HC Deb 17 April 1991 vol 189 cc433-46 4.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

The Government have been considering the best approach to the settlement of teachers' pay and conditions in England and Wales in the light of other developments, including discussions during the Committee stage of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill, the fourth report of the Interim Advisory Committee on School Teachers' Pay and Conditions, and progress in implementing the education reforms.

As I made clear when I was appointed to my present office, I share my predecessor's concern that we should have a well qualified and well paid teaching force, dedicated to serving the needs of pupils. The Prime Minister has expressed his strong personal commitment to those same aims. He and I want to reinforce the professionalism of teachers, and we want to raise still further the esteem in which the teaching profession is held in our society.

The work of the interim advisory committee has, we believe, been of great importance in encouraging teachers' professionalism by avoiding conflict about the level of their pay. In practice, the operation of the committee has meant determining teachers' pay in much the same way as that of doctors, dentists, nurses and midwives in the national health service, who are similarly committed to the needs of their patients. We have decided that it would be better to continue this broad parity of treatment for these key professions rather than return teachers to collective bargaining, which has caused so much conflict in the past.

Previously, the Government took the view that a review body for teachers could not be established because of the emphasis teacher unions had placed on their ability to take industrial action. We believe that that situation has changed—indeed, changed substantially in the last few months. Teachers have worked with great professional commitment on the implementation of the 1988 reforms. The recommendations of the interim advisory committee, culminating in its fourth report earlier this year, have produced a more progressive and flexible salary structure which has won support across a very broad spectrum of teacher opinion. The public and the vast majority of teachers do not want to see any return to industrial action affecting the education of pupils. In my opinion, the reaction to the antics at the Easter conferences of one or two of the teacher unions underlined that only too clearly. I am confident that the public will welcome the Government's acknowledgement of the professional status of teachers, and our offer to them of the review body status reserved to certain key non-striking professions.

Accordingly, I now propose that teachers' pay and conditions should in future be determined by an independent review body reporting to the Prime Minister, alongside the review bodies for the health service, the armed forces, and senior civil servants and the judiciary. This proposal is made on the basis that teachers fully recognise and accept their professional responsibilities, and will not in future take industrial action about matters within the review body's ambit. The Government, for their part, will undertake, as in the case of the other review bodies, to implement the review body's recommendations unless there are clear and compelling reasons to the contrary. The recommendations will apply to teachers in maintained schools, except those grant-maintained schools that choose to make their own arrangements.

Teachers are not Government employees, and their pay is not directly financed from the Exchequer. So unlike the other review bodies, the schoolteachers' review body will have to be statutory. It will have to cover conditions as well as pay, as do both the present IAC arrangements and those in the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill. The body will not be subject to a predetermined financial constraint, but, as with the IAC, I shall direct it each year as to considerations to which it is to have regard. These considerations will include, as now, the Government's view that school teachers' pay should be such as to recruit, retain and motivate sufficient staff of the appropriate calibre within what can be afforded, as expressed at present in the level of education standard spending set by the Government.

I attach particular importance to allowing schools the scope to tailor pay to their own needs in the light of local labour markets. Through the work of the interim advisory committee schools have recently acquired the freedom to choose from a wide menu of options within a national framework. I expect the review body to build on that approach. The grant-maintained schools will be able to make their own arrangements if they want to go further.

Like other review bodies, the teachers' review body will take evidence from all the parties concerned —in this case the teacher unions, the employers and the Government. Once the review body has made its recommendations, the decision on their implementation will rest, in the same way as applies to the other review bodies, with the Prime Minister.

Accordingly the Government are now withdrawing the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill. Instead I shall bring forward as soon as possible a new Bill to give effect to the decisions I have announced today. My intention is to secure Royal Assent in time for next year's settlement to be determined by the new body. I reiterate the Government's determination to give practical effect to our desire to enhance the professional standing of teachers. I confidently expect their whole-hearted co-operation with these new arrangements as an essential element in that process.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

The Secretary of State has just made a statement of which he and the Government should be thoroughly ashamed. By it he highlights the chaos, confusion and indecision into which the Government have descended, and displays contempt for the House and the grossest breach of faith with the teaching profession. Does the Secretary of State recall that, when teachers' negotiating rights were originally removed by the Government in 1987, their restoration was promised by 1990, that the Government reneged on that promise, and that, when the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill, which partially was to restore those negotiating rights, was brought to the House only 16 weeks ago, this Secretary of State said: The Bill contains the agreed policy of this Government. I can certainly speak for two of the candidates for the position of Prime Minister who are committed to the Bill".—[Official Report, 27 November 1990; Vol. 181, c. 743.] One of those candidates was the man who won the Tory party leadership.

