HC Deb 20 June 1989 vol 155 cc216-53

`A self-governing school shall not introduce general academic selection whereby the admission of pupils to the school or rejection of pupils by the school is made by reference to levels of ability or aptitude.'.—[Mr. McLeish.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. McLeish

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Many concerns were voiced in Committee about the Bill, but none more so than the concern about academic selection. Clauses 16 and 28 seem to include provision for a self-governing school to admit pupils on the basis of academic selection.

In Committee, the Government would not accept that definition of the words "aptitude and ability". But the Opposition clearly felt that aptitude and ability were an euphemism for admission on the basis of academic selection.

Over the past 20 years in Scotland there has been a consensus on the need to build and develop comprehensive education. That has been one of the big success stories of Scottish education over the past 10 to 15 years. The Opposition are alarmed that, under the guise of self-governing status, any school could use academic criteria to admit pupils. As the Committee progressed, the Opposition became less assured of the Government's intent. The Government were keen to suggest that aptitude and ability meant that there could be special provision for the arts and for sports, but the Opposition clearly felt that there was a real threat of academic selection.

7.30 pm

There have been few studies on the impact of comprehensivisation on attainment in Scottish education. One is the work done by the Centre for Educational Sociology in Edinburgh. As usual, the Minister sighs with despair at the mention of that organisation, but it is a reputable, reliable and authoritative source on the benefits of comprehensivisation over the past few years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) reminds me, the Scottish Office invests considerable sums of money in tapping its expertise.

Comprehensivisation in Scotland has meant an improvement in overall standards and, equally important. an equalisation of attainment between children of different social backgrounds. That was one of the motivating forces behind the introduction of comprehensive education, not only in England and Wales, but in Scotland.

The Centre for Educational Sociology has produced some interesting statistics on the impact of that change on the two areas of overall improvement and equalisation. In Committee there were few opportunities when the Government could resist the temptation to rubbish the work of the Centre for Educational Sociology, but they failed to provide any evidence to counter the representations that we were making, backed up by the welter of statistics on every educational indicator that we could find.

Clearly, comprehensivisation has been a success in Scotland, and the opposition are worried that that could be threatened by the back-door introduction of selection on the basis of academic criteria.

Scotland has dwelt on the twin aspects of child development—equal worth and equal access. We know that that is anathema to many on the Right wing of the Conservative party who do not believe that a modern progressive education system should have such qualities. Conservative Members like to talk about competition and individual choice, but one of the overriding qualities that comprehensivisation has brought to Scottish education is that children have been treated equally, with access that is not determined at an early age by testing; nor is it dependent, for 98 per cent. of our Scottish schoolchildren, on the ability to pay.

Those are laudable objectives, which the Opposition believe should be nurtured and further developed. But if a self-governing school seeks to introduce academic criteria for admission, not only will the educational clock be put back some 20 years, but it will be educationally divisive. The introduction of admission based on academic criteria would lead to a diminution of choice for the vast majority of Scottish schoolchildren. The wider danger, knowing the Government's track record, is that, at an early date, that very concept could, through legislation, be introduced in education authority schools.

We are talking about more than merely academic selection being used in self-governing schools, but that is the thin edge of the educational wedge in satisfying the lust on the Government Benches in this new Right view of education where everything has to be competitive and children have to be failed at an early stage so that competition comes higher on the education agenda.

That is not the path which other European countries are following. It is widely recognised in education and in training that the countries that are competitive and whose performance greatly outstrips us have a system of education in which all children can develop and take advantage of the education system until the age of 16 or after when they can specialise in training, vocational education and further education. That requires a non-selective system of education at the crucial time in a child's development within a community. That is why the Opposition have sought to make this a key priority in the debate. We have sought to ensure that something that is not wanted in Scotland is adequately dealt with in the House tonight.

It is curious that we have a Bill which, by any stretch of the imagination, is uniquely objectionable to most Scots, and within which are even more objectionable aspects such as academic selection. At one time, when a Government brought legislation before the House, they would have evidence to justify or substantiate what they were seeking to do. The Government have nothing to justify the reintroduction of a method of selecting children for schools, which, as I have said, was smashed by the consensus which has emerged over the past 20 years.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Where does the Bill introduce academic selection, or selection of any kind? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Bill introduces two specific hurdles—the consent of the parents and the consent of the Secretary of State—to make such a change? Will he also confirm that education authority schools will be able to introduce academic selection on the basis of a simple vote by the education committee? There are specific protections and it is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to mislead the House in the way that he has.

Mr. McLeish

With the greatest respect to the Minister, it is he who is misleading the House. In Committee, he made great play of the fact that Scottish education authorities could at any time reintroduce academic selection. The real test is that they have no inclination to do so, and that applied when the Conservatives controlled some education authorities in Scotland—an event unlikely to be repeated in the near future. However, it is not true to say that that is a power that local authorities have and would wish to use.

The Minister also asks where in the Bill there is a suggestion of academic selection. It is in clause 16, and there is a reference to aptitude and ability. We cannot accept for a minute that, after two obstacles have been overcome, we should trust the Secretary of State not to decide that a school can change its characteristics and allow academic selection.

Mr. Bill Walker

When the hon. Gentleman gets round to reading the statement that he has just made, he may see the conflicting arguments that he has used to present his case. He accepts that it is on the statute book that local authorities can, if they wish, introduce selection, but they have not done so because they did not wish to do so. The Bill simply gives parents and school boards a similar opportunity.

Mr. McLeish

I have some respect for the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), but if he believes that the Bill is permissive and will merely lie on the shelf in schools throughout the country and not be used, he is being extremely naive. The Government introduced assisted places and school boards on the pretext that they would offer parental choice. In truth, they provided the base on which to build self-governing schools. The Bill also reintroduces standardised testing. It all fits together, to allow a school to pit child against child at a very early age. It is very naive of the hon. Member for Tayside, North to assume that the Bill simply provides further parental choice. That is not its purpose. If the hon. Gentleman read some of the Right-wing nonsense in which some of his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and Back Benches indulge, he would be more wary of the Minister's overtures about the Bill being only permissive legislation.

Why do the Government wish to see even self-governing schools return to a system that has been massively rejected by the Scottish people and by every other political party in Scotland, and which is repugnant to the majority of parents and educationalists? Even given the Government's comments about aptitude and ability, they must justify such an objectionable measure. In Committee, the Minister wriggled away from giving more precise definitions. I ask him to state tonight whether he believes that selection on the basis of academic ability should be reintroduced in the Scottish education system. I ask him whether he will allow that, as between the primary and comprehensive sector, and cause enormous damage to children?

Mr. Michael Forsyth

At the risk of irritating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), in Committee I made it clear that I am in favour of schools being selective in their intake. One example is pupils wishing to join a school of dance, such as the Knightswood comprehensive school. In the case of the Douglas academy, selection would apply to children talented in music. In Committee, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) failed to say whether he was against such selection, and whether it was included in the term "general academic selection" in new clause 2.

Mr. McLeish

There was nothing very original in that response. The Minister gave the wrong reply to the right question. Setting aside social skills, culture and sport, does the Minister want to see in existence soon the situation in which a self-governing school, after a change in its characteristics, will admit children only on the basis of tests relating to their academic ability at primary school level? Does the Minister support that concept, or will he give an assurance that such a system will not operate?

Mr. Michael Forsyth

The Bill allows a self-governing school to make a proposal which, if it receives the endorsement of parents, can go before the Secretary of State for him to take a view. The hon. Gentleman describes music as a social subject whereas it is really an academic subject requiring great skill. Is the hon. Gentleman against schools having specialist departments for music? Is he against specialist departments of classics because of the need for a broad intake to run a successful classics department? Will the hon. Gentleman, like his hon. Friend the Member of Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) duck the issue of whether there should be selective intake for those whose native language is Gaelic? My view is that such matters are best left to the judgment of parents and to the good sense of the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman wants self-governing schools to be more restricted than education authority schools. He should be honest enough to answer the questions that have been asked of him.

7.45 pm
Mr. McLeish

Our worry is that, if the Minister were to be sitting in the Scottish Office considering requests from parents, and given that he is ideologically committed to academic selection, he would agree to a school changing its characteristics under the banner of aptitude and ability. The Minister again wriggles away from answering the real question. In Committee, other definitions of ability and aptitude were accepted. Tonight, I ask the Minister whether he wants to see a return to the situation that existed in Scottish schools 15 or 20 years ago, whereby the result of a test set to children in primary schools determined their whole futures. Is that what the Minister wants to achieve in Scottish education?

Mr. Michael Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the answer to that question is no. In previous debates, we repeatedly gave assurances that the tests being introduced in primary schools will not be used for the purposes of selection and to rank children, but for giving parents information about their children's academic performance. They will not go as far as the tests run by education authorities such as that in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. His new clause is not about that aspect but about preventing schools from doing what the Douglas academy and Knightswood in the comprehensive sector have done, which is to be selective about particular specialist intakes in meeting a particular specialist need. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman's own narrow-minded, ideological bigotry would prevent parents from having the option to vote for or against any change, when he is perfectly content for any education authority to effect changes without consulting parents, other than in the most cursory way.

Mr. McLeish

I know that a number of my hon. Friends are keen to participate in the debate, and we are now going over ground that was covered in Committee. However, on a poll of Scottish parents, I know whom they would trust more, given a choice between the Secretary of State and the Minister, and the chairman and responsible members of an education authority.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman include and embrace in his new clause physical education and all that it implies? If he does, the hon. Gentleman, with his experience of and background in professional soccer, and one thing or another, must surely agree that parents may want their children to enter a particular school because its staff have a reputation for being particularly experienced in that area of activity.

Mr. McLeish

I did not mind the hon. Gentleman's reference to my background in soccer, but his reference to "one thing or another" perplexed me. He follows the line of the Minister. Academic selection relates to admission on the basis of academic ability, which in turn suggests mental rather than physical aptitudes. The Minister nods his head in surprise, but that aspect was covered in Committee, and tonight we have tried to get the Minister to come clean and talk about general academic selection as it is generally interpreted. He has failed to do so. Instead we heard throwaway lines relating to music, dancing and other cultural subjects. My right hon. and hon. Friends will infer from that that the Minister is moving to admission on the basis of academic selection.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman asked me to give additional examples, but why did his list ignore the examples of the classics and of Gaelic that I gave? He rode over music as though it were a social skill. Is the hon. Gentleman against schools providing specialist teaching in specialist subjects and being selective about intake? If so, he is against the apparent current practice in comprehensive schools in Strathclyde.

Mr. McLeish

The Minister should read new clause 2, which refers to admission criteria on the basis of academic ability. The Minister clearly wishes to ignore our interpretation of that, but most Scots know what is meant by selection between primary and secondary schools. The Minister glibly ignores the reality. Beneath the guise of aptitude and ability, the criteria and characteristics of self-governing schools—established under clause 16—could change over a period, under clause 28. That could include admission on the basis of academic selection.

