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Teachers' Dispute (Scotland)

Volume 84: debated on Tuesday 22 October 1985

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4.20 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the teachers' dispute in Scotland, and in particular the report last week of the Educational Institute of Scotland's ballot.

In July, the management side of the SJNC (School Education) submitted proposals to me involving a substantial redefinition of teachers' conditions of service and the restructuring of pay scales. In early August I told the management side in reply that if a package on these lines could be negotiated within the SJNC I would be prepared to make additional resources available, on a scale building up to 10 per cent. of the present salary bill, over a period of four years beginning in 1986–87. This would be over and above the normal annual pay negotiations and would add an extra £125 million to teachers' salaries over four years.

The management side then put an abbreviated form of its proposals to the teachers' side and asked it to consider it as a basis for a settlement should funding additional to what I had offered be made available.

The teachers' side replied that it saw this as a non-offer and pronounced certain aspects totally unacceptable. It refused to fall in with the management side's proposal of a joint approach to the Government for additional funding for the management side proposals and indicated that it would reject any proposal which would lead to deterioration in the conditions of service of teachers.

In a further attempt to find a way forward, I invited representatives of the teachers' side to meet me on 27 September. It was suggested at that meeting that, provided substantially more money were offered without preconditions, the teachers would be prepared subsequently to discuss conditions of service and curricular development.

My officials have explored aspects of the proposals with representatives of the teachers' side to see if a basis could be found for negotiations which might lead to a settlement. These discussions have produced some useful clarification of the teachers' position and I hope they will continue, but I have to say that, as they stand, the teachers' proposals do not appear to me to offer a way forward.

Meantime, the EIS announced last Wednesday a majority vote in favour of a boycott of public examination procedures in 1986. This is causing great anxiety for pupils who are working for qualifications to secure their own future. I must, therefore, make quite clear the Government's position in the light of the EIS decision.

The Scottish Examination Board has a statutory duty to conduct examinations each year for the award of certificates relating to secondary education. There should be no doubt whatever in the minds of any pupil, parent or teacher that the board is determined to do everything in its power to carry out that duty and that the Government are fully committed to doing everything possible to ensure that candidates now working for SCE and CSYS examinations in 1986 will not be let down.

The present position, therefore, is that the teachers have asked for a large pay settlement without any commitment on their part to changes, especially in the contractual conditions governing the teacher's job. The local authority employers and I are entirely agreed that it is impossible to run an effective school system if teachers have the power to pick and choose which pieces of work they will do. The examinations boycott demonstrates exactly what I mean.

I have always recognised the vital contribution which teachers have in the past made to the running of the education service by their work outside the normal school day, particularly in carrying forward new developments in the curriculum and examinations. We need the continued involvement of teachers in these activities, and the purpose of the package prepared by the local authority employers in July was to give fair and appropriate recognition to this fact in a fresh approach in conditions of service, the definition of the teachers' role and a new pay structure.

It was in recognition of this that I was able to announce that substantial additional resources could be made available over the next four years. The offer remains open, at least for the time being. But I hope that there is no misunderstanding about its status. It was made conditional on negotiation, within the SJNC, of new conditions of service.

I know that many teachers desperately want to see this dispute resolved, as do I and the local authority employers. But I have to say that after all the damage that has been caused, and particularly in the light of this latest threat, the public have a right to expect that one element in a settlement should be a firm clarification of teachers' duties so that they cannot again inflict such chaos and demoralisation on our schools at so little cost to themselves.

The Secretary of State's statement is deeply disappointing. It reflects no more than a flat summary of his known position. It is unlikely that the teachers will respond to what is a homily from the right hon. Gentleman on their duty, a homily which has overtones that are sanctimonious and which will impress no one. He offers no hope and he shows no appreciation of the damage that is resulting from an impasse that owes a great deal to his own obstinacy.

The right hon. Gentleman has attacked the teachers persistently and with some energy on what he sees as their inflexible, but I believe understandable, commitment to the principle of an independent pay review. Will he not accept that the unions—I use the word "unions" in the plural—have shown a willingness to seek a solution by indicating that they are at least prepared to look at a significant cash offer on the table and, once that has been settled, to move on to negotiations on terms and conditions? Will he not accept that 10 per cent. of this year's salary bill spread over four years is not the kind of offer that is likely to enable us to break out of the present difficulties?