Does the Secretary of State also acknowledge that day after day in Committee his Minister of State and Under-Secretary expressed their commitment to the Bill and their desire to see it on the statute book? If that was the agreed position of the Government 16 weeks ago, what has changed since? [Interruption.] I will come to that. Where is the explanation for the extraordinary about-turn —not in 16 weeks but in the 10 weeks since the Bill left Committee?

Will the Secretary of State explain what consultation there has been since the Bill left Committee about the new policy which he has just announced? Has there been consultation with the teacher unions which he prays in aid? Has there been consultation with the employers? Does not the Secretary of State recognise that he will do further damage to the already collapsed morale of the profession if he tries to railroad his proposals through without their consent and that of the employers? Does not he recall that the interim advisory committee, which reported last year and again this year that teachers' morale had never been lower, called for a restoration of negotiating rights?

No one in the House wants to see any industrial action in our schools. I think that the whole House will know that I have been quite outspoken against those proposing disruptive action in schools which cannot be justified. But that is a very different proposition from the unilateral removal of the right to strike which the statement implies. Will the Secretary of State explain how he intends to enforce the no-strike arrangement of the proposals? Does he intend to write it into law? Will he accept that if he does that he will be depriving teachers of human rights which are not denied —

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

What about the rights of pupils?

Mr. Straw

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman, who fought for the right to strike in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, wants it to be taken away in this country unilaterally and without negotiation.

Will the Secretary of State accept that he will be depriving teachers of human rights not denied to any civilian group, apart from the police? Even nurses and doctors, who are subject to review bodies, are not denied the right to strike.

If the teacher unions refuse the proposals, what happens then? Are teachers to be denied a pay rise if they do not agree to withdraw any right to strike? Are they to be denied bargaining rights? Will the Bill be brought back, or will the Secretary of State simply continue with the 1987 system of imposing pay rises? If anyone reads the small print of what the Secretary of State said, it emerges that the proposed review body will be constrained on its global sum—as the right hon. and learned Gentleman admitted —in exactly the same way as the interim advisory committee. What extra will teachers get in exchange for that committee?

The Secretary of State referred to the fact that grant-maintained schools—opted-out schools—will be able to opt out of these arrangements. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that, remarkably, that means that teachers in opted-out schools will continue to have the right to strike in pursuit of a pay claim while that right will be removed from teachers in local authority schools? There can be no other conclusion to be drawn from the statement but that teachers in opted-out schools can take strike action in pursuit of a pay claim while those in local authority schools will be denied that right.

When I and my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) asked the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State about the reasons for delaying the Report stage of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill, they referred, unbelievably, to pressures of parliamentary business. The Secretary of State, however, knew that that excuse was utter nonsense and had no basis in fact. He knew that hon. Members were bound to be misled by that excuse. Since that is the truth, would the right hon. and learned Gentleman now like to apologise for having taken the House for a ride?

The Secretary of State has wasted a great deal of hon. Members' time by abandoning a Bill that only four months ago represented the agreed policy of the Government. Ministers, by reneging on undertakings given to the profession and by their conduct, have shown that they are simply not fit to govern, and that it is time for them to go.

Mr. Clarke

I must admit that, while I sat here listening carefully as the hon. Gentleman waffled on in a state of rather confused indignation, I was waiting to hear whether he would announce that he was in favour of the review body to be established for teachers or against it. He gave no suggestion from beginning to end as to his opinion. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is a ditherer"]. Yes, he dithered.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that he had misun-derstood one feature of my announcement, because the review body will not operate under any predetermined financial constraints, just as the present review bodies do not.

The one thing that the hon. Gentleman chose to get indignant about was my threat to the teachers' right to strike. He defended that with all the passion of the NUT militants who took the headlines briefly at the conferences at Easter. The NUT executive gave every impression that it shared my view and the view of the public, that most teachers do not want to hear people going on about their right to strike. They do not want to take strike action against pupils. They want to be treated with the respect for their professional status which the Government's review body recommends.