Mr. Bill Walker

As the hon. Gentleman will know, my constituency contains a number of schools. What will he tell primary schools that teach Gaelic? What will he tell parents who wish their children to attend a secondary school that, under the present comprehensive system, offers Gaelic as a subject, if it becomes self-governing because that is wanted locally? Will he say that the school can no longer be selective?

Mr. McLeish

I think that that point was covered earlier. Whether or not the Government understand the issue, the people of Scotland will understand it. Most of them fought for a long time to remove academic criteria from the face of Scottish education. Now, in the late 1980s, we see the possibility of a Government's wishing to return to that reactionary and regressive attitude to Scottish education.

We are opposed to such criteria for admission, for the simple reason that we believe that comprehensivisation has shown that we want to invest in every child, with no artificial cut-off point in relation to maturity or ability at any specific age. We do not want to return to a system of investing in failure by rejecting children of 11—or, under this bizarre testing procedure, possibly even younger—when they could move into comprehensive education at the age of 12, 13, 14 or 15, maturing at different stages and combining either academic ability or vocational training with their talents. That is the light that we have tried to cast on the gloom that will surround the future of comprehensive and self-governing schools if the Bill is passed.

We talked earlier about what we wished to do in the future, and I do not want to go into that now. Let me simply say that we see an odious practice seeping through the Bill. We hope that, if it is implemented, self-governing schools in particular will once again, at the earliest opportunity, see equal worth and equal access as an important priority. We ask the House to accept new clause 2, which we think will be widely welcomed in Scotland.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith

Let me briefly repeat some of the concerns that I had in Committee. I understand what lies behind new clause 2, although I suspect that some of the fears that prompted it are not as strong as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) makes out.

I am, however, anxious that if any genuine element of selectivity were introduced it could have a dramatic effect on schools in rural areas. As I said in Committee, parents subjected to it might have had no say in the opting out of the secondary school to which their children's primary school was feeding pupils. That in itself is bad enough, but if the parents had no choice because children were being fed to a specific centre, the denial of access to the secondary school that was in the natural position for their area would create horrendous practical and physical problems of, for instance, travel. I freely admit that the problem might not arise in urban areas, as there would be other suitable secondary schools nearby.

My hon. Friend the Minister gave me a strong assurance in Committee that in such circumstances the Secretary of State would on no account allow the introduction of selection on an academic basis. I very much hope that he will repeat that assurance tonight, as it has coloured my attitude to the new clause. I do not support the Bill in any case, but I want to be certain that when it becomes law it will not deny access to the geographically natural secondary school in a rural area because of action taken after the school has become self-governing.

Sir Russell Johnston

I strongly agree with what the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) has said. Nevertheless, he cannot say on the one hand, "I am not terribly worried about selectivity; I think that the Opposition are exaggerating," and on the other hand, "Oh dear me, it might happen, and if it happens in a rural context it would be dreadful." The two are not compatible. I share his anxieties for practically the same reasons, however, and consider it entirely right for him to ask for certain assurances.

I strongly support new clause 2, and compliment whoever devised it on the straightforward language in which it is couched: I know that such pellucid simplicity is anathema to the arcane minds of the Minister's advisers, who do not appear to be around at present. The Minister, too, has departed, but no doubt he will be advised by his friendly colleagues. In Committee, he provided a regrettable demonstration that he is the grammatical slave of the obscure and recondite mandarins who write our legislation, and I hope that he will not descend into such arguments this evening.

Let me be more serious. I believe that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) was entirely right in saying that the most important single worry of those of us who oppose the legislation is that it could provide a way of introducing selectivity covertly at an early stage. I thought that the 11-plus argument was long buried, but I fear that it is not.

A long exchange between the hon. Member for Fife, Central and the Minister did not leave me much the wiser, but as I understand the new clause—perhaps the hon. Member for Fife, Central will confirm this—it is designed to prevent general exclusion on academic grounds, but not particular exclusion. For example, if a school wished to concentrate on the various subjects cited by the Minister—dance, classics or Gaelic—I do not think that anything in the new clause could prevent it from doing so.

The new clause is designed to protect the slow developer. I am sorry to sound like an echo of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), but I speak as a slow developer myself. I have in my possession a report card. It says that I was 26th in the class in one year and that three years later I was in first position. Some people do not develop as quickly as others, but they are capable of making progress and even becoming Members of Parliament. We want to ensure that this is not a covert way of preventing that happening.

The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside is still very worried and his worries have led him to make the speech that he has just made. He is worried about the Bill being used to prevent people from developing at their own pace,. The new clause will not be used to prevent children from developing at their own pace, so I see no objection to its being accepted. It would not prevent schools from concentrating on the matters to which the Minister referred. That is perfectly proper, understandable and desirable.

8 pm

Mr. Bill Walker

It is interesting to hear that the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) was No. 26 in one year and No. 1 the following year.

Sir Russell Johnston

No, not in the following year.

Mr. Walker

I am wondering whether he was with the same group of 26 students or whether the composition of the group had changed—that from being bottom of the class in one group he moved to another group where he was top of the class.

My concern about the new clause is the inclusion of the word "aptitude." I should have thought that the word "ability" was sufficient. Aptitude is latent and can be developed. For that reason I intervened on a number of occasions during the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish). Degrees are now offered in a variety of disciplines, including what I believe to be variations on physical education. Certain schools employ teachers who are particularly good at coaching young people in football, rugby, sailing, skiing, hockey, netball, running and jumping.

The aptitude of a child can be spotted at a fairly early age. If he is provided with the right coaching, he may reach the stage where he can take up a career in which he can use his particular skills. He might be prepared to take a degree of a kind that did not exist 10 or 20 years ago. I do not complain about that. It is right that degrees in other than academic or theoretical subjects are now awarded. Young people are now able to use their great talents and skills to their own advantage and to the advantage of the nation, provided that their aptitude is developed at a sufficiently early age. It would be nice if Scottish people could be seen to be competing with and beating the best simply because they had attended a school where music, dance or drama had been part of the curriculum, due to a member of the staff having the skill to train young people with those aptitudes. The new clause could be used to prevent that from happening.

Sir Russell Johnston

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that specialist schools such as he has described could function in sparsely populated rural areas? I can see that happening in urban areas where young people would not have to travel long distances, but it could not happen in sparsely populated areas where general provision has to be made.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman, who has a background in education, ought to know that there have been remarkable developments in some of our rural area schools. Specialist skills are being exercised and used in my area. Local authority schools are encouraging youngsters, even though they live outside the normal catchment area, to travel to them, because they are able to offer specialist training. If a school is fortunate enough to have on its staff individuals, or an individual, with the special talent of being able to develop young people's ability in music, drama, or physical education, it is not surprising that parents encourage their children to travel to that school. In the hon. Gentleman's constituency, as in mine, many children have to travel long distances. Some of them have to live in hostels.

We spend a great deal of time talking about the problems of the inner cities, but we fail to understand the problems, challenges and opportunities that exist in rural schools. The schools in, say, Killiecrankie and the Bridge of Cally, where there is only one teacher, are good schools. Youngsters who are taught in one-teacher schools often excel because they receive tuition of a kind that is not available to youngsters in city schools. Even more important is the fact that they live in communities where learning and education are seen to be a way of improving one's lot and of getting out into the big world and doing things with one's life.

The teaching of Gaelic is growing. A number of schools specialise in the teaching of Gaelic and encourage young people to learn the language, but there is nothing mandatory about it; they learn it by choice. The new clause relates to self-governing schools. It does not relate to local authority schools. Why should schools and parents in my constituency, which covers 2,000 square miles of rural Scotland, be deprived of opportunities simply because at one time the parents and the school board decided that the school should become self-governing? Why should they be any different from secondary schools with vast catchment areas that have remained within local authority control? Why should a school not be able to accept and select pupils because it has become a self-governing school? That is my worry about new clause 2. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's assessment of it. I believe that it would hit rural schools such as those in my constituency.

I shall use one group of schools as an example as they provide the best illustration. The schools at Blair Atholl and Killiecrankie feed into Pitlochry school and Breadalbane academy, as do many other schools. I have selected those two deliberately because of certain geographical matters. Pitlochry school only goes up to the fourth year so any children wishing to remain in school have to transfer to or begin their secondary education at Breadalbane academy. Breadalbane academy accommodates pupils in the school dormitories, but anyone who has looked at a map of Perthshire will know that it is not the easiest of journeys from Blair Atholl to Breadalbane. One has to go down the A9 and across country to Aberfeldy. The journey from Killiecrankie is just as difficult. Pupils from a number of other schools face fairly tortuous routes.

If Breadalbane academy decides to become a self-governing school, the parents and the school board decide to put forward that proposal and it receives the sanction of the Secretary of State, and if Breadalbane wants to continue to accept pupils to study Gaelic, although they are not from the catchment area, under new clause 2 it may not be able to do so, because it will have become a self-governing school.

Sir Russell Johnston

indicated dissent.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber shakes his head, but I believe that new clause 2 could have an impact on rural areas. I was impressed by what my hon. Friend the Minister said in earlier debates on the Bill. He drew attention to the fact that those of us representing rural areas would obviously be anxious that children living in the accepted catchment area for a secondary school in a rural area should not be excluded because that school has made a certain choice. My hon. Friend gave a clear assurance, which I am sure he will repeat tonight if necessary, that people will not be left with a lack of choice because of the geographical location of the secondary school. That would be unacceptable to all hon. Members who represent rural constituencies, but my hon. Friend has given his word and has reassured me.

That is not what bothers me about new clause 2. I do not believe that new clause 2 would remove that possibility, but I believe that if it were accepted, it would prevent such a school from accepting from outside its normal catchment area pupils who had aptitudes in the disciplines that I mentioned earlier.

Sir Russell Johnston

I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. If one removed from the new clause the phrase: admission of pupils to the school the clause would state: A self-governing school shall not introduce general academic selection whereby the … rejection of pupils by the school is made by reference to levels of ability or aptitude. I am not particularly interested in preventing pupils from entering a school; I do not want to exclude people because of general matters or to create a situation in which schools are not allowed to accept pupils because of their aptitude.

Mr. Walker

The new clause states: whereby the admission of pupils to the school or rejection of pupils by the school"— there are two sides to the coin; I am dealing with the side that worries me— is made by reference to levels of ability of aptitude. I thought that I said at the beginning of my remarks that if the clause is concerned only with academic ability the word "aptitude" is unnecessary. I may be wrong, but it is my judgment that the word "aptitude" embraces anything for which a child has an aptitude. That is why I drew attention to the special disciplines that have been developed in further education and the new degrees that are being offered.

