HC Deb 23 April 1985 vol 77 cc730-4
6. Mr. Cohen

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received concerning the level of teachers' pay.

Sir Keith Joseph

I have received about 1,300 letters, including some 300 from hon. and right hon. Members, about all aspects of the current pay dispute.

Mr. Cohen

Is it not a fact that under the pressure of the county council elections the employers are beginning to see the light and are adopting a new negotiating position? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is time for the Government to be more forthright and to improve the funds which they are making available so that a proper settlement, which recognises the excellent worth of the teachers to the community, can be reached?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman is not quoting the employers' statement. The employers, in a carefully drafted statement, say that they want to discuss with me the basis upon which additional resources can be sought. I think they mean by that statement that they want to discuss with me, and with the teachers, the offer that I have made, namely, that if the teachers and employers can make a bargain which I judge to be to the educational benefit of the children and to be affordable, I shall at once take it to my Cabinet colleagues to see whether I can obtain from them — I cannot guarantee the answer — extra finance. That is what the employers were referring to.

7. Mr. Proctor

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

12. Mr. Freud

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

13. Mr. Adley

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

17. Mr. Wainwright

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

19. Mr. Eastham

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

Sir Keith Joseph

Management's offers of a 4 per cent. increase, arbitration and further discussion of pay structure reform remain on the table. All three have been rejected. The two largest teacher unions are set on a course of intensified industrial action, causing deliberate harm to children's education, in support of their claim for an extra £1,200 for all teachers. That claim is wholly unrealistic and no amount of industrial action will change the fact that increases of that order are not remotely affordable.

Mr. Proctor

Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) advocated the expenditure of £50 million to employ 14,000 more teachers, which works out at £3,500 per teacher? Is that not totally unrealistic? Is not the real solution to the teachers' dispute to be found through negotiations, rather than through disruption or unrealistic claims?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with my hon. Friend that negotiations on one of the three options open to the teachers is the way forward. I think that before the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) says anything about the current teachers' dispute, he should explain to the House how he justifies his view, which seems to emerge from his press statement, that £50 million will buy 14,000 extra teachers; that is to say, £3,500 per teacher.

Mr. Freud

Will the Secretary of State give the House an assurance that appraisal will not be linked to the quality of teaching—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—and does he accept that the introduction of merit awards in a low-pay sector would have disastrous consequences?

Sir Keith Joseph

I shall make no such pledge. I ask the hon. Member to bear in mind that promotion, which carries with it higher pay, is, of course, already based on an informal system of assessment or appraisal, and that what the Government seek is that that system of appraisal should be made formal with the agreement and with the help of teachers through discussions. I am saying, not that appraisal has to be connected with merit pay, but that the whole subject should be discussed and tried out in pilot schemes for which money from the taxpayer has been set aside. The one inexcusable thing is to refuse even to discuss it, which is what the teachers' unions are doing.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend try to answer a question which was put to me by a constituent at the weekend and which I found difficult? Why, he asked me, did the teachers last year go on strike because they could not get arbitration, and why are they taking strike action this year even though they have been offered arbitration? As my constituent also said, is it not emerging from some of the teachers' leaders that their ambition is to try to embarrass Her Majesty's Government by organising a strike in this way?

Sir Keith Joseph

I think that the apparent contradiction to which my hon. Friend refers must be explained by the fact that last year the teachers obtained from arbitration only 0.6 of 1 per cent. more than they had already been offered. The idea that an arbitrator can, as it were, find free and floating in the air extra resources is part of the Utopian approach of many Opposition Members.

Mr. Flannery

Is the Secretary of State aware that during the conference over Easter of the two major teachers' unions, embracing the vast majority of all teachers, the most determined unity emerged? Does he not realise that it is useless for him to say that he does not decide the wages of teachers, but that the employers do? He knows that he has 15 votes on the Burnham committee and that he decides the teachers' wages. Does he accept that the unity of the teachers is so massive that unless new money is put on the table, separate from the negotiations on reappraisal, this strike and industrial dispute will go on indefinitely and will be the longest teachers' action of all time?

