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Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 4 May 1977

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mrs. Ann Taylor.]

11.3 p.m.

I wish to declare my interest in this debate. I act as the honorary and unpaid parliamentary adviser to the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association.

What I like about the House is this: early today we discussed the Royal Air Force, with the engines roaring and the bullets scattering all over the place: then we discussed certain labyrinthine regulations of the European Community now we are in the serene atmosphere of education—though when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I were facing delegations of teachers in 1974, the aggressive attitude that they adopted then would have frightened most of our enemies away.

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the subject of the possible reconstruction of the Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee and the anomalies existing throughout education concerning salaries and conditions of service in Scotland. That something must be done about these matters was recognised by the Committee under the chairmanship of my noble Friend Lord Houghton in its Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the pay of Non-University Teachers, Cmnd. 5848. The House will forgive if I refer to it simply as the Houghton Committee.

The Committee indicated that changes should be made in the arrangements for negotiating salaries and conditions of service of teachers in school and non-university post-school education in Scotland. One can understand why the Committee recommended in this way if one looks at the present situation.

In 1967 the Remuneration of Teachers (Scotland) Act made provision for one or more committees to consider the salaries of teachers. In that same year the Secretary of State set up the Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee, on which the three teachers' organisations—the Educational Institute of Scotland, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, and the Scottish Schoolmasters Association—were represented. On the employers' side there were representatives of the education authorities and the Secretary of State for Scotland. Also there was provision for arbiters to be appointed by the Secretary of State for Employment. This Committee deals with the salaries of teachers.

The Scottish Teachers' Services and Conditions Committee was set up in 1968. The Secretary of State is not represented on this, although he appoints two assessors. Also, there is no provision for arbitration. Here we have two committees dealing separately with salaries and conditions of service.

The Central Institutions' Academic Staffs' Salaries Committee, established in 1972, negotiates salaries for academic staffs, other than principals. As with the Teachers' Salaries Committee, the representation consists of representatives of governing bodies and the Secretary of State on the one side and the staff representatives on the other. Provision for arbitration is there, but the Secretary of State, strangely enough, can reject these recommendations. The committee does not negotiate conditions of service.

The provision for salaries of the academic staffs in colleges of education is very much the same as for the central institutions' academic staffs. There are representatives of the board of governors on one side, and of the staff on the other. There is a national joint committee for negotiating conditions of service in colleges of Education in Scotland, formed in 1974. The Secretary of State is not represented there, and there is no provision at all for arbitration.

Here we have five committees in Scotland all dealing with salaries and conditions of service of teachers and lecturers in colleges of higher education and colleges of further education. The present position is most unsatisfactory. Further education has the same salaries structure as the colleges of education and central institutions. Decisions on salaries must be made for a 11 three groups at one time and, with three different negotiating bodies, it is a well-nigh impossible task. The only reason why this ludicrous situation has not caused insuperable difficulties in the last two years is that the Government's pay policy has meant the suspension of normal negotiations. A return to collective bargaining would result in chaos.

As a trade unionist for more than 40 years, I cannot understand this separation of conditions of service from salaries. In my experience, my conditions of service, sick pay, leave received each year, disciplinary procedures and grievance procedures were all negotiated by the body negotiating the wages and salaries. I do not see why the teachers should be treated any differently. Sick pay, leave, the scale of allowances for other duties, the grievance and disciplinary procedures are part and parcel of the salary negotiations. Conditions of service have implications for salaries and salaries have implications for conditions of service. The fact that there have been and continue to be different negotiations for salaries and conditions of service is ridiculous.

The Houghton Committee realised that radical changes had to be made in the negotiating machinery. My right hon. Friend recognised this in July 1976 when he said in a letter of 19th July:
"The Secretary of State recognises that nearly 18 months have elapsed since the Houghton Committee reported and that during this time those interested will have had opportunity to formulate views on the recommendations. He is now anxious that progress should now be made as quickly as possible. I shall be glad therefore if you would let me have any comments which you may wish to make by 17 September."
A further 10 months have elapsed since that letter went out and nothing has been done. The Secretary of State made proposals. He made proposals for re-organising and restructuring the machinery. These proposals were withdrawn when the Scotland and Wales Bill entered the House.

I hope my hon. Friend will not shelter behind the Scotland and Wales Bill. Clause 57 of the Bill created the unique situation whereby all the teachers' and employers' oragnisations were united against it. As my good friend, the General-Secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, wrote to the Secretary of State, the proposal for the Secretary of State to veto an upper limit was "totally unacceptable". He went on:
"Determination of an upper limit to offers…by the employers' side, or one constitutent of that side, would debase the meaning of the description "negotiating" as applied to the proposed machinery. In effect, teachers would be singled out among the nation's workers for the imposition of a form of permanent, statutory wage control".
The President of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers let it be known in no uncertain manner what he thought of kitty bargaining. This is really what this proposal amounts to.