Mr. McAllion

indicated dissent.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr McAllion) shakes his head.

8.15 pm
Mr. McAllion

I am shaking my head because I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman is so silly as not to understand the wording of the new clause. If the new clause read, "A self-governing school shall not admit pupils to the school by reference to levels of ability or aptitude," I would understand his argument. But the new clause states that a school shall not introduce general academic selection". That is all the new clause prohibits, so we have wasted about 15 minutes listening to a lot of nonsense about nothing.

Mr. Walker

I advise the hon. Gentleman to leave the Chamber and look up the words "general", "academic" and "selection" in the Oxford English Dictionary. When he has done so he should come back here and tell me whether I am talking nonsense. The hon. Gentleman should remember that, if the new clause were accepted, it would be on the statute book and it would be judged in terms of law considering what each of those words means separately and collectively. The hon. Gentleman may believe something quite different, but that is what would happen if the new clause became a matter of dispute. We have to consider that when we debate new clause 2.

I understood the argument of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish). I doubt whether the way in which the new clause is phrased will produce what he intended. I understood that he objected to any overall assessment such as the 11-plus. He is afraid that youngsters will be selected at a certain age. I believe that the present wording of his new clause will not achieve that. In my view, the important word is "aptitude". I recommend that the hon. Member for Dundee, East should also look up the word "aptitude".

Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

The hon. Gentleman seems to be complaining about the wording of the new clause. What does he think about the principle of the new clause?

Mr. Walker

I am not in favour of going back to the 11-plus or anything remotely like it, but that does not mean that I am not in favour of individuals with special talents being given the opportunity to attend schools that have facilities for developing those talents. I believe that that would be a sensible use of education. It is happening now in the comprehensive system and I make no complaint about that. It is wise and sensible. Not every school can offer specialist teachers with skills to develop youngsters in particular disciplines. Not every school, and certainly not every rural secondary school, can do so, but some schools today offer specialist skills. Youngsters in my constituency travel fairly long distances to schools that offer specialist disciplines and skills.

That is happening under the existing system of comprehensive education, and it has nothing to do with what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends say. I understand their concern, but the new clause does not achieve what they want to achieve. If it is accepted, it could frustrate schools that are presently able to offer specialist skills under the comprehensive regime. They would be frustrated by the new clause if they were to become self governing. I would have hardly thought that any hon. Member would wish children from within or outwith a catchment area to be excluded because they have an aptitude.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central said that, under the present system, schools can be made selective if the local education authority so wishes—that provision is on the statute book—but they do not do so because the local education authority does not wish it and, thus far, the schools have made no such bids.

All that the Bill does is give self-governing schools the same opportunity as exists for local education authorities. Local education authorities are the final arbiters of these matters. If a local authority decides to make a school selective, the decision must be referred to the Secretary of State. A self-governing school cannot come into being unless the Secretary of State approves. That also is a fundamental change. Both fundamental changes are optional; they are not mandatory. There is no requirement for the education authority, the school board or the parents to decide that a school should become self-governing. No one will force them to do that. However, they have an option and a back-up, with the Secretary of State making the final decision. The case put by the hon. Member for Fife, Central is weakest on that point. Education authorities have had those powers, but they have chosen not to use them. If he is right and there is no demand, there will be no self-governing schools because the option will not be exercised.

Mr. McLeish

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that certain education authorities have the power to introduce selection on the basis of academic ability? However, over some years, that practice has fallen into disuse and it is unlikely that it will ever be used again. In relation to self-governing schools, there need have been no reference to student ability. Selection has rightly been removed from Scottish education, and the possibility of its returning is advanced by clause 16 and the reference to entry on the basis of ability or aptitude.

Mr. Walker

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's argument, which he has repeated throughout the passage of the Bill, that there is no demand for self-governing schools in Scotland, that there will be no self-governing schools arid that, with the passage of time, they will fall into the same category of selection; local education authorities have not exercised their choice, and selection has fallen into disuse. If I am right, there will be some, but not many, self-governing schools, and my local education authority will respond with an understanding of the needs of rural schools.

I have made my case in support of the Bill, and my objection to the new clause is based on what I regard as the likely impact on rural schools in my constituency. Those schools will receive from the local education authority much more sympathetic understanding and treatment of the kind that the parents want for their children. The Bill has already brought about changes in Strathclyde. When it becomes an Act, the Tayside region will be much more responsive and receptive and less oriented to Dundee's many needs. There will be more understanding of the quality of teaching staff in rural areas.

The quality of life is one reason why teachers opt to live in rural areas. We often get good teachers in rural areas—it is true also of doctors and lawyers—and that is why we have high-calibre schools. However, they sometimes feel that the education authority does not fully understand their motivation and why people live in rural areas. The quality of life is probably the most important aspect in their decision to do so.

It is important that, when we examine the Bill and consider what will happen, we should not be dominated by the needs and problems of Scotland's great cities. The Bill, like all the others that pass through this place, will affect rural areas. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, those areas must feel that their needs are being satisfied.

I understand why the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is not present. She has made it clear how she feels about rural schools. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister would be wrong to accept the new clause. Its effect would not be the kind of effect that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) for the Democrats —[Interruption.] I always think of the hon. Gentleman as being what a Liberal Member of Parliament should be. It is rather sad that not all his colleagues emulate him. His comments are always courteous and generous. He would be an ideal Liberal Member. I do not doubt his concern for rural schools in his constituency, but we have different assessments of what new clause 2 will do. However, our fears are not dissimilar. That is why it is good that we have had this opportunity to put our views on record. For the reasons that I have given, I hope that the Minister will reject the new clause.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

I hope that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) will forgive me if I do not agree with everything that he said. I will deal with the problems of children with learning difficulties and children with special needs. I support the new clause. As it stands, the Bill does a great disservice to those children. I have read the Committee debates in some detail, and I have been greatly impressed, as I was this evening, by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish).

The Government have failed to justify changes that they are attempting to introduce into the Scottish system. Comprehensive education is being turned aside, which means that the kind of elitism that the Scottish people have long since rejected is again being imposed on our educational system. That is bad for the majority of Scottish children, but it is particularly bad for children with special needs whose difficulties and circumstances the House will wish to take into account.

8.30 pm

I do not believe, and have never believed, that Scottish education for the majority of children has been the jewel in the crown of educational provision. Historically, prior to the introduction of comprehensive education, for a small minority it might have been said that we had a splendid system leading, for that small minority, to excellent achievement. But that was the realisation of Jean Brodie's creme de la creme and not of service to the majority of Scottish children.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the 200 years before the turn of this century, when Scotland's schools were run substantially by school boards, Scottish education was the envy of the rest of Europe?

Mr. Clarke

No, I fear that, in line with my opening remarks, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not believe that for the majority of Scottish children our education system has been the envy of anywhere. Certainly it has not been the envy of those of us who want to see all our children realising their full potential.

I fear that, just as we are seeing an educational system in Scotland contrived so that we are not even having an increase in access to higher education for children from working-class backgrounds, so, once again, we are finding resources thinly spread, and indeed not being spread towards all our children, particularly those in special need.

Access extends to many spheres. My hon. Friends will support my desire to promote the interests of children with special needs, especially as this is Scottish mental handicap week, when voluntary organisations in Scotland such as Barnardo's and the Scottish Society for the Mentally Handicapped are arguing, in their posters and at exhibitions, that those children should be seen as part of our community and have access to good educational opportunities, good housing and a quality of life that has been denied to many of them.

Conservative Members argue about what can be achieved by selection, and it cannot be denied that we are having selection. They speak of children with special aptitudes—for example, children with a special desire to develop their musical talents and so on—and we agree that that is excellent and that provision should be made so that their aptitudes can be reflected in results.

But that type of provision should be widely shared. I have never understood why children who are good musicians should be sent away to special schools, whereas children who may not be so gifted are never able to hear them. Are they not entitled to access to good music, even to hear it, and should that not apply also to children with special needs? Sharing talents should not be in the background of educational provision, but if we have the type of elitism over selection of which we are talking, that is where we will be heading. That seems a particularly selfish approach.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State, who I regret is temporarily not in his place, said: I can state categorically and without equivocation that the Bill is not designed to reintroduce selectivity; nor is it designed to do anything other than to add to the opportunities available to Scottish youngsters and their parents in the educational system."—[Official Report, 6 March 1989; Vol. 148, c. 625.] If that is the intention, it is heavily disguised in the drafting of the Bill, and the proposed new clause would do much to redress the balance—perhaps I should say the imbalance—of provision that the measure will introduce.

With the kind of opting-out provisions that the Minister is recommending, it seems that those who will benefit least are children with special needs. Or are we to introduce elitism in that sphere, too? There was a time when it seemed that hon. Members on both sides of the House were aiming, not overnight but in due course, at integration for all our children. There was a time when I understood that it was felt that the education system and its comprehensive provisions might be made available to all.

I think I see the Parliamentary Under-Secretary looking askance as I make that statement. He knows that I welcome the fact that he has been to the Peto institute and that elsewhere in the Bill he is making provision for local authorities to make use of that service. Although my support for what he has done in that respect is unqualified, I must tell him bluntly that, if he believes in educational provision, he must ask himself why such a service is not being made available today in Scotland. If he goes ahead with opting out, he must ask why the children of whom I speak are being left behind. If all of this should be based on market considerations, he must be wondering whether the Peto institute should exist. Has not the Minister been trying to impose restrictions in Scottish education through his approach?

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Uncharacteristically, the hon. Gentleman is contradicting himself. If he is arguing that integration and a move away from special schools should be the way forward, the opportunity for the development of particular techniques and approaches, of which the Peto institute is one, would be diminished. The whole point about allowing for self-governing status in the special needs area is precisely to allow the development of a diversity of approach which the hon. Gentleman and I would probably favour.

Mr. Clarke

The Minister will find when he reads my speech that I have been consistent. I am arguing that in the kind of society in which we believe, the time will come when it will not be necessary—although I accept that it is necessary now—for our children to go to Hungary for that type of provision, because it will be available here. Nor will it be necesssary for children to go to schools which have opted out, because our mainstream educational system will be comprehensive enough to respond to their needs and demands.

Mr. Forsyth

Yesterday I visited a special school and a number of parents told me that already some education authorities are saying that the powers which will be available to them will not be used by them because they do not believe that the type of provision at the Peto institute is appropriate. The point of allowing for self-governing status for special schools is that it means that it is not then up to one education authority or to one education authority's committee to decide what will be the form of specialist provision; there is an allowance for diversity which follows parental preference.

