HL Deb 08 June 1967 vol 283 cc549-58

4.32 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD GRENFELL in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Provision for arbitration]:

LORD DRUMALBYN moved, in subsection (3), to leave out "by the Minister of Labour". The noble Lord said: I think we all desire—at least, all of those who have a continuing interest in education in Scotland—that the new procedure for fixing the remuneration of teachers in Scotland should be brought into being with the full support of all the parties to the negotiations. The troublesome fact that we have to face when we come to this clause, which makes provision for arbitration, is that there is disagreement as to who is to appoint the arbiters.

I do not intend to go over the arguments again, because I think they have been fully covered on Second Reading. But the point is simply that in the event of agreement not being reached by a committee set up under Clause 1 for the negotiation of remuneration of teachers, then there is to be recourse to arbitration; and the question at issue is who is to appoint the arbiters. The Educational I Institute for Scotland, representing the great majority of teachers in Scotland, wants to keep the existing method; namely, the appointment of arbiters by the Lord President of the Court of Session, and sees no reason for a change. The Government, with the acquiescence, I believe, of the education authorities (I am not sufficiently well informed on the matter to put it higher than acquiescence; but, at any rate, with the acquiescence of the education authorities) want the appointment to be made by the Minister of Labour.

What I think is abundantly clear is that the arbiters should be acceptable to both sides. The difficulty that I see in the immediate present is that it so happens that the Educational Institute for Scotland has its annual general meeting to-morrow, and it appears that each side—that is to say, the Secretary of State on the one side and the Educational Institute on the other—have "dug in" on their positions, one in favour of the Minister of Labour making the appointment and the other of the Lord President doing so.

The object of this Amendment and the next one (which I suggest, with the leave of the Committee, we discuss together) is simply to leave the matter open for the time being so that there may be more time for reflection. Then, when the circumstances arise, it will be possible under the clause as it now stands for the Secretary of State, in consultation with the bodies concerned, to make arrangements for matters to be referred to arbitration without necessarily laying them down in the Bill.

Acceptance of this Amendment will leave the matter open. I can see many ways in which compromises could be reached on this. For example, the Lord President might appoint one arbiter and the Minister of Labour might appoint another; or the Lord President might be invited to make an appointment from a panel of arbiters; or, again, it may be that the Lord President may himself feel that, in the new circumstances, it is no longer appropriate for him to make the appointments. I do not know whether he has been consulted, but it may well be that in the new circumstances, which the noble Lord explained to us so clearly at the last stage, the Lord President himself would not feel it appropriate that he should make this appointment—it being, of course, the only appointment of its kind in the salary negotiation field that is made by him.

However that may be, the object of my moving this Amendment is, as I say, purely to avoid a clash in the immediate present. I am aware, as the noble Lord will no doubt tell us, that further talks have taken place since the last stage. What I am not certain of is that the Government have been able yet to persuade the Educational Institute that it is in their interest as well as in the national interest that the appointment should be made by the Minister of Labour. If it should prove that the Government have not persuaded them, and if the E.I.S. were to turn down the proposal at their annual general meeting to-morrow, I think that the situation would become that much worse. For that reason, and in a spirit of desiring to avoid a clash, I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 38, leave out ("by the Minister of Labour").—(Lord Drumalbyn.)


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for the way in which he has spoken to this Amendment and for the reasoning which led him to put it down in this particular form, and I only wish I could agree with him that to accept this Amendment at this stage, with the E.I.S. conference taking place to-morrow, would be likely to be helpful in getting an agreed solution. I may say that neither I nor my colleague have given up hope that such a solution is possible, but I do not think that what the noble Lord has put forward would, in fact, do other than intensify the desire of the E.I.S., if that desire still exists, to adhere to the position they have hitherto taken up.

The Amendment, as the noble Lord said, leaves the position open, but I do not think that that is the position in which the Government would find themselves. Here we have a Bill in which it is laid down that arrangements for arbitration may be made—I would point out that they are not absolutely mandatory—under which the Minister of Labour would select the arbiters. I would point out, also—though this is not at all clear from the remarks of the noble Lord—that it is not an appointment of one arbiter; it is the appointment of three arbiters.

I shall come on to the conditions, because I do not think it was clear from his remarks that the noble Lord was aware of the extent to which the teachers are involved in the selection of one of the three arbiters. If we were to accept the Amendment we should be accepting an Amendment to delete the present reference in the Bill to the Minister of Labour. I think that anyone outside would believe, with reason, if we accepted the Amendment, that the Government would be accepting the deletion of the Minister of Labour in both word and spirit. I think it would be deceitful of me and of the Government were I to accept an Amendment the purpose of which, quite clearly (and I think the noble Lord made this quite clear), would be to permit the Minister of Labour to appoint arbiters, or permit someone else to appoint arbiters, and do so in the hope that we could persuade the E.I.S. to agree with us, if, at the end of the day, if they did not agree, we were still going to have the appointment made by the Minister of Labour. If we accept the deletion of these words we ought, in all honesty, to be prepared to accept that that is the end of the matter so far as the Minister of Labour is concerned; and that the Government are quite unable to do.

