HC Deb 01 May 1984 vol 59 cc191-4 3.30 pm
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North) (by private notice)

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

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

I very much regret the teacher unions' refusal of a 4.5 per cent. offer which—as was made quite clear to them—would stretch to the very limit and for many beyond—their employers' capacity to pay. I am very sorry that the teacher unions should be willing to contemplate action designed to disrupt the education of their pupils. I hope that individual teachers will now reflect on the irresponsible and unprofessional course upon which union leaders are inviting them to embark, and that union leaders will reconsider the 4.5 per cent. offer which, I understand, remains explicitly on the table.

Mr. Radice

Does the Secretary of State realise that his own statement and actions have made a major contribution to the breakdown of negotiations and to the possible disruption of our children's education? Did he not write the unrealistic assumption of 3 per cent. into the education support grant, which has made it difficult for local education authorities? Did he not insult the teachers, 70 per cent. of whom earn less than £10,000 a year, by telling them that large numbers of candidates were coming forward for jobs at current rates of pay? Did he not influence the initial offer of 3 per cent. when Scottish teachers had already been offered 4.5 per cent.? Does he accept that the agreement with the further education lecturers shows that a settlement of 4.5 per cent. might have been possible a month ago if he had not so misjudged the position? Does he not understand that arbitration, which the teachers agree to accept, is the normal way out of teachers' disputes and would end this dispute before our children's education was seriously disrupted? Will he learn from his past mistakes, act before it is too late and put the weight of his office and the votes of his Department on the relevant Burnham committee behind arbitration?

Sir Keith Joseph

The short answer to all those questions is no, Sir. Once again the Labour party representative seeks to end a problem, which could be settled by realistic negotiation, by throwing taxpayers' money at it. It was not an insult to remind the teachers that large numbers of excellent candidates for the teaching profession are coming forward at present rates of pay. Moreover, union leaders had every reason to know that there were still prospects of negotiation and that they faced no wall at 3 per cent. My answer, therefore, is no, Sir.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

As resources are limited and as changes in the curriculum will require more specialist teachers, should not the present offer be accepted so that major salary structure talks can proceed in a reasonable atmosphere with no disruption in the schools?

Sir Keith Joseph

Emphatically, I answer yes to my hon. Friend. There are limited resources and only people in the Utopia occupied by Labour party representatives seem to think otherwise.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

How is it that the Secretary of State can be so remote from the profession that he represents that the rejection of a humilating and unacceptable offer should come as a surprise to him? Will he accept that it is the intransigence of the employers that is exacerbating the misery of school teachers?

Sir Keith Joseph

If I represent anyone in the educational world, it is the pupils and their interests, which trade union leaders are threatening to damage.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Is not the paramount point, as we are so often told, the education of our children? Is that not generally assisted by the presence of a teacher in the classroom? Can my right hon. Friend encourage the reconsideration that he mentioned by stressing the need for talks on restructuring of teachers' pay and career prospects?

Sir Keith Joseph

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that most teachers, who are responsible and dedicated people, will take that point of view. As for the discussions on the new structure for teachers' pay, I am interested in the outcome, but I have always made it plain that I shall commend it to my colleagues only if it is professional and reliable. The conduct of teachers, if they follow their union leaders' advice to disrupt pupils' education, will not encourage that attitude.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Does not the Secretary of State realise that it is an abuse to talk about a long line of people wanting jobs at current rates of pay when 4.5 million people are out of work and want jobs? Does he remember the Houghton report on comparability of teachers' pay of 1974, which admitted that teachers had fallen more than 30 per cent. behind their professional colleagues? The Labour Government of the day put that right, but unfortunately that 30 per cent. has now been eroded. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the union leaders telling teachers to strike, he should be aware that I have just been to a conference where teachers voted to tell their union leaders to lead them in a strike. Does he not realise that this orderly and moderate section of the community, which never willingly goes on strike—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Flannery

—is now in desperation being forced, as a result of Government policy, to go on strike and that he should let arbitration proceed and settle the matter?

