HC Deb 02 December 1974 vol 882 cc1117-31
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the pay of teachers in Scotland.

The House will recall that on 15th November I said that Lord Houghton had told the Secretary of State for Education and Science and myself that his committee thought that it would have determined the broad basis of its recommenda- tions by about the beginning of December and would then be able to suggest a flat-rate sum, which would not conflict with its conclusions, which could be paid to teachers by the end of December or early thereafter, depending on local circumstances.

Late on Thursday, 28th November Lord Houghton told us it would not prejudice the final recommendations of his committee if a lump sum payment of £100 gross were paid to those qualified teachers within its terms of reference who had been in full-time employment since 24th May 1974. This information was conveyed on Friday morning to both sides of the Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee, and a meeting of the Negotiating Sub-Committee was held in the afternoon.

I regret to say that the Teachers' Side refused to accept an offer by the Management Side for a payment to be made in December on the lines indicated by the Houghton Committee. They regarded the amount as far below what they thought it reasonable to expect, and they broke off the discussions.

The sum of £100 took account of what would be due to teachers as back pay from 24th May to 31st December. It was therefore equivalent to an increase in the annual rate of remuneration of £164. This represents an increase of over 11 per cent. on the 24th May salary of the lowest-paid teacher.

In addition, the teachers have received threshold payments which are now running at a rate of £230 per annum. These payments, which represent an increase of 16 per cent. for the lowest-paid teacher, continue unaffected by the proposed payment to account. The lowest-paid teacher would therefore in December be being paid at a rate of 27 per cent. more than in May, and all teachers would have had significant increases.

Moreover, I must stress again that what is at issue at the moment is merely a payment to account. The substantive Houghton recommendations to be backdated to 24th May are still to come.

I know that many teachers had been looking forward to an additional payment in December in the light of my earlier assurances. I am sorry that this has been rejected out of hand by their own negotiators, but the payment is still available if they wish to accept it. I am sure that all Members of the House will regret as much as I do this outcome of the efforts made to ensure that teachers had a payment to account in December.

The Houghton Committee is, of course, an independent body, and any recommendations it makes on interim or substantive payments are a matter for it alone. The final recommendations of the committee will not be affected by strikes or other forms of disruptive action by Scottish teachers in the next few weeks.

I am sorry to say that the disruption in the schools is continuing.

With the report expected by Christmas, there is no justification for this continued action by teachers, which is seriously damaging the education of our children. I would urge the teachers to have second thoughts, to return to normal working, and to await negotiations on the full Houghton Report, which can begin as soon as the report is available.

Mr. Monro

I thank the Secretary of State for making his statement at the earliest possible moment, but I fear that he has done nothing to cool tempers. Is he aware that I am as anxious as he is that teachers return to work with good will and cease strike action and the disruption of examinations? Is he also aware that the blame for this unprecedented crisis rests with him? The Secretary of State and his colleagues scrapped the relativities procedure for a quick pay increase in the spring. He failed to introduce a new designation scheme in July and refused an interim award in October. Why does he stand by while industry obtains awards of over 30 per cent. and he offers teachers a derisory interim award of 4 per cent.? Is he aware that his attitude is bound to escalate matters, and that thousands of teachers walked out of school this morning?

Will the right hon. Gentleman do one of two things, either reconvene the STSC and put to it at once a realistic interim award for December and not hide behind procedure, or announce contingency plans for carrying on education in Scotland? Unless the right hon. Gentleman does so, he will have failed education, the children and the parents, and he ought to resign.

Mr. Ross

I have already resigned myself to the predictable fatuity of the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). I am sorry that a man who should know better and for whom I have considerable regard— the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro)—should have joined in this competition for irresponsibility.

He should know that the last substantive increase that the teachers of Scotland obtained was under his statutory policy and that amounted to 7½ per cent. to 8 per cent. The hon. Gentleman talks about relativities. He should know that the teachers asked at the STSC in February for a relativities procedure to be set up and they were turned down by the management side because there was no machinery. The hon. Gentleman himself in the February election wrote an article for the EIS journal in which he contrived not to mention salaries at all. He must accept his responsibility for the conditions in the schools. I am prepared to accept my share, but he must accept his. These are facts.

