HC Deb 17 December 1985 vol 89 cc146-7
5. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will institute an inquiry into the arrangements for the remuneration of teachers and their conditions of service.

Sir Keith Joseph

On 11 December the management panel restated its view that a Royal Commission or some other kind of inquiry should be established to look into teachers' pay, structure, conditions of service and negotiating machinery. Naturally I will give careful consideration to that request, but I have to say that it is difficult to see how such action would produce an early resolution of the present dispute in view of the union's insistence on a settlement for 1985 without conditions, at a level which the employers cannot afford.

Mr. Chapman

While I hope that good sense will prevail, particularly on the part of the NUT leadership and the dispute will be brought to an end, I should like my right hon. Friend to be a little more forthcoming. Is there any good reason why he should not set up a short inquiry now, irrespective of whether the negotiations are successful, and in linking conditions of service and pay have such an inquiry, whether or not with the co-operation of the NUT?

Sir Keith Joseph

It is not self-evident that such an inquiry would bring to an end the present disruption. Discussions are taking place this afternoon between the employers and the teachers' representatives. I do not want to pin too much hope on what might emerge from the discussions this afternoon, but I repeat that an inquiry would not necessarily end the disruption.

Mr. Spearing

The Secretary of State said earlier that this was a bitter and damaging dispute, and he referred to initiatives. Does he agree that it was his initial initiative and the requirement to link appraisal and pay that has caused the length and bitterness of this dispute? Is not the Secretary of State's initiative responsible, therefore, for a high proportion of the bitterness and damage to which he referred?

Sir Keith Joseph

No, indeed not. I do not for a moment believe that my modest suggestion, which is agreed in principle by so many teachers as well as by so many members of the public, has any part to play in this dispute.

Mr. Alexander

I accept the constraints under which the employers must operate in this dispute, but is it not a fact that there is a great shortage of mathematics and science teachers? Is not this shortage likely to continue until arrangements can be made to make salaries attractive to graduates in those disciplines?

Sir Keith Joseph

Most certainly yes. One of the advantages of the offer that the employers made on 12 September, with the help of conditional additional money from the taxpayers, was precisely that it would have enabled employers to offer relatively attractive salaries to teachers who are in short supply.

Mr. Freeson

Whenever it is suggested that an independent inquiry of some kind should be set up—a suggestion that comes from both sides of the House and from outside—why does the Secretary of State keep on repeating, parrot fashion, the phrase, "It is not self-evident that such an inquiry would end the present disruption"? Nobody is suggesting that it would, but just because it is not self-evident to the Secretary of State, must everybody else therefore be ignored? Why will he not shift just a little bit to meet the views of many people, of all persuasions, and make some kind of movement to resolve the present dispute?

Sir Keith Joseph

It is an indication of the irrationality of some of the unions involved in the dispute that makes the right hon. Gentleman accept the possibility that even an inquiry would not bring to an end the destructive damage that is being caused by the dispute to the education of children. It is often in the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House that, if introduced, an inquiry would end the disruption. I believe that it is right to say that that is not self-evident.

Mr. Madel

Is it not time, after 11 months of dispute, that the teacher trade unions made use of the good offices of ACAS to try to resolve the dispute? Even though the full-scale intervention of ACAS would not necessarily end the dispute, it should lead, first, to a lowering of the temperature and, secondly, to an end to the industrial trouble while ACAS does its best to solve the problem. Why do the trade unions not go to ACAS and be seen to be trying to solve the problem?

Sir Keith Joseph

My hon. Friend makes very sensible suggestions, but they are, alas, for the trade unions and the teachers concerned, not for the Government.

Mr. Radice

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and people outside, will be deeply depressed by what the Secretary of State has said this afternoon. Why does he not put an end to the Government's muddle, indecision and inactivity over the teachers' dispute and announce that he has decided upon and agreed to set up an independent inquiry?

Sir Keith Joseph

For the umpteenth time—because I do not believe that it would fulfil the hopes of many hon. Members, and of many outside the House, who imagine that the teacher unions would then behave reasonably.

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