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The Deputy Minister was very much in command of his brief. "Section 70 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980," Peacock explained, "gives Scottish ministers the powers to take default action in respect of any breach of duty imposed on an education authority by, or for the purposes of, the 1980 Act or any other enactment relating to education.

"The Interpretation Act 1978 applies in relation to the interpretation of the 1980 Act. However, by virtue of an amendment made to schedule 1 to the 1978 Act by subparagraph 16(3) of schedule 8 to the Sctland Act 1998, enactment in this context does not include an act of the Scottish Parliament.

"That means that any of the new duties being imposed on authorities in the Bill, other than those being inserted directly into the 1980 Act, would not be enforceable under Section 70."

He then said: "I would not be happy to answer any questions."

Brian Monteith, the Tory spokesman and architect of "probing" amendments (ie those without a hope of gaining support) responded: "I had thought of lodging a similar amendment myself."

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