HC Deb 15 March 1977 vol 928 cc348-64

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

On a tangential subject to that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker), perhaps I may tell him that he is not the only person to have run into this problem. When I was a delegate to a conference at Lomé, I had similar worries expressed by British teachers working for the British Council at schools in West Africa, so I simply say to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary that this is a widespread problem and it is not only my hon. Friend who is concerned about it.

I object to people cheating on Adjournment debates, but I have tried, briefly, to find my hon. Friend at the Scottish Office who is responsible for the teacher training colleges in Scotland. However, I wish to raise with the Treasury the tangential problem which has some relevance to the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood has raised.

As the Financial Secretary knows, there is the vexed problem of the closing down and merger of teacher training colleges.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. Has the hon. Gentleman given notice to Mr. Speaker's office and to the Scottish Office?

Mr. Dalyell

No, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have not been able to find a Scottish Office Minister to reply to this debate. But I think that it is fair to put this to the Treasury. I do not expect an answer this evening, because the Financial Secretary is a careful man and does not give off-the-cuff answers, and it would be improper if he were to do so. However, may I ask—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman does that, I think that he well knows the rules of the House. Whereas the Chair cannot in fact prevent him from raising matters without notice, the Chair strongly deprecates the practice.

Mr. Dalyell

I think it reasonable, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I say that I do not expect a detailed, off-the-cuff answer from the Treasury tonight, and legitimate to raise in the House of Commons—as I did last Tuesday, in an Adjournment debate on the question of the merger and closing down of teacher training colleges in Scotland—the question whether the Treasury has insisted on having from the Scottish Office any kind of proper costing of the proposals.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Has the hon. Gentleman given notice to the Treasury? He has not been able to find a Minister from the Scottish Office, but has he approached the Treasury and given notice to the Treasury for the debate?

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Am I not right in understanding that the purpose of giving notice is to ensure that a Treasury Minister or the appropriate departmental Minister is present in order to reply to the debate? We have a Treasury Minister present. Therefore, is not the purpose of giving notice to the Treasury fulfilled in this case?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should have thought that in the circumstances the Minister concerned should have some notice of the subject matter of the debate.

Mr. Dalyell

If one were demanding a reply off the cuff from a Minister, it would certainly be courteous and good manners to give a good notice. On the other hand, as you will recognise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the period of time that we have in the House is perhaps gratuitous for such subjects, and we do not always have the advantage of time in Adjournment debates. If I put the matter in the form of registering an argument with Treasury Ministers, Mr. Deputy Speaker, provided that I am not unreasonable and ill-mannered enough to press for a detailed reply tonight, which would be totally unreasonable, surely I am entitled to express the problem.

The problem is this. The Secretary of State for Scotland has come forward—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I should inform the hon. Gentleman of the exact words on page 285 of "Erskine May" because they set out the situation clearly. They say: The Chair has deprecated the introduction of such subjects "— that is, additional Adjournment debates— in cases where clue notice has not been given to the Minister concerned". I really feel that I must strongly deprecate the raising of the matter, whether tangential or not, with the Financial Secretary, because he has not had due notice of the subject upon which the hon. Gentleman wishes to speak.

Mr. Dalyell

Do you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, strongly deprecate or order me not to do it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I can answer that at once. The Chair has no power to prevent the hon. Gentleman but the Chair does have the power to deprecate strongly the action that the hon. Member takes.

Mr. Dalyell

In normal circumstances I would thereupon sit down, but the situation in Scotland is such, the justice of the cause is such, and the amount of feeling there is such, that I have received 540 handwritten letters, not to mention printed circular letters, about the merger and closure of these training colleges, and for the first time I do not take a hint from the Chair.

The argument that the proposals have been based upon is that the merger of Craiglockhart College and Dunfermline Women's College of Physical Education, the closure of Craigie College in Ayr and the closure of Callendar Park College at Falkirk will produce a saving.

All this is being done on the basis of an apparent cost saving. The whole argument has been the economic one that we must do this in order to achieve savings in public expenditure. Time and again over the last four weeks hon. Members have repeatedly challenged the Scottish Office to produce evidence of the savings and the Scottish Office has failed to do so.

During the Adjournment debate that Mr. Speaker kindly allowed me last Tuesday, I spoke for precisely two minutes, having given five days' notice to the Secretary of State that I would repeat the questions put during the Scottish Grand Committee about the savings involved in the closure and merger of these colleges. After well over a month of argument, nothing has been forthcoming. There is no evidence that if Craigie College—which is two years old and was purpose built for the physical education of women teachers—were closed and used for other specified purposes, there would be a saving. Furthermore, it is extremely doubtful that there would be any savings from closing Callendar Park College and using its extensive facilities for other purposes.

