HC Deb 03 February 1986 vol 91 cc29-34 3.55 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the teachers' dispute, which has caused disruption of children's education for the past year.

The House will be aware that, with assistance from ACAS, a provisional agreement has been reached between management and teachers on a settlement for 1985, an end to disruption, and assisted negotiations across pay and other conditions of service for 1986. The Government greatly welcome the prospect of a firm agreement of this kind along with the restoration of normal working in the schools. The disruption has not only damaged children's education. It has put heavy burdens on parents, head teachers and on many classroom teachers. We all want to see it end. I hope therefore that the provisional agreement will soon be formally adopted by management and teachers.

The NUT is not at present party to this agreement. I nevertheless hope that all the teachers' unions will join in the negotiations that lie ahead for 1986. The Government accept the case for an increase in teachers' pay to recruit, retain and motivate the teachers needed for the high quality school education our children need and deserve, along with improvements in the pay structure and a clarification of teachers' responsibilities. The Government have set aside additional resources for this purpose. I therefore hope that the forthcoming negotiations will soon make sufficient progress towards the Government's objectives to justify my releasing those resources.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that he and his Department did, and have done, nothing to help bring about a settlement of this highly-damaging teachers' dispute, and that his statement today does nothing to make a long-term settlement of the teachers' grievance more likely?

Is it not the case that the right hon. Gentleman has not offered the local education authorities any extra money to help pay for the provisional settlement, nor has he offered to increase the Government's contribution towards a longer term settlement next year?

When will the right hon. Gentleman grasp the simple truth — a truth that is well understood by local authorities, parents and teachers alike — that raising educational standards and giving teachers decent salaries requires substantial extra investment?

Does the Secretary of State understand that his announcement that he will not be standing at the next election has transformed him overnight into the lamest of lame ducks? If he really cares about our children's education he should announce that he is resigning as Secretary of State.

Sir Keith Joseph

The Government have long taken the view—a view that we have every reason to confirm —that teachers deserve to have more pay in order that people of the right quality shall be recruited, retained and motivated. The Government have accepted that. We also believe that it would not be right for additional money to be given to teachers from the taxpayer without, at the same time, the teachers agreeing to a new pay structure with ample extra promotions and to implementing their duties.

The House is united in wanting an end to the disruption in our schools. There is, however, a difference between the Government and the Opposition which I must emphasise. The Government see a bargain for children in calling for extra pay and a new pay structure for teachers, but we also believe that there should be an acceptance by the teachers' unions of duties. The hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) is active in seeking extra pay for teachers, and I can understand that. However, he completely refuses to accept that teachers, for their part, should accept duties. When he was asked that in a recent debate, he refused to confirm that it was the Opposition's view that duties are a necessary part of the bargain.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

If there is to be a complete resolution of the dispute, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is crucial that rank and file teachers should be persuaded to accept the outline of the ACAS agreement? Is it not therefore most important that, to persuade them, the Government should make it clear what benefits are on offer in the later negotiation for 1986 onwards? Those possibilities might be enhanced before negotiation begins.

Sir Keith Joseph

I accept what my hon. Friend said. It is important that teachers in unions should well understand what is on offer and that the Government have already set aside a substantial sum of money to be released on condition that the bargain to which I have referred is made. The Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association has already called off the disruption. I welcome that, as I am sure the House does. The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers is balloting its members. We understand that the ballot will take much of this month. I hope that the National Union of Teachers, which has called off the strike on which it provisionally decided, will decide to call off the disruption which it proposes at the moment to continue.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

The Secretary of State said that he would make sufficient progress towards the Government's objectives. Will he confirm that those objectives are the same as those that he spelt out to the House previously? Does he accept that the more intransigent he is, the more succour he gives to the hard-line unionists? I wonder whether he read today's leader in the Daily Mail which finishes: The Cabinet should empower Sir Keith to give a kindly—and astutely kind smile — (cash to follow) before he finally bows out. Perhaps he would like to manifest that.