Clause 57 was opposed by all these organisations. The clause, among others, is one of the reasons why I and many like me, did not want the little bit of nonsense that was the Scotland and Wales Bill. I am a federalist and we shall have to come to federalism to keep the UK united and before we get any sense out of this mess we have created.

Now that the Scotland and Wales Bill is in abeyance, I should hate to think that matters affecting the negotiating macchinery will be allowed to drift. The teachers had nothing to do with the defeat of the Government on that Bill. Why should they be made to suffer? I do not think that the teachers should be left hanging around because the Secretary of State put some negotiating machinery into the Scotland and Wales Bill. They should not have to wait the pleasure of the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is genuinely keen on improving industrial relations. Many of us admire his initiatives in this area. Before and during the Houghton negotiations the teaching profession was in a ferment and this was because of bad industrial relations. The teachers and the employers have accepted the need for a single body, or for new machinery, to negotiate salaries and conditions of service. In his consultation document the Secretary of State tacitly accepted this. The restructuring of further and higher education salaries by Houghton made the need for a separate body for further and higher education imperative. Teachers are seeking only what is established practice.

The change is necessary. I hope that my hon. Friend will take a practical step along the road to improve industrial relations in the teaching profession and seriously consider what I have said.

11.15 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) for making it possible to debate a matter which has been of considerable concern to the Secretary of State and myself for some time.

With his usual courtesy, my hon. Friend has put forward careful arguments for the reconstruction of the present Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee. As any major reconstruction of that Committee—which was set up by the Remuneration of Teachers (Scotland) Act 1967—would itself need legislation, I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will be generous in your interpretation of Standing Order No. 16 which refers to the prohibition in an Adjournment debate of any reference to matters concerning legislative remedy.

I was looking at the Standing Order before the hon. Member referred to it. If it is necessary to make a passing reference to legislation in order to give full value to the purpose of the debate the Chair may permit such reference to be made.

I am, as always, most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker for your wise counsel and your indulgence in interpreting the Standing Order.

As my hon. Friend said, the Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee was set up in 1967 largely because of dissatisfaction with the previous negotiating arrangements. Under the earlier system, staff and management negotiated pay increases but, as the Secretary of State was not party to their negotiations, they did not know what his reaction would be until negotiations were completed. The present Committee consists of a management side, containing representatives of the education authorities and officials of my Department who represent the Secretary of State and the teachers' side containing 16 representatives of the EIS, three representatives of the SSTA, and two members of the SSA. It is possible that the allocation of seats on the teachers' side may at times have caused some anxiety for the smaller associations, but this, of course, represents the relative size of their membership.

Recommendations which are jointly agreed upon by the Committee are binding on the Secretary of State and are automatically put into effect by him through the Scottish Teachers' Salaries Memorandum. The salaries' bill for the teaching profession is a significant part of public expenditure, and the Secretary of State clearly has an interest because of the Exchequer contribution through rate support grant.

When the Remuneration of Teachers (Scotland) Act was going through Parliament in 1967, the then Secretary of State made it clear that
"no Minister could participate in the management side of a negotiating body in a minority position unless there were some agreement whereby the Government had control of the overall cost of any settlement".
The Secretary of State's control is exercised through an agreement which he has reached with the local authority representatives that they will not make any offer unless he has first agreed the total cost. This agreement is generally referred to as the "concordat".

Initially the system worked well, especially in comparison with the previous negotiating arrangements. In recent years, however, there has been evidence of inadequacies. The committee set up under Lord Houghton to inquire into the pay of non-university teachers pointed to the anomalous position whereby at present teachers' pay is negotiated in one committee and teachers' conditions of service in another committee, and my hon. Friend referred to that in strong terms. Lord Houghton also suggested that the logical conclusion of his committee's recommendation for a common grading and salary structure in the non-university sector meant that there should be common negotiating machinery to replace the present five committees.

In addition to the two committees for teachers there are, I should explain, a committee for pay of academic staff in the Central Institutions and two committees for academic staff in colleges of education one of which deals with pay and the other with conditions of service. The Secretary of State agreed with Lord Houghton's recommendations on these points.

The Secretary of State published proposals for changing the present system in a consultative paper issued in July 1976. He proposed to abolish the existing five committees and replace them with two. One of these committees could deal with school teachers and the other with teachers and lecturers in the post-school sector. Each committee would deal both with pay and conditions of service. This was one of the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friend.

