HC Deb 08 June 1981 vol 6 cc62-100

'Section 88 of the principal Act (dismissal of teachers) shall cease to have effect.'.— [Mr. Allan Stewart.] Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Allan Stewart

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 113, in schedule 9, page 73, line 38, at end insert 'Section 88'.

Mr. Stewart

Amendment No. 113 is purely technical and consequential.

Although the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 was passed only last year, it was a consolidation measure. The history of section 88 goes back to the so-called Mundella Act of 1882. However, the general secretary of the SSTA, Mr. James Docherty, has circulated hon. Members with an interesting letter that sets out the history, which was also set out in an article by Mr. Docherty in The Scotsman. Therefore, I hope that I shall be absolved from an excessively long historical treatise.

Section 88 requires that the resolution of an education authority for the dismissal of a registered teacher shall not be valid unless three conditions are met: first, that written notice should be given to the teacher and members of the authority three weeks before the appropriate meeting, secondly, that at least half the members of that authority should be present at that meeting and thirdly, that two-thirds of those present should agree to the resolution of dismissal.

The effect of new clause 2 would be that Scottish teachers in the public and grant-aided sector would be protected against arbitrary dismissal, not by a statutory right, but, rather, by two distinct sources: first, national legislation under the Employment Protection Act, and, secondly, such contractual rights relevant to dismissal procedures as have been negotiated or might be negotiated in future.

That would place Scottish teachers in the public sector in a legal position precisely comparable with those groups with which they are most easily compared—Scottish teachers in the private sector, teachers in England and other local authority employees in Scotland, including those who are normally described as members of professions, such as lawyers and architects.

In Committee, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, in its general submission to Members, included a recommendation that section 88 be repealed. In its recommendation COSLA said: This section extends to teachers protection from dismissal which, in the view of the Convention, is no longer necessary, having regard to the development of national regulations covering their protection of employment. The Educational Institute of Scotland, in a letter to Committee Members dated 4 March, strongly objected to that proposal and, in fact, such a proposal was not tabled.

I have been asked why I did not table such a proposal in Committee. I believe that nearly all the amendments put forward by the COSLA were tabled by the Opposition either for discussion or for a vote. It was too late when I realised that the proposal to which I have referred would not be debated. A fairly unusual and highly undesirable state of affairs resulted, namely, that a major point in relation to the Bill on which there had been considerable press comment had been put forward by a representative, although Labour-controlled, organisation but it would not be discussed unless someone tabled a relevant new clause on Report.

Mr. Maxton

Will the hon. Gentleman admit that COSLA subsequently made it clear that it did not wish to proceed with this proposal and that was why we did not proceed with the matter in Committee?

Mr. Stewart

I am sorry to engage in dispute with the hon. Gentleman at this early stage, but I met the chairman of the COSLA education committee on Friday night and he confirmed that that is still the view of the convention. It accepted the fact that the Opposition did not table a new clause in Committee.

However, that is not my only reason for tabling the new clause. Although the issues raised by section 88 were not discussed directly in Committee, they were referred to in an important Front-Bench speech, delivered with the reasonableness, moderation and logic that the House has come to associate with the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). He said: Indeed, as well as a more democratic system of selecting head teachers, I am in favour of re-selection—or even de-selection. I feel that there should be a fixed-term contract of, say, five years, like the maximum term for an MP between elections. If they measure up to the job, they can be reappointed; if not, they should be sacked and replaced.

Mr. Henderson

Does my hon. Friend recall that a sentence later the hon. Gentleman said that he would return to this question on Report?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend is quite right. The hon. Gentleman continued: I hope to return to the issue on Report. It is fair to say that among the many amendments tabled on Report there is not one from the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire relating to this issue. It is therefore with great pleasure that I have been able to assist him by tabling new clause 2, which will enable the hon. Gentleman to make his points.

Mr. Canavan

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise the difference between a fixed-term contract for head teachers and what he is proposing, which will make it easier for education authorities to dismiss all teachers, irrespective of whether they are classroom teachers, promoted teachers, or whatever?

Mr. Stewart

Of course there is a difference between what the hon. Gentleman suggested and the provisions of new clause 2. But, as I shall argue later, the hon. Gentleman's view is incompatible with the spirit and content of section 88.

In reply to the contribution of the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said that the matter he raised … is something that I consider important, not only in education but throughout local government … Whether an opportunity will arise on Report for some of these ideas to be reconsidered I do not know, but they are certainly matters of great interest" .—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 14 April 1981; c. 908–10.] That is the second reason why I have tabled new clause 2, because during our proceedings in Committee there were references to related topics.

My third reason for doing so is a general rise in concern about competence in Scottish schools. Let me say immediately that there is an open question whether the repeal of section 88 would help to deal with incompetent teachers. However, the concern is certainly widespread. I should like to quote from what has been said by a trade union leader, a headmaster and representatives of the parents.

According to The Scotsman, Mr. Alistair Fulton, president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said in his retiring presidential address that local authorities were not using the powers that they had to dismiss teachers. He urged local authorities to use their existing powers and added: I shall go out on a limb and say that there are times when I wish that they would have the guts to get rid of some of the useless members of our profession who slip through the various training nets and end up in a classroom where they do nothing but damage.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

May we have it on the record that that was the retiring statement of the person concerned?

Mr. Stewart

I am not especially grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I said that it was a retiring address. I am not suggesting that the SSTA is in favour of the repeal of section 88, because it has circulated a letter to all Members suggesting that it is not. What I am saying is that there is general concern about how incompetent teachers are dealt with.

I quote further from the head teacher of Firhill high school in Edinburgh. Addressing the head teachers' association, as reported on 9 May 1981, he said: Falling rolls now present an ideal opportunity to weed out the faults in the system. He suggested that by a combination of good management and the agreement of the unions, they"— that is, the community— had a sporting chance of getting rid of or demoting bad principal teachers, promoting good young teachers with ideas and transferring others to where they are most needed".

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Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman help the House by defining what he means by "bad teachers"?

Mr. Stewart

No, I am not an expert in these matters. I have no intention of defining what I mean by "bad teachers".

I further quote from the Scottish Parent-Teacher Council. In a letter to COSLA, the chairman of that council said that parents often see such individuals continuing to operate at a low level efficiency with no apparent effort on the part of authority within and without the school to improve the teacher's performance or to compensate the affected children for the low standard of teaching on offer. Later in the same letter he said: I wish to offer the opinion that parents in general would welcome and support initiatives by the education authorities to raise the general level of efficiency of teachers by identifying and eliminating the poorest levels of performance. The chairman ended his letter by saying that my purpose is to ally parental concern to that expressed within the profession by Mr. Fulton"— that is, by the president of the SSTA— I trust this alliance will add weight to the cause of reform. I should like to divide into two the arguments for the removal of section 88. First, the argument of general principle that there is now no general need to have a statutory right. Scottish teachers and authorities should have the freedom to negotiate dismissal procedures in the same way as happens in England. Secondly, there has been a radical change since 1882 in terms, first, of general employment legislation and, secondly, of the development of disciplinary procedures agreed in the Scottish teaching services conditions committee, which provide that before the provisions of section 88 are set in motion certain other steps should be taken—for example, final warning letters, an interview with the director of education and so on.

The third argument is that I believe that, in general terms, there needs to be a radical review of the whole system in the light of public concern.

I should like to discuss what a different system might mean. COSLA has informed the unions that, in seeking change, it refers in particular to problems involved in having statutorily the full education committee consider a case under section 88. It believes that there is a strong case for the appeal being to a sub-committee, such as is commonly employed by local authorities in respect of dismissal appeals by other staff. The point is that section 88 involving the full education committee means that each individual case—one is talking about a very small number of cases—is inevitably a cause celebre and takes place in a blaze of publicity, which is not necessarily to the benefit of individual teachers or of the education system as a whole.

I also make two particular criticisms of section 88. One of them comes back to the point made by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire. My understanding of section 88 is that it applies to a temporary contract. A teacher who is on, say a one-year contract, could appeal through section 88 at the end of that year to the full education authority, with the two-thirds majority and so on. I think that the House will generally accept that that may be an inadvertent result of section 88, but in general terms it is not a desirable situation.

Secondly, on the detailed points, individual teachers—this is a point from the management side of the negotiating machinery—could contest a redundancy notice through section 88 even if redundancies had been agreed between the authority and the teachers' unions. As I shall argue, the question is not about redundancy in general, but that is an important detailed point.

I come to the arguments against change that have been put forward by the unions, by the EIS, by the SSTA and the NAS/UWT. In passing—I shall not dwell on the point—I deplore the initial reaction of the EIS to my tabling of the new clause, because I made it clear, and was correctly reported in the press as saying, that I was tabling this for discussion and was not committed to pushing the matter to a vote. That was on 6 May, and it was correctly reported. Within days there were reports in the press of threatened strike action by the EIS against my right to raise the matter in the House. That was an exceedingly unfortunate episode and it gave a very bad impression of the EIS. I did not think very much of its press release of 9 May, either, in which the key point seems to be: Now Mr. Stewart"— that is myself—I should not wish there to be any misunderstanding in relation to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart)— proposes to deprive teachers of section 88 in an amendment which depends upon the votes of English MPs and which he has slipped on to the Order Paper without warning and with no consultation whatsoever. The fact is that it does not depend on the votes of English MPs, because, as we all know, any Committee of the House reflects the composition of the House as a whole, and therefore, politically, it makes no difference in party terms whether something is put down in Committee or on the Floor of the House. I totally reject the accusation that I slipped it on to the Amemdment Paper. It was put on the Amendment Paper on 6 May. I immediately informed the press. It is now 8 June. I informed the press within minutes of putting it on the Amendment Paper.

Mr. Maxton

As usual.

Mr. Stewart

I considered that such information was in the public interest, and there has been plenty of time for consultation. I also repudiate the following statement: Mr. Stewart has already been identified with attacks on teachers which lend credence to the belief of the EIS that his amendment is politically motivated". The only attack on teachers that I have ever made was an attack on a teacher whose activities resulted in the publication in the Socialist Worker of so-called essays about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I do not think that anyone defended the action of that particular teacher. I take grave exception to a generalised smear of that nature, especially as I am proud to be the son of a teacher.

As a result, I regret to say that I have been on the receiving end of a number of abusive personal letters. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] However, I stand unbowed. I am accustomed to receiving abusive letters. It is a matter of great regret that everybody in Scotland does not, as yet, agree with everything that I say.

In all seriousness, however, I have received many letters, especially from responsible teachers, who have spelt out their genuine anxieties about the effect of repeal. Briefly, the basic arguments against repeal are, first, that section 88, in one form or another, has been around for a long time. I find that an appealing argument, because I have always argued that the evidence of imperfection is not a justification for change. Secondly, there is a fear that repeal would result in massive redundancies. COSLA has tried hard to make it clear that that is not the objective of the repeal of section 88.

Thirdly, there is the argument that dismissed teachers find it hard to get jobs or, at a more economically sophisticated level, the oligopoly argument. I suspect that a pedant would call it the oligopsony argument, as we are dealing with collusive buyers and not collusive sellers. The argument is that a sacked teacher finds it difficult to get another job. I accept that, but members of other groups of employees, such as coal miners, also find it difficult to get jobs after being dismissed. That is not a justification for special legislation to exempt particular groups from general national legislation. In practice, it would be impossible to implement legislation along those lines.

