HC Deb 04 December 1974 vol 882 cc1782-810

3.26 a.m.

Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

All sides agree that a conciliation and arbitration service may play a very valuable rôle in the settling of industrial disputes throughout the United Kingdom in time to come, although that service has as yet played no rôle in settling the present teachers' dispute in Scotland. Many hon. Members might consider that to be most unfortunate. After all, what better example have we had of the undesirability of ministerial intervention in pay disputes than the disastrous consequences of the role played by the present Secretary of State for Scotland in the present teachers' dispute?

We have seen in recent weeks how a once moderate and responsible profession has been driven step by step into an unprecedented militancy and how the interventions and statements by the Government have merely aroused the passions and fanned the flames of resentment and irritation.

Let no one in any way diminish the seriousness of the situation we now face. We have seen not only a virtual shut down in Scottish education during the last few days but virtually every school closed and every child in Scotland barred from his educational rights. Although the Government are never anything other than enthusiastic in reminding us how they, and they alone, ended the three-day week in Britain, there are today 1 million Scottish school children who would welcome a three-day week. They have not had it in recent weeks and they do not seem likely to have it in the weeks to come.

In considering the contribution that a conciliation and arbitration service can make to this problem, we have to consider the Government's actions in this dispute in recent weeks. The Government must bear considerable responsibility for the events that have occurred. I do not doubt that they have the best of intentions in the dispute that we are now facing. However, it is clear that the intervention of the Government and the part played by the Secretary of State have had very serious consequences.

If one were to listen to the pious platitudes of the Government one might believe that their contribution to this problem had been productive. They would have us believe that their effect on education was as conclusive as that of General Booth on the Salvation Army— and I mean no offence to the Minister of State who is to reply to the debate.

The Government's contribution has undoubtedly led to an exacerbation of the problem. It has created an unprecedented militancy among members of a profession noted for moderation and diplomacy.

Let us consider the course of action we have seen throughout the period of the dispute. We saw how the initial problem was created by the dismantling of the original relativities procedure, which was set up by the previous Government and which, if it had continued, would have allowed a settlement of this dispute last summer. We have seen the establishment of a deep and penetrating inquiry into the nature of teachers' pay. We welcome that.

It is clear that no attempt has been made to meet the immediate needs of the teaching profession throughout Scotland. The Government, as recently as the end of October, maintained the utter impos- sibility of making any interim award in advance of the final recommendations of the Houghton Committee. They said as much on 30th October.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Robert Hughes) indicated dissent.

Mr. Rifkind

The Minister shakes his head. Let me remind him of the words of the Secretary of State during the Debate on the Address, when he said: … the Houghton Committee was carrying out a comprehensive review of teachers' pay. If the report of the committee were likely to be long delayed, and if during the period between the appointment of the committee and publication of its report teachers' salaries were likely to be substantially eroded, that would certainly be an argument for making an interim payment now. Frankly, neither of those conditions applies. Any interim payment now might cut across the recommendations of the Houghton Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October 1974; Vol. 880, c. 370.] There we have the uncompromising position of the Secretary of State on 30th October that any interim award in advance of the recommendations of the Houghton Committee was out of the question. But what happened——

Mr. Robert Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is being most unfair. He is making an attack on the Secretary of State when he knows that my right hon. Friend is precluded from replying to it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come to the subject of the debate.

Mr. Rifkind

On the contrary, the Secretary of State is quite able to be present and to intervene if he disagrees with any of my arguments. We are considering the effect of not using the Conciliation and Arbitration Service and the way in which the teachers' dispute has proceeded.

On 30th October, the Secretary of State ruled out any question of an interim award. However, two weeks later he announced the payment of an interim award, clearly as a result of the militancy that we had seen. We welcomed the announcement of the interim award. We thought that it was the beginning of a proper relationship with the teaching profession in Scotland. But, sadly, when the amount of the interim award was announced, it proved to be the cruellest blow of all.

On the Friday when the message came through, I was addressing 50 teachers in my constituency. It was announced that the interim award was to be £100 which, after tax and superannuation, represented a mere £60. The reaction of the teaching profession was one of immediate feelings of insult, fury and anger.

The major cause for concern, however, is not the amount of the interim award. It is the implications of it. If an award of £100 at this stage is considered the maximum which can be made consistent——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

The hon. Gentleman is getting on to rather thin ice. He is quite in order in discussing the conciliation procedure and what arises out of it, but we want to keep clear of the award which has been made, because the dispute itself is rather different. We are dealing with conciliation and the Vote under which it has been raised.

Mr. Rifkind

I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, when we are considering the contribution which can be made by the Conciliation and Arbitration Service to a dispute such as the present teachers' dispute in Scotland, we have to look at what is being achieved by the method by which the Government are seeking to solve that dispute, instead of using the Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

What frightens me is not only the anger and hostility of the teaching profession, and not only that people who have gone through colleges of education are not entering the profession, but that existing teachers are leaving by the dozen. I have received a number of letters on the subject, and yesterday I had one from a constituent saying: After fourteen years in teaching, I now see no future in an education system for which I gave so much of my own time and energy, if the Government continues in its present attitude. I am now trying to find out what alternative employment I could take up and thus withdraw from a job where discontent increases month by month and few seem to care about the difficulties teachers face daily. In a situation where the Government maintain repeatedly that they have a new contribution to make to the conciliation of industrial problems and where they put forward the Conciliation and Arbitration Service as a brand new technique for dealing with all types of industrial disputes, it is a sad comment on the worth of the overall proposals and their contribution to the solution of industrial problems that in Scotland we face a degree of militancy and disruption which is totally unprecedented in the whole of Scottish history.