With reference to the new designation scheme, the hon. Gentleman should know that we have made available £1.4 million more, added to the existing £900,000. The money is there for negotiation, which I hope will be undertaken quickly. It will mean improvements in respect of the number of teachers covered, which will be increased by nearly 1,000 to 6,000 and improves the rates, as well as introducing a two-tier system. The hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties which arose about that.

He suggests that we are offering 4 per cent. What we are offering is an interim payment on the settlement resulting from a report which has not yet been published. I do not know how anyone can anticipate that report by making any other offer. I welcome the fact that Lord Houghton and his committee decided that they would make a recommendation and anticipate their own report. They are the only people who are able to do so.

It is the height of irresponsibility for the hon. Gentleman to speak as he has spoken, bearing in mind that with threshold payments and with this offer, teachers who have been in full-time employment since 24th May would receive about £7 a week more. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ask us to condemn certain actions. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Dumfries has not condemned these actions by teachers and particularly the suggestion that examinations should be sabotaged.

Mr. Buchanan

Is the Secretary of State aware that this major review was set up to correct the fact that teachers were falling further and further behind their contemporaries in the matter of salaries? It is quite unfair to bring in the question of threshold agreements, because everyone is getting threshold payments. Is he aware that there will be no education at all in Scotland until a satisfactory settlement is reached? We hope that this offer of £100 does not reflect the noble Lord's thinking. Local education authorities in Scotland—my right hon. Friend will be aware that this is a measure of their thinking—have agreed to pay sums ranging from £200 to £300. Will he do all in his power and influence to reach a settlement as quickly as possible?

Mr. Ross

That is my hope and intention. That is one of the reasons why I suggested in the first place an interim settlement, and then I thought it would be possible to get an interim settlement with something in the pay packet in December. I have had very little thanks for my efforts and very little help from hon. Members opposite. We should bear in mind that we met the requirements of the teachers, and they welcomed it, when we set up the Houghton Committee.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Too long.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman says it is too long. In relation to one item, London weighting, the Pay Board received that proposal in October 1973 and it was not paid until October 1974. What we did was to ask Lord Houghton's Committee for a comprehensive review of the salary scales and structure. It has not been too long, and most of the responsible teachers to whom I have spoken want it not to be short-circuited but want the committee to do a good job.

Mr. David Steel

Does the Secretary of State recognise that his own statement that £164 in a full year represents 11 per cent. to the lowest-paid teachers serves merely to illustrate dramatically how appallingly low paid are some of those who are responsible for teaching Scottish children? Was the right hon. Gentleman surprised when the amount offered was regarded as far below what the teachers thought it reasonable to expect? If he were, he must be the only one to be surprised among all the 71 Scottish Members of Parliament, since all the public discussion was centred upon whether it would be £10 or £15 a week. If the Secretary of State has nothing constructive to offer Scotland in order to get a settlement and see education restarted in Scotland, does he not agree that he should resign?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that we have already taken action to meet the justified claim that teachers had fallen behind. The final recommendations of Houghton, and the settlement, will put that right. What we are talking about here, however, is an interim payment to account, which will not affect that final settlement, and the only people who can give us an indication whether what is suggested now cuts across the final recommendations are the members of Lord Houghton's committee itself. But it would be quite wrong to deduce from the suggestion of £100 any idea of what those final recommendations may be.

Mr. Steel

Why not make it larger, then?

Mr. Ross

The only people who could make it larger now or who would be able to suggest whether it would be right to make it larger now are the people responsible for the final recommendations.

The other alternative was to wait until the report came out, before Christmas, and thereafter consider it. I do not rule out that when we receive the report we can reconsider the matter again in relation to continuing payments or further interim payments. That is a possibility.

Mr. Dempsey

Will my right hon. Friend take it that the offer of £100 as an interim payment is regarded as a positive insult to the teachers of Scotland, especially after deductions for superannuation and income tax? Has my right hon. Friend any authority at least to double the offer since, whether we like it or not, education has now been put in dire peril in Scotland? Further, will my right hon. Friend tell us whether the Cabinet is aware of the seriousness of the situation which has arisen and is ready to take steps to give a substantial increase of an interim nature to teachers to get them back to school and so saving the coming generation of Scottish school children?

