asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has yet reached any conclusions since the publication of the discussion document on assisted places at fee-paying schools.
I shall not be in a position to reach conclusions or to make a statement until I have considered the response to the consultative paper, which I expect to receive up to 31 March.
What possible justification is there for cutting public expenditure on local authority schools, which cater for more than 95 per cent. of the children of Scotland, while proposing to put £5 million per year of public money into the pockets of a minority of parents who want to buy extra privilege, real or imaginary, by sending their children to private fee-paying selected schools? Would it not be better to spend £5 million of public money to employ an extra 1,000 teachers to improve the education opportunities of children in local authority schools?
There is every justification for extending choice in both the State and private sectors of education, especially when the Government scheme will give a choice to lower income families.
The Minister talks of extending choice. How does he square that expression with the warning given by the Rector of the Grove Academy, Dundee that certain third-year pupils may not be allowed to take the subjects of their choice if staffing cuts go ahead as planned this year?
I am most surprised by that remark. Local authorities in Tayside and elsewhere are capable of ensuring that the requirements of school children in Scotland will be adequately met. Incidentally, the funds made available by my right hon. Friend will allow an increase in expenditure per pupil in the coming year.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that the assisted places scheme, plus the consultative document on parental choice issued this week, represent a considerable advance in giving parents some control over the school their children attend? When he comes to write the legislation, will he ensure that authorities cannot get round parental wish by dropping the nominal rolls of schools below their realistic level?
I take my hon. Friend's point. The silence of the Labour Party reflects its complacency about Scotland's education system and its refusal to make any advance in Scottish education over the previous five years.
May I make it clear to the Minister once again that when the Labour Party returns to power it will end the assisted places scheme? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the money for the assisted places scheme is being taken from the normal education budget? How can he justify that action when he is slaughtering education provision throughout every education authority in Scotland?
I repeat what I said earlier. We are increasing expenditure per pupil in the public school sector during the coming year. That proves our contention that resources for the assisted places scheme are being provided quite separately.