HC Deb 20 May 1954 vol 527 cc2437-50

10.40 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Teachers' Salaries (Scotland) Regulations, 1954 (S.I., 1954, No. 403), dated 26th March, 1954, a copy of which was laid 'before this House on 31st March, be annulled. One of the "Alice through the Looking Glass" peculiarities of our Parliamentary procedure is that to get some discussion of these Regulations I have to pray that they be annulled, although I welcome most parts of them. Though I have some comments to make upon them, for the greater part I am very glad to see them. I think it is only right to say that now, so that hon. Members who may wish to leave for one reason or another may do so with a comparatively clear conscience.

I have, however, some points of criticism which I want to put, and I should like to give the Government the opportunity to explain some parts of these Regulations, which, I think hon. Members will agree, are not entirely easy to understand. I should like to address my remarks largely to those parts which deal with the grants to remote schools. There are, of course, many other very important points dealt with in the Regulations. There is the general matter of the level of teachers' salaries that we might discuss, and certainly it is essential that we do pay teachers salaries adequate to maintain a high standard of recruitment to the profession.

There is the question of the extra payments, which I think is very desirable, to teachers with technical qualifications. There are many hon. Members who, on a more suitable occasion, would like to discuss these matters at length. I know that the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson), who has kindly consented to second this Motion, will have a word or two to say on some of these matters, on which, I may say, he is an expert.

I do not suppose that anyone would deny that though a teacher's life on a small island may be happy, it is also hard. It is certainly hard in comparison with the luxuries of the town. If I may mention one or two examples of the difficulties which they have to work under, a teacher in an outlying island in my constituency is cut off from all such things as concerts, plays and even libraries, and he or she and their families find life extremely expensive.

If they are in the North Isles of Orkney or Shetland and they want to go to Kirkwall or Lerwick to see their friends or do some shopping, it costs them a lot of money. They may have to pay anything up to 32s. in fares, and they may also have to put up at a hotel and incur the expense of taxis, and so on. Then there is the high cost of ordinary household essentials like coal, which in some parts of my constituency, costs perhaps £10 a ton by the time it reaches their house.

Yet these men and women are the absolute linch-pins of their communities throughout the islands around the coast of Scotland. Why was North Fara abandoned? It was partly because there was no pier, but also because there was no teacher. The same thing will happen very soon in South Fara, where the only family with young children are leaving because they cannot get education. All round the coast of Scotland we have seen the populations in the islands decrease. The school populations in Fetler and Stronsay have gone down by 40 to 50 per cent, over the last 40 years.

This would not be an appropriate occasion to discuss what general changes in education are needed. If we are to hold people in the countryside we need some changes, but I am absolutely certain that what we must keep are teachers of the present very high standard. I am sure the Under-Secretary will agree that the standard is very high. We are well served by the teachers in these remote areas. They deserve our thanks. It is not sufficiently realised how much they do in addition to the ordinary job of teaching. They take the services on Sundays, act almost as hotelkeepers for visitors, and advise and lead their community. They even have to act as chairmen to visiting politicians. On top of all that, they have to work in their gardens and cut their peats. Their life is not easy.

In so far as these Regulations will give them more money the teachers will welcome them. I hope the Under- Secretary will say a few words about the general situation, but there are one or two specific points I wish to make, which, though they have arisen largely in discussions with my constituents are possibly of interest to other rural areas.

As I read the Regulations, the cost of the extra grants will fall largely, if not entirely, on the local authority. If they exercise the discretion in Part II, Regulation 9 (2) they will bear the whole of the extra cost. I am told that if the proposals put forward by the Shetland County Council are agreed they will cost the county over £11,000. That is a considerable sum for a poor county to find. Bearing in mind the rateable value of the Highland counties I should have thought that the Education Fund might have borne some of that cost.

I am interested to know what kind of case will be covered by Regulation 5 of Part II. As I have indicated, the teacher in a rural school is very much a one-man band. He has to teach all sorts of subjects and children of different ages, carrying on to their further education, train boys for apprenticeships, and so on. Will the education authorities, under Regulation 5 (1), be able to attract and hold highly-qualified men by offering them something more than their basic salaries? Paragraph 6 (2) might also have some bearing on that. Turning to the definitions, I see that Regulation 9 (4) defines a centre of population as a place where the normal number of teachers employed whole-time ill primary schools and primary departments is three or more; I am not quite sure why it refers to the primary department, but that is a minor point, but I do suggest that the whole definition really strains language rather far.