I suggest that we need a new departure by the Government in appealing not only to the teachers but also to all those who support the objective of the teachers.

It has been made clear again and again by many hon. Members on both sides of the House that while there is general support for the teachers' objectives there is widespread feeling following the statement made on Monday that the tactics presently being employed by the Government are only to be regretted. It becomes increasingly difficult for hon. Members to persuade teachers not to indulge in sabotage of examinations or in massive strike activity when it becomes clear that only that sort of action will meet with a response from the Government in their handling of the dispute.

We have heard that the Government are prepared to meet the Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee on Friday. I make a final appeal. In doing so I believe that I speak for all back benchers. I ask the Government to look upon the Friday meeting as a last opportunity to prevent additional disruption over the weeks and months to come. I ask them to go to the meeting determined to reach a settlement. I ask them to offer the sort of circumstances and conditions that could achieve a settlement. Scotland is waiting to hear of a generous, rational and constructive approach on the part of the Government. In the absence of such an approach it is clear that we can look forward only to continued disruption in the months to come.

3.37 a.m.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) for giving us the opportunity to discuss some aspects of the Scottish teachers' dispute, albeit in a rather roundabout and devious way.

I contribute to the debate because until the recent General Election I was employed as a teacher in a Scottish school. I have spent the majority of my working life teaching and earning my living in a Scottish school and I know what low pay and poor conditions mean for teachers. I was also active in the trade union movement within the teaching profession. I have always thought that to be the best way to go about improving pay and conditions. I have not expected Government or external agencies to come immediately to the scene. I believe that working people should help themselves. Teachers are working people and they have the makings of a fairly well-organised trade union system in Scotland if only they will use it.

I also have an interest in the consumer side of education. Two of my children missed a day's education yesterday because of the strike. In my constituency the effect of the education strike has been exacerbated by the effect of the bus strike. There are no railway stations in my constituency and public transport has come almost to a standstill. Even if the children manage to get on a bus and get to school they find that there is no teacher to teach them.

Is it right to look to the CAS to settle this dispute? To find an answer we must consider briefly the history of the dispute. Many teachers in Scottish classrooms and staffrooms sat quietly and passively through phases 1, 2 and 3 of the Conservative Government's pay policy. Hardly a whimper was heard. They touched their forelocks, accepted their money and that was it. There was no marching in the streets. No antagonism was directed towards the Government. There was no call for an appeal to any outside agency such as the CAS. Of course, the Conservative Government had never dreamed of such an agency.

It is important to realise that we are now in a phase in which we are moving out of statutory wage restraint into a new era of voluntary collective bargaining. We have a social contract with guidelines.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

Oh !

Mr. Canavan

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) may make his exclamations, but the social contract will work. It is obvious that Conservative Members do not want it to work. They are determined to kill it practically before it is born. But certainly the social contract is the only key to industrial peace in this country. Hon. Members of the Opposition would do well to remember that and to co-operate with it.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether we can look forward— hoping, indeed, that it does work—to the Ministers who are colleagues of the Secretary of State for Scotland showing the same inane stubbornness in settling, for instance, the claims of the National Union of Mineworkers as they are showing with the teachers?

Mr. Canavan

I shall develop my argument with regard to the teachers as I move on in my speech. The teachers got fairly preferential treatment, as I shall point out later. But what is lurking at the back of many people's minds, including teachers' minds, is that some form of statutory wage restraint will be reimposed. I have already said publicly, and I repeat it now, that I would be one Member of Parliament who would vote against such a measure if it ever reached the stage of being debated here, and there would probably be a majority who would follow me.

However, before the CAS got under way one of the first things which the Labour Government did, on return to power after the February election, was to recognise that there were certain categories of workers who had fallen behind in the whole business of wage relativities. Two of those categories were nurses and teachers—not surprisingly, perhaps, both in the public sector. Accordingly, with the approval of the nursing profession and the teaching profession, the Labour Government set up the Halsbury Committee in respect of the nurses and the Houghton Committee in respect of the teachers. The Houghton Committee has come in for a lot of criticism, especially at Question Time the other day. But it would be unworthy of us not to recognise that Houghton's task was difficult.

Houghton's job was not just to cover the global sum for teachers' salaries in England, Wales and Scotland but also to cover the different salary structures and scales in England, Wales and Scotland. Anyone who knows anything about the teaching profession and the number of scales in operation, both north and south of the border, and who knows anything about the arguments which take place within the profession about differentials, different qualifications and so on, must realise that Houghton's task was not easy.

It was the teachers who wanted Houghton to cover not merely teachers' salaries globally but also the whole question of differentials. In other words, they themselves asked Houghton to perform a task which was more difficult. This difficulty led to an extension of the duration of Houghton's task. Eventually the teachers became impatient and demanded an interim payment. Possibly in retrospect we can say that the first mistake made was when the interim payment of 10 per cent. was refused. In the Scottish Teachers Salaries Committee just over a month ago——

Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What have the hon. Gentleman's remarks got to do with the Supplementary Estimates?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Perhaps I should explain that the hon. Gentleman who opened the debate was getting on to rather thin ice. He skated off it. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) is also moving on to thin ice. Perhaps it would be as well if he did not go any further into the danger area.

