Orders of the Day — Teachers' Pay (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th December 1974.

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Photo of Mr Alick Buchanan-Smith Mr Alick Buchanan-Smith , Angus North and Mearns 12:00 am, 4th December 1974

This has been a useful debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) and for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) on initiating it.

The number of hon. Members who have spoken and their contributions have underlined how deeply hon. Members in all quarters of the House feel about this dispute. I welcome the Minister of State, Department of Employment because he can bring a new dimension to this debate, which many of us are urgently seeking in order to try to get a solution to the tremendous difficulties facing us in Scotland.

I do not intend to go over all the problems which we are facing. But it is a crisis. The Minister of State can be left in no doubt about it. It is a crisis, not only for the teachers but also for the children and the parents in view of the disruption of their whole way of life.

We must view this crisis against the much broader background of general industrial disputes which we have sadly had in Scotland in the last few months. I do not intend to go into the merits of the dispute and its problems. They have been dealt with very clearly by my hon. Friends. However, there are one or two points which I should like to make.

First, much of this trouble which has arisen could have been avoided if the Government had retained the relativities machinery which we set up before the last election. This would have made a difference. It would have produced a result much more quickly for the teachers and it would have avoided all this delay. I know that Houghton is working with the best will in the world, and that the Government have the best will in the world in getting the best result possible through Houghton. But delay has been caused by dismantling the relativities machinery and that delay has contributed to the present situation in Scotland.

Second, I want to refer to the consequences of this delay. For one reason or another we have seen, unhappily, a growth of militancy in Scotland. We have seen a growth of militancy which has led to success for those who have used militancy, in that they have achieved their aims. This has made the present crisis for the teachers that much more difficult and has exacerbated an already difficult situation.

Here I come to the central point of this debate—the rôle of the Conciliation and Arbitration Service. This machinery has been operating in other industrial disputes. Yet we have seen that militancy pays. Where militancy has taken place in pursuit of wage claims, awards of up to 40 per cent. have been made. This is a factor which has exacerbated a situation which is already difficult.

I do not decry the efforts of those who take part in this service. Indeed, in the debate on the Gracious Speech I paid tribute to the individual efforts of those involved. But I want to reiterate a question which was put so forcibly by my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart. In operating this conciliation and arbitration machinery, what remit do those operating the service have in relation to the social contract and to the economy as a whole. Many of us have been worried. I know that those in the road haulage industry, for example, have been worried about the extent to which the social contract has been operating, the extent to which the Conciliation and Arbitration Service has been concerned and the extent to which it has been a case of getting a settlement at any price.

My final point concerns how the machinery is to work in the future and whether it is appropriate for these circumstances. If there is to be sense in industrial relations and if we are to avoid inflationary wage and salary settlements and see a degree of sanity restored to the economy, guidelines must be observed and there must be restraint and self-discipline.

Will the Minister give an assurance that the national interest is taken into account, that restraint is accepted and that concern is shown about the inflationary forces? If these conditions are not fulfilled, the future prospects are very serious. This lies at the heart of the crisis in Scotland. When the teachers put their case to the Houghton Committee they believed that they would be treated as a special case. They felt, like other workers in the public service, that because they were in the public service they had in the past been subject to restraint while other groups of workers had not. This accounts for a great deal of the frustration among teachers. Will the Minister assure the teachers that they are not being singled out by the Government to act as an example to other groups simply because they are in the public service?