A fourth argument is that arbitrary dismissal would result—I have said that that is not what is proposed—from a straight repeal of section 88 without anything to take its place. Teachers, like other local authority employees, have a complex system prior to dismissal.

The final argument is important and leads me to say that I do not propose to divide the House on the new clause. The argument has been put to me by the unions, and especially the NUS/UWT, that teachers may be subject to dismissal, not on party political grounds, but on broadly political grounds. For example, a career teacher dedicated to standards might make himself unpopular with his colleagues who were not so dedicated. He may be subject to dismissal. The NUS/UWT quotes the case of a teacher of mathematics who got into trouble with the authorities because he wanted his pupils to study mathematics on one morning when the headmaster insisted that they all went for a sponsored walk. There are genuine problems.

There are specific criticisms to be made of the present system under section 88. There is a serious case for the system to be reviewed responsibly, coolly and sensibly. I am sure that we shall have that sort of debate. It would be in the interests of resonsible teachers, parents and the pupils in our schools.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I have never considered the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) to be one of nature's dangerous demagogues. I find it surprising that his new clause has generated so much excitement. He has introduced a constructive and useful topic for discussion. It is sad that he attached it to such an unworkable and opposed new clause, which he has had the grace to say he does not intend to pursue. It is a classic example of an important topic of the sort that we should discuss, if the proposals that have been kicking around for more than a year come into effect and we ever have the opportunity to meet in Edinburgh as a body of Scottish Members of Parliament. I should welcome such a change.

The new clause has received much attention and has provoked many parents and teachers into writing to their Members of Parliament, and I have received my fair share of correspondence. Almost all of it is opposed to the new clause. However, we need not pursue its merits.

What emerges clearly—as a parent I share the view—is that there is much disquiet about the present unemployment in the teaching profession. Just as the hon. Member would be wrong to sweep away at a stroke the protection of employment in the teaching profession, so we have gone to the other extreme. A view widely held within the profession and among parents is that it is difficult to dismiss a teacher nowadays for anything short of scandalous conduct. Without having checked, I think that I am right in saying that the only case of dismissal of a teacher in my constituency in recent years was following a court conviction. That cannot be right, especially at a time of high general unemployment, in the teaching profession in particular. Just as it is true that a child's character and career can be moulded effectively by a successful teacher, so is the opposite true. Year after year groups of children can have their chances belittled by having the wrong teacher in the wrong place.

What is needed is not a draconian view that teachers should be subject to capricious dismissal by local authorities—that would not be a civilised or tolerable course to take—but a more flexible arrangement whereby the inspectorate in Scotland can, as a result of visits and reports, identify teachers who may have wandered into the wrong profession or may have been in the wrong school for far too long. Every possible assistance should be given to those teachers to move into some other occupation. I do not pretend that it would be easy, but if we could devise such a system ,in consultation and co-operation with the teachers' representative bodies in Scotland, both the profession and the parents would be satisfied.

To that extent the hon. Member has raised an important issue. If he were minded to press the new clause to a Division he would not find me or my colleagues supporting him, on this occasion, but, it is a topic to which we should return .

7.15 pm
Mr. Henderson

I agree with the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) that my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) has made a valuable contribution with his new clause to the discussion of the future of education and teaching in Scotland. I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be unfortunate if the new clause were pressed to a Division.

When a body as important as the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—which is the employer, through regional councils, of most of the teachers in Scotland—puts a firm recommendation to a Committee of the House that section 88 of the 1980 Act should be repealed, that should be given the grace of consideration by the House.

It was unfortunate that COSLA bounced that on to those sitting on the Committee without, apparently, having discussed it with its employees. The House should ensure that as much discussion as possible takes place before it is invited to legislate on a matter of such importance. On the one hand, the Government would want to discuss it with COSLA. I do not know how much discussion there has been between the two. COSLA should be discussing it with regional councils, and COSLA and those councils should be discussing it with the teachers' organisations concerned, because it affects teachers' basic contracts of service. Before we reach a decision on the matter we should be assured that there has been proper consultation and that consideration has been given to all the issues involved.

I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there are some bad teachers in Scotland, although the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) seemed to doubt that.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I simply asked the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) to define a bad teacher, and I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question.

Mr. Henderson

I shall not define a bad teacher, but in the past week or two I have met many teachers, including official groups representing teachers' organisations, to discuss the issue, and the majority of those with whom I have discussed the matter have said exactly what I told the House just now—there are some bad teachers. I shall not try to define a bad teacher, but I take it that those people have a fairly clear idea of what they mean by a bad teacher.

I start from the premise that there are in Scotland some bad teachers with whom, under the present system, it is difficult to deal decently and reasonably, in a way that is fair to the person concerned—who may be a decent person even though he happens not to be a good teacher—and in a way that is fair to his employers, to the parents of the children he teaches and, not least, to the children in his care. If COSLA tells us that there is a serious problem, we should at least consider the issues.

First, should there be special protection for teachers in their contracts because they are placed in a special position of employment risk compared with the majority of other workers? Chief constables and chief executives of local authorities have been protected by Parliament against dismissal to a greater degree than other groups of workers. Should teachers also be in that position? If so, by what precise mechanism should we give them appropriate protection, while providing an assurance that our children will have a professionally competent person teaching them?

I believe that in the short time since my hon. Friend brought the matter to the attention of the House there has not been enough discussion on such issues for us to reach a sensible conclusion today. I am glad that my hon. Friend said that he would not press the new clause to a vote.

However, I draw attention to a curiosity. The first letter on the subject that I received was dated 27 April 1981, and I received it on 29 April. The Fife local association of the EIS told me that it wished to protest strongly over the inclusion in the list of amendments to the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 of an amendment to repeal section 88 of the principal Act, which protects teachers from dismissal. That was curious, because I understand that my hon. Friend did not table his new clause until 6 May. What worries me is apparent collusion in a hysterical attack upon my hon. Friend, the Government and Tories in general, generated by a small group within the teaching profession.

It is curious that COSLA, which is controlled by the Labour Party, put up this proposal in the first place. It started the hare running. The EIS, or parts of it, appeared to be chasing that hare, blaming the Government and Tories in general for bringing out such a horrible suggestion—before anyone had put any such proposal before the House. The week before that happened, an hon. Member who is not now present advocated from the Opposition Front Bench that head teachers at least should go for reselection, like Labour Members, every five years, with the possibility that they could be sacked without further notice. That seemed to me to be an attack upon the teaching profession and the employment conditions and terms of service of teachers meriting considerable anxiety in the teaching profession, but I have had no representations from any of the teachers' unions on that matter. That seems odd when I think of what I can describe only as a hysterical outburst from the EIS, in particular, about the proposal that my hon. Friend has put forward for discussion.

Therefore, I ask whether there was collusion between Labour members of COSLA, Labour Party supporters who are active in certain teaching unions and hon. Members who wanted to find something with which they could beat the Tories over the head. It is remarkable that until about a fortnight ago practically all the representations on the matter that I received suggested that the Government proposed to abolish section 88. All the representations were aimed at the Government, the Tories in general or my hon. Friend.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Does my hon. Friend agree that a possible reason was that the immediate EIS press reaction to the tabling of new clause 2 at no point mentioned COSLA, although the EIS was well aware from the previous representations that the proposal originally came from COSLA?

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for adding that useful information.

I have received from the EIS a letter dated 8 May, a printed letter that was no doubt sent to all hon. Members. It said that the issue was to be debated in the House of Commons on 20 May. That was wrong. It spoke of an amendment to the Education Bill which would remove irrevocably"— I do not believe that anything that the House does is ever irrevocable. The letter went on: If the Section is repealed it will be possible for the number of teachers to be reduced with the greatest possible ease."— I find that hard to believe— The amendment has been tabled by Mr. Allan Stewart, Conservative Member for Renfrewshire"— bringing in the Tories again— who has already been identifed with attacks on the teaching profession."— As my hon. Friend explained earlier, he has only once attacked any teacher, far less the profession, and he is the son of a distinguished teacher— This strengthens the belief that the amendment is designed for no other purpose than to facilitate the reduction of staffing standards or to get rid of teachers for political rather than professional or educational reasons. What was the political motivation of the person who wrote that letter? It was signed by the general secretary of the EIS, but I cannot imagine that he, with his knowledge of political affairs, wrote it.

The employers of most of the teachers are Labour-controlled local authorities. I have heard of many local authority areas in which teachers have expressed anxiety about political motivation in appointments and staffing. I have never heard of one Tory local authority where that has been said. In the debate on the previous new clause there was a legitimate reference to former staffing problems in Lanarkshire. I cannot speak for the validity of what I was told, but there was one authority in particular in which people used to say to me no good teacher would teach because they said "The only way in which fro get promotion there is to make sure you do your thing with the Labour Party". If ever there has been any political intervention in the teaching profession to the disadvantage of teachers, I believe that it is much more likely to have come from Labour local authorities that have played that kind of game. I do not believe that Tory local authorities have played that game. I hope that they never will.

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It is vital that the House ensures that the teaching profession remains a profession of honour, dignity and respect, the interests of which will be properly protected in society. I believe that proper consideration should be given to bringing about that situation in an orderly way.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) with some trepidation. The hon. Gentleman was less than flattering to his hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart). One part of his speech suggested that COSLA, being Labour-controlled, put up the proposed amendment to section 88 as a cockshy so that some Tory would fall for it, move it and therefore bring himself and the Tory Party into great disrepute. I can hardly believe that that was the intention of the hon. Member for Fife, East. If he reflects, he will realise that his was one of the most stupid speeches that he has made in the House. It is ridiculous to suggest that this sort of idea was put forward. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Fife, East is so unintelligent as to say that kind of thing. We can therefore dismiss it.

New clause 2 is mischievous and ill-considered. The suggestion that we should change the practice in relation to the employment of teachers, far less anyone else, in an arbitrary manner by moving the deletion of a section of an Act is offensive to good trade union practice, as the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East should understand. I do not say that the matter should not be discussed. If, however, changes are to be made in employment contracts, these can only be discussed following full consultation between the employers, the trade unions and the profession. No amendment should be moved in the House unless proper negotiations have taken place. It is not correct to say that there is no forum in which these matters can be discussed. Reference has been made to the Scottish teachers conditions of service committee. That committee, on which the employers sit and on which the Government are represented by members of the Scottish Education Department, can discuss teachers' conditions of service in broad principle or in detail. Yet such discussion has not taken place. I hope that the Government will have learnt a lesson from the Civil Service dispute. It takes a long time to build up trust and confidence between particular professions and the Government. I know to my cost how fragile can be the relationships between the teaching profession and the Government.

The teaching profession, has for many years felt that its wages and conditions have been decided in some senses arbitrarily by the Government. That may not be quite true. However, there has grown up over the last decade—possibly longer—a feeling that the teaching profession is a Cinderella and that teachers are not accorded their proper place in society. Trust between the Government and the teaching profession is essential if education in Scotland is to progress.

There has been almost no mention of the real beneficiaries of the education system, namely, the children. It is the children about whom we should be concerned. I put the benefits to, and the well-being of, children in the education service above all else. If progress is to be made in education, it requires more than just the unwilling co-operation of the teaching profession. I concede that changes in education have to be made.