Mr. Canavan

I thought I should be given at least the same latitude as was given to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind).

However, although the £100 offer on Friday was, to many people, an insult, and certainly I thought it was extremely disappointing, and that it possibly aggravated the situation, it is not the end of the world. There is a prospect of teachers getting a better offer. There is something in the pipeline. Hon. Members the other day heard the Secretary of State say that there was a strong possibility of aonther interim payment being offered in January. The full Houghton Report will possibly be out in about 10 days and the teachers are looking forward to something coming out of that. I hope that it does, and that it is a lot better than the £100 interim payment is likely to indicate.

It is only fair that the final Houghton Report should be given a chance, one last chance though it may be. It is not appropriate at this stage for the Conciliation and Arbitration Service to intervene. That is why I am surprised at the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands implying perhaps that it should.

None of the teachers' organisations in Scotland has asked the CAS to intervene. Apart from the official teachers' organisations which are represented on the STSC, there are also the unofficial action groups, groups which have not just gone in for devolution for Scotland for we appear to have different groups for East, West, and Central Scotland and so on. This makes it difficult and makes it even more inappropriate for a body like the CAS to intervene.

As the Minister in the Department of Employment rightly told me at Question Time on Tuesday when I asked about the possibility of CAS intervention in the Scottish bus drivers' strike, in unofficial strikes, the CAS makes a practice of meeting the official union representatives to see what they can do. It would be tactless of the CAS to intervene without being invited, especially when it would appear that in some instances the official trade union leaders have, in the case of teachers, lost a bit of touch with rank-and-file membership.

In any case, it is important that workers, not just teachers but all workers, should realise that neither the Government nor the CAS, nor Parliament for that matter, can solve all the problems, that in an era of free collective bargaining there is a responsibility on workers to unite in collectively pressing their case in a reasonable manner. In the past, one of the difficulties in the teaching profession in Scotland has been that far too much energy has been dissipated in the unions and organisations fighting among themselves rather than presenting a united front.

It is appropriate to think about what trade unions are up against. Historically the trade union movement has always seen the Tory Party as its main enemy. Recently the Industrial Relations Act underlined the fact that the Tories are historically the enemies of the trade union movement.

Mr. Fairgrieve

Which party brought brought in the legislation introducing the trade union movement?

Mr. Canavan

Trade union movements existed long before legislation was introduced to legalise them. If it had not been for the fact that working men and women got together and organised themselves in collective-bargaining organisations, the living standards of many people, including many hon. Members on this side of the House, would be far worse.

As I say, historically in Scotland the enemies of the trade union movement have been identified with the Tory Party——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting wide of the question of conciliation and arbitration. I should be grateful if he would keep close to the subject matter of the debate.

Mr. Canavan

If the Conciliation and Arbitration Service were to intervene, it would have to understand the intricacies of the recent Scottish political scene. It is important to emphasise that the first responsibility for negotiating is on the heads of the trade unions. People should not simply invite in external agencies at the first opportunity. That should be done as a last resort.

There are separate trade unions and negotiating bodies in Scotland and there is a certain division of opinion between them. They vary in size, from the largest -the Educational Institute of Scotland- to one called the Scottish Women Teachers' Association, which represents less than 1 per cent. of the Scottish teaching profession. Therefore, with splinter groups like that, not just nationally but sexually separatist, one could imagine the trouble that the CAS would have if it were to intervene in this dispute.

The lesson from the recent teachers' strike and recent strikes in Scotland in general perhaps is that the biggest enemy of the trade union movement is division. It is no mere slogan to say that the word "union" was well chosen by the people who first organised themselves into unions. Unity is strength. If the social contract, including the Conciliation and Arbitration Service, is to work and to get a fair chance of working, all the working people of Scotland, indeed of the United Kingdom, including teachers, must realise their strength, unite and stand on their own feet and not go running to the Government or external agencies at the first available opportunity.

Mr. Fairbairn

I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's phrase about "all the working people of Scotland". Whom does he except-just the unemployed, or is there some category of person he is not willing to include?

Mr. Canavan

I should have thought it self-evident that some people are contributing very little to the economy but are taking very much out of it by means of investment income, unearned income, money for which they have not worked. They are not working people. They are exploiting people.

It is important for workers to realise their collective responsibility and independence. This Government have given workers a freedom, an independence, a maturity, which they have never had before in this country. I am confident that the workers, given time and some encouragement by hon. Members on both sides of this House, will measure up to that new-found freedom and independence instead of listening to the political opportunists and "chancers" opposite.

3.56 a.m.

Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)

It is with some trepidation that I rise at this late hour to speak on the teachers' dispute in Scotland. I am assured that 4 a.m. is when one feels at one's lowest ebb. Therefore, I intend to be brief. I will not call for the resignations of any Government Front Bench Members and I do not intend to take up the point made by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) about sexual separatism.

I have an interest in the teaching profession, having taught for six years before becoming a Member of this House. I was also involved in the trade union movement within the teaching profession, serving on the executive of my union which, although small, has close co-operation with the Scottish Schoolmasters' Association and is therefore a fairly influential body.

The whole situation in Scotland is such as to give rise to great concern over the future of the Scottish education system. In the negotiation machinery for discussing teachers' salaries, the teachers' side takes its decision on a majority vote, but on the management side the two Scottish Education Department's representatives can, in effect, outvote the 12 education committee representatives. The arrangements for the conduct of the management side provide that 12 cannot make or amend an offer without the approval of the Secretary of State. In short, the legal employers of the teachers cannot negotiate freely with the teachers on the salary that they should receive. This seems an outrageous state of affairs in 1974.

