HC Deb 15 May 1985 vol 79 cc305-8
1. Mr. Strang

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has any plans to meet representatives of the Educational Institute of Scotland to discuss the teachers' campaign for an independent pay review; and if he will make a statement.

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

No such meeting is at present arranged, but I am always prepared to consider requests by the Educational Institute of Scotland for meetings on matters of mutual concern.

I regret very much that, although the employers and two of the other teachers' unions would have been prepared to agree to my proposal that the Scottish joint negotiating committee should carry out a review of pay and conditions of service together, the EIS has maintained its demand for an independent review of pay alone. The sooner the EIS ceases its damaging strike action and returns to the negotiating table, the better it will be for Scottish education.

Mr. Strang

When will the Secretary of State attach to Scotland's teachers the same priority as he has to our hard-pressed ratepayers? Does he recognise that the decision of the EIS to suspend the targeting of Minister's constituencies means that the Government have three weeks before the EIS delegate meeting to come forward with a new initiative? Does he accept that the answer he gave is wholly unacceptable, and that if he continues in that vein the meeting on 7 June is bound to vote for more militant action?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman will be as aware as all hon. Members on both sides of the House that as long ago as December I recognised the strength of the teachers' feelings on these matters and offered to consider a package of pay and conditions and to make a contribution towards implementing it. The EIS has made no positive response to that, although the other unions are prepared to meet. I believe that that answers the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. I believe it is generally agreed that targeting has been a most unfortunate development. In the targeted areas it has harmed the opinion that people have of teachers. With regard to time, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, I have all along been encouraging the teachers to discuss these matters. There is no reason why they should not do so.

Mr. Henderson

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to appeal once again to the EIS to explore the opportunities that he has offered for fruitful discussion and review through the joint negotiating committee? Does he agree that that would be a more fruitful way of going forward than the campaign on which it is waxing strong and which is often misleading? For example, one EIS representative said that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), would not know the inside of a Scottish school if he saw one, although he had recently visited Bell Baxter school in his official capacity. He was a pupil there and no doubt saw his name on the dux board.

Mr. Younger

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know what nonsense such a remark is about my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. As to making an appeal to the EIS, may I again stress that at no point during the long dispute have I denied that the teachers feel strongly about it? What is depressing is that they have not been prepared even to discuss pay and conditions. I hope that they will reconsider their position on that.

Mr. Bruce

Does the Secretary of State recognise, from parents' meetings around the country, that there is considerable anxiety about the prolonged nature of the strike and the dispute, and the need for it to be resolved? Parents do not feel that the Government have responded positively enough. Taking up the question by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), when will the Secretary of State recognise that Scottish education will receive the priority that it needs only when he is prepared to find new money for it in the way that he has been able to find new money for other things which he clearly believes have higher priority?

Mr. Younger

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that parents are most anxious about the position. Although I do not believe that he has been involved, I can tell him that the parents in those areas that were targeted feel bitter about the way in which they were singled out for action in this matter. As regards the hon. Gentleman's suggestion about finance, I must again repeat that since as long ago as December I have been offering to try to find some money, but I have had no response from the EIS.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend stress that he is absolutely ready and willing to negotiate in an effort to break the deadlock.

Mr. Younger

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point, but it is really not up to me to negotiate in this matter. The negotiating takes place in the joint negotiating committee between the employers, who are the education authorities, and the representatives of the teachers' unions. Usually the Secretary of State plays no part in such negotiating, apart from having two observers present. However, in this instance I said that I would look at a package of pay and conditions and endeavour to help in implementing it. So much time has passed since I made that offer that it will become increasingly difficult to meet it, but it is still there.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the teachers have reached a crisis position and that they are adamant about pursuing a review by an independent body?

Mrs. McCurely

The professional association is for negotiation.

Mr. Douglas

Well, the vast majority of them take that view, and we are talking about the vast majority. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that this cat-and-mouse attitude of his will not do and that a crisis has been reached in Scottish education which only an independent review body can resolve? Will he concede that that should be done before the 1985–86 session commences?

Mr. Younger

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a very serious matter indeed for Scottish education. I can sum up the respective positions briefly by saying that while the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the EIS has been adamant, I have not been adamant. Everyone can see who is trying to resolve the dispute and who is trying to be selfish.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while, obviously, some Scottish teachers merit greater rewards for what they do, the days when across-the-board agreements could be reached disappeared when the Labour Government went to the IMF? Does he further agree that to get the rewards for those who deserve them, it is essential that conditions as well as other matters are looked at; in other words, that it is impossible to look at pay in isolation?

Mr. Younger

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is unrealistic in any profession or employment to look at pay completely unrelated to conditions of service. That will have to be tackled as one subject, or as two subjects both applying to this problem. Until that happens, it will be impossible to have a realistic discussion.

Mr. Buchan

Did the right hon. Gentleman hear one of his hon. Friends say, "Not enough" when my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) referred to the vast majority of Scottish teachers approving of this action? May we be told what would be enough on the part of the teachers to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to change his mind, considering that the EIS represents 80 per cent. of Scottish teachers? Will he stop trying to pretend that they are an isolated group? They represent the vast majority of teachers and, I believe, the vast majority of parents, too.

Mr. Younger

It is true that the EIS represents the vast majority of teachers, and I have never suggested otherwise. It is significant, however, that the other unions are at least prepared to enter into discussions on the matter. It is very sad indeed that the largest union should not be prepared at least to try to resolve the dispute.

Mr. Wilson

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is disbelief among the EIS about the Government's willingness to give sufficient priority to the educational system in Scotland and to find the money necessary to answer the claim, and that that feeling is rooted particularly in his refusal of an independent pay inquiry? Will he give an undertaking here and now to find new money to prime the pump so that these negotiations can be started? Is he aware that, without doing that, he will be in great difficulty?

Mr. Younger

Any teachers who are not convinced that the Government place a high enough priority on education have no reason to take such a view, considering that we are providing more per pupil both in primary and secondary schools than has ever been provided before. That answers completely that suspicion. The answer to the rest of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is that since last December I have been offering to help. The trouble is that nobody has taken it up.

Mr. Ewing

Despite the insults hurled at the teachers by the Secretary of State and by the Minister responsible for education and industry at the Scottish Office, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the teachers have shown a fair degree of good will in ensuring that the 0 and H-level examinations proceed smoothly? Will the Secretary of State show similar good will and give an assurance that it is no part of his tactics to allow the dispute to run on into the summer holidays and create discontent when the new term starts? Will he consider a fresh initiative to get talks going to solve this very damaging dispute?

Mr. Younger

I have never uttered any insults to teachers or, so far as I am aware, to anyone else. As for the examinations, I am very grateful to the EIS teachers for changing their deeply unpopular proposal to disrupt the examinations, which I understand are now proceeding reasonably normally. I certainly do not agree that parents would take a happy view of what has occurred, because they feel very bitter about the way in which their children have been targeted. As for showing understanding, any reasonable person considering the two parties to the dispute would agree that I have shown understanding throughout and that the other teachers' unions have also shown flexibility, but there has been no sign of that from the biggest union, which is a great shame.

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