However, the co-operation of the teaching profession needs to be willing and enthusiastic. My fear is that Conservative Members, whether Back Benchers or members of the Government, often have no concept of how much confidence can be destroyed or damaged by the throwaway line, the chance reaction or the chance moving of an amendment. The whole fabric can be destroyed in a matter of minutes. I fear that this is what has happened here.

The reaction of some of the teaching unions and some individuals may have seemed to some people hysterical. They reacted very sharply and very quickly. That is, however, not surprising. The whole system of education has been under attack. The position of teachers is under attack. We shall be discussing, I hope, the situation whereby schools are closing in all parts of the country. It is difficult, certainly for the teaching profession, to see how standards can be maintained as money becomes ever tighter. In these circumstances, there is tremendous nervousness among the teaching profession. It is no good hon. Members saying that teachers should not be nervous or react quickly. They have been under pressure for a considerable time.

It has been suggested that there should not be separate committees. At the moment there is one committee to deal with pay and another to deal with conditions of service. It has been suggested that one committee should deal with pay and conditions of service. At the back of the minds of teachers is the belief that the Government are looking for ways in which redundancies can be made more easily. I recognise that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East says that this has nothing to do with redundancies. The trouble is that these matters cannot be discussed in a vacuum. The background to the situation has to be taken into account.

What bothers me about the new clause is that I suspect that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East was kite-flying to see the reaction. It does not matter whether COSLA proposed what is contained in the new clause. The responsibility for tabling the new clause lies solely with the hon. Member. He tabled the new clause in the least helpful manner if he was hoping to get a discussion on what is happening in the teaching profession. It is grossly irresponsible that this matter should be discussed in a vacuum, suggesting that the section should be removed and that there should be discussions about what should take its place. No one has proposed anything to take its place.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that it would have been better if this important point made by the convention had not been discussed by the House at all? That seems to be what he is suggesting.

Mr. Hughes

That is exactly what I am saying. If, as I believe is true, COSLA did not discuss this matter with the teaching profession, it was grossly irresponsible of it to include the matter in any submission. The Bill has been in a state of germination for a long time. It did not suddenly appear. Over the last two years the Government have been considering how education might move forward. Any suggestion that section 88 should be changed should come only after the most detailed discussion. It was irresponsible for COSLA to have put it forward. It was certainly irresponsible of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East to table the new clause, knowing that it would cause difficulties. I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman thought that he could table the new clause in its bald form without realising that it would cause problems.

If the hon. Gentleman had wanted proper, responsible discussion he could have written to the teaching unions. He could have pointed out that COSLA had put forward the suggestion and that the new clause had not been tabled in Committee. He could have said that he felt the matter should be discussed and that he wanted the unions' views. He could have made it clear that he wanted the matter to be open for debate, both in the House and outside, and that he was considering placing the new clause on the Amendment Paper. If he had done that, we would not have had such a reaction from the teaching unions. Naturally, they saw the measure as a direct threat to their conditions of service. If he had taken such action he would have done much to remove the misapprehension that may exist.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Those discussions took place. Subsequently, I had a responsible discussion with the Educational Institute of Scotland, which then reported that discussion accurately and reasonably on the front page of its journal. I objected to the initial reaction, which was irresponsible. I refer particularly to press reports about possible strike action.

Mr. Hughes

The reaction was not irresponsible. Whether it was hasty is a different matter. That is a question of definition. The hon. Gentleman has given the game away. He said that after tabling the new clause he had a reasonable and rational discussion, which was properly reported. He should have had that discussion before tabling the new clause.

Mr. Henderson

How does the hon. Gentleman explain the fact that I received letters from the EIS about this problem before my hon. Friend tabled his new clause? Presumably, anxiety about the possibility that the matter would be discussed in the House arose before my hon. Friend had tabled the new clause. Was it not better, therefore, that the matter should be debated openly?

Mr. Hughes

I cannot explain why the hon. Gentleman received letters a couple of days before the new clause was tabled. If he did receive such letters, did he discuss them with anyone else?

Mr. Henderson

Yes. I discussed them with my hon. Friend, who had served on the committee. I asked him what it was all about. He said that the matter had not come before the committee and that he did not know what it involved, other than that COSLA had put forward a proposition and that the matter might be related to that.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is making matters worse. If he had alerted the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East to the fact that he was beginning to receive letters expressing grave reservations, and if the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East then tabled the new clause without consulting the teaching unions, he compounded the felony. I had thought that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East had misconceived the matter, but things begin to look different. Perhaps there is more to the case put forward by the teaching unions than we were led to believe.

Far from there being collusion between COSLA and Labour Members to embarrass the Tories, it begins to look as if there was collusion between the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East and the hon. Member for Fife, East to be provocative and to table a new clause, secure in the knowledge that there was great concern about it.

7.45 pm

Teachers sometimes have to teach difficult subjects. In the old days things were fairly straightforward. Technical and scientific subjects were taught. There was a base curriculum, and reading, writing and arithmetic were taught throughout the school. However, as the school leaving age has gone up we have begun to understand that there is more to teaching than simply stuffing facts down children's throats in the hope that they will regurgitate them and satisfy the examiner on the day. We have come to understand that the teacher's role is also to discuss the wider aspects of life. Therefore, teachers venture into extremely controversial subjects. It is easy for teachers of civic studies, for example, to be accused of political bias.

Sometimes parents get the wrong end of the stick. One evening I was canvassing and was astonished to be told by a parent that she was disturbed by what was happening in her daughter's school because her daughter was having political propaganda stuffed down her throat. Naturally, I object to that kind of thing. I made inquiries and was told that the teacher involved was a raving fanatical member of the SNP, who used his occupation as a teacher to push SNP propaganda. As the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) would have been, I was upset. Like me, I am sure that he does not want party political propaganda to be pushed in schools.

As might be expected, I made further inquiries. I discovered that the person involved was teaching a class how political parties operated. It so happened that the only political party that he had been able to contact was the SNP. I accepted that information in good faith. I said that I was sure that a teacher would not abuse his position, and I accepted what I was told as a literal truth. I visited Labour Party headquarters and collected a bunch of material. I gave it to the girl and told her to hand it to the teacher. I said that if the teacher was unwilling to use the material in the way that he had used the SNP material, I should have words to say about it. I am glad to report that the material was used. I understand that subsequently the teacher took great care to contact all the political parties in his area to ensure that he received material from them. That is good.

If I had been headstrong, politically motivated and irresponsible, rather than a sober Member of Parliament who takes his responsibilities seriously and never acts without thoroughly investigating the matter, I could have done that teacher's reputation great harm. Given the political composition of Grampion regional council and given also that some of the Tory councillors are not exactly known for their tact, they might have attempted to get rid of that teacher if I had pressed the matter.

I have not laboured that small example, because I am anxious to stay within the rules of order. However, that is one example of how a teacher can land himself in difficulties because of a lack of knowledge or because he may not have gone far enough into the matter. Therefore, we should not take away the section 88 protection without putting a properly considered measure in its place. At a time when events do not threaten, there should be rational discussion. Other matters could bring a teacher into disrepute. Neither the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East nor the hon. Member for Fife, East was willing lo define a bad teacher. They dodged that issue.

This is at the core of the argument. If we are to have some sort of dismissal procedure for teachers different from that in section 88, there must be some definition of the misdeeds for which teachers can be sacked. We must decide whether it is a matter of teaching capability. I accept that there are some teachers who start off in the profession with the best of good intentions but find that they are not suited to it. But what else is there for them to do? As the days go by, there is even less for them to do. Therefore, there is a tendency for teachers who might otherwise think of leaving the profession not to do so because there is nothing else for them to do. Therefore, they are very concerned to see what happens.

In my view there has to be some sort of continuous assessment, and everyone must know what that system is to be. I do not want to stray into the realm of continuous assessment of the educational capabilities of pupils, but continuous assessment has its problems. There are some people who are very good teachers but who, perhaps, do not get on with Her Majesty's Inspectorate. We have to take care of such people.

It is very difficult to define a bad teacher. Hon. Members may regard this as a rather simplistic definition, but I regard a bad teacher as one who does not have the interests of his pupils at heart. That is the prime concern.

In this connection, what is to be done about the controversial issue of corporal punishment? Here too, there is an area which, it might be thought, could lead to teachers being sacked. Any teacher who uses corporal punishment as a teaching method ought to be right out of our schools, but the way to deal with that is to deal with corporal punishment and not with the individual teacher. A teacher might have very strong views about corporal punishment. If he uses it, or expresses himself publicly, an authority which is strongly against it might be tempted, unless there are other provisions in the way, to get rid of that teacher for that reason.

In our discussions we have not come forward with any idea of what might be put in the place of section 88 if it is removed. To do that without taking into account the fact that teachers are concerned about redundancies and that the new clause has suddenly been put on the Amendment Paper without prior consultation with them, either by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East or by COSLA is irresponsible in the extreme.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East may not realise it, but I fear that he has prejudiced a discussion about changes in section 88, which many hon. Members have said should take place. It is now sown in the minds of many in the teaching profession that this has been done. If, in a month, two months or six months the Government say to the teachers "Let us discuss whether we can get rid of section 88", they will feel that it is part of a determined attempt to reduce their conditions of service instead of, first, enhancing the status of the good teacher and, secondly, finding a way in which teachers who are incompetent—I accept that there are some—or who are unsuitable for the profession—I accept that there are some—are retrained and given the kind of knowledge that will make them better teachers, or are eased out of the profession.

This matter has been discussed in a way that is not helpful. I regret that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East tabled the new clause in its present form and in the manner that he did.

Mr. John MacKay

I have some sympathy with the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). It is one of the regrettable results of this debate and of the three or four weeks leading up to it that some unfortunate comments have been made about section 88. However, that is not the fault of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart). It is much more the fault of the Educational Institute of Scotland, which has reacted in an hysterical manner and put out the most ludicrous statements about my hon. Friend and about the composition of the House that I have seen for many a day other than, from not the Left wing of the Labour Party, but the Scottish National Party. That is more the stuff to which the outpourings of the EIS could be likened. It is unfortunate, because there is a background of discussion about the general question of the security of tenure of the very incompetent teacher.

I am sure that all hon. Members who contribute to this debate read avidly The Times Educational Supplement. In last weekend's edition there were two references to the problem of the incompetent teacher. The first was by the visitation committee of the General Teaching Council of Scotland, which was looking into operations in Dundee and Aberdeen colleges of education and at the liaison between the colleges and schools. It said: The most worrying statement we heard came from a principal teacher whose report on a student had said that under no circumstances should the student be allowed to become a teacher. He received no acknowledgement of his adverse report and claimed that the student became a teacher in due course and fulfilled the worst predictions. In the same edition last weekend there was a report on the conference of the National Association of Head Teachers. I admit that that took place in England, the problem does not recognise the internal boundaries of the country as being uncrossable. The conference agreed overwhelmingly to support moves to weed out incompetent and inadequate teachers. One representative said: It would be tragic if we continue to get square pegs in round holes. The greatest misery would be on the teacher himself. There is a great deal of discussion going on about this problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East mentioned the retiring president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, Mr. Alistair Fulton, and quoted what he said. He expressed concern. To date I have not read any report of the recent conference of the EIS. I do not know whether it has given any consideration to the matter. I may find that I have to withdraw these words when I read any reports, but I have not yet read in the Scottish press that the EIS has turned its mind to this difficult problem of the incompetent and inadequate teacher. All that it did on this issue was to raise the temperature by tens of degrees with the histrionic attack, that it made on my hon. Friend who, after all, tabled a proposal that was suggested to him by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

If putting down a motion suggested by COSLA is an offence, Labour Members were guilty of that offence day after day in Standing Committee, where they did it all the time. I do not consider that putting down COSLA amendments is an offence, whether it be done by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East or by an Opposition Member.

