HC Deb 26 October 1977 vol 936 cc1414-8
4. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make an up-to-date statement on the Government's policy to encourage centres of excellence in Scotland; and what colleges of education he and the Scottish Office Ministers have visited during the Summer Adjournment.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Gregor MacKenzie)

I have nothing to add to the reply given to the hon. Member on 25th July. Neither my right hon. Friend nor the Under-Secretary of State has visited any colleges of education during the Summer Adjournment.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Is the Minister aware that 84 qualified applicants had to be turned away by Dunfermline College of Physical Education because it was over-subscribed for the year? Are we right in assuming that 15th December will be the day when the Government make their final decision on teacher training colleges in Scotland?

Mr. MacKenzie

The hon. Gentleman, who has gone over this ground, as others have done, on previous occasions in the last few months, is well aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has said that he will be making a statement on this matter in the next few months.

Mr. Small

Will the Minister give attention to the phrase "centres of excellence" in the Question and devote his mind to courses which are technical in character, since such courses are required for providing better craftsmen in Scotland?

Mr. MacKenzie

I appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend. There is a great need for additional skills in Scottish industry, and this point has been made by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Welsh

Does the Minister appreciate that his present policies are scaring young people away from a career in education? What figures can he give showing the number of teachers now in training? What effect is to be expected in Scottish education in three or four years' time? Has not the Minister achieved the worst of both worlds from the point of view of young unemployed teachers, and is he not creating an acute teacher training shortage for two or three years hence?

Mr. MacKenzie

The hon. Gentleman must have heard, as I did, the arguments on this subject in the Scottish Grand Committee and the projections that were made based on population figures. It is not true to say that young people are being scared away from the prospect of becoming teachers. Indeed, there are a number of young people who have a strong vocation in this respect.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great disappointment that no Minister has visited Aberdeen College of Education recently, and is he also aware that there have been five times as many applicants for places as were allowed for in the college? Is he further aware that this college feels that it has been given less than its due share, and that the population in the North of Scotland is increasing while the number of places allowed for in the college is reducing? Will he take an early opportunity to visit Aberdeen and discuss these difficult problems in detail?

Mr. MacKenzie

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State have received deputations from staff and students in the past few months. Indeed, I cannot think of a subject on which we have had more representations and more advice than on this one. In reply to the specific point made by my hon. Friend, I believe that the college has been given a fair allocation of places.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Why is the Secretary of State for Scotland dragging his feet on the request made in July by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and myself for a meeting at which to discuss colleges of education? Is he aware that there has been almost 12 months' delay and dither in trying to resolve this matter and that this is causing great uncertainty and is sapping the morale of students and staff in the colleges of education?

Mr. MacKenzie

I do not believe there has been any dithering at all. We have had the utmost consultation on an issue as important as this one.

8. Mr. Alexander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will publish a Green Paper on education in Scotland.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) on 21st July. The reports of the Munn, Dunning and Pack Committees have now been published and my right hon. Friend has invited comments on their recommendations. I have no doubt that there will be a wide-ranging public discussion on the important questions considered by these Committees.

Mr. Fletcher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those rather academic reports are no substitute for Government views and policy? Does he not have any proposals to relax the rigidities of the school zoning system and the catchment areas to bring in some flexibility and to give parents freedom of choice for their children's education?

Mr. MacKenzie

I do not think that the reports are of only academic interest. The people who prepared them are closely involved with Scottish education. The chairman of one of the committees was the headmaster of my children's school, and I know, therefore, that he is closely involved in day-to-day education.

As for parental choice, this subject was at the top of the hon. Gentleman's list when he issued a Press statement on the matter. He gave it much higher priority then than he did in relation to the poorer areas of the country. That indicated to me the attitude of the Conservative Party on this issue.

Mr. Buchanan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the consultation processes are overloaded with the Pack Committee on truancy, the Munn Committee on the curriculum and the Dunning Committee on assessment? These are hardly minor academic subjects. But the most urgent problem for education is the setting up of the salaries negotiating machinery which was recommended in 1974 by my noble Friend Lord Houghton in his report. Will my right hon Friend make a statement on the current situation concerning these matters?

Mr. MacKenzie

As my hon. Friend may recall, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary indicated in an Adjournment debate on 4th May this year that it was a matter of great regret that parliamentary pressures had prevented us from bringing forward the necessary legislation to deal with the last point of his question. I cannot say yet when the opportunity will arise to do so, but we regard this subject as a matter of considerable importance and urgency.

Mrs. Bain

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) indicates why the newspaper reports have called the Conservative education committee in Scotland "nuts and bolts"? On a more fundamental matter, will the Minister indicate that he will reconsider yet again the previous decision not to renegotiate the number of pupils per class? This is a matter of vital importance to our schools, particularly in these days of composite classes.

Mr. MacKenzie

On the first point, I do not always think only of the Conservative Party as nuts. There are a few other candidates on the Opposition side of the House for that title. The latter point has been borne in mind by my right hon. Friend in the negotiations.