HC Deb 05 May 1981 vol 4 cc109-25 10.24 pm
Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Allowances for Assisted Places in Secondary Schools) (Scotland) Regulations 1981 (S.I., 1981, No. 488), dated 26 March 1981, a copy of which was laid before this House on 30 March, be annulled. The regulations set out the conditions attached to the allowances payable to the parents of children admitted to specified schools, in this case those listed on page 12 of the statutory instrument.

The Opposition are bitterly opposed to the assisted places scheme in general. We have already intimated on a number of occasions—and we intimate it again in case it has not got through—that at the end of the first financial year in which a new Labour Government come to power they will terminate the scheme. We will not tolerate any specified school asking for time to adjust because it has failed to notice our warning. The time to adjust begins now, and we sternly warn schools not to be seduced by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who is responsible for education into taking part in the assisted places scheme.

The regulations set out the allowances payable and deal with the income of the parents involved. Even though the Opposition are so bitterly opposed to the scheme, we are entitled to probe the Minister on one or two points. The regulations deal with the age groups of the children who may be eligible to take part in the scheme. Regulation 4(2)(a) refers to a child who has attained the age of 12 years on 31 July of the year, which, assuming him to have been admitted to an assisted place would he his first assisted year". It is clear into which age group that child will fall. Sub-paragraph (c) refers to a person who at the commencement of a school year … has not attained the age of 20 years. There again, the age group is mentioned. But sub-paragraph (b) refers to "a young person". That is the one category that does not have an age group attached to it. The Under-Secretary must explain into which age group such a "young person" would fall.

The conditions of the provisions to be made for a person to whom the regulations will apply are rather obscure.

The regulations refer to anyone who has lived in a member country of the European Community throughout the period of three years immediately preceding 1st January in the calendar year in which his first assisted year begins assuming him to have been admitted to an assisted place. I assume that parents of children who have resided in a country that formed the European Community on 1 January this year will not be eligible to accept or to apply for an assisted place, for the simple reason that they will not have three years' residential qualification in an EEC country. There is a need for the Minister to explain the situation in more detail for the benefit of further countries that may consider joining the EEC although for the life of me I cannot understand their reasons for wishing to do so.

I turn now to the declaration of relevant income for the financial year immediately preceding the school year in relation to which an application is made. According to the statutory instrument, if such a declaration cannot be furnished, a declaration of relevant income for the financial year preceding that financial year or a declaration of estimated relevant income will be sufficient. That is a hotchpotch. In his desperation to get his much-loved assisted places scheme into operation, the Minister is telling parents that if they cannot supply a declaration of income for last year, a declaration for the previous year can be accepted. If that cannot be supplied, the Minister is asking for an estimate of likely earnings. In the assisted places scheme anything goes, because the Minister is so desperate to see the scheme introduced.

Although the statutory instrument deals with the financial limits and qualifications, the question of the educational qualification that pupils will have to show for an assisted place also arises. The educational case for the introduction of the scheme into the Scottish education system has still not been presented. The Minister seeks to drag himself along on the coat tails of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The hon. Gentleman seems to have a feeling of inferiority because he has not yet reached the dizzy heights achieved by the Secretary of State in England and Wales. There is no educational case for the scheme in England and Wales, and still less in Scotland. The Secretary of State and his junior Minister have not laid down any educational criteria for the admission of children to the assisted places scheme. The hon. Gentleman knows that the schools will select the pupils without any reference to a child's educational ability.

The Minister knows perfectly well—I was about to say that I was surprised that he maintains his denial of knowledge of the situation, but I am not surprised—that the assisted places scheme will divide schools, communities and families. One child in a family will be selected—not for a good educational reason—for an assisted places scheme in one of the specified schools while the other children are not selected. That will cause stresses and strains within families.

If headmasters and those responsible for selecting children choose to cream off the children whom they consider to be the most desirable pupils—educationally or otherwise—from the primary schools, they will thereby damage part of the State sector.

That is how the children are to be selected. The method has nothing to do with educational qualifications; it is a pure process of selection. In Committee, the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) said that if his child was lucky enough—I think that those were the words he used—to be selected for one of these assisted places schemes, he would be delighted. I think that he was nearer the truth than he realised when he said that. He was right to use the words "lucky enough", because it is a matter of luck, not education.

In asking the Minister to reply to the detailed questions that I am putting to him about age groups, the declaration of relevant income, the matter of residence, and countries which are members of the EEC and others, I hope that he will take this opportunity—it may be his last, if rumour is true—to explain how the assisted places scheme will operate and how the children will be selected. The hon. Gentleman has never said that the children who are the most successful in examinations or those who show the most aptitude are those who will be selected. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire was nearer the truth, and I am sure that his daughter has an excellent chance of being selected for a scheme. I do not know her, and she may be the brightest child in the class, but the selection will have nothing to do with that. It will be because he is the Member of Parliament for Perth and East Perthshire that she will have an excellent chance of being selected.

Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)

The hon. Member probably overlooks the fact that it is unlikely that I would get any financial assistance because I would be considered to be too well off.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is filthy rich.

Mr. Ewing

I let my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) answer that intervention.

I am glad that what the hon. Gentleman said in Committee was mere speculation. Nevertheless, the truth is that those with influence in the community will have a much better opportunity of having their children selected than those who do not have such influence.

It is not a laughing or light-hearted matter when a child's educational future will be decided in this cavalier way, yet such an attitude has been shown by Scottish Ministers. The Under-Secretary the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), sniggers in his usual fashion; the Minister responsible for health is not very worried about education or the way in which children in his constituency will be treated; and the Minister responsible for education has done more damage to Scottish education than any other known person.

This statutory instrument is totally irrelevant to the needs of Scottish education. It is fitting that it should be introduced at 10.45 pm, when the Scottish press has gone to sleep and when, as usual, the Minister hopes that he can slip it through almost unnoticed without incurring the wrath of the parents of Scottish children.

I assure the Minister that we shall not allow this matter to go unnoticed. I end as I began. The Government, with their built-in majority, may succeed tonight, but it will be a temporary and shallow victory. The Labour Party will reverse this decision at the first opportunity following the next general election. Therefore, although this statutory instrument may succeed in the Lobby, it will be only a temporary measure which will last no longer than polling day at the next general election.

10.42 pm
Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)

The hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) proved to myself and to my hon. Friends who served on the Education (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill Committee that we did not miss much. The only merit of his speech was that it lasted 15 minutes, even though I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman could have spun it out for about 15 hours. Certainly, his presence in Committee during our discussion on the assisted places scheme would not have added one jot or tittle to the educational argument advanced by the Opposition. Indeed, I strongly suspect that it would have diluted that argument.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's annoyance that he and his hon. Friends will be denied the ability to apply for the assisted places scheme, because the salaries of Members of Parliament are above the level of relevant income. That probably annoys quite a few Labour Members, who thought that this would be a way of sending their children to private schools, just as some of them were sent to private schools by their parents.

We should put the amount of money about which we are talking into some sort of context. Currently, independent schools in Scotland receive £3.4 million—[HON. MEMBERS: "No they do not"]

Mr. Canavan

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The grant-aided schools receive £3.4 million, and not the independent schools. The independent schools will receive additional money under this scheme.

Mr. MacKay

I accept that small correction—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, it allows me to advance a better argument. This statutory instrument will help parents to send their children to any of the private schools which are in the scheme, not just to those which by an accident of history have remained from the previous grant-aided sector. I come back to the £3.4 million. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that that sum, at its present-day value, will be used for the assisted places scheme.

Some weeks ago I read with some interest in the Sunday Post that vandalism in Strathclyde cost £5 million last year. Perhaps vandalism in Scottish schools costs £8 million to £10 million. I know that at least one Opposition Member has indulged in football hysteria. As long as it is blessed as such, perhaps they do not mind. But, in the context of vandalism costing £8 million in Scottish schools, £3.4 million spent on education—and not only on education of the privileged, as the Opposition claim—is not that costly. The statutory instrument deliberately moves the grant aid, which at present can be argued as going only to the privileged, to those who are not privileged—the less well off. The money presently given to the grant-aided sector reduces the fees of children attending such schools. In future, when we phase from the present system to that outlined in the statutory instrument, the money will help the children whose parents cannot otherwise afford to send them to such schools.

The scheme will enable more people to benefit from education. It will enable more schools to participate—as the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) rightly pointed out—in the scheme than participate in the grant-aid scheme. I thought that the Opposition would be in favour of reducing the criterion of ability to pay. The money given to the private sector will be channelled through less-well-off parents to the schools.

Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the overall cost of the assisted places scheme will be subject to cash limits and that, because of the variables in the scheme, it will not be an open-ended commitment by the Government?

Mr. MacKay

I am sure that the Minister will answer that question. The hon. Gentleman poses a real problem. When the Government introduced the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill last year, the Opposition said that no one would want to buy council houses. It transpires that many of the tenants want to do so. The Opposition cannot decide whether no one wants the scheme or whether so many will want it that the Minister will have to impose a cash limit so that he does not spend more than £3.4 million. If many people want to take part in the scheme, I shall urge my hon. Friend the Minister to expand the cash limit. The Opposition refuse to appreciate that every child who attends one of the schools does not cost the State the full cost of State education. I cannot understand why it is wrong to transfer the money being spent on a child from the local comprehensive school to being partially spent helping the assisted places scheme.