It is unfortunate that the EIS has chosen not to argue the pros and cons of section 88 and whether the section could be amended to get round the problem faced by the authorities in removing inadequate teachers. Instead, it has chosen to adopt a more histrionic approach.

Those hon. Members who received a letter from the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association got a far better argument against my hon. Friend's proposal. What is more, if hon. Members had read an article in The Scotsman on 2 June 1981 by the retiring general secretary of the SSTA they would have read a very much better critique of his proposal than we shall hear from the Opposition in this debate.

8 pm

The background to the problem is that for many years the principal objective of education authorities, backed by the teacher's union, was that anyone in front of a class was a good thing, and that it did not much matter whether the body was good, bad or indifferent—anybody would do. Those days have ended, so the time has come to look at the problem of those in the teaching profession who are inadequate and incompetent.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North posed the question twice to my hon. Friends about how they would define an inadequate or incompetent teacher. He suggested that not having the interests of the pupil at heart might be a definition. I am afraid that that will not do. Some of the most incompetent teachers that I know have the interests of the pupil at heart, but they are totally unable to put across their subject and maintain any discipline in the classroom.

Every large school has one or two incompetent or inadequate teachers. Every headmaster despairs of them. All the pupils know them. The parents worry about their children having them. Yet the record of authorities removing them is bad. COSLA suggests that the reason is section 88. I doubt that very much. In support of that contention I shall read a quotation from an article in the The Scotsman by Jimmy Docherty of the SSTA.

However, let me first give the background. The present procedure is that the director must take the case to the education authority. Presumably, the case has been made for him by the inspectorate, by the headmaster and from reports from inside the school by the principal teacher, and so on. The article says: If a director produces clear evidence of incompetence and still cannot persuade two-thirds of the committee to vote for dismissal, then either the committee does not have much confidence in its chief official or the members of the committee are taking into account considerations other than educational ones—possibly ideological or political or personal. And if a director is reluctant even to try to have the committee consider and adopt a resolution for the dismissal of an incompetent teacher, he cannot have much confidence in the ability of the committee to make an objective and unbiased decision on a matter of great educational importance. In either case, it is not repeal of Section 88 which is called for, but a great deal of soul-searching on the part of the directors and their committee. That sums up the case against my hon. Friend's proposal.

We must look to the education committee and to the directorate for a solution of the problem. A positive commitment is required—perhaps we have it, in that COSLA suggested the proposal—by COSLA and the teachers' unions to find a procedure that will make it simpler to take cases to the education committee. As any teacher knows, there is evidence that in the past headmasters have said to directors "Here is my evidence", and the directors have simply said "I am not taking that to the committee because it is not enough", or something similar. The headmaster is left thinking "What else can I do but collect the evidence that I have? I can think of no other evidence that would add to the weighty case that I already have, but the directorate is reluctant to go to the committee." I hope that the teachers' unions and COSLA, and perhaps my hon. Friend's Department, will have—I hate to use the term, but I think that in this case it's almost appropriate—meaningful discussions about this problem.

An incompetent teacher damages the educational opportunities of the children in his charge. Schools go through the most elaborate procedures to lessen the damage, as I am sure that Labour Members who have been teachers know. Instead of a class having a teacher for a whole year, the department changes about every term so that pupils have the bad teacher for only one term out of a whole session. That is not a good solution, but it is the way to get round the problem of condemning a child to a whole year with a poor teacher.

I am glad that we are debating this matter, but I wish that we were not to have a debate on the proposal tabled by my hon. Friend and whether he should have tabled it without the prior permission of the EIS. That is a pity. However, it is important that those with responsibility for the matter who read the report of our debate and should attempt to tackle the problem.

Authorities, through headmasters, and following reports from the inspectorate, can start to take action in this regard. I hope that they will begin to do that. If next year, or the year after, they come back to us and say "We have done it. We took 20 or 30 cases to the education committees and we failed time and again because they would not listen to us", we should consider whether to amend section 88. However, I do think that that will happen. The members of an education committee are as interested in the kind and quality of education that is provided in their areas as is anyone else. If a good case is put to them and they hear the teacher's side, too, I believe that they will act responsibly and remove that teacher from his post.

The stumbling block, therefore, is not the education committee, with the powers of section 88 round its neck. Rather, it is the administration, which has been reluctant to take cases to the education committee. That reluctance must be removed, but it cannot be done by legislation. We can do that only by making it clear to those concerned that they have an obligation under existing legislation to take action and do something for the standing of the teaching profession and for the education of the children, who, through no fault of their own, find that part of their school career is blighted by an incompetent teacher.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) put his finger on the fact that the new clause is not the way to tackle incompetent teachers. I shall not define them, but obviously in every profession some members are better than others, and some are imcompetent.

I do not know why the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) was so uptight about the EIS having preceded what happened by a few days. That seemed to me intelligent anticipation. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) has not been slandered. If someone says "This man is going to burgle a house"—I hope the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East will forgive the comparison—and the house is burgled a week later, surely the burglar's reputation has not been severely damaged. The hon. Member for Fife, East found it even more objectionable that his hon. Friend was described as a Conservative. Things have not reached that pass yet, even in Scotland.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East when he says that the same disciplinary procedure should be used as in England. I am willing to agree with anything that comes from England or Tanzania if it can be proved to me that it is better than what obtains in Scotland. However, I am extremely hostile to anything that suggests that something should be changed in Scotland simply because it is done differently south of the border. That is not only an insufficient argument, but it is offensive to Scots.

The purpose of section 88 was to ensure security to teachers. When one has been trained as a teacher one is not much good for anything else. It is not true to say that a sacked coal miner would find it just as hard to find a job as would a sacked teacher. The coal miner could go to another colliery and have a reasonable chance of being employed. If he worked well, his career would be safe. That is not true of a sacked teacher. So it is right that teachers who have been trained for that job should have security and should not be removed from their jobs without serious reason.

I am not sure that if section 88 were abolished there would be any more guts to tackle the question of the incompetent teacher. I am not convinced that the abolition of section 88 would make any difference.

Falling rolls are said to present an opportunity to dismiss bad teachers. I do not believe that there will be any more readiness to grapple with that problem. The repeal of section 88 might allow politically motivated authorities to get rid of teachers they do not like. I do not see any good reason for changing the safeguard. The abolition of section 88 is not the way to remove incompetent teachers.

Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)

I welcome the opportunity to speak about the new clause, because the issue is important to Scottish parents. Teachers in the public sector should not be surprised that their employers, COSLA and the directors of education, should be assessing how teachers can be dismissed. In recent years few teachers have been dismissed under the terms of section 88 or under previous similar legislation. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how many teachers have been dismissed under section 88.

Mr. Maxton

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would also like to ask the Minister how many other local government employees who do not have the protection of section 88 have been dismissed.

Mr. Walker

We are discussing teachers.

Since 1880 teachers have enjoyed favourable terms of employment and, until recently, almost total job security. Some parents might believe that teachers have enjoyed privileged terms of employment without exercising a corresponding and equal accountablility and responsibility. Professional people in the private sector regard teachers as highly privileged.

Why should we debate the matter, and why are changes sought? The first reason for so doing is that there is a surplus of teachers, which brings about pressures to get rid of incompetent teachers. However, I believe that there is more to it than that. The demand, in part, is a reaction by employers to the path that teachers' organisations have chosen to follow and to the action that some teachers have taken to further their aims, often without regard to the well-being of their pupils.

No longer are teachers' organisations regarded as professional representative bodies. Instead, they are regarded and described, especially by Opposition Members, as teachers trade unions. That sums up the problem. Teachers' unions have indulged in industrial action that is far removed from the high standards and values previously associated with Scotland's teachers. Discontent under the Labour Government caused teachers to picket at school gates. We still see teachers picketing under the present Government. Teachers are subjected to unhappy and unsatisfactory media exposure. We have seen dishevelled and scruffy individuals at school gates representing teachers' organisations.

Mr. Maxton

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that teachers who take part in industrial action should be dismissed?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman has not listened carefully to what I have said. I was describing the reaction of employers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen carefully. I am worried, because I believe that the majority of Scottish teachers are good and that the activities of some have damaged the majority. That is disturbing. I understand that teachers in the Lothian region are considering calling a one-day strike in an effort to persuade their employers to retain about half a dozen temporary teachers. That is what I have in mind.

I and others have tried to warn teachers of the dangers that they face if they persist in behaving like industrial trade union members. They are placing at risk their professional terms of employment. There is nothing odd about an employer reacting to employees' actions. The majority of Scotland's teachers are prepared to be treated as professionals. A dedicated professional teacher has nothing to fear from the repeal of section 88. Teachers would not welcome its repeal because they would see it as a threat to their professional terms of employment and accountability. Professional dedicated teachers take that seriously.

8.15 pm

I hope that the Government will take note of the strong feelings of COSLA, the directors of education and parents about the way in which teachers have behaved and the non-dismissal of unsatisfactory teachers. That is the crux of the matter.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) tried to define an unsatisfactory teacher. I suggest that a teacher who fails to measure up to the standards required for that individual to qualify at any time afterwards is not a good teacher. Other organisations carry out regular evaluation exercises. That is done on an annual basis. Flying instructors in the RAF, for instance, are required to undergo annual reassessments of their flying and teaching ability. It is not easy to become a qualified flying instructor. It is much more difficult than passing through teacher training college. In addition to being able to teach, an instructor must be able to fly well. That is a rare combination It should be possible to evaluate training standards on an annual basis. The inspectorate should be capable of that.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Once again, neolithic man, the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) gives his view of people who are responsible and make an invaluable contribution to the well-being of the country. I hope that Scottish teachers will carefully read the Official Report tomorrow so that they will know exactly what the hon. Gentleman has said.

The proposal of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) marks the latest phase in the Government's battle against the Scottish education system. We sought to fight that in every way possible in Committee. When one listens to speeches by Conservative Members, one realises how difficult it was for the Opposition to persuade the Government that the Bill would do nothing for education in Scotland.

The proposal is another phase in the attack by the Conservative Party on the Scottish education system. Tory Members are not content with antagonising every sector of education, from nursery schools to universities and colleges of education. Universities play an important role in providing suitably qualified teachers for our high schools. Reports appeared in yesterday's press that because of the Government's cuts in aid to the University Grants Committee there was a threat to merge Dundee university with St. Andrews university. If those reports are true, I assure the Government that they will meet with absolute opposition from all sections of the community in Dundee.

The Government are not content with fierce cuts in expenditure on education and with holding down teachers' salaries. They are intent on a full-scale frontal attack on the teachers' ability to protect their jobs. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East was naive to suggest that there should not have been an immediate reaction from trade unionists to the announcement that he intended to table the new clause. It is usual for trade unions to react immediately on behalf of those whom they represent, to show from the outset the extent to which they will oppose any attack on their members' living standards or conditions of work. I would not have been happy if the EIS had not responded positively.

