HC Deb 05 May 1987 vol 115 cc669-72 9.46 pm
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions of Employment) Order 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 650), dated 6th April 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th April, be annulled.

Normally an order that involves increases in pay does not lead to political controversy. However, this order is an exception to that rule, first, because the provisions on pay are introduced in conjunction with provisions covering the conditions of employment. For the first time, conditions of employment for teachers are being laid down by statutory instrument. It is certainly the case that the ACAS agreement covered conditions of service, as well as pay. Indeed, that was one of its main strengths. However, the key difference between that agreement and the order that we are debating is that whereas the ACAS agreement was freely agreed between the local authority employers and the majority of teachers, this order is being imposed on the local authorities and teachers.

Under the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987, that highly controversial piece of legislation that we debated for 23 hours continuously last December, the Secretary of State has the power to make provision on pay and conditions by order. During those debates we predicted that the Secretary of State would use the power contained in that legislation to impose his own will on the teachers and employers, and that is precisely what he has done. Therefore, as the Opposition, we are using the power that we have under that Act to protest against the Secretary of State's diktat by praying against the order tonight.

Our argument against the Secretary of State's diktat is twofold. First, it is wrong in principle to set aside an agreement that has been freely negotiated between the employers and the majority of their employees and to impose a ministerial solution by statutory instrument. Secondly, as I have frequently warned the Secretary of State, a settlement that has been freely negotiated is always more likely to stick than one that has been imposed from the top.

The conditions of service laid down in the order are complex and wide-ranging. Even if the main teachers' organisations were not so hostile to what the Secretary of State is doing, it would need give and take on both sides for the conditions to work successfully in practice. The problem for the Secretary of State and the tragedy for pupils and parents is that new conditions will be introduced at a time when relations between the Government and teachers are even worse than they were when the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) was Secretary of State, and that, indeed, is saying something.

Instead of accepting the new conditions of service as a necessary part of a new deal, teachers are bitterly resentful of what they see as yet another act of provocation by a hostile Government. After all, this Government have taken away their bargaining rights and replaced them with ministerial diktat — a position which, according to the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 will last until at least 31 March 1990.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Not beyond?

Mr. Radice

Until at least 31 March 1990. If the hon. Lady doubts me, she should read the Act, which I suspect she has not done.

We all know that the Secretary of State, in one of those manipulative press leaks which have become his trade mark, told The Daily Telegraph that tonight he would tell us that there may be—just may be—some permanent body set up to decide pay and conditions before 1990. Apparently the interim advisory Committee — the Secretary of State's tame poodle — will advise the Secretary of State on what sort of body that will be. Obviously, the Secretary of State knows perfectly well that proposals along those lines are unlikely to satisfy the teachers. They rightly want the restoration of their negotiating rights.

Before the Secretary of State says that that means the restoration of Burnham, I shall remind him, as I have done on many occasions, that both local authority employers and teachers now accept that pay and conditions should be discussed together and that the Secretary of State's position on the negotiaing body should be fully protected. Even the Secretary of State must admit that that is a considerably different proposal from that of the old Burnham committee.

I have been watching the Secretary of State for many months—and the truth is that he is not in the business of settling the teachers' dispute. That is presumably why the so-called sources close to the Education Secretary stressed to The Daily Telegraph yesterday that his proposals were not to be seen as an "olive branch" but were instead a "step along the road," whatever that may mean.

The Secretary of State is not interested in solving the teachers' dispute, at least before the general election. That is presumably why he is not prepared for the future of pay determination to be discussed until the summer. Incidentally, when will he announce the names of those on the interim committee?

Typically, what the Secretary of State wanted is what he got — a friendly headline in a friendly newspaper. [Interruption.] As is so often the case, what the Secretary of State wants is to give the illusion of compromise without in reality giving anything away and to give the illusion of action without doing anything positive or constructive. The tragedy is that the Secretary of State could speedily bring peace to our schools if he was prepared to accept a new negotiating body for teachers' pay and conditions which would discuss pay and conditions together, and on which the Secretary of State would be properly represented.

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

When the hon. Gentleman refers to illusions, does he look on the 16.4 per cent. increase as an illusion?

Mr. Radice

I have often said to the Secretary of State that if only that offer had been made two years ago we would not have the current problem.

The Tories have been in government for quite a long time and they have made a terrible hash of the education service. It is because the Secretary of State still insists of depriving teachers of their bargaining rights and because he seeks instead to impose his will that I shall be asking my colleagues to vote for our prayer tonight.

9.55 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this prayer and put right a catalogue of union-inspired confusion and fallacies.

I am grateful to Her Majesty's Opposition for giving me this opportunity by praying against the first order under the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act. That decision is confusing, and the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr Radice) referred to it at the beginning of his speech.

The Opposition are praying against the first stage of a 16.4 per cent. pay increase. The order—which the Opposition will be voting against—will enable teachers to get substantial back pay, ranging from some £300 for a teacher on the top of scale 1 to £600 for some deputy heads, in their pay packets within weeks. There is no other way of getting this money into teachers' pockets. I want the many teachers I meet to get this substantial increase as the just reward for the enthusiasm and conscientiousness with which they do their jobs.

The ordinary teachers' first concern remains to give their pupils a good education and a good start in life. That is why the Government have moved to give teachers such a big increase—16.4 per cent. this year with an overall 25 per cent. average increase in the 18 months between March 1986 and October 1987. From October a good honours graduate will start on £175 a week and after two years will receive nearly £200 a week. The many teachers now stuck at the top of scale 1 on £9,800 will be able to progress up a scale running to £13,300.

Opportunities for allowances above that will be expanded. Today, 30 per cent. of primary school teachers and 45 per cent. of secondary school teachers are on scale 3 or above, or are heads and deputies. Under our plans these figures will go up to 50 and 60 per cent. by September 1990. The first 25,000 new allowances of £500 will come on stream this October. They are part of a reform that is designed to make teaching a more dynamic, rewarding and attractive career.

The appeal is working. Good news gets through, despite the propaganda of the unions, I am talking about the recruitment figures for teacher training. Applications for this September are up by 14 per cent. Even better news: applications for maths teachers are up by 42 per cent.; for physics teachers 80 per cent.; for CDT a staggering 92 per cent. —and this while the unions are peddling stories of gloom and doom.

How interesting it is that poor pay no longer features in the unions' campaigns. They know that it is not on to tell the British public how hard done by one is when one has received a 25 per cent. rise in 18 months. If they had any illusions on that score, they will have been shattered by the recent MORI poll, which showed that parents do not think that teachers are underpaid. As I have always said, I want teachers to be well paid. If the pay is OK, the unions have to look elsewhere for a campaigning issue. They have been developing a string of fallacious arguments with which I shall deal tonight. Four of the seven fallacies were repeated by the hon. Member for Durham, North.

Fallacy number one is that disruption is Baker's fault. The unions really must think that parents have very short memories. When was it that one of the two militant unions was not disrupting our schools? They have been at it on and off for years. Do they really think that we have forgotten their endless campaigns—the half-day strikes, the disgraceful ten-minute withdrawals of labour, the refusals to cover, the refusals to attend parents' meetings and so on?

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.