HC Deb 27 November 1990 vol 181 cc839-43

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the draft Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 (Continuation) Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 15th November, be approved.—[Mr. Eggar]

10.25 pm
Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

I suppose it's a funny old world. We have witnessed yet another circus act on the Government Benches, with a new Prime Minister in waiting who must be wondering tonight how he can reconcile his statements as Chancellor of the Exchequer with his commitments over the weekend as a candidate for the position of Prime Minister.

I am quite confident that the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) will turn his back on those promises and forget about them. One of his commitments was about raising teacher morale, which is important. However, he has been a member of a Government who have denied teachers the right to negotiate their salaries and conditions.

We are here tonight because of that denial of basic rights and opportunities. It is a denial of a right that is allowed to all other local authority personnel, to central Government personnel and even to people at GCHQ.

This is not an abstract point. People in staff rooms around the country feel excluded from having any role in constructing their own working conditions. Hon. Members in this place and even members of the Government would not tolerate that, as was reflected in the way in which Conservative Members behaved over the past few days.

The point is mirrored for teachers by a wide range of other experiences, including a lack of consultation over the national curriculum, over testing and over the whole paraphernalia of the Education Reform Act 1988. The Government constructed that Act so that it would not involve teachers, and the education service is reaping the whirlwind that the Act brought with it. We must now adapt to many of the issues in the Education Reform Act in the way that was predicted precisely because the Government refused to consult and negotiate with teachers.

We are being asked tonight to agree to an order which is directly responsible for low morale. Those who support the order are directly responsible for pushing down morale and for keeping it low. When the 1988 Act was introduced, the Government said that it would be temporary. We are told that a week is a long time in politics, but teachers in the staff rooms have had four years of the Act, and that seems like an eternity.

The 1988 Act has in no sense been temporary. This order seeks to continue something which no one would consider to be temporary. When the 1988 Act was passed, it was said that it would be replaced by an Act that had consent. We have spent today discussing that, and it must be clear to anyone, particularly from the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South-East (Mr. Turner), that the new School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill does not have consent. The Government have not been able to achieve consent, because no one believes that the Government believe in consent. The Government have demonstrated powerfully that they are completely unable to negotiate. The interim advisory committee, introduced by the 1987 Act, has produced some interesting and useful reports, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said. But, even in responding to those reports, the Government's history has been abysmal.

The first IAC report in April 1988 exceeded the Secretary of State's cost limit by 6 per cent., the Government refused to fund the difference and the local education authorities had to find the extra money. The first IAC report rejected regional variations and salary differentials for teachers of subjects with staff shortages. Today, the Government made clear what they thought of that IAC recommendation.

In the second report in February 1989, the settlement was £80 million above the remit of £350 million. Again, the Government refused to meet the shortfall, £25 million was met by savings in teachers' pension funds and the rest, yet again, had to be found by local education authorities.

The third report, in 1990, again recommended a settlement above the Government's remit—£133 million. Again, the Government ducked their responsibility and refused to meet the settlement agreed by the IAC. Instead, they decided on a phased increase, which meant that, rather than an increase of 9.3 per cent., teachers had to make do with an increase of 7.1 per cent.

I need hardly remind the House that, despite the magician-like qualities of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon, inflation is 10.9 per cent. The figures speak for themselves. I hope that, as someone who is used to dealing with figures, he will look at the figures and try to reconcile the contradictions within them, because it is not we who suffer from those contradictions and differences, but the children in the schools.

In the remit to the IAC in September, the previous Secretary of State—I hope that I do not have to say that again next week—did not give a limit of settlement to the committee. He directed that the cost of its recommendations should fall within the interquartile range of private sector, non-manual settlements. But there is one overriding question, which the previous Secretary of State and the present one have not yet answered: will the Government fully fund the settlement that arises from the remit that they have given this year's IAC? That is critical —the Government have cash-limited the amount that local authorities can spend.

Despite the arguments between us and the fact that some Conservative Members are unhappy to accept it, we all know that teacher morale is low. As a survey in tonight's edition of the Evening Standard shows, 16,000 teachers in London have left during the past two months. The fed-up teachers blame the exodus on poor pay and low status. The Government must address that issue. They have a responsibility tonight to assure us that they will fully fund any recommendation from the IAC.

I have outlined the Government's dismal record to date. There has been much discussion today about teacher morale. The 1990 IAC report said: Any profession would be justifiably proud of the level of commitment on the part of the teachers we have met during our school visits in all three years. However, commitment cannot by itself guarantee the success of the current reforms. It needs to be underpinned by far higher morale than we have found. The IAC recognises that the commitments that it made and the promises that it tried to elicit from the Secretary of State would not solve the whole problem. But it t nought that it was critical that any future pay settlement must be recognised by the Secretary of State and must be funded.

Other Members have spoken of teacher morale. It is not a political point to be thrown across the Chamber. I have to deal with that issue every time I go into a school. I do not try to put teachers down: far too many members of my family and friends are teachers and I value their health as much as I value my own. Last week, the Health and Safety Commission said that teachers probably suffer more stress than people in any other profession. I beg the Secretary of State to take the issue much more seriously than he appears to be prepared to do.

