§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)
I beg to move,That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill:—
1.—(1) The Standing Committee to which the Bill is allocated shall report the Bill to the House on or before 18th May 1989.
(2) Proceedings on the Bill at a sitting of the Standing Committee on the said 18th May may continue until Ten o'clock whether or not the House is adjourned before that time, and if the House is adjourned before those proceedings have been brought to a conclusion the Standing Committee shall report the Bill to the House on 19th May 1989.
Report and Third Reading
2.—(1) The proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in one allotted day and shall be brought to a conclusion at midnight on that day; and for the purposes of Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee) this Order shall be taken to allot to the proceedings on Consideration such part of that day as the Resolution of the Business Committee may determine.
(2) The Business Committee shall report to the House its Resolution as to the proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, and as to the allocation of time between those proceedings and proceedings on Third Reading, not later than the fourth day on which the House sits after the day on which the Chairman of the Standing Committee reports the Bill to the House.
(3) The Resolutions in any report made under Standing Order No. 80 may be varied by a further Report so made, whether or not within the time specified in sub—paragraph (2) above, and whether or not the Resolutions have been agreed to by the House.
(4) The Resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in the order in which proceedings on consideration of the Bill are taken.
Procedure in Standing Committee
3.—(1) At a sitting of the Standing Committee at which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion under a Resolution of the Business Sub—Committee the Chairman shall not adjourn the Committee under any Order relating to the sittings of the Committee until the proceedings have been brought to a conclusion.
(2) No Motion shall be made in the Standing Committee relating to the sitting of the Committee except by a member of the Government, and the Chairman shall permit a brief explanatory statement from the Member who makes, and from a Member who opposes, the Motion, and shall then put the Question thereon.
4. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which Clauses, Schedules, new Clauses and new Schedules are taken in the Standing Committee but the Resolutions of the Business Sub—Committee may include alterations in that order.
Conclusions of proceedings in Committee
5. On the conclusion of the proceedings in any Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, proceedings on the Bill shall be made in the Standing Committee or on allotted day except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
7.—(1) On the allotted day paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for two hours after Ten o'clock.
(2) Any period during which proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to said period of two hours.
(3) If the allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings upon that Motion.
8. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on the allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of those proceedings.
Conclusion of proceedings
9.—(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or the Business Sub—Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)—
(2) Proceedings under sub—paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(3) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock—
(4) If the allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
10.—(1) The proceedings on any Motion made in the House by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee or Business Sub—Committee) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour
after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
(2) If on the allotted day the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee as the time at which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion, no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
11. Nothing in this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or Business Sub—Committee shall—
12.—(1) References in this Order to proceedings on consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings, at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of, recommittal.
(2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to recommit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.
13. In this Order—
allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day or is set down for consideration on that day;
the Bill" means the Self—Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill;
Resolution of the Business Sub—Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Sub—Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee;
Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.
I do not think that I need remind the House of the importance of the Self—Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill, to which my motion seeks to apply a timetable. I know that the measure is controversial, especially among Scottish Members, but I believe that it is also a sound and beneficial one. I would hope that the passions aroused by the Bill's contents will not prevent us this evening from discussing and deciding upon a reasonable framework within which the Bill may be hotly disputed.
One of the Bill's main aims is to enable Scottish schools to withdraw from local authority control to become self—governing schools, run by individual boards of management and funded directly by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. Other provisions relate to the establishment of college councils for colleges of further education; the formation of companies to manage colleges; and the abolition of the committee to consider pay and conditions of further education teaching staff. In addition, the Bill provides for the establishment of technology academies, testing in primary schools, and the appraisal of teachers and lecturers. Taken as a whole, 242 those measures represent a radical and dynamic package which will meet the developing needs of education in Scotland.
To those ends, the Government consider it most desirable that the first schools which wish to do so should be able to achieve self—governing status by the beginning of the 1990–91 school year—in August 1990. Moreover, the Bill sets 1 April 1990 as the date by which college councils are to be established. Interested parties will need to know in good time the legislative base on which they can proceed, including the regulations specifying which colleges are exempt from these provisions, and, perhaps most importantly, if we are to have the first tests in primary 4 and primary 7 running in the schools by the school year 1990–91, the Scottish Examination Board will need the extension of its powers under clause 63 as early as possible, so that the process of writing, scrutinising and processing test items can be completed by May 1991. To ensure that those developments can take place in an orderly and timely fashion, we need to commit ourselves to a definite timetable for the rest of the Bill's passage through the House.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can hardly hear the Leader of the House. If he were in a Scottish primary school, and if we still had the strap, he would get it. Will he please speak up so that we can hear exactly of what he is trying to convince the House? His speech is not convincing in substance, but delivered in that manner it will never—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. The Chair is not responsible for substance. The occupant of the Chair has very good hearing, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman also had quite good hearing.
§ Mr. Wakeham
Although the hon. Gentleman did not hear what I was saying, I noticed that he was still able to comment on its substance. To the hon. Gentleman's better hearing, I am proposing a timetable for the Bill.
§ Mr. Wakeham
The Committee has so far spent about 120 hours discussing part I of the Bill. It must make quicker progress on the remaining 25 clauses if the Bill is to be enacted in time to enable the necessary measures that I have just outlined to be taken. In devising the timetable motion, I have sought to ensure proper and orderly consideration for the remainder of the Bill. There are, in fact, not more than 10 substantive clauses in the Bill which remain to be looked at, but the motion that I am proposing would allow for a further 36 hours for discussion in Committee, making a total of 156 in all. In addition, there will be a full day until midnight on the Floor of the House for Report and Third Reading. That is in keeping with the generous provisions which have become a traditional feature of the timetable motions that I have moved.
I have in mind, too, the need for a balanced consideration of the Bill. I accept, of course, that part I of the Bill, dealing as it does with provisions for self—governing schools, is the most controversial, but part II on further education, and part III, making provision for 243 technology academies, testing in primary schools, appraisal of teachers, and other matters, should also receive adequate scrutiny.
§ Mr. Foulkes
The Leader of the House may know that there is great concern in Scottish universities about the regrettable proposals to remove the rector from the chairmanship of the court. How much time will be allocated to discuss this in Committee and on the Floor of the House? It is a matter which some hon. Members who are not members of the Committee but who have some experience in Scottish universities wish to discuss. As the Leader of the House is trying to convince us to vote for his timetable motion, will he say exactly how much time will be allocated to that important matter?
§ Mr. Wakeham
If the hon. Gentleman can contain himself for a moment, he will discover the answer to that conundrum.
To ensure that the Bill has adequate scrutiny, the motion, like previous timetable motions, includes provision for allocating the time in Standing Committee and on the Floor of the House for Report and Third Reading by reference to a Business Sub—Committee and a Business Committee which will determine how much time shall be allocated to the hon. Gentleman's point within the constraints of the motion.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I understand that the Leader of the House will play a leading role in the Business Committee. Will he ensure that the Business Committee gives proper consideration to the allocation of adequate time to the matter of the chairmanship of the court of the ancient universities of Scotland? It is a matter of some importance and has caused great controversy in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and I have a particular interest in the matter. We are not members of the Committee so we would want to discuss the matter on the Floor of the House on Report. Will the Leader of the House bear that in mind?
§ Mr. Wakeham
I am not a member of the Committee either, so I shall not be present when those matters are discussed, but no doubt members of the Committee will take into account the hon. Gentleman's important considerations and ensure that time is allocated in the best interests of discussing the Bill in a proper and effective way. That seems to me the key to the sensibly weighted consideration of the rest of the Bill, giving the chance for those who are experienced in these matters, and, in the case of the Sub—Committee, for those who are most closely acquainted with the Bill's provisions, to discuss the timing and divide the available time appropriately between clauses. Moreover, since many of the provisions in the remaining clauses are technical or consequential, the Business Sub—Committee will have considerable scope for manoeuvre.
The time has come for the House to apply a timetable to the Bill. Any objective reading of the Standing Committee Hansard will convince right hon. and hon. Members that the Committee is not making as much progress as one might wish. The plain fact is that the Opposition have striven from the start to have the Bill guillotined. It is not my normal practice to make accusations of deliberate time wasting, but I must confess that my eyebrows rose a couple of notches when I read of the Chairman upbraiding the hon. Member for Western 244 Isles (Mr. Macdonald) for his tedious repetition in a speech that lasted for more than two hours. The same hon. Gentleman went on to conduct what might be termed a silent filibuster, standing but not speaking as he tried to eke out the proceedings for a few more minutes. I found tales of the glories of Blackpool, of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) having the ability to spin a football on his finger, and other examples of the Opposition deliberately prolonging the debate for several hours on amendments which Ministers had already said they would accept.
To take just one example, I notice that, at 3.50 am on last Tuesday's sitting. my hon. Friend the Under—Secretary of State accepted the Opposition's amendment extending the period of consultation a fter the result of the parents' ballot, from one month to three. Despite that, and despite a plea from the Chair that, when both sides of the Committee were agreed on a matter, it should be dealt with quickly, the Opposition continued to debate the issue for another half hour. This must be regarded, at such an hour in the morning, as a somewhat unusual way to proceed. None of these examples creates the impression that the Bill has been insufficiently considered.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
Is it not strange that, when the Under—Secretary agreed to accept the amendment, Government Back Benchers combined to vote it down and defeat the Minister's intentions?
§ Mr. Wakeham
I was nol present, but my hon. Friend the Minister said that he would consider accepting the amendment. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends advanced cogent and sensible arguments to persuade him to move from accepting to considering the amendment.
