HC Deb 19 June 1984 vol 62 cc129-30
9. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what meetings he has had with the teaching unions concerning the teachers' pay dispute.

Sir Keith Joseph

Following my announcement in the House on 15 May that I stood ready to meet the teachers unions, only the National Association of Head Teachers asked to see me, and I met it on 7 June.

Mr. Beith

Is not the unanimity of the sometimes divided teacher unions a clear demonstration that throughout the teaching profession there is deep dissatisfaction at how the dispute has been handled and a clear willingness for what in almost every other context is regarded as proper—arbitration?

Sir Keith Joseph

The House will have to decide whether it regards any member of the so-called alliance as an expert on unanimity. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman advances the argument by his question.

Mrs. Rumbold

Has my right hon. Friend had further thoughts about the possibility of unifying the two bodies that deal with the teaching profession in regard to pay and conditions of work? He will be aware that they are separated at the moment. Does he think that it would be better if they were united?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am still ready to be convinced that that would lead to improvement, but I remain sceptical about changing the machinery, which would still require the good will of both sides to enhance the prospect of progress.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Why should a teacher settle for anything less than a policeman? Is his contribution to society any less or any more?

Sir Keith Joseph

Or, for that matter, anyone else. The idea that pay can be settled in a free society by equality for all, or some vision of social justice, is a recipe for endless leap-frogging — [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has asked a question and he should allow me to answer it. It is a recipe for endless leap-frogging, an inflationary spiral and—which the whole House would regret—increase after increase in unemployment.

Mr. Rowe

If my right hon. Friend meets the teachers' unions, will he consider discussing with them the possibility of their departing from their age-old preoccupation with every teacher on the same grade getting the same pay and seriously examine paying teachers according to merit?

Mr. Flannery

Silly boy.

Sir Keith Joseph

Far from my hon. Friend being a silly boy, he is entirely right, and I am delighted to tell him that the teachers' unions seem to think the same because, despite the dispute, they have honourably continued to negotiate for just such a possibility of structural change in teachers' pay as my hon. Friend wishes to bring about.

Mr. Radice

Will the Government, at Friday's meeting, support the employers' decision of last Monday to go to arbitration? The Secretary of State says that there is no money. What about the unallocated local government money and the Contingencies Fund?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to reveal the Government's instructions to their representatives on Burnham. As for his rhetorical questions, there are many claims on the Contingencies Reserve. The unallocated margin is to meet the gap between the proper level of expenditure by local authorities, as seen by the Government, and their efforts to bring down the present rate of spending to that level.