The hon. Gentleman's intervention proves that many more parents will be interested in the scheme than the Opposition want to believe. When the Opposition are returned to power in 1990 or the next century, children will be participating in the assisted places scheme that the Opposition will be unable to do what they want to do.

I know that the Opposition will welcome—as I do—the inclusion in the statutory instrument of school travel grants, clothing grants, meal grants and field study grants. In Committee, the Opposition were keen to say that if there was to be an assisted places scheme those items should be taken into account. I have no doubt that they will manage to find some means of shifting their ground tonight.

There are parents whose children have to leave home to attend school. I accept that at this stage it would not be a proper use of money to incorporate the boarding component. However, where a local authority is having to pay a boarding fee because a child has to be put into digs or into a local authority hostel to attend school, that is different from the norm.

There are many parents on the islands who are satisfied with the education that their children receive when they leave home at 12 to attend mainland schools. However, many of them would like the choice of a seven-day school rather than a five-day school that tries to do its best at weekends. They would like their children to go to a boarding school. There are parents who would like their children to have a Catholic education. Their children have to leave home to go to school in any event, and they would like them to attend a Catholic boarding school with a religious background.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will address himself to this issue. He assured me in Committee that in the circumstances that I have outlined local authorities could help parents with boarding fees if they had to pay boarding fees in any event, be they for digs or local authority hostels. I suggest that my hon. Friend could be rather firmer with the authorities. Parents who qualify for an assisted places scheme for sending their children to a fee-paying school on the mainland and who want to give their children a seven-day week boarding education should be helped by the authority with the fees. It would not cost the authorities any more than it costs now to send the children to school on the mainland.

There are schools—I name one that is not a Catholic religious school—such as Keil school, Dunbartonshire, which caters especially for boys from rural areas, especially from Argyll and other parts of the Highlands. It has a good reputation for the way in which it looks after boys who have to leave home at the age of 12 and whose parents are concerned about their well-being.

I ask my hon. Friend to consider firming up this respect of the measure to ensure that authorities do not use the party political dogma of the Labour Party to blind themselves to the fact that parents have a right in the way in which their children are educated. If their children are leaving home at 12, they should be able to choose the sort of boarding school they attend and expect the local authority and the State, via the measure that we are considering, to help them with the fees, including boarding fees, that go with the attendance.

I welcome this measure. It is a portent of our determination that parents should have as much choice as possible in the education of their children. That choice includes the choice of sending their children to an independent school. Whether I would do it or whether the Labour Party would do it is neither here nor there. Parents who wish to do it should be given the opportunity of doing so, and I welcome the measure.

10.53 pm
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

In Committee on the Education (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill, Labour Members made it clear that they had identified what Conservatives were trying to do. Their purpose is to redistribute wealth in accordance with their views, and especially those of the hon. Members who represent parts of Edinburgh. The Bill is designed to win over parents in the Lothian region to whom promises were made during the general election.

Those who will seek to take advantage of the Bill in the sense that we are discussing already have their children in grant-aided and fee-paying schools. That is a factor that caused us distress when we examined the Bill in Committee. It will be of no benefit to the more than 95 per cent. of State sector children. The amount of money, whether it be £3.4 million or £4 million, could be better spent. In Committee we gave many suggestions of where that money could be spent. I shall not waste the time of the House by going over them.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) is with us tonight. I am concerned about the financial aspects of the statutory instrument. I should like to hear the Minister, although I would rather have heard his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, give us an assurance that all statements of income for the assisted places scheme will be verified by the Inland Revenue. I know that that matter keenly interests the lion. Member for Aberdeen, South. I am certain that he will join me in the demand for the prosecution of those who make fraudulent statements. Like me, he will be keen to know what the penalties will be for the people who seek to misrepresent their income during their claims for assisted places.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

One hundred lines.

Mr. Ross

It may be 100 lines, but I am certain that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South will not stick at that.

I am certain that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South will once again make a name for himself, this time in launching a campaign against assisted places scheme scroungers. I shall be right behind him, and so will every Labour Member. I look forward to the Minister's comments about how he will ensure that his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South can remain in the relaxed position which he is now adopting.

I also wish to ask, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing), what assurances the Minister can give us about exactly how the information from the schools on how pupils will be selected for the assisted places scheme will be determined. In Committee, the Minister said that the method of selection would be left to the schools. Labour Members are concerned about the privacy which will be given to those schools. We are concerned about the way in which it will be used against any working-class parents who, by some mistake, decide to apply for some of the assisted places.

Regulation 14 mentions the remission of charges for meals. I should be interested to know exactly how the charitable status of those schools is related to their ability to take advantage of that status and of the EEC food mountains as some are doing, as we discovered in Committee.