Sir Keith Joseph

If we had not been firm and said that extra pay for teachers from the taxpayer would be forthcoming only if, in return, they accepted their duties, a new pay structure and extra promotions, we would not by now even have a discussion of that bargain on the agenda.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I join my right hon. Friend in deploring the damage that has been done to our children's education by this long dispute. Does he agree that we must somehow find a way of encouraging those moderate and conscientious teachers who intensely dislike the strike weapon and who, in many cases, have rejected it? Can we not in the longer term move towards some kind of professional teachers' council, and hope that we can move towards negotiating a no-strike agreement?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with my hon. Friend and pay tribute to all those teachers, in particular head teachers, who have carried on without disruption. I am ready to support the idea of a general teachers' council, if that is the wish of the majority of teachers, but I should need first to be convinced that it would operate on behalf of the children as well as taking an interest in teachers.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

In his statement, the Secretary of State used the words, "normal work in schools". Do I take it that he was referring to the time before the teachers' dispute arose when teachers performed many out-of-school activities including taking children for Saturday morning football matches and that type of thing? The feeling that I receive in my constituency and beyond is that in the foreseeable future—certainly not in the Secretary of State's lifetime—teachers will not go back to normal working in schools. Even if there is a settlement, normal working in schools, as we recognised it before the dispute, will not return. Teachers are resisting the demands for out-of-school activities made upon them.

Sir Keith Joseph

The answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes, except that the Government are now separately financing midday supervision, as he and the House are aware, and we are asking that that appraisal be considered as part of the duties.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the majority of teacher unions such as the AMMA and the NAS/UWT are prepared to talk about restructuring, conditions and appraisal, whereas the impression is given that they are not? Does he agree that the ACAS panel, which has been established, should become a son of Burnham — an embryo negotiating body?

Sir Keith Joseph

I welcome what I know is the correct attitude of a number of unions. Burnham is needed under the law to validate and implement any agreement made under the ACAS umbrella.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is the Secretary of State aware that education requires a degree of consent and confidence before any learning can take place? Was it not his responsibility and duty to separate the issues that he mentioned earlier so that there was not the disruption that has taken place, and to ensure that discussion went forward on two different levels to avoid the disaster that we have just experienced?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first proposition, but I do not think that the blame for the teacher unions' reluctance to discuss pay and what pay is for falls upon the Government.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that everyone is pleased to see teachers paid more? Does he accept that, unfortunately, the strike that we have seen over the past year has been the tip of the iceberg and that there has been serious disruption in schools for the past three years, with books not marked, work not prepared, parent-teacher evenings and evening interviews with parents not held? Will he do all that he can to ensure that the forthcoming discussions under the ACAS umbrella will ensure a full return to proper duty by all teachers so that children once more have the proper education that they deserve?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, Sir. It is to avoid a repetition of the experience of the past three years that the Government attach such importance to the acceptance by the teacher unions of their duties in return for additional pay and a revised pay structure.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Does the Secretary of State recall an earlier reference to moderate and conscientious teachers? Does he recognise that even the most moderate and conscientious teacher perceives that the damage which has been done to British education during the past year or two is greater than anything it has ever experienced? Is he aware that that damage will not be relieved, if he was accurately reported following the settlement by the suggestion that the Government would not find the money to pay for any improvements? Will he make it absolutely clear that the Government will find the money or local authorities, whether they be Labour or Conservative-controlled, will all be found to be in default by the Secretary of State for the Environment?

Sir Keith Joseph

Such an inaccurate quotation is beneath the hon. Gentleman's normal standing. I never said any such thing. I repeated what the local education authorities have said the whole time, that to honour the agreement that they have now made would strain their resources a great deal.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on making it clear that the Government are ready to negotiate on the excellent ideas produced by ACAS. Will he make it his prime duty to publicise the fact that from 1 April 1986 a new teacher will get at least £7,037 and that a teacher on the top of graduate entrant scale 3 will get £11,969? Is that not a commitment to the teaching profession, and does it not show that the Government put the children first?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with much that my hon. Friend said. To confirm the attitude that I am seeking to express, I should like to quote one sentence from a letter that I wrote to the chairman of the employers' panel and released to the press: the Government is only too eager to be able to justify such extra spending on teachers' pay and better rewards for effective teaching, in return for an acceptable bargain with the teachers on pay structure and on duties.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Have not the Government a cheek to be telling the teachers that they cannot have proper pay deals when the same Government voted through 19 per cent. for top salaries and in 1985 nodded through an average 17 per cent. wage increase for those in business management and top executives? The same Government keep referring to co-operation with regard to the teachers, but they refuse to co-operate with House Committees and instead plead the fifth amendment. They have ex-Ministers who will not tell the truth, and yet they are asking—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This has nothing to do with the statement.