I should wish to follow the example of the noble Lord and refrain from going over ground which was covered on Second Reading, but in view of what has taken place since then I cannot do that entirely. As has already been pointed out, and as the noble Lord reminded us, the role of the Lord President of the Court of Session in appointing arbiters under the arrangements for the Scottish Joint Council for teachers' salaries is unique. Only in the case of Scottish teachers has the Lord President this function in the context of salary negotiations. Moreover, the present style arbitration is limited, in the sense that it imposes no commitment whatever on the Secretary of State. He was, and is, prepared to agree to a diminution of his present powers. He undertook to give effect to the arbiters' findings save in exceptional circumstances, and even then Parliament would have to sanction the setting aside of an arbitration award. But the Secretary of State agreed to do this as part of a completely new scheme.

The reason for the Government's stand on this issue is quite simple. The appointment of arbiters has been regarded by successive Governments over a long period of time as a task for the Minister of Labour. The fact is that the impartiality of arbitration (and, after all, it is the fear that arbiters appointed by the Minister would not be impartial which has led to the opposition to this matter by the E.I.S.) under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour has completely satisfied the staffs in other public services, including people with high professional qualifications. It is not a case of there being one standard for professional people and another for, say, manual workers; it applies over the whole range. In the National Health Service, where the Exchequer meets the whole cost of the salaries bill, there could be no stronger test of the impartiality and integrity of arbitration arranged by the Minister of Labour.

I would remind your Lordships that what the teachers fear is that because the Secretary of State is responsible, through the grant system, for a very large part of the Bill for Teachers' salaries, an arbiter or arbiters appointed by a colleague of the Secretary of State would, somehow, not be as impartial. Yet over a period of nearly 20 years the system of arbitration in the Health Service, where the whole of the salaries are paid by a colleague of the Minister of Labour, has never at any time come under attack on the grounds that the arbiters chosen by the Minister have proved to be creatures or tools of the Minister of Health or of the Secretary of State for Scotland. We feel, therefore, that we are obliged, for that reason in addition to all the others, to stand by this principle; because to do otherwise would be to accept the implication that some of these highly qualified, professional people are open to attack, not as individuals but as a class; that they have so little regard for their own personal integrity that they would accept a position requiring them to be completely fair and impartial but doing so on the basis that they were to arrive in advance at a decision which the Secretary of State wished.

As I implied during the Second Reading debate—I do not think I carried it further than that—my colleague has had further discussions with the E.I.S. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, was perfectly right in assuming that those discussions had taken place. Following the meeting with members of the E.I.S. last Friday, the Department, on his instructions, wrote to the E.I.S. yesterday, setting out in detail, so that there could be no misconception at all about what the Government wanted, the kind of procedure which would be involved under the Government's proposals for the appointment of teachers; and I should like to read from the letter which the E.I.S. now has. I will not read the whole of the letter, but those parts relative to our discussion: What the Secretary of State has in mind to propose, however, is that any unresolved difference within the new Committee shall be referred for settlement to an arbitration body consisting of three members. One of the three arbiters would be an independent person appointed as chairman by the Minister of Labour. Before making this appointment the Minister of Labour would consult the two sides of the Committee and would take into account any view which they might wish to express about the proposed appointment. It is the Minister's practice to select for this work a person of standing with wide experience in arbitration. The other two arbiters would be selected by the Minister of Labour from lists of persons, say four or five, considered suitable by the management side and by the teachers' side respectively. It would be for both sides to draw up their own list of persons deemed to have appropriate qualifications and experence; but persons with an immediate interest in teachers' salaries—for example, teachers. members and staff of education authorities—would be ineligible for appointment. In view of what my colleague has said to the officers and Executive of the Educational Institute of Scotland, I hope that they will find it possible to accept that the Government have no ulterior motive in seeking to do this. What we are hoping is that the new machinery will work in the interests of teachers, education authorities and the Education Department alike, because we all have a common interest in trying to ensure that difficulties about salaries are resolved as speedily and as amicably as possible.

It was because of this desire that the Secretary of State caused this Bill to be introduced in the first place. The attitude of conciliation runs through the whole procedure of the Bill. I cannot conceive of a situation developing where the arbiters appointed by the Ministry of Labour would act in such a way as to destroy the faith of the teachers in their decisions. I hope that when the teachers have consulted together further they will arrive at the conclusion that they do not have grounds for viewing with either suspicion or alarm the proposal that the responsibility for the appointment of arbiters should rest with the Minister of Labour, who traditionally has been entrusted with this responsibility for a long period of time.