For instance, in my own constituency the area round the central school at Sanday, Orkney, is to be defined as a centre of population, as are similar areas in Whalsay and Yell. If the Undersecretary were to visit such areas—preferably on a rather dark night in winter —he would be hard put to find the centre, or much population. There are a few scattered houses, no hotel, no cinema, no library—none of the ordinary things one thinks of as constituting a centre of population.

A "remote school" is defined as a school which has either one or two teachers and which is difficult of access from a centre of population. I will not bother the House with the exact specifications of the transport difficulties as laid down in the Regulations, but one is that it shall be 8 miles or thereby on water which is recognised as sheltered water or partly as sheltered and partly as exposed water, Who is to determine whether the water is sheltered or not? Is it the Secretary of State, or the Admiralty, or how is it done? My only experience in the constituency is that all the water is unsheltered, distressingly unsheltered.

I hope that, for the sake of the school teachers the matter is left to the Minister of State, Scottish Office, who is notoriously a rather unreliable sailor. I think he will find that all these schools are rather remote and unsheltered. In all seriousness, I think that this definition of a remote school will raise difficulties. All of Orkney and Shetland is remote. There are several schools in my constituency which have three teachers or more which are, beyond all question, not only remote, but very remote.

There are one or two, also, which have fewer than three teachers which may fail, on the question of transport, to get the maximum prant possible. No one would doubt that Papa Stour, off the extreme west coast of Shetland, is very remote. It is true that there is a bus from Lerwick, 20 miles away, the last few miles over atrocious surfaces which shock the liver; and it might be held that the two or three miles' crossing of the Atlantic is sheltered, if any part of the Atlantic is sheltered. I think it will count as a remote school, but under this definition there might be some doubt about it. Further, there is the point that classification of these schools will depend fortuitously on whether side schools have been closed, with amalgamation of children. Whether they have three teachers, or fewer, may depend on a decision to close these side schools.

No doubt the Under-Secretary will draw attention to what might be called the escape clause, in Regulation 9 (2). I would like him to deal particularly with the Clause, because without generous use of it the Regulations will be nonsensical. The Scottish Office has already had representations from Orkney and Shetland to upgrade, so to speak, certain schools, if these recommendations are not accepted certain schools on the mainland may be as well off as those in quite remote islands. Can the Minister give us an assurance about this? I welcome the provision that all schools in Orkney and Shetland are remote. Difficulties will arise, however, when we get into degrees of remoteness. I think it is clear to common sense that all schools on the outer islands are more remote than those on the mainlands, with perhaps one or two exceptions.

Then there are those more remote still in such places as North Ronaldshay, Foula, Fair Isle, Skerries, and Fetlar. If the Secretary of State does use his discretion widely on these lines, will he allow extra payment for these schools? Will he also look again at who will bear the additional cost? Why not the Education Fund? I understand that the basic extra payment is £40. In Regulation 9 (1, b) there is mentioned a payment of £70. Is that cumulative? Will the teacher in the more remote school get £110, and is there further discretion to pay more if the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is necessary?

There are many other points I would like to discuss, but I want to confine myself largely to the question of remote area payments. The allowances are a great help, though when one comes to the cost of living today, they are not very much. One holiday from one of the Orkney or Shetland Islands for a teacher and his family will swallow all this extra allowance. It will not leave much consolation for the mere remoteness itself. I am sure that many hon. Members will hope that the Scottish Office will continue to do battle with the Treasury to get greater inducements, both by way of salary and by way of extra allowances, for teachers.

We have a most devoted band of men in the islands. But it is not easy to get new teachers. In Orkney even now they are wondering whether or not they can pay the full £110 to get a teacher in North Walls. It is important that they should be able to do so. At present, both Foula and Papa Stour have highly qualified teachers who, if they liked to leave the islands, could add considerably to their income, because they have quali- fications which are not fully employed in those schools. They stay because they want to stay and because they feel an obligation to stay; and they should not be penalised for it. It would be disastrous if more schools had to be closed. It would be a great pity if we had to accept lower standards.

If we want a high standard among teachers, we have to pay for it. If we want them to do the great variety of work which they have to do, then we must relieve them of some of their financial anxieties and of the unhappy feeling that they may be penalising their families by calling on their own public spirit.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)

I beg to second the Motion.