I note the only optimistic part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement when he says that he hopes that discussions can continue. Will he please do everything he can, by showing some flexibility, to make sure that they continue? Will he give an assurance that he is not in effect slamming the door when he says that the teachers' proposals do not appear to him to offer a way forward? It is vital, as the whole House will agree, that we keep the sides talking in the present situation, particularly when, as I say, the teachers have made a significant move in an effort to achieve a solution to the impasse.

May we have further information about the contingency plans that no doubt are being formed as a result of the recent ballot on examinations? The right hon. Gentleman says that the Scottish Examination Board will
"do everything in its power."
That does not help the House much. We are entitled to much more information about exactly what the right hon. Gentleman anticipates happening should the present situation continue.

We on this side are sad about the impasse. The Secretary of State refers to a majority vote in the EIS on the boycott. He will recall that it was 87 per cent. for and only 13 per cent. against. That reflects the feeling of frustration and bitterness and, I believe, an overwhelming wish on the part of all teachers to jolt the right hon. Gentleman into some positive action.

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the vast bulk of opinion in Scotland sympathises with the teachers in that wish and that all those people wish to dissociate themselves from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman's colleague south of the border, the Secretary of State for Education and Science, on television on Sunday night when he referred to the Scottish teachers "sinking so low" in their attempts to solve the dispute? Will the right hon. Gentleman do the same and dissociate himself from that unfortunate form of words?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his expressed view, which I share, that the existence of discussions, even though they are not negotiations because I am not a party to them—[HON MEMBERS: "Oh?"] I am not a negotiating party. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his agreement that it is valuable that discussions should be taking place and that they should continue. I confirm my hope that they will continue, and I hope that they continue in a good spirit.

I agree also with him that many teachers are only too anxious to get a solution and would dearly like to see one. I am bound to say, however, in the kindest way I can, that when rather surprisingly, I produced an astonishing extra sum of money in the summer, that was rejected on television without those concerned even waiting to see the nature of the offer. I hope that future negotiations can take place at a more careful pace than that.

The hon. Gentleman said that 10 per cent. was not enough——

He said that 10 per cent. was not enough over four years, and that was a perfectly legitimate view to express. However, it must be put in its proper context. It is 10 per cent. over four years in addition to the normal increases each year. I am sure that many teachers would wish that more money than that could be available, but few other employees are looking forward in the next four years to anything of that nature. That is a measure of my recognition that the teachers have a case. I have always made it clear that I do not deny that case and that I wish to help to meet it.

The situation on examinations is immensely serious because if the full boycott were carried out as suggested there would be no way in which 100 per cent. proper exams could be conducted by the examination board. However, the board has made it clear—and I support it utterly in the matter—that it would do everything in its power, whatever the circumstances, to produce exams as best it possibly could. It will, of course. have to study carefully the problems. what resources would be needed and where they would be available, and I shall give all the help I can in its study of those issues.

One of the most shattering aspects of the ballot last week was not so much that it showed a majority as that there was such a vast majority for the choice of using examinations and the future of the children as a bargaining counter—[Interruption.] I said recently that I thought that that was a heart-breaking decision. In my view, that was the correct word to use to describe it.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that I welcome the large sum of money—over —100 million—which is being made available over and above normal negotiated annual salary increases? Does he agree that it is a sum upon which the EIS should at least negotiate through the proper channels in terms of both pay and conditions of service? Will he make one more effort to ask the EIS to do just that in the interests of children and of parents, who face great uncertainty over selective strikes? Will he continue to do everything possible to bring the dispute to an end? All Scotland feels that the EIS has let it continue for far too long.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I undertake to continue to do everything that I possibly can to bring the dispute to a solution. In fairness, I think that that is the wish of many on the teachers' side. I suggest to hon. Members on both sides of the House that there is a danger of it appearing absurd to write off an extra sum of the scale that I have described in the context of these discussions. When the dispute was being discussed in the summer many people asked me whether I could provide even as much as had been provided at that time to help the ratepayers of Scotland. As we all know, that was about —30 million. We are now talking about —125 million of additional money, and it is absurd to regard that as negligible. In fact, it is an extremely generous sum.

As for conditions of service, it is not realistic—and I think that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) will agree with this if he reflects fully—to think about negotiating major changes in pay without having some regard to conditions of service. Secondly, it is not my wish to try to make conditions of service worse. My approach is to try to make conditions of service reflect what teachers are doing in the schools and what they have been doing for some time. Surely that is a correct aim.

