Orders of the Day — Teaching Council (Scotland) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd July 1970.

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Order for Second Reading read.

1.52 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Edward Taylor):

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Perhaps the most dangerous words to use in the House of Commons are, "This is a non-controversial Bill." I hope that they will be justified on this occasion and that we shall not detain the House unduly long.

It may be recalled that this Bill was lost on the dissolution of the previous Parliament. It was introduced at the end of April, and on 5th May the consideration of principle was taken in the Scottish Grand Committee, where it received all-party support. On 12th May, in the Scottish Standing Committee, the Bill completed the Committee stage without amendment and virtually without debate—which must, indeed, be a record for the Scottish Standing Committee.

The Bill is a simple one. Its purpose is to empower the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring employers to deduct from the salaries of persons employed by them who are registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland the fee payable to the council for renewal of registration. This requirement operates only where registration is a statutory requirement of the person's employment—for example, as a teacher in an education authority or a grant-aided school. On deduction of the fee, the employer is required to remit it to the council.

The text of the Bill is identical with that of the Bill introduced in the previous Parliament, apart from two minor changes. One is a drafting amendment and the other an omission. I can assure the House that neither affects the intention of the Bill in any way. In those circumstances, I commend the Bill to the House.

1.54 a.m.

Photo of Mr Bruce Millan Mr Bruce Millan , Glasgow Craigton

This is the first occasion on which I have had the opportunity in the House to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his accession to the position of Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office. I am glad to have this opportunity of congratulating him and of wishing him well in the office which he now holds.

The hon. Gentleman has made a short speech. It would seem that the burdens of office have already reduced his volubility very considerably. However, as he said, this is basically a non-controversial Bill which is, in substance, the same Bill that the previous Government introduced a month or two ago. I am glad to see the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), who is now the P.P.S. to the Secretary of State for Scotland, in his place, for I have no doubt that he will make a passionate speech for the Bill in view of his enthusiasm for the General Teaching Council.

As the Minister said, the Measure merely makes the collection of the annual registration fees more effective than at present, and I wholly support that intention of the Bill. If we are to have compulsory registration, which I accept and support, and if we are to have the compulsory deduction of fees, which again I accept and support, there is an obligation to see that the General Teaching Council is so constituted and its affairs so conducted as to give the teachers concerned confidence in its operations.

In this context, would the hon. Gentleman comment on the recent decision of the Educational Institute of Scotland to put up an official list of candidates for the next elections to the General Teaching Council? The adoption of this policy by the main teachers' organisation in Scotland is contrary to the spirit in which the council was established. This raises the whole question of the election and nomination of members, a subject which was dealt with in paragraph 29 in particular of the document which the Labour Government published on the review of the constitution and functions of the Council.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

My hon. Friend will recall that one of the most interested and active hon. Members in this subject for many years was the former Labour M.P. for the Western Isles, Mr. Malcolm MacMillan, who was defeated at the last General Election, and whose constituency is now represented by a Scottish Nationalist. Since the new hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart) is not here to give the views of the S.N.P. on this important subject, would my hon. Friend do that for us?

Photo of Mr Bruce Millan Mr Bruce Millan , Glasgow Craigton

I do not know whether I am competent to speak on behalf of the new S.N.P. hon. Member for the Western Isles. Perhaps my hon. Friend, who is a well-known Scotsman, would like to speak on his behalf.

As I was saying, the spirit of the Educational Institute of Scotland's proposal goes against the spirit of the composition of the General Teaching Council, to which members have been elected on an individual basis and not as representatives of particular organisations. If the E.I.S. carries out its proposed policy, it will mean that the E.I.S., representing by far the majority of teachers in Scotland, will find it possible to persuade its members to vote for the official list of candidates and so make a clean sweep of the teacher representatives on the council.

The question which immediately arises is whether this would involve the teacher members of the council in being committed to approve E.I.S. policy in regard to the activities of the council. Whatever the E.I.S. may say about this, it seems, in effect, that involved here is the whole question of the official list of candidates and teacher members being elected on that basis.

If that is not what is involved, then it is difficult to understand why the E.I.S. has taken this decision, for it is well-known that on the present council, the life of which has been extended, all but one of the teacher members are members of the E.I.S. It is clear from reading reports of the discussion at the E.I.S. Congress at which this decision was taken that some of the members of that organisation were objecting to certain council members not carrying out institute policy. Of course, there is no obligation on them, and should be no obligation on them, to carry out any particular policy on the General Teaching Council. They are there to represent the general interests of teachers and to take decisions which they think will be in the interests of the profession as a whole.