I should like to follow the methods of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). This is not an occasion for a general discussion of the broader principles embodied in these Regulations, but it is useful on such an occasion to take up one or two specific points. The hon. Member has taken a point which is of considerable importance in the life of Scotland, and, although I will not follow him in any detail, I want to reinforce the general plea which he made.

These remote school payments were based in the past, and I understand still are based, on the necessity to make additional payments in order to attract teachers to these places. The grants made in the past have by no means been wholly successful in attracting sufficient teachers where they are wanted, but it is essential that we should maintain in those places teachers of the same high quality as those who are there now. It is also important to remember that the life of Scotland and of other areas has been enriched by the high quality of the pupils who have come from many of these remote schools.

The question remains, will the grants proposed in the Regulations be sufficient, either by themselves or in association with other things, to keep the remote schools properly staffed? It would be a tragedy if we were to allow even more of a drift from the glens and the islands, but that problem will not be solved by teachers' salaries or these Regulations alone. Whatever is done about teachers must be backed by a broader and wider policy to maintain the population in useful and prosperous activities in those areas.

An additional point which I should like to raise concerns Part III of the Regulations—the question of teachers employed in further education. This is one of the more difficult matters which the Regulations touch on—I was going to say "cover", but, in fact, they do not cover these matters. The principles on which these teachers are paid has not yet been properly worked out. We do not know what are the basic ideas on which their salaries are settled. The present Regulations simply extend the position set by the 1951 Regulations, with an appropriate flat increase. That is temporarily safeguarding the position of these teachers.

It is a matter of importance and, I think, of some urgency that there should be a proper basis worked out on which salary scales for these teachers might be assessed. A working party was set up, which, the Secretary of State tells us, is now actually meeting, to go into a number of questions involved—and they are difficult and complex questions. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to tell us how the working party will help us to solve this problem. There are complex questions like the nature of the qualifications. "We cannot, in dealing with these teachers say that a qualified teacher has been through a training college and a person who has not is an unqualified teacher. That kind of thing does not suit this particular kind of work.

What are the qualifications? How are they to be assessed and worked out, and how are salaries to be based on them? There is the question, also, of their methods of negotiation, their place within the teachers' organisations, because, again, they are rather irregular and anomalous taken alongside the main body of Scottish teachers. There are, in fact, a considerable number of rather complex issues which are new to the whole business of the settling of teachers' salaries, possibly involving different methods, and certainly one or two different basic ideas.

I should like to ask the Joint Undersecretary to elucidate one or two of the complexities and let us know what happens when the working party completes its work. Does it report to the Secretary of State? Does it report to the National Joint Committee? Does the Secretary of State proceed to give the National Joint Committee new terms of reference based on this report, and, if so, what happens? How is the actual achievement of the working party to befitted in with the methods and structure used in determining salaries?

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) has been stressing to the Secretary of State in recent weeks one or two points which I should like also to underline in connection with this working party. There is the question of the personnel, though that is over and settled by now. The question of urgency has been exercising the mind of my hon. Friend, and, I think, quite rightly. It is a matter of some urgency. The Educational Institute for Scotland have suggested that the scales for these teachers ought to be worked out on a new set of principles and in operation by 1st September this year, the beginning of the new school year.

I wonder whether the Joint Undersecretary can say whether that prospect is likely to be realised at the rate of progress so far. It would seem perhaps rather optimistic. The importance of the matter, however, is considerable, because in Scotland although the day release in which these teachers are mainly engaged has been slow to grow, it has in recent years been showing some acceleration of pace, and the future is bound, if we are to supply ourselves with the craftsmen we need, to bring about not merely an increase, but, I should think, a considerable increase in this kind of work.

The evidence from all sections indicates that one of our great national needs is for skilled craftsmen and good citizens. That is why a number of hon. Members are really concerned about the necessity for working out a scheme which will properly bring teachers engaged in this particular kind of work within the orthodox framework of the teaching profession so far as salaries and other matters are concerned.

11.5 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)

I am very glad indeed that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) have drawn attention to this important problem. I should like to deal, first, with the speech of the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs because it was slightly off the beaten track. If I can deal first with the matters mentioned in that speech I can then concentrate on matters common to both hon. Members.