Part of the great problem which has currently arisen is due to the fact that the situation does not allow majority decisions to give the impression that justice is being done. Teachers feel that justice is not being done within the negotiation machinery.

In the current dispute local education authorities were willing to pay more on account than the Secretary of State, and that led to a great conflict of loyalty within the education authorities. Many education authorities demonstrated that they had a higher sense of the value of teachers' services than the Secretary of State and his representatives.

So long as there is no effective negotiation machinery for Scottish teachers, the only action left for them is industrial action, which many of them do not wish to undertake. They realise that it exacerbates the whole situation as we have part-time teaching and an acute shortage of teachers in many parts of Scotland.

I urge the Government to set up a committee of inquiry into the negotiation machinery for Scottish teachers' salaries and to set up a Royal Commission on Education in Scotland. Given that a Scottish Assembly will be set up perhaps within two years——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. The hon. Lady is getting very wide of the matter being debated, which is the conciliation machinery. I must ask her to stick more closely to the subject under discussion.

Mrs. Bain

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am pointing out the defects in the present negotiation machinery for Scottish teachers and asking that the whole situation be reviewed in the hope of avoiding future conflicts such as the one we have now.

Given that we shall have a Scottish Assembly within two years, this would seem to be an opportune time to review the whole education system in Scotland. A Royal Commission could do this effectively. Indeed, a commission of inquiry into the negotiation machinery would be effective. Then, when the Scottish Assembly takes control of education, we could give children and teachers a better deal.

4.0 a.m.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

The purpose of the debate is to see whether there is any scope for the CAS to intervene in the Scottish teachers' dispute. I was enormously depressed by the speech of the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). It was similar to the recent statement of the Secretary of State, that nothing more could be done, that we must just grin and bear it and wait and see. He said that, given time, workers would respond to their new responsibilities under the freedom of negotiation.

What we have to get across is that there is a desperate crisis in Scotland. It will not wait for the workers' response or for a Royal Commission. It is poisoning relations between the teachers and their employing authorities. It has created unprecedented deadlock in negotiations and is causing irreparable damage to children's education and career prospects.

Mr. MacCormick

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the only people with the key to this problem are the Scottish Labour MPs, who should have the guts to withhold their support from the Government until they agree to pay teachers a reasonable salary?

Mr. Taylor

I do not know that we could solve this problem in that way. More than money is involved. My experience in industrial relations in the shipyards is that money is not the root of a bad situation. Even if we gave the teachers £20 a week extra tomorrow, the damage would remain and would affect Scottish education for a long time.

Can the CAS play a rôle? Is it true that it will act only if invited to do so by the parties? I understand that, in other disputes, as a result of an initiative by the Minister or one of its officials, it has approached the parties. The Minister must explain its rôle. The so-called social contract and the CAS replaced the phases 1, 2 and 3 of the previous Government-ment's policy. Our arrangements at the time of the February election would, in the view of most reasonable people, have provided a procedure to settle the teachers' problem in a short time. When the Relativities Board was set up, we made it clear that we thought that there were two special cases—the teachers and the nurses. At least the procedure of that board would have led to a speedy decision.

Is it the job of the CAS to try to reach settlements within the social contract, or is it simply to bring about a settlement? I have been confused by recent settlements, for example the lorry drivers' dispute, when the Secretary of State paid tribute to the CAS for bringing the two sides together, and shortly afterwards condemned the settlement it had helped to bring about as being outwith the social contract. I am astonished that, although one of the basic guidelines of the social contract appears to be no more than one settlement in 12 months, this rule has been breached in 29 of the last 37 major settlements.

Why has there been this desperate trouble in Scottish education and how might the CAS help? Undoubtedly a lot of trouble has stemmed from the replacement of our pay policy, which was so condemned by the Labour Party, with a policy which appears simply to offer the maximum scope for increases to those prepared to cause maximum disruption. This has stemmed partly from the result of the cave-in during the miners' dispute. In that case the settlement was cheap in the short term but it will be expensive in the longer term.

While the Houghton Committee has been considering their case, the teachers have seen such people as lorry drivers and others getting massive pay awards in response to massive militancy. Although it is true that the teachers agreed to the setting up of Houghton, they did so following the election and before the flood of substantial wage claims was followed by substantial settlements.

Regrettably, more and more groups in society believe that they will not get justice and a satisfactory settlement by the use of constitutional procedures which have stood the test of time. They believe that under this so-called free bargaining it is simply a question of being prepared to cause disruption. Those who act responsibly get no money.

I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that this dispute has all the symptoms and all the associations of the worst possible form of labour relations. In my experience in the shipyards we had a lot of trouble because often a responsible wage claim, put forward through the agreed procedure by a responsible trade unionist, was turned down by the firm while a few weeks later a shop steward, usually a Communist, would ask for exactly the same thing and get it, because a launch was about to take place. One basic rule in good labour relations is never to say "No" to responsible demands and then to cave in to militancy.