This new development strikes at the very basis of the council as at present constituted, and two questions arise for consideration. First, it raises the question, if this decision is to be implemented, whether or not we should have elections to the council at all. If there is to be an official list of candidates and they are to carry the day in the elections, it seems that we are to give no opportunity to the minority teacher organisations in Scotland to obtain representation on the council. We therefore have to consider whether we should do for the General Teaching Council in Scotland what has been rejected so far, but what my right hon. Friend who was Secretary of State for Education and Science agreed should be established for England and Wales. This was agreed before the election, and I take it that the present Government are committed to it.

Secondly, whether we continue with election or change to the very much cheaper method of nomination, it seems that this decision will inevitably reduce the status of the council. The proposal for a teaching council for England and Wales was drawn up in terms involving nomination by the teachers' associations, which gave that council a status and range of responsibilities a good deal less than those for the General Teaching Council for Scotland. If we go over to nomination and have an official list, inevitably the status of the General Teaching Council for Scotland will be reduced.

How far has the election procedure gone? How far is the E.I.S., as the main teachers' association, committed to the policy I have described? It would help us if the Under-Secretary could give us information on that. I very much hope that the E.I.S. will think again about this decision. I would be very glad to have the Under-Secretary's view on it. If the E.I.S. continues with this policy, what do the Government intend to do? Do they intend to leave the election arrangements as they are or make changes in them?

Before we allow the Bill, uncontroversial as it may be in substance to go through, we are entitled to have answers to these points. If we are to introduce this further element of compulsion into the affairs of the General Teaching Council, we are entitled to be reassured about how the council is to be constituted and how its affairs will be conducted in future. We should have answers to these points.

2.4 p.m.

Photo of Mr Iain Sproat Mr Iain Sproat , Aberdeen South

I understand that it is a custom of the House that maiden speakers should pay a tribute to the Member who preceded them and say something about their constituency. I am happy to do this.

My predecessor was Mr. Donald Dewar. I know that his reputation as a Member of Parliament in the constituency was as a man of industry, integrity and impartiality in dealing with the queries and problems of his constituents. I know that as an opponent at the General Election he was fair and honourable. One pleasant thing among the many pleasant things which I have experienced since entering the House has been the number of hon. Members on both sides who have come up to me to pay tribute to Mr. Donald Dewar, and there are many in the House who will wish him a speedy return—though, I would say, not in Aberdeen.

Of the great city of Aberdeen itself and of the many merits of the city and its citizens, I say only this. Its uniquely handsome buildings of granite, its ancient university, its famous fishing industry, and the renown of its citizens for thrift and hard work, for shrewdness and friendliness, are well known to hon. Members and to all the far world beyond the House. Out of regard for the hour and for hon. Members, I will expatiate no further on its many virtues.

I want to make two moderate and short observations on the Bill. First, although I entirely support the general aims of the Teaching Council in striving to improve the status and standards of the profession and applaud what it has achieved so far, I am very unhappy about the principle of the compulsory deduction of fees at source from salary, as this is a statutory power never before conferred on a similar body. It is a precedent. No Government Department that I have asked for guidance has been able to come up with an example of a similar statutory power conferred on a similar body.

Why is this power being given? The original Wheatley Commission said, and subsequent submissions have also said, that it is for administrative convenience. I would hope that a warning bell would ring in the ears of any Minister when he hears such a phrase used in such a context. I should hope that every Government would make it a maxim that administrative convenience should never be served at the expense of the rights of the individual.

It is precisely because I believe that the rights of the individual, admittedly in a small way, but none the less a way, are being diminished that I am unhappy about the Bill. I find the extension of powers to make compulsory deductions at source like this objectionable in principle. The difference between compulsory deduction from an individual and compulsory payment by an individual afterwards may not be much, but there is a difference and a distinction and there is a diminution of rights. The Bill would tighten the screw of compulsion. It removes one more action from the responsibility of the individual, one more action from the volition of the individual, and places it in the hands of the authorities.

I am not pretending that this compulsory deduction of fees at source is a great tyranny, but it is a precedent in this general area on which greater tyrannies and compulsions could be built. That is why I view it with suspicion and disfavour.

The second matter on which I should like to make an observation is this. The Explanatory Memorandum refers to persons who must, by law, be registered as teachers with the General Teaching Council". This seems a totally unambiguous phrase. The Explanatory Memorandum says that all who would be teachers employed by a local authority must by law be registered with the Teaching Council. This implies that this is the law beyond any doubt or question. This implication surprises me because, although I am no lawyer, the law is in doubt, exactly because a case on this very matter we are discussing has been brought to court by one of my constituents, the Reverend J. S. Malloch. The judge will give his opinion today. In law the matter is still under appeal, and I therefore submit that the Explanatory Memorandum is definitely misleading in this way.