In Dundee, as a Member of Parliament, I made a simple request to the Dundee high school board of governors that they should advise me whether they were taking advantage of the intervention food mountain in Reading. I wanted to know whether, as part of their charitable status, they were using cheap butter and meat to assist the people who least needed to be assisted. They refused to divulge that information. I should like the Minister to comment on that. Does he think that it is acceptable that one of those charitable institutions should be allowed to deny a Member of Parliament that information, which is vital to many people in Dundee, who would also like to take advantage of that cheap food, whether it be butter or meat?

Does the Minister agree with the continuing abuse of parliamentary privilege by Dundee high school? He knows that it sent out forms for places before the Education (Scotland) Bill had its Second Reading. He did not seem to condone those actions at that stage. What does he think now, following the announcement in last Friday's Courier and Advertiser? The school now wants the forms back by Monday at the latest—and that was announced even before this debate and before the Bill has come back on Report. I hope that the Minister will condemn the abuse of parliamentary privilege.

Why has the school asked whether applicants have a connection with the school? As we suggested in Committee, assisted places will be awarded over claret and cigars at the annual old boys' reunion. The measure is not about extending privilege and education. It is to continue the old-boy set-up. As has been said, on polling day plus one we shall ensure that there are fewer cigars and less claret and that it is harder to drink. We shall get rid of the obnoxious legislation.

11.1 pm

Mr. Peter Fraser (South Angus)

It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). It surprises me that the Labour Party has not unanimously decided that he should be Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. We are talking of only £3.4 million. In about four minutes, the hon. Gentleman has spent £25 million on education in Scotland. In Committee, he promised my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) a new high school in his city, under the Warnock proposals he promised 400 remedial teachers and he promised an improvement in teacher-pupils ratios unparalleled by any achievement of the Labour Government.

We continually witness the grossest hypocrisy. We are talking of only a modest sum compared with the total expenditure on education in Scotland. I bet that the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) does not know how much money is spent in Scotland. The expenditure that we are talking of is less than 0.5 per cent. of the total expenditure on education in Scotland, yet the Opposition suggest that if we were to abandon the modest extension of choice in one fell swoop we could transform education in Scotland.

We should put the matter into proper perspective. There are compelling arguments for supporting the measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. McKay) raised an interesting and delicate argument about youngsters who do not live on the mainland. Some parents can have their children at home every evening and ensure that they are properly cared for. Others live in a remote highland or rural area or in the islands of Western Scotland. We should give those parents greater choice of schools at which their children can board.

I share my hon. Friend's concern. I trust that the Minister, perhaps not now—I appreciate that he is up against enough opposition as it is—but as the scheme progresses, will appreciate my hon. Friend's point that this would be a real opportunity to extend that choice.

Most significantly of all, however, whenever that argument is advanced, there is a deafening silence from the Opposition Benches. I have no doubt whatever that no one will seriously argue the case about those who live in the Western Isles or in the remote Highlands. Even if the rest of parental choice in terms of the assisted places scheme were to fall in the great cities of Scotland, they will not even have the guts to say that it should at least obtain in the remote parts of Scotland.

11.5 pm

Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)

I intervene briefly in this short debate to support the opposition to the regulations voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemount (Mr. Ewing) on behalf of the Labour Party. The regulations would transfer £3.4 million of public expenditure to the private sector of education in Scotland. That sector comprises between 1 per cent. and 2 per cent. of the total school population in Scotland, and is irrelevent to Scottish education.

This debate would not have taken place if we had had a Scottish Assembly with control of education in Scotland. It would have been a Labour Assembly, just as the overwhelming majority of education authorities in Scotland are Labour controlled and just as the majority of Members of Parliament from Scottish constituencies are Labour Members. Labour people do not support the Government's policy.

In one sense, however, I congratulate the Government. They are carrying out the policy that they put to the people of England and Wales at the last election, when they said that they would bolster up the private system of education in England and Wales. But they have no right to force that policy upon the people of Scotland, where they have no mandate at either local or national level.

The order is a continuation of the Government's whole financial policy since the last election. From their first Budget, their policy has been to transfer £4,500 million in taxation from the poorest sectors of the population to the richest 20 per cent. In their first Budget, they gave increased benefits to the richest members of society. They are pursuing the same policy today. I am hopeful that after the next election we shall have a Scottish Assembly and will never find ourselves in this position again.

Finally, it was good to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Sterling, Falkirk and Grangemouth give the assurance that one of the first actions of the next Labour Government will be to eliminate this concession to the private sector of education. I should have hoped that he would give us the assurance that most Labour people in Scotland want. We do not want simply the abolition of this £3.4 million subsidy to the private sector. We want the total abolition of the private sector of education in Scotland. I am glad to see that the Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Science for England and Wales is listening to the debate. Even if that policy cannot be carried out in England and Wales, perhaps because of opposition from his own side, we shall certainly ensure that the Scottish manifesto will contain proposals to wipe out the private sector of education. Why should the private sector get concessions from the Inland Revenue? Why should it get concessions as charitable organisations from local rates when it pays either no rates or 30 per cent?

