asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding the freezing of grants to grant-aided schools.
I have received between 50 and 60 letters.
Have these 50 or 60 letters made the right hon. Gentleman aware that this vicious freeze is hitting hardest those least able to bear it, namely, the children of less well-off parents? Why does the right hon. Gentleman obstinately refuse to give to Scottish pupils the protection which his right hon. Friend is giving to English pupils? Will he now either restore the grant to its 1973 level, in real terms, or introduce a fee remission scheme on the same lines as that operating in England?
The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that the position in England is entirely different from that in Scotland. There has never been a fee remission scheme in Scotland, for the simple reason that there was not the same obligation upon these schools to accept children from local authority nominations. The hon. Gentleman should remember that this has long been the policy of this party and this Government. We instituted the policy when we were last in Government. It should therefore come as no surprise to him. This is not the time—during a period of financial stringency when we have complaints about the amount of money being made available for local authority schools—to increase the grants to this type of school.
Will my right hon. Friend urge members of the Opposition to accept that it has always been one of the traditions of Scottish education that educational opportunity should be available to children irrespective of their parents' income and ability, or willingness to pay? Will he further tell the Opposition, especially the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), that at a time when there is a shortage of funds for education which particularly affects children who can only be labelled as underprivileged, to try to fight for money for fee-paying schools is nothing short of irresponsible stupidity?
This is a principle which is completely outside the Scottish system of education.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that the Government's policy on grant-aided schools is causing serious damage to local authority schools in Edinburgh and elsewhere? Is he aware of the statement of the Labour chairman of the Lothian Education Committee criticising the Government for their policy? In the interests of local authority and grant-aided schoolchildren will he consider giving help to the parents of those children presently at grant-aided schools?
The hon. Gentleman should be careful how he quotes people. I do not accept his general, sweeping statements. He should recognise that this policy has been in the forefront of our education policy for a long time. It should come as no surprise to him. The question how grant-aided schools will eventually be phased out will be a matter for consideration.
Will the Minister carefully review the position of the pupils who are now at school and whose parents, because of the freeze, cannot afford the new fees? Will he do something to help those pupils now?
I am prepared to look at anything, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. I am quite open to suggestions on this matter. It may be one of the things which we can look at when we examine the whole question of how and when to phase out.