I appreciate that it is a time—honoured tactic to use delay as a weapon against the Government, but it is equally legitimate for a Government to ensure that their business is not lost on that account. I commend the motion to the House in the belief that it represents a realistic way to debate the Self—Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)
In his sentence before last, the Leader of the House—significantly—remarked that the Government wanted to get their legislation through. Is it not a plain fact, given the right hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks, that the Government had in mind a terminal date by which they must have the Bill?
The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) shakes his head, but I am quite sure that the Leader of the House is quite capable of answering the question himself. Is it not a plain fact that the Government had in mind a terminal date by which they must have this legislation? That is the reason for the motion, not thorough and valid consideration of the Bill.
§ Mr. Wakeham
Managing the Government's business does not work like that. At the beginning of the year we have a series of Bills that must be passed by the end of the Session.
§ Mr. Wakeham
The hon. Gentleman has had two goes. The first time he was not listening, and I am now trying to answer the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West t Mr. Douglas). I certainly do not intend to give way any more to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon 245 Valley. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West asked an intelligent question and I am trying to give an intelligent answer.
We certainly have a programme for the year, but it is not a final date for the Bill but the fact that 120 hours have been spent on part I that caused us to move the guillotine. In total, the Bill, which has 72 clauses, will spend 156 hours in Committee, compared with the Education Reform Act 1988, which had 147 clauses and spent 163 hours in Committee, the Local Government Finance Act 1988 which had 131 clauses and spent 136 hours in Committee, and the Water Bill, which has 180 clauses and has spent 153 hours in Committee. By any standards—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The Leader of the House has said that he is not likely to give way for a moment or two.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I have visited the Vale of Glamorgan, so I know why the Leader of the House is not looking too happy today.
The right hon. Gentleman argued that Government have a programme to get through, and we understand that that is the responsibility of Government. Will he compare the number of Bills being packed into this Session with those in previous Sessions? The Prime Minister has said in the past that the burden of legislation considered by the House is too heavy.
Last year, we considered opting out for England and the Secretary of State for Scotland said that it would not apply in Scotland. The Bill therefore was not anticipated, was not included in any manifesto and was not announced.
§ Mr. Wakeham
It appears that the hon. Gentleman has had rather a tiring day in the Vale of Glamorgan. He should have a chat with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)—we know that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley listens only to his own speeches—who has made a number of speeches criticising the Government for getting their legislation through. Compared with past years, the number of Bills in this Session has not been as high, but their quality has been extremely high. The proper time to announce the Government's legislative programme is the Queen's Speech, but as the hon. Gentleman did not make that speech I suppose that he did not listen to it.
I commend the motion to the House.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
As the 200th anniversary of the commencement of the French revolution draws nearer, the Leader of the House looks more and more like Madame Defarge in drag. He added nothing to the consistency of his approach, because in recent debates on guillotine motions he usually said that it is not the Opposition who have protracted debate in Committee but the Government's business managers who have become tired of debate and embarrassed by the performance of Ministers. I have reason to believe that next week we may be debating a further guillotine on the 246 Dock Work Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will scarcely be able to make allegations of protracted debate on that Bill, which has had only three sittings.
Today, the right hon. Gentleman has accused my Scottish colleagues of not making serious efforts to debate the Self—Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill. The motion does not mark a difference in Labour party tactics but is a Tory smokescreen to cover the shambles of this measure. In his sketch of proceedings in Committee, the right hon. Gentleman missed out one or two significant points. If the Government were doing their job properly, how does he explain that on several occasions so few Tory Members turned up that there was not a quorum and the Committee was unable to continue?
Nor did the right hon. Gentleman mention that, as a result of the assiduous work of my hon. Friends, the Government have made nearly 30 concessions, admittedly of varying significance. My understanding is that making points, obtaining explanations and securing changes to a Bill are the purpose of the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Dobson
I do not feel like it; that is one good reason.
There is a host of reasons for objecting to the motion to curtail debate on this important Bill. The short title of the Bill, Self—Governing Schools etc. (Scotland), is good enough reason for opposing it. The "etc." gives the game away and sums up the Government's attitude to education in general and Scottish education in particular. Who else but this Tory Government would dismiss in one three—letter abbreviation such major changes? Only a Tory with no direct connection to education in Scotland could encompass within "etc." major changes such as testing in primary schools, the appraisal and dismissal of teachers and lecturers, the abolition of the machinery for considering the pay and conditions of teaching staff and the establishment of companies to manage colleges, not to mention the placing of recorded children and young people in schools. All that is dismissed by one insulting "etc.". That "etc." covers clauses 48 to 72 which still await the Committee's scrutiny. If, as the Opposition expect, the parents of Scotland see sense and do not take up the proposition of having self—governing schools, these "etcs." will have a much more damaging impact on education in Scotland.
It is not just the Bill's title that insults everyone in Scotland who is concerned with education. At every stage the people, parents and teachers of Scotland have been treated with contempt. The best illustration of that is the history of the self—proclaimed main purpose of the Bill—to get some schools to opt out. The Government have no mandate from the people of Scotland for this proposal.
It is not that opting out was rejected by the people of Scotland at the last election. It is not even that opting out in Scotland was approved by the people of England at the last election, which is one of the curious propositions for mandates that the Government put forward. It is not even that opting out in Scotland was not mentioned by the Tories in Scotland at the last election. At the last election in Scotland, the Tories denied that they would introduce 247 opting out in Scotland. If they have any mandate in Scotland on this matter, it is a mandate not to force opting out on the people in Scotland.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not give way earlier. I had a relevant point to make. I shall make it in my speech, if I am called, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman should be careful about the categorical statements that he makes from the Front Bench. Those of us who were elected in Scotland—
§ Mr. Walker
—do as many do, regardless of which party we represent, and put forward in our constituencies our personal views. I was elected on the basis—nothing in our manifesto said otherwise—that I would try to persuade the Government, if returned, to give schools the opportunity to opt out. That is on record in 44 speeches. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw his comment.
§ Mr. Dobson
It appears that opting out in education is following a precedent that the hon. Gentleman set during the general election. He apparently opted out of the Tories' election manifesto. That is very convenient for him at this moment. As I have said before in the House, when I discovered that the hon. Gentleman represented Aberfeldy, I realised what Burns meant when he wrote the poem "The Birks of Aberfeldy".
In the absence of any mandate, the Government propose to insist on going ahead with opting out and other important measures in the Bill. They have not consulted anyone in Scotland about whether to go ahead with these measures. There has been some consultation on how. It is no wonder that in Scotland there is anger among parents and parents' organisations, among teachers and teachers' organisations, among the Churches and among the education authorities. A combination of late consultation and haste in preparing a Bill is a guaranteed formula for frustration for those involved and bad law. My hon. Friends have extended discussion of the Bill in Committee because they are convinced that if it stays as drafted it will be bad law and harmful to children in Scotland.
On top of all that, the opting—out proposals for Scotland are worse than the ones already introduced in England. I do not know whether at the election the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) was saying, "Yes, I would like opting out. The details of the opting out will be even worse and more stupid in Scotland than the ones proposed in England." The hon. Gentleman cannot have said that, because we did not know what the details were in England. In Scotland, special needs schools have not been exempted from these proposals; in England they are. The opting—out process in Scotland can be triggered by as few as 10 per cent. of parents, rather than 20 per cent. as in England. Under the Bill as drafted, the outcome of a decision on opting out can be decided by a simple majority on one ballot—although, following the cogent arguments mounted by my hon. Friends in Committee, the Government have, I understand, agreed to reconsider that aspect, and perhaps they will reach the stage arrived at in England. In England, schools with fewer than 300 pupils are exempted from opting out—not so in Scotland. Any suggestion that what is sauce for the English goose should be sauce for the Scottish gander is untenable, because the law as passed in England will not be applied to Scotland. The position will be worse in Scotland.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's colleagues have admitted this point to him. He should be aware that an amendment was tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) and other Front—Bench members of the Opposition team calling on the Government to include special schools within the provisions. I sought to sign that amendment, and found that it had been withdrawn, which was very sad. My hon. Friends and I were convinced of the excellence of the amendment, so I retabled it in my name. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the amendment to include special schools, which my hon. Friend the Minister accepted, was tabled by his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Dobson
The hon. Gentleman has underestimated my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), who has drawn my attention to one or two points that he thought that Conversative Members might mention. He drew my attention also to the fact that, as even the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) has admitted, the amendment was withdrawn. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it was not a sensible amendment. [Laughter.] I might add that the amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central concluded was not sensible was in due course almost automatically tabled by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes because he goes in for tabling that sort of thing, supporting such measures and getting them passed into law. I do not know what he is going on about.
§ Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on this point, because, as he knows, I have been deeply involved in this issue in Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the raucous laughter from Conservative Members showed that the debate on special schools appeared to be lost in a party political battle rather than being addressed as a clear issue affecting a small minority of our population? Those people have become deeply angry as they have read of the move by Conservative Members on that issue. Conservative Members will hear from concerned organisations as the Committee proceeds.
§ Mr. Dobson
I agree with much of what the hon. Lady has said. I cannot see why there is anything particularly silly, wrong or humiliating about an Opposition Member tabling an amendment and withdrawing it because he thought it inappropriate or wrong. After all, many Committee stages have involved a vast array of propositions that have been drafted by civil servants and approved by Ministers yet have been withdrawn because even Ministers accept that they are not a good idea. That is what the process is about. It certainly applies to amendments submitted by the Opposition as well.
One of the Government's other problems is that, with only five Scottish Tory Back Benchers, they have found it difficult to get people to serve on the Committee, especially as two of the five do not agree with opting out. The Bill has therefore been "augmented", if that is the right word—like the Augmented BBC Review Orchestra—by the addition of six English Tories. Having watched the Committee in action, I can say without fear of contradiction that the English element has not exactly helped the Government team to a win bonus. The formula so successfully applied by Rangers does not seem to work for the Tories.
§ Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich)
Will the hon. Gentleman say just how long he spent in the Committee Room observing the proceedings?
§ Mr. Dobson
Three of the English augmenting MPs—the ones with close political ties with the Under—Secretary of State—represent what might be described as full—frontal Thatcherism in all its crude individualism—
§ Mr Dobson
I do not know whether I should name them, as it might endanger the other three. They say in the newspapers that the Prime Minister regularly meets a group of young Tories, including those three and the Under—Secretary of State. If, as is rumoured, she meets those hon. Members, I begin to understand her claim that there is no such thing as society. To describe this trio as philistine is to exaggerate their cultural aspirations. Throughout the Committee's proceedings they have displayed nothing but contempt for the people of Scotland and their institutions and for Scotland's elected representatives. I urge my hon. Friends from Scotland not to feel discriminated against, however, because these three Tories have exactly the same attitude to almost anything worthwhile in the rest of Britain, too.
Tories talk about a unitary Parliament and reject the idea of devolving power to a Scottish assembly. If they want to preserve the Union, that is all the more reason why they should treat the people of Scotland and their elected representatives with respect. The history of the Bill gives the lie to the Tory claim to be concerned about the people of Scotland and to regard the present arrangements as satisfactory.
The idea of allowing schools to opt out of local education is not just offensive in itself. It flies in the face of all that is best in the traditions of Scottish education and in the traditions of the whole nation. No nation on earth attaches more importance to education. As Burns wrote 202 years and one month ago, Scotland isAn ancient nation, famed afarFor genius and learning high …Where every science—every noble artThat can inform the mind or mend the heartIs known".It is not just that Scots respect learning for its own sake, although they do. Education in Scotland has not been considered merely as something that benefits individuals and gives them opportunities, although it does. Education has been considered by Scottish people over the ages as something that enriches all and spreads out thepith o' sense and pride o' worththrough a profoundly democratic people.
Except in a very few cases, the Scottish education system has been based on the local community, through schools and colleges catering for all. That was true even of the universities, which had more scholars from poor homes than those anywhere else in the world.
The best tradition of Scottish education has been good quality education for all, rejecting the elitism that has besmirched the English education tradition. That is why opting out is so reviled. To the people of Scotland, it is an alien idea. They fear it because it may produce alienation between one group of children and another and one group of parents and another. That is why the people of Scotland detest the Bill and why my hon. Friends fought so hard 250 against it in Committee. It is why we oppose the guillotine motion tonight and why we shall continue to fight the proposals and we shall reverse them. The Bill flies in the face of all the traditions that are best in Scotland, and when one talks about the best in Scotland and the best in education one is talking about the best in the world.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) was uncharacteristically reluctant to give way to my hon. Friends. He did so only twice, and on each occasion he was clean bowled middle stump and gave clear evidence that, although he may have popped into the Committee for a minute or two, he had not read the Committee's proceedings with any attention to detail. It is anyway a change of Labour party policy to argue that the objectionable parts of the Bill are the parts that have not yet been discussed, rather than the parts that have been discussed.
Before I deal with the more general point, may I, perhaps unusually, solicit the support of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) for my amendment on the chairmanship of the university courts?
§ Mr. Foulkes
I shall certainly consider that carefully. It sounds a great prospect. Those of us who fought hard for Prestwick are elated today at the prospect of great developments. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree. In the spirit of such cross—party co—operation, I shall certainly consider that amendment.
§ Mr. Stewart
I shall join the hon. Gentleman in urging the Government to go full speed ahead with the air—road route, which will help both Prestwick and my constituency.
I thought that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras would allege that the Labour party had spent so much time in Committee because they wished to go through the Bill line by line. That did not happen. What happened was a series of fits and starts. At some points, the Committee went extremely fast. Clause 15—a major clause dealing with ballots—for example, went through in about 15 minutes. I make no allegations about that. Other, purely technical, clauses took hours. The proceedings in Committee went badly wrong, first, because the Opposition were always determined that there should be a guillotine, and secondly because they were obsessed with one particular timetable—the timetable of the press.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), whom I do not criticise for not being present now, worked extremely hard and enthusiastically; I would not deny that. But he was absolutely obsessed with timing his great attacks with reference to the press. I happened to be the next to be called after one of his attacks on Tuesday 11 April. The hon. Gentleman did not listen to a word I said because he was busy talking to the press. I must say that one could understand the position that he adopted then. He had just moved three amendments in a major attack on the Government; one did not do what his press release said it would do; the second showed that he could not count; and the third reversed the amendment that the Labour party had originally tabled. Perhaps on that occasion, therefore, the hon. Gentleman could be excused for having to talk to the Press.
§ Mr. Leigh
Does my hon. Friend recall that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) made an error? He issued a press release one Wednesday saying that he proposed to move certain amendments on Thursday. Then he found to his horror that the English Members wanted to talk about religious education. He did not like the idea of people wanting to talk about the Bill, so in a fit of pique he ordered his troops to filibuster for the rest of the day. That meant that we did not reach the amendments described in the press release until the following Tuesday. What absurd behaviour that was.
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That gives the lie to any claim that Labour Members were interested in debating the Bill line by line. They wanted to skip six clauses in no time at all, again because of the timetable of the press. There was clearly time wasting in Committee, and that is the principal justification for the guillotine. Hon. Members would have congratulated the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) on his masterly performance of filibustering, but, this afternoon, the term became somewhat relative. It was still good to start on one group of amendments at 6.30 and finish at 10.45—admittedly with a dinner break in between—and discuss something that was not in the Bill. I refer to academic selection. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that term. I thought that he would do so 100 times, but he did not reach that figure. He did so 64 times, and the Chairman warned him about repetition.
The hon. Gentleman introduced the new technique of the silent filibuster. He stood and said absolutely nothing. He was firmly and fairly brought to order by the Chairman, who said:Order. Let us be clear. The hon. Mcnyber must not stand without speaking, because it cannot be recorded in Hansard. It cannot be said that during the day, the hon. Member has shown a lack of words, but, if he has now run out of words we may make progress."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 21 March 1989; c. 250.]One of my uncontroversial amendments was brought forward by the Scottish Consumer Council. No Opposition Member signed my amendment, although they could have done so. I took three minutes to move the amendment. The Opposition indicated support. The Minister said that he would consider it. I said that I was content. The Opposition said that they supported my amendment. They were not content with the Minister's assurance. The Minister said that he would accept my amendment. The Opposition continued to filibuster until a closure was moved and agreed. That morning's proceedings were rightly described by the press—they managed to escape from the clutches of the hon. Member for Fife, Central for a moment or two—as degenerating into farce.
There was yet another example later. At 3.50 am on Tuesday 25 April, the hon. Member for Fife, Central moved an amendment. The Minister intervened. Did he say, "I will consider the amendment"? No. Did he say, "This is a good point, but the wording is technically flawed"? No. He said:I am happy to accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment, so perhaps we can move on".The Labour Members who were present continued to talk. The Chairman said:I am in the Committee's hands, but I find it difficult to understand why amendment No. 154 cannot be dealt with quickly."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 25 April 1989; c. 1005, 1006.]252 Still Labour Members talked, after the Minister had accepted their amendment, after the Chairman had demonstrated as strongly as possible that the Committee should move on. It was crystal clear to Conservative Members that a timetable motion was inevitable. I have had 10 years' experience of sitting on Committees, but Labour Members' behaviour was quite without precedent.
The Opposition were constantly in a muddle. They undertook that discussion on clause 28 would start at midday on 25 April. That debate was delayed for hours. I inform the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that the debate was delayed for hours because the Opposition were embarrassed that some of their amendments did not mean what they thought they meant. Any sensible Opposition would have admitted that and said, "It was a mistake; let us carry on." However, the Committee was treated to endless filibustering so that the Opposition could avoid the minor embarrassment of making that admission when the press were present instead of at 4 o'clock in the morning.
The Bill is an enabling measure—at least, the controversial parts of it are. Nothing happens in relation to opting out unless Scottish parents want it to happen. I do not criticise the Opposition's work rate. I do not know whether you are a reader of P. G. Wodehouse, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the hon. Member for Fife, Central reminds me of Rupert Baxter—the efficient Baxter of the flashing spectacles, who rushes around with mind—boggling energy and enthusiasm at all times. No one could criticise hon. Members' work rate or the way in which they tackle the measure.
The last two Scottish education Bills that the House has considered since 1979 were not guillotined. In many respects, they were much more radical than this one. The timetable motion is necessary for the orderly progress of the Bill. It has been made necessary by the absurd time—wasting tactics that have been used again and again by Labour Members on the Committee. There is no doubt that the guillotine will provide considerable relief for Opposition Front Bench Members.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Mr. Dobson) as being bowled middle stump. As those of us who served on the Committee know, any fast bowling from Conservative Back—Bench Members was directed not at the Opposition but at the Minister. There were not a few occasions when his middle stump was removed by his hon. Friends who rebelled against him. They sufficiently embarrassed the Minister so that he tried to deny it profusely in the press later.
The hon. Member for Eastwood referred to the Opposition being reluctant to debate a set of amendments at the agreed time of 12 o'clock. The Government were in control of the timetable. They could easily have wound up the debate at any point in the twenty—six—and—a—half—hour sitting, but they refused to do so because they wanted to clock up hours, no doubt to justify this motion.