We have seen evidence of this happening. We had a statement from the Secretary of State on 30th October to the effect that he did not favour an interim settlement pending the publication of the Houghton Report. Then we had militancy, and disruption, and there was the concession. On 2nd December I asked the Secretary of State whether he intended to do nothing until after the publication of the report. The answer I received was that it was up to the teachers. Then there was a meeting of the Scottish Labour Group, highlighted in the Press. Apparently there was terrific pressure from Scottish Labour Members and the result was that there is to be a further meeting on Friday.

All the indications are that we have had movement, inch by inch, only in surrender to pressures and arising from a fear of militancy. This is one of the worst features of labour relations—if people feel that the only way to get justice is to push and shove. Another symptom of bad labour relations has been the apparent impression given by those involved in the dispute, particularly by the Scottish Office Ministers, that they are not aware of the enormity of the problem facing teachers.

The Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office made a statement yesterday or Monday that the teaching situation in Scotland was improving, although there were regional problems, because there were more teachers. This is at a time when the raising of the school leaving age has led to more disciplinary problems than ever before and when the number of children on part-time education is theree or four times as great as we have ever known. This statement gave me, and the teachers to whom I have spoken, the impression that the Minister is not aware of the seriousness of the situation.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not deliberately misrepresenting what I said. I was referring to the number of teachers in schools and the indications of teacher supply and saying that there were more teachers than ever. To that extent the position is encouraging. To deny that is to misrepresent what I said and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to do that.

Mr. Taylor

I am doing nothing of the sort. I am saying that various statements by Ministers give the impression that they are not aware of the seriousness of the problems in the schools, which are greater than they have ever been. From my experience of labour relations, I know that the one thing one should not do to people who believe that they have a genuine case is to tell them that they are well-off—and the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the threshold payment as though it were a major concession. That statement was stupid.

The handling of this dispute has repeated some of the worst features of bad labour relations in any context. I hope that the CAS will consider the situation and give some advice to the Government, and to the Secretary of State in particular, about how it could be tackled better. I hope that it will also do something in the longer term. It should try to bring the parties together and lay down a long-term plan which would help to resolve some of the problems in future.

First, communication is desperately important. One cannot have good labour relations without it. I was for a short time in charge of Scottish education and it was my plan to have regular meetings, with no agenda, between the Secretary of State or one of his junior Ministers and the various teachers' associations. In the past, the mistake has been made of holding meetings only when problems arose. I believe that it would help enormously to have regular meeitngs, with no fixed agenda, perhaps monthly or two-monthly.

The second feature which would help would be to have a uniting and knitting together of the various teachers' associations. No one in the Government or in this House would want to dictate to the teachers, but in wage negotiations it would help to have one body representing the teachers because otherwise the various associations compete in militancy with a view to attracting members.

Thirdly, it is important to realise that teacher-politicians are as often unrepresentative of the teachers as politicians are of the people we represent. It is important that Ministers should not just meet the teachers' associations but pay regular visits to schools. When I asked how many times the Secretary of State had visited schools since March, I was told that the Under-Secretary of State had been to a school. It is important to make clear that the people in charge of the Education Department should not only meet the teachers' associations but pay regular visits to schools to discuss the problems with the teachers doing the work.

Finally, there is a case for changing the present negotiating machinery and having direct negotiations with somebody, whether it be the local authorities or the Secretary of State. There should be direct communication between the teachers' bodies and somebody. There should not simply be some kind of amorphous committee in which no one knows where the responsibility lies. If the rating system goes, or the burden of teachers' salaries is transferred to the Exchequer, there could be a case for direct communication between the Secretary of State and the teachers' associations.

We have an urgent crisis which needs to be resolved soon for the sake of the children. It has been badly handled so far. It has been handled without feeling and without flexibility. Whether I am right or wrong in that belief, we all agree that there is a desperate crisis affecting the education of the children, and that something needs to be done. Some effort by the CAS to bring the parties together would be useful and could bring about the kind of harmony which might produce a settlement.

Some outside organisation such as the CAS ought to look at the ways in which negotiations are carried out and the ways in which the parties keep in touch with each other. There has been a major failure in the case of education, and something needs to be done about the situation. If the CAS is able to make a contribution to settling the dispute, this late debate will have been worth while.

4.15 a.m.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

I propose to intervene only briefly. I am deeply concerned about the appalling situation that this dispute is causing in my constituency and, I have no doubt, in many others, for parents and children. We have rightly talked a good deal about the problems of teachers, with which I very much appreciate and sympathise, but we have not spent enough time considering the dreadful problems facing parents and children.

I wonder whether the Ministers who have been so busy with the dispute realise the effect that it is having on parents who go out to work and cannot find someone to look after their children. The difficulty is particularly acute in areas where there are no buses because of strikes. I have received many letters as well as personal representations on this matter, and I hope that the Scottish Office will put a little more effort into showing some leadership to get help for these people. What I have in mind is that if the Scottish Office or Ministers provided the necessary leadership many people, if they were prodded and asked to do so, might be prepared to look after their neighbour's children. It would make a great difference if that were to happen.

It is vital for the Scottish Office to exercise leadership and to give the people of Scotland some idea of how they can help themselves in these difficult circumstances. I am being entirely constructive, and I think that the Minister should consider what I have said. It is easy to get so involved in trying to solve a dispute that one overlooks the difficulties that are being caused for other people.

My hon. Friends are right to have raised the possibility of the CAS playing a part in this dispute, if only to get the Minister to explain whether that is happening. The alternative is to do nothing, and our constituents expect us to be able to do something in this House. "It is up to you" I was told by several teachers last week-end, and we have to try to find some way of resolving the difficulty.