The Secretary of State has referred to the 87 per cent. EIS vote. Is he aware that those of us who have children at state schools — I am one of them — are more and more appalled and find it increasingly difficult to understand, as the strike goes into its second year, why the Secretary of State refuses to contemplate an objective view of the teachers' salary structure, the result of which would not commit the Government more than they were committed by the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body? They were not committed by that body's recommendations; they accepted them, which is rather different.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not true and not fair to say, as he did, that teachers have asked for a large pay settlement without any commitment to change? If the Government are determined to link pay and conditions, as they appear to be, surely at least he could establish an independent body to consider the two factors together and to report before Christmas. That would seem to be a constructive thing to do. Or is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to soldier on until perhaps he gets his own way on his own terms, which would suggest that he is not prepared to consider other attitudes?

That is not my attitude and it never has been. I am willing to explore every way of trying to resolve the dispute. As for the original demand for an independent review of pay only, I thought that it was the position of most of the parties represented in the House that any review would have to be directed to pay and conditions of service. I may be wrong, but I thought that the Liberal party had made that clear. I thought that it took the view that conditions of service must be included in the review. That is the first objection to the teachers' original proposal.

Secondly, I cannot see any merit in asking a body of outsiders to consider teachers' pay and conditions when the SJNC has been set up for precisely that purpose. It has in its number representatives of the employers and the teachers, both of whom are highly involved in teaching in our schools. I cannot see the sense in bringing together a body of outsiders to consider pay and conditions when there are many insiders who know the job perfectly well and who could make a decision if they could only get down to doing so.

Is it not a fact that the EIS is occupying an absurd position by refusing to discuss pay and conditions of service with the employers in the same way as would any other organisation or profession? Its insistence on waging a war of attrition against pupils and parents in Scotland cannot continue indefinitely. Will my right hon. Friend advise local authorities that those in secure jobs cannot do what they like in such unreasonable circumstances?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree with him that all those in employment nowadays are used to having their salaries or pay scales, whatever it may be, related to conditions of service and what it is that they are requested or required to do as part of their job. The teachers are in no different position from others in this respect except that their job is different from that of other employees, and that should be recognised in their conditions of service.

I would always regard a war of attrition as regrettable and undesirable. With great respect to all concerned, it is unacceptable that that should happen when the teachers are not faced with a Secretary of State or a Government who refuse to recognise their demands. Indeed, we have moved a long way to meet them. We are prepared fully to discuss the matter in a sensible and adult way with the teachers. We cannot regard it as acceptable that pupils should be used as weapons in a war. That must stop, for it is entirely unacceptable.

How can the Secretary of State escape responsibility for the fact that morale in the teaching profession is now at an all-time low? The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of a generous offer, but is it not the case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has said, that it represents 2·5 per cent. per year on top of the 3 per cent. that the Government are determined to inflict on teachers and others? This means that they are being offered about 5 per cent. per year over the next four years. Does he think for a moment that any responsible profession would accept that?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the highest possible salary' available in the teaching profession throughout Scotland is less than the increase which the Government, without hesitation, gave to those receiving top salaries? That is something to which the teaching profession objects strongly. The Government are practising double standards and are prepared to treat some people differently from others. Unless the Government are prepared to accept the need for an independent pay review, we must suspect them of going for the kill in their approach to the teaching profession. That might be because the Secretary of State thinks that it is weak and moderate.

It is uncharacteristic of the hon. Gentleman to be short on facts but, as usual, he has been long on rhetoric. His supplementary question does not marry up with any of the facts. I have made it clear throughout the dispute that I accept that the teachers have a case and that it must be recognised that they feel that they have been badly treated. I have found a considerable amount of extra money to help to demonstrate that recognition, which no Opposition Member ever dreamt I would do. Against that background it is not acceptable to use children as a battering ram. The Government are only too willing sensibly to settle the issue with the teachers.

Will my right hon. Friend emphasise that negotiations remain on offer, that the £125 million is over and above normal pay rises, and that the precise extent of normal pay rises is a matter for negotiation?

My hon. Friend is right; and he has corrected the misapprehensions of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton).