We are not going to take away that right by law. We shall proceed on the basis that has been borne out by the vast majority of the trade unions, and even the majority of the members of the NUT. Teachers will not take strike action on matters within the remit of a review body because that body gives them the professional status alongside doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, judges even, to which teachers have long aspired.

The hon. Gentleman put forward the ridiculous proposition that grant-maintained schoolteachers will retain the right to strike. I have always welcomed the idea of the hon. Gentleman suddenly launching himself on a campaign across the country trying to get schools to opt out of local authority status, so that their teachers can enjoy the privilege of organising strike action.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that I can have the hon. Gentleman on my side as an ally because, obviously, grant-maintained schools will work against the back-ground determined by the review body. I also believe that it is right that the governors of those schools, should they want, can make such variations in employment as they think fit, in exchange, no doubt, for agreements with their teachers on things such as longer school hours and extra-curricular activities. All those things are within the remit of governors of grant-maintained schools.

As for the ridiculous argument about parliamentary time, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw ) did not listen with sufficient care to what we said on Second Reading and in Committee. My hon. Friend and I have been contemplating and discussing this policy for some time. When the hon. Gentleman looks back at the debate on Second Reading and in Standing Committee he will realise that we were careful to leave our options open. As time went by, it became clear that the climate was changing.

The hon. Member for Blackburn asked for the explanation for our change, compared with this time last year, when my right hon. Friend, who is now the Lord President and Leader of the House, was very attracted by the notion of a review body. At that time the air was still full of talk of industrial action, bargaining rights and so forth. In the past few months it has become steadily clearer that at least three trade unions are now campaigning for a review body, a fourth appears to have joined them and a fifth will accept it. The reaction to talk of strike action at teachers' conferences is now listened to with respect only by people such as the official spokesman of the Labour party, who has just allied himself with such people.

I hope that he will reflect carefully upon the position and come to welcome what I believe is a significant step forward for the teaching profession in this country, giving the people who teach our children the esteem and respect that they deserve.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that many thousands of teachers will feel that his decision today enhances their professional rights, whatever else it does, and this will be a welcome step? Is the wisdom of his decision not further reinforced by the evidence of the valuable work done by the interim advisory committee? Does that not provide a sound example of the way in which a review body could work to the great advantage of teachers and their professional status?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I agree with him. One can find on the record remarks by the hon. Member for Blackburn praising the work of the interim advisory committee, which has indeed produced a welcome improvement, especially in local flexibility in settling teachers' pay. The difference between the new review body and the interim advisory committee that it will replace is that the new body will not work within any predetermined financial remit. It will be enjoined to have regard to affordability and the need to recruit and retain, just as we always invite the other review bodies to have regard to those matters, but there will be no predetermined financial remit. Also the body will be appointed by the Prime Minister and report directly to him. He will give effect to its recommendations unless, as we have always said with all review bodies, there are clear and compelling reasons for not doing so.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

In addition to the shocking statement made by the Minister —[Interruption.] The guffaws and laughter on the Conservative Benches at the destruction of democracy are appalling. The International Labour Organisation of the United Nations has repeatedly condemned the Government for destroying free negotiating rights for teachers, although not for other unions. It is no good the Government talking about education, which they have got into an awful mess which has forced them to this point. They do not understand where they are.

Will they reconsider this matter? Conservative Members are laughing and guffawing at free negotiation, which is one of the fundamental rights of negotiation, one of the rights that is the difference between tyranny and democracy. They must be ignorant of what that means to do such a thing because it is bound to cause the opposite. Therefore, I ask the Minister once again— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Flannery

In the face of such appalling ignorance it is difficult to ask my fundamental question. My question is one of many questions—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is very good to see the hon. Member back, but could he bring his question to a conclusion?

Mr. Flannery

My question is, when are the Government going to obey the ILO injunction and give back negotiating rights to teachers because the absence of those rights will cause the very thing that they say that they do not want to happen in education—some kind of action, which we are opposed to?

Mr. Clarke

I too am glad to see the hon. Gentleman back in his seat after his period of sickness, and I trust that he is fully recovered, which he certainly appears to be. May I also point out to him that the ILO has never rejected the concept of a review body for any professions in this country that have enjoyed the privilege of review body status for many years. It would be most unwise to do so, because doctors and nurses, for example, have done well compared with others in the public sector as a result of the recommendations of review bodies.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the noise in the House, but there is very little noise coming from the Opposition side because there is scarcely a Labour Member in the House. He comes here as a lonely relic of the hard left, expostulating about teachers' right to strike and, extraordinarily, the Front Bench Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Blackburn, has allied himself with the hon. Gentleman. Frankly, teachers do not want to hear about the privilege of striking; they want to hear about the professional status that the Government are giving them today.

Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is one of the fundamental rights of a child to have uninterrupted education? What is important is the creation of a climate in schools in which strike action will not even be contemplated. The proposal that he has announced today for a pay review body will be welcomed by the vast majority of teachers, who do not think that the right to strike is the most important thing in their lives, but that it is the professional delivery of a service to their children, which they have done remarkably well since the introduction of the reforms. What my right hon. and learned Friend is proposing today will set the right climate for the future so that the uninterrupted right to education that all children need now looks more likely than it has done for some years.

Mr. Clarke

I endorse all my hon. Friend's sentiments. Three or four years ago, there was a most unhappy period of industrial dispute in our schools. I think that all the more sensible people in teaching, in politics and among the public resolved that that should never again happen if it could be avoided, because it was so bad for teachers and for pupils. I think that there will be a wide welcome among the teaching profession and the general public for the sentiments that my hon. Friend has uttered.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

In marked contrast to his predecessor, the Prime Minister and his team seem to have raised the status of the U-turn to a fine art. This proposal is another example of that, following the poll tax U-turn. The Secretary of State must agree that the confusion and indecision cannot have helped morale, no matter what today's decision may do. Our position as a party will be to try to get a resolution to this—I hope that all parties will do that—that will be long-lasting and will start to rebuild teacher morale. Nothing that the Government have done in the past few months has achieved that. We shall not block this Bill and will attempt to make it work. In doing that —

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is not a debate. Could the hon. Member now ask a brief question?

Mr. Taylor

Will the Secretary of State, in trying to make a package that will meet widespread acceptance, consider including within it the creation of a general teaching council? Will he reaffirm to the House that he will make every effort to work with all parties in the House so that a Bill is achieved this year in time for the next settlement, rather than have the present interim arrangements continue indefinitely?

Mr. Clarke

This is a firm proposal and we shall produce a Bill shortly. Our aim is to get Royal Assent as rapidly as possible so that the new arrangments can work in April 1992. I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman will not oppose our proposals, and if we have helped bring the Liberal Democrats to a conclusion on the subject we have served a worthwhile purpose.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that my constituents in Taunton, where we have one or two difficulties with his Department to which I may have to refer next week, will greatly welcome today's statement and any proposals that reward the professionalism, experience and commitment of the great majority of teachers in our schools? Will he confirm that there is support for his proposals among trade unions, and would he contrast the opposition on the Conservative side of the House to strike action with the ambiguous attitude shown by Opposition Members?

Mr Clarke

Three trade unions are clearly campaigning for a review body to be established and I think that two others are near to that decision, so I confirm that there is obviously wide support among the teachers' trade unions as well as among hon. Members such as my hon. Friend for the proposition that we should move to a review body and away from strike action. I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend shares my confidence that this will raise morale among the profession in Taunton, and that is a good background for discussing the rather difficult problems of reorganisation in and around his constituency of which I and my colleagues are now seized.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Secretary of State aware that one of the basic freedoms of people who have to work for a living and are subject to exploitation is the right to withdraw labour at all times? In view of what the Government have had to say in the past about ballots, will he give a guarantee that every single member of the teaching unions will be given an opportunity to ballot for or against the proposal? Have we not come to a sorry state of affairs when a Government elected in 1979 based upon entrepreneurialism, the marketplace and the highest bidder and against incomes policies have now resorted to a big idea in education which means a wages policy for teachers?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman has the undoubted right in this country to persuade as many groups as he can to go on strike for whatever reason they wish, and he frequently exercises that right. I do not believe that in future he will persuade teachers to look again with any favour on strike action on pay terms and conditions because the great bulk of teachers will be attracted by what I have proposed. I have said that I am ready to meet leaders of the trade unions if they want to discuss my proposal. How the trade unions consult their own members is a matter for them. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should address himself to the activists in the National Union of Teachers, who I do not think are in a majority in the NUT, who might wish to carry forward the argument as he does.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

The skill and dedication that I see among teachers in the maintained sector in my constituency is light years away from the performance that we have heard from the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) today. Does my right hon. and learned Friend find it as depressing as I do that, at a time when we should be welcoming the fact that the Government have set up a review body which is not cash-limited and when the hon. Gentleman should have been thinking about the rights of children, he has only been able to proclaim the rights of strikers? Does not that say far more about the quality of the Labour party than relaunches of red roses?