Mr. Ross

We have to act here with a sense of responsibility in relation to what we have done and what has already happened. I say again that the only people who know, or who will know, whether what is put forward as an interim payment is appropriate are the members of Lord Houghton's committee. That committee could have told me to mind my own business and wait for the outcome of its work. Hon. Members should remember that in October—I think that it was 10th October—the committee was asked by various people to produce an interim report, but it said "No" because to do that would turn it aside from the main task, and the committee wanted to get on quickly with the job it was given.

Bearing in mind that we expect the report before Christmas, I think it disgraceful that some hon. Members should take the attitude of failing to do everything they can to get teachers to accept normal working. I overheard a remark from the SNP benches a few moments ago to the effect that this was not happening in London. Members of the Scottish National Party know quite well that teachers in secondary schools are better paid in Scotland than they are in London. At the top of the scale, a teacher with first-class honours is receiving £360 a year more than his counterpart in England. There has been misrepresentation of the Scottish-English position which does no credit to hon. Members in the teaching profession who sit on those benches.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Will the Secretary of State realise that he does not help the children in our Scottish schools or our teachers if he persists in believing that he is right and everyone else, including all the teachers' associations, is wrong? Second, on a more serious point, does the Secretary of State say in the last part of his statement that when education in Scotland is breaking down he has no new proposals of any sort until the Houghton Report comes out round about Christmas?

Mr. Ross

I am saying that the offer is still open, and anything that arises in further discussion from that offer is a matter for the teachers to take up. As regards proposals in relation to the Houghton Report, we can get on with them very quickly, depending, of course, on the STSC. Furthermore, let it be borne in mind that the statutory position is that I cannot pay anything at all by way of an increase unless there is agreement and a recommendation from the STSC.

Mr. Dalyell

Was the £100 award known to the Secretary of State before Lord Houghton communicated it to the negotiators? Second, is there any chance of an interim payment from January as a way out?

Mr. Ross

It was not known to me. I did not regard it, and I do not regard it, as right for any Minister to interfere with an independent committee in its task. But when Lord Houghton offered it, I accepted his offer and was grateful for it. As regards what happens as soon as we see the Houghton Report, that is for the STSC, which will be making its decisions in the light of Houghton's final recommendations.

Mrs. Bain

First, I congratulate the Secretary of State on uniting the teaching profession in Scotland to a level never before witnessed in its history. Next, for clarification, may we be told who has the ultimate responsibility for accepting the £100 recommendation as an interim award? If the Secretary of State willingly accepted it, does that not show that he ought to resign since he is not in touch with what is happening in Scotland? If, on the other hand, he unwillingly accepted the £100, ought he not to make clear to the people of Scotland that he is subject to pressures within the Cabinet and cannot represent the interests of the Scottish people? On that score also, should he not resign?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Lady talks about greater unity in the Scottish teaching profession than ever before in its history. I wonder how long she has been in the teaching profession. I have been in it a long time. I have provided quite a number of teachers from my own family, and I think that I am well aware of what is happening in the teaching profession. The hon. Lady should appreciate that the one thing which can always guarantee unity among teachers is salaries, and the one thing guaranteed to create disunity among teachers is the way a global salaries sum is divided. As a woman teacher, she ought to appreciate that.

The Secretary of State is not responsible for the division among the various categories. Generally speaking, that is the responsibility of the Teachers' Side themselves. What the hon. Lady fails to realise, and fails to get over to everyone interested in the Houghton committee and its final recommendations, is that if teachers have more now they will get less later, and if they have less now they will get more later. There are very few people in this country with knowledge that whatever settlement comes to them is to be back-dated to 24th May. Other people do not know that. This is an addition to make up for the failures of the statutory pay policy, which was finalised and paid back to 1st April. No other organisation, apart from the nurses, has had that treatment.

Mr. Gourlay

Will my right hon. Friend take it from me, as one who tried to persuade teachers to resume normal working pending the interim Houghton announcement last week, that the decision to make the £100 payment was greeted by both the teachers and the parents with disillusionment and dismay? Only today I received a petition from 95 pupils of the Balwearie High School, Kirkcaldy which indicates how their education is being interrupted. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that if the teachers were to accept this interim payment he would, on examining the final report from Houghton, make a further interim payment in January?