Is the Secretary of State aware that the result of the EIS ballot is regarded by most people in Scotland as marking the lengths to which a moderate and responsible profession has been obliged to go by the actions of the Scottish Office? Is he aware also that there is general agreement among the public that the teachers are entitled to a substantial increase in salary without any strings whatsoever? Surely that part of the dispute could be dealt with by an independent pay review, which the profession has been demanding. The refusal of the Secretary of State to accede to that demand shows how aware he is of the weakness of his case. Is he aware that, as the dispute continues, the public have no doubt that the responsibility lies with him?

I have answered the point about the independent pay review, and I have nothing more to add. I believe that, irrespective of any of the issues, to threaten children's examination prospects — possibly the only chance in their lives—is not an acceptable method of pursuing an industrial dispute.

Is it not the case that throughout this dispute a number of initiatives have been taken all of which have come from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? Now that the last stumbling block which was articulated in July—that no precise figure had been put on the amount available—has been removed and my right hon. Friend has cited an amount, would it not be better for the negotiations if the threat to examinations were removed? Would not that measure promote some goodwill in Scotland and give fair speed to the negotiations?

My hon. Friend is correct. There is a need for movement on both sides.

There were three phases in this dispute. The first was the demand for an independent pay review only. It was then said that there was no point in my trying to negotiate unless I produced some money. I offered in December to find some extra money from within the Scottish block to help to resolve this dispute. That offer was turned down by the teachers on the ground that the matter could not be discussed until they knew how much money was involved. In August I specified the amount, but the offer was turned down on television without those involved ever having listened to it. With that sort of lack of movement, it is not surprising that we have a difficult dispute. I shall continue to try to find ways of moving in the direction of the teachers if I can, and I hope that they will do the same for me.

The right hon. Gentleman knows not only that my constituents have been faced with the problem of the teachers' industrial dispute but that 800 pupils in the old senior secondary school system have been involved in a previous dispute. The right hon. Gentleman knows that if the children in my constituency do not receive a decent education it will be difficult for them to get a job in areas where youth unemployment is about 50 per cent. If the negotiations have broken down, surely the right hon. Gentleman is under a legal obligation to ensure that children in my constituency and in Scotland generally are properly educated.

I have a responsibility, and I have intervened repeatedly to try to solve the dispute. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would put his concerns about the children to the teachers.

If the pay of teachers has fallen behind, is that not a dreadful condemnation of the EIS and those who negotiate on its behalf? Is not the insistence on an independent pay review a cop out by the teachers because they feel that they are not able to make the case in negotiations like everyone else? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if ever there were an illustration of the Marxist doctrine that the ends justify the means, the examination boycott is a good example?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not think that that particular end can ever justify those means. When there is a perfectly well-constituted body representing both sides whose job is to negotiate between the two sides, that is the right place for this dispute to be resolved.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, before the House went into recess, he was specifically warned that this dispute would not go away and that he was living in dreamland if he thought that the summer holidays would see an end to the problem and we would come back to peace and quiet. As the right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, unlike the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), that the 87 per cent. vote by the EIS demonstrates that the vast majority of teachers in Scotland are thoroughly fed up and wholly behind the campaign—this is a matter not of one or two people running others but of virtually the whole of the teaching profession in Scotland—does he recognise that in these serious and desperate circumstances for the education of Scottish children he will need to make a supreme effort to go further and to concede the independent pay review? If the right hon. Gentleman makes that effort, I think that we would all urge a return to normality in schools.

I know that hon. Members have been away during the recess, but the hon. Gentleman's account of movements at the beginning of the recess is highly inaccurate. I did not go away for a luxurious holiday to stretch out on the beach and forget about the dispute. While the hon. Gentleman went on holiday, I spent the first part of the recess fighting for extra money, and I got 10 per cent. above the normal increases. That is the measure of my commitment to spending time to try to solve this dispute.

I entirely agree that a supreme effort is needed to settle this dispute before more damage is done to the children. I do not doubt that teachers feel strongly about this matter. The ballot, my mailbag and what teachers say to me show this. I am not denying their case; I am trying only to solve the dispute. I wish that some members of the teaching profession would try harder to meet me, just as I have tried to meet them.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that parents are becoming increasingly anxious about their children's education and increasingly bewildered at the way in which the EIS uniquely has not been prepared to budge one millimetre despite the various efforts made by my right hon. Friend, the employers and, equally as important, other teacher unions in an effort to break the deadlock? Will my right hon. Friend urge the teachers to use the time of disruption — they talk of years—more fruitfully in talking about how a settlement might be reached rather than shouting from an entrenched position?