Conservative Members ask why teachers should have better job protection than car workers, plumbers or engineers. We agree with them. The Labour Administration sought additional protection for workers in industry generally through the Employment Protection Act 1975. We have only to look at this Government's legislation to see how they intend to safeguard the rights of workers. Their legislation is intended to lessen the protection that workers need to safeguard their livelihoods. The Bill is a further example of the Government's thinking.

The Bill demonstrates the callousness and insensitivity of the Government towards employment. Their thinking is portrayed in their every action. Although Conservative Members may say that they are glad that the new clause will not be pressed, I am sure that they would have supported it in the Lobby. It conforms to the general theme of their attack on working people and trade union rights.

Teachers have an important and responsible position in society, namely, the education of our youngsters. They should have the support of the House rather than being constantly picked on by such Members as the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire. Because teachers are in a sensitive area of education, some will always be prepared to say that many of them, especially those teaching history and modern studies, are Left-wing extremists attempting to brainwash their pupils. Labour Members who have been teachers will refute that myth. Because of the serious nature of the charge and the vulnerability of teachers, it is essential that dismissal should take place only with the agreement of two-thirds of the education committee of the regional council. A simple majority is not enough. If a simple majority system is to be adopted, it may give the green light to politically motivated regions to begin a McCarthy-type witch hunt to weed out what they believe to be Left-wing suspects.

School teachers employed in the Tayside region, which has responsibility for eduation in my constituency, would be at risk under that system. The Tories do not have two-thirds of the seats on the education committee, so they cannot summarily dismiss teachers. If they were given the power of a simple majority system I am sure that they would set out, with the able assistance of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire, on a campaign against teachers whom they felt were not capable or competent.

Such measures stem from the Conservative Party's suspicion, superstition and downright hostility towards teachers who, during recent years, have failed to vote for it. The new clause would ensure that even more teachers in Scotland would not vote for the Conservative Party in the next general election. Even worse, under the new clause teachers would lose the right to be heard in their own defence. They would be informed that their contracts of employment had been terminated because the education committee believed that lessons were politically motivated. The education committee would act as prosecutor and judge. The new clause does not grant teachers the right to defend themselves. That runs against the basic concept of justice. There would be other reasons for dismissal such as "laziness", "does not teach classes properly", or "surplus to requirement". If the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire had his way they would be dismissed for not dressing as a teacher should dress. That is utter and arrant nonsense.

Mr. Bill Walker

The term I used was "scruffy".

Mr. Ross

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the accusation that he made some time ago in the Scottish press, when he said that teachers did not dress as teachers should.

Mr. Walker

I wish to correct the hon. Gentleman. I have no idea of the newspaper to which he refers, but I have always used the term "scruffy". It discribes clearly, as we Scots understand it, the meaning of a falling below standards. I have used that term consistently.

Mr. Ross

I have always believed that it is not a person's outward appearance that is important, but what is inside him. Those who seek to teach our children should be concerned for them. That has nothing to do with whether they wear a white collar and a tie, or a blouse and skirt. That is not important.

Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)

Or long hair.

Mr. Ross

I agree with my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), the leader of the Labour Party, for many years was regarded as a person not concerned with his dress. Even now he is not concerned about it. He is more concerned with leading by example. What is important is what comes out of his mouth, rather than whether he has a jacket of the latest cut. I hope that teachers dress confidently, so that they feel comfortable in themselves and more able to teach our children. I have given an example of the sort of nonsense that we have heard from Conservative Members during debates on this nasty Bill.

Accusations have been made that opposition to the Bill comes only from members of the Labour Party. It is significant that the EIS is not affiliated to the Labour Party. That cannot be ignored. Equally, the response from teachers cannot be ignored. In Dundee the Ardler primary school, the Clepington primary school, the Douglas primary school and the Harris academy—the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire finds my reference to the Harris academy rather amusing; I am sure that he will agree that the academy is not a bastion of Left-wing Socialism—oppose the new clause. Almost without exception, every teacher in those schools and in the Gowriehill primary school signed letters in opposition to it. I doubt whether all those who signed the letters could be claimed to be members of the Labour Party.

8.30 pm
Mr. Allan Stewart

I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that no Conservative Member has suggested that opposition comes solely from Labour Party members. In my opening remarks I referred to the concern and anxiety of responsible teachers about what might happen if section 88 were repealed.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East tabled the new clause and the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) gave us the background to the collusion that took place during and after its tabling. The speech of the hon. Member for Fife, East is the key to the issue. It must be set against the assumption that all teachers who are concerned about education are politically motivated and Labour Party members.

The new clause will not be pressed, but I do not think that this is the last that the House will hear of the Conservative Party's attempt to take away the hard-won rights of the teaching profession. Labour Members will seek to sustain the rights won by trade unionists, whether they are teachers, car workers or plumbers. I am glad that the new clause will not be pressed. I am glad also that the debate has taken place. It will alert the teaching profession in Scotland to the thinking of Conservative Members.

Mr. Maclennan

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) realised that he would cause such an interesting debate to take place on the sartorial propriety of the teaching profession. It has been perhaps the most passionate exchange to take place so far. I must express some doubt about whether the hon. Gentleman has served a useful purpose in opening the debate.

Initially, COSLA was reacting to widespread disquiet about the apparent inability to remove teachers and responding to discussion among parents and those in education authorities. It must be doubted whether COSLA made a case that needed to be ventilated in the House.

There is little evidence—certainly COSLA produced little—that section 88 constitutes a barrier to the removal of teachers. There have been only two attempts in the past year to remove teachers under section 88. One of the attempts was successful, and I think that that was in the Lothian region. In the other instance, not 50 per cent. of the education authority in the Orkneys was prepared to vote for the teacher's removal. This situation does not arise because there is a procedural difficulty that cannot be satisfied. It is intrinsically difficult to decide that a teacher should be removed for incompetency. It is difficult to do so because the evidence may not be clear. Undoubtedly, there will be anxiety on the part of those who exercise authority over teachers to ensure that they are not acting on a capricious or malicious complaint.

In some instances it is difficult to draw the line between what is plainly incompetence meriting removal and what is, perhaps, the incompatibility of a particular teacher with a particular pupil, or the inadequacy of the teacher in dealing with a certain type of pupil. Some teachers are good at teaching less academically able children and others are better at teaching the academically able. A teacher may be incompetent when dealing with one type of child and able with another. In those circumstances, it is unreasonable to impose the ultimate sanction of dismissal upon such a person.

What is needed is a system that allows the teacher to be guided into the area of teaching of which he or she is most capable, to the satisfaction of the authority and to the betterment of the education of children. The House should amend what is a relatively recent provision of the law only on much better evidence than that which has been produced.

Mr. Allan Stewart

The 1980 Act was simply a consolidation measure. Essentially, the law has been unchanged since 1882.

Mr. Maclennan

I accept that. Perhaps I could phrase what I said in another way. If there were a standing complaint against the provision in the law embodied in the 1980 Act, and if evidence were deployed over a period of years that the Act was acting as a barrier to tackling the problem of incompetency, the House would have to take that evidence seriously. However, I do not believe that any such evidence has been deployed.

There are other ways of dealing with the problem that may be more appropriate. It is possible that a more appropriate way of seeking to ensure that incompetent teachers are removed in bad cases would be to strengthen the powers of the General Teaching Council over them by extending its responsibility for dismissal. That might prove more acceptable to the profession and might prove to be a more satisfactory way of proceeding.

However, in any event there are many other ways of proceeding. There are, for example, statutory ways. One could alter the powers of the General Teaching Council to encourage those who have no vocation in teaching, or are failing to conduct their responsibilities as they should, to give them up. The premature retirement compensation regulations may particularly help the older teacher who, at one stage of his or her career, may have been competent but has become less so with the passage of time. If the Government are persuaded that there is a genuine problem—widespread disquiet touched off the debate—they should begin discussions with the teaching profession on how best the profession can tackle the problem.

Undoubtedly, the profession reacted strongly to what was seen as an attack on its rights. In a way, that reflected a failure to understand the peculiar position of the teacher. The teaching profession is vulnerable to criticism, because almost every member of the public comes into contact with teachers. Many people have experience of teachers whom they do not like. Many people feel disappointed that their children are not making the sort of progress in school that they would like. Naturally, they feel that, in part, the blame must be attributed to the teacher. That being so, it is reasonable: to consider how to protect the teacher from unfair criticism.

Somewhat different procedures from those that are available to the industrial employee under the Employment Protection Acts are appropriate. With a teacher's exposure to constant criticism, it is appropriate to rely on the professional protection enjoyed in other professions. For example, hospital doctors are ultimately answerable to their peers through the General Medical Council. They enjoy a degree of security comparable with that of teachers, for similar reasons. General practitioners are notionally self-employed, so are not subject to those procedures. Judges are removable only by Act of Parliament, so perhaps their position is unique. The case has not been made out for abandoning the procedures embodied in the 1980 Act.

In so far as the new clause has led to discursive discussion of the general question it has served a useful purpose, but it would have been preferable had the debate followed an exchange with the teaching profession and perhaps a more extensive explanation from COSLA of why it felt that it was appropriate to move in that way. An adequate case has not been made out for the House to act on. Had the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East decided to press the new clause to a Division, I should have opposed it.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock)

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) for some justification of the new clause, but his introduction was no more than a shabby backroom effort to introduce the proposal at this time. He should have introcuced it in Committee. His excuses for not doing so are lamentable and do him no justice.

I confess that I felt that the hon. Gentleman may have been used as a pawn by the Minister, who, from an attic window in Edinburgh, North, like a modern Svengali, had exuded an influence over someone whom I had considered to be a humane member of the Conservative Party. My, what we learn from debates.

The hon. Gentleman's excuses for attempting to introduce this awful piece of legislation were confused by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson), who suggested that there may have been a massive Machiavellian plot induced by a member of Labour-controlled COSLA, who threw the idea into the air, hoping that it would bounce around and eventually fall into willing hands, presumably of an Opposition Member, who would produce it to the House in a seedy fashion. That is ludicrous. However, the hon. Gentleman's remarks gave me an insight into how the proposal came about.

Possibly the measure was deemed too unimportant to be raised in Committee, or possibly Conservative Members were instructed by the Whip that they should talk as little as possible and certainly not introduce controversial measures. Unacceptable as that is, one could perhaps understand it, but I believe that the matter is even more insidious. We learn that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East was accused by the EIS of contemplating the measure, but he nevertheless went on to introduce it, so it cannot be said that he had not thought about it. Why, then, did he introduce it at this time?

The key to that perhaps lies in his own statement that, having tabled the amendment, the first thing that he did was to inform the press, rather than any of the bodies that had an interest in the matter. He did not go to the chairman of COSLA and say that he had introduced the measure that COSLA sought, or to the EIS, or to any of the school teacher unions to tell them what he intended to do. He went to the press. The hon. Gentleman nods. That is the key to the matter. All of us are tempted from time to time, irrespective of the merits of the case, to run to the press because we seek publicity in some form or other.

Mr. Maxton

Not George.

8.45 pm
Mr. McKelvey

I looked in the direction of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) quite inadvertently at that point.

