HC Deb 28 January 1969 vol 776 cc1110-4

Mr. Ian MacArthur (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement in view of the varying decisions on the dismissal of teachers taken by local authorities in Scotland yesterday.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

Education authorities have a duty to comply with the requirements of the Schools (Scotland) Code as regards the employment of teachers.

I regret that some authorities must now be regarded as in default in respect of that duty, and I therefore consider that I have no alternative but to invoke the powers of enforcement available to me under Section 71 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1962.

Mr. MacArthur

Will the Minister not agree that the situation is one of total confusion? In the interest of children and of education, will he now take a new initiative to encourage those teachers who have not registered to do so, such as announcing that a review of the constitution of the General Teaching Council will definitely be held shortly?

Mr. Ross

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is confusion. Following the Act of Parliament passed in 1965, and the Regulations made under it, it is absolutely clear that from 1st April last year it has been the duty of teachers to register. We have given them plenty of time to do so. If there is any confusion it has been caused by a very aggressive minority setting themselves against this regulation.

A review would not change the regulation. This situation would still exist. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that on 21st January I said that I was prepared to have an earlier review, and that what I wanted was an indication from those mainly concerned that they, too, wanted it. I still stand by that.

Mr. Woodburn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will give great satisfaction to the majority of teachers in Scotland, whose representatives told hon. Members this morning how alarmed they were at lest the behaviour of this small minority might create conditions under which this legislation would be frustrated and this reform, which Scottish teachers have secured in advance of any other country, would be destroyed by the foolishness of a few people?

Mr. Ross

My right hon. Friend is correct in saying that this is a desirable reform and one to the great credit of this House and the teaching profession. When one bears in mind that the number of certificated teachers and new entrants who have registered is 49,398, and that the unregistered minority is 776, one can see how regrettable it is that this situation has arisen over such a small minority.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

In view of the threat of dismissal, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the small number remaining unregistered is a reliable guide to those who have registered willingly? As the two sides are so close, would the G.T.C. be in favour of a review at an early date which, in my view, might bring an end to a situation which could poison relations in Scottish education for years?

Mr. Ross

What might poison relations in education in Scotland for years is the failure to get unity within the teaching profession and the battle between the unions continuing. As a former teacher, I have set myself the task of trying to get unity, and I thought that it was possible within the G.T.C. I hope that it is still possible. That is why those who have not registered should register, and we should try to create something to the advantage of the teaching profession. I am sure that the House appreciates what the Secretary of State for Scotland has given up in terms of his previous powers, and now fine an instrument this could be.

Miss Herbison

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he will have the backing of the vast majority of hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies, just as we realised, even before the meeting today, that he has the backing of the vast majority of teachers in Scotland? Is he also aware that this small minority, for whom the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) makes continual representations, has aroused the disgust of many people in Scotland by instigating and leading the demonstrations that were seen in Glasgow and other places yesterday? Those of us who have anything to do with the teaching profession feel that this conduct is quite shocking, since it is due to a squalid inter-union wrangle.

Mr. Ross

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is expressing the feelings of many about the scenes yesterday, where children were led by some pied pipers and, obviously, did not know what it was all about. I have not sought to compete with the vituperative hysteria of some of the disputants. I hope that they will come to their senses quickly, appreciate what all this means for the education of children and the status of the profession, and register.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

While it is to be hoped that the G.T.C. will be strengthened in due course by the full registration of teachers, will the Secretary of State none the less introduce urgently some flexibility to avoid the loss of a number of teachers whose services in Scotland we cannot afford to lose?

Mr. Ross

It is clear from what was said by my hon. Friend in November and from what I said last week that our approach is not inflexible. We have given every indication of our willingness to have this review. We do not want to lose teachers, and I am sure that we all regret that the teachers should have felt it necessary to put themselves into this position.

May I do now what I should have done at the outset, congratulate the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Gordon Campbell) on his occupancy of his new position on the Opposition Front Bench? May he long be spared to occupy it.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will not authorise a review until he extracts from the three main associations an assurance that they will advise their members to register, and will not pander to an unofficial organisation?

Mr. Ross

I do not want to make any review conditional and as inflexible as that. However, I hope that it will be appreciated that there cannot be a review of the G.T.C. until we are sure that there is a G.T.C.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Secretary of State accept that the dismissal of this minority cannot do anyone any good, and that there is some evidence that even the majority of teachers who have registered are not entirely happy with the constitution of the G.T.C? In those circumstances, when he talks about an early review, will he undertake to authorise a review before the end of the first year of operation of the G.T.C, which is in April of this year? I understand that that will influence a lot of unregistered teachers to register.

Mr. Ross

I do not want to commit myself to a date. I have said already that I want an early review, and, by that, I do not mean next year. We all regret the position of the teachers, and hope that they will appreciate the importance of this to their own profession and to the children.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that the majority of teachers who have registered have some criticisms. That is true of any organisation. No organisation is perfect. I hope that we shall make improvements as we go on. However, improvements can only be made once the organisation is stabilised, and that is what we must do.

Mr. Lawson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, basically, this is an inter-union dispute, and that a very small union has been blatantly dishonest in attacking the General Teaching Council and my right hon. Friend? I hope that he will not give way to this small minority, but will see that he moves in step with the large majority of teachers who support the G.T.C.

Mr. Ross

I am not concerned about attacks on myself. I am used to them. What I have been concerned to do as Secretary of State—and, in this, I have had the support of all parties until recently—is what we thought best and what we thought the teaching profession wanted. I still think that it is what the majority of teachers want.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Bessell.