I am further surprised at the implication that the law is beyond doubt or question, because while it is true that until now the law has been interpreted that anyone who wants to be a teacher with a local authority must be registered with the G.T.C., only yesterday I received an answer from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland in which he told me: … it is for the education authority to decide whether to engage unregistered persons for teaching posts for which they are eligible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1970; Vol. 804, c. 137.] Is this a change in the interpretation, or is it not? It seems to me that it is.

If this means what it seems to mean, it means that education authorities can employ unregistered teachers if they possess the correct professional qualifications; that is, certification or the equivalent. If this is so, it means that the 24 teachers who have been dismissed since 1968, and all those other teachers who were not dismissed but who left the profession and emigrated, all those teachers who were deprived by retroactive legislation of their jobs, their career prospects and their incomes, were the victims of a very grave injustice. I am sorry that the Bill does nothing to remedy that injustice, and, indeed, seems to compound it.

I hope that my hon. Friend will think again and that he can do something to remedy this matter, because although it is true, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said, that these matters have been raised before in the House, and these arguments rehearsed—I was not a Member at the time—the fact remains that injustice was done, the injustice remains, and this injustice must be done away with. I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with this as a matter of urgency. My hon. Friend may say that 24 people who have suffered is not enough. I do not think that he should quantify justice in that way. These people have undoubtedly suffered very much, indeed, as I hope my hon. Friend will agree.

It would be so simple to settle this matter once and for all equably, and there is ample and happy precedent for settling it. If the council were set up in the manner in which bodies of lawyers and doctors have been set up, the matter could be settled, and justice could be done. For example, the Law Society in England, though not in Scotland, has a list of those qualified to practise law, and nobody who is not on that list is allowed to practise, and that is absolutely right, but although all who are members of the Law Society are on that list, not all the people on that list are members of the Law Society. This seems to be right and fair, and it should be possible for the G.T.C. to be constructed on fair and similar lines in Scotland in such a way as to enshrine the notable achievements the G.T.C. has made so far, but at the same time to remedy the injustices which have been done and to obviate injustices which might arise in the future.

If that were done, it would mean that all properly qualified teachers, not others, would be allowed and encouraged to teach in Scotland, and I remind my hon. Friend that at the moment when there is a disastrous shortage of teachers in Scotland, there are 19 teachers in Aberdeen alone who are not allowed to teach, and who want to teach, but have been driven out of teaching by the regulations passed by the previous Government. I hope that the reinstatement of dismissed teachers will receive urgent consideration.

I would hope that teachers would join the G.T.C. so constructed—nearly all doctors, but not all, are members of the B.M.A.—but that they will do so from choice and not from compulsion. In a world increasingly complex, technically and socially, the rights and responsibilities of individuals are being encroached upon and eroded further and further year by year. Surely, this is a matter about which the House should be most vigilant. I believe that this case, though perhaps small, raises just such an instance.

I thank the House for its indulgence.

2.15 a.m.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

I did not intend to speak, but I am moved to my feet because, after sitting here for some considerable time waiting for another debate of even more general interest than the one in which we are engaged now, I was really woken up by the maiden speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). I congratulate him on speaking so extremely well [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—on his tribute, a well justified tribute, to the great City of Aberdeen, and on the fluency, liveliness and critical sense with which he spoke. I am sure that we shall hear a great deal more from him, though at more convenient times of the day, perhaps.

I fear that by the time the hon. Gentleman has migrated to the Front Bench, as almost inevitably he will in view of the quality and character of his speech today, he will be a little less optimistic about what Governments want in regard to the rights of individuals. All Governments are pretty well committed to not wanting the sort of thing that the hon. Gentleman wants, or that I want for that matter, in regard to private rights and individual rights.

However, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman most sincerely. I rose only to say that, as I thought that no one else on this side was rising at that point, and it is more convenient, perhaps, that one of us should say it rather than one of his hon. Friends.

2.16 a.m.

Mr. Edward Taylor:

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) has eloquently paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), and I associate myself entirely with what he said about my hon. Friend's magnificent maiden speech, a speech which raised a serious point of principle in relation to the Bill which all of us on this side will wish to bear very much in mind for the future. I congratulate my hon. Friend on an extremely good speech, and I hope that we shall hear a great deal more from him, not just on this subject but on many others.

My hon. Friend raised an important issue, a matter of principle, as he put it, relating to the question of the dismissal of certificated teachers who have declined, for their own reasons, to register with the General Teaching Council. The council was welcomed, and has been welcomed, by the vast majority of teachers in Scotland, but there is this small number, though an important number, as my hon. Friend said, of teachers who have declined to register.