Mr. Allan Stewart

I should point out, first, that I met COSLA on the last day of the Committee. That was when discussion about putting down an amendment on Report took place. Secondly, I informed the press in order to put across the important point, which was correctly reported, that the amendment would be introduced so that the matter could be discussed and that I was not committed to pressing it to a Division.

Mr. McKelvey

That may be. Nevertheless, it strikes me as somewhat unusual, and it seems a somewhat tenuous argument, for the hon. Gentleman to say that he met COSLA on the last day of the Committee, thus rendering it impossible to raise a matter that could have been dealt with during the previous 26 sittings. However, people may judge that explanation for themselves.

The potential consequences of the new clause are serious. Teachers could be dismissed by a simple majority of an education authority, rather than the two-thirds at present required, and they would lose the right for their defence against dismissal procedures to be heard. Those are serious implications.

There was no evidence that any industrial relations consultation had been undertaken on to what would replace the provision if it were removed. In other words, a vacuum would have been left. Conservative Members shook their heads when that matter was raised earlier, but there was nothing to say that there had been any discussions with the parties involved. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker), I believe, raised the subject of consultation. Certainly there was no consultation with the appropriate teaching unions about the possible consequences of the repeal of section 88.

At the least, we should consider the contents of some of the letters from the trade unions involved. I am glad that they have now developed into trade unions. Despite the comments of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire, that is a healthy and progressive development. If anyone thinks that the progress of such organizations from associations to trade unions is a bad or regrettable step, that merely shows the extent of Tory backwoods thinking and explains why Conservatives have such difficulty in understanding industrial relations problems.

Mr. Maxton

As I am sure that the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) will admit, the airline pilots also now have a trade union to represent them.

Mr. McKelvey

That is news to me. I am certainly glad to hear it. I am sure that the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire will also be glad to hear that his flying friends have now progressed as far as deciding that they, too, should be members of a trade union, so that they may benefit from that sort of organisation.

Let us consider the difficulties that would have faced teachers if the new clause had been accepted. I quote from a letter from the Educational Institute of Scotland, which was sent to the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East. The letter, from a teacher, states: Let me quote a personal example. During my career as a teacher of history I was attacked by a Church of Scotland minister for presenting both sides of the case in teaching about the Reformation. Was I wrong, with Roman Catholic children in the class, to point out that their church had its own standpoint in those times? Should I have ignored the efforts of Reformation within the Roman Catholic church and concentrated on the Calvinist point of view? In my opinion I presented a balanced view of history. In my opinion, that is what teaching is all about. The teacher went on: If section 88 is repealed, every teacher will be constrained by the thought that the deviation from what is acceptable to the ruling party in local government may lead to dismissal. That is important, and that is why the teachers got hysterical about the thought that this legislation might be successful. They were right to do so, because they would then be subject to the whims of a majority of the local ruling political party. That would be dangerous, not only for the Scottish teaching profession, but for education.

I do not want teachers to be subject to the whims of any narrow-minded political party. In some ways the two-thirds majority provision offers some protection. Of course the teachers were right to jump quickly to the defence of their present position. In their progress towards trade union status the one thing that teachers have learnt—like millions of other workers, be they white or blue-collar—is that any delay in jumping to one's defence is catastrophic, especially under this Government. People who had been prepared responsibly to accept redundancies and unemployment are now beginning to fight back and say "Enough and no more".

On this occasion the teachers were absolutely correct to leap to their own defence. I appreciate that any hon. Member has the right to introduce legislation. Nevertheless, the teachers became aware of the fact that a completely irresponsible piece of legislation was being introduced, and that caused concern and anxiety to many people, especially in a political climate when unemployment in Scotland has reached catastrophic and unacceptable proportions.

Let me quote from a letter from Jimmy Docherty, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. The whole letter ought to go on record, but it is quite long and I shall not tempt providence by quoting it all. I shall concentrate on paragraph 2, which relates to something that was not discussed in the House and which the school teachers had a right to point out.

Under the customs and practice by which they are employed, Scottish teachers are members of a registered profession. As a condition of retaining their posts they are required to pay a fee annually to have their names retained on the register maintained by the General Teaching Council of Scotland. The letter points out: They may lose their jobs by being struck off the register because of a complaint by a member of the public or by a criminal conviction entirely unconnected with the exercise of their job. That condition does not apply to the vast majority of workers. It certainly does not apply to hon. Members. The letter goes on: It would be be unjust to change the rules on dismissal after the hazards of registration and possible striking off have been accepted in the context of the section 88 rule. Therefore, Scottish teachers must maintain double standards. Under those circumstances, any contemplated change was bound to cause a great deal of anxiety, which it did.

It is refreshing to hear some of the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). His analysis was absolutely correct. He comes from a school of which I was a graduate, namely, politics in the Dundee area. As a result, we recognise immediately what this sort of legislation and manoeuvre is all about.

Over the past two years the Tories have tried to cut education standards by dragging back money from the authorities, by attacks on the colleges of education and by cuts in university budgets. Despite the promises made by the Tories in their manifesto to equalise education, they said nothing about the methods by which they would achieve that—which is to pull everybody back through lack of finance or the closure of colleges of education.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East has sought to introduce the new clause, phrased in a rather sneaky and scabby fashion—"scabby" is a good Scottish word; it was a scabby manoeuvre to introduce it in this fashion—so that the education system in Scotland would fall in line with the system pervading in England. It is right that we should oppose this backstairs—"backstairs" is another good Scottish term—type of manoeuvre.

The hon. Member knows that if the new clause were accepted it would damage relations between teachers and the Government far more than would all the contentious clauses of the Bill lumped together. For years to come this one manoeuvre will do irretrievable harm to industrial relations in teaching.

One cannot lay the blame at the feet of the entire Government. In this case it is being done by a rather rash act on the part of an individual who seems to be, although he has not been proven to be, motivated by the Minister responsible for education. Teachers see it as an attack upon their integrity in presenting subjects of a political nature, such as history and modern studies, fairly and impartially.

I wrote to most of the schools in my area to say that I should be happy to visit them and talk to their senior pupils taking modern studies about Parliament as seen through the eyes of a relatively new parliamentarian. I received a reply from one academy saying that it regretted that it could not take up my offer because it was fearful that it would be misconstrued as trying to indoctrinate their senior pupils. The principal said "However, you are welcome to come and talk to the teachers"—presumably because they had been so indoctrinated by the manoeuvres of the long-haired hippies and manoeuvred towards the Left that what I would have to say to them would not make any difference. When I met them—surprise of surprises—I discovered that nothing like the majority that I had anticipated were Labour supporters, contrary to what the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire has intimated. Somewhere along the line the long-haired hippies had failed miserably. We shall have to see what we can do about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West hit the nail on the head. He said that teachers, quite rightly, because of this type of intrusion, had feared a McCarthy-type witch hunt in relation to schoolteachers and their employers. That is a positive danger that they have had to face.

I have been looking over various speeches that have been made on matters relevant to education. I came across a piece of Right-wing political propaganda that is not quite McCarthyism but is, nevertheless, worth quoting. It refers to universities. It says: These universities are psychiatric centres for over-privileged, under-disciplined, irresponsible children of well-to-do, blasé permissivists. That quotation came from the book "Truman to Carter" and was attributed to that well-known Right-wing fanatic, Spiro Agnew.

I am not suggesting that Conservative Members have views as extreme or as Right-wing as that. Nevertheless, during our debates and discussions, through various speeches, the re has run the vein of a similar attitude, particularly from the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire.

Mr. Bill Walker

I find that most interesting, considering that the schools in my constituency welcome me to speak to them, as they welcomed my distinguished predecessor, a member of the Scottish National Party, and his distinguished predecessor, Mr. Ian MacArthur, who was Conservative. There is no justification for the hon. Gentleman's comments.

9 pm

Mr. McKelvey

I cannot answer for the authorities in the hon. Member's constituency or why he was invited. Perhaps they felt that he had no political leanings and was unable to influence anyone. I mentioned one authority in my constituency. I have visited several schools, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn from the pupils, especially the senior pupils, how much political education they had received. It was far in excess of what I learnt at school, because the teachers at my school, an academy in Dundee, sought not to teach politics other than the politics with which they sought to indoctrinate me. They were unsuccessful.

I hope that no other hon. Member shares the views of Spiro Agnew. Many fear that the education system is riddled with Left-wingers who are obsessed with the mission to turn every child into a potential revolutionary. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire will agree in his inner heart and thoughts that that is so. That is why the legislation is thought to be appropriate by some hon. Members. They will be relieved to hear that the new clause will not be taken to a vote, because it will relieve the teachers of some of their anxieties. On the other hand, I am confident that if the new clause were pressed to a Division, the common sense of hon. Members of both sides would prevail and the proposal would be decisively beaten.

Mr. Lambie

I did not intend to intervene in the debate, because I accept the convention that on Report my right hon. and hon. Friends who have taken part in the debates in Committee should continue the battle on the Floor of the House, but after hearing what has been said by some hon. Members I want to make one or two points.

I speak as a former teacher and one-time active member of the Educational Institute of Scotland, of which I am still a Member. I took part in the campaign during the 1960s to set up the General Teaching Council. I am proud to have been one of the teachers associated with the successful outcome of that campaign. Not only did I take part in the battle to set up the General Teaching Council, but I am still a teacher registered with the council. That is not only because I wanted to keep my association with teachers, but because in view of what is taking place in Parliament, especially within the Parliamentary Labour Party and with mandatory reselection, one never knows when one may be looking for a teaching job again. I have been a registered teacher since the inception of the General Teaching Council. That is a safeguard to me as well as my being proud to be associated with the council.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) spoke about the representations that he had received from various schools within his constituency. Like many other right hon. and hon. Members, I have received many representations. In the past month my postbag has been mainly from two sources: letters from primary and secondary schools in my constituency, and from people whom I do not know, but who think I represent them, from the provinces of Canada. They are worried about what will happen to the future of Canada and the Canadian constitution. It is strange that during the past month I have spent my time replying to teachers in my constituency and to Canadians on roughly the same principle—that a unilateral decision that was not acceptable to the teachers of Scotland or the people of Canada would be taken in the House. I shall not say how I shall vote on the Canadian constitutional issue, but that was the principle put to me by people in Canada.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) was "taken a loan off," to use an old Scottish expression, either by the Minister or by some people in COSLA, who included the Tories' own friends. The hon. Gentleman thought that he was on to a good thing to make him the most important and best known Scottish Member and to obtain the promotion to Government Office that he thinks he is entitled to as a former member of the CBI. The hon. Gentleman is indeed well known in Scotland. All the teachers in my constituency may not know me, but they know the hon. Gentleman.

Your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, criticised some of my hon. Friends for the words that they used. If I used the words that some teachers have used to me about the hon. Gentleman, you would rightly rule me out of order. However, you, as a former teacher, will appreciate what teachers in Scotland are thinking.

We are discussing an important decision, dealing with the dismissal of teachers that has been enshrined in Scottish Education Act after Scottish Education Act for about 100 years. The new clause has been brought forward by a Tory Back Bencher, supported by the Conservative Government, although they do not have the courage to say so. After all the upset that they have introduced into Scottish education, all the correspondence and all the meetings on the subject, the debate in Scotland and in the House, the hon. Gentleman now has the cheek to say that he will seek to withdraw his motion. There is something wrong with that.