May I conclude by referring to something which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, said on Second Reading? He quoted some remarks of Sir Roy Wilson, the President of the Industrial Court, to the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers' Associations. These remarks sum up so well what any body submitting to arbitration would expect of arbiters that I think I am justified in asking the House to allow me to quote again what he said. Sir Roy Wilson said: In the first place, I have always regarded it as axiomatic that under the voluntary system of arbitration which exists in this country arbitrators should he entirely independent and free from the advice and influence of the Government or a Government Department. I believe this to be the universal and the correct view. The Industrial Court should remain entirely independent of its decision. That independence could, in my view, be modified only by Parliament. As a definition of what the teachers should expect of an arbiter, I do not think it could be bettered.

The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, said that: This is what four-fifths of the teachers in Scotland have their teeth into: they have their teeth into this principle of an independent arbiter.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, col. 1646. 11/5/67.] But those remarks were made by a man who was appointed as President of the Industrial Court by the Minister of Labour. Obviously, in enunciating that principle Sir Roy Wilson does not consider that he is either the creature or the tool of the Minister of Labour and obliged to bring in decisions which will be acceptable either to the Minister or to the Minister's colleagues. If, by chance, members of the Educational Institute of Scotland should be considering to-morrow what is taking place in your Lordships' House this afternoon, I would suggest that if they did nothing else they could rest on the definition of what a good arbiter should be as expounded by Sir Roy Wilson, who is himself an appointee of the Minister of Labour.

I have spoken a little longer than I intended. My justification is that I accept completely that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, is at one with me in seeking to get a solution to teachers' salary negotiations which in the long run will be in the best interests of all concerned. I accept that that is his motive in putting forward this Amendment. I hope that what I have said will make him feel that it would be in the best interests of all concerned if this Amendment were not accepted by your Lordships.


The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, unlike all too many of his colleagues, always accepts an Amendment in the proper spirit and argues why it should not be accepted, and this case is no exception to that rule. But I should like him to give your Lordships the assurance that any arbitration award made by the arbiters could net be reversed, either by the Secretary of State for Scotland or by Parliament.


Yes, I can give the noble Earl the most firm assurance. This is part of the Bill. The Secretary of State binds himself to accept the arbiters' decision, except in conditions of exceptional national urgency, which are specified in the Bill, when it would be a matter for Parliament to decide whether it would be in the national interest for the award to be implemented. In such a decision both Houses must concur. So I am able to give the noble Earl the assurance for which he seeks, with the exception of the special circumstances to which the Bill refers.


Arising from the noble Lord's reply, for which I am grateful, the only further comment I would make is that it seems that even the Government do not have much trust in the impartiality of the Secretary of State for Scotland, inasmuch as they think it necessary that arbiters should be appointed by an outside Minister. But it may well be, at least in the present circumstances, that this will be an advantage, because I am afraid that at the present moment the Secretary of State for Scotland's name stands something worse than mud with the teachers Of Scotland.


I am afraid I cannot accept that the noble Earl is as fair to the Secretary of State for Scotland as a little earlier he was to myself. There is no question of the impartiality of the Secretary of State being impugned by having arbiters appointed by the Minister of Labour. It is laid down in the Bill that the Secretary of State is one of the parties represented in the new machinery on the employers' side, where he will be represented by two officers of the Scottish Education Department. The reason why we have not suggested that the Secretary of State should appoint arbiters is that it would be against all the ordinary canons of fairness that one of the parties to the negotiations should subsequently have the right to appoint arbiters to consider the result of the negotiations.

The Secretary of State is content that his direct part should be limited to the part which his officers play in the negotiations in the first instance. We hope that, through the new machinery, mostly—frequently—sometimes—they will arrive at agreed decisions. The arbiters will come in only if the new machinery fails to bring agreement and if the Secretary of State and the representatives of the other employers, the local authorities, are unable to agree with the teachers on what the award should be. Then the matter passes out of the hands of the Secretary of State and out of the hands of the local authorities and of the teachers, and goes to the arbiters. For the first time, under these proposals the Secretary of State will be placed in the same position as everybody else. He will have to accept the award like the local authorities and the teachers. It ought to be unnecessary for me to say that it is a tribute to his impartiality in this matter that this proposal to divest himself of the power which every Secretary of State has had up to the present came from the Secretary of State for Scotland himself.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of this matter. Indeed, I could wish that he were to be present tomorrow at the annual general meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland, where he could have said what he has had to say in this House to-day directly to the teachers. I am sure that it would be greatly appreciated. I do not go so far as the noble Lord in saying that if this Amendment were to be accepted it would be taken to mean that the Secretary of State was climbing down on the recommendation that the Minister of Labour should make these appointments. This is my Amendment and I have made plain the basis on which I was making this recommendation to your Lordships.

On the other hand, it is undoubtedly a matter for judgment whether the passing of this Amendment at this particular time would be helpful or the reverse. As I say, it would leave the matter open for the time being. The noble Lord prefers that the Secretary of State's intention should be made quite clear, and, indeed, what he has said has indicated that this is the firm intention of the Secretary of State from which he does not intend to depart. In those circumstances, I can only hope that what the noble Lord has said will carry conviction with the teachers to-morrow. If not, then we shall inevitably, and I may say sadly, have to return to the matter again. I think we can leave it there for the time being, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.