The hon. Members for Eastwood and for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) were keen. They said, "We are looking forward to the debate. We will embarrass the Labour Opposition." However, they did not speak because they were embarrassed about their claims, which 253 could not be substantiated. They backed away from the debate. The Opposition did not back away from the debate. We debated the issue when we had time.
Guillotine motions can be justified by democratically elected Governments, but it is a point of dispute whether the Government have been democratically elected in the context of Scottish legislation. It is true that Oppositions who have lost general elections and are worried about it sometimes do everything in their power to frustrate and delay Government legislation. One of the most potent weapons which an Opposition can wield is that of time. Oppositions can slow the parliamentary process. They can talk at great length on matters of little significance or importance which are disguised in the form of amendments. They can filibuster ad infinitum. They can seek line by line and word by word to pressure the Government into making concessions which they believe will improve the Bill, either by softening it or by changing its impact from that which the Government originally intended. It is strange that the manifestations of most of those tactics were deployed in Committee. They were deployed by Conservative Back—Bench Members on many occasions, in an attempt to justify the motion.
That method of parliamentary opposition can be legitimate, and all hon. Members would accept that. It can equally be legitimate for an elected Government to call a halt when they believe that the Opposition are simply indulging in time wasting and are no longer seriously debating suggestions for amending a Bill. A guillotine is legitimate only when the Government's parliamentary majority reflects an electoral majority in the country at large. When the Government's parliamentary majority reflects the will of the people who have elected them—
§ Mr. McAllion
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He can make his own speech in his own time. I gave way to him time and again in Committee, and hon. Members were distracted by a lot of irrelevant nonsense.
Oppositions are always entitled to oppose any legislation brought forward by Government. They are not entitled to frustrate the will of the people by parliamentary manoeuvring. That is the only occasion when Governments are entitled to ensure the passage of legislation by introducing a guillotine motion. How does that principle apply to this motion and this piece of Government legislation?
§ Mr. McAllion
The hon. Member can make his own speech in his own time. I will not give way to hon. Members who have tried to embarrass the people of Scotland time and again by the way in which they have behaved. The hon. Members who are trying to intervene repeatedly refused to give way to me in Committee.
The Self—Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill applies exclusively to Scotland, affecting only the people of Scotland—the parents, pupils, teachers and ancillary staff of Scotland and nowhere else. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to ask whether there is any democratic legitimacy for this Bill, and any kind of support for it within Scotland.
254 I shall look at the evidence available on this matter. For example, what is the evidence on parliamentary elections? The most recent general election in Scotland saw a complete collapse of Tory support and a reduction of their number of representatives in this House by more than half. There were previously 21 Tory Members representing Scotland, whereas there are now only 10. The Conservatives are unable even to staff Scottish Standing Committees or, in fact, to form a Scottish Select Committee comprising Government Back Benchers from Scotland. Even the Government's Scottish Whip now comes from an English constituency, so bereft are the Government of Scottish Back—Bench support. In parliamentary terms, there is thus no democratic support in Scotland for the Bill, which will affect only the people of Scotland.
What about local expressions of support? For example, at the level of education authorities elected across Scotland by local electorates, there are nine regional councils and three island councils that act as such authorities. Not one is controlled by the Conservative party, since the regional elections of 1986. Not one of those bodies actually supports this Bill, which is being railroaded through the House. The Scottish Churches have registered their opposition to the Bill, as have the teachers' unions, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and even two of the Government's own Back Benchers from Scotland.
Thus the question must be asked: are the Government justified in assuming that the will of the Scottish people is being frustrated by parliamentary manoeuvring by the official Opposition? The only possible answer is that they are not justified in any way in that claim. The next question is whether the guillotine motion is justified. Again, the only answer can be that it is not. Of course, some Conservative Members will argue that what Scotland wants is completely immaterial, and that Scotland will get what the United Kingdom Parliament decrees it will get, no matter how tenuous the link between the United Kingdom parliamentary majority and the popular majority, whether that popular majority be at the Scottish or the United Kingdom level.
This is a particularly repulsive doctrine, because it is profoundly undemocratic and contemptuous of the will of the people of Scotland and indeed of people across the United Kingdom. Like all forms of tyranny, such as the poll tax, it always calls itself something else, masquerading behind the democratic facade. Sometimes it calls itself the concept of the unitary Parliament; at other times it describes itself as the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. However it describes itself, it is wholly and unashamedly opposed to the doctrine of popular sovereignty and the democratic principle that legislation can be introduced only with the democratic consent of the people to whom it applies. That is why a democratic Parliament would look to protect and secure the rights of the people against an elected dictatorship and not collude with the elected dictatorship, denying these very rights to the people of Scotland.
We have already heard the argument of the Member for Eastwood that the Bill is purely permissive, and that nothing has been imposed on anyone without their consent. He has said that only in schools where parents vote for the procedure will opting out actually be implemented. That is absolute hogwash, a spokescreen set up to confuse public opinion and get around the very 255 undemocratic nature of the business that the Government are now embarking on.
First, an option cannot be based on a minority of parents choosing to vote for self—governing status. The actual decision lies with the Secretary of State for Scotland. The parental ballot is purely indicative, and the Secretary of State can take it into account or refuse to take it into account—the decision rests with him whether or not the schools opt out of education authorities.
Secondly, schools which opt out do not do so in isolation. When they go, they take with them their current grants and capital allocation that otherwise would have gone to education authority schools. They therefore divert much—needed financial support away from education authority schools. When the self—governing schools go, they will forcibly take with them teachers and other staff in those schools who have no rights to choose to stay with their current employer, the education authority.
Thirdly, the Bill does not only deal with schools opting out, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said; the "etc." in the title covers a whole range of measures that have nothing to do with opting out. Further education colleges have been forcibly restructured to manipulate the majority of business representation on every college council. They have been forced into a more and more commercial and entrepreneurial direction, which the Government want but nobody else wants, least of all those in Scotland.
National testing for the primary sector of students aged between seven and 12 has been forcibly introduced into Scotland. Public funding for new private schools, called technology academies, has been forcibly introduced in Scotland. The abolition of the Scottish joint negotiating committee on further education has been forcibly introduced into Scotland. New forms of teacher appraisal and teacher dismissal have been imposed on teachers and employers alike in Scotland. There is nothing permissive about any of those measures. They have simply been imposed on Scotland undemocratically and against the wishes of those people.
This guillotine motion is therefore profoundly undemocratic, because it seeks to frustrate the real will of the Scottish people, as does the Bill itself. It should be resisted by any true democrats in this House.
We have been accused of organising a filibuster. What we have simply tried to do is examine the Bill in detail, exploring fully the wide ramifications and implications of the measure as it will affect the people of Scotland. We have done that in respect of part I, clauses 1 to 47, over the past 12 days in Committee. We are now denied the opportunity to do that on a similar basis in respect of parts II and III and clauses 48 to 72 because debate is to be stifled and examination curtailed by a Government timetable.
I look to the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes particularly to support the Opposition in trying to defeat this guillotine motion. He said in Committee:I hope that the Committee will take the opportunity to sit for as long as is necessary for those such as myself who have yet to be persuaded by Opposition amendments. It is essential that we have a long and leisurely Committee."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 25 April 1989, c. 18.]I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that parts II and III of the Bill will be given sufficient time, when the timetable motion allows only five days to cover clauses 48 to 72 and the schedules.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
Indeed I said that, because I was assuming that the Labour Opposition would not waste time. I was assuming that they would take the debate seriously and would not then spend hours and hours debating an amendment when my hon. Friend the Minister said that he was prepared to consider it. At the point when Labour Members then conducted a filibuster, after my hon. Friend had said that he was willing to consider the amendment, it was clear that only a guillotine motion would solve the problem for the Opposition.
§ Mr. McAllion
It is difficult to take any admonition from the hon. Gentleman. At one point in Committee, he actually threatened myself and other Scottish Members of the Committee. He said that if we did not shut up he would make sure that concessions given by the Minister would be defeated by the Back Benches. It is hardly consistent with democratic debates for a Scottish Member to be threatened by an English Member that a Scottish Bill will not be amended as Scottish Members want it amended because he is being kept out of bed. That is intolerable.
It is important that we spend as much time considering the next two parts of the Bill as we spent on the first part. When we spent 12 days discussing that, we found out the Minister's real intentions on several points. On 16 March, at column 119, the Minister said that his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would not consent to the introduction of general academic selection. However, much later, on 18 April at column 790, the same Minister confirmed that, if self—governing schools could secure the endorsement of the Secretary of State for Scotland, they could introduce general academic selection. Something that was not on at the beginning of the Committee, suddenly became on much later when the Minister's defences were down and he let it slip. The purpose of our deliberations in Committee is to find out such things.
At column 754, the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) stated:I fully support the right of parents to opt for schools whose admissions policy is based on academic selection."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 18 April 1989; c. 754.]At column 783, the Minister congratulated his hon. Friend the Member for Hexham on an excellent speech. That was the same Minister who said that he would not allow general academic selection to be introduced via this Bill. It is important to spend a long time in Committee deliberations because, when the Minister makes mistakes, we find out what the Government's real intentions have been all along.
The Government's conduct of the Bill in Committee has been as provocative as it has been contemptuous of Scottish opinion. The Government's Back Benches were packed by extremist ideologues of the No Turning Back group. They displayed an obsessive interest in the technicalities of tabling arnendments, but no interest whatsoever in how the Bill may affect Scottish people and the pupils who attend Scottish schools. However, in defence of some the Government's Back Bench members of that Committee, I must say that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine) was less extreme than some of his hon. Friends. He at least has a Scottish auntie and claimed that his grandfather came from Fife, so there must be some good things about some Tory Members on that Committee.
