HC Deb 27 April 1988 vol 132 cc339-40
7. Mr Eadie

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what further discussions he has had in relation to the future of Newbattle Abbey college.

Mr. Rifkind

On 10 February I met the hon. Gentleman with some of his colleagues to discuss the future of Newbattle Abbey college, and my officials met representatives of the board of governors on 25 January.

Mr. Eadie

While thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his answer, as he is supposed to be a friend of Newbattle Abbey adult residential college, may I ask him to explain the special factors about Scottish education which mean that Scotland has to be deprived of its adult residential college? Can he explain to the House why his office is prepared to fund students who go south of the border to colleges that are akin to Newbattle Abbey, but is not prepared to fund Newbattle Abbey college? Will he come to the Lobby tomorrow, like a real friend of Newbattle Abbey college, when he will get a full explanation?

Mr. Rifkind

I want the resources that are available to benefit the maximum number of people in Scotland who wish to enter higher education. The fact is that in the past year over 6,500 people over the age of 21 entered full-time higher education, of whom only 40 went to Newbattle Abbey. The conclusion that we have reluctantly come to is that the resources that at the moment are going into educating those 40 persons could be much more effectively used to provide the benefits of higher education to many more people than that.

Only last week I was able to announce a £1 million programme of wider access to higher education for people in Scotland over the next three years. That shows that the Government give priority to that area. Newbattle Abbey was initiated when there were no alternative means of achieving higher education for those who had not had that benefit in their earlier years, but such alternatives now exist to a far greater extent than would have been thought possible some years ago.

Mr. Maxton

About 20 minutes ago the Secretary of State said that the Government believed in consultation. If that is the case, will he now tell the House why he made his clear decision and announcement on Newbattle Abbey without consulting the board of governors or anybody else about it? Is that not an odd sort of consultation? Will he now answer the question that was put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie)? What is different about education in Scotland from that in England and Wales? What makes Scotland different? The Secretary of State did not answer that in the previous question that was put to him.

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman is putting forward the proposition that there should be uniformity of policy north and south of the border in educational matters, that is interesting when one takes into account earlier comments on other educational matters for which he has been responsible.

We gave the governors of Newbattle Abbey college 18 months' notice of our intention to withdraw funding. They have been making representations since then, as has the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), with whom I have had a meeting. We shall carefully examine the representations that have been made, but the hon. Gentleman had better come to terms with the question whether he wants Scottish education to be decided on the basis of Scottish needs or whether, as he seems to be saying, it should be automatically brought into line with whatever is happening south of the border.