The hon. Member was concerned mainly with further education. I am very glad to tell him all that I can on that subject. He referred, first, to the salaries of teachers in further education and secondly to the representation that these teachers have on the negotiating body. The Association of Teachers in Further Education have complained to us, as the hon. Member very well knows, that teachers of further education are not represented on the National Joint Council, which is the supreme negotiating body in Scotland. The Secretary of State thinks that there is some force in that complaint and he is now having discussions with the National Joint Council on how best representation can be given on the Council to these teachers.

The negotiations are going on and I am sure that the hon. Member will not expect me to explain publicly what is happening. They are confidential, but I hope that in due course we shall arrive at some agreed system which will be satisfactory to both sides. He may be sure that the Secretary of State and all of us at the Scottish Office are fully aware of the importance of this matter and have great sympathy with the case which he has put forward.

The National Joint Council was asked some considerable time ago to give special consideration to salary scales which should be prescribed for whole-time teachers in further education. After long deliberations the Council submitted reports to us. We looked at them very carefully but we could not accept them. I had a meeting with the National Joint Council and as a result we agreed that there should be set up a working party of officials from the Council and the Scottish Education Department to examine the principles upon which the salaries of teachers in further education are to be based. We want to settle the principles.

That working party has had one meeting and has had a further meeting last week. It is now, I hope, getting into its stride and, as far as we can see, its work should proceed reasonably well. We hope that the working party will reach a unanimous conclusion, which they will then submit to the Secretary of State and the National Joint Council. Thereafter, it will be for the Council to make recommendations to the Secretary of State and he will then decide and issue regulations. I hope that all this will be done in time for the issue of the regulations to operate next April.

We share completely the anxieties of hon. Members about the remote schools and their desire to maintain the populations of the distant parts of the country, and their view that to maintain these populations it is essential to retain the teachers. It is because we hold that view so strongly that we have taken the steps which we have taken witoh regard to remote school payments. As the House, and certainly Scottish hon. Members, will know, these payments have been made for a number of years. They were started after the last war. Since then, they have been gradually changed and slightly extended, but this year, 1954, we have made a really substantial bound forward. If hon. Members compare the figures that are now proposed with those which existed previously they will see the extent of the advance made. It is really very substantial.

Now I want to say a few words about what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland so fairly and, I think, critically described as the hard lot of the teacher in these remote islands. He is remote, far from other families, and because he is remote, because he is so long a distance away, it costs 'him a lot of money to get his wife and children into the shopping centre. It is to meet these matters that we have set up these new proposals.

I will deal now with the question which that hon. Member put at the end of his speech. There are three sets of payments. First of all, there is the payment for teachers employed on distant islands; that type of teacher gets £40 extra. Secondly, there is employment in distant schools; here, the payment is in addition to that for the remote island, linen there are two binds of remote schools, one that is a little more remote than the other. In schools so remote the payment is £40 a year and for one exceptionally remote it is £70 a year. Therefore, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, it is possible for a teacher in a very remote school to get a payment of £110. There is a further payment of £30 which we recognise.

It would follow that we cannot really make definitions to cover every case and there is an escape, or exceptional, clause, under which teachers may get—and 1 think two or three of the teachers in Shetland are affected—not only the £110, but an additional £30 as well. The hon. Member asked that we should examine those oases with sympathy and I can assure him that that is precisely what we are doing. I can give him proof of it if he would like that, because I have here the letters that we have exchanged with the Orkney and Shetland education authorities on this matter.

The hon. Member asked us if the Orkneys had been assisted to make exceptional grants for certain exceptional schools. I have the details here if the hon. Member would like me to give them. Here is a summary. Orkney applied in the case of five schools, four are junior secondary schools, not now defined as remote schools and asked for them to be classified as remote. We agreed. One school was a remote school and had qualified for the £40 increase. The authority asked that owing to the exceptional remoteness of the school that it should be rated at £70. We agreed to that.

Shetland asked for eight schools to be classified as remote, and in the case of five already qualified for the £70, that they should be allowed the extra £30 more than the absolute maximum. The Secretary of State in all these cases has given instructions that the wishes of the authorities are to be met completely. That is proof, I think, that we have looked at all these cases in the most sympathetic spirit.

The hon. Member also made the point that these extra payments which have to be paid to teachers of remote schools should not be a cost to the local authorities, and that they should be paid for by the Government or the Scottish Education Department, or at any rate most of it borne by them. I can answer him on that point. Of course, the regulations for salaries for teachers is not entirely the proper place for providing for special grants to education authorities. That should be done in grant regulations under a different section of the Act. But we will not worry too much about that. It is for a different reason that I invite the hon. Member not to press this unduly.