Sir Keith Joseph

One of the problems might precisely be that the trade union leaders concerned have just returned from seaside conferences with their active members like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) who has just spoken so misleadingly. I believe—I am sure that many teachers would agree — that the attitude which led to the Houghton report was one of the stages of decline from which the Government and its predecessor have had to rescue the economy.

Mr.Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend urge the teachers to think again about embarking on action that will damage the examination chances of pupils and their prospects for later life, damage children who are already deprived by kicking them out of school when they need to be there and damage the nation's future by disrupting education without having gone through every possible avenue on talks on this important matter?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, indeed. Mr. Speaker. I hope that teachers will reflect on those facts and realise that they have now been offered a 4.5 per cent. pay increase, which already exceeds the amount of money available to pay teachers in local authority budgets.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

As the right hon. Gentleman professed concern for children, will he recognise that the thousands of people he claims are queueing up to join the teaching profession are scarcely capable of teaching young people who are taking 0 and A-levels in a few weeks' time? Is he not worried about those pupils? As he has committed himself to the cause of realism, would it not be realistic for him to agree to arbitration to avoid damaging the young people he is supposed to care for?

Sir Keith Joseph

I think the hon. Gentleman's question should be addressed to the trade union leaders concerned, as they are inviting their members to disrupt children's education. I do not think that arbitration is the answer — [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because the arbitrator does not have to find the money and can, therefore, regard affordability as just one of several factors, instead of what it is — the one determining factor.

Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Would my right hon. Friend care to spell out the relationship between the number of teachers and the size of wage settlements? There must be a relationship between higher wage settlements and fewer teachers.

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, indeed. If the trade union leaders have not already explained that to their followers, let me do so. The consequence of exceeding the amount of money that local authorities have available for the pay of teachers will be fewer teachers. The important money available for books, equipment and maintenance may be once again in danger of being raided.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Will the Secretary of State explain why teachers or their union leaders should put any faith in a Government promise of salary restructuring when they have the example of the nurses, who were persuaded by the Prime Minister to take the same course at this time last year and who are about to be stabbed in the back by the Prime Minister?

Sir Keith Joseph

On teachers' salary restructuring, I have always made it plain that the Government would look kindly upon such proposals only if they are professional, watertight and based upon thorough and professional assessment.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of teachers would be happy to pick up this award, and that the disruption is caused by a dispute within various unions? The sooner those unions can get together and represent the whole of their membership, the better.

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with my hon. Friend. The burden of responsibility falls clearly upon the trade union leaders. I hope that their members will think very carefully before following their advice.

Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)

Will not the Secretary of State think again about what he has just said? Is it not a fact that the teachers' panels for Scotland and for the further education sector were prepared to accept 4.5 per cent. but that only 3 per cent. was offered to teachers in England and Wales? Was not that gross bungling by employers the cause of the approaching disruption? If the Secretary of State is genuinely concerned for pupils, he should want to attract the highest quality teachers possible into the profession. In order to do so, should he not restore the pay differentials with comparable professions that existed three or four years ago?

Sir Keith Joseph

I understand—this is on public record—that it was made clear to trade union leaders that negotiations for pay increases of more than 3 per cent. were available if the unions had persisted with them. There is no truth in the claim that teachers' trade union leaders faced a wall at 3 per cent.

Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)

If the dispute can be settled at 4.5 per cent. or higher, will the percentage of the education budget devoted to wages and salaries increase? Will that increase mean that there will be a drop in the percentage of educational resources devoted to books, teaching equipment and the maintenance of our schools?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes—for many LEAs below 4.5 per cent., but certainly at 4.5 per cent.

Mr. James Tinn (Redcar)

Will the Secretary of State expand on his statement that he rules out arbitration because the arbitrator would not have to find the money? Can the right hon. Gentleman think of any case in the history of industrial negotiation, public or private, in which an arbitrator has been expected to provide that money?

Sir Keith Joseph

No, but I am pointing out one of the fallacies in assuming that arbitration leads to a painless solution. I am explaining why I think that the employers were right to reject arbitration yesterday.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that a private notice question is an extension of Question Time. Two very important statements are still to be made.