257 As the Committee has gone on, it has become obvious that the Government's Back Benchers have become more and more irritated by debates on what the Bill would mean for Scottish schools and that they have finally let their Minister know in no uncertain terms that they want out of the Committee and back to their own obsessions. If any hon. Member doubts the influence of Conservative Back Benchers over their Ministers, I refer them to the revolt that took place in Committee when Conservative Members defeated what the Minister intended to achieve. The Chairman had to suspend the Committee for five minutes to allow the Minister to try to quell his Back Bench rebellion so that he could try to restore some order to the Committee.
It is also true that the Minister now wants out of the Committee, so that he can go to the Tory party conference in Perth on 10 May and announce what he will call the great parliamentary success of getting the Bill through Committee. We have this guillotine motion for no other reason than that the hon. Member for Stirling wants to trot along to Perth to boast to the ladies with blue rinses and flowery hats about his great prowess in Parliament.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart
On a fairly simple point, surely the hon. Gentleman has read the terms of the guillotine motion? It is absolutely clear even at a cursory glance that the Committee will sit well after 10 May.
§ Mr. McAllion
I have read it, but the Minister has already given the game away. He will claim at Perth on 10 May that the most contentious part of the Bill has already completed its Committee stage because clauses 1 to 47 are now through. The Minister has already made that claim in Committee, and I have no doubt that he will make exactly the same claim when he speaks to the Tory ladies in Perth.
The House should not give in to the yowling of Conservative Members who are the equivalent of Parliamentary yobs. This House owes it to the people of Scotland to act responsibly on this motion.
Although I have many disagreements with Mr. Paul Scott, who recently became the rector of Dundee university—he is a member of the Scottish National party—I agree with some of the analyses in his rectorial address about the nature of the Government and the kinds of measure that we are now dealing with. He said:They would like to confine our schools and universities, except for a privileged minority who can pay for something better, to the subjects which seem to have a direct commercial utility. They call this 'enterprise culture'. There is another, more traditional and more appropriate name; it is barbarism.Mr. Scott is absolutely right to describe what the Government are trying to do to Scottish education as "barbarism". He continued:It is now impossible to talk about education without talking in political terms. Like everything else, education is under political attack and can only he defended by political means.The Government, and the Minister in particular, are responsible for reducing Scottish education to that sorry state.
Those Conservative Members who still represent Scotland will have to pay the political price for the way in which they are legislating on education for Scotland. They will pay the same price in 1991 that their ex—hon. Friends paid in 1987 over the poll tax. While no one in Scotland 258 looks forward to the Bill's enactment, everyone in Scotland is looking forward to 1991, to a Tory—free Scotland and to a Labour Government delivering a Scottish Parliament that will decide for the Scots how Scottish education should be run.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
At least 10 hon. Members seem to be trying to catch my eye, and as the debate must conclude at 10 minutes to 11 o'clock, unless hon. Members exercise some restraint, I am afraid that some will be disappointed. I call Mr. Bill Walker.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I rise with some sadness because one entered the Committee on the understanding that the Labour party had staffed it with some of its brighter, more intelligent and more articulate Members. I do not argue that they are brighter or that they are more articulate. They are certainly politicians who, given a fair wind, could go a long way because they have the qualities that should and could have produced the kind of debate in Committee that would have been testing and trying for the Government. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) in the 10 years that I have been a Member of the House, I have never witnessed such a collection of talented individuals so badly managed, and so badly led. From one hour to the next they did not appear to have any tactic that made sense, other than initially to ensure that their business was in keeping with what the press would require.
§ Mr. Walker
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute because I do not want to end my sad speech without first saying clearly that I believe that if the Labour party had had one old hand on the Committee he would have made sure that the Committee conducted itself in a way that made the maximum use of the time available.
§ Mr. McAllion
I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman say that he thought the performance of the Labour Opposition on the Committee was so poor because his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has told me that this was the best Committee on which he has served because of the high standard of debate from both sides. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is out of step with his right hon. and learned Friend.
§ Mr. Walker
I do not withdraw anything that I have said. Anyone who wants to read the reports of the conduct of our Committee will discover that an astonishing new strategy—I am not sure what to call it—was adopted by the Opposition. It certainly was a novel approach. The Opposition tabled amendments in order to speak and vote against them. That is novel and I have never read of such an approach being adopted in the history of Parliament. I have never come across it in the 10 years in which I have served on Committees.
§ Mr. Foulkes
How can the hon. Gentleman give such a detailed assessment of what happened in Committee, given that each time I visited that Committee he was sitting there with ear muffs on?
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman has made the same mistake as the Chairman, the first time that I put them on. 259 If the hon. Gentleman made any attempt to understand what goes on in this place he would know that aids are issued on the Committee corridor for those who have difficulty hearing because of background noise, or whatever. I made use of that equipment and tonight the hon. Gentleman has again shown how he constantly jumps in without researching to discover the evidence.
§ Mr. Leigh
I hope that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) will withdraw his unnecessary remark. Before my hon. Friend develops his speech, will he deal with a constitutional point which was raised at length by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) who refused to give way? If he had given way I would have reminded him not only of his tactics in Committee and when he voted on entirely English legislation, but of when the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) moved the famous five guillotine motions in one day. He got them through the House only because of the preponderance of Scottish Members. The constitutional argument advanced by the hon. Member for Dundee, East is entirely false.
§ Mr. Walker
My hon. Friend is correct. I intended to touch on that matter, as it is important.
I believe that some members of the Opposition support the unitary Parliament. Certainly my remarks do not reflect in any way on the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). His stance on the Union and the unitary Parliament shows that he should not be criticised. Some of his hon. Friends, however, appear to support the unitary Parliament when it suits them and on other occasions to make an issue about whether something has a mandate.
§ Mr. Walker
I shall give way in a moment.
The argument advanced by the hon. Member for Dundee, East is amusing. His argument is a bit like the conduct of the Committee—it was so unprofessional as to be amusing. At great length, the hon. Member for Dundee, East spoke about mandates and drew attention to the fact that English Members were serving on the Committee. However, every time there was a Division in Committee Room 9—dealing with English legislation—he disappeared. He was properly carrying out his duties and I do not argue with that. On many occasions I have had to serve on two Committees—on too many occasions—but the hon. Member for Dundee, East cannot deny that he voted on purely English matters when he had not heard the debate. That was in order and was proper, but I do not believe that it was consistent to come back to our Committee Room to argue that it was somehow wrong for Conservative Members to vote on Scottish legislation, especially as he had voted on English legislation.
§ Mr. Walker
I shall give way in a moment. The hon. Gentleman is too impetuous, probably because he is so vulnerable about this.
It is also important to remember that, in the past, the Labour party has made substantial changes that affect Scotland, England and Wales, on a majority of one. It did not have anything remotely like a majority in England.
§ Mr. McAllion
Perhaps I can explain the way in which I square the fact that I voted on English legislation with my claim that the House should recognise the desire of the Scottish people for an assembly. I do not control the nature of the United Kingdom Parliament. The Government control that and they can introduce legislation to reform it. As long as I am a member of the unitary Parliament I shall vote on all the legislation that comes through Parliament. The overwhelming majority of the Scottish people have said that they want their own Scottish Parliament. If the Government were democratic they would give them that Parliament and it would decide its own education policies. The Government have refused to listen to the Scottish people, and I continue to draw attention to that fact.
§ Mr. Walker
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has been in this place long enough to know that if he talks to the usual channels, to his Whips, and tells them that, on a matter of principle, he does not want to serve on a particular Bill where he may be required to vote in Divisions having not heard the argument, I am sure that they would ensure—
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman was not present in the Committee considering the English legislation. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. I am prepared to support people who argue on matters of principle. I have always believed that one should give credit where credit is due. That is why I wanted to make it clear that the hon. Member for Garscadden is consistent. He may have difficulties with some of his hon. Friends, but I believe one day he wants to sit on the Treasury Bench. That is not an ambition of which one should be critical. It is a line ambition. The hon. Gentleman wants to sit on the Treasury Bench in a unitary Parliament, as do many other Labour Front Bench spokesmen from Scotland. They cannot argue against us using Members from other constituencies, as we do properly, to serve on our Committees.
§ Mr. McKelvey
The hon. Gentleman is not consistent. I thought that I heard him say earlier that he was elected as an individual, that he had made it clear that he wanted schools in Tayside, North to have the opportunity to opt out, and that that gave him grounds to argue legitimately for his point of view. I have sympathy with that point of view. If the people of Tayside, North, want to do a UDI on opting out, it is an argument that he can defend. At the same time a majority of Labour Members were returned in Scotland and it was not in the Conservative manifesto at any time that Scottish schools could opt out; indeed, when the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) asked the Tory office that very question, he was assured that opting out would not be an option for Scotland. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) cannot have it all ways.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman has picked on the wrong Member. He should know from my record here that the Front Bench and the Whips know that they cannot dragoon the hon. Member for Tayside, North to act in a way that he believes wrong. My record in the House bears that out. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have that kind of debate, he should pick on someone else.
261 Another reason why we need the guillotine motion is the saga of clause 28 on which Labour Members kept talking. They would not have done that if they had been managed properly. Sadly for the Labour party, Strathclyde regional council made a decision that was contrary to the high—flown and long speeches that we had been listening to from Labour Members. It is all on the record. Hon. Members were criticising not just the Bill but the legislation that established the school boards. Then Strathclyde regional council came out with something that went further. The Labour Members could not give an answer, so to save face they kept talking for hours while they waited for the channels, whatever they are, to give them a briefing. At intervals of 15 to 20 minutes we asked them for their view. As we know, about 10 minutes before the Committee was due to rise, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) was able to make a statement. However, that was some hours after he had been asked the original question about the position of Strathclyde. That showed clearly the problems that Labour Members were facing.
