In addition to the big set piece debates at Westminster, there are each week a series of lower profile debates initiated by individual MP’s on specific subjects – the adjournment debate.
One of my first, nearly thirty years ago, was about a fast-food chain who were opening their outlets in London without having first secured planning permission and whose commitment to health standards was in doubt. They didn’t do me the courtesy of returning a phone call before I made the speech, so I was even less sympathetic than I had planned to be. The London Standard gave the speech prominence and their turnover dropped twenty percent. I later had a debate about the height requirement for policemen – answered by Shirley Summerskill. I was the tallest male MP and she the tallest woman MP – and we agreed between us that the height requirement for our police force should be lowered; and it has been.
Ten days ago I had an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on home education – having met some home educators in the constituency. Not every one knows that you don’t have to send your children to school between the ages of 5 to 16. You can educate them at home – and you don’t even have to tell the local education authority what you are doing.
For most people, the best place for their children to learn is at school and there are many excellent schools in North West Hants. However, it isn’t the right answer for everyone; and I want to live in a country where people are not forced to use the institutions of the state if they don’t want to or have lost confidence in them.
The Government is a bit sniffy about this. "My Department recognises and respects the right to choose to home educate", in the words of the Minister. That sounds as though he was giving planning permission for a nudist colony.
I didn’t make much headway against the Minister for School Standards, David Miliband – I don’t know where he was educated, but they did a first class job. My modest request was that home educators, who have saved the taxpayer a large sum of money by not taking up a school place, shouldn’t have to pay exam fees out of their own pocket. But this was a step too far for the people’s party, who lump home educated children along with children at independent schools. So that battle remains to be won.
Of course, those educated at home may miss the thrill of the school report. I remember my father reading my Geography Report from my first school. “Geography is not George’s strong subject. He does well to find his way home after school.” And a colleague got this from his English teacher. “The dawning of legibility has revealed an inability to spell.”