The hon. Gentleman and I share, on this narrow issue, much in common in terms of our views of the direction in which we should be going. I caution him against going too far down that road, because there are some who are dogmatic about what is right in special needs provision. This provision enables diversity of approach to be retained.

Mr. Clarke

I am always prepared to listen carefully to the Minister. He worries about people being dogmatic. I am not sure whether he is the right person to give that sort of lecture, especially in the context of the Bill. Like him, I meet many parents of children with learning difficulties in the special educational sphere. I find even less enthusiasm among those parents for the principle of opting out than among parents of children in mainstream education. I look forward with interest to the development of that debate.

In conclusion, my hon. Friends have established that the Government's departure not just from the principle of comprehensive education, which has already been shown to be successful, but towards, as they see it, embracing elitist education by introducing the principle of opting out, has clearly been rejected by the vast majority of parents in Scotland. The Government are doing a disservice not just to educational traditions—I have already made it clear that I do not believe that those traditions were necessarily in the best interests of all Scottish children—but to children with special needs.

I am not saying that the Government are introducing a Dickensian approach—others might do so, but I am trying to be fair even to the Minister. However, their views are already outdated and are recognised as such by the people of Scotland. What I do say, as Charles Dickens said, is: In the little world in which children have their existence, whomsoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived or so finely felt as injustice. The Bill represents an injustice to the majority of Scotland's children, and especially to those with special needs. For that reason, I support the new clause.

Mr. Michael Brown

I listened carefully to the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), in which he gave the game away. He implied that there will be tremendous parental demand to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill. The logic of the new clause is fundamentally flawed, because it clearly implies that there will be such an overwhelming parental demand to take advantage of the self-governing provisions that it is necessary to circumscribe them and to put restrictions into the Bill at every twist and turn. Those of us who served on the Standing Committee got used to such classic restrictions as this.

Indeed, we come right back to where we started, with the Gainsborough question, which was posed early in our Committee proceedings by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). My hon. Friend the Minister consistently asked Opposition Members, whenever they made the sort of speeches that they did—I accept, for the best of intentions and reasons—what they were seeking to do. Throughout all the speeches tonight and all those made in the Standing Committee, Opposition Members have given the game away. Although they know that there will be tremendous parental demand for these provisions they are trying to argue—they have done so tonight—that parents in Scotland will make no such demands. All the amendments and the new clauses—especially new clause 2—make it clear that the Opposition are terrified that there will be considerable demand for these provisions.

I shall dwell first on the way in which I read the Bill and then, as on many previous occasions during the Bill's passage—I shall deal—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) wish to intervene? He now has the opportunity of challenging directly "the most obnoxious hon. Member in the House"—to use his description. That is what he said about how I conducted myself in Committee. I hope that you Mr. Deputy Speaker, agree that I am taking this new clause seriously. I am speaking tonight in exactly the same way as I spoke in Standing Committee. I found it offensive for the hon. Member for Garscadden to say the things that he did during the guillotine debate about the way in which I conducted myself in Standing Committee. I took the trouble to turn up for virtually every sitting and to take all the debates seriously, whereas he dropped in for only an hour or two on one day of our two or three month-long Committee.

8.45 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

Does my hon. Friend agree that that was born of frustration on the part of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar)? The hon. Gentleman had completely miscalculated. He had failed to take the lead for the Opposition and had to see my hon. Friend the Minister and the other Conservative Members make complete mincemeat of the Opposition with a measure that will utlimately be very popular with parents in Scotland.

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I wonder what, if anything, we shall hear from the hon. Member for Garscadden if he should seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later on.

I return to the way in which I interpret the Bill. I shall restate the important point made by my hon. Friend the Minister in Standing Committee at 11.15 pm on 18 April—it is well worth restating—to which the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) has referred. The Bill itself introduces two hurdles for self-governing schools and their admissions policy, which do not exist under local education authorities in England, Wales and Scotland at the moment. It is possible for selection to be introduced in local authority schools on the vote of the local education authority committee. I should know because I live about eight miles from the border between—[Interruption.] Perhaps Opposition Members will be courteous enough to allow me to finish my sentence. We have heard about obnoxious Conservative Members, and Opposition Members should now allow Conservative Members simply to finish their sentences.

I live just eight miles from the border between Humberside and Lincolnshire. The county of Lincolnshire has a selection policy. Children there can go to grammar or secondary modern schools and take the 11-plus examination. Parents with jobs in my constituency often choose to live the other side of the county boundary so that their children are educated by the Lincolnshire education authority rather than the Humberside education authority. As the House may be aware, a proposal is currently before the Boundary Commission that south Humberside should go into Lincolnshire. I know that many of my constituents will look forward to the opportunities provided by the Lincolnshire education authority.

Mr. Salmond

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that other factors might be involved in this mass exodus over the border? Those people might be running away from their Member of Parliament.

Mr. Brown

If any are running away, they are certainly not my supporters, because at three successive general elections since 1979 my majority has increased from three figures, to four figures, to five figures. If people are running away, they are not Conservative supporters. Perhaps my political opponents have given up the ghost and are clearing off elsewhere.

To return to the main provisions of the Bill, we need to take the new clause seriously although its logic is fundamentally flawed. The Bill does not alter the current position. All that it does is place two hurdles in the way of self-governing schools which, as I have already said, do not apply to education authority schools. One is the parental ballot and the other is the approval of the Secretary of State. No such hurdles are at present in the way of education authority schools in Scotland or, from my own experience, in England. Lincolnshire is the classic example. If Opposition Members are worried that selection might be introduced into the Scottish education system, they must believe that the vast majority of parents are waiting for self-governing status. Therefore, the wishes of Opposition Members are already protected.

Perhaps I may bring to bear the experience of England. One advantage of having English Members on the Standing Committee was that we already have the Education Reform Act 1988 on the statute book for England; it is not dissimilar to the legislation that I hope will shortly be on the statute book for Scotland. We have had experience of the debate that is taking place in England. As English Members of Parliament, we have been following closely the way in which parents have been taking advantage of the provisions of the Education Reform Act.

I can tell the House of my local experience, for it was just down the road in the seaside resort adjoining the one that I represent, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell), that the parents of children at a school in Skegness voted overwhelmingly to take advantage of the provisions of the Education Reform Act. There is no evidence that the introduction of selection is the driving force behind a large number of cases south of the border where parents are voting with their feet very much in favour of self-governing status; in the majority of cases, it is happening where Labour education authorities are in control of education. I am sure that the position will be the same north of the border. We already have the example of Jordanhill school, which was referred to at great length by my hon. Friend the Minister and by a large number of hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies who served on the Standing Committee.

The Opposition have deliberately misinterpreted the Bill, which seeks to increase educational opportunity and to raise the standards of education. Parents want their children to go to schools that get results.

Mr. McLeish

In Scotland, most children are exposed to education where standards are high, and the standard of education is improving. Standards measured against any other criteria are also improving. What, then, is the problem?

Mr. Brown

That is the complacency that we have come to expect of the hon. Gentleman. I remember reading an article by him just before we started our proceedings in Standing Committee. I think that it is worthy of repetition. We were told that what was good enough for Henry McLeish's children was good enough for everybody else. That has been the position taken by the hon. Gentleman from the time that he wrote that article all the way through the proceedings in Committee.

On that basis, I might say that what is good enough for Michael Brown is good enough for everybody else. I failed my 11-plus. I went to a secondary modern school from the age of 11 to the age of 18, but I did not fail my A-levels. I got good grades through the teachers who taught me in that school. I got grade A in English literature, grade B in economics and grade C in history. I accept that I may have failed the 11-plus because I was lazy and probably more concerned with cricket and football.

If I have a criticism of my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends the Ministers, it is that the Bill does not allow enough opportunity for school boards, parents and boards of management to consider their selection policy. It is already circumscribed, as the hon. Gentleman said when he quoted what the Secretary of State said on 6 March in the Second Reading debate in column 625. I believe that there is a case to be made for selection. If I have a small criticism of the Bill, it is that, because of the two hurdles, it circumscribes the opportunities for selection.

If there is a valid criticism of my hon. Friends, it is that once again they have been modest, reasonable and not at all extreme. Once again, as usual, my hon. Friend is the modest Minister. I suggest that there is a case for not making those hurdles as stiff as he and the Secretary of State have made them. I accept the general thesis on where the Government want to be. The Government want to ensure that parents can send their children to schools that get results. I cannot accept the complacent attitude that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Fife, Central. I thought that he gave the game away very effectively. He seemed to suggest that there was nothing wrong anywhere, that every child in Scotland was getting the education he deserved and that there was no room for improvement. I do not accept that. It is always dangerous when politicians sit back complacently, saying that everything is marvellous and there is no need for change.

If everything is marvellous, perhaps it is because of the 25 per cent. increase in expenditure in real terms by the Government on Scottish education in the last 10 years. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that everything in the garden is rosy, perhaps it is because of the tremendous resources that have been put into education. We cannot have it both ways. I am prepared to admit to the parents and children of Scotland, as I am prepared to admit to the parents and children of England, that, notwithstanding the massive increase in financial resources for the education system, everything in the garden is not yet rosy, but I believe that the Education Reform Act in England and this Bill in Scotland will redress the position.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Has my hon. Friend noticed that the complacency is made altogether worse when there is evidence of declining standards, as has become apparent from the assessment of achievement programme? The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) has joined the somewhat irresponsible forces who argue that the evidence is suspect. They adopt a policy of shooting the messenger when they do not like the message.

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is right. It is worth drawing to the attention of the House some words of the Minister in Committee. In regard to Scottish education he said that the position was like a school report—"Could do better". That is the right and healthy attitude that a Scottish Education Minister should take. It is a credit to my hon. Friend and to the Scottish Office that they recognise that, notwithstanding the massive resources that have been put into Scottish education, there comes a point when money alone does not solve the problem, and we have to raise the standards of education in Scotland.

The purpose of the Bill is to do precisely that. I believe that the new clause would weaken the Bill, which is what the Opposition want to do. They do not want to see the improvements that the Government envisage as a result of the Bill. They want to wreck the Bill, and that is why they have put down such amendments.

As I promised, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke).

Mr. Tom Clarke

The hon. Gentleman has covered the point.

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Mr. Brown

I am glad to have one satisfied customer from the Opposition.

This may be the last opportunity that I may have to participate in the proceedings on the Bill.

Mr. McAllion

I fervently hope so.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman says that he hopes that that is the case. I know that the Opposition have had a rough ride with regard to the English Members serving on the Committee. The Labour party—or it might have been the Scottish National party—

Mr. Salmond

Be precise.

Mr. Brown

I cannot remember. As far as I am concerned, they are all Socialists—they are all the same.