Sir Keith Joseph

I pay tribute to those teachers' unions, and to the members of other teachers' unions, which have decided not to disrupt children's education. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's view that the teachers' unions are unanimous. In fact, I seem to detect among them a great deal of disagreement about what they should or should not be seeking to do. Indeed, some unions disagree with the whole idea of causing disruption.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the leadership of the National Union of Teachers, in encouraging strike action, thereby disrupting children's education, is doing immense damage to the professional standing of teachers? Does he further agree that the only way to settle their pay claim is either by returning to the restructuring talks on teachers' salaries or by going to arbitration? Will he confirm that any award made by arbitration under section 3 of the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 is binding and can be turned down only by a vote of both Houses of Parliament, on the basis that the economic conditions of the country do not allow it to be implemented?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with all that my right hon. and learned Friend says. I believe, in addition, that the leadership of the NUT was guilty of grossly misleading its members in the expectations that it aroused last year—witness the arbitration award—and is doing so again this year.

I should like to take the opportunity of my right hon. and learned Friend's question to say that, while an arbitration award would be binding, except in the circumstances that he described, the Government still stand by their refusal to find any extra money for the honouring of an arbitration award which, over the level of the offer already made by the employers, would have to come out of local authority funds.

Mr. Fatchett

Given the Secretary of State's obstinate refusal to play a constructive part in looking for a solution to the dispute, how far does he personally feel responsible for the disruption of the education of children in his own constituency and in the city of Leeds? Is that not really an indictment of his own period in office as Secretary of State?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman is guilty of thinking that it is constructive to spend taxpayers' money regardless of the consequences. We have been through that period under both Labour and Conservative Governments, and the result has been rocketing inflation and rocketing unemployment. That would be no service to the teachers, to the children or to their parents.

Mr. Greenway

Will my right hon. Friend join me in saying firmly and fairly that schools are, first and foremost, for children and their education? Further, will he join me in saying that it was excellent that the teachers' conference decided not to disrupt examination invigilation? However, is it not deplorable that some examination teaching may be disrupted? Is it not also important to say that all education, not just examinations, is important and that the teachers should call off their strike straight away?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with my hon. Friend. I think that the Opposition, by accepting the dogma of more spending regardless of the consequences, are espousing a thoroughly perverse set of policies. The hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), the Opposition spokesman, must explain how he can offer, as he did in his press conference last week, hundreds of millions of pounds—indeed, over £1,000 million — of extra spending. He gave no explanation at the time. The hon. Gentleman has evidently not costed in the £200 million the implications of what he was pleased to pledge—the phasing out of private schools. Presumably he does not take that seriously, as he did not cost it at all.

The hon. Gentleman has also failed to cost the implications in hundreds of millions of pounds of the pledge which he has made, and will reinforce tomorrow, I understand, to provide nursery education for all. He has grossly underestimated the cost and has priced teachers at a salary of £3,500 each. The hon. Gentleman really must explain the cost of what he has left out and how any Labour Government, which I pray are unlikely to be returned, would find the money.

Mr. Radice

I thank the Secretary of State for devoting at least most of his answer to the Labour party programme. I must say that it is a bit rich for him to talk about costs when his own White Paper is not costed at all. He knows perfectly well that his own White Paper would cost £1 billion to implement. He has not come clean with the House. Is he aware that the Conservative Central Office has not understood that £50 million was a net figure? The right hon. Gentleman intends to cut the number of teachers by over 6,000 in the coming year. Finally — [Interruption.] —and let us get back to the teachers' dispute, which he started—is he now saying that he will respond positively—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Questions from the Front Bench should be brief—all questions should be brief—and should be listened to with courtesy and attention.

Mr. Radice

Is the Secretary of State going to respond positively to the request from the management side of Burnham for extra resources — and that is in the statement—to help solve the teachers' dispute?

Sir Keith Joseph

The question is whether the Labour Opposition intend, if given the chance, to phase out independent education. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is riot the question."] If so, why did they not include the cost of it in the budget in the Labour party programme?