There does not seem to be a very good case for amending the Regulations for the reason that these Orkney and Shetland authorities, like others similarly placed, will rank for a grant of these extra payments in the same way as they rank for grant on other payments. Orkney and Shetland get in respect of all educational expenditure a grant of over 60 per cent, from the Scottish Education Department, but they get more than that. In respect of their educational expenditure they also get Exchequer equalisation grant.

As a result of the revised method of calculating Exchequer equalisation grant which is to operate in 1954–5, the educational expenditure of Orkney and Shetland will be met approximately as follows: in the case of Orkney, from the Education (Scotland) Fund, 64 per cent. of their total expenditure; and, from Exchequer equalisation grant, an additional 28 per cent. Therefore, Orkney is left with only 8 per cent, of its total educational expenditure to be met from local rates. In the case of Shetland, the figures are precisely the same. I do not think the hon. Member can expect us to do much more than that. His councils are themselves required to meet only 8 per cent., which is not a very great deal. I hope that in those circumstances he will feel that here, too. we have been reasonably generous.

The hon. Member asked me questions on another matter. He asked, in effect, who is to assess whether a school is remote and who is to assess what is a "centre of population." The answer in every case is that this will be decided by the local education authority. It could not be anyone else. We hope that these local education authorities will apply a sympathetic outlook in all these matters. For example, in considering whether to recognise a "centre of population," for the purposes of the Regulation, education authorities should have regard to such things as whether the place in question is a recognised shopping centre. They must use their common sense in this. Modest shopping facilities should be regarded as sufficient to fulfil the requirement, and recognition should not be withheld—to put it the other way round—merely because there does not happen to be a dentist or a cinema in the place. Authorities should not refuse to recognise a route solely because there is a shorter alternative, if the longer route is the one customarily employed by local people.

The question of what is sheltered and what is exposed water is, I agree, difficult to decide and around Orkney one would expect very little sheltered water, but experts tell me that that is not so. The decision should be made in the light of local knowledge and it is suggested— I offer this to the hon. Member—that waters like the Firth of Clyde north of a line from Campbeltown to Ayr, Loch Linnhe, Scapa Flow or the Wide Firth of Orkney should be regarded as sheltered and even short crossings such as those in the peripheral waters of the Orkneys, the Shetlands or the Outer Hebrides should be regarded as exposed. That is merely a broad hint to local authorities as to the methods by which they might proceed. Having given that explanation of these various matters I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that we are very much with him. We have taken great pains to meet the desires of the local authorities, and I therefore hope that he will not wish to press the Prayer.

Hon. Members will recall that in a recent case the arbiter appointed by the National Joint Council asked us to look into this matter. We responded immediately, by getting into touch with all the local education authorities to discuss what the Highlands, and some of the South-West counties, and so on, wanted. We wrote to them, and said, "This is roughly what we think should be done. If you have any other ideas to suggest, please let us know." We produced draft Regulations, which were submitted to the local authorities and were again sent back to us. The result is here.

While I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that these Regulations may seem complicated to the layman like him and me, there is no doubt that they are understood by the local education authorities. The proof is that no sooner were the Regulations published than the two local education authorities in the hon. Gentleman's constituency wrote to us asking the Secretary of State to make use of his special powers under Regulation 9. We have looked at this problem sympathetically and, indeed, generously, and therefore I ask whether the hon. Gentleman will not seek leave to withdraw the Prayer.

11.23 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

The House is grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary for the exposition he has given on the Regulations and for the patience he has shown in going into these difficult questions. I should not be on my feet if he had not said that the Secretary of State was willing to consider any alternative arrangement, something that would leave out elaborate calculations.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I would not like my hon. Friend to be misled. I said that the Secretary of State was very glad if authorities, like those of Orkney and Shetland, with claims to make, would make them quickly.

Sir W. Darling

Even if I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman I should be the last to believe that he could not listen to a sentence or two from me. This is not a question of teachers, but of depopulation of the Highlands. I hope the hon. Gentleman will convey that idea to colleagues.

Mr. Grimond

Before I ask to withdraw the Prayer I should like to thank the Joint Undersecretary of State, and ask him to convey to the Chancellor of the Exchequer our hope that he will not put off relief of Income Tax to Orkney and Shetland. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.