If there is one reason why the motion should be accepted and proceedings on the Bill should be guillotined, it is the example that we had this afternoon of how the business of the House can be held up. Let me treat the House to an extract from a discussion that took place on Radio Scotland. It tells us a lot. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dundee, East is not in the Chamber. This is what he said about the Bill that we are discussing:What I would argue is that when it comes back for its Report stage, which is an open—ended stage in Parliament, we make every effort to ensure that that debate goes on for as long as it takes and if that means going through the night and into the next day and disrupting the next day's business, then we do that".Opposition Members have been condemned by the voice of the hon. Member for Dundee, East telling the whole of Scotland why we require a guillotine.
If the hon. Member for Garscadden had been able to discipline his troops properly, perhaps it would not have been Labour Members who kept the debate going all night. The example we have seen this afternoon shows clearly that the other Opposition parties are prepared to do that. That, more than anything, is why we need the motion to succeed this evening.
I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion because I understand that a number of hon. Members wish to speak. I could speak for much longer—
§ Mr. Walker
I shall not give way because I have given way a number of times and many Opposition Members, quite properly, want to speak. I have given way to the hon. Gentleman a number of times.
I also found interesting during the debate the many press releases that were put out by the Opposition. They will live to regret doing so in the years ahead. I found it interesting that the hon. Member for Garscadden, for whom I have much respect—
§ Mr. Foulkes
The hon. Gentleman should not keep saying that. He should withdraw that disgraceful slur—
§ Mr. Foulkes
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman continually to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden? It will do my hon. Friend unending harm at home in his constituency.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. This is a short debate and we should do better to get on with it.
§ Mr. Walker
I do not doubt the integrity of the hon. Member for Garscadden. I do not agree with his policies or what he is trying to achieve within the Labour party, Scotland and the United Kingdom. However, I do not deny his right to do that if he wishes and I do not want anyone to think that I doubt his integrity, because I do not.
I find it sad and disappointing that the only case that the hon. Member for Garscadden can make against the Government is to say that the Tory Benches have been packed with an unpleasant collection of Right—wing, hard—line extremists. If that is a description of me, the hon. Gentleman will know that it will probably increase my majority in Tayside, North. It will not damage it, because my constituents do not like extreme language such as we have heard, not from the hon. Member for Garscadden, but certainly from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars)—who has debased parliamentary activity and has described hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Garscadden, in a way that damages the standing of hon. Members and will not do his party any good.
I invite the hon. Member for Govan to come to Tayside, North every week and make speeches such as the one he has delivered about the hon. Member for Garscadden. He presents an extremist view. I have never done so, although I never deny my views. I never attack hon. Members in such a personal and hideous way. It is time that we got down to the serious business of debating the issues, instead of launching personal attacks against individuals.
§ Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)
I have found this an interesting debate. Although I read the Committee debates in the Official Report, it was helpful to hear, through the oral evidence tonight, exactly what went on in Committee.
I shall touch on two main points: the use of the guillotine, and the important clauses and amendments, the discussion of which will be either severely curtailed or prevented altogether. I understand that in a debate on a guillotine the Minister often prefaces his remarks with the words, "I move this motion to curtail debate on a Bill which fully honours our election commitment." The Minister has been unable to do that today because the Bill will bring about a fundamental change in the Scottish education system, of which there was no hint in the election manifesto and no word during the General Election. Quite the contrary: we were assured that Scotland would not choose the opting—out route.
We are bebating the allocation of time for a Bill that should not be discussed here at all, either in Committee or on the Floor of the House. It is a matter for deliberation by Scots for Scots in Scotland; it is the business of no one else. Tragically, however, as an article in The Scotsman yesterday pointed out,The Scots have their own education system but have no way of deciding what happens to it.As for the purely mechanical question of procedure, of course I understand that all Governments use the 263 guillotine. It is, however, a crude and inept weapon, which I believe should be scapped as part of the general reforms in the House that many of us would like—including an end to the ridiculous all—night sittings.
It is my belief and that of my party that agreement should be reached at the beginning of a Bill on the allocation of time. How much better it would be if we dealt with such matters in a more structured and sensible manner, with proper timetabling that would ensure adequate scrutiny of all parts of a Bill. Instead, we are being asked halfway through to shorten consideration of a Bill that is highly contentious and is being pushed through against the wishes of the Scottish people and the majority of their elected representatives. So much for democracy.
As I recall, a guillotine motion was introduced for the poll tax Bill, and shortly thereafter the Tories lost 11 seats in Scotland. Perhaps this debate heralds the loss of the last 10.
How can a Bill with such potentially far—reaching implications for Scotland's education system be given the necessary scrutiny and elucidation when it is being handled by a Committee with English Conservative Members, and steamrollered by a Government with minimal sensitivity to Scotland's education needs? Some clauses have not yet been covered, and are now in danger of not being covered properly.
I believe that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) mentioned the clause dealing with college councils and the balance of their membership. If there is a guillotine, what guarantee is there that a proper discussion can be held about the composition of such councils? It is extremely important for representatives of college management, staff and students to be accorded proper status on them. They should surely be given more than the derisory influence provided by clause 48—not more than one fifth".of the membership. We should also have a chance to discuss the merits of giving "not less than hai' the number of representatives to employer organisations: while the needs and interests of local employers should be reflected, colleges must also have wider goals in order best to serve their students and the areas in which they are located.
Let me touch briefly on a matter that has caused deep affront to the Scottish people—the chairing of university courts as dealt with in schedule 10. Time must be given for us to discuss such a major change as the proposed abolition of the right of university rectors to chair meetings of the courts, which represents an attempt to undermine a long—standing constitutional tradition—dating, I believe, from 1889—and erodes the rights of students and staff in the governing of the universities. That is symptomatic of a wider assault on students' rights—the poll tax and grant cuts—and of a general indifference to Scotland's unique education system which has caused deep offence in Scotland.
Knowing the Government's ideology, I can understand that they are quite happy to push through legislation which was not contained in the Conservative party manifesto and to do so without the consent of the people for whom they are legislating. I am puzzled by the fact that Scottish Office Ministers are prepared to collude, as the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) has already said, in this. I believe that that demonstrates a misunderstanding of the values and beliefs of the Scottish people which I find quite staggering.
264 Why are Scottish Office Ministers behaving like this? What motivates a Scottish Office Minister? The most curious and intriguing of the Scottish Office Ministers is the Minister responsible for education. If one knew him other than as a Minister on the other side of the Dispatch Box, it might be easier to understand what makes him tick. What are his roots? Does he know Scotland and its people? Does he have a sense of history? Is Scotland important to him? It would be nice to hear from the Minister later. Perhaps he can answer my questions then. I do not know anything about him and would like to hear what he really believes.
I believe that a London Government—any London Government—are Scotland's gaolers. Until we can throw off their stranglehold and are allowed to look after our home and domestic affairs through our own Scottish Parliament, we will continue to be subjected to Bills like the Self—Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill which are alien to our instincts and aspirations.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
This guillotine motion is very important for the Labour party. It is necessary to put Labour Members out of their misery. I was looking forward very much to serving on the very important Standing Committee on the Self—Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill and I was grateful to the Committee of Selection when it nominated me to serve on that Committee.
I was looking forward to sharing a number of hours with the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish). I did not know him very well, but I had met him socially before. As I explained to the Standing Committee, the hon. Gentleman and his delightful wife and I shared a weekend together at the Gleneagles hotel last year. I was looking forward very much to listening to him in his political context as the shadow spokesman leading for the Opposition on this Bill.
I was very sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) was not a member of the Committee. I was delighted to see that the Government took the Bill so seriously that, in addition to the Minister responsible for education at the Scottish Office, the Secretary of State, the Minister of State and the full Scottish Office team turned out. The Opposition considered the Bill to be so important that they did not even include the main shadow spokesman for Scottish affairs on the Committee. Indeed, the only Opposition Members from Scotland on the Committee were Members who were elected to the House in 1987. They are delightful characters and they made interesting if very lengthy speeches. However, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) publicly admitted to the House earlier that the Opposition had fielded a weak team—they may have been generous and gentle—of new hon. Members who were at sixes and sevens.
I am reminded of the famous press release to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) drew attention in Committee. That press release was issued by the Labour party to The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald, stating that Labour Members would debate a certain clause at a certain time in Committee. At the bottom of that press release was the special code "6/7"—which makes it clear that the Opposition were at sixes and sevens. They were tabling amendments one day and 265 withdrawing them the next. When I tabled those selfsame amendments because I was convinced of their excellence, Labour Members voted against them.
A couple of weeks ago, the Opposition tabled a very interesting amendment. I went along and signed that amendment so that the Opposition could not withdraw it.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) should tell those of his hon. Friends who represented his interests on the Committee that they should grow up. They need to learn that when they table amendments, those amendments are not their property but the property of the Committee. If I am so inspired by those interesting amendments that I support them, Opposition Members must think that through. They table amendments to which they speak at great length and then withdraw them—and then do not like it because I want to vote for their amendments.
There were occasions on which my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for Scottish education matters was prepared to accept some amendments. However, the Opposition glibly concluded the debate by saying that those amendments were a mistake. Whenever we go into a Standing Committee in future, perhaps we may have a note against every single Opposition amendment saying, "This is a serious amendment," or, "We hope and pray that the Government do not accept this amendment," or, "We pray that the Minister will not accept the amendment."
§ Mr. Foulkes
The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) will recall that he entered the House at the same time I did.