The order continues the work of the IAC. We are debating yet another order, even though, year after year, Secretaries of State have told us that we were debating the last one, and that matters would be sorted out. The Bill rejects many of the main tenets of the IAC reports. The IAC has agreed that a basic necessity is a basic national pay level with local variations, where necessary, on top of the basic amount. For the first time since the war, the Bill will change the whole basis of negotiations. We are being asked to continue the work of a body, one of whose major recommendations has just been rejected by the House.

Several hon. Members spoke about the International Labour Organisation. There is no doubt that the ILO utterly rejected the Government's view as contained in the 1987 Act. Its committee of experts said that the Act was in breach of article 4 of convention 98 on voluntary negotiation, and called upon the Government to modify the legislation to make voluntary negotiations possible. The Government have not modified the Act through the order, and we are being asked yet again to renew the order.

Sometimes the Government admit that teacher morale is low, but that admission depends on which Minister is speaking. They have denied teachers the rights given to other people. The Labour party has been talking about teacher morale for some time, not in order to lower it but to get it recognised. The Government are exploiting the commitment of teachers. Teachers have an enormous commitment to the job and to their children and they deserve our support and recognition. Teachers will soon know what the new Cabinet thinks of them and will see whether the new Prime Minister and his Cabinet are prepared to meet the demands in the IAC report. The Government should at last be prepared to recognise and value teachers with a worthwhile pay settlement.

10.38 pm
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

I do not propose to delay the House because, like many hon. Members, I have already spent more than enough time debating education. All hon. Members must he bitterly disappointed at having to debate the order at all. Everybody wanted matters to move forward more quickly, so that proper pay machinery could be put in place earlier. Liberal Democrats predicted that we would be in the position that we are now in, even though Ministers argued otherwise. That has a certain inevitability about it.

I hope that the Minister will address some specific issues. First, I hope that he will outline the basis arid remit within which the IAC will make its decision this year. That is important, given the teacher shortages, the problems with morale and the other difficulties referred to in the earlier debate. We need to know to what extent the IAC is being asked to look at that matter this year.

Secondly, there is the question of full funding or otherwise, which has already been raised. Perhaps the Minister could give the House a clear statement about the Government's commitment to meet the cost of the settlement that may be reached as a result of the IAC's deliberations.

Thirdly—this is also important—last year, the IAC made a recommendation that the government effectively rejected by deciding to phase the implementation instead of introducing it according to the recommendation. The result is the vast cuts in teachers' salaries against inflation during the three years of the IAC's recommendations. Do the Government intend to see a settlement—would they be prepared to see a settlement—that at least matches inflation and ensures that teachers' salaries are restored to their proper level according to the IAC, so that, when the new machinery that we debated earlier is implemented, we do not immediately have to make up for the Government's meanness in the past two or three years?

Finally, since a new Prime Minister will take office tomorrow, who is committed to a thorough review of teachers' salaries, do the Government intend that any account of that commitment should be taken in these deliberations? Have the Government already set in stone what the IAC will do this year or, if the Prime Minister does indeed seek a thorough review of teachers' salaries, will it be possible for any account of that to be taken in the settlement?

10.41 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Tim Eggar)

I shall try to reply to the points raised by the hon. Members for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) and for Truro (Mr. Taylor). I am delighted that the atmosphere now is slightly less frenetic than 43 minutes ago. I hope that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) is now tucked up safely in bed.

The interim advisory committee has been asked to build on the far-reaching improvements it recommended last year. The remit balances market forces against affordability. This is consistent with the Government's approach to pay across the board. It also acknowledges the need to continue improving teacher supply in areas where vacancy rates are a particular cause for concern, notably London and, as many of my hon. Friends said earlier, across the south-east. We have never sought to disguise the fact that there are shortages in certain subjects, as well as in some geographical areas.

The committee has been directed that the cost of its recommendations must fall within the inter-quartile range of non-manual pay settlements in the 12 months to November 1990. This constraint is the same as that which already applies to civil servants and will also have a role in the new permanent negotiating machinery that will be set up under the Bill, the Second Reading of which has just received such overwhelming support in the House. Incidentally, I thank the hon. Member for Truro and his hon. Friends for their support.

It is, of course, for the committee to decide what to recommend within that remit, taking account of what the local authorities can afford, but it allows for a very fair settlement to be reached——

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)


Mr. Eggar

I believe in a relaxed style at the Dispatch Box, but at 10.43 pm, after the debate that we have just had and after the week that we have all had, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way to him. I shall be delighted, however——

Mr. Straw

It is only a simple question.

Mr. Eggar

That is exactly what I feared. I know my limitations.

We believe that the Bill allows for a fair settlement for teachers. The remit given to the IAC is, by definition, very fair, and the Government expect it to work within that remit. Of course, education standard spending includes an appropriate allowance to meet any considerations within that remit.

The Government believe that flexible pay systems, which allow the targeting of additional payments to meet specific needs, are the most cost-effective way of addressing any problem of recruitment and retention. The committee's remit for 1991–92 invites it to consider whether local flexibilities should be developed still further. Hon. Members referred to that point. The committee is currently considering evidence from interested parties. My right hon. and learned Friend has asked to receive its report by 18 January.

This time next year, the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 will have been repealed. In the meantime, however, we need this order to extend the life of the Act beyond 31 March 1991, so as to pay teachers an increase next year. I commend it to the House and ask that it be approved.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the draft Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 (Continuation) Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 15th November, be approved.