I assure my hon. Friend straightaway that I recognise that the objections of these teachers to registration are deeply and sincerely held, but I find it difficult to accept them as objections of conscience. Some teachers thought that they should have "reserved rights" to continued employment without registration. I put it frankly to my hon. Friend—I hope he will think about it—that that would have created an impossible situation. We could not have two systems of recognition of teachers running side by side, one by the Secretary of State and one by the Teaching Council. That would be the position if we had a system other than that which we now have.

The Wheatley Committee, which led to the setting up of the General Teaching Council, recognised this. It recognised that the Secretary of State's powers to award and withdraw certificates should be taken away. This was done in the 1965 Act. The General Teaching Council took over this power from the Secretary of State. It was clearly envisaged at the outset that, with the introduction of registration as the mark of recognition of the qualified teacher, registration would have to be a requirement where certification formerly had been. The Wheatley Committee said in its report: We envisage that by legislative act registration will effectively replace certification. We think it desirable, therefore to stress that all existing certificated teachers will have to register with the Council, from a date to be determined by it, if they wish to continue to be entitled to the advantages of certification.It will not be enough for them to assume that once having been certificated they need take no further steps to maintain their position. I emphasise that the Bill does not introduce a massive new principle. Registration is in existing legislation, and the Bill simply says that, whereas payment had to be made before, the payment will be deducted from salaries by the local authorities.

On the question of the teachers being unemployed, even though the number employed is small I join in deploring absolutely that we are deprived of the services of any qualified teachers. Appointments in further education are open to them as well as temporary appointments in secondary schools whether the services of registered or conditionally registered teachers cannot be secured, but these are matters for the education authorities and not for me. But I assure my hon. Friend that I will bear very much in mind what he has said in our future discussions of the matter.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) raised a very important point. First, he asked me about the elections of the G.T.C. He asked how far they had gone and what was the present position. He will be aware, because he was responsible for it, that the Teaching Council (Scotland) Election Scheme Approval Order 1970 came into operation on 16th May, 1970, and the first stages of the electoral process under that Order have been started by the council. A notice of election was issued by the council on 15th June. Nominations have to be submitted not later than 30th September, and at least 28 days before that date the council will issue a further notice specifying the detailed requirements for nomination.

But it was not just about the mechanics of the scheme that the hon. Gentleman asked. He asked about the action that has been taken by one of the major teacher organisations. As he said, the Wheatley Committee in its report in 1963 was concerned to dissociate the council from the teachers' organisations, and for this reason recommended against the nomination of teacher-members by associat ions. He mentioned this as something we might possibly wish to do in the future; but Wheatley quite clearly came out against this, and it would be wrong to consider any step in this direction, certainly at this stage.

In the review of the constitution and functions of the council conducted last year by the then Secretary of State for Scotland, one of the teachers' organisations proposed that teacher-members should be appointed by associations. The hon. Gentleman said that this is being considered in England, but this view found little support, and a number of bodies expressed opposition.

The final decision was to adhere to the system of election by the profession at large, and I have been glad to note that the council in submitting its electoral schemes for approval by the then Secretary of State accepted the recommendation in the review memorandum that in the electoral process candidates should not be designated so as to identify them with any particular association. Here we have Wheatley opposing this kind of nomination and the review set up by the Secretary of State opposing it in the same way. When both are giving the same message, it would be a mistake to consider any general change in the arrangements.

All that I have said seems to me to denote an intention to keep the council out of the field of association rivalries, and this I welcome. It is open to the Educational Institute of Scotland, or any other body, to take such steps as it thinks fit in support of candidates for the election of teacher-members of the council, and I have noted the grounds the institute has given to justify the setting up of an official list of candidates. Nevertheless, I am bound to express some doubt whether the decision is really in keeping with the spirit either of the Wheatley recommendation or of the decision taken at the review last year. It is, however, a matter for the institute, but I hope that it will take very careful note of what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton has said tonight and the sympathy which I have expressed for those sentiments.

I started off this short debate by expressing the hope that the Bill was non-controversial, that we could deal with it very quickly and that we should not detain the House long. We have detained the House for rather longer than we expected, but—

Photo of Mr Bruce Millan Mr Bruce Millan , Glasgow Craigton

The hon. Gentleman has said something about the matter I raised. However, I asked what the Government intended to do about it if the E.I.S. continued with this proposal.

While I am on my feet, may I be allowed briefly to congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) on an excellent maiden speech?

Mr. Taylor:

At this stage it would be unwise to give any indication of what we will do if this goes on. I hope that the E.I.S. will take careful note of what has been said.

We have discussed this matter for far too long this evening, but it is an important question for teaching in Scotland, and we have heard an excellent maiden speech and those hon. Members who do not represent Scottish constituencies have learnt a little more about our excellent Scottish educational system.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills.)