Mr. Clarke

I say quite candidly to my hon. Friend that I am surprised that the official Opposition did not come out in support of the idea of a review body. I realise that it would have put the hon. Member for Blackburn in something of a spot, but the fact that he could not bring himself to support it I find genuinely surprising. I agree that to hear the hon. Gentleman getting back on to the old trail of demanding the right to strike for teachers will go down badly with teachers in my hon. Friend's constituency as I am sure it will across the country.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that, way back, I spent many years in negotiations and I welcome his statement today lifting the status of teachers out of the cauldron that we once were in. I am sure that all parents and all the many decent teachers in Britain will applaud this measure, which will lead to a professional status which will help to remove those elements in the teaching profession which came to the surface from the Cleveland contingent at the conference down on the south coast recently. We hope that the new pay review body will have a status so that no longer will we have such people in teaching and so that teachers can be rewarded properly for their efforts in their dedication to our children.

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments. I cannot help recalling that he and I have not always been in total agreement on industrial relations matters, so I am glad to hear that we are in agreement on today's proposal. Like him, I recall that, when Burnham was finally abolished, no one lamented its going, either from the trade union side or the employer side, and certainly not within the Government or among the general public. In the last 20 years of Burnham committee negotiations, a negotiated settlement was reached on only three occasions. It was a recipe for conflict. What we are proposing today is a recipe for harmony and greatly improved professional status for the teachers in our schools in the future.

Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich)

I welcome the commitment to a well qualified and well paid leaching force along with the establishment of an independent review body. I firmly believe that there is no better formula for improving education in Britain than raising the status of teachers and improving their pay. Does the Secretary of State envisage a move towards more decentralised levels of pay within the context of the new review body?

Mr. Clarke

It is obviously an advantage of being in a small party to be able to come to conclusions and to be in no way mealy-mouthed about support for the idea of a review body, and I am grateful for the hon. Lady's support. We already have a lot of flexibility and, as I have said, I hope that the review body will build on that. As a result of the IAC's recommendations, local authorities, governors and schoolteachers have a large number of incentive payments and discretionary scale payments to consider at local level.

I believe that it is right that the review body should set the right professional framework nationally and that there should then be the maximum flexibility to reflect local labour conditions, to deal with particular difficulties in recruitment in particular subjects, and to reward most particularly those teachers whose classroom performance is outstanding. All that is already there, and I hope that the review body will build on that basis.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Is the Secretary of State aware that already this afternoon six out of seven teachers' unions have said that they welcome the excellent reform that he has announced, and that some 400,000 teachers now belong to the main teaching unions which are rejecting the strike weapon? Will he particularly recognise the long-standing work of the Derby-based Professional Association of Teachers, which has long campaigned on the two principles that teachers are professionals and that the right to strike is absolutely wrong and is a weapon that should never be used in the classroom?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing me the good news of this rapid response, but it is of the order that I predicted. I certainly share her confidence that the Professional Association of Teachers, with its general secretary, Peter Dawson, which has its headquarters in Derby, will be wholeheartedly behind what we propose. Everything that we have said is in line with the views about the professional status of teachers to which those who join the PAT have always particularly committed themselves.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Is not the net effect of the Minister's statement to impose wage settlements on teachers? If teachers have this professional quality, are they not entitled to make a judgment about what is offered to them and to enter into genuine negotiations? Will he accept that teachers, like anybody else, only contemplate strike action as a means of last resort, like the nurses in the national health service who were pushed against their will to go on strike because it was the only alternative? The teachers have been often pushed into that position by the Government's attack on education but have declined to go on strike.

Can the Minister state unequivocally that that alternative will not be subject to any qualifications if, in the judgment of teachers, that is the point of last resort into which they have been pushed by an intransigent and anti-education Government?

Mr. Clarke

On the question of the Government imposing pay settlements, I remind the hon. Gentleman that in Committee the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said: We accept, in principle, that the Secretary of State should have the power to propose the final settlement."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 24 January 1991; c. 208.] As the Government face the fare and pay the bill, the Government have to have that power in the last resort.