Sir Keith Joseph

It is on the same perception of the need to recruit, retain and motivate people of the right quality that the Government agreed with the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body and they have made available to teachers an extra £1.25 billion in return for them doing their duties.

Mr. Speaker

May I remind the House, as the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) has done, that we have an important debate following this statement, and 1 also have notice of two Standing Order No. 10 applications. I shall allow questions to continue for a further five minutes and I hope I shall be able to call most of the hon. Members who are now standing if they ask brief questions.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who have advocated a review body and who still believe in one nevertheless believe that an honourable settlement has been negotiated by ACAS? It will not be understood by parents if disruption does not cease forthwith.

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree very much.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I shall not consider myself a lame duck for the rest of this Parliament and therefore I see no reason why he should? If this settlement is decided by Burnham and most of the teachers' unions therefore accept it—it would presumably be imposed after that—is there any reason why members of other teachers' unions should not withdraw their support for the NUT, which will be the only body opposing it? After the new Burnham decision the NUT could not justify opposing the agreement.

Sir Keith Joseph

I very much hope that the NUT executive and its members will change their attitude.

Mr. Peter Lilley (St. Albans)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this agreement could have been reached last year when he first offered an extra £1.25 billion if at that stage the NUT had not still had a majority on the Burnham committee? It is only because the NUT lost that majority that this progress has become possible. They lost that majority because teachers voted with their feet for a more moderate approach to the settlement and to take up the olive branch which my right hon. Friend had offered.

Sir Keith Joseph

It might have been possible to provide extra money from the taxpayer had there been a with-strings agreement for 1985–86 instead of a no-strings agreement. That prospect was wrecked when the NUT walked out of the negotiations in December 1984.

Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I welcome the settlement so far, but will my right hon. Friend constantly re-emphasise the importance of restructuring to any longterm solution to the teaching profession's pay and conditions problem? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are willing to fund the increased costs of such restructuring, and will he recognise the difficulties of the local education authorities in the interim of funding a proper settlement?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree about the importance of restructuring. The Government had provided, on condition, the extra money which would have enabled substantial restructuring and no fewer than 74,000 extra promotions, had the offer put forward by the employers in September last year, on the basis of the Government's extra money from the taxpayer, been accepted and not rejected.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) are regarded by Conservative Members as deplorable? There is great respect on this side of the House and in the country for what my right hon. Friend has set out to do as Secretary of State. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is widespread support in Britain for his insistence that the Government will not underwrite a new pay settlement to teachers until such time as their unions are willing to accept a proper professional contract which includes forswearing the disruption of schools now and in the future?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and agree with him. I am genuinely surprised that the hon. Member for Durham, North allows himself to reject the idea of the duties of teachers as part of the bargain.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that his term of office has been characterised by a genuine desire to improve standards in our schools? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that in the light of the ACAS proposals the time has come to stop disruption in our schools especially in marginal constituencies such as mine—[Interruption.] The NUT quite deliberately targeted marginal seats. Is this not a generous offer and is it not time that it was accepted?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am rather shocked that Opposition Members laugh so heartily at the penalisation of children in the schools. Surely it is not part of the philosophy of the traditional Labour party to take it out on children?

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, like many other hon. Members in their constituencies, I have had numerous letters from parents in mine? They do not think a great deal of the Secretary of State for Education. Is he also aware that not long ago I accused him of messing up social services and messing up industry. Now he has messed up education. I am pleased that he is going at the end of this Parliament, and I hope he will not interfere in the future with the education services.

Sir Keith Joseph

I feel, despite the hon. Gentleman's point of view, that most people in this House desperately want better education for our children. That calls for the acceptance by teachers of their duties as well as a review of the career structure.