The debate should never have taken place. It should never have been initiated by a Conservative Back Bencher or a Conservative Government, because they do not represent the people of Scotland. I do not know how often I have said in the House that we have 43 Labour Members and 22 Conservative Members representing Scottish constituencies. Despite that ratio, the hon. Gentleman has the cheek to try to alter a fundamental right of Scottish teachers by a backdoor method.

The hon. Gentleman will seek to withdraw the motion because he knows that he could get his clause through tonight only if the English Tory Members voted for it—and they are all at home. As the last vote showed, they all have sense. They are not here, and therefore the hon. Gentleman cannot depend on their vote.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. McKelvey) said that before Scottish teachers can teach in Scottish schools, they have to be registered by the General Teaching Council. We should be proud that Scotland is the only Western country where a teaching council means that teachers control the registration of teachers, their entrance and their qualifications. There is also a disciplinary committee to deal with teachers. Teachers are already controlled by their own professional colleagues. There is no need to repeal section 88.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I remind my hon. Friend, with whose points I agree, that we obtained the General Teaching Council in Scotland with the assistance of the votes of English Labour Members.

Mr. Lambie

I remind my hon. Friend of something more valid than his intervention. The only reason why we got the General Teaching Council in Scotland was that Scottish teachers, especially Glasgow teachers, went on strike on a matter of principle to force the Government—I forget whether it was a Labour or a Conservative Government—to introduce a teaching council. We should be proud that that happened. We should leave the General Teaching Council to deal with the disciplinary problems of teachers. Section 88 should therefore stand.

Employment legislation introduced by the Labour Government gave certain safeguards to employees in regard to unfair dismissal. There might be a case for bringing Scottish teachers into line with general employment protection legislation. This is not, however, a question that arises when teachers face mass redundancies and when the Under-Secretary of State wants regional councils to sack teachers and talks about the sacking of 6,000 local government employees in Lothian.

Before anyone talks about changing section 88 of the principal Act, there have to be negotiations. Why did not the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East inform the teaching unions of what he intended to do? Why did he not get their reaction? One never changes the working conditions of any group of people without first talking to them. That is an elementary democratic principle. The hon. Gentleman is so tied up in his past association with the CBI in Scotland that he forgets that workers have a right to be consulted before hon. Members table amendments that will radically change their conditions of employment.

I am glad to support my right hon. and hon. Friends in saying that if the new clause is pressed to a Division we shall vote against it. I hope, however, that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East and the Under-Secretary of State have had such a fright following the reaction of teachers that the hon. Gentleman will, as he has said, withdraw the new clause.

Mr. Strang

I wish to oppose this diabolical proposal in the name of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart). It has only one simple purpose—to make easier the sacking of teachers. It is not surprising that the new clause has caused so much anxiety among Scottish teachers in the past few weeks. The proposal has to be seen against the background of the massive cuts that the Government are seeking to enforce on the education system.

Some months ago a headline in the Edinburgh Evening News stated: "Lothian: A Disgrace". The headline was taken from a speech by the Under-Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman stated that Lothian was a disgrace because its educational standards were above those laid down by the Scottish Office in terms of the ratio of teachers to pupils. He said that Lothian was a disgrace because of the relatively high standard of the education system. If anything shows how bankrupt the Government are, it is that a Minister can attack an education authority for having too good an education system. Unfortunately, the Government have been prepared to turn their beliefs into action—action aimed at enforcing a reduction in the standards of our schools. Given the Secretary of State's announcement last week, if the Government get away with it, the Lothian region in particular may be affected.

9.15 pm

There is concern in Scotland that the Government are trying to secure substantial redundancies in the teaching profession. Therefore, it is not surprising that there have been so many representations about the proposed change in the law. I did not agree with the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East when he said that the position of teachers was comparable to that of architects or lawyers. Judging from many of my hon. Friends' speeches, Labour Members believe that the position of teachers is different: that Special considerations apply to teachers and therefore they should have additional protection.

I hope that the Government will come clean about the proposed change in the law. I hope, too, that they will not use the fact that the new clause is not to be pressed to a Division as an excuse for not giving the Government's unequivocal position on such a measure. It would be wrong if teachers were left uncertain about the Government's attitude to such a radical change. If the Minister has the teaching profession's interests at heart, he will make it clear that the Government are opposed to such a change and intend to maintain that protection for our teachers.

Mr. Foulkes

I apologise to the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart), for not being in the Chamber when he moved the new clause. I am sorry that I was not in the Chamber, because it is rare to see a Conservative Back Bencher moving an amendment or new clause on a Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. McKelvey) said, we were not allowed that privilege in Committee. It was a great sorrow to me that I missed the occasion. I am particularly sad, because I understand that the hon. Gentleman referred to a proposal that my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) and I put forward about fixed-term contracts for head teachers.

It is nice to see such a vigorous response from Conservative Members on this issue. That response may not be unconnected with something that I have heard from my soundings of the Scottish Conservative Party. The other day I bumped into a usually reliable source at a voluntary organisation's cocktail party. I understand that, flushed with the excitement of the reselection procedure that the Labour Party has adopted and the power that it has given to the party's grass roots, grass-root Conservatives may want something similar in the Conservative Party in Scotland in order to make its hon. Members more accountable. Perhaps that is why the hon. Members for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) and for Renfrewshire, East have made such reactionary speeches. The old ladies of both sexes that inhabit the Conservative associations of Perth and East Perthshire and of Renfrewshire, East are the sort of hangers, floggers and reactionaries that the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire represented in his speech.

I hope that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East made it clear that within the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities there have been second thoughts about the matter. I have spoken to officers of the education committee of COSLA, and they feel that now is not the right time to move such a new clause. If they have not made it clear to Government supporters, they have to me. They feel—and I share their view—that it is wrong to consider the repeal of section 88 in the current context.

We have a reactionary Tory Government seeking cuts everywhere and finding excuses for cutting expenditure of every kind, especially in education. We have to remember that the majority of expenditure on education is, of necessity, involved in paying teacher's salaries. Local authorities cannot make the slashing cuts in expenditure required of them. Lothian region, for example, is being asked to cut £53 million from its budget half-way through a session. Taking all those factors into account, it can be seen that what is suggested by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire East may be regarded as a way of making it easier for local authorities, especially reactionary ones, to find an excuse to get rid of teachers and thereby to reduce their expenditure.

I have listened carefully to the debate. Apart from a complaint from the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire about teachers coming in scruffily dressed, I have not heard any grounds for dismissal. The hon. Member for Perth and Perthshire repeated in intervention after intervention that he did not like scruffy teachers. I ask hon. Members to imagine a report going to an education committee that a teacher of physics should be dismissed because he did not wear a collar and tie. That is the sort of complaint that we have heard from Government supporters.

The competence of teachers is open to question. Are we talking strictly about teaching competence? Teaching is only one part of the work of a teacher, after all. Are we talking about how teachers deal with academic pupils and non-academic pupils? I know teachers who are perfectly capable with academic pupils and with certificate pupils, but who find it hard going when they are dealing with non-certificated pupils.

Is it a matter of how well teachers keep discipline in their classes? Are we saying that those who keep superb discipline without the strap are good teachers, whereas those who have to resort to the strap regularly are bad ones? I agree that the latter are not the best teachers, but that is not the criterion that Conservative Members would use. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire, no doubt thinks that a teacher who wields the strap regularly is a good teacher, judging by what he says about flogging in other contexts.

Are we to think, not of teaching, but of sport? I know schools, not just in the private sector, but predominantly in the private sector, that think that a person who plays rugby, hockey or any other sport for Scotland is the sort of person who should be on the staff. It does not matter how good he is at teaching in the classroom.

Are we to ask about extra-curricular activities? What is suggested begs so many questions.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) said, the teaching profession has its own self-regulation in disciplinary matters. For some time I was a member of the General Teaching Council and saw its disciplinary procedures and how it organised its own disciplinary arrangements. There is a great deal of merit in the profession being able to look after its own interests, and in some ways its disciplinary procedures are a little harsher than those operated by local authorities.

I was also worried when the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) talked about the difference between having shortages and surpluses of teachers. That is perhaps one of the reasons why the Minister was nodding about the Government support. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), I hope that the Minister will make a statement about the Government's attitude, because when my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire spoke about the Government's attitude the Minister indicated several times from a sedentary position that the Government support section 88. Teachers should be told exactly where the Government stand on the issue, because there has been much equivocation by them.

The hon. Member for Argyll implied that when there is a shortage of teachers, there is no need for a procedure for sacking and no necessity to repeal section 88 When there is a surplus, however, we can get rid of that protection and try to be more selective about teachers and find excuses for getting rid of them. I find that a worrying implication.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East launched a strong attack on teachers. He spoke about misconduct, responsibility, and so on. Perhaps he will join me in a related matter. I ask him to disown the East Dunbartonshire Conservative association, which, at its spring fair on Saturday 23 May, organised a competition among schoolchildren to find the champion space invader. That is what the East Dunbartonshire Conservative association gets up to. The hon. Member would do better to look into the antics of his association than to attack and pillory the teaching profession.

Mr. Maxton

This has been an interesting debate. It has raised many questions about the competence of teachers, and so on. Perhaps the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) is wondering whether he was right to table this new clause. The debate has, perhaps, gone on a little longer than he intended—

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Hear, hear.

Mr. Maxton

I should add that it may go on for a little longer yet.

This is an important debate and one that raises many important issues. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East for having raised the matter. I do not agree with his methodology. I think that he would have done better not to do it this way, but I am glad of the opportunity to debate the matter. I hope that he will not push the clause to a Division, because I should have to vote against it if he did.

Conservative Members—the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East who first raised the matter, the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) and to a lesser extent the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker)—spoke about the competence of teachers, the number of teachers in schools who worry parents, other teachers and local education authorities. Are there any statistics or figures to show that there are more incompetent teachers today than there were in the past? I do not believe that there are. If anything, there are fewer incompetent teachers today. Those who are coming out of the colleges of education now are more competent than were the teachers of even seven or eight years ago.

9.30 pm

Between 1965 and 1973–74 colleges of education were under strict instructions to pass any student who could stand in front of a class and deliver anything to the children. I was working in a college of education then, so I know that to be true. That has not happened in the last few years, because intakes have been reduced severely. As a result, colleges of education have been able to be more selective in their intake and a higher standard of student has been enrolled.

I might upset some ex-college colleagues by saying it, but I find it astonishing that Conservative Members should vote against the last new clause, which was designed to keep colleges of education open, and then refer to incompetent teachers in our schools. They ought to be arguing that college intakes should be the major priority when judging the numbers of teachers in schools. College output should be the major criterion in deciding who should go into the schools and how many teachers are required.

College intakes have been reduced in line with what the Government decide for the schools. Hon. Members say that there is incompetence among teachers. That could be cured by keeping the intake figures higher than those that the Secretary of State believes to be necessary. The processing system should be more severe so that incompetent teachers are weeded out. That would make the system better.

If that were to happen, some students would have to be transferred to other forms of higher education, because they might be failed on classroom performance, which does not necessarily have anything to do with academic ability. I am glad to see the Secretary of State nodding. May we take it that the intake of the colleges of education will be increased next year?

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) is not in the Chamber. I was just saying to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that sitting on the Government Front Bench is like being at Sothebys. If one twitches a muscle in the face, one spends £1 million.