As for Craiglockhart College, upon which a great deal of money of the Sacred Heart organisation has been lovingly spent during the past 60 years in bulding up a tradition of Roman Catholic primary and secondary teacher training, there is no evidence that any saving would result from closing it and merging it with a separate Roman Catholic training college—Moray House or Dundee College of Education. Indeed, it is doubtful that there would be any saving from the closure of a college of education that is celebrated for its in-service capacity and work in the South-West of Scotland—and it is the only one in the area.

Surely at some stage the Treasury becomes involved in all policy decisions of the Scottish Office. If it can be proved beyond peradventure that, in present circumstances, there is a substantial saving, I am one of those hon. Members who understands these things well. I have supported the Government's cuts and unpopular decisions on the rate support grant and throughout the economic arguments I have been a strong supporter of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government.

However, hon. Members who share my attitude find it intolerable that the Secretary of State for Scotland should put forward such proposals in a so-called consultation document with the imprint of the Government upon it. Surely a consultation document is not published unless there is a fairly clear intention of carrying out the proposals. It would be frivolous to do so, and Scottish Office Ministers would not be that frivolous.

The Financial Secretary can answer my questions in writing. Can he tell me what proper cost estimates have been made on the decision to merge and close teacher training colleges in Scotland? At a time when the Secretary of State of Education and Science has decided to close and merge colleges in 1981, with full consultation with all involved, including local authorities and the Roman Catholic hierachy, what argument is there for the Scottish Office to say that it will carry out the irreversible act of merging and closing colleges in 1977 and 1978? It is easy to give training colleges the chop, but much more difficult to build up a tradition.

Our argument, which we have stated time and again, is that these colleges are essential for Scottish education. If there must be pruning, it could easily be done by making savings at the Jordanhill College of Education in Glasgow, which some of us think is far too big, or at the Moray House College of Education in Edinburgh, which some people think is rather big. There are also prunings which could be made to take care of the problems of the statistics and the falling birth rate.

I speak not only for the majority of Scottish Members but with the unanimous approval of the Executive and the Conference of the Labour Party in Scotland and many other organisations, who, after a month, have still had from the Scottish Office no idea or evidence on the basis of which these matters were discussed.

This is a heaven-sent opportunity to ask whether the Treasury were consulted. The Treasury's record is one of complete seriousness, earnestness, doing its homework and going into matters thoroughly. I doubt whether the Treasury civil servants, whom I regard as highly responsible people and not ogres—Ah! My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has just come into the Chamber. I welcome him and tell him that I am in the middle of putting to the Financial Secretary the same sort of questions that I put to my hon. Friend in an Adjournment debate on Tuesday last week concerning the costings of the closure and merger of training colleges. At some time I ask that there be a thorough investigation by the Treasury of the decisions by the Scottish Office as to whether it is sensible, for example, to close down the Dunfermline College of Education with all the—

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. Coleman.]

Mr. Dalyell

I ask the Treasury to ask the Scottish Office in some detail whether it is sensible, for example, to close down the Dunfermline College of Education at Cramond when it would mean the extra expense of moving embedded equipment from Cramond to Dundee? I must go into some detail. Is it sensible to remove the trampoline equipment specially designed for Cramond to Dundee where the height of the buildings is not sufficient for the trampoline activity? Is it sensible to move from Cramond to Dundee 92 per cent. of the students, who are not resident in Tayside, and for whom extra residences will have to be found? Is it sensible not to use the expensive swimming pool and athletic facilities at Cramond, which are the very basis of Scotland's international position in women's sport, and to move them to Dundee where similar playing fields and facilities do not exist? Will the Treasury look at these matters and ask Scottish Office civil servants about the advice that they have given to Ministers in that regard?

I ask my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary—for many years I have worked closely with him in one form of activity or another and I know him to be a man of total seriousness and integrity—and his able Treasury officials to demand of the Scottish Office how, after 60 years, the Craiglockhart College, lovingly financed by the Sacred Heart organisation and having built up a tradition of Roman Catholic primary and latterly secondary teacher training, can be moved to Moray House or to Dundee retaining a similar entity when those very colleges say that to retain a similar entity would be a highly expensive operation? Furthermore, what compensation will be paid to the Roman Catholic Church if Craiglockhart is closed down?