Why should I read in every quality newspaper on Sunday large advertisements saying "Why pay school fees? Make preparations now"? Why should the poor people in my constituency, who are finding it difficult to get supplies of books, jotters and pencils from education authorities because of the cutbacks by the Tory Government, have to subsidise the people who send their children to the 42 fee-paying schools in Scotland? If there is to be another spokesman from the Labour Front Bench, I hope that he will give a guarantee that in Scotland fee-paying schools will be wiped out when we get control again.

11.11 pm
Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) on making very good nationalist points. When he said that the Conservative Party did not have any mandate to govern in Scotland, he was right. It is the Achilles heel of the Labour Party in Scotland that, knowing that, it does not do anything to enhance the Scottish voice and the Scottish influence. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman said that we stopped him getting a Scottish Assembly. Let me remind him that the Labour Party refused to give effect to the vote for the setting of a Scottish Assembly. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), on whom is lavished such praise, was one of the rebels in the Labour Government who tried to kill the idea of a Scottish Assembly. Yet the hon. Member for Central Ayshire is quite pleased to work alongside him, despite the fact that he has already been stabbed in the back.

However, we are discussing the assisted places scheme which I have opposed in Committee. I wish to confirm my opposition to it. It is obnoxious and alien to the Scottish tradition of education in the public sector. It is a pity that the Government are willing to waste money in this fashion instead of attempting to improve conditions in schools attended by most children in Scotland by ploughing the funds into them. It is a form of educational vandalism which the Government are perpetrating. Whatever one can say about the quality of education, the scheme is certainly socially divisive.

The Labour Party has indicated that it wishes to repeal the scheme either on polling day or the day after. I think it is trying to advance its position with regard to that taken by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who would allow a month before the House of Lords was to go into liquidation. This scheme should go because it is harmful.

If one looks at the regulations, one can see immediately some of the double standards which have been employed. I should like to put some questions to the Minister. In relation to part II, entitled "Eligibility for admission to assisted places", can he give the meaning of regulation 4(2)(c) on giving aid to a person aged 18 but under 20? What is the justification for aid being given beyond the normal school leaving age in Scotland of either 17 or 18?

On the words "ordinarily resident" in regulation 5(1)(b), will the Minister deal with the position of children who come to join immigrants who have been in residence for the qualifying period but who may not themselves meet the qualification? Is that covered? If not, how does he envisage that it will operate? [Interruption.] I would be in favour of their being given the same rights as anybody else. It is so commonplace that I did not think of spelling it out.

I draw the Minister's attention to part III, "Remission of fees". Here we have a provision relating to payment of tuition and other fees. As the Minister knows, the parents of children attending State schools have to pay for tuition in certain subjects, yet persons paying fees in the private sector are to be given exemplary treatment. The parents are to be absolved from responsibility or to be given help.

Under regulation 6(2)(c), what other fees are envisaged in relation to the general all-encompassing phrase such other fees in respect of a pupil's attendance at a specified school"? I also intended to make the point that has been mentioned already concerning false declarations. If people can be prosecuted for social security frauds, the same sanctions should apply under these regulations. It would be interesting to know why the Minister has adopted a lower standard in relation to false declarations than applies under the social security system.

Has the Minister budgeted for the cost of school travel grants? Will he confirm that expenditure under 25 miles would have to be met by the parents and that there would not be any help under the scheme?

With regard to clothing grants, regulation 13(1) provides: A specified school shall in accordance with this Regulation make to the parents of a pupil holding an assisted place at that school a clothing grant in respect of clothing expenditure in relation to such a pupil. I have been informed by my local branch of the DHSS that, while the DHSS can help with the provision of clothing if there is a shortage of clothing, it is under no obligation to supply school uniforms. If it is correct that a pupil attending a State school will not get help from the DHSS in the supply of a uniform, why are parents who have children taking places under the assisted places scheme to be given help? Does the Minister agree that the scales are very generous compared with the practice adopted by the DHSS in refusing help to parents of children at State schools who may be in need?

The same question may be asked about the remission of charges for meals where the relevant income does not exceed £4,000. Will the Minister state what level of income he would be prepared to accept in regard to free school meals in the State sector? Under the regulations, those parents who have children taking up assisted places will be feather-bedded compared with children attending schools in the State sector.

11.18 pm
Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

It shows utter contempt for the House that such an incompetent Minister should introduce these regulations when the legislative framework for assisted places has still to be approved by Parliament. The Bill only recently completed its Committee stage. It has still to complete its Report Stage and Third Reading, let alone its passage in the other place.

