Discussions during December within the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee resulted in new agreements on pay and conditions acceptable to the Government, the local authorities and the teachers' representatives. The proposals agreed offer teachers an improved salary structure and prospects, while clarifying teachers' duties and providing a more sensible approach to conditions of service.
I hope that teachers will accept this package, so that parents and pupils can look forward to the end of this long-running dispute and a return to normality in Scottish schools.
Did the Secretary of State notice that the Main arguments for a "Yes" vote used by the Educational Institute of Scotland in the teachers' ballot was that a bad deal was the best that could be obtained from this Conservative Government and that the alternative was an imposed settlement? Why have the Government refused to restore teacher salaries to Houghton levels? Why have they attacked the professional status of teachers by stipulating duties and hours of work? Why have they failed to provide the additional staffing and material resources which the children in our state schools so desperately need?
For a start, in objecting to conditions of service, the hon. Gentleman is disagreeing with every Labour-controlled local authority in Scotland. He will be well aware that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Labour-controlled education authorities have been as insistent as anyone else on that aspect of the negotiated package. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should consult his colleagues.
The hon. Gentleman should also realise that the pay scale—the 16·4 per cent. increase—was the level recommended by the committee under Sir Peter Main. It has proved acceptable to the teachers' representatives and, therefore, should be acceptable to the hon. Gentleman.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Government have seriously mishandled the issue ever since the Main report was produced and that there have been consequential effects in the low morale in our classrooms, is the Secretary of State aware that my right hon. Friends and I will urge the teachers to accept the new agreement that has been struck? It would help to obtain a positive response from the teaching profession if he would say what plans the Government have to ensure that teachers do not fall inexorably behind in future pay claims?
If the hon. Gentleman is being courteous and kind enough to recommend teachers to accept the proposed agreement, he might also acknowledge that that agreement has proved possible only because of the huge extra resources being made available by the Government to ensure increases in teachers' salaries.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the present likely settlement is due to his wisdom in setting up the Main committee last year? Does he agree that the vote is being taken virtually on the Main committee's recommendations and that the parents and the children of Scotland will be highly delighted with his achievement during the past year?
I thank my hon. Friend. Although the agreement that has been reached departs in several significant ways from the recommendation by Sir Peter Main and his colleagues, any fair and objective commentator would agree that without the report that Sir Peter Main produced some months ago it is almost inconceivable that we could now have reached an agreement that is endorsed by the teachers, the local authorities and the Government.
The Secretary of State will, of course, recognise that we have severe reservations about the way in which this very difficult matter has been handled. Does he accept that there will be relief, certainly among Opposition Members, if a settlement is reached in the dispute? I am sure that parents, the public and the vast majority of teachers do not want a return to confrontation.
In the circumstances, and with voting still in progress, would it not be helpful for the Secretary of State to confirm his and the Government's commitment to the staffing review, which is an integral part of the settlement, and to the funding of that and other items outwith the actual pay structure—such as class cover for absences and the phasing out of composite classes?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for declaring that he would welcome an acceptance by the teachers of the current negotiated position. The personal contribution that he has made to ensure that the atmosphere in which these matters have been discussed during the past few weeks has helped towards what we all hope will be a settlement.
The Government have accepted the recommendation in the Main report that there should be a staffing review, and that is well understood.