Why is it that, before issuing what may be called a consultative document—but a document with the imprint of Government, which we must assume is serious—neither the governing body of Craiglockhart nor the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, was consulted? How can a Secretary of State do such things?

This is a very good question for the Treasury—the senior Department of Government—to ask my right hon. and hon. Friends. After all, the Treasury has some responsibility for the Scottish Office. I may say that Scots are not slow, when anything goes wrong, to blame my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Treasury.

I suggest furthermore that, if, under the 1918 Act, there is to be an obligation to the Roman Catholic authorities, my right hon. Friend might ask why this teacher training college—the only facility of its kind in the East of Scotland—is threatened with closure and what financial savings would be made, if there is to be a Roman Catholic teacher training facility in the East of Scotland, if it were to be closed?

I now turn my attention to the question of Callender Park where some 35 per cent. of the students are my constituents. What financial or other savings will be made by closing a training college in the strongest growth area in Scotland knowing, as we do, that there are considerable advantages in having in-service training of teachers in schools near a training college.

Indeed, if the numbers are to be reduced substantially in places like Callendar Park, can we have from the Treasury, as the senior economics Department, some kind of table balancing the cost savings that might otherwise have to be made in unemployment benefit and all sorts of other benefits with those of continuing the college? I also wish to know the estimate of the Treasury of the costs or otherwise of turning Callendar Park into some kind of college of educational administrators, as the inspectorate in Scotland seems to want. In the view of the Treasury, is that a sensible proposition?

I record that, having been often to Callendar Park, I support the views, expressed publicly by demonstrating in his march with the protesters, of the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing), that Callendar Park should not be closed. I state here in the House of Commons absolutely and unequivocally that I think that he has performed a brave action, an action of conscience, an action of determination, an action justified in terms of the future of education in Scotland, by making it clear that he stands with Callendar Park on the issue of this consultative document, and that he is prepared to challenge his boss, the Secretary of State for Scotland in this matter. In my view, he is wholly right and should be supported, and I take the opportunity of supporting him tonight. I hope that when the Treasury looks at this matter it will reach the same view.

Finally, I speak with much more diffidence. At the Scottish Labour Party Conference, I made it my business to talk to those who represented the area of Ayrshire served by Craigie College of Education. They pointed out that in that area of South-West Scotland, not only does Craigie train teachers but it also serves all sorts of other educational purposes, and that it would be an act of considerable lack of foresight to close it. I ask a direct question, although I do not expect my hon. Friend to reply offhand tonight. That would be unreasonable, and in 15 years of working with him I hope that I have never asked him ministerially or otherwise, any unreasonable question. I would like the Treasury's view on the cost savings of closing Craigie as of the other colleges I have mentioned. I should like a Treasury assessment of the total overall savings in the closure of Craigie.

Mr. David Mitchell

The point I should like the hon. Gentleman to bring out, which is not personal as between him and the Financial Secretary, is one in which the House has an interest. It concerns the extent to which what is being proposed by the Government will damage religious education in that part of Scotland. All of us have an interest, in a Christian country, in seeing the continuance of the right of choice for those who wish to have religious education for their children, and I am disturbed that that choice might be restricted in the future.

Mr. Dalyell

This is a delicate issue. It is no secret that I shared a platform with the Cardinal-Archbishop of Edinburgh and St. Andrews Cardinal Gray, Archbishop Winning, Monsignor Grady, the Vicar-General, and others who are concerned, and continue to be deeply concerned, about the future of Craiglockhart. They point out that if the Roman Catholic teacher training colleges in the East of Scotland close, this will have considerable effect on Roman Catholic education, and after all, there are certain guarantees under the 1918 Act.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

May I draw the House's attention the fact that the Bachelor of Education course is being withdrawn from Notre Dame College of Education, which will make that college less attractive and is the beginning of the erosion of the college as one which teaches denominational students throughout the West of Scotland? There is now great fear that something similar to the college closures will ultimately follow there unless we act now and stop the rot.

Mr. Dalyell

Of course I am sympathetic to my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey). I know he feels that the Secretary of State for Scotland ought long ago to have met the Cardinal-Archbishop of Edinburgh and St. Andrews and others in the Roman Catholic hierarchy and discussed these things in the proper way.