I am saying today that we will determine teachers' pay in the light of the independent recommendations of the review body and depart from them only if there are clear and compelling reasons to the contrary. That is a method which has served other professions extremely well. I think that it will be attractive to teachers and, as I have already said, I think that it is far more attractive than the hon. Member for Blackburn's invocation once more of the right to strike.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that when he visits schools, as I do, the teachers make the point that the one thing that they want is that raising the status of teachers should be placed alongside the importance of teaching children? What my right hon. and learned Friend has done today is to give them the very thing that they want—respect from the public and, as a profession, the understanding of Government. In the light of that, will my right hon. Friend confirm that, contrary to what one would expect from listening objectively to the comments that have been made, the one thing that he is not doing is to remove the right of teachers to strike if they ultimately feel that that is the only thing left open to them in order to register a protest against the review body?

Mr. Clarke

First, I entirely share my hon. Friend's sentiments. The position that he outlines parallels my experience with the vast majority of teachers that I have met. Secondly, the Government have put forward the review body proposal and intend to proceed on the basis that teachers will not strike about pay, terms and conditions and other matters within the review body's remit. It is an important principle of review bodies that they advise the Government on the determination of pay of those key professions in the public services which do not take strike action against pupils, patients and so on.

If strike action were contemplated the situation might change, but I put forward this proposal in the confident expectation, which my hon. Friend shares, that teachers will now regard strike action against pupils as a thing of the past and will proceed to a much more sensible basis for determining the pay of a learned profession.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

No doubt the proposals will shortly apply to Northern Ireland. I welcome the clear recognition by the Government of the professionalism of teachers. However, as a former teacher I must tell the Secretary of State that sheer frustration with poor pay and conditions, increasing work loads, generally poor morale and low expectancy of promotion occasionally pushes teachers into taking industrial action. I hope that trade unions will take the opportunity to put to their members the fact that the independent review body should be an acceptable way forward. Teachers should be consulted and their views should be communicated to the Minister before a final decision is taken.

Mr. Clarke

I should make it clear that my statement refers to England and Wales and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has no present intention to proceed in this way. The situation in Northern Ireland on teachers' pay has always been somewhat detached from that in England and Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland also has no present intention to proceed in this way, but, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, he will no doubt observe the situation in England and keep his arrangements under review.

I propose to offer discussions to teachers' trade unions on the Government's proposal. We shall shortly introduce the Bill and will listen to the unions' views, but I expect that the unions will be driven on by the pressure of their members to accept this offer of professional status and a much improved method of determining their future pay.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Would hon. Members who are rising put brief questions and not repeat previous questions? If they do that, I shall do my best to get them all in.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the most union-minded teachers that I know—and I know thousands—including my former teaching colleague the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, have wanted such a pay review body for a long time? They will find fulfilment in my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement. Will he confirm that, as they move into line on pay bargaining with doctors, the judiciary and others, we can expect to see highly successful teachers properly paid in the same way as highly successful doctors and others who do no more than good teachers?

Mr. Clarke

As my hon. Friend says, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers has been campaigning for a review body, so presumably his union will welcome my announcement. The review body will be independent and I cannot anticipate its recommendations. It will be told to have regard to affordability and the other considerations that I mentioned.

In the past 10 years, during the lifetime of the Government, groups such as doctors and nurses who are covered by review bodies have received a bigger percentage increase in earnings than any other group of public sector workers. They have received a bigger percentage increase than the police or teachers and a much bigger increase than many other groups. That will not be discouraging news in terms of the general career expectations of teachers. Professional status and independent advice on pay levels will recognise the true worth of teachers in our society.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that his statement will be warmly welcomed in the London borough of Barnet, where schools regularly produce the best A-level results of any local authority. My right hon. and learned Friend spoke about the review body having reference to local labour markets. Can he assure us that the review body will look closely at high housing costs in the south-east and at the need to give special pay incentives to teachers of shortage subjects?

Mr. Clarke

I am sure that employers will offer the review body advice on that and on many other matters. It is an important matter in Barnet and over wide areas of the south-east. I hope that the review body will build upon the progress that the IAC has made in injecting much more flexibility into the pay offered by individual employers to teachers of shortage subjects or to teachers in places where high housing costs make it difficult to recruit.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be surprising if teachers did not warmly accept his proposals, because they will tend to do extremely well out of them? That is because I would be surprised if the review body did not recommend a considerable increase for teachers in order to meet the criteria that my right hon. and learned Friend spelled out —recruitment, retention, motivation and above all adequate calibre. Everyone knows that there is a problem about the calibre of teachers, and we are seeing its effects in spelling and reading and, most recently, in the scandalous case of Culloden school, which case I am glad to say my right hon. and learned Friend has taken up.

