HC Deb 13 May 1986 vol 97 cc557-60 3.32 pm
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the interim settlement of the teachers' pay dispute.

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

Last Friday the Burnham primary and secondary committee agreed to increase teachers' salaries in England and Wales from 1 April 1986 by 5.5 per cent. or £520, whichever is the greater. This agreement was reached following undertakings to the management panel from all the teacher associations represented on the teachers' panel. The entire teachers' panel has given an assurance that there will be a return to peace and calm in our schools immediately. The entire teachers' panel notes and supports the ACAS talks and will co-operate in every respect. The teachers' panel agrees that the payment at 1 April 1986 is without prejudice to any subsequent consideration by Burnham in the light of progress in the on-going talks embracing all the aspects being discussed under the aegis of ACAS.

This settlement clears the way for constructive discussion and negotiation under the leadership of the panel appointed by ACAS. It does not prejudge the outcome of the ACAS process and it is to that exercise that teachers, employers and the Government must look for a satisfactory longer-term outcome to the complex of issues raised by the recent dispute. I very much welcome the fact that the National Union of Teachers, which represents a substantial group of teachers in our schools, will now play a full part. We must all welcome the assurances now given about an immediate return to peace and calm in our schools.

The ACAS-led negotiations are addressing a range of issues—pay levels and structures, teachers' duties, teacher appraisal and career development and future negotiating machinery. Clearly, no Secretary of State can commit a Government in advance to the outcome of such an exercise, but I do wish the talks well and hope that they can result in satisfactory resolution of the fundamental problems arising from the present pay structure, the lack of definition about teachers' professional obligations, and performances appraisal and career development. The Government will consider the conclusions carefully and fully when those are available.

Mr. Radice

Does the Secretary of State accept that last week's agreement brings the prospect of peace and calm to our schools, ensures that the major teachers' union is involved in the ACAS talks and gives teachers a needed pay rise? Does he accept also that, while he and his Ministers have been content to stand on the sidelines as our schools have been disrupted, the Labour party has brought the two sides together and has been instrumental in achieving last Friday's agreement? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that for a long-term settlement to be achieved and for peace to be guaranteed in future, as he hopes, the Government must recognise the need for additional resources? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's successor will be more successful in persuading the Treasury than he has been.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am glad that the National Union of Teachers has agreed to co-operate fully in the negotiations, therefore acccepting that teachers' pay and teachers' duties must be considered at the same forum. I hope that the hon. Member for Durham accepts that—

Mr. Mark Hughes (City of Durham)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. He is not the Member for Durham.

Sir Keith Joseph

I refer to the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice). I hope that he now accepts what he has flinched from accepting before—that what teachers are paid and teachers' duties should be considered together.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is it not true that there has never been a more potent moment in history for the improvement of the education of our children, the uplifting of the morale of teachers, and the improved provision of children's education and that my right hon. Friend is the man who has brought the country to this position? Does he agree that teachers' pay is about 16 per cent. better now than it was when the Government came into office? Will he repudiate the Labour party for locking out the NUT from negotiations with the local authorities recently?

Sir Keith Joseph

I can agree with some of what my hon. Friend says. There are some long-standing and crucial issues for the quality of education; these can emerge if the negotiations are successful, and I hope that they are.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Is it not a fact that, but for the intransigence of the Government and the Secretary of State, this progress could have been achieved 16 months ago? If that had happened, the disruption which has been caused IDy ordinary people who are not used to taking such action would not have continued. Is it not a more serious fact that the disruption will begin again unless some new money from the Government—never mind the local authorities—is put on the table to solve the problem and to educate our children in a proper way?

