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Teachers' Dispute

Volume 86: debated on Wednesday 13 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what response he has made to the suggestion from the organisation representing parents of children in targeted schools that an independent arbiter or conciliator be appointed to help settle the dispute in Scottish schools.

My right hon. Friend met representatives of the co-ordinating committee on 24 September. Since then he has, as he told the House on 22 October, been in direct contact with the teachers' side, and the discussions that ensued have produced useful clarification of their position. For the time being, therefore, there seems little further that could be contributed by an intermediary, but we shall continue to bear the possibility in mind.

I am more encouraged by that response than I expected to be. As on earlier questions my hon. Friends were strongly seeking a new initiative, why has not this very good initiative been taken up? I have spoken to the Minister about this on a number of occasions, and he will understand that a conciliator could act as a go-between, solve this damaging dispute and do so perhaps within one or two weeks. We are not talking about bringing in a wise man—an arbiter—to decide something that the Secretary of State is unable to implement, because the Secretary of State has ruled that out. We are talking about a conciliator. Why has that been turned down? As the Under-Secretary has indicated that this has not been ruled out for the time being, will he say when he might make a substantive decision about the suggestion?

Technical discussions, not negotiations, are continuing with the teachers' representatives. It is not, therefore, appropriate to introduce an intermediary, but we shall continue to bear that possibility in mind.

Does my hon. Friend agree that while conciliation may sound fine in principle, each initiative that has been taken by him and his right hon. Friend has been met by increased targeting by the teachers? Does not this show that, at least until now, the teachers have been more keen to exercise political muscle than to conciliate?

I agree with my hon. Friend that targeting is not only unjust, discriminatory and counterproductive, but that it will not lead to a resolution of the dispute. The dispute can be resolved only by reasoned negotiation.

The resolution of the dispute has been held up because of the Government's refusal to accept an independent pay review, presumably on the ground that it might lead to an increase in public expenditure. In view of the highly publicised declaration in the last few days of the Government's new-found love of high public expenditure, will they now give evidence of their belief in it by granting an independent pay review?

As the Government have made clear on numerous occasions, pay cannot be considered in isolation from the duties for which teachers are paid. That is the position, not only of the Government, but of the employers, the Labour-led management. The hon. Gentleman referred to public expenditure. As my right hon. Friend told the House earlier, he is prepared to permit an extra £125 million to be used over four years to finance the kind of pay and conditions package that has been suggested by the management.

Is it not the case that virtually everybody who is concerned about this disastrous dispute has put forward proposals for breaking the deadlock, except the EIS? Is my hon. Friend confident that if he accepted the proposal of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) it would be met with any greater response from the EIS than the hon. Gentleman's very sensible proposal in February of this year?

My hon. Friend is right. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) will recognise that he obtained a more reasoned response to that suggestion from the Government than he obtained from the EIS.

Does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State accept that during this period there has been a hardening of the teachers' attitude because they feel so disadvantaged? How long does he expect the dispute to continue, to the damage of the educational prospects of all schoolchildren in Scotland? When will he take resolute steps to halt the dispute and acknowledge that the teachers are disadvantaged? When will he take steps to obtain an independent view of that, even for himself?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been listening to what my right hon. Friend and I have said. Of course this is a very damaging dispute. Some of the tactics used by the EIS are without precedent. The Government recognise the concerns of teachers. That is why they have consistently said that they would be prepared to make extra resources available to finance a sensible pay and conditions package.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the real problem is that the teachers' leaders do not have confidence in their own ability to reach a negotiated settlement on factors that suit them admirably? There is money on the table, and changes in conditions have been proposed that would enhance their pay in many areas. They are in a unique position. If they were in a position to exploit it, as would any sensible trade union leader, they would do so, instead of calling for this nonsense of an independent review of pay alone.

As my hon. Friend rightly points out, the kind of package that has been suggested would have great advantages for the teaching profession.