Mr. Ross

Of course, that is not ruled out. That is of the very essence. Then the STSC is free to do what it wants to do over the final recommendations of the Houghton Committee.

Mr. Gray

There are many Members on the Opposition side who, unlike the SNP Members, are not prepared to make political capital out of the position in which the teaching profession finds itself. However, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the proposal of nearly £100 as an interim payment is as bitter a blow to us as it is to the profession and that the profession sees it merely as a way for the right hon. Gentleman to get himself off the hook? Will he now in Cabinet try to increase the advance to the profession over and above the £100 which has been recommended, because only by doing that can he hope to regain its confidence.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Member should appreciate that we are dealing here with an interim award in advance of a final decision by the Houghton Committee. Until we know what the committee will recommend, it is difficult to assess how that interim payment will be made up. The issue must be reconsidered after we have seen the final report in two or three weeks' time. I hope that the teachers will accept this award in the meantime as a payment on account and then proceed to further negotiations and complete the whole matter very speedily.

It first arose in September before the General Election. At the election the Conservatives said in their manifesto: We will consider sympathetically the recommendations of Lord Houghton's Committee on Teachers' Salaries. That was all they had to say. It is now a bit late for them to wake up and realise what has happened and to step away from their responsibilities in this way.

Mr. Sillars

There is a very grave fear among teachers that the £100 payment on account is indicative of what they are likely to get when the Houghton Committee finally reports. If they are wrong in drawing that conclusion, is this not the most stupid act we have had from Houghton since he misled the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1971? We cannot allow this situation to boil on for another two or three weeks. We are facing not an educational situation but, in essence, an industrial dispute of a highly developed character. The only thing which will talk in that situation is money, and we shall have to talk louder than we have talked over the last two or three days. Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is as unrealistic for him to ask the teachers to go back before Houghton reports as it was for the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), when he was Prime Minister, to tell the miner to go back before Wilberforce had reported?

Mr. Ross

I do not accept the relevance of my hon. Friend's comparisons. Money has already been offered. The teachers also know that a committee which they welcomed is working on the matter and will produce its final recommendations in two to three weeks. Very few people are in that position. There is also a possibility that as soon as we see the Houghton recommendations we should be able to make decisions about what will happen in January provided the teachers get down to a quick consideration of the issue. My hon. Friend is being unfair to Lord Houghton's Committee and to the Government in what he said.

Mr. Peyton

Is this an occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman is right in thinking that attack is the best form of defence? I hope he will convey to the Leader of the House that many of my hon. Friends who have questioned him today about this very serious matter are far from satisfied, will wish to have a debate on the matter in the House and hope that it will be in Government time.

Mr. Ross

I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman said about a debate. I have taken note of what the other hon. Members said today and on other occasions, and I regret some of those things which were said not just today but even before Lord Houghton's Committee was able to make its interim recommendation. There has been a certain amount of anticipation of this by some Conservative Members and I am entitled to remind them of what they have done on the matter.

Mr. James White

I agree with a great deal of what my right hon. Friend said. I am a little dismayed that this matter has been made a party issue. I am not impressed by the argument about how long the London teachers waited. Teachers have been second-class citizens under successive Governments. More money must be brought forward very quickly because the teachers see Rolls-Royce workers, lorry drivers and other trade unions with muscle getting £8 or £10 a week rises while their position drags on. I am worried because we cannot backdate the education of children who are missing it today.

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend's final point is the most serious of the whole matter. When he talks about relativities he should bear in mind that it was a Labour Government who accepted that the teachers had a case and set up the Houghton Committee to look into it. Having given the committee a task, we are duty bound to wait and not to cut across that task with interim payments that might in the long run make that much more difficult a final acceptance by the teachers of a solution.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware from what has been said today that there is considerable concern throughout Scotland and in his own party about the factual position of teachers, namely, that the offer which has been made is inadequate, that there is educational chaos in Scotland, that children's examinations are being jeopardised, and that other children are left from school? Will he, in these circumstances, emerge from his King Canute posture before the waters overwhelm him and make an increased offer which will be acceptable to the Scottish teachers?