Sir Keith Joseph

Unfortunately, the NUT walked out of the negotiations in 1984 that could have led to this sort of result much earlier. That led the teachers' unions to reject negotiations on the quantified conditional offer of extra money from the Government and delayed the present negotiations for many months.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Northwich, North)

Bearing in mind the damaging effect of the dispute on children in our schools and the way in which teachers have conducted themselves during the dispute, will my right hon. Friend look again at the suggestion that has been made over and over again by Conservative Members, that there should be a professional teachers council to help to raise the standards and morale in the teaching profession?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, if enough teachers approach me with a willingness to see such a council set up, but it would have to be subject to the Government's satisfaction that such a council would serve the interests of children as well as of teachers.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

While we greatly welcome the return of the NUT to the ACAS talks on sensible terms, does the Secretary of State not accept that ongoing talks need an ongoing Minister and that if we are to have constructive education policies we must have faith in the continuity of the head of the Department? Does he realise how useless it is to education in general that a dearth of policies should now be coining from the Department which he nominally heads?

Sir Keith Joseph

The last thing that I have been accused of in recent years is a dearth of policies.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that continual harassment by the NUT is still taking place in many parts of the country, including refusal to cooperate with PTAs, absence from supervising lunch hour engagements and no parent-teacher meetings in many parts of the country? In view of this outrageous behaviour by the NUT, will my right hon. Friend ensure that ongoing teacher assessment is enshrined in any settlement that is reached?

Sir Keith Joseph

Teacher appraisal is one of the subjects that is being considered by the ACAS working party. As for the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I very much hope that the NUT's undertaking that peace and calm would return to our schools will be fulfilled.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

In view of the Secretary of State's comments about the National Union of Teachers, will he concede that teachers in particular and education in general would have been the poorer without the efforts of Fred Jarvis and his colleagues. (HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] They deserve the support of both sides of the House of Commons.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am very sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I missed the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Ashley

May I rephrase it, Mr. Speaker? I am sorry that the Secretary of State is deaf. I shall repeat my question for him. The point I was making was that teachers in particular and education in general would be the poorer without the efforts of Fred Jarvis and his colleagues and that they deserve the support of both sides of the House of Commons.

Sir Keith Joseph

On no possible account could I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It was that particular individual and his executive who wrecked the negotiations in 1984 and delayed negotiations for months and months in 1985 and 1986.

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

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the dispute has been extremely damaging to children and very worrying to parents. Does he agree that the settlement of the dispute is widely welcomed on this side of the House? Will he take steps to arrange the payment of the £1.25 billion on a shorter time scale, as that would do a great deal to improve teacher morale, particularly if assessment were to be stitched closely into the agreement?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. As to the second part, payment of the additional money specified by the Government depends upon satisfaction of the conditions laid down, and that is the subject of the discussions that are now taking place under ACAS.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Although the whole House will agree that the return of peace, high morale and high standards in our schools is urgently needed, does the Secretary of State not agree that if that objective is not rapidly achieved, the prospects for the new examination will be diminished, which means that it will be impossible to introduce it in September this year?

Sir Keith Joseph

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman and the House that the disruption in our schools is entirely due to—(HON. MEMBERS: "You."}—the decision of the executives of the large teachers' unions, backed by a number of their members. I have constantly said that it is wrong and unprofessional to disrupt the education of children.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Although we welcome the agreement, is my right hon. Friend aware that I hope that it will not be paid for by the closure of further community schools such as Huntcliff in Saltburr -on-Sea in my constituency?

Sir Keith Joseph

I admire my hon. Friend's ingenious supplementary question.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant C'onwy)

Although the Secretary of State now seeks to distance himself from and not intervene in the ACAS discussions, does he accept that it was his pressure and his manipulation behind the scenes that prevented an earlier settlement? Does he further accept that the current discussions are a sign of the failure of the Government's policy of trying to use children and parents to hatter the NUT?

Sir Keith Joseph

That is a grossly distorted point of view. It is the Government's intention to bring about improved quality of teaching for children of all abilities in our schools. For that purpose, we judge it necessary to open up possibilities for many more promotions, a much more promising career structure for teachers, a satisfactory pay structure for teachers and appraisal and more in-service training for teachers. If those conditions are satisfied, we shall ask the taxpayer to find additional money.

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