Mr. Maxton

The trouble is that every time the Minister twitches his face another £1 million is taken away from the education service in Scotland. That is our real problem. I only wish that every time he twitched his face he would spend another £1 million. Scottish education would be considerably better as a result.

If Government Members believe that there is incompetence among teachers, we should ensure that better teachers come out of the colleges of education. One way to do so would be to raise the intake and weed out more students. I accept that that is a rather harsh suggestion, but it must be linked to other factors. It is difficult to understand how Conservative Members can talk about teachers' incompetence and at the same time talk about closing colleges of education, which means losing not only pre-service training, but in-service training.

In-service training is one way to help a teacher facing difficulties with expressing himself, with discipline or with keeping abreast of new developments in his subject. For example, a physics teacher aged 55 is no longer conversant with the latest physics developments. He is not capable of bringing out the best in his pupils. He may be competent in the classroom and good at teaching the physics that he knows, but he may not be competent when teaching the physics that his pupils should learn. In-service training would ensure that teachers needing to keep abreast of knowledge and skills in their subjects would be given guidance and help throughout their careers.

I understand that the United States operates an incremental salary scale—as does Scotland—but having taught for five years on the incremental scale a teacher has to undertake an in-service course during the summer holidays. It is a rigorous course, with examinations at the end of it. The teacher may move to the next incremental point on the scale only if he passes the course. I am not suggesting that we should move immediately to such a system. If there is a desire to raise the level of competence in Scottish schools, that would be one way to achieve it. I stress that I am not saying that there is a great deal of incompetence in Scottish schools. Indeed, I believe that there is less incompetence now than there was a few years ago. Such a system would mean a greater use of the colleges of education and the retention of the colleges that the Government intend to close.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East made great play of the fact that section 88 of the parent Act gave greater protection to teachers than to other local Government employees, including members of other professions. I doubt that. A local authority would have great difficulty in dismissing a medical officer, or someone employed in medical services as a trained doctor, for professional incompetence without reference to the British Medical Association disciplinary committee. Therefore, other professions are protected.

I asked the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire whether there was any evidence of more local government workers—other than teachers—being dismissed. Does section 88 of the parent Act give special protection to teachers? If the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East claims that teachers have special protection, he must prove it and give figures for dismissals among clerical staff, architects, surveyors and other workers in local authorities, and then prove that only a certain number of teachers have been dismissed.

That would demonstrate that teachers are specially protected. I do not know the answer to the question. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East should be able to answer it, but I note that he is not rising in his place. He should answer the question if he wishes to make the claim that teachers are given special protection.

The tenor of the speech of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire was that teachers who undertook trade union activity—for example, activists in the EIS or other teaching unions—would be at some risk from local authorities. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but others who heard his speech might feel that, essentially, that is what he was saying.

The hon. Gentleman said that he was gravely concerned that teachers had become trade unionists. He thought that long-haired scruffy teachers standing on picket lines were a disgrace. We are entitled to say that the inference to be drawn from his remarks is that he is trying to get at those teachers. His targets are not those who are necessarily incompetent in the classroom, but those who partake in union activity.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that I have received complaints from teachers in my constituency about the behaviour of some of their colleagues? I was attempting to draw attention to that.

Mr. Maxton

That answers my case. The hon. Gentleman is not denying that he is getting at activists. He is saying that other teachers complain about activists. Of course they do. There are always some trade unionists who complain abort other trade unionists who do the work and who try to get better conditions. Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that teachers should be victimised by their local authority for trade union activity.

Mr. Robert Hughes

He is doing just that.

Mr. Maxton

That is the inference to be drawn from the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

The hon. Gentleman went into his usual tirade about scruffy teachers and trade unionists in education and said that it was terrible that they had ceased to be professional in their standards. He thought that that was terribly naughty of them. He suggested that it would be much nicer if they returned to being professionals. Teachers ceased to be professionals because they found when they were professionals that employers put their faces under their heels and screwed them into the mud. That is why teachers and lecturers and others ceased to take a completely professional attitude towards their activities. I have to accept that the treatment that I have described might have been the cause of the problem with my face.

The attitude that the hon. Gentleman represents would not be worrying if it were his view and no one else's. However, we know that it is the view of a fairly broad stream in the Conservative backwoods, and that is what is worrying. It is the opinion of many in the education establishment. I gather—I agree that I obtained the information at secondhand—that in his opening remarks to first-year students at Aberdeen college of education last October Mr. James Scotland said to the students that if they kept their noses clean, dressed smartly and came to lectures on time there would be a good chance that they would pass the course and obtain a job. However, he told them that if they did not dress smartly—he did not mention anything about attending lectures—took part in student politics and started to cause trouble here or elsewhere it was unlikely that, when they passed the course, they would obtain a job. I am reliably told by people in the student movement that that was a speech made by the principal of Aberdeen college. That represents the same sort of feeling as that of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire.

9.45 pm

My hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock (Mr. McKelvey) and Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) raised the question of the special protection of teachers because they can be open to accusations of prejudice, particularly political prejudice. Anyone who has been involved in the teaching of history or modern studies knows that that can be so. It can happen with the best of intentions. I shall give one or two small examples of that.

For example, if one is teaching the causes of the First World War, which are essentially uncontentious, but one suggests, as one should if one is a good history teacher, that the causes of that war were not just due to Germany and Austria but that—not equally—some of the blame must be placed squarely on the shoulders of the allied Powers—France and Great Britain—some people would suggest that one is prejudiced, pro-German and that one is putting a point of view that would be unacceptable to certain people.

I shall give a second example. The Russian Revolution is a difficult subject to teach without making it clear that, on the one hand, there were downtrodden peasants, an incompetent Tsar and people in control who were incapable of running the war effort for Russia, and, on the other hand, that there were those who opposed and were trying to overthrow those people. When teaching that subject it is difficult not to leave an impression in the minds of the pupils that Lenin and the Bolsheviks were trying to do a good thing by overthrowing the Tsar.

Mr. Lambie

They were the good ones.

Mr. Maxton

That is right. They were the goodies, as opposed to the Tsar, who was a baddie. It is difficult not to leave that impression. If one does that, one is liable to be open to the accusation of being pro-Communist and of trying to instil the Communist doctrines into the minds of young pupils. That can and could happen.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

Where is the Minister?

Mr. Maxton

Two Ministers from the Scottish Office and one other are present. [Interruption.] I do not want to go into a roll call of the number of Ministers present.

Prejudice is not just about the content of what is taught in schools. It also concerns methodology. In primary schools many parents of the children there, particularly older parents, having been through a particular style of education, believe that their children should be taught in that way.

A teacher may use modern methods, as they are loosely termed, with group teaching as opposed to classroom teaching, and topic studies for particular subjects rather than division into mathematics, science, English and so on. Parents may not understand what the teacher is trying to do and feel that he is incompetent, although many who use the method are very good. However, parents may not see their child progressing in the way that they did through primary school and may object and even complain to the local authority, which could occasionally get the teacher into difficulty.

Why did the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East raise the matter at this time? There are fewer incompetent teachers today than previously. Why was the matter not raised two or three years ago? Why did he not raise it last year when the consolidation Bill was before the House? Why did COSLA raise the matter now? It was said that the suggestion may have come from a Labour-controlled COSLA, but my information is that it came from the director of education for Grampian or Tayside, which were not Labour-controlled.

I should oppose the new clause even if I felt that there was a case for it. Teachers are under considerable pressure at present and their morale is low, to say the least. They believe that over the past two or three years they have had a raw deal over salaries. With declining school rolls, some may lose their jobs, which will have nothing to do with incompetence. Ten good history teachers may be dismissed and 10 incompetent mathematics teachers retained.

Teachers have also come under pressure from Governments in other ways. We have had a series of reports. We had the Munn and Dunning reports, Munn dealing with the curricula in the third and fourth years in secondary schools, and Dunning with the examination system. The Government intend, stage by stage, to introduce the recommendations into the school system. The changes are not radical and are not necessarily right, but they are being imposed on the profession. Teachers will have to adopt and develop new ideas. The Pack report on discipline and truancy also suggested changes, and teachers will have to modify the way in which they are working. All the changes impose additional pressure on teachers.

If we finish the Report stage and the Bill goes to the other place and receives the Royal Assent, parts of the Warnock report will be instituted into the Scottish education system. It is an excellent report, to which we shall return later in our debates, but again an extra burden will be imposed on teachers. Many mildly handicapped children, who are in special schools, will rightly be brought into the ordinary system.

Lastly, the Government are putting pressure on teachers by not giving them the necessary resources to do their job.

The headmistress of a primary school in my constituency tells me that the per capita allocation from Strathclyde region to her school works out at 5p per pupil per day. That is a reduction, not just in real terms, but in cash terms compared with last year, and the figure for last year was cut compared with the previous year. As she graphically put it, that 5p per day is about half of the amount that a large number of her pupils bring with them each day to buy a packet of crisps. She does not even have that much to buy jotters and books to enable the school to operate properly.

As a result of that kind of financial pressure being imposed upon them by the Government, many teachers are beginning to wonder whether it is worth trying to educate children. Conservative Members talk about sacking teachers who have problems and cannot cope. They should ensure that those teachers have the necessary financial help.

Mr. Robert Hughes

It is some time since the debate started, but the Minister has shown no sign of wishing to speak. Will my hon. Friend try to extract an assurance from him to the effect that if the new clause is not pressed to a Division in this House the Government will not seek to introduce it in another place?

Mr. Maxton

I hope that the Minister will give that assurance. One assumes that he will eventually intervene.

The new clause is not out of line with the general philosophy of the Government. They believe that repression is the way to solve problems. They believe that sacking people, bringing in new laws against people and giving greater powers to the police is the way to solve problems. They do not tackle the real problems by giving teachers the financial support, the materials, the classrooms and the schools that they need and the in-service training and professional back-up that they require to be competent teachers. That is what teachers in Scotland need, not attempts to sack them if they are incompetent. Whatever the hon. Member's motives might have been, the real way forward is to make sure that our education service is properly provided for. Only then shall we ensure that we have teachers who can really do the job.

Mr. Canavan

Last Friday I attended the annual general meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland, of which I am still a member. It was held in my constituency and I was invited to address a fringe meeting of teachers. I also took the opportunity to listen to part of the debate. I did not notice the Minister responsible for education there, nor the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart). Perhaps they were afraid to turn up. It would have been like Daniel going into the lions' den. Perhaps they feared that they would be lynched if they turned up. Perhaps they deserved to feel like that, because they should be thoroughly ashamed of the shabby treatment that the Government have meted out to Scottish teachers. That shabby treatment was naturally the subject of much criticism during the debates.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher), is on record as saying that local education authorities in Scotland employ far too many teachers. I believe that his latest figure is 6,500. He seems thereby to imply that local authorities ought to sack 6,500 teachers. Certainly his public pronouncements on the matter, combined with the financial pressure that he is bringing to bear on local education authorities, suggest that he is putting pressure on them to sack 6,500 teachers. Indeed, last Thursday, the day before the EIS annual general meeting, the Secretary of State for Scotland made one of his rare visits to the Dispatch Box to make a ministerial statement. He told us of his plans for further local authority cuts amounting to about £160 million. He announced an initial hit list of seven local authorities, including the Lothian region, which I understand is expected—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.