HC Deb 20 November 1974 vol 881 cc1290-5
1. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has received the Houghton Report on Teachers' Salaries; and if he will make a statement.

2. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from Scottish teachers' organisations asking for an interim salary award, pending publication of the Houghton Committee report.

5. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on teachers' salaries.

18. Mr. Adam Hunter

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to receive the Houghton Committee Report on teachers' salaries; and if he will make a statement.

2. Mr. Robin F. Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he now expects to receive the Houghton Report on Teachers' Pay.

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

In my statement to the House on 15th November I said that Lord Houghton had on the previous day told my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and myself that he now expected to present his report by Christmas. In addition his committee had undertaken to recommend at the beginning of December a flat rate lump sum, payment of which would not conflict with its conclusions and which could be included as a payment on account along with teachers' December salaries.

The Teachers' Side had just previously lodged a revised claim for an interim flat rate increase at the rate of £520 a year backdated to 24th May and a meeting of the STSC has been arranged for tomorrow to consider this claim.

Yesterday in Edinburgh I had meetings with the local authority representatives on the Management Side of the Salaries Committee and with the three teachers' associations represented on the Teachers' Side to ensure that they fully understood the significance of the helpful undertaking given by the Houghton Committee concerning the payment on account. The central point is that if the Salaries Committee accepts the payment on account that will be recommended by the Houghton Committee early in December it should be possible for authorities to include this payment in the teachers' December salaries. With the certainty now of a December payment I urged the teacher associations to call off their strike action which is harming our children and the whole Scottish educational system. They undertook to report my views to their executives, but I am not optimistic that the associations will be willing to respond to my appeal.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply. Is he aware of the strong feeling in Edinburgh that a continuation of the present educational crisis could do irreversible harm to the careers of schoolchildren and could lead to increased militancy on the part of the schoolteachers?

Mr. Ross

I am concerned about a dispute involving a fairly short period of time and which, in the long run, does not mean a thing, because the increases following the Houghton Report will be backdated. I am concerned that because of this temporary matter that is under dispute the teachers might do damage which could be permanent for some children.

Mr. Canavan

I thank my right hon. Friend for his assurance that he fully realises that the teachers have an excellent case and that next month they will receive a substantial interim award. When my right hon. Friend next sees the teachers' representatives will he remind them that part of the difficulty is that this Labour Government inherited a very serious situation in which teachers' salaries, along with the salaries of other workers, had been deliberately held back by the previous Conservative Government during phases 1, 2 and 3? Will he remind the teachers' representatives that many of them sat in silence through phases 1, 2 and 3? Further, will he remind the Scottish National Party and those of the teachers' organisations which are prone to listen to it that they are listening to false prophets, as the average salary for a Scottish teacher is higher than the average salary for an English teacher, and that Houghton's job is to get a fair deal for all teachers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is getting very much like a speech.

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend is right in suggesting that the discontent and frustration of teachers did not start in the past few months. There has been a long build-up and the Opposition did nothing about it when in Government. There was no referral to the relativities procedure by the Conservative Government. They did nothing about it. The last settlement awarded under the phase 3 was 7½ per cent. to 8 per cent. We recognised that the teachers had fallen behind. The teachers welcomed the setting up of the Houghton Committee. There is little between us, and I still hope that the teachers' organisations will respond and appreciate exactly what this issue means to Scottish education.

Mr. Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend say how many groups of workers, anywhere in the country, have had an offer backdated by several months since the Labour Government took power? As the younger teachers are the worst hit, will he say how much they have had in absolute terms and in percentage terms from the threshold agreement in the last several months since the agreement has been operative?

Mr. Ross

All teachers in Scotland, and other workers elsewhere, have had the advantage of the threshold payments. The payments amount to £230 per year.

Mr. Hamilton


Mr. Ross

Yes, each. That is, of course, a flat rate.

As a result of the action that was taken by the Government, backdating applied to nurses. The nurses also received a payment to account. That payment was decided after the Halsbury Report was received. One of the snags is that because of the timing of the Houghton Report—it will not be available until the end of the year—we shall not have time to put into effect the mechanical processes of payment and to get the money into the pay packets in December. That is why I welcome the Houghton Committee's decision to give us a figure early in December. That will enable us to make an interim payment. I think it is reasonable on all grounds.

Mrs. Bain

In reply to a parliamentary Question, the Secretary of State admitted that there were substantial wage differentials between Scottish and English primary schoolteachers who had the same qualifications. Will he guarantee that those differentials will be eradicated by the Houghton Report? Will he also bear in mind the difference in qualifications which are required for graduates in secondary Scottish schools, whereby they have to spend much longer in qualifying before they are acceptable under the Scottish Education Department regulations?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Lady should know—I am surprised that she does not —that wage scales in England and Scotland, by the wishes of teachers, are dealt with by different committees. She should also know that the Secretary of State does not interfere in decisions made by the Teachers' Side and the management on how discrimination should be made between honours graduates, graduates and non-graduates. If the hon. Lady knew historically the reason for differentiation in England and Wales, she would not have put that question.

I cannot guarantee that this matter will be decided by the Houghton Committee. It will be decided in the Scottish Teachers Salaries Committee.

Mr. Hunter

Is my right hon. Friend convinced that he has gone as far as he can regarding an interim payment? To avoid further disputes in the education service in Scotland, is it not possible to offer a specified sum to meet the teachers' demands?

Mr. Ross

We set up the Houghton Committee to do a very big job—not only to deal with the question of the extent to which teachers' salaries have fallen behind but to consider the structure, which might please the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain)—and we have to leave it to do it. It was asked to produce an interim report. It said, "No. That would hold us back. We want to get on with the full job". Now it has voluntarily suggested some- thing which will not cut across its broad final conclusions. It would be unfair of us in the House to do otherwise.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Is it not clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see an end to the chaos in Scottish schools and to see the teachers back at work? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that his handling of this matter and his stubbornness in relation to the teachers is the single greatest obstacle to getting the teachers back to work? Instead of putting the blame on the teachers, will he consider his own position and stand down and make way for someone who can command the respect and confidence of the teaching profession?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman talks an awful lot of nonsense. Little men with big voices, in all sorts of capacities, do not impress me. Anyone who has followed this matter carefully, bearing in mind the extent to which the teachers' claims have jumped—and there is a variety of them—will appreciate what we have done in accepting the principle of an interim payment and making arrangements for it in December, which will not cut across the final conclusions of the Houghton Committee. That is a fair indication that the Government have been sensitive to the teachers' needs, whereas the Conservative Government did absolutely nothing.

Mr. Cook

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us welcome his statement that a payment on account could be made in December? However, is he aware that if that is to be possible a decision will have to be announced very early in December? Does he realise that most teachers will be paid before the Christmas break and that in Edinburgh, for example, the salary computer printouts will commence on 9th December? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will do everything possible to reach a decision before that date?

Mr. Ross

I can assure my hon. Friend that all these matters have been taken into consideration. That is one of the matters I was discussing yesterday with the Management Side.

Mr. Rifkind

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the attempts of moderate teachers' leaders to persuade their members to go back to the schools and teach the children have been hindered by his attitude? Does he accept that if he had made his statement of last Friday three weeks beforehand the moderate teachers' leaders would have been greatly strengthened in their attempts to keep the schools going and avert the recent chaos?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that the suggestion of Lord Houghton's Committee, which I welcome, could not have been made three weeks before, for the simple reason that Lord Houghton had to see how he was proceeding towards a final conclusion. He suggested only last week that he would be able to do it by the beginning of December. That could not have been decided three or four weeks before.

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