Mr. Clarke

I agree that we certainly need advice on the necessary levels of payment to recruit, retain and motivate people of the right quality in our teaching profession. I hope that the review body will adhere to that principle. I shall be enjoining sensible constraint on the review body when submitting evidence on behalf of the Government. I have repeatedly tried to do that when submitting evidence to review bodies advising on the pay of doctors, dentists, nurses and midwives.

We await the review body's judgment about what is a sensible and affordable level of settlement for next year. However, my hon. Friend may underestimate the power of persuasion of the hon. Member for Blackburn. Perhaps teachers will turn away from what my hon. Friend thinks is attractive and decide that the right to go on strike and to take action affecting their pupils is an important principle about which the Labour party will remind them and take them back to the old flags.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

Plainly, the Secretary of State is simply engaging in empty rhetoric about industrial action. It is clear from his answers that he is not imposing a precondition of no industrial action. Will he confirm that the Bill will contain no provision that teachers will not be able to take industrial action? If he confirms that he does not intend to remove from teachers the right to strike, it is clear that all he has said about industrial action is just empty rhetoric to please the right wing of the Conservative party.

Will he also tell us whether his Second Reading rhetoric about the need for flexibility on the part of individual local education authorities has now been dropped? All the arguments that made up most of his Second Reading speech were that individual authorities should have the right to bargain separately with trade unions. Will he confirm that he has now dropped that further piece of right-wing ideology?

Finally, the Secretary of State speaks about improving the status of teachers and their confidence in the Government. After this mess, teachers will have little confidence in the Government, because for six weeks in Committee and on Second Reading we were told by Ministers that this was the best way to make progress in improving teachers' pay and conditions. Ministers did not know what they were saying or were wrong or simply did not have confidence in their own views. Therefore, how can teachers have confidence in what Ministers say? It is a shambles and a mess, and it shows that the Government are simply not fit to govern.

Mr. Clarke

Here we are, half an hour later, and the official Opposition spokesman still cannot tell us whether the Labour party is in favour of a review body for teachers and does not answer questions about it. I advise the hon. Gentleman to go away and contemplate these matters and come back and give us a considered view.

Mr. Fatchett

The Secretary of State keeps going on about strike action.

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Members who go on and on and on about strike action are the hon. Members for Blackburn and for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), who are sitting together on the Opposition Front Bench, and two of their Back Benchers who over the past half-hour have made an issue of the right to industrial action.

The review body is being set up on the same basis as other review bodies, that those to whom they apply, in this case teachers, will not take strike action over pay, terms and conditions. That does not need to be in the Bill. If teachers accept the advice of the Labour party and insist on the right to take strike action over pay, we shall need to review the remit of the interim advisory committee. [Interruption.] Labour Front-Bench spokesmen will make a serious mistake if they advise teachers on such action. It would be a serious misjudgment to try to get teachers to support the right to strike and turn down a review body [Interruption.] Usually, I understand the barracking of the hon. Member for Blackburn, but he is confused today. Rather than ranting from a sedentary position, he should go away and decide whether he is in favour of or against a review body, and whether he thinks that teachers should insist on the right to strike or whether they should abandon that stance. I would then listen to more of the Opposition's hectoring.

I have already said that local education authorities will have a great deal of flexibility. We will not allow them, as a whole, to opt out of the review body system, because that would enable a few left-wing authorities under the influence of the Labour party to destabilise the system by returning to traditional methods of setting pay, which we do not want.

Grant-maintained schools will have the right to enter into their own arrangements, exactly as was proposed in our previous Bill. It has become obvious during recent months that the managerial level of grant-maintained schools is the right level to determine the details of pay and conditions, just as grant-maintained status is the right way to determine the overall policy of a school. That is where we will place the managerial discretion—which, surprisingly, the hon. Gentleman appears to favour. I invite him to go away and address the key policy issue and perhaps let me know tomorrow whether the Labour party is or is not in favour of a review body, and whether it supports strike action by teachers or whether, overnight, it might come to think that it is rather a bad idea.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

[...] I say to the hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) and for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti), who rose after I made my announcement, that they might try their luck at education questions on Tuesday.