HC Deb 19 November 1985 vol 87 cc121-6
1. Mr. Dormond

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

2. Mr. Gerald Howarth

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

10. Mr. Evennett

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

11. Mr. Nicholls

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

14. Mr. Yeo

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

17. Mr. Latham

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

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

A series of offers have been made to the teacher unions. The package of reforms and pay improvements offered in the Burham committee on 12 September had the Government's endorsement and represented a basis for a worthwhile settlement, beneficial to teachers and pupils alike. All offers have been rejected by the unions even as a basis for further negotiations. The reconstituted teachers' panel met on 11 November, but failed to agree a resumption of negotiations.

Meanwhile, the appalling, deliberate disruption of children's education continues. In the light of the offers that have been made and the union's unwillingness to negotiate, there can be no justification for continued industrial action. The Government will continue to work for a lasting settlement that will raise pay levels for good teachers, reform the career structure, improve promotion prospects and clarify teachers' professional duties. Only such a settlement can lead to progress towards our objectives for better schools for pupils of all abilities.

Mr. Dormand

Is it not abundantly clear that the Secretary of State is failing to satisfy this most moderate of professions, although he has reduced the National Union of Teachers representation on the Burnham committee? Is it not a fact that there can be a settlement only if he makes money immediately available to the local authorities? I do not for a moment doubt the sincerity of the Secretary of State, but in view of the unprecedented damage that he is causing to the education service, he should resign immediately.

Sir Keith Joseph

It is not I who brought about the ending of the NUT majority on the Burnham teachers' panel. It was brought about by the individual decision of thousands of teachers who, of their own free will, left membership of the NUT. It is not the Government who have failed to act in the dispute. We have made a substantial, though conditional, offer. It is the teacher unions which have consistently rejected all proposals to negotiate.

Mr. Howarth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the pupils in my constituency of Cannock and Burntwood are being singled out for punitive action by the NUT? Does he agree that, when there is £1,250 million of new money on the table, that is a disgraceful performance, and that the best service that the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers could do would be to come back to the negotiating table without imposing totally unreasonable conditions?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with my hon. Friend. The teachers' unions seem to be putting children absolutely last in their considerations.

Mr. Evennett

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments, which I am sure are applauded and agreed with totally by my right hon. and hon. Friends. Given the difficulties that we experienced last year and the year before on teachers' pay negotiations, has my right hon. Friend any proposals for abolishing the Burnham committee and introducing something different so that negotiations will be easier for all concerned? I believe that most teachers would like to return to work and would accept the Government's offer. Unfortunately, many of their unions do not want them to do so.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am ready to take into account any proposal that would enable more sensible negotiations to occur. Unless there is a willingness to negotiate, changes in the negotiating machinery will not make much difference.

Mr. Nicholls

Does my right hon. Friend accept that even among moderate teachers there is great concern about the way in which appraisal might work? Will he take this opportunity to say once again that any system of appraisal could be instituted only on the basis that it operated fairly and that teachers realised that? Will he confirm that the idea behind appraisal is to help teachers to improve their own work, and not to punish them for any shortcomings?

Sir Keith Joseph

Precisely. The purpose of appraisal is to further the professional development and career prospects of teachers. It is coupled with the much expanded and more effective in-service training system that we propose. Taxpayers' money has been set aside to run pilot schemes on appraisal but, sadly, these are being blocked by the teachers' unions, which will not agree to carry them forward. I hope very much that they will change their attitude and allow pilot schemes to go ahead.

Mr. Yeo

Did my right hon. Friend notice that the National Union of Teachers chose to carry out its lobby of Parliament a couple of weeks ago in the week after half term, rather than during half term, thereby causing unnecessary and avoidable disruption to its members' schools? Does he agree that that undermines its claim to have serious concern for the children?

Sir Keith Joseph

The teachers' unions seem explicitly to be following a campaign of maximum disruption to children's schooling at minimum cost to teachers' pay.

Mr. Latham

To assist the settlement of a damaging dispute, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the proposals made by his distinguished Conservative predecessor, that a review body should be set up, provided that all disruption ends at once?

Sir Keith Joseph

A review body is meant for occasions when normal negotiations are not easily practicable. Negotiations are possible given good will by the teachers. It is important to bear in mind the employers' capacity to pay. Therefore, negotiations should involve employers as well as employees.

Mr. Flannery

The Secretary of State is responding to five or six questions, but is it not a fact that nearly all of them have been tabled by Conservative Members? There are about 20 questions asking the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement on the dispute, and almost all of them have been tabled by Tory Members. [Interruption.] When will Conservative Members realise that shouting at me is not an answer to the teachers' damaging dispute, and when will the Secretary of State realise that new money must be put on the table to give teachers a professional wage? A moderate section of the community is asking only for the right to teach our children with a semblance of dignity, and the right hon. Gentleman is refusing to give them that, although he gave Johnson Matthey about £¼ billion overnight without questioning any of us.

Sir Keith Joseph

My hon. Friends had questions early on the Order Paper on this subject. That is why there is a barrage of questions from them. The hon. Gentleman seems constantly to ignore the fact that the Government have made available a substantial sum of extra money in addition to normal pay increases, conditional upon the teachers accepting professional terms of duty. The teachers' unions have so far refused even to consider or discuss that offer.