§ Mr. Foulkes
I have sat through the debate as a Scottish Member to make some assessments. The hon. Gentleman comments on the capacities and abilities of certain of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, I make the judgment that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) speaks with more wisdom, intelligence and ability after only two years in the House than the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes—who is treating the debate in a facile and facetious manner, like a little schoolgirl instead of as an hon. Member of the House.
§ Mr. Brown
Is it facetious when my hon. Friends take Standing Committee debates seriously, consider all the Opposition amendments, and decide to support them and to persuade my hon. Friend the Minister to accept them? Is it facile when those of my hon. Friends serving on the Committee support amendments that have been tabled by the Opposition? Is it facile of me to put my name to Opposition amendments? If so, they must be very facile amendments.
The best thing that the House can do is to put the Opposition Members who sat on that Committee out of their misery. They, more than anybody else, need the guillotine. If anyone has brought the proceedings of that Standing Committee into disrepute in the eyes of the Scottish people it is those hon. Members.
266 English Members who were nominated to serve on the Committee were well aware of the possibility that their membership would be criticised. Scottish Opposition Members even went to the extent of issuing a press release before the Committee even sat for the first time, saying how disgraceful it was that English Members had been put on the Scottish Standing Committee considering the Bill. They expected us to sit there and get on with our constituency correspondence. They expected, they hoped, and when the Committee got going they prayed, that we would sit there silently. But we did not. We spoke in nearly every debate on nearly every group of amendments on nearly every clause stand part debate.
The other day we had an interesting clause stand part debate. The hon. Member for Dundee, East spoke at very great length on clause 29. He said how important it was that the clause be amended. He spoke for hours on how important it was not to pass clause 29 because it needed amendments. I then discovered that not a single amendment to clause 29 had been tabled by any Opposition Member. Only one amendment had been tabled and that was in the name of my hon. Friend the Minister.
You are getting the picture, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will have noticed that my hon. Friends were being pilloried by the hon. Member for Garscadden as being the most objectionable and thoroughly obscene Members of the House. You know me better than that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You know that I and my hon. Friends take our duties seriously.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
Before my hon. Friend gets too excited, will he do the House a service? The hon. Lady, the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) said that the Minister knew nothing about the history of Scotland. Will my hon. Friend be good enough to ask her on my behalf if she can explain why Scotland Yard is so called?
§ Mr. Brown
I might be straining your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I followed my hon. and learned Friend down that road. If he catches your eye I am sure that he will invite the hon. Lady to intervene on his speech.
My hon. Friend the Under—Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) piloted the excellent Bill through the Standing Committee so well. I know my hon. Friend the Minister very well. I have had the pleasure of knowing him and his political philosophy for many years. Ten years ago today, his wife became my constituency secretary, and for four years I got to know her and my hon. Friend very well. He is a conviction politician who has been a moderate, meek and mild Minister throughout the Standing Committee. He has accepted amendments when he has been convinced of their arguments, so much so that sometimes he was in the extraordinary position of recommending an Opposition amendment, wanting us to vote for that amendment and then finding that the Opposition had withdrawn it.
We had many debates that went on for hours because the Opposition were frightened, having issued those ridiculous press releases well in advance and discovered that all the amendments to which they planned to speak were wholly out of order or did not mean what they had meant them to mean. They then had to speak and filibuster against themselves and against their own amendments. They had to filibuster through the night to make sure that 267 reporters from the Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman were not in the press gallery when those embarrassing debates were to occur.
I know that Labour Members, more than any other hon. Members on the Standing Committee, need the guillotine. From the report I read in The Scotsman I understand that there was an opportunity for the Bill to pass to the Floor of the House on Third Reading and Report without the need for a guillotine. I read in The Scotsman that something like 60 hours had been offered to the Opposition. I do not know whether that is true, but if it is, it was plainly rejected because the Opposition do not want any more debate on the Bill. I certainly understand why.
The guillotine would be doing the Opposition spokesman for Scotland, the hon. Member for Garscadden, who seems to have left the Chamber, a great favour. If the Labour party needs any guidance from English Members looking from the outside at the future of the Labour party, if they ever have a Bill that affects only Scotland they should make sure that one or two Opposition Members on the Committee have been in the House for a little while. Conservative Members will not be treated with contempt. We will not be told that we cannot vote for an amendment or that we are being puerile or facile because we take seriously amendments tabled by the Opposition.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East was running in and out of the Committee all the time. The policeman would shout—this will be the epitaph of the Committee—outside our door, "Division in Room 9." Often the hon. Gentleman would be in the middle of his speech, and we would have to make points of order so that he could nip off and vote. The hon. Member for Garscadden laughs, but he should have been on the Committee and seen the shambles and nonsense being perpetrated by those representing his interests. They did him a grave disservice.
§ Mr. McAllion
Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw the allegation that he had to make a point of order to allow me to vote in Room 9? That never once happened, and if the hon. Member is an honourable Member he will withdraw that allegation.
§ Mr. Brown
I made a point of order drawing the attention of the Chairman of the Committee to the fact that there was a Division in Room 9 and that the hon. Gentleman was on his feet. I suggested to the Chairman that we might suspend the Committee. The hon. Gentleman seemed quite prepared to nip down the corridor and vote on solely English legislation without having heard a single word of the debate.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Does my hon. Friend recollect that on one occasion the Committee had to wait a considerable time for the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) to return from Committee Room 9—so much so that I raised the matter with Mr. Speaker. I said that I had often served on Committees and wanted the same degree of tolerance.
§ Mr. Brown
I remember my hon. Friend making that point.
The Bill must be guillotined so that we can have orderly debates in the future without Labour Members moving amendments, suddenly realising that they strengthen the Bill and filibustering so that the press cannot cover theire 268 mbarrassments. We should be doing the House, and certainly the Labour party, a great favour by passing the motion.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
The speech of the hon. Member for 13rigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) confirmed everything that we have always known about him and everything that we have always known about the motivation of the Under—Secretary of State For Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). The clear link and alliance between the hon. Member For Stirling and the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes confirms everything that my hon. Friends have said about what lies behind this legislation. The only pity is that, because of the antics of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) earlier this afternoon, the Scottish press, about which we have heard much so far, did not hear the contribution that has just been made by one of the English intruders on the Scottish Committee.
§ Mr. Foulkes
My hon. Friend has been an hon. Member longer than me by a week or two. Will he say what the intervention of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) achieved? It seemed to me to be a total damp squib.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I do not know whether it was a damp squib, but the hon. Member for Govan was on an ego trip. It will ensure that he gets much press coverage, which might irritate the hon. Members for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh), who are seeing through the rest of the work of the day. His contribution means that the debate on the substance of this guillotine motion is being held late at night, so the press will not hear it and it will not be reported in Scotland. I dare say that that was part of his objective.
The Bill is yet another unwanted and unwarranted intrusion into the Scottish education system. Before an hon. Member points it out, I admit that, in common with the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, I was educated in England. Having endured the English education system, or one aspect of it, I believe that it is doubly important to protect all that is best in the Scottish system.
§ Mr. Foulkes
My hon. Friend is wrong. He was educated in England: the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) went to school in England.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I shall leave it to the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes to consider that intervention.
The Government cannot complain about the fact that elected representatives of the Scottish majority are using every means at their disposal to prevent the disruption of our children's education. This matter is far too important to be left to the unfettered malice of the hon. Member for Stirling. That is the only way of describing the legislation. It was not in the Conservative manifesto. I suppose that, by some convoluted logic, the Conservatives could say that, because it was not in their manifesto and because they were resoundingly defeated in Scotland on that manifesto, they were entitled to legislate in that way. That is the way in which those people operate. There can be no justification for this imposition on our people.
269 Opting out seems to be the Bill's theme. We know that the hon. Member for Stirling has already in a sense opted out with his family. I understand that members of his family are being educated at a private school in my constituency.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn
As someone who was educated in a private school in England, does the hon. Gentleman take the view that his parents thought that its purpose was to disrupt his education or that it was to obtain it?
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I doubt whether it is relevant to the timetable motion. What I and my constituents hear about most is how my children and my constituents' children will be educated in Scotland. That is the serious issue to which the House should address itself, and which it clearly is not addressing.
Those of us who want the Scottish education system to develop on the well—proven pattern of partnership between teachers, parents and local authorities—and, until comparatively recently, the Scottish Education Department—want that system to continue to flourish. We deplore the fact that the Under—Secretary of State responsible for the Scottish education department seems to be more interested in playing a politically motivated cat—and—mouse game with education in Scotland. His objective appears to be to foster constant friction between parents, the teaching professions and local education authorities. He is trying to foster highly motivated cliques seeking to indulge in prejudices of one kind or another and to impose them on school boards in the opting—out procedure.
If the Bill is another outrageous imposition on our children, the Committee which is supposed to scrutinise it is a travesty, as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has confirmed by his intervention. In the last Session the hon. Members for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) and for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Maclean) were brought in to top up the Standing Committee on the Bill to regenerate private landlordism in Scotland. The Government amended Standing Orders exactly one year ago tonight to make it possible to pack Scottish Standing Committees with impunity. That is what has happened to this Standing Committee. Significantly—the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) skated over this point—although the Government have been prepared to set up any number of Committees to impose alien legislation on Scotland, the one body which they will not set up and on which the hon. Member for Tayside, North is not prepared to serve is a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs to scrutinise the work of the Scottish Office. The Government want it both ways.
The Standing Committee is plainly not composed in a way that is conducive to proper consideration of a Scottish Bill. For a start, the party that got just 24 per cent. of the votes in Scotland—I suspect that it would be below 20 per cent. by now—has about 60 per cent. of the seats on the Committee. Conservative Members are over—represented by a factor of three. They have an overall majority of four in a Committee of 22.