My hon. Friend is correct in thinking that not only the public in general but almost everyone is bewildered by the lack of movement in this dispute. As I have moved on many occasions to meet the teachers' point of view, I hope that all those concerned on the other side will do their best to move at least a little in my direction so that a solution to the dispute may take a step forward.

Will the Secretary of State explain how the statement's insensitive language can help to bring about a settlement? He said that he intended to take measures to prevent such action being taken again. What does he mean by those sinister words? Does he mean that in future teachers will have no right to take industrial action?

What I mean is what I should have thought the vast majority of the public in Scotland mean.

What I mean is what I think the vast majority of people in Scotland mean — that, whatever solution comes out of the dispute, it had better be a solution that ensures that this sort of chaos never happens again.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the joint negotiating body as established by statute is in many ways a model on how one should resolve industrial disputes? For that model to be effective the component parts must be prepared to use all their skills, training and talents to bring about sensible solutions. Those sensible solutions must be based on, first, the available cash; secondly, the available resources; and, thirdly, the customers, including the parents but primarily the children. Taking all those factors into account, it seems strange to me and, I am sure, to many other active trade unionists who understand what negotiations mean — [Interruption.] Those who know nothing about industrial relations are always amused. They have never had to take part in industrial relations or to try to solve problems. That is why they are amused, especially the middle-of-the-road people who do not understand these matters. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Scottish parents are fed up with seeing their children—I include one of my children who is taking an examination this year—affected? Of course children will be adversely affected if the examinations are not conducted properly. Naturally, I and the rest of the parents are concerned about the facts that the machinery in existence to find answers is not being used.

Everyone on all sides would certainly expect not only me but the other parties to the dispute to do everything that they could to achieve a compromise. I shall play my part if they will play theirs. Everyone, whatever his view about the dispute, will agree with me that, whatever the circumstances, everything possible must be done to ensure that children do not needlessly lose perhaps their only chance of sitting an important examination.

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that what he has offered is inadequate to meet the teachers' case? Will he acknowledge that the 87 per cent. vote in the ballot in relation to the 1986 SCE examinations makes it absolutely clear that no settlement is on offer? Will he face up to the fact that he has a responsibility to come forward with an initiative to avert the damage that is being done to our children?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that my offer was inadequate. If I may say so, it is easy for him to say that as he does not have to find the money to fund it. It was extremely generous in comparison to what was offered to all the other people in the public sector, and that should be borne in mind.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that the ballot shows that no acceptable settlement has been offered. The ballot shows one thing only —that a huge number of Scottish teachers felt that they should go to the length of denying their pupils the chance of sitting examinations next year. I understand the feelings which may have been expressed in the ballot. I make it clear that I respect that. I hope that many of those teachers will think thoroughly, long and hard before they inflict that on their pupils.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the teachers' refusal to co-operate with curriculum development and in-service training is having a much more severe effect upon the future of Scottish education than strikes or even a possible examination boycott? Does he agree that it is essential that teachers' contractual duties should be redefined so that worthwhile developments in education cannot be frustrated in future? I recognise the efforts that he has continually made to try to find a solution to this impasse. Will he persist with his efforts and perhaps consider a no-strike agreement?

On the latter point, the teachers have not suggested or requested such an agreement. If they did, it could of course be considered.

My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of curriculum development. I emphasise that changes in curriculum development were in no sense imposed upon the teachers or the teaching profession. They were devised within and through the teaching profession. They were piloted by teachers in schools and they were universally welcomed until this dispute arose. The duties need to be clearly defined. I accept that we must work out whether they need to be altered. I have shown my willingness on that. If we pay teachers to do a job, we expect them to do that job.

Why has not the Secretary of State seized the opportunity offered by the teachers' proposals of 27 September and recognised that they have offered to negotiate conditions of service within the SJNC following the management side's proposal to put a substantial sum of money on the table? Both elements are crucial. The Secretary of State seems to be sweeping aside an opportunity based on proposals put forward outside the profession by the churches. Why does he show himself to be so obdurately unwilling to seek to bridge the gap?

The right hon. Gentleman said in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) about the current discussions taking place with the Scottish Office that he was not a party to negotiations with the teachers. Does he not realise that the people of Scotland whose children's education is now at risk are asking why he is not negotiating with the teachers? Will he start negotiating now?

The answer to that question is a factual one: I am not an employer of any teachers, and I cannot negotiate with them.