The Secretary of State also made it clear that he regarded as essential that he should be represented on the management side of both committees because of the major liability of the Exchequer. He added that because of his responsibility to the taxpayer for expenditure on education it was also necessary for him to have control over the total cost—but not details or distribution—of offers made by the management side of each committee. This control would not, of course, in any way impair the freedom of the two sides of the proposed committees to negotiate the details of settlements.

This latter proposal attracted a great deal of opposition, but it is not a proposal which the Government can lightly discard. The total salaries' bill for the staff covered by the proposed two committees is about £270 million per year and the Government feel that they must continue to exercise some control over this. The fact is that at present through the "concordat" the Government have a control of the overall cost of teachers' pay and consider that it is necessary to retain that control.

There is no question of teachers being singled out for harsh or rigorous treatment. Other sectors of the public service, such as National Health Service staff, are subject to similar control. References have been made by my hon. Friend to Clause 57 of the Scotland and Wales Bill. That clause proposed that the Scottish Executive should exercise the same control over the total cost of teachers' pay as the Secretary of State has at present, but that in exercising that power the Executive would need the Secretary of State's consent.

It is a matter for regret both to the Secretary of State and myself that, because of shortage of parliamentary time, it has not been possible to introduce the necessary legislation to put his proposals for new negotiating machinery into effect. All those who had been consulted about his proposals were told of this at the end of November last year.

The Minister said that organisations were told at the end of November about the lack of parliamentary time and that these proposals could not be introduced. Subsequently, the Scotland and Wales Bill guillotine motion failed and left us with a vacuum. Surely there is time now, if the Minister is keen.

That is a fair and reasonable point. I might refer to it towards the end of my speech. I hope that my hon. Friend appreciates the difficulties. We have a full parliamentary timetable which runs to the end of the Session.

The SSTA has argued for some time for a review body to replace the present negotiating committee and included reference to it in its evidence to Lord Houghton's Committee. Having examined the idea, the Houghton Committee was not in favour of it. Its conclusion was:
"we think it unlikely that any part of the negotiating bodies would wish to surrender their negotiating powers in this way. Nor, indeed, do we think it desirable in the case of teachers, that the normal bargaining process between the two sides should be abrogated."
I agree with the Houghton conclusions.

The fact that the existing negotiating machinery is not working perfectly means that it requires adjustment, not replacement with a system based on a principle other than negotiation. I know that, with his long record as an active trade unionist, my hon. Friend would be the first to agree that that principle is important. A review body would in fact mean an end of negotiations such as are conducted at present, and it is perhaps significant that neither of the two other associations represented on the teachers' side of STSC has actively pursued this idea.

Another strong argument of the SSTA has been that the present system of negotiating salaries for all school teachers in one committee is unsatisfactory and should be replaced by committees dealing separately with primary and secondary teachers. At first sight the idea appears attractive, but in fact it could only cause more problems than it would solve. Anomalies are almost certain to arise between the scales of teachers in primary and secondary education and, contrary to what my hon. Friend Member has argued, a logical division—given the present system—is between school and post-school education. This is where the Secretary of State proposed, for the new system, that the dividing line should be drawn. After all, the pay and conditions of service of secondary teachers bear a closer relationship to those of primary teachers than, say, to those of lecturers in central institutions. In addition, the Government's aim is to reduce the present number of committees. My hon. Friend suggested that strongly when he mentioned the existence of the five committees.

We have heard about the imbalance in regard to the smaller parties. The Secretary of State can, of course, under the terms of Section 1 of the Remuneration of Teachers (Scotland) Act 1967, determine the number of persons to be nominated by the various bodies. The present representation is: EIS, 16 members; SSTA, three members; and SSA two members. Had there been no proposals to alter the existing system, it would indeed be appropriate for the Secretary of State to examine from time to time the composition of the present Committee. But at the present time, when proposals have been made and commented on for a new negotiating system, it would not be appropriate to revise the present composition of the teachers' side. As I indicated to my hon. Friend in the answer I gave him on 27th April, it is not possible at present to say when legislation on this subject can be introduced, but I must make it clear that the Secretary of State has not withdrawn his proposals.

The question of the legislative timetable and the vacuum to which my hon. Friend referred is not a matter for me or my right hon. Friend, but the Secretary of State is anxious to come to a conclusion on the matter. We accept that the present situation of 5 committees is unsatisfactory, but the Secretary of State is anxious to put matters right and his made proposals to this end. All the comments that have been made to him in response to the consultative papers issued in July last year are being considered, but it is not yet possible to say when there will be an opportunity for legislation.

I shall convey to the Lord President the eloquence with which my hon. Friend has spoken on behalf of the association—no doubt he would like all the relevant teachers' associations to have the same treatment—and I recognise the importance of an early decision. I appreciate the continuance of this so-called "concordat". I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter and I shall convey what he has said to those responsible for the legislative timetable.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Eleven o'clock.