One or other of the Opposition parties serving on the Committee issued a press release, even before the first sitting, saying what a disgrace it was that there were English Members serving on the Standing Committee. After the first sitting of the Standing Committee, all they did was sit there mute doing their constituency correspondence. From day one they got their comeuppance, because we have considered the proceedings on the Bill responsibly and seriously and we have read up—[Interruption] The problem for Opposition Members is that we have read too many of their articles. We have drawn too much public attention to some of the things that they have said. We have obtained speeches that have been made one day and press releases issued the next day, and we have drawn attention to the inconsistencies.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Does my right hon. Friend also agree that we were rather more aware of the views of Councillor Charles Gray than were members of the Opposition?

Mr. Brown

That is right. I was upbraided by an hon. Member opposite when I referred incorrectly to councillor Charles Gray as Sir Charles Gray, the chairman of the Strathclyde education committee. I went straight to The Times last Saturday to see whether Councillor Gray had been made a knight, because I believed that he should be knighted for his services to Scottish education. In the past few months, Councillor Gray and my hon. Friend the Scottish Education Minister have done a great deal for Scottish education. We are right to pay tribute to the work of Councillor Gray, who I hope will be a "sir" in the not too distant future. They have done a great deal of practical work to raise the standards of education.

I have a shrewd suspicion that the one local councillor who will be waiting with bated breath for the royal assent to the Bill will be Councillor Charles Gray. From some of the statements he has already made, it appears that he actually regrets that the Bill is not yet on the statute book. If he were a Member of the House, he would not be supporting the new clause, because he wants to be where my hon. Friend the Minister is, but he wants to be there a little earlier. Some of the speeches we have heard of Councillor Gray in the press reports during the Committee stage of the Bill indicate that he cannot wait for the Bill to be enacted. We owe it to Councillor Gray—I hope that in the new year's honours list in 1990 he will be Sir Charles —to reject the new clause and to get the Bill on to the statute book as quickly as possible.

Mr. McAllion

It was obvious that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) had not read the new clause, because he made virtually no reference to it in 20 minutes of drivel similar to that which we heard from him in Committee. At one point the Minister intervened and said that people who did not like the message blamed the messenger. Of course, if anyone is guilty of that sentiment, it is the Minister and his friends in the Scottish Office, because, if they could not get the message last Thursday at the ballot box in Scotland about this Bill and the plans for the National Health Service, they will never get the message.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) failed to recognise that the Scottish people liked neither the message nor the messenger?

Mr. McAllion

That is precisely the point to which I was coming. The Minister traipses around Scotland speaking to anyone who will listen to him from the media. He says that the doctors and the teachers do not understand the message. However, they understand the message and the messenger, which is why the majority of Scots are represented by Opposition parties.

Mr. Allan Stewart

On the swing last Thursday, the Scottish National party would regain Dundee.

Mr. McAllion

If the SNP regains Dundee, there will not have been a swing to the Left, which is what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) claimed in Glasgow, Central. If there is a swing to the Left, Labour will hold Dundee easily in the next election.

Mrs. Fyfe

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is unwise for Conservative Members to refer to Glasgow, Central considering the pathetic result the Conservative party achieved?

Mr. McAllion

That is true. The Tories obviously believe that saving deposits in elections in Scotland constitutes a good performance. It shows the depths to which they have sunk.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes said that one of the advantages of English Members taking part in discussions on the Bill was that they were able to relate their experiences of English education legislation and inform other hon. Members who do not represent English constituencies. There is an element of truth in that, as long as the English Members tell us the truth about the English experience. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes talked about the grades he received in school but he did not receive a grade A in truth. He talked about Lincolnshire education authority being a classic example of how an authority provides choice for parents and encourages pupils to come into its area. However, he did not tell us about South Park high school in Lincoln in which 97 per cent. of parents voted in favour of self-governing status in an 88 per cent. turnout. The Secretary of State for Education and Science refused to allow the school to opt out on that basis.

Mr. McFall

Does my hon. Friend agree that our objection to English Members is that they know nothing about Scottish education? The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) mentioned Charles Gray but he did not know whether he had been knighted or not. The hon. Gentleman knew nothing about the issue of the old qualifying examination in Scotland. The English Members were chosen for their ignorance of Scottish education. Many of them knew more about and had more sympathy with South Africa than they did about Scottish education.

Mr. McAllion

That is a fair point.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science refused to allow the school in Lincolnshire to opt out because he said: I must be satisfied that the school is likely to succeed. In Committee the Minister said: We want only good candidates for self-governing status, not lame ducks. We want those schools to be the ones that succeed."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 11 April 1989; c. 478.] If we break through the code in which Tories speak, that means that schools in working-class areas that are full of working-class kids will not have an opportunity to opt out. The Bill is not about giving parents greater choice but about allowing a small elite to opt out into grammar-type schools. That is why the Secretary of State is picking and choosing the schools that can opt out. That is what the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Minister want and that is why new clauses such as this are essential.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Does the hon. Gentleman not think that he has a cheek to express such an argument when, in Committee, he argued that the Bill ought to be amended, as it was today, to allow for proper consultation with the education authority so that the decision is not taken solely by parents but that the Secretary of State will have other arguments and considerations to take into account? The hon. Gentleman is now condemning my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science because he has taken other factors into account. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He simply chooses whatever argument seems most effective to knock the Government. That is why he and his colleagues got into such a mess in Committee.

Mr. McAllion

The Minister has made a weak intervention. The only person who decides whether a school may opt out is the Secretary of State. Others may be consulted but Scotland has had 10 years of being consulted by Secretaries of State who represent the Tory Government. They might listen but they do not act upon what they hear. They simply go through the formality of consulting and that is why the ballot procedure is not properly democratic. It does not really matter how the parents vote, it does not matter what the education authority or what the parents of children in the feeder primary schools might say because, ultimately, the Secretary of State makes up his own mind. He wants to wreck the comprehensive system in Scotland and allow schools to opt out if he thinks that they can form the backbone of a new grammar type-school so that such a provision can be put in place across Scotland. That is what the Bill is about. The Minister is not kidding anyone that the Bill is about increasing choice or allowing people to make up their own minds.

It is important that the Minister gives a clear commitment that there will be no reintroduction of general academic selection to secondary schools. The Minister said that he has made the position clear, but nothing could be further from the truth. He has avoided giving anything like the commitment given by the Secretary of State for Scotland on Second Reading, when he categorically rejected the reintroduction of selectivity.

The Minister was pressed time and again in Committee, and again today, to give that commitment, but he refused. He said that the Government had recognised special needs such as dance, music, Gaelic and the classics. He went all round the houses, but he would not give a commitment that there would be no reintroduction of general academic selection. Several Conservative Members suggested that the Minister had given a clear assurance in Committee that no rural schools would be allowed to reintroduce general academic selection that would keep out any children. The Minister did not give any such commitment for urban schools such as those in Dundee, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Until he gives such a commitment, there will be a deep suspicion that that is what the Bill is all about, no matter what he says.

The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) made an honest contribution to our debates in Committee. He was quite open about wanting the reintroduction of general academic selection. He said that he wanted the return of grammar schools in Scotland, in the way that they are now returning in England and Wales. The Minister congratulated his hon. Friend on his effective speech, which he said he appreciated. He surely cannot say that he appreciates his hon. Friend's call for the return of grammar schools and at the same time pretend that the Government will not allow that to happen in Scotland. Either the Minister supports his hon. Friend or he does not. He certainly gave the impression of supporting his hon. Friend in Committee.

The Minister used to belong to the No Turning Back group of Conservative Members, a number of whom are present tonight. That group produced an education pamphlet that clearly attacked the comprehensive system and local authority schools and called for the reintroduction of grammar schools. The hon. Gentleman was not a Minister when he put his name to the pamphlet in 1986. He was careful to withdraw his name when he became a Minister, but he has never taken the opportunity to reject the pamphlet's proposals. I suspect that he still stands by them and awaits the opportunity to bring them into force. The Minister is nodding, so I assume that he intends to reintroduce academic selection.

On 18 April the Minister cited an example from the independent sector, and said: Let us consider the variety of schools in the independent sector. Some place a greater emphasis on academic achievement while others emphasise the expressive arts, sport and so on. Parents choose the schools which they believe will be most suited to their children. We wish to see that sort of diversity and choice in the state system and the Bill will deliver that."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 18 April 1987; c. 782.] There are certainly schools in the independent sector that concentrate on academic excellence, but they use selection by academic ability to admit pupils. The Minister was basically saying that he would replicate that system in the state sector. He is all over the place. He will not assure the House that he is opposed to the reintroduction of grammar schools—or senior secondary schools as they are called in Scotland.

The uncertainty and ambiguity of the Minister's answers were reflected even in his description of the way in which a school that opts out will maintain its characteristics. The Minister explained that the school board would have to set out the proposed admissions policy if it was granted self-governing status. Within that policy, it would have to stress any special emphasis which it wanted to characterise the provision of education in the school. Once it had secured a majority in the ballot and gained the approval of the Secretary of State for Scotland, the description of the admissions policy was a binding obligation on the board of management taking over the running of the school. As the Minister said, that would he a guarantee to parents of what the school would be like in future. That is fine, and everyone would support that idea. However, the Minister then, through clause 28, creates the mechanism by which that binding guarantee can be ripped up by the parents if they achieve a simple majority in a ballot.

9.15 pm

The binding agreement to ensure that the school stayed within the characteristics of its proposed admissions policy would be thrown out the window as soon as the board had the simple majority and the Secretary of State's approval to change the characteristic. The Minister said that that would be a significant change which would be of considerable importance to parents, neighbourhood schools and education authorities. That very important change is made possible in clauses 16 and 28. The Minister has studiously avoided any opportunity of saying that the Secretary of State will not allow anyone to use the mechanism to reintroduce general academic selection when a school opts out.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes referred to hurdles. The Secretary of State's permission is certainly not a hurdle. At the moment, a Tory Secretary of State for Scotland would be keen to allow any break-up of the comprehensive system.

The Minister has been very careful to restrict the people who are allowed to take part in the ballot of parents. He suggested in Committee that the parents of children in feeder primaries should be given the right to vote, but that was knocked on the head by the Tory majority on the Committee because they wanted to restrict the ballot only to parents who had children at the school. It was suggested that staff should be allowed to participate in the ballot. However, that was also knocked on the head. They will be forcibly transferred from one employer to another. They will have no chance to vote in the ballot. An amendment earlier today would have given adult users of a school the right to take part in a ballot, but the Minister made sure that that amendment was not passed.

The purpose behind all this is to keep the ballot to an absolute minimum. That will create a community of people who might be tempted into voting for something on the basis that they might get something out of it at the expense of the local authority. If the number of people allowed to vote is small enough, they have a good chance of winning.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) made a disgraceful intervention earlier today. He deliberately filibustered on an important amendment which prevented a vote being taken on it. That amendment would have required a two-thirds majority. The Government were careful to ensure that only a simple majority is required to change the characteristics of the school.