On the hon. Gentleman's other two points, I assure him and the House that when the September offer was made, I was, and remain, desperately anxious to find a way of accepting it. I am bound to say, as I said in my statement a few minutes ago, that as it stands that proposal does not seem to offer a way forward. It requires a large up-front payment straight away in return for later undefined discussions about conditions of service. I wish that I could say that that was an acceptable way forward, but it is not realistic as it stands. However, I shall be glad to continue to discuss it with the teachers.

I was pleased to see the churchmen. I discussed the matter in great depth with them. They have made their suggestions for solving the matter which I respect and take careful note of. It must be borne in mind that the churches are not obliged to find any of the money needed to solve the problem, and it was not difficult for them to suggest that extra money should be paid.

Much has been made about morale — and we know that it is low at the moment—but has it not been pointed out to the teachers that morale will be even lower when they return to school, that it will be far more difficult for them to gain the children's respect and that discipline will have gone to bits by the time they return?

My hon. Friend is correct. That point has been made to me forcefully by teachers, their representatives and some of the teachers that I met formally yesterday. The children's lack of respect for their teachers is an unfortunate by-product of this dispute. That will take some repairing. I have no doubt that once we solve the dispute that can be repaired with goodwill all round. It is about time that we got on with it.

Order. I shall call the hon. Members who have been standing. I ask for brief questions because we have a heavy day ahead of us.

In his statement the right hon. Gentleman said that the teachers have asked for a large pay settlement. That is not true. The whole campaign over the past 18 months has been associated with the need for an independent pay review. that has been ratified by two annual general meeting decisions of the EIS, supported by the ballots of the members. If the Secretary of State is so sure of his case, why does he not put it to independent arbitrators in a pay review? If he does not do that, strikes will accelerate and conditions will worsen.

The hon. Gentleman is technically correct that the teachers have not made a formal proposal for a large pay increase, but in their meeting with me in September they put forward, as was made clear in the newspapers, a suggestion that there might be a way forward if a large pay settlement was made as a starter. They would be prepared later to discuss conditions of service. That all seemed to be a second-best option compared with discussing the matter in the body that is properly set up to do so and which represents the two sides that know what school teaching is all about. That is the place to solve the dispute.

Does the Secretary of State concede that he is deluding no one when he says that he is not party to the negotiations, because what he has been doing since the summer recess is negotiating? May we make it clear that the damage to the children's future is being embarked upon now because, although the examinations might be in May 1986, the prelims and all the preparations have to take place now?

When does the right hon. Gentleman see this vexatious dispute coming to an end? When will he use his powers to put a clear offer on the table, because the teachers have moved their position. It is wrong to say that they have not. I concede that the Secretary of State has moved his position. It is monstrous that our schools are going through these difficulties. Both the bodies should get around the table and solve the dispute. He is negotiating and he should grant a substantial pay increase.

The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that it is monstrous, that damage to the children starts now, and that next year's examination problem starts now. He is not correct when he asks why I, as Secretary of State, do not put an offer on the table. The fact is, whether he likes it or not—I do not know whether I like it myself—I cannot put any offer on the table because I do not employ any teachers. I cannot do that. It can be done only by the employers' side of the SJNC. It is important for hon. Gentlemen, whatever their views on the matter, to understand the facts. The only person who can put forward an offer is Dr. Malcolm Green, who is chairman of the employers' side, because he has control over the substance of the offer. I have done the nearest thing that a Secretary of State in my position can do to putting an offer on the table. I have given a large sum of extra new money, in addition to what the local authorities can offer, to help to resolve this dispute. I am grateful for the fact that the hon. Gentleman at least acknowledges that I have tried to move.

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that all the schools in Bellshill — half of my constituency—both secondary and primary, are on strike this week? Will he concede that the cornerstone of the request by the unions is for an independent salaries review and that if that is granted all the other things will fall into place? Is he further aware that at some stage I visited every school in my constituency and that, without exception, I found the morale of the teachers in all these schools the lowest I have ever known in Scottish education? Will he resolve the problem by granting the teachers an independent salaries review?

I am afraid that the answer is no. For the reasons that I have given, it would be totally improper to do so. It is quite unrealistic to ask for a review of pay only without a consideration of conditions of service. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that morale is a problem that we must try to solve and that it requires both sides to solve it.