I am delighted that the Minister of State at the Department of Employment is present, because he is the right Minister to deal with this dispute. If the CAS cannot help, and if the Minister of State cannot help, who can? The Secretary of State for Scotland has had a dreadful time with this dispute which clearly is not moving towards any resolution, and this is where the Department of Employment and the CAS ought to come in and do something about it.

I repeat that the Secretary of State for Scotland is having a dreadful time, but this is largely the fault of the Secretary of State for Employment and his Department. I hope that the Minister of State will take that as a positive comment and not as a purely destructive one.

Why should the teachers, who are such a responsible body of people, behave in what the Secretary of State for Scotland thinks is an unreasonable way? That is what he has been saying openly during the past few days. The answer is that these highly professional people feel that the only way in which they will get anything is by acting in the same way as the miners, the road hauliers and the petrol tanker drivers who have demonstrated that by being bloody-minded and forcing their view on everyone they can get anything they demand.

I know that this is very difficult, but the Minister of State must realise that because his right hon. Friend caved in to the miners' every demand, people such as teachers and others despair of getting fair play unless they behave as the miners did. I am the last person to encourage them to do so. I am against striking, as are most of my constituent teachers who are on strike, but if one allows the militants to get away with literally anything, one cannot expect others to ignore that.

That is why the Secretary of State for Scotland is carrying the can for what the rest of the Government have done since February, and that is why I am glad that the Minister of State is here, for even if he cannot say anything about that in this debate, I hope he will go back to his right hon. Friend and tell him what a ghastly mess he is leaving to the Secretary of State for Scotland to clear up and what a dreadful situation this is for parents and children throughout Scotland.

4.21 a.m.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

This has been a useful debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) and for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on initiating it.

The number of hon. Members who have spoken and their contributions have underlined how deeply hon. Members in all quarters of the House feel about this dispute. I welcome the Minister of State, Department of Employment because he can bring a new dimension to this debate, which many of us are urgently seeking in order to try to get a solution to the tremendous difficulties facing us in Scotland.

I do not intend to go over all the problems which we are facing. But it is a crisis. The Minister of State can be left in no doubt about it. It is a crisis, not only for the teachers but also for the children and the parents in view of the disruption of their whole way of life.

We must view this crisis against the much broader background of general industrial disputes which we have sadly had in Scotland in the last few months. I do not intend to go into the merits of the dispute and its problems. They have been dealt with very clearly by my hon. Friends. However, there are one or two points which I should like to make.

First, much of this trouble which has arisen could have been avoided if the Government had retained the relativities machinery which we set up before the last election. This would have made a difference. It would have produced a result much more quickly for the teachers and it would have avoided all this delay. I know that Houghton is working with the best will in the world, and that the Government have the best will in the world in getting the best result possible through Houghton. But delay has been caused by dismantling the relativities machinery and that delay has contributed to the present situation in Scotland.

Second, I want to refer to the consequences of this delay. For one reason or another we have seen, unhappily, a growth of militancy in Scotland. We have seen a growth of militancy which has led to success for those who have used militancy, in that they have achieved their aims. This has made the present crisis for the teachers that much more difficult and has exacerbated an already difficult situation.

Here I come to the central point of this debate—the rôle of the Conciliation and Arbitration Service. This machinery has been operating in other industrial disputes. Yet we have seen that militancy pays. Where militancy has taken place in pursuit of wage claims, awards of up to 40 per cent. have been made. This is a factor which has exacerbated a situation which is already difficult.

I do not decry the efforts of those who take part in this service. Indeed, in the debate on the Gracious Speech I paid tribute to the individual efforts of those involved. But I want to reiterate a question which was put so forcibly by my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart. In operating this conciliation and arbitration machinery, what remit do those operating the service have in relation to the social contract and to the economy as a whole. Many of us have been worried. I know that those in the road haulage industry, for example, have been worried about the extent to which the social contract has been operating, the extent to which the Conciliation and Arbitration Service has been concerned and the extent to which it has been a case of getting a settlement at any price.

My final point concerns how the machinery is to work in the future and whether it is appropriate for these circumstances. If there is to be sense in industrial relations and if we are to avoid inflationary wage and salary settlements and see a degree of sanity restored to the economy, guidelines must be observed and there must be restraint and self-discipline.

Will the Minister give an assurance that the national interest is taken into account, that restraint is accepted and that concern is shown about the inflationary forces? If these conditions are not fulfilled, the future prospects are very serious. This lies at the heart of the crisis in Scotland. When the teachers put their case to the Houghton Committee they believed that they would be treated as a special case. They felt, like other workers in the public service, that because they were in the public service they had in the past been subject to restraint while other groups of workers had not. This accounts for a great deal of the frustration among teachers. Will the Minister assure the teachers that they are not being singled out by the Government to act as an example to other groups simply because they are in the public service?

4.28 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)

The debate has ranged over the effects of the Scottish teachers' dispute on parents and children, attacks on Scottish Ministers over their rôle in the dispute, the negotiating procedure for teachers, pay policy —statutory and otherwise—and relativities, and even the possible rôle of the Conciliation and Arbitration Service in the matter.

I do not complain about that because I should like to reply briefly to all these points. The statutory pay control which the Government ended with the termination of the Pay Board in July played a major part in the creation of a serious pay problem in a number of areas of public service. Teachers, nurses, rail-waymen and busmen suffered from a strict application of phases 1, 2, and 3 of the 1972 Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Act pay policy to their wages and salaries. For that reason the Government decided that a limited number of special cases must receive a particular consideration which would exempt them from the limitations of the voluntary policy which followed abolition of the Pay Board.

Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)

Since the Minister of State has singled out the categories of workers who suffered as a result of the previous Government's pay-policy, will he enumerate the categories of workers who did not suffer as a result of that policy?

Mr. Booth

I do not wish in this debate to enumerate those workers who did not suffer from the previous Government's pay policies. It would not be a long list, if we are thinking of lower-paid workers generally.

In practice, the policy of defining a limited number of special cases for exemption from the limitations of the voluntary pay policy meant exemption from the social contract wages policy guidelines laid down by the TUC. It was in that context that the Government decided that teachers should be among the special cases.

Scottish teachers' pay covers a wide range of posts, from £32 a week to £125 a week for the highest-paid headmasters. A principal teacher is receiving £70 a week.

In March my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State for Scotland with special responsibility for teachers, who has sat beside me throughout the debate, invited the teachers to meet him. When their unions did so, their representatives told my hon. Friend that they wanted an independent review of Scottish teachers' salaries, because they had fallen behind under the pay policy operating up to then.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) spoke of Scottish teachers waiting since February. In fact, they received an increase after February under the pay policy the Labour Government inherited from their predecessors when they came to office early in March. It was a statutory policy, and could not be changed until legislation was carried through the House. That is the situation in which one must judge objectively and fairly the difficulties with which the Government were faced in correcting the serious position that Scottish teachers represented to my hon. Friend.

The Government responded to the teachers' request by referring their salary position to an independent review body on 24th May. The Government went further, by guaranteeing to back-date to 24th May any rises resulting from the review body's recommendations—in other words, back-dated to seven weeks after the increase they received under the statutory pay policy of the last Conservative Government. Was not that a recognition that there was a special case to be met? I find it difficult to understand some of the complaints tonight.

Mr. Rifkind

Does not the very concession that any final award will be backdated to 24th May make it clear that the provision of a generous interim award now would not cost the Exchequer a penny more, and underline the foolishness of the Government's position?

Mr. Booth

We are not necessarily talking about a generous award. We are talking about a fair award. We recognise that that might mean a considerable increase, because of the serious pay situation that Scottish teachers suffered under the statutory pay policy. The provision of an interim award has the difficulty that a recommendation in percentage terms covering such a wide salary band must be taken into account that payments for the various grades and posts covered might differ in amount. When one speaks of an interim award one presumably means either a fixed amount to be paid to all teachers or a percentage. There is not the scope in an interim award for the graduations and for the wide range of consideration which is open to a review body.

On 30th September the Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee was notified of a claim for a 10 per cent. interim payment. On 29th November an offer of a £100 interim payment was made to the teachers' representatives. It was made clear that this would in no way prejudice the outcome of the Houghton Committee's recommendations. This interim offer has been rejected.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) must be clear as to what his adverse criticism of the Secre-tary of State for Scotland is in the matter of the interim payment. Does he think he was wrong, as Secretary of State for Scotland, to seek from the chairman of the independent review body an arange-ment under which an interim payment could be made without prejudice to the review, or is it his position that that action should not have taken place? Is it his contention that his action was wrong only as a matter of timing?

I cannot clearly understand, from what the hon. Gentleman said, just what is his position. He believes that there is something very seriously wrong with the action of the Secretary of State for Scotland, but he has not made it clear whether he favoured the action of the Secretary of State for Scotland insofar as he has responded to the call for an interim payment. The hon. Member for Pentlands has not made it clear whether he thinks the Secretary of State should have to sought to arrange that. I believe that it was the correct thing to do. It could have made, and it may yet make, some contribution to the ending of this dispute.

Unofficial strike action commenced prior to that offer being made. On 31st October a one-day strike was called by the Education Institute of Scotland. That was followed by a selective series of three-day strikes at selected schools and the boycott of examinations.

One major question posed during this debate was whether there was a rôle for the CAS in this dispute. I wish to suggest four reasons why there is no rôle for the CAS in this dispute before I touch on the more general question of the rôle of the CAS.

The conciliation rôle of the CAS is normally one which is exercised in disputes where a third party is required to assess the contentions and claims of the other two parties—the offer which was made by an employer, the claim made by a union—and whether there is, between those, a possibility of reaching agreement. This is not such a case, because here there is already a third party which was called for by the teachers. That third party is the Houghton Committee. That body is assessing the claim on the submissions made by the Scottish teachers and by the employers. To the best of my knowledge of this matter, that body is about to produce a report. We have the undertaking that the report will be produced by Christmas. That is the first reason why I think it is not appropriate at this stage for the CAS to seek to bring about conciliation or arbitration. The process of the Houghton review is a form of arbitration and should be seen as such.

The second reason is that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be meeting the two sides on Friday, and I hope that the outcome of his discussions will go some if not all of the way to resolving the dispute.

The third reason is that the Remuneration of Teachers (Scotland) Act makes provision for arbitration. That Act was the result of the teachers making clear to a previous Government their dissatisfaction with the method previously used for determining the remuneration of teachers in Scotland. The provisions of the Act reflect the views put forward by the teachers on what they thought to be a more sensible way of determining their salaries.