Mr. Flannery

That is becasuse it is not enough.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that he has succeeded in demoralising the entire education world? Does he not understand that teachers are as important to law and order, for example, as the police, and vital to Britain's future. It is essential that teachers be given their proper status.

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree about the importance of teachers. I am repeatedly being told that teachers' morale has collapsed and that I am responsible for that. I am accused of starving education of resources and of continually denigrating teachers. In fact, public spending per child in schools has never been as high as it is now. I do not denigrate teachers. I recognise the difficulties that they face in dealing with a difficult job, and I applaud what they have achieved, but I believe that there is scope for better schools, and that can be achieved only by the teachers themselves.

Mr. Hancock

Does the Secretary of State not realise that the Burnham committee is useless as a negotiating machinery for settling this strike? Is it not about time that he heeded the advice, not only of Opposition Members, but of his colleagues, and set up a pay review board to look properly and effectively at teachers? Does he agree that to many teachers the Burnham machinery is seen as an impediment to a settlement?

Sir Keith Joseph

No. I do not accept that. Given a willingness to negotiate, which the teachers' unions have so far signally failed to show, I do not think that there would be any difficulty in using the present system.

Mr. Madden

If the Secretary of State is waiting for a parent backlash to compel teachers to drop their justified claims and industrial action, does he not realise that he is whistling in the wind? Parents cannot understand why the Government fell over themselves to pay bumper increases to judges, generals and senior civil servants. They gave them what we were told were incentives to deal with low morale. Parents see low morale among teachers, and they see teachers pursuing a justified claim to restore their salaries to what they were 10 years ago, when they were broadly comparable with other professional groups, managers and engineers. That is what this claim is all about, and the Government should respond to it with a sense of urgency and fair play.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am not relying on any such assumption. The Government have recognised the need to offer pay that will recruit, retain and motivate teachers of the right quality—good and effective teachers—in just the same way as the extra money, although on a very much smaller scale in aggregate, was offered in order to recruit, retain and motivate civil servants and the judiciary of the right quality.

Mr. Skinner

Does the Secretary of State recall that a few months ago there was a vote in the House on top salaries? Some would say that the House was over-weighted, like the Burnham committee, in favour of one side. The result was that Cabinet Members and all their cronies on the Back Benches voted to ensure that the Lord Chancellor received an adequate salary increase, according to their criterion. If that can be applied to their own people, and if everyone else on top salaries can get treated to an average 17 per cent. increase, why cannot the teachers be treated similarly? Surely the truth is that Tory government is all about double standards—different pay for different groups of people.

Sir Keith Joseph

The Lord Chancellor does not take the increase that was voted for him. Secondly, the Government are concerned with better standards for children of all ability, and not with double standards.

Mr. Madel

Should not certain of the teaching trade unions change their attitudes towards their professional responsibilities and conditions of service, and instead of targeting certain constituencies for strikes and disruption, should they not be explaining the benefits of the Government's latest package and resuming normal working, while meaningful negotiations get under way?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes. Nothing can justify the behaviour of a profession in disrupting the education of its charges.

Mr. Park

If the Secretary of State is so confident about his conduct of educational affairs, why will he not accept the suggestion of his hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) and allow a review, so that we can establish whether his confidence is well placed, or misplaced?

Sir Keith Joseph

Because the Government believe it right that those who have to find the money—although in this case it is ratepayers' money and taxpayers' money—should be part of the negotiation.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any settlement of the teachers' dispute must enhance the team work between heads and teachers in schools?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), the chairman of the parliamentary Labour education committee, recently told a meeting of teachers at the House, "The heads are your enemies"? Was that not disgraceful? Will that not damage schools deeply, and damage children? Is that not typical of what some Labour politicians have said? Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw it?

Sir Keith Joseph

If it was said, I am sure that it could not have been meant. I should like to repeat the tribute that I paid in the House to the heads and many of their deputies for bearing such a burden to keep schools open for their children, and to those teachers, in all unions—particularly one union—who have refused to disrupt.

Mr. Radice

Is the Secretary of State aware that many hon. Members on each side of the House have found his failure this afternoon to announce a new peace initiative to end the 10 months long teachers' dispute deeply disturbing?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has still not replied to my letter of 25 October, in which I urged him to set up an independent inquiry into teachers' salaries, with a remit to report as soon as possible, and with a firm commitment to fund its findings? If he is not going to resign, is it not about time that he stopped wringing his hands, started behaving like a Secretary of State, and took constructive action to bring justice for the teachers and end the disruption in our schools?

Sir Keith Joseph

It is not for the Government to produce a new initiative.

Mr. Radice

Why not?

Sir Keith Joseph

It is not the Government who are intransigent. In recent months, one side has been making offers, and the teachers' side has been saying no, no and no again. It is perverse for the hon. Gentleman to blame the Government and urge us to take a new initiative. He knows from his local authority party colleagues, who lead for the employers in the negotiations, that we face people who have not moved an inch from their position of, "Pay us more now and we will talk about reform later."

As for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of a review on pay only, that is the last thing that the Government would contemplate. We are convinced that it is right that conditions of service and career structure must go with pay.