I do not know how our parliamentary rules let the Minister get away with such sheer brass neck. The regulations appear to come under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. If the Minister is arguing that the legislation in the Education (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill is unnecessary, why on earth is he conning us by introducing a legislative framework? I hope that he will reply to that point.

Schedule 1 contains a list of 42 schools. In his discussion documents about the assisted places scheme, the Minister said early on that he wanted a reasonable geographical distribution of schools throughout Scotland. He has clearly failed to achieve that. There are 12 education authorities in Scotland, of which four do not have schools listed in schedule 1. There is no inclusion of a school from the Borders, Western Isles, Orkney or Shetland. Four of the education authorities in Scotland have only one school in the list. I refer to Central region, Fife region, Highland region and Dumfries and Galloway. Therefore, there is not much of a geographical distribution.

Indeed, 14 of the schools are in Strathclyde. However, it must be borne in mind that Strathclyde covers about half of Scotland's school population. Fourteen schools are in the Lothian region, and 13 of them are in Edinburgh. Loretto is just on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Edinburgh's representation is out of all proportion, because Edinburgh has only about one-tenth of Scotland's population. Nevertheless, it has about one-third of the schools. The Minister is catering for only a few of his constituents and for the Edinburgh bourgeoisie, who are obsessed by the need to send their children to private, fee-paying schools. He is hoping to buy votes with taxpayers' money.

No school from my constituency is on the list, for the simple reason that there is no enthusiasm in my constituency for such a crazy scheme. Indeed, the opposite is true. There is great anger and resentment, even among those who voted Tory at the general election. Parents are crying out for more school accommodation in the public sector. People are calling out for more teachers in order to improve educational opportunities for their children in the public sector. There is great and justifiable anger and resentment, because about £3.5 million of public money is being spent on the private sector of education.

Many parents in my constituency, in places such as Killearn and Dunipace, are far from satisfied with what their children get. It is not the Central regional council that is to blame, but the miserly attitude of the Minister who is supposed to be in charge of education.

The amount of money involved in the full remission of fees is not inconsiderable. For example, Loretto has fees of no less than £525 per term. That is the Solicitor-General's old school, but I notice that he is playing truant again tonight. At Fettes the day fees are £750 per term. That is £2,250 per year. If someone is there for six years, he will receive £13,500. A student could be at that school for more than six years, because students are allowed to stay at school until they are almost 20. Someone could go to school perhaps for eight years and could pocket £18,000. What type of situation is that? One could well imagine the headmaster of Fettes encouraging wee Georgie to stay on for his seventh or eighth year simply in order to squeeze more money out of the Minister.

There seems to be an anomaly, because it would seem that EEC nationals will be able to benefit from the scheme. I am all in favour of introducing a better international dimension to education, but it is unfair that the Minister should make it easier for EEC nationals to go to fee-paying schools in Scotland while he charges overseas students from Commonwealth countries the highest fees in the world.

The question was posed whether there is a statutory limit to the total amount. There does not appear to be a cash limit in the regulations or in the Bill. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will reply to that and bear in mind the limited amount of money that is available. It would appear that there is a great deal of money—£3½ million or more, increased by the Government from £900,000. That was one of their first acts in Government. One of our first acts when we return to Government will be to reduce the amount to zero.

11.26 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alexander Fletcher)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear on Second Reading of the Education (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill that we would use our powers under the 1980 Act to place these regulations to introduce an assisted places scheme before the House. There is no need for anyone on either side to be surprised that the regulations have been laid.

The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) talks about brass necks and criticises an assisted places scheme. He should be reminded that he is in an assisted place and lives in an assisted place. That is not in contest, because he lives in a council house.

Mr. Canavan

I would get more assistance if I had a mortgage, you silly ass.

Mr. Fletcher

To carry on with indignation about assisted places is unjustified.

The hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) addressed himself to a new scheme to help lower income families—a new idea and innovation. Yet his first words against the innovation is that "We shall abolish it" because the Opposition have not had a new idea for about 50 years. They are frightened of any sort of change, option or choice for parents. They are frightened to allow their constituents to make decisions for themselves but are trying to keep them under the thumb of the Labour Party.

The proposal is part of our general proposals to extend parental choice in Scotland. In doing that, we are meeting the wishes of people all over Scoland who are excluded from that choice for financial reasons. Labour, as usual, disagrees and shows contempt for choice and for consumers of education, as it did for giving people the right to buy their council houses if they wished to do so.

I shall attempt to answer as many questions as I can in the time available. The hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth asked about the definition of "young person". That is a person defined in section 135(1) of the 1980 Act as someone between the ages of 16 and 18. The hon. Member asked about new entrants from the EEC. He is correct that new entrants require three years' residence in the EEC—that is, from the date the new country entered the Community

The hon. Member also asked about educational qualifications for an assisted place. In Committee that was discussed at length. I made the point then, and I make it again now, that this is a scheme to increase parental choice, not to choose exceptionally able pupils. Schools will make the choice in the normal way about the pupils to whom they wish to give a place. The criteria that we discussed in Committee apply to this regulation. The schools decide which pupils will benefit from the education provided.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

What does that mean?

