HC Deb 22 October 1986 vol 102 cc1162-4
14. Sir Hector Monro

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

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

The report of the committee of inquiry under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Main was published on 2 October. I am giving the report close and urgent consideration and have urged the teachers and their employers to do likewise.

Sir Hector Monro

Contrary to what the Order Paper says, my constituency is Dumfries, not Dunfermline.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this is a matter of the highest importance and that the Main committee has given the Government, local authorities and teachers an excellent opportunity for resolving the problem of pay and conditions of service? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would add to the harmony of the negotiations if all the teachers returned to normal duties?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that many teachers are refusing to involve themselves in curriculum development and parental liaison, which are matters identified in the Main report as crucial to the role of the modern teacher. That is a regrettable factor. One hopes very much that teachers will return to full, normal activity that is compatible with the professional status they enjoy.

Mr. Donald Stewart

I understand the need for the Secretary of State to study the report closely, but would he be prepared to deny at this stage the belief that he will expect the increased pay to be funded by the wholesale closure of rural schools?

Mr. Rifkind

I know of no suggestion that the funding of the recommendations in the Main report should come about through the closure of rural schools. I noted that in the Main report the committee mentioned that some closures of schools would be justified, given the fall in pupil numbers, but neither the committee nor the Government have argued that the funding of teachers' pay should be brought about by the closure of schools. There are arguments that in certain areas certain schools are no longer required in the interests of the children's education opportunities, but that is a different matter.

Mr. Milian

In answer to an earlier question the Secretary of State implied that he would make a statement soon. Is he aware that it is no use him welcoming the Main report unless he gives the commitment that he will meet his share of the salary increases recommended in the report through the rate support grant system, and also by increasing the guidelines correspondingly, otherwise we shall have the absurd situation of the local authorities being penalised for implementing the salary recommendations?

Mr. Rifkind

When the Government give their conclusions on the Main report, that statement will cover the financial aspects, including whether the Government's own contribution should be in a form recommended by the Main committee. The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to comment further until we have concluded our consideration of the report.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

When my right hon. and learned Friend announces his plans for education in Scotland, having considered the Main committee recommendations, will he make it clear whether the city technology centre initiative announced by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will also be open to people in Scotland, and whether Scots will benefit from the principle of direct funding of schools in the state sector?

Mr. Rifkind

We are considering whether the initiative announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might be useful in Scotland, but we have not yet come to a conclusion.

Mr. Bruce

Will the Secretary of State recognise that until he makes clear his position on the funding of the proposed settlement from the Main committee it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get normal working going and obtain a settlement? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman at least tell us that he will come to the House as quickly as possible with a firm and clear statement to that effect?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman should be the first to acknowledge that, once the Main inquiry was established earlier this year, there was no justification for teachers not returning to normal working. If the hon. Gentleman believes that it was right to cause continuing disruption in the schools even while an independent inquiry was considering the matter, he should consult parents in his constituency to find out whether they agree with him.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Secretary of State reconsider the response that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Milian), when he spoke about the Government's responsibilities? Many of us are anxious about the responsibilities that will fall on local government in respect of the guidelines. In his statement, will the Secretary of State take account of the implications of any wage rises to be funded by local authorities in respect of the guidelines that they have to meet at his diktat?

Mr. Rifkind

There is no question but that if the Main committee's recommendations were accepted they would place an additional burden on central Government and on local authorities. Ratepayers would have to take that burden on their shoulders. Thus, responsibilities would lie with both local authorities and central Government as a result of the Main committee's recommendations. That is why it is sensible to look at such matters in detail instead of reaching a premature conclusion.

Mr. Strang

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that teachers are justifiably concerned about some aspects of the document, including, not least, the anti-trade union bias that seems to pervade parts of the report? In those circumstances, it is crucial that not only the Secretary of State but the Cabinet should be prepared to adopt a wholly different approach to Scottish education. It would be a disaster if the Government failed to secure the negotiated settlement with the teachers that would enable us to reverse the decline in our schools.

Mr. Rifkind

I am rather puzzled, because the hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that the Government should accept the Main report, while saying that it has an anti-trade union bias. It would be interesting to hear his explanation.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Does my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that the Main report also raises some important long-term questions, including the proposal for an independent review body for pay and conditions? Can he outline the likely time scale for the Government's response to those recommendations?

Mr. Rifkind

I accept that the Government's view of the committee's starred recommendations should be available to the unions before they and their members reach a conclusion about what their assessment should be. It would clearly be relevant for teachers in Scotland to take that consideration into account when determining their attitude towards the Main committee.

Mr. Dewar

I shall be brief, as to some extent my point has been met in the past 30 seconds. Does the Secretary of State accept that the largest teaching union and others who are affected are now going through a set timetable for consulting their members? For example, I believe that the EIS has a special delegate conference at the beginning of November and will then ballot. It is desirable and, indeed, essential, that the Government should make a statement. I accept that the decision has big implications, but the statement should be made before that special delegate conference takes place.

Mr. Rifkind

I agree that it would be desirable to make a statement. However, it is open to the EIS to determine its timetable in the light of the information that it feels it needs to know before deciding on the recommendation to make to its members.

Mr. Ewing

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Does it arise out of the questions?

Mr. Ewing

It arises directly out of questions. It is important that Ministers should make accurate statements to the House, but I believe that the Secretary of State may have inadvertently misled the House. In response to a question from the hon. Member for Moray (Mr Pollock) he claimed that the enterprise trust movement in Scotland was a Government initiative. He must know that that is simply not accurate. The enterprise trust movement was born out of Scottish Business in the Community. The worst thing that could happen to Scottish Business in the Community and the enterprise trust movement—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has gone well beyond the original question.

Mr. Rifkind

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is correct, but it is equally correct to point out that, through the Scottish Development Agency, the Government have taken the initiative in giving full support to that enterprise

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