Mr. Harry Ewing

That was a bit better than normal.

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend says that the hon. Gentleman's contribution was a little better than normal. I am sorry that he should have to go to Denmark to find a king. He might have found a better one in Scotland in connection with trying, trying and trying again. That is what we have been doing to meet the needs of the teachers, not just on an interim payment but on an interim payment in advance of Houghton. There the difficulty arises. If the hon. Member would join us in trying to cool the situation instead of getting easy cheers and advancing the case for claims that are way beyond even what has been considered by the teachers, he would do more credit to himself and his party.

Mr. Lambie

While we are all disappointed at the figure of £100, will my right hon. Friend remind Mr. John Pollock and the leaders of the EIS that the interim award is more than the 10 per cent. interim award they asked for young teachers in the primary schools? Will my right hon. Friend remind the teachers that in the period from 1970 to 1974 they accepted average wage awards of between 7 per cent. and 8 per cent. which ment for them a declining standard of living, yet they did not strike once against a Conservative Government? Will he remind the teachers that they are winning, that under the Labour Government they are being granted everything they have asked for in the last two years—and I say that as a former teachers' leader.

Will my right hon. Friend remind the teachers that under the Labour Government they have been granted an independent, in-depth inquiry to investigate not only the relative position of teachers' salaries but the differentials between certain grades of salary structure, and that, moreover, they have been granted threshold agreements which will give the young teachers in the Scottish schools, if the EIS accepts it, a £7-a-week rise in their December pay cheque, compared to last April?

Will my right hon. Friend also remind the teachers that it is their job and that of their leaders to implement the Houghton recommendations immediately the committee reports, and that that will give the teachers the biggest rise they have ever had?

Will my right hon. Friend also—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long".] Sometimes hon. Members do not like the truth. Will my right hon. Friend tell the teachers that immediately Houghton is settled they can start negotiations for the further increase in salaries to come into effect on 1st April 1975, and that this will give the teachers the best deal within a year they have had during my 19 years in the teaching profession?

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend has said everything that could be said. I am sure that it comes better from him than it does from me, because I bear in mind that the last time we had a teachers' strike in Scotland, he led it.

Mr. Galbraith

Is the Secretary of State aware that while I was listening to his statement I received a telegram from the Scottish teachers seeking justice for Scottish education? The telegram contains serious words. Some other hon. Members may have received them, but I received them while the right hon. Gentleman was talking. We should beware of jumping on a popular bandwagon and demanding inflationary settlements for all classes and sections of the community with whom we have sympathy. I am not certain whether I heard the right hon. Gentleman aright. Did he say that since May—seven months ago—the increase amounted to 27 per cent.? If so, will he tell the House, because one can do anything with percentages, how much in hard cash the lowest paid will receive each month?

Mr. Ross

With threshold payments of £230 and this proposed payment of £164 the increase for all teachers since 24th May is £394 per year. That means for the lowest-paid teacher an increase of 27 per cent. so far. What must also be borne in mind is that there is more coming, and that that more is to be back-dated to 24th May. The Government have accepted that the Houghton settlement will be paid from that date. Let us face the facts and figures, and realise that the teachers have not been standing still since 1st April.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration; namely, the breakdown in negotiations in the Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee. There can be no doubt that the matter is serious and urgent, as you will have heard from the exchanges this afternoon, Mr. Speaker. I cannot recall, nor can any of my colleagues, a previous occasion on which the problems of education in Scotland have been so great as they are today or when the outlook has been so bleak. In our view, the matter requires an immediate debate because, despite what has been said on both sides of the House today, unless a new initiative is taken there is every indication that serious and irreversible damage will be done to the education and careers prospects of Scottish schoolchildren.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) asks me to allow an application under Standing Order No. 9 for a debate on the breakdown of negotiations in the Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee. The hon. Gentleman gave me notice that he would raise the matter, and I had formed a preliminary view of what my answer was likely to be, which is why I allowed questions to go on for as long as I did on the statement of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

I am not prepared to allow a debate and disrupt the business of the House already fixed. There is, clearly, substantial feeling about the matter in the House, and no doubt those who arrange these matters will discuss how to debate it further. But as to the application under Standing Order No. 9, the answer is "No".