I say to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) that this is not a broad attack by me on the Labour Government. The truth is that in England my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mrs. Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes)—the Secretary of State and Minister of State—had extensive discussions with the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It may be that there has to be some contraction in teacher training education, given the fall in the birth rate, but in England these things were done with a considerable amount of pre-discussion. It was done in the proper way, with discussions first to reach some kind of agreement, and an infinite amount of trouble was taken. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State naturally went to enormous trouble to get some kind of agreement and to have full and frank discussions, before putting any plan to paper with the imprint of Government. I say bluntly that I would have hoped that the Secretary of State for Scotland would have behaved in the same way. He should long ago have had discussions about the very real problems that he may face in relation to Catholic education, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke has said.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Frank McElhone)

I intervene briefly to say, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), who is not as familiar with the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), that I have made plain in the House on more than one occasion that there is no threat at all to Roman Catholic education in Scotland. That is guaranteed in the Act of 1918 and it is under no threat from this Government, just as it was under no threat from previous Governments.

The Secretary of State for Scotland is prepared to meet the hierarchy, as I have met the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. This is a consultative document. No final decision has been made on any college or any course, nor will decisions be made until all the considerations have been taken into account and the Secretary of State has gone through all the submissions. Everything will be taken into consideration.

Mr. David Mitchell

I am grateful for what the Minister has said. I did not intend to inject any note of party dissent into the discussion. I thought that what the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said was of significance beyond the borders of Scotland. I am grateful to the Minister for having clarified the situation but I join the hon. Member for West Lothian in his sense of unease at the situation which he is unveiling.

Mr. Dalyell

This is a matter of some significance. I would like to put on record, in case there is any misunderstanding, that I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) has done his very best in difficult circumstances and that his heart is in the right place. We all know the position in which junior Ministers find themselves. That is why throughout my speech there has not been a note of criticism of the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Queen's Park. His rôle in the matter has been wholly honourable, as one would expect.

To the Financial Secretary, who is to reply to the debate, I say that I am asking that the Treasury, the most powerful Ministry in Whitehall, should turn its most critical faculties and its most determined investigatory powers, using some of its most able and determined and formidable civil servants, to investigate the way in which the Scottish Office has come forward with the proposals. I accept that the proposals are in a consultative document, but it is a document that has the imprint of Government about it. It would be a frivolous waste of taxpayers' money if a document with the imprint of Government gave no firm outline of the Government's intentions. One must therefore assume that the consultative document represents some kind of intent by the Government. Therefore I ask that some of the most formidable civil servants who work for the Financial Secretary should be asked to turn their attention to how it happened that the Scottish Office could put forward a document with this kind of intent.

After weeks of questioning from my hon. Friends the Members for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), Coatbridge and Airdrie and many others, and from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who represents the Cramond College of Education, there has still been no proper argument or explanation about the savings which will be made if the proposals are put into effect. I protest as strongly as I can about proposals that lack evidence.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House now have the gravest suspicions that there is the threat of closure, a threat to dismantle valuable institutes of Scottish education, a threat that is based on an unreal argument of economic savings. My hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire has taken a leading part in the campaign. He made a speech of eloquence and power, a very influential and good speech, on this subject at the Scottish Labour Party Conference at Perth. That conference unanimously—executive and all—came out against any closures in circumstances that were totally different from the circumstances applying in England.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has been talking in terms of 1981. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has been talking in terms of 1977. Before my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary replies, perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire, who played such a leading part at the Scottish conference, would like to say a word or two on this matter.

For the first time I have not accepted a deprecation from an occupant of the Chair and instead I have insisted upon my rights. I did so only because this is a matter upon which I feel passionately, a matter which will affect the young people of Scotland for many generations to come.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

It is interesting to see my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury preparing to reply on behalf of the Government tonight. There is no educational justification for the proposals in the document, and if there is any reason for the proposals it is a financial, or rather a pseudo-financial, reason. I can see no savings in public expenditure arising from the document.

I have tabled Questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland asking how much it is expected will be saved in public expenditure as a result of the proposals in the document. Unfortunately, the replies have been non-committal, or simply not forthcoming.

This is not an educational document. It contains no educational philosophy or reasoning. The only and phoney reason behind the document is that the Treasury is looking over the shoulder of the Scottish Office and stupidly telling it to cut public expenditure in the vain hope of diverting resources into industry.

That will not happen for several reasons. It will not happen in financial terms because as yet we do not have control over where the resources go, whether it is into manufacturing industry or elsewhere. We do not have a Socialist economy and the Treasury obviously has no intention of trying to create a Socialist economy.