Mr. Bill Walker

It appears that the term "filibuster" now has a new meaning. A speech lasting less than five minutes is now a filibuster, even when that speech includes a number of lengthy interventions. When the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) reads Hansard, he will hardly be able to substantiate his charge. I stated very clearly why I supported my colleagues on the Government Front Bench and why I was against the proposal for a two thirds majority. I thought that the debate was very serious and that it was discussed fully and seriously. My constituents will understand why I took that position. It had nothing to do with filibustering.

Mr. McAllion

If the hon. Gentleman visits the Library and consults the Oxford English Dictionary, he will see that filibustering does not necessarily mean talking for a long time. The hon. Gentleman knew that if he did not stop speaking before 6.30 pm, a vote on the amendment for a two-thirds majority would not be taken. He also was aware that he had made his points very clearly and was talking for no purpose other than to ensure that the vote was not taken. The Government Whip whispered to him and told him to ensure that the amendment was not reached so that the Government could secure the idea that the majority required in the ballots could involve fewer than half the parents voting in favour. The Secretary of State for Scotland agreed with that.

If the hon. Member for Tayside, North doubts that, he should consider what happened last week in England. In a school to which the Minister referred, 56 per cent. of parents voted for opting out and the Secretary of State for Education and Science allowed them to do that. What the Minister did not tell anyone was that the 56 per cent. of parents who voted were a minority of those who were entitled to vote. Therefore, that school was allowed to opt out of education authority control without gaining the support of even half the parents or children at that school for such a move. That is why the Opposition are opposed to the idea. The ballot is simply a hurdle that the Government can manipulate in order to make sure that they get their friends over. If the Secretary of State can achieve that, he will.

Mr. Allan Stewart

The hon. Gentleman should withdraw his allegation against my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). If he had sat down before half-past six, I would have made my contribution.

Mr. McAllion

I saw the Government Whip whisper to the hon. Member for Tayside, North and then go round and whisper into the ear of the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) to make sure that, if the hon. Member for Tayside, North sat down early, the hon. Member for Eastwood would speak. Both hon. Members took part in a Government ploy and it is a disgrace that hon. Members should be prevented from voting on such an important issue.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that he has just referred to decisions made with a two-thirds majority. He and I know that he was elected on considerably less than a 50 per cent. simple majority. But no one disputes—I do not—that he represents Dundee, East, and he does so most effectively. I hope that he continues to do so, but not if he continues to criticise the vote at the school to which he referred and the turnout there.

Mr. McAllion

Again, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) dealt clearly with that problem. We are talking about a major institutional change whereby a school is taken out of the education authority's control and given direct funding under the Secretary of State for Scotland. The next step along may be the private sector. Such a decision cannot be taken lightly on the basis of a simple majority. No one would argue that such a decision should be made on a two-thirds majority. A Member of Parliament can be voted out at a general election, but once a school is taken out of the education authority sector it is not easy to return it. The Secretary of State for Scotland makes the decision, and if he says no, nothing can be done about it. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is drawing a parallel that is wrong and makes no sense.

I know exactly what the Minister is about. He is about wrecking the comprehensive system in Scotland—breaking up education authority schools. In Committee, I remember him describing the introduction of comprehensive education between 1969 and 1974. He said that it was the most fundamental change in the history of Scottish education up to that time and that it had been brought about by the Labour party. The problem is that the Minister and his friends have never accepted that fundamental change and have worked all their lives to reverse it. They started to do it with the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988 and now they are moving on to the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill.

Mr. Leigh

So what?

Mr. McAllion

I will tell the hon. Gentleman so what. Conservative Members should not give us the nonsense that this is all about parental choice. It is about destroying comprehensive education. It is the only thing that it has ever been about and that is why we are here tonight. If the Minister says that it is not about that he must accept the new clause that has been tabled in the name of my hon. Friends. If he does not, he does not have the same candour and honesty as the Secretary of State for Scotland, who at least says what he thinks. He says that he will not allow general selectivity to be reintroduced. The Minister will not allow those words to come out of his mouth and that is why the new clause is important.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) performed a service in Committee and has also done so on the Floor of the House. Yet again, he has drawn attention to the excellent work of the No Turning Back group, of which I am a member. We enjoyed that contribution of the hon. Gentleman and his earlier contributions to the formulation of English law when he dashed down the Committee Corridor to vote on some English matter. He has certainly played his part in our proceedings.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) ably pointed out that the Opposition's fears about selectivity were unfounded and that the Bill would open up the positive aspects of selectivity. My hon. Friend was right to reiterate the points made by my hon. Friend the Minister in Committee when, in response to the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), he stated: Nothing can prevent any education authority having a selective intake in any of its schools … The Bill does not alter the current position. All it does is to put two hurdles in the way of self-governing schools which do not apply to education authority schools. One is the parental ballot and the other is the approval of the Secretary of State … It is possible for selection to be introduced into local authority schools on the vote of the education committee. It will not be possible for selectivity to be introduced into self-governing schools on the vote of the board of management. That is the fundamental difference. It will be much harder to introduce selection into a self-governing school than into a local authority school."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 18 April 1989; c. 791–92] That makes the position clear.

I understand the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) in respect of local authority schools in rural areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) also raised that matter. However, I cannot believe that in a ballot parents will exclude children for whom there is no alternative provision. I am sure that that would not be their wish.

If Opposition Members are correct in saying that schools will not want to become self-governing, my right hon. Friend has no cause for concern. His point is well taken, but he overlooks the Bill's general purpose and why parents are likely to vote for self-governing status. I cannot believe that parents would vote to exclude a minority or even a large number of pupils because they fail to meet the criteria of academic ability, as that would defeat the whole purpose of the Bill. If parents vote for self-government, it will not be to exclude less bright children but to create the ethos they want and which they feel the local education authority has not provided. That is genuine parental choice, and that is what the Bill is all about.

We believe that the Bill will provide parents with greater opportunities to have an input into the type of school that their children attend. It is not true to say that, where schools in England and Wales have voted to opt out, that has provided an opportunity for selectivity. The real reason is best illustrated by the example of Baverstock school in the Maypole area of Birmingham, where the headmaster said: Out here, people thought that they had been abandoned"— and when not abandoned, meddled with. Parents at that school took the opportunity provided by the Government to be in charge of their own destiny. The introduction of selectivity did not enter into it.

That school acquired a bad reputation, suffered from it, and became unpopular. Under the new headmaster and his team, the school was turned around. One of their innovations was to introduce a system whereby the staff are addressed as "Sir" or "Ma'am", uniform is compulsory, and every day begins with assembly. Such a regime was not offered by the local education authority but was wanted by the parents. They voted for self-governing status for that reason, not to introduce selectivity. They wanted to change and protect the ethos of the school in a way that the local education authority would not have permitted.

Mr. Leigh

The point must be made that it is not just a matter of pumping more resources into schools. It is also a question of changing their ethos. When schools become self-governing, they may not necessarily be given more resources, but their ethos will alter.

Mr. Howarth

That is true. Opposition Members underestimate the desire of parents to bring back some of the old-fashioned virtues and notions in schools where they have been almost driven out.

9.30 pm
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Bring back flogging!

Mr. Howarth

As one who was chastised with the cane at school, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, although other things may have done me harm, that was not one of them. I was very conscious of the need to preserve the discipline of the school.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has been under considerable pressure to resist the idea that self-governing schools ought to be able to introduce an element of selectivity. I accept what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside about the problems in rural areas, but in densely populated urban areas containing a number of schools, diversity of educational provision could be an advantage. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) would keep quiet for a moment, he might learn something to his advantage.

Mr. Foulkes

I doubt that very much, on the evidence that we have had so far.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman has had too good a dinner; that is the trouble. As a Douglas from the borders, I am used to hearing the speeches of well-refreshed members of my family from time to time.

It is wrong to suggest that parents now have unlimited choice, despite the parents' charter that the Government introduced in Scotland. Throughout the United Kingdom—Scotland is not the only victim—there is rationing by catchment area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes pointed out, if people want to opt for the educational provision that exists in Lincolnshire, they must move house. People will often move to a particular area and buy a house there simply to be able to enter the catchment area of a certain school. It is wholly untrue that, in a great Socialist Valhalla, people have been provided with choice by benevolent Socialist councillors and their local education authorities.

I do not see why a school should not be able to set academic criteria when there are alternative schools. To deny that possibility is to imply that academic attainment is all that counts, which is not so. Today sporting ability can lead not only to a fulfilling career but to an extremely lucrative one, and the same applies to artistic and creative abilities. The new clause therefore strikes me as unnecessary.

I believe that, in some instances, academic selection could certainly be entertained by the Secretary of State. If Opposition Members fear that, they should bear it in mind that my right hon. and learned Friend has put it on the record categorically that he is against selection on the basis of academic ability. [Interruption.] He has said that; it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke).

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Howarth

I am not sure that I ought to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but as I am in a generous mood I will do so.

Mr. Foulkes

Does the hon. Gentleman not remember that the same Secretary of State made an absolute pledge that he would not introduce the provisions of this Bill? That shows how trustworthy his promises are.

Mr. Howarth

I do not believe that that is true.

Mr. Foulkes

It is true.

Mr. Howarth

If it were true, and my right hon. and learned Friend had changed his mind, he must be the most sensible of men, and I am sure that the people of Scotland will be even more grateful for his flexibility of mind.

The Opposition have completely failed to make a case for the amendment. The Bill provides hurdles to ensure that some of their worse fears are confounded. A very good case can be made for academic selection. The Bill does not destroy comprehensive education. Many people believe that a lot of our educational ills can be put down to Mrs. Shirley Williams who compulsorily made education comprehensive. However, this Bill is not the measure to change that.

Mr. Salmond

I do not know why the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and other hon. Members are in difficulties about the wording of the new clause. It is a model of clarity, if it is compared with many of the amendments and new clauses.

The phrase "general academic selection" is well understood. The hon. Member for Tayside, North agreed with the principle of the new clause but he said that he was worried about its wording. The Under-Secretary of State has it within his power to bring about an historic compromise between the hon. Member for Tayside, North and for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) by giving an assurance that he will introduce an appropriately worded amendment in the other place. Such an assurance would, I am sure, be received favourably by the hon. Member for Fife, Central. It would also show whether the Government are serious about not allowing selectivity to creep into Scottish education.

The hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) often say what the Minister is thinking about educational questions. Both of them, drawing on their exhaustive knowledge of the Scottish education system, have supported academic selection. I have always thought that it is invidious to compare education systems. However, it is appropriate to compare the education system with which the hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes and for Cannock and Burntwood are familiar and the education system in Scotland.