Obviously there are not enough Scottish Tories to man the Committee, so it has been packed with people who would be regarded anywhere in Scotland as complete 270 aliens. These people are not just Tories; they are hard—line Thatcher freaks. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) is happy to accept that accolade. As well as the hon. Gentleman there are the hon. Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), for Brigg and Cleethorpes, for Ipswich (Mr. Irvine), for Hexham (Mr. Amos) and for Penrith and The Border—six English Tory Members.
Do any of them have children at schools in Scotland? Do any of them have constituents at local authority schools? [Hon. Members: "No, at Fettes."] Fettes, perhaps. We have already established that the Under—Secretary has children at a private school in my constituency, but we shall skate over that. It is a travesty that these people should determine the future of education for my children and those of my hon. Friends. It is highly offensive to the nation of Scotland that a Committee constituted in this way should determine policy on the future of education for our children and exclude those of us with a direct interest in these matters.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Would my hon. Friend believe that, early in the proceedings of the Committee, the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) informed us that his qualification for serving on the Committee was that he was the son of a border farmer's daughter?
§ Mr. Home Robertson
That sounds rather convoluted. Perhaps it will give the House some idea of the level of debate that took place in Committee. It is self—evident that these people cannot contribute anything significant.
The Committee was not designed to consider a Scottish education Bill. It was deliberately selected to force any measure on to the statute book and to provoke the maximum outrage in the process. Clearly it is succeeding only too well on both counts.
Like a number of my hon. Friends who have spoken I have sat in on some of the debates and watched the work being put in by my hon. Friends who are members of the Standing Committee. I pay tribute to their hard work and dogged determination in the face of provocation of the kind that we have heard tonight. I have every sympathy with my hon. Friends, having endured similar treatment on the poll tax Bill Committee, the Housing (Scotland) Bill Committee and many others.
One of the most sickening aspects of this business is the highly effective management of the news coverage applied by the Scottish Office and its press officers, one of whom—Alex Paget, I think—went on to work as press officer for the Conservative party in Scotland until he recognised that he was on a hiding to nothing and jacked that in, too.
The Conservative party, the Government and Scottish Office civil servants know that they are on impossible ground when it comes to the substance of the Bill, so, in accordance with the worst traditions of opting out in the school playground, they side—step the issues and go for the personalities. As we have heard this evening, their line is that Opposition Members are doing a bad job because they are having no impact on the Bill. How could they have any impact on the Bill when they are outnumbered on the Committee and when the Government have built in a majority of apparatchiks like the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes to ensure that anything that they want to 271 put through goes through on the nod? That is a spurious and unreasonable argument for the Scottish Office press office to advance.
Several Lobby correspondents faithfully churn out the Scottish Office line and produce knocking copy against the majority opposition in Scotland. It is easy for them to do that. I suppose that it is also prudent if they hope to continue to be fed material by the Scottish Office. But at a time of constitutional crisis in Scotland it is incumbent on the Scottish press to reflect its duty to tell the truth and to explain the background to the truth so that people in Scotland know what is going on in this Parliament—how their business is being abused and their education and children are being put in jeopardy by Bills such as this.
Then we have the greatest allies of the Conservative party in Scotland—the Scottish National party. Last Thursday at business questions I referred to the new alliance between the hon. Members for Moray and for Brigg and Cleethorpes—apparently now sealed with a bottle of champagne. If that is disruption of Scottish business and of the Tory minority Government in Scotland, I suspect that the Government will welcome all the disruption that they can possibly get.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to speak presently. Her hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) detained the House for four hours this afternoon. We have had enough self—indulgence.
§ Mrs. Ewing
I have no intention of trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is trying to turn a sip into a magnum. No doubt he thinks that the offer of shaving foam to his Friends was just a good clean plot. As he is spending a great deal of time attacking the Committee's work, will he mention why the Government did not require the vote of one English Conservative Member to carry the sittings motion?
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Not having been a member of the Committee, and not having read that part of the proceedings—I generally find that sittings motion debates are not always the most edifying and informative debates in any case—I will leave it to my hon. Friends to comment on that point.
We know what is going on. The hard Right of the Conservative party would be very happy for Scotland to be out of the Union of the United Kingdom. The SNP is not choosy about its bedfellows. Never let us forget that the Scottish National party, including the hon. Members for Moray and for Angus, East, who were present on that fateful day in the spring of 1979, voted with the Conservatives to bring the Thatcher Government into power and to ensure that a Scottish Assembly could not be set up in that year.
Those of us who want to preserve the Union and to develop Scotland's role of independence in Britain must recognise the dangers in this guillotine motion and all that lies behind it. The Conservative party in Britain, as in Scotland, is not exactly what it used to be. The absence of the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan—Smith) is conspicuous. He must find these matters extremely embarrassing. The triumphal sneering 272 of Scotland's Tory minority, safe as they are behind the Secretary of State's proverbial Gatling gun in the House, know that they can rely on people such as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes to see through their legislation, however unpopular it may be in Scotland. They got their people to defend them in the House. That must be a great embarrassment to one—nation Conservatives such as the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside.
The motion is a much greater threat to the Union of the United Kingdom than anything that members of the Scottish National party could do by themselves. The Bill, the grotesquely distorted Committee which is supposed to be considering it, and the guillotine are an intolerable abuse of the nation of Scotland and of our children's education. The House is failing in its duty to protect the interests of the nation of Scotland and properly to scrutinise its legislation. This travesty of a debate underlines the importance of the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which must fill the democratic vacuum which has been left by the present Government. Every vote in the Aye Lobby will be a vote not only against the proper consideration of Scotland's children but, in effect, against the Union.
§ Mr. Alan Amos (Hexham)
I do not intend to speak for too long. I regret that the guillotine is necessary, but necessary it is. I have now served on several Committees, and I have been amazed and appalled at the deliberate time wasting and sheer ineptitude of Opposition Members in Committee. Much time has been spent on covering up tactical blunders and on personal attacks on Conservative Members of the Committee. I do not mind personal attacks—they are part of the political game—but I object to Opposition Members devoting a great deal of time to such tactics and then complaining about the lack of time to discuss the principles and policies contained in the Bill.
That personal abuse reached its lowest point last week, about five weeks after the Committee had begun its deliberations. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, believe it or not, in a press release of 26 April referred to Conservative Members of the Committee asa very unpleasant collection of Right—wing, hard—line extremists.He then spoke aboutsome of the most offensive members of the Tory party.[Interruption.] I note the chorus from Labour Members. However, I believe that those statements say more about the hon. Member for Garscadden than about my hon. Friends. The hon. Member for Garscadden did not serve on the Committee when he had the opportunity to do so. He fielded the second eleven, when he could have sat on the Committee himself. It is therefore not for him to criticise hon. Members who sat on the Committee and played an active part in its deliberations.
I will not impugn the integrity of Labour Members who served on the Committee. I know all of them; I have worked with them for a few weeks now. I know that they are all sincere people with genuine convictions. I am prepared to leave the matter there.
I made it clear at the beginning of the Committee stage that, as a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, I have the right and the responsibility to speak on any matter that affects the United Kingdom, whatever and 273 wherever. I will continue to do that, and all hon. Members have the right to do the same. Just as my hon. Friends and I are being criticised for being English Members on a Scottish Bill, so the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) continually rushed out of our Committee to Committee Room 9 to vote on a Bill dealing with English matters. I do not object to that in the slightest, but some would say that he was being inconsistent and illogical. Others would say that it reeked of double standards and hypocrisy.
I wanted to serve on the Committee because the Bill is about education, a subject on which I believe I have some personal direct knowledge and experience. I am not an expert on Scottish education; I have never claimed to be and I may never be. In any case, beware of the so—called experts on any matter. It is amazing how many experts suddenly appear. However, I have always been willing to listen, learn and debate, and that is what these Committees provide the opportunity to do. It is not desirable to put on them self—appointed experts who know all the answers before the consideration of matters has even begun.
I support the guillotine motion because I believe that there has been ample opportunity to discuss all the clauses before us. Too much time has been wasted by an Opposition trying to cover up their frequent tactical blunders. So many of the amendments would, had they been carried, have achieved precisely the opposite effect of that intended to be achieved. For example, there was the provision of a mechanism to trigger a ballot on whether a school could become self—governing. There was confusion about whether 10 per cent. referred to parents or pupils. Another example was the case of a ballot needed to change the character of a school. Amendments were designed to make it more difficult. Had these amendments been passed, they would have removed any need for any ballot at all. What the Opposition did was appalling and disgraceful. Once is a mistake, twice is incompetence, and three times is a foul—up.
The Opposition has had no clear overall strategy. They have been flailing about blindly from one defective amendment to another, and this has taken up the time of the Committee. They should act on their own ideas and not as the mouthpiece for every pressure group and interest group to which the Labour party seems to feel beholden. Had they done that, they would not have made these mistakes.
Another matter is the allegation that Conservative members are trying to impose English ideas on an alien Scotland. I reject this word "alien". We are one small country, yet we hear these awful terms "alien" and "foreign". We are one country and that is how we will remain, whatever Opposition Members say. They do not believe their own rhetoric.
There is a belief that we are imposing English ideas on Scotland, but it is significant that the Opposition have constantly tried to make the Bill conform more closely to the provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988, which covers England and Wales. Those are double standards.
The Opposition have been too confused. They should have directed and focused their attack. They should not have wasted so much time on irrelevant technical amendments. On that basis, I am almost minded to oppose the guillotine motion—[HON. MEMBERS:"Hear, hear."] 274 Opposition Members should not build up their hopes. Clearly, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is suffering again from the virtues for which he is renowned. —over—generosity and compassion towards the Opposition—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.