HC Deb 19 June 1984 vol 62 cc125-7
1. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the teachers' pay dispute.

11. Sir David Price

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a further statement on the teachers' pay dispute.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

I very much regret the continued damage and disruption to pupils' education being caused by the teachers' strikes. As the House will know, at the request of the management panel, a meeting of the Burnham primary and secondary committee is to be held on Friday to seek agreement on terms under which the school teachers' pay dispute might be referred to arbitration. Throughout this pay round the Government's position has been that there can be no question of additional resources being made available to local authorities. No reference to arbitration or an arbitrator's award will change that position.

Mr. Miller

Does my right hon. Friend share my three regrets: that the teachers, unlike their Scottish colleagues, did not accept the 4.5 per cent.; that any additional money which they succeed in extracting can only be at the cost of jobs and services; and that those who have taken this so-called industrial action have shown just how far they are from being a profession?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with all my hon. Friend's regrets. I do not see what justification there was for the original action.

Sir David Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are, as I detect, two distinct problems in this pay dispute: the general level of teachers' salaries, and the pay structure of grades? Do I take it that the arbitrators will be able to offer advice on the latter as well as on the general level of pay settlement?

Sir Keith Joseph

That is not to be taken for granted. The terms of reference for an arbitrator remain to be agreed between the two sides of the Burnham committee.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that, although the Government in theory support strike actions as a sign of democracy, the only one they ever supported was in Poland? Have not the teachers had their Houghton pay award of 30 per cent., approved by the Labour Government in 1974, totally eroded? Although they are a group of the best behaved people in the country in terms of action—and I personally think that they should have taken it long ago—they have been driven to take it by this remorseless Government who are now causing more strikes throughout the country by their intransigence. Is it not about time that the Government paid the teachers their due and allowed the matter to go to arbitration?

Sir Keith Joseph

It is one thing to recognise, as the Government do, that people in a free society cannot be forced to work against their will, and thus to recognise that strikes will occur from time to time within the law, but it is quite another to support individual strikes, as the hon. Gentleman suggests. As for the idea that each group should return to its best year, as the hon. Gentleman suggests is right for teachers, it would be a recipe for endless leap-frogging, for an inflationary spiral and for more unemployment.

Mr. Madel

Did not Her Majesty's inspectors' recent report on local authority expenditure point out that better management of resources and a more coherent curriculum would improve teachers' pay and status? Should not teachers work towards that and abandon industrial action?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree that there was evidence in the HMI annual report that the management of resources by local education authorities and the quality of teaching itself could substantially improve the effectiveness of education and the use of the vast sums of public money devoted to it.

Mr. Alton

Why was it right for the Government to urge arbitration on railway men and water workers, when it is not apparently right for teachers?

Sir Keith Joseph

In the teachers' world there is a limit to the amount of money available without eroding other parts of the education service, other parts of local authority services or placing an additional burden upon the ratepayers. That is why the Government have steadfastly maintained throughout the dispute that arbitration is not the answer.

Mr. Pawsey

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that since 1979 teachers' salaries have been ahead of inflation? They have risen by 71 per cent. as against a rise in the retail price index of 69 per cent. Can he further confirm that the average teacher's salary has doubled since 1978?

Sir Keith Joseph

Without accepting the precise figures given by my hon. Friend, I agree that his general thesis that teachers' pay has improved slightly in real terms since 1979 is valid.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Secretary of State aware that his refusal to pay for any possible arbitration award has two consequences: first, to discredit the arbitration system; and, secondly, to damage the teaching profession by driving out able people and discouraging other able people from entering the profession?

Sir Keith Joseph

I do not accept either thesis. Arbritrators will need to take account of the fact that there is no more money available from the Government or local authorities.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the strikes are causing great damage to children and their education, whether or not they are in examination classes? Does he agree that it is desirable—indeed, essential—for teachers to move towards a no-strike agreement?

Sir Keith Joseph

I certainly agree that the teachers' deliberate action to disrupt schooling is immensely damaging to the children. I am not prepared to agree with my hon. Friend's second point. That would be a matter for negotiation between the two sides, if it were to be on the agenda.

Mr. Fatchett

Does the Secretary of State realise that in the city which both he and I represent 30,000 children yesterday had their education disrupted because of the industrial dispute? Given that the right hon. Gentleman is effectively saying no to arbitration, how does he intend to resolve the dispute and ensure that the children of Leeds obtain the education that they deserve?

Sir Keith Joseph

I do not accept that any blame for the disruption of children's education, be it in Leeds or elsewhere, falls on the Government. It is entirely the responsibility of the teachers.

Mr. Hunter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many teachers have entered into industrial action reluctantly and with some misgiving? Will he take this opportunity once again unequivocably to assert that there will be future opportunities for those responsibly concerned with education to express their views in a wider education debate?

Sir Keith Joseph

If my hon. Friend means a debate in the House, that will be for the usual channels; but there is no lack of opportunity for responsible teachers, of whom there are very many, to express their views.

Mr. Radice

Does the Secretary of State understand that had he supported the decision to go to arbitration at the beginning of April the disruption of the past eight weeks would have been avoided? The truth is that his handling of the teachers' dispute has been insensitive, bumbling and highly damaging to the education of our children.

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman's rhetoric, which I hope he does not really believe, cannot hide the fact that the teachers have chosen deliberately to damage the education—the schooling—of children. I see no justification for the original action; I see absolutely no justification for its continuation now that the Burnham negotiating machinery is in play; and I see no justification whatsoever for any intensification of the action.