The Grand Committee debate on education cuts was instigated by the Liberal Democrats. Jim Wallace, Scottish party leader, warned ministers of a "sense of anger and outrage" at the scale of the cuts as Pounds 100 million was slashed from budgets. The Government's education White Paper, published last week, failed to grasp the gravity of the situation, Mr Wallace said.
"The lifeblood is being sucked out," he told a large audience that overflowed into a neighbouring hall. "At a time when we should be increasing spending on education, we are engaged in a debate to secure the fabric of what we have already got."
George Kynoch, the local government minister, said how money was spent was up to councils. Borders, for instance, had had a 2 per cent rise in total spending, worth some Pounds 2 million. .
Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, repeated that education was a priority for the Government and maintained that he had allowed for a Pounds 40 million rise in spending. Mr Kynoch told MPs: "There is no reason for education authorities hitting education."
But Keith Geddes, leader of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Labour prospective parliamentary candidate in the Borders, said later: "The figure is below the rate of inflation and takes no account of pay and price increases. This is a real cut. If Mr Kynoch is correct, why it is practically every education authority is looking at savings? Mr Kynoch is somewhat misleading."
Labour, however, came under fire from the Liberal Democrats and the SNP for failing to promise more cash for local government. Archy Kirkwood, Liberal Democrat MP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, predicted "more of the same" if Labour came to power. Phil Gallie, Tory MP for Ayr, said whatever party won the election there would be little extra cash to play with.
Helen Liddell, Labour's spokeswoman on education, spoke of a deeper crisis this year than last when Pounds 90 million was cut from budgets and 1,200 teaching posts were axed. Mrs Liddell said it would cost Pounds 260,000 to save music tuition in the Borders and ministers were spending Pounds 860,000 on publicity for the nursery voucher scheme.
John Home Robertson, Labour MP for East Lothian, pinned part of the blame for Borders' plight on successive low spending by "pseudo-Tory" administrations. "The council is caught between a legacy of underspending in the past and an outrageous capping level set by this Government now," he said.
Andrew Welsh, for the SNP, said the White Paper was "high on gimmicks but short on new funding". For the fourth year in a row, authorities had been given no additional money for pay deals.
Ian Davidson, Labour MP for Govan, said: "Dogs bark, cats miaow and the Tories blame someone else." Mr Davidson, a former convener of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee, surprised MPs by praising Government plans to scrap collective bargaining.
He supported change if it tackled the promotion structure in secondaries where there were "too many chiefs to indians". The education system had been for too long "producer dominated" but Mr Davidson said any independent pay and conditions body would be of little use if its awards could not be funded.