Mr. Fletcher

That means precisely what I say.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) has no justification or facts on which to base his accusation that the scheme is at the expense of books and equipment in our schools in Scotland. He should bear in mind especially the fact that parents of children at independent and grant-aided schools pay their full rates and taxes to help meet the costs of the public sector, quite apart from contributing to the costs of the assisted places scheme.

My hon. Friends the Members for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) and Argyll (Mr. MacKay) raised the question of local authorities in Highland and rural areas and in the islands using the cash that they have available for boarding fees in State schools to pay for boarding fees in private schools, if places are found for children under the scheme. As I said in Committee, there is nothing to stop a local authority from using the funds in that way. But we prefer to leave it on a voluntary basis. Local authorities may pay boarding fees under the scheme if they wish.

My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll was right to point out the expansion of the scheme, from 22 schools under the block grant system, which has existed in Scotland for many years, to 42 schools—opening up choice under the new scheme.

An interesting aspect of the scheme is that applications are coming in for the children of clerks, tradesmen, engineers, secretaries and, above all—the profession at the top of the list of applicants for assisted places throughout the United Kingdom—those of teachers.

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 4 (prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure)).

The House divided: Ayes 225, Noes 281.

Division No. 172] [11.31 pm
Abse, Leo Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Adams, Alien Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)
Anderson, Donald Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Buchan, Norman
Ashton, Joe Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)
Atkinson, N.(H'gey,) Campbell, Ian
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Campbell-Savours, Dale
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Canavan, Dennis
Beith, A. J. Carmichael, Neil
Benn, Rt Hon A. Wedgwood Carter-Jones, Lewis
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N) Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bidwell, Sydney Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Cohen, Stanley
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Coleman, Donald
Bray, Dr Jeremy Conlan, Bernard
Cook, Robin F. Kinnock, Neil
Cowans, Harry Lambie, David
Craigen, J. M. Lamond, James
Crowther, J. S. Leadbitter, Ted
Cryer, Bob Leighton, Ronald
Cunliffe, Lawrence Lestor, Miss Joan
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Dalyell, Tam Litherland, Robert
Davidson, Arthur Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) McCartney, Hugh
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Deakins, Eric McElhone, Frank
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Dempsey, James McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Dewar, Donald McKelvey, William
Dixon, Donald MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Dobson, Frank Maclennan, Robert
Dormand, Jack McMahon, Andrew
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McNally, Thomas
Dubs, Alfred McNamara, Kevin
Duffy, A. E. P. McTaggart, Robert
Dunn, James A. McWilliam, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Magee, Bryan
Eadie, Alex Marshall, D(G'gow S'ton)
Eastham, Ken Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
English, Michael Martin, M(G'gow S'burn)
Ennals, Rt Hon David Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Maxton, John
Evans, John (Newton) Maynard, Miss Joan
Ewing, Harry Meacher, Michael
Faulds, Andrew Mikardo, Ian
Field, Frank Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Fitch, Alan Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Flannery, Martin Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Ford, Ben Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Forrester, John Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Foster, Derek Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Foulkes, George Morton, George
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd) Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Freud, Clement Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Newens, Stanley
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
George, Bruce Ogden, Eric
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John O'Halloran, Michael
Ginsburg, David O'Neill, Martin
Golding, John Palmer, Arthur
Graham, Ted Parker, John
Grant, George (Morpeth) Parry, Robert
Grant, John (Islington C) Pavitt, Laurie
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Pendry, Tom
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Penhaligon, David
Hardy, Peter Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Prescott, John
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Haynes, Frank Race, Reg
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Radice, Giles
Heffer, Eric S. Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Home Robertson, John Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Homewood, William Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Hooley, Frank Robertson, George
Howells, Geraint Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Huckfield, Les Rooker, J. W.
Hudson Davies, Gwilym E. Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Janner, Hon Greville Rowlands, Ted
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sever, John
John, Brynmor Sheerman, Barry
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Short, Mrs Renée
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Kerr, Russell Skinner, Dennis
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Snape, Peter Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Soley, Clive Weetch, Ken
Spearing, Nigel Welsh, Michael
Spriggs, Leslie White, Frank R.
Stallard, A. W. White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Steel, Rt Hon David Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Stoddart, David Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Stott, Roger Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)
Strang, Gavin Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Straw, Jack Winnick, David
Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Woolmer, Kenneth
Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Wright, Sheila
Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen) Young, David (Bolton E)
Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Tilley, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Torney, Tom Mr. Walter Harrison and
Urwin, Rt Hon Tom Mr. James Tinn
Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Adley, Robert Cranborne, Viscount
Alexander, Richard Critchley, Julian
Alison, Michael Crouch, David
Anderson, Donald Dean, Paul (North Somerset)
Aspinwall, Jack Dickens, Geoffrey
Atkins, Robert (Preston N) Dorrell, Stephen
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E) Dover, Denshore
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone) du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Dunn, Robert (Dartford)
Banks, Robert Durant, Tony
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Dykes, Hugh
Bendall, Vivian Eden, Rt Hon Sir John
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Eggar, Tim
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Elliott, Sir William
Berry, Hon Anthony Eyre, Reginald
Best, Keith Fairbairn, Nicholas
Bevan, David Gilroy Fairgrieve, Russell
Biffen, Rt Hon John Faith, Mrs Sheila
Biggs-Davison, John Farr, John
Blackburn, John Fell, Anthony
Body, Richard Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fisher, Sir Nigel
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Bowden, Andrew Fookes, Miss Janet
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Forman, Nigel
Braine, Sir Bernard Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bright, Graham Fox, Marcus
Brinton, Tim Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Brittan, Leon Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Brooke, Hon Peter Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brotherton, Michael Glyn, Dr Alan
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Goodhart, Philip
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Goodhew, Victor
Browne, John (Winchester) Goodlad, Alastair
Buchan, Norman Gow, Ian
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Gower, Sir Raymond
Buck, Antony Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Budgen, Nick Gray, Hamish
Bulmer, Esmond Greenway, Harry
Burden, Sir Frederick Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)
Butcher, John Grist, Ian
Butler, Hon Adam Grylls, Michael
Cadbury, Jocelyn Gummer, John Selwyn
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hamilton, Hon A.
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Hampson, Dr Keith
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Hannam, John
Chapman, Sydney Haselhurst, Alan
Churchill, W. S. Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Hawkins, Paul
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hawksley, Warren
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hayhoe, Barney
Clegg, Sir Walter Heddle, John
Cockeram, Eric Henderson, Barry
Cope, John Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cormack, Patrick Hill, James
Corrie, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Pawsey, James
Hooson, Tom Percival, Sir Ian
Hordern, Peter Peyton, Rt Hon John
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd) Pink, R. Bonner
Hunt, David (Wirral) Pollock, Alexander
Hurd, Hon Douglas Porter, Barry
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Prior, Rt Hon James
Jessel, Toby Proctor, K. Harvey
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Kaberry, Sir Donald Raison, Timothy
Kershaw, Anthony Rathbone, Tim
Kimball, Marcus Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
King, Rt Hon Tom Rees-Davies, W. R.
Knight, Mrs Jill Renton, Tim
Knox, David Rhodes James, Robert
Lamont, Norman Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Lang, Ian Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Langford-Holt, Sir John Rifkind, Malcolm
Latham, Michael Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Lawrence, Ivan Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rost, Peter
Lee, John Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Le Marchant, Spencer St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Scott, Nicholas
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Loveridge, John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Luce, Richard Shepherd, Richard
Lyell, Nicholas Shersby, Michael
McCrindle, Robert Silvester, Fred
Macfarlane, Neil Sims, Roger
MacGregor, John Skeet, T. H. H.
MacKay, John (Argyll) Smith, Dudley
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Speed, Keith
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Speller, Tony
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Spence, John
McQuarrie, Albert Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Madel, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Major, John Sproat, Iain
Marland, Paul Squire, Robin
Marlow, Tony Stainton, Keith
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stanbrook, Ivor
Marten, Neil (Banbury) Stanley, John
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Steen, Anthony
Mawby, Ray Stevens, Martin
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Mayhew, Patrick Stokes, John
Mellor, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Meyer, Sir Anthony Tapsell, Peter
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Mills, lain (Meriden) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mills, Peter (West Devon) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Thompson, Donald
Moate, Roger Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Monro, Hector Thornton, Malcolm
Montgomery, Fergus Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moore, John Trippier, David
Morgan, Geraint van Straubenzee, W. R.
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Viggers, Peter
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Waddington, David
Murphy, Christopher Wakeham, John
Myles, David Waldegrave, Hon William
Neale, Gerrard Walker, Rt Hon P.(W'cester)
Needham, Richard Walker, B. (Perth)
Nelson, Anthony Waller, Gary
Neubert, Michael Walters, Dennis
Newton, Tony Ward, John
Nott, Rt Hon John Warren, Kenneth
Onslow, Cranley Watson, John
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Wells, Bowen
Osborn, John Wheeler, John
Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Whitney, Raymond
Parris, Matthew Wickenden, Keith
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Wiggin, Jerry
Patten, John (Oxford) Wilkinson, John
Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Wolfson, Mark Tellers for the Noes:
Young, Sir George (Acton) Mr. Carol Mather and
Younger, Rt Hon George Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.

Question accordingly negatived.