HC Deb 11 June 1980 vol 986 cc544-5
11. Mr. Bill Walker

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the effect on schools of the industrial action of some Scottish teachers.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Because education authorities keep their records in different ways it is not practicable to determine precisely the total number of pupils whose education has been affected. Since 12 May, however, the education of about 620,000 Scottish pupils has been affected in varying degrees.

Mr. Walker

When my hon. Friend is next in contact with the teachers' leaders will he remind them that the Labour Government were brought down in order to bring back free collective bargaining, and that is the situation in which the teachers find themselves to-day? Unfortunately, the teachers are indulging in and using political muscle of the kind that is more suited to industry. Therefore, it seems incorrect for them to claim professional status and professional pay when they are indulging in industrial activities of this sort.

Mr. Fletcher

I agree. I hope that the teachers will realise that their cause is not helped in any way by this sort of action, particularly when the opportunities are available for them to sit round the table and negotiate. Another meeting is due to take place tomorrow, and I hope that a settlement will be reached then.

Mr. Norman Hogg

Since the Secretary of State and the Minister feel able to interfere in local authorities' staffing levels, why are they so unprepared to try to bring about a settlement of this dispute which, if it goes on, will destroy education? If that happens, the Government will be responsible.

Mr. Fletcher

The prospects for a settlement lie entirely with the management—the local authorities—on the one hand, and the teachers' representatives on the other. The sooner they reach a settlement, the better for all concerned.

Mr. Myles

Does my hon. Friend agree that the most effective action that the teachers can take to draw attention to their salaries is to make representations to their regional councillors? Sadly, that action is often omitted.

Mr. Fletcher

My hon. Friend is light to underline the fact that the teachers are employed by the regional authorities—and theirs is the body with whom they must negotiate in this dispute.

Mr. O'Neill

Does the Minister appreciate that the teachers, who are probably listening to this discussion on the radio, are becoming increasingly frustrated by the Government's complete insensitivity and the deceitful manner in which they have approached the dispute? The teachers are in no doubt that the people who have the money are those in St. Andrew's House, and it is from them that a solution to the problem must come.

Mr. Fletcher

The Government are being open and frank with the teachers. They have the ability to sit down with their employers and try to reach a settlement. That is the fairest way in which to find a solution, and the more talking that there is between the local authorities and the teachers, the sooner a solution will be reached.

Mr. David Steel

May I repeat a question that was not answered earlier? If the meeting tomorrow decides that this dispute should go to arbitration, will the Government accept the result?

Mr. Fletcher

That is a matter for the STSC meeting tomorrow. Whether the teachers go to arbitration is entirely a matter for them, and the Government will not interfere with that decision.