will depend on the adequacy of the schemes which Glasgow and Edinburgh submit to us by 31st March, 1970.

As I have said, we are acting under powers which are not new, but which are essentially powers which we inherited from hon. Members opposite. It is not for me to say now what is likely to happen on 31st March, 1970. The authorities now have responsibility for submitting these plans to us. We have asked them to do this under the powers available to the Secretary of State under the Education Acts and we expect to get revised proposals from the authorities by 31st March, 1970.

Of course there are powers for education authorities under educational legislation, but powers are also given to the Secretary of State and I intend to see that those powers are fully exercised, if that should prove to be necessary. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire need not look surprised about this. If he thinks that we put through the Education (Scotland) Act, 1969, with the intention of allowing it to become a dead letter, he is a good deal more naïve and innocent than I know him to be. The Act has gone through and it was debated at considerable length. All the issues have been ventilated. We now intend to see that the Act is implemented and not frustrated by Glasgow or Edinburgh Corporation.

What we are dealing with here is not basically the issue of fee paying. It was not even basically that issue while the Education Act was going through. It is selection. We have made our view on this clear time and again. Hon. Members opposite have fluffed the question, as they have fluffed again tonight. The decision has been made and the issue has been ventilated and we are now exercising the powers which we have under educational legislation including those which we have under the Education (Scotland) Act, 1969.

Mr. Brewis

The Under-Secretary has shown no reasonable way whatever in which these schools could be reorganised on a comprehensive basis geographically. He is going against the whole of the local authorities in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.