Will the Secretary of State personally read the constitution of the Scottish negotiating committee in which he will see that he is a full voting member of the management side? Will he give a guarantee that the measly 2·5 per cent. that he is offering over and above normal pay negotiations will go hand in hand at least with an increase every year in line with inflation in that year, because if he fails to do so the 2·5 per cent. is totally meaningless? Does he agree with the teachers that what they are concerned about is erosion over the past 10 years and not future conditions of service, and that only when that erosion has been made good will they talk about future conditions of service?

I recognise the force in all those questions, and I have recognised it in finding extra money to help to resolve this problem.

With the greatest respect, I must point out that, although I have two representatives on the employers' side of the SJNC, that does not imply a controlling majority position. What I have been asked to do by the hon. Gentleman and others is to put an offer on the table. I am not in a position to do that. The SJNC employers' side is able to do that. Although my representatives are on the SJNC, they are not able to dominate that body and it is quite right that they should not.

I should perhaps make something clear. The 10 per cent. over four years need not necessarily be 2·5 per cent. in any one year; it is open for us to discuss how that is broken up. That is on top of whatever the negotiated figure for the normal annual negotiations may be, after those negotiations are completed. The hon. Member for Fife. Central (Mr. Hamilton) expressed that as 3 per cent., but on no occasion in recent years has it been 3 per cent.; it is entirely his figure and his invention which I think has no validity.

Was not the answer given to my hon. Friends the Members for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) and Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) the answer that was given by the Levite 2,000 years ago as he passed by on the other side of the road? May I be forgiven for being a little personal? Who imagines that if the Secretary of State's children and those of his ministerial colleagues had been personally affected this dispute would have been allowed to run on and on?

The last remark does not come up to the hon. Gentleman's usual high standards.

I accept that the hon. Gentleman is personally affected, but that is no excuse for making unnecessary allegations against other people. There is no call for that. We should be able to carry on our arguments without personal remarks of that sort.

It is much better to keep it that way, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will note that.

On the question of passing by on the other side, I cannot match the hon. Gentleman in his Biblical references, but I can say that if I had had the power as employer to take part in these negotiations it might have made my role a great deal easier in the past few months. However, I have no such power, and it is no use my trying to fool the House into thinking that I have.

In the light of the EIS ballot result last week and the implacable hostility of the Secretary of State to an independent pay review, when, in the right hon. Gentleman's opinion, will this dispute be resolved? Is it likely to enter a third year?

In my view, this dispute need not go on any longer because we have a Government whose response has been flexible. They are prepared to meet the teachers and discuss their worries in any way possible. That is the solution to this dispute. It will end with negotiations at some time. It is no use both sides digging in and thinking that they can get away with it. The dispute has to be properly negotiated, and I will play my part in trying to get it solved as soon as possible.

Does the Secretary of State concede that parents and pupils affected, particularly in Ayr — I can speak with experience, as the Secretary of State knows—will be deeply disappointed that he has come to the House to make a statement but has failed to put forward one new idea or initiative? Yet, as he knows, not only is he a member of the management side; he is the main paymaster for any deal that is concluded. Instead of coming up with a new initiative, he is a pale carbon copy of his English counterpart.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has received from a number of people, including the organisation representing the parents of pupils in targeted schools, a specific new proposal that an independent arbiter or go-between should be asked to talk to all those involved and to try to come up with a solution? Will he say w hat his response to that has been? Is he still considering t? Has he rejected it? If he has rejected it, why? It is at least a positive proposal which will stop the negotiation through the media in which he has been involved as well.

There is no way of copping out of the difficult issues by thinking that there is some magic gentleman or lady who can act as arbiter and solve the problem. The two parties concerned already possess all they need to solve this dispute themselves. We have the facts and what is more we have a Government, in the shape of myself, who have found a great deal of money to help to oil the wheels for a solution.

I do not know whether the hon. Member was wilfully misunderstanding me, but I urge him, if he does nothing else, to understand what is and what is not possible in this situation. Of course, I am ultimately the paymaster for matters within Scottish expenditure. That is not denied. I have brought forward more money for the dispute because of it. But it does not alter the fact that, although I might wish to be, I am not the employer of any teachers.

I know how the committee works, and the right hon. Gentleman knows how it works.

Order. The hon. Gentleman has asked his question. He must not interrupt the Secretary of State's reply.

It occurs to me to wonder whether the hon. Gentleman asks questions to get answers or simply as part of an ego trip.