HC Deb 13 February 1985 vol 73 cc321-2
1. Mr. Bruce

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the implications for Scottish education of the White Paper on public expenditure.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Younger)

Further information on the implications for Scottish education of the White Paper on public expenditure will be published shortly in the "Scottish Commentary".

Mr. Bruce

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the £61 million cut in the Scottish education budget is a severe blow to education in Scotland? Does he further acknowledge that suggestions about the teachers' pay dispute are not worth a docken, unless he is prepared to make money available to meet any sensible settlement? Will he admit to the House that the White Paper simply makes a wrong decision which should be reversed?

Mr. Younger

I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is wrong on both counts. The reduction in education expenditure is smaller than the reduction in the number of pupils. Therefore, the sum provided for education in Scotland is more in real terms, per pupil, than ever before. I have spent a great deal of time and energy in recent weeks trying to get across to everybody —I have obviously failed, even with the hon. Gentleman — that if the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee suggests a good package of pay and conditions for teachers I am prepared to see whether I can find some money within my budget to deal with it. If that was not clear to the hon. Gentleman, I hope it is clear now.

Mr. Henderson

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that although falling pupil numbers has resulted in more money per pupil being spent than before, there has been no comparable drop in the number of people in non-teaching posts dealing with the administration of education? Should not that aspect be examined further?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. His views are backed by the figures. At constant prices, expenditure per pupil in real terms in 1979–80 was £1,042, and in 1983–84 £1,151.

Mr. Strang

Does the Secretary of State recognise that a substantial amount of new money will have to be found if the current industrial crisis in our schools is to be resolved? Will he stop pretending that the SJNC proposal has the support of the management side and is being considered by the unions? Will he bring forward a new initiative to resolve the dispute?

Mr. Younger

The views of all parties are clear. The teachers have made it clear that they would prefer an independent review of their pay. The management side has made it equally clear that, although it would prefer an independent review of pay and conditions, it is prepared to co-operate in discussing pay and conditions. I have made a clear offer. If a proper package of pay and conditions is put forward, I shall try to find some means of implementing it. That is a fair way out of a nasty situation.

Mr. Robert Hughes

If everything is so rosy in the education system, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the teacher-pupil ratio has gone up? Will he define what he means by a "proper package"?

Mr. Younger

I cannot explain why the pupil-teacher ratio has gone up, because it has not. It is at its best level ever. By that I mean that we have the lowest number of pupils per teacher ever. That is a fact which no amount of head shaking will shake away.

Mr. Dewar

As the Secretary of State will guess, we have all been reading with interest the speculation in the Scottish press this morning about a new initiative. I have now had the opportunity to see the letter from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), to my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), which seems to offer a lot less than the press speculation. It is important that we should know exactly what the Secretary of State has in mind. If the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee decides to set up an independent review body to look at pay and conditions, will he approve of such a move? Does he accept that it should be properly independent and able, as Houghton did, to study comparable salary levels in the groupings that it thinks relevant? Will the Secretary of State undertake that if that exercise is carried out he will accept the findings?

Mr. Younger

As I think the letter to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) makes clear, none of that is for me. I was asked whether the SJNC could, if it wished, undertake an independent review of pay and conditions. The answer is that it has the right to carry out its functions in any way that it thinks fit. I have said that any package of proposals that comes to me must come from the SJNC. If it does, I shall see whether I can find a way to meet it.

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