The English system is fragmented. It is partly selective and substantially private. Its achievements should be compared with the Scottish comprehensive system. In Scotland, 21 per cent. of our children gain the necessary qualifications for higher education. In England and Wales, only 15 per cent. of children gain those qualifications. I do not claim that 21 per cent. in Scotland is a remarkable achievement. It should be substantially higher than that.

The hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes and for Cannock and Burntwood have offered us some lessons that they say we in Scotland should learn. They have used the power of their votes in Scottish Standing Committees to push through amendments that they favour, but they should base their offer of the lessons that Scotland should learn on the experience of better international education systems rather than on the experience of an education system that is substantially worse, according to a number of criteria, than the Scottish one.

The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) referred to rural schools. I support his arguments. If selectivity were to be introduced in rural schools, pupils would have to be bussed substantial distances to other schools. The only alternative would be to establish in rural communities schools for pupils with lower attainments. Neither of those possibilities is attractive to any Scottish Member of Parliament who represents a rural constituency. There should be no exclusion on any grounds of a pupil from a rural community school. That view is strongly held by all Scottish Members of Parliament with rural constituencies.

Conservative Members have consistently argued that it would be simpler for an education authority in Scotland to adopt the selective approach than it would be for a school that had opted out and that was awaiting the Secretary of State's decision. There is a fairly substantial difference. Scottish education authorities are democratically elected. They represent, one hopes, the local communities within their area. The same certainly cannot be claimed for the Secretary of State for Scotland. His views of Scottish education are certainly not representative of the Scottish community. Earlier this evening, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), said that he did not want an unrepresentative minority to grab control of a school in Scotland. The problem we face is that an unrepresentative minority has grabbed control, not of a single school but of the entire education system in Scotland. That was supported by the English battalions in Committee and in the House tonight.

The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) suggested that the criterion for selecting English Members to serve on the Standing Committee was ignorance of the Scottish education system. I rather suspect that the criterion for selection was familiarity with the Minister responsible for Scottish education. It is clear from the interchange between the surviving members of the No Turning Back group—perhaps the Minister is still a member of such a group—that their purpose was to egg the Minister on to greater and more radical things. Unfortunately the greater and more radical things are not wanted by the vast majority of the Scottish community.

Finally, we are told that we must accept the assurances of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside said that he would be prepared to accept such assurances, but I remember the right hon. Gentleman telling the House on a previous occasion that during the last general election he specifically inquired about the possibility of opting out being introduced into Scottish education and had received an assurance from Conservative central office that there were no such plans. That is the credibility of assurances from the Secretary of State and from the Government Front Bench. Had those assurances proved valid in the past, we should not be discussing this legislation this evening.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

We have had an interesting debate on new clause 2. Time and again, opponents of our proposals for self-governing schools return to their claim that giving parents the right to seek greater involvement in the running of schools will bring about the return of senior secondary schools, complete with a qualifying examination.

Those opponents claim to base their view on the existence of machinery in clause 28 designed to allow self-governing schools to respond flexibly to future developments by seeking to change their fundamental characteristics. By now they are well aware that any such change requires the support of parents voting in a ballot and the approval of the Secretary of State. The clause 28 machinery exists as a protection for the existing fundamental characteristics of a school that opts for self-governing status. We have deliberately made it difficult to alter those characteristics—more difficult than any parallel changes in an education authority school. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) argues that the difference is that local authorities are more democratic. He appears to believe that a local authority education committee is more representative of the wishes of parents.

Mr. Foulkes

They are more representative than you are.

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman has returned from his dinner and has not listened carefully to the arguments in the 15 minutes for which he has graced us with his presence.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is seeking to argue that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is not representative of the parents, but although the decision to alter the characteristics of a school is taken by the Secretary of State, it can come to the Secretary of State only when a majority of the parents have voted for it. The process is started by the parents. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to argue that the education authority committees are more representative of the wishes of parents than are the parents themselves.

If we accept the view that self-governing schools will lead to a return of selective schools, our opponents must believe that enough Scottish parents are sufficiently dissatisfied with the present system of secondary schools to support a return to selective schools. What evidence do they have for that? Why do they continue to make those claims? In any secondary school a fair number of parents will have other children still at primary school. They at least are unlikely to be strong supporters of bringing back fully selective entry.

In many parts of the country, a school that aimed to exclude large numbers by a selective entry test would simply find itself unable to attract sufficient pupils to remain viable, and any proposals under clause 28 require the consent of the Secretary of State. He will have regard to the viability of the particular school and any consequences for the wider provision of education for all pupils in the area. On Second Reading my right hon. and learned Friend made it quite clear that there was no question of a return to the selective secondary schools of the past.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) asked me to repeat the assurance that I gave in Committee that there would be no question of allowing selection in any community—rural or otherwise—where the effect would be that children were denied the opportunity of going to the only possible, practical school. I am happy to repeat the undertaking that I clearly gave in Committee.

9.45 pm

I am puzzled why the Opposition should be continually obsessed with that issue. In Committee I made it clear that one use of admission arrangements based on ability or aptitude could be in a school operating a specialist unit of one sort or another. The new clause carries the heading "general academic selection", with the suggestion, perhaps, that particular academic selection would be more acceptable.

In Committee, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) initiated a debate on the concept of giftedness. In the view of Opposition Members, specific provision for giftedness might be seen as acceptable. We still do not know the hon. Gentleman's view on that matter. It appears that the selection of children based on a gift for music or dance is entirely virtuous. We have established that. However, selection for specialist facilities relating to ability in classics or minority foreign languages seems to be a more difficult subject for Opposition Members. They recognise that that might be the most effective and perhaps the only sensible means of making such provision, but such arrangements were clearly coming too close to the bogy of general academic selection. Certainly, any form of selection based on a particular gift with mathematics or mainstream languages was to be ruled out.

What are we to make of all of this? One clue is that Strathclyde regional council makes specialist provision for music at Douglas academy at Milngavie and for dance at Knightswood. By definition, those arrangements must be virtuous, and recognition of special ability in more academic subjects, however, is to be an absolutely no-go area.

The drafting of the new clause is less than certain. It is against academic selection in self-governing schools, but it appears to define academic selection by reference to any form of selection based on the ability and aptitude of pupils. I accept that Opposition Members do not intend to exclude the necessary judgments on specialist provision to be made for those with defined special educational needs. They probably did not intend to exclude selection for music or dance units, but the new clause certainly does that. Our view is that the Bill should not rule out such changes It should be open to schools to develop all sorts of specialist provision where they find it possible and valuable to do so. It is for parents in the first instance to vote on whether they consider proposals for such provision acceptable.

Diversity is one of the main themes of our proposals. This new clause is against diversity, and I ask the House to reject it.

Mr. Galbraith

The Minister was surprisingly brief in replying to the debate on the new clause.

Mr. Forsyth

To enable the hon. Gentleman to have time to respond.

Mr. Galbraith

I am grateful to the Minister for his consideration.

I noticed also that the Minister stuck closely to his brief. For example, he did not stray from it to agree with the comments of, for example, his hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth). Perhaps he thought that, had he strayed from it, he might have let slip the true intentions of the Bill, rather than remaining constrained because of the present political realities in the country.

Although the Minister uttered words of reassurance to his hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) about rural schools, he did not reiterate the commitment given by the Secretary of State about not permitting this legislation to be used as a method of reintroducing selection into Scottish education. The Minister did not tonight give such an undertaking. I will resume my seat immediately if the hon. Gentleman wishes to rise to give that undertaking. He simply made a passing reference to the Secretary of State and said that there was no chance of returning to the selective education of the past.

That is a different undertaking from saying that schools which opt out will not be able to reintroduce selection. I accept that not many schools, if any, will opt out, but we want to know—as I say, I will allow him to intervene immediately if he wishes to reassure us—whether those schools will not be able to reintroduce selection of the type that we know we are discussing. I am not talking about a general provision for Scottish education but about the schools in question.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

My right hon. Friend gave a clear commitment on Second Reading. He is the Secretary of State. He declared the Government's policy. I support the Government's policy and the hon. Gentleman is wasting the time of the House by seeking to look at nuances of differences of view which do not exist.

Mr. Galbraith

The House will have noted that the Minister again failed to give the assurance for which I asked. We are bound to be suspicious when it comes to selection, particularly following the contributions of the hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes, for Cannock and Burntwood and for Hexham (Mr. Amos), who is no longer in his place, in which they clearly said that in their view selection should be reintroduced into the Scottish education system and that that would be their intention if they had their way.

We are now discussing the crux of the Bill. We have so far tonight discussed some important technicalities of the measure, such as ballots, majorities and special needs education. We now discuss what we regard as the main problem, that of the reintroduction of selection into the Scottish education system, a system that got rid of selection many years ago.

We do not want that system reintroduced by the back door. In Committee there was much talk about the Government reintroducing such matters through the front or back doors. Our fear is that they wish to reintroduce selection through the back door. That is why we are totally opposed to the measure. The Minister spoke of hurdles, but they are not very high. Certainly any hurdles of which the Minister spoke would be extremely high if my hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden, (Mr. Dewar) were Secretary of State, as he will be soon.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

When the hon. Gentleman says that the hurdles are not very high, he should remember that the first hurdle is to secure the majority of parents in a school for this view. Are we to take it that he believes that there are large numbers of parents in schools in Scotland who will wish to vote for this principle? I do not believe that. If the hon. Gentleman describes that as a small hurdle, he must believe the opposite. Where is his evidence for that view?

Mr. Galbraith

The Minister keeps arguing that there is no great demand for this change, that this is simply a piece of enabling legislation and that it will not be required much. Have we spent months listening to rubbish from Conservative Members, wasting the time of Parliament, for a piece of legislation that is irrelevant and that, in the view of the Minister, will hardly ever be used? It beggars belief to hear that sort of rubbish from the Government Benches—[Interruption.] One does not wait for murder to be committed before trying to prevent it. That is why we are anxious to deal with this issue properly at this stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker)—I deliberately refer to him as my hon. Friend—talked about rural schools, as did a number of other hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman took us on a trip through the Tay valley, on to Killiecrankie and Blair Atholl, and I was waiting, as he moved on, to hear the Uist tramping song. He seemed to think that the trouble with the legislation was that, if one of his local rural schools opted out, it would not be able to offer certain subjects such as Gaelic or specialist sports. If I have misrepresented him, he will correct me.

Mr. Bill Walker

My concern—my intervention gives me an opportunity to correct a misapprehension on the part of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)—was that the new clause, if accepted, could mean that, if one of my local schools decided to become self-governing, it could not continue to offer the kind of opportunities for selection that are now offered, for example, for Gaelic. In other words, I was concerned about the effect that the new clause could have on schools in my constituency.