This transfer of resources will not take place in human terms either. My own trade union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, conducted a survey among students who left the colleges of education last summer and less than 1 per cent. of that sample actually managed to find jobs in manufacturing industry. It is a myth to suggest that those who do not find jobs in education will find jobs in manufacturing industry.

This transfer of resources theory, which the Treasury is trying to persuade the Scottish Office and all the other Government Departments to adopt, is not borne out in fact. It is living in cloud cuckoo land. The transfer is not taking place in financial or human terms. That is why I say that it is about time that the Treasury started listening not just to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and myself, but to the voice of the whole Labour movement as expressed at the Scottish conference of the Labour Party at Perth on Saturday.

As a result of the recommendation of the executive and the emergency resolution moved by myself the whole conference said "Let us reject this document; let us think again and oppose the college closures and let us start thinking constructively about better ways to improve Scottish education instead of demolishing it."

10.23 p.m.

Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)

I would simply like to ask a question of the Treasury Minister. How does the Treasury quantify the social and economic value of these colleges to the areas in which they are situated? I am thinking most particularly of Craigie College which is of economic value, socially and educationally, to the South-West of Scotland. How does the Treasury quantify these matters before it takes such savage decisions about cuts?

10.24 p.m.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)

I should like to ask one question of the Treasury Minister. Before doing so I should say how much the speeches of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and West Stirling-shire (Mr. Canavan) have been appreciated, especially the speech by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire at the Labour Party Conference: it carried great weight.

I would ask the Minister whether it is possible to frame a sound policy without having a feasibility study and without having costings? How can the people of Scotland be convinced that reforms of this nature are necessary without costings of any kind having been prepared? If the Secretary of State wishes to convince the Scots that some harsh reforms are necessary, the costings must be made and must be made public. It is no us making decisions before making costings, because if the decisions are wrong, they cannot be put right later. The costings and the feasibility study must be done first.

What is the Government's objection to having costings and a feasibility study? Never before has it been the case that Ministers have flatly rejected feasibility studies before making decisions. Why should they refuse in this case? In the case of Dunfermline College it is estimated that transfer to Dundee College, if Dundee College is to have the same facilities, would cost public expenditure well in excess of £1 million.

To transform the present Dunfermline College to other purposes would need substantial public expenditure. Is there not an overwhelming case for a feasibility study and costings? Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State has flatly refused to visit any of the colleges threatened with closure or to allow any other Scottish Office Minister to do so? His refusal to do costings or a feasibility study is considered a gross injustice to the people of Scotland. They want to know the facts, which they feel they are being denied.

10.26 p.m.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

I opposed these suggested closures in the Scottish Grand Committee and I shall continue to do so. Wild horses will never drag me into the Lobby to support them. The whole case is based on an unconvincing premise. How many lecturers does the Minister estimate will be made redundant? What will the cost be to the redundancy fund? Of those, how many are likely to find equally substantial and responsible posts in high schools, for example? Let us have some facts and figures in place of wild conjecture.

If this foolish policy of closing down delightful colleges is followed, what will be the saving in building costs?

Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy)

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of these lecturers work only about eight hours a week?

Mr. Dempsey

I am not aware of that. My hon. Friend might not have had the grounding that I have had. I have been a member of the governing bodies of two of these colleges and during my time no one did anything but a full and, I hope, rewarding working week. Surely we are entitled to know what economic benefits this policy will bring. We can then ask whether it is really worth while.

The birth rate is falling, but no one uses that as an argument to close the schools. I hope that we can avoid closing down colleges that have given excellent service.

I have never been to Craigie and Callendar Park, but I know Dunfermline, which is one of the most excellent colleges not only in Scotland but in the United Kingdom, especially designed and constructed for the purpose. It is absolutely crazy to talk of closing it. I had a long association with Craiglockhart and it is equally disastrous to talk about closing down a college as splendid as that.

10.29 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Sheldon)

I have only a few minutes to reply on matters in which I can claim no particular expertise. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State dealt with certain aspects of the educational problems and mentioned the statement which will be made in due course by the Secretary of State and the decision which will emerge.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked me to examine a number of points. I am happy to undertake to carry out that examination.

Mr. Dalyell

That is all I ask tonight.

Mr. Sheldon

In the limited time left I can deal with only one or two.

I can tell my hon. Friend that the rôle of the Treasury is to establish the proper use of resources and to ensure that value for money is obtained in various directions—

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

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.