The provision in the Act for arbitration is clear. It lays upon the Secretary of State a requirement to appoint three arbitrators. There has been no move by any of the parties to this dispute to proceed to that stage of the negotiating procedure laid down by this House in an Act of Parliament.

Fourthly, I reiterate a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). None of the parties to the STSC, none of the three unions, none of the local authority associations and none of the officials of the Secretary of State has asked for the CAS to intervene.

For those four reasons, I think that there is no case for the CAS to intervene.

I understand why my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire said that there were no marches or protests by teachers when we had a Conservative Government. It occurs to me that my hon. Friend and I at the hustings led a lot of people to believe that they would receive fairer and better treatment under a Labour Government. So it does not come well from either of us to complain that there were no protests when the Conservative Government were in office. There were no expectations then. When a Labour Government take office, expectations rise of fairer treatment for people in the public service That is one reason why tonight we are considering the special case of the Scottish teachers.

The operation of the CAS in a Scottish dispute can only be judged if there is a clear understanding of the rôle that it can play. It is essential to know why it was set up and what its aims are—

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there is no scope at all? Does he not think that an officer of the CAS could attend the meetings on Friday? Unfortunately, previous meetings between the Secretary of State and the management side and the associations have been disastrous. There appear to have been personality conflicts as well as disagreements on matters of fact.

Mr. Booth

I do not think that it would be advisable to have an officer there, for reasons which I have already pointed out. The existing machinery for the determination of the matter has not been exhausted, and no party has sought to request this form of conciliation.

The CAS was set up by the administrative action of the Government as an independent body, and it was on that basis that it received the full co-operation of the TUC and the CBI. The council of the CAS has three respresentatives from the CBI, three representatives from the TUC, three independent members and a chairman. It has experienced staff in every region and it can be approached by either side to a dispute. It is not a substitute for existing procedure agreements. The CAS officers are reluctant to intervene or to seek to intervene in disputes while there are stages of an existing procedure agreement to be completed. What it can do is to help to establish procedure agreements and to overcome difficulties of procedure, and this it frequently does.

It has been asked whether the CAS has responsibility for the social contract. It is in no way responsible. No conciliator provided by the CAS has a duty beyond seeking to find whether there is a basis for agreement between the parties to the dispute. It would make the job of conciliators impossible if it were known before they went in that they were under instructions only to assist in settlements at particular levels, whether on social contract guidelines or at any other fixed level.

Mr. Douglas Hurd(Mid-Oxon)

Does the Minister realise that the social contract is in desperate danger and that the latest news in this morning's newspapers underlines that danger? How do the Government expect people to take the social contract seriously when CAS officials seem to be scurrying up and down Scotland helping to arrange for employers and trade unions to break it?

Mr. Booth

I find it hard to choose which of the arguments put forward by Conservative Members to answer. The CAS is accused on the one hand of scurrying up and down Scotland encouraging people to break the social contract and on the other hand of not involving itself sufficiently in disputes in which the social contract is threatened.

I take seriously the dangers that threaten the social contract. I am as conscious as any other hon. Member how much depends upon the success of the social contract. But that does not blind me to the fact that we are operating a voluntary wages policy. That policy requires responsibility for wages settlements and salary settlements to be placed fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the two parties to the settlement—namely, the unions and the employers. If the view is taken that a conciliation service, whether Government or independent, can operate only in circumstances in which it will be tied to the type of settlement that it can bring about we shall reduce the effectiveness of the service, reduce confidence in it and reduce the call upon it. There lies the way to destroying the effectiveness of the CAS.

This will be a matter for the House to decide. The Government intend to propose to the House very shortly in the Employment Protection Bill that the CAS be established on a statutory basis and that certain of its functions be defined in legislation. The time will then be appropriate for the House to discuss what the statutory rôle of the CAS should be.

As we shall propose the matter to the House, the Secretary of State will seek to retain power to set up a court of inquiry into a dispute. We would intend such a court to be used only as a very last resort. Government intervention in disputes in Scotland could make it impossible for the CAS to retain the measure of confidence which it has built up among employers and unions.

It is important to recognise that the initial calls upon the CAS show that it started work with a considerable measure of goodwill from both sides. In the first month there were calls from over 100 firms for the conciliation rôle. There is no sign of this diminishing. But, in addition, over the last month the CAS has visited 500 firms to give advice on industrial relations matters and has been welcomed to do so. Therefore, we must see that part of the rôle of the CAS is not only to go along with the hoses after the fire has started but to go and do a prevention job as well by offering industrial relations advice. In Scottish disputes the CAS has acted in the road haulage dispute. The CAS arranged for numerous meetings, and a final settlement of that dispute was reached under CAS auspices.

Mr. Hurd

In breach of the social contract.

Mr. Booth

Did the hon. Gentleman say "In breach of the social contract"?

Mr. Hurd

The Secretary of State said that.

Mr. Booth

As I have pointed out quite clearly, it is no part of the remit of the CAS to ensure that settlements are outside or inside the social contract. If hon. Members take the view that that should be part of the remit of the CAS, they will probably have to table an amendment to the Employment Protection Bill when it comes before the House and debate that matter properly.

The CAS was also instrumental in bringing about the final settlement in the Hoover dispute at Cambuslang.

In the situation which exists in Scotland, the CAS will not be able to perform miracles, but, given a fair chance, it will continue to achieve settlements and provide for arbitration, advice and counselling. To the extent that this will enable industries and services in Scotland to work more effectively, it will bring a benefit to the whole of the Scottish community.