Mr. Galbraith

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. If rural schools have developed specialist interests in subjects and sports based on their locality, that will always be present.

Mr. Walker

Again, the hon. Gentleman either has not heard or has not been listening. I am concerned that schools that become self-governing, which are now offering specialist subjects, for which children travel long distances beyond what would be considered the catchment area, might be prevented from offering such subjects if the new clause were accepted.

Mr. Galbraith

I do not think that they would. However, the hon. Gentleman is again introducing a red herring. I do not believe that the new clause could do that technically. Kingussie high school, a rural school, offers shinty. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) is not in his place. I do not believe that such things would be excluded on the basis of our new clause.

If the hon. Gentleman was honest in saying that he did not wish to reintroduce selection and that the only reason that he was opposing the new clause was that he thought that it was technically unsound—

Mr. Walker

I thought that I had made the position even clearer. I said that I had no wish to go back to the 11-plus, and I have not. I believe—I hope that my speech made this clear—that there is room for selection in specialist subjects for which the teachers have specialist aptitudes and abilities which they are offering now. I do not want that position to change.

Mr. Galbraith

The more that we debate this—this is the value of debate in the House—the clearer the positions of other hon. Members become. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman wishes to reintroduce selection, although he does not want to reintroduce the 11-plus.

Mr. Walker


Mr. Galbraith

Well, not in the terms that we are talking about.

Mr. Walker

Selection already exists.

Mr. Galbraith

The hon. Gentleman keeps shouting from a sedentary position that selection exists now, but it does not. That is what we are worried about.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes made it clear that he wanted to reintroduce selection. I believe that I am correct in attributing that view to him. That worries us. He also said that the Opposition are complacent about Scottish education and believe that there is nothing wrong with it. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are all aware that most things in our society could be improved; education certainly could. However, not on Second Reading, in Committee or tonight on Report have we heard exactly how the Bill will improve Scottish education.

We have to take the Minister's assertion and make an act of faith. We have to believe that, if a school is allowed to opt out, there is a de facto reason and some logic that somehow that school will be better. I cannot accept that. We need more and better assurances and some explanation, but they have been missing.

The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood made several contributions in Committee and spoke again tonight. We are worried because he said that he wished to reintroduce selection based on academic criteria. I believe that I am correct—

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I said that I thought that a strong case could be made for academic selection. I was not specifically calling for it in Scotland. I was simply saying that a strong case could be made, and I should be happy if it could be reintroduced in England and Wales.

Mr. Galbraith

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman has said, "A strong case could be made." Is the hon. Gentleman simply making a debating point, because "a strong case could be made" either for or against? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not made his mind up either way, but I suspect that he believes in academic selection.

The other interesting thing that I enjoyed hearing from the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood was that the whole purpose of the Bill—and the hon. Gentleman's solution to improve Scottish education—was for the pupils to start calling all teachers "Sir" or "Madam". Many educationists in Scotland will be grateful for that contribution.

Opposition Members oppose the Bill for many reasons, but mainly because it is about introducing selection into the education system by the back door. Many of us remember the 11-plus and the divisions that were created in schools and societies. We remember the mornings when the exam results were made public and the division in classrooms where half the pupils were to go to the senior secondary and other half to the junior secondary, which, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, was the equivalent of a secondary modern school. We do not wish to return to that.

The Minister says that that is not a problem because the sort of testing that he suggests reintroducing into Scottish education will not be used as a method of selection but that the results will be given only to the parents. Is the Minister trying to make us believe that, if a school opts out, he will not ask the parents what results the pupils got in the test? Are we to believe that, somehow, the results that are available from that test will be kept secret from the parents and that they will not be allowed to pass them on through the educational system? No—the results will be used, together with opting out, to damage the comprehensive system within Scottish education.

It being Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Order, [3rd May] and the Resolution this day, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 203, Noes 265.

Division No. 253] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Beith, A. J.
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Bell, Stuart
Allen, Graham Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Alton, David Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Anderson, Donald Bidwell, Sydney
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Blair, Tony
Armstrong, Hilary Boateng, Paul
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Boyes, Roland
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Bray, Dr Jeremy
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Barron, Kevin Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Battle, John Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Beckett, Margaret Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buckley, George J. Leadbitter, Ted
Caborn, Richard Leighton, Ron
Callaghan, Jim Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Litherland, Robert
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Livingstone, Ken
Canavan, Dennis Livsey, Richard
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Clay, Bob Loyden, Eddie
Clelland, David McAllion, John
Cohen, Harry McAvoy, Thomas
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Macdonald, Calum A.
Cousins, Jim McFall, John
Cryer, Bob McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Cummings, John McKelvey, William
Cunliffe, Lawrence McLeish, Henry
Dalyell, Tam McNamara, Kevin
Darling, Alistair McWilliam, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Madden, Max
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Marek, Dr John
Dewar, Donald Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dixon, Don Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dobson, Frank Martlew, Eric
Doran, Frank Maxton, John
Douglas, Dick Meale, Alan
Duffy, A. E. P. Michael, Alun
Dunnachie, Jimmy Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Eadie, Alexander Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Eastham, Ken Moonie, Dr Lewis
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Morgan, Rhodri
Fatchett, Derek Morley, Elliott
Fearn, Ronald Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Mowlam, Marjorie
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Mullin, Chris
Fisher, Mark Murphy, Paul
Flannery, Martin Nellist, Dave
Flynn, Paul Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Foot, Rt Hon Michael O'Brien, William
Foster, Derek O'Neill, Martin
Foulkes, George Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fraser, John Patchett, Terry
Fyfe, Maria Pendry, Tom
Galbraith, Sam Pike, Peter L.
Galloway, George Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Prescott, John
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Quin, Ms Joyce
George, Bruce Randall, Stuart
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Redmond, Martin
Godman, Dr Norman A. Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Golding, Mrs Llin Reid, Dr John
Gordon, Mildred Richardson, Jo
Graham, Thomas Robertson, George
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Robinson, Geoffrey
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Rowlands, Ted
Grocott, Bruce Ruddock, Joan
Hardy, Peter Salmond, Alex
Harman, Ms Harriet Sedgemore, Brian
Henderson, Doug Sheerman, Barry
Hinchliffe, David Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Home Robertson, John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hood, Jimmy Short, Clare
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Sillars, Jim
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Skinner, Dennis
Howells, Geraint Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Hoyle, Doug Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Snape, Peter
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Spearing, Nigel
Illsley, Eric Steel, Rt Hon David
Ingram, Adam Steinberg, Gerry
Janner, Greville Stott, Roger
Johnston, Sir Russell Strang, Gavin
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Straw, Jack
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Kennedy, Charles Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Kirkwood, Archy Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Lambie. David Turner, Dennis
Vaz, Keith Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Wall, Pat Wilson, Brian
Wallace, James Winnick, David
Walley, Joan Wise, Mrs Audrey
Wardell, Gareth (Gower) Wray, Jimmy
Wareing, Robert N. Young, David (Bolton SE)
Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E) Tellers for the Ayes:
Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N) Mr. Frank Haynes and
Wigley, Dafydd Mr. Frank Cook.
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Adley, Robert Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Aitken, Jonathan Dover, Den
Alexander, Richard Dunn, Bob
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Durant, Tony
Allason, Rupert Dykes, Hugh
Amess, David Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Amos, Alan Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Arbuthnot, James Fallon, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Farr, Sir John
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Favell, Tony
Ashby, David Fenner, Dame Peggy
Aspinwall, Jack Forman, Nigel
Atkins, Robert Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Atkinson, David Freeman, Roger
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Gill, Christopher
Batiste, Spencer Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bellingham, Henry Gregory, Conal
Bendall, Vivian Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hampson, Dr Keith
Benyon, W. Hanley, Jeremy
Blackburn, Dr John G. Hannam, John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Body, Sir Richard Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Harris, David
Boswell, Tim Haselhurst, Alan
Bottomley, Peter Hawkins, Christopher
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hayes, Jerry
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Hayward, Robert
Bowis, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Heddle, John
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Brazier, Julian Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Bright, Graham Hill, James
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hind, Kenneth
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Buck, Sir Antony Hordern, Sir Peter
Budgen, Nicholas Howard, Michael
Burns, Simon Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Burt, Alistair Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Butcher, John Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Butler, Chris Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Butterfill, John Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Carrington, Matthew Hunter, Andrew
Cash, William Irvine, Michael
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Irving, Charles
Chope, Christopher Jack, Michael
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Jackson, Robert
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Janman, Tim
Colvin, Michael Jessel, Toby
Conway, Derek Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Cope, Rt Hon John Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Cormack, Patrick Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Couchman, James Key, Robert
Cran, James Kilfedder, James
Currie, Mrs Edwina King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Curry, David Kirkhope, Timothy
Davis, David (Boothferry) Knapman, Roger
Day, Stephen Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Devlin, Tim Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dicks, Terry Knox, David
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Lang, Ian Roe, Mrs Marion
Latham, Michael Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lawrence, Ivan Rost, Peter
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Sackville, Hon Tom
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Sayeed, Jonathan
Lightbown, David Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lilley, Peter Shaw, David (Dover)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lord, Michael Sims, Roger
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McCrindle, Robert Speed, Keith
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Speller, Tony
Maclean, David Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
McLoughlin, Patrick Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Squire, Robin
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Madel, David Steen, Anthony
Major, Rt Hon John Stern, Michael
Mans, Keith Stevens, Lewis
Maples, John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marland, Paul Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stokes, Sir John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Summerson, Hugo
Mates, Michael Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Maude, Hon Francis Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Meyer, Sir Anthony Temple-Morris, Peter
Miller, Sir Hal Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mills, Iain Thornton, Malcolm
Miscampbell, Norman Thurnham, Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mitchell, Sir David Tracey, Richard
Moate, Roger Tredinnick, David
Monro, Sir Hector Trippier, David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Trotter, Neville
Morrison, Sir Charles Twinn, Dr Ian
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Moss, Malcolm Waddington, Rt Hon David
Moynihan, Hon Colin Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Neale, Gerrard Waller, Gary
Nelson, Anthony Ward, John
Neubert, Michael Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Nicholls, Patrick Warren, Kenneth
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Watts, John
Norris, Steve Wells, Bowen
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Whitney, Ray
Page, Richard Widdecombe, Ann
Paice, James Wiggin, Jerry
Patnick, Irvine Wilkinson, John
Patten, John (Oxford W) Wilshire, David
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Winterton, Mrs Ann
Porter, David (Waveney) Winterton, Nicholas
Price, Sir David Wolfson, Mark
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wood, Timothy
Rathbone, Tim Yeo, Tim
Redwood, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Renton, Tim
Rhodes James, Robert Tellers for the Noes:
Riddick, Graham Mr. Stephen Dorrell and
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Ridsdale, Sir Julian

Question accordingly negatived.

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