I have been asked by the teachers side of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee for Teaching Staff in School Education to set up an independent review of teachers salaries. By the end of last week, I had received some 770 representations generally advocating a review, many of which asked for a review of conditions of service as well as salaries. I hope to announce a decision shortly.
However justifiable the teachers' case may be—I have undertaken to consider carefully all the points they have put to me—I honestly do not feel that industrial action does anything but the greatest harm to their case.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the joint negotiating committee first wrote to him on 14 August 1984 requesting this meeting and that he recently met the committee. I am sure my right hon. Friend accepts that, having gone through the trauma of claims and all the rest of it in the last Parliament, it is essential that he should come quickly to a decision on the question of an unrestricted independent pay review body for the teachers so that both the Government and the teachers are obliged to accept the decisions of that review body.
Does the Secretary of State recollect that when my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) and I met him five and a half weeks ago to discuss this point he said that he hoped to reach a decision within two weeks? What is causing the delay? Is the right hon. Gentleman less effective in dealing with the dogmas of the Secretary of State for Education and Science than are his own Back Benchers?
Is the Secretary of State aware that, since the last major independent review by Houghton in 1974, teachers' salaries have fallen behind those of many other categories of people, such as policemen, who can now earn as much as £138 per week more than a teacher? Bearing in mind that the teachers made their demand for an independent review as long ago as August, is it any wonder that they now feel that they have to resort to strike action in protest against this reactionary Philistine Government, who must bear full responsibility for the current crisis in Scottish education?
I do not think that there are any circumstances in which strike action by teachers can ever be justified. The teachers' position would be more credible today if it were not the fact that some teachers started disruptive action even before they had given me a chance to consider their request.
Does my right hon. Friend agree, in view of his statement that he will make an early decision on this very important subject, that it is unforgiveable to have strike action now and to prevent children from having education?
Is the Secretary of State aware that the dog-in-the-manger attitude towards teachers' salaries and conditions has caused many moderate minded people, and even Tory supporters, to go on strike today? Why will he not invest in Scotland's future and help to restore Scotland to its place in the educational vanguard?
I appreciate that many teachers feel very strongly about the issues. It is for those reasons that I am taking great care in considering their request. Teachers would expect me to do that.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the industrial action is arising from sheer frustration, as the teachers feel that their case is getting nowhere? Therefore, the setting up of an independent review is extremely urgent. As their position and salaries have recently been drastically eroded, does he not think that the teachers have a fair case which should be attended to urgently and sympathetically?
I appreciate that, and that is why I am considering their points very carefully. As I said, the regrettable fact is that the disruptive action started in the summer. If I were the most enthusiastic teacher in the world, I would not feel that such action could advance my case. It has the opposite effect.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is in favour of granting an independent review to Scottish teachers, or will he at least make a substantial lump sum available to teachers for the extra work that has fallen on them? If the answer is that the Treasury will not sanction it, when will the right hon. Gentleman speak up for Scotland and tell the English Treasury to go to hell?
As there is no such body as the English Treasury, I cannot very well ask it to do anything.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking me to preempt the conclusions of the review that I have been asked to consider. I am taking into account everything that the teachers and employers have said to me.
Does the Secretary of State recall that, exactly 10 years ago today, the House was debating teachers' pay and unrest in Scottish schools? Despite the fact that the then Labour Government had set up the Houghton committee, the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends laid the responsibility for the unrest directly at the Government's door. Therefore, will he now accept his responsibilities, set up a review body and agree to meet its costs?
In connection with conditions of service, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to teachers, who entered a pension scheme with good will many years ago, that when they receive their lump sum gratuity it will not be taxed, and that any such provision will not be retrospective?
Matters of taxation are for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Further to the question of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay), we have already made provisions to help teachers with an extra work load. We have given them no fewer that 10 extra free days in the year on which to do further preparation for their teaching. We have also allowed for some extra staffing levels this year to help the minority of teachers who will have extra work to do in regard to the new standard grade courses.
Does the Secretary of State not accept that the lack of an independent pay review and the fact that teachers' salaries have already fallen far behind have meant that there has already been a loss of dedicated teachers from the profession, especially science and mathematics teachers? If he does not set up a review, we shall fail to recruit the dedicated teachers whom we need. Does he not recognise that an independent review is long overdue and that he should make an early announcement to that effect?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comment. I would have hoped that most teachers, irrespective of these issues, would have felt that at present teaching is more exciting, innovative and creative than for many years. The finest people in the teaching profession must respond clearly to this extremely challenging job, including the introduction for the first time of an all-graduate profession.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when teachers behave like industrial trade unionists they should not be surprised if at a future date the Government decide to introduce legislation to ensure that, like industrial trade unionists, they are subject to the Employment Protection Act 1975 and anything else?
I confine myself to saying that teachers are a highly respected professional body, but such bodies do not have their causes advanced by anything like the sort of industrial action that we now appear to be seeing.
Does not the Secretary of State not recognise that there has been an almost complete absence of support from Conservative Members because there is a widespread realisation that teachers have fallen behind comparable groups in society? Would the right hon. Gentleman think himself a member of a respected profession if he were earning between £8,000 and £9,000 a year as an experienced secondary school teacher doing a stressful and difficult job and coping with new curricula developments? If he wants to avoid industrial action and discontent boiling over in our schools during the coming months, does not he accept that he must make a prompt and sensible decision in favour of an independent pay review?
There is not much in what the hon. Gentleman says with which I can disagree. I have made it clear all afternoon that I am carefully considering all the points put to me, and I shall try my best to make a response to the teachers. However, the hon. Gentleman must have been half asleep, because many of my hon. Friends have warmly supported me.