HC Deb 09 December 1991 vol 200 cc702-6 9.56 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Michael Fallon)

I beg to move, That the draft Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 (Continuation) Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 20th November, be approved. In each of the past two years, Parliament has approved continuation orders extending the life of the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987. Last year, an order was needed to ensure that the recommendations of the Interim Advisory Committee on School Teachers' Pay and Conditions in 1991–92 could be given effect. The IAC reported for the last time in January this year and, under the terms of the 1990 continuation order, the 1987 Act is due to expire on 31 March 1992.

During the debate one year ago, my hon. Friend the Minister of State assured the House that new arrangements for deciding teachers' pay would be in place by 31 March 1992, and so they are. The School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1991 received Royal Assent on 25 July. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has appointed the eight members of the schoolteachers' review body under the chairmanship of Sir Graham Day. On 20 September, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science asked the review body to submit its first report in January 1992, making recommendations on teachers' pay and conditions in the year commencing 1 April 1992.

There is, however, a need for a further continuation order, for entirely technical reasons. Before my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State makes the order giving statutory force to the 1992 schoolteachers' pay and conditions document, he is required under the 1991 Act to consult interested parties on the review body's recommendations on the Government's proposals for implementation. He has also agreed, following the practice adopted in previous years and as specifically requested by the employers and the teachers' unions, to consult the same interested parties on the details of the draft pay document giving effect to the Government's recommendations. We will, of course, move as quickly as possible, but it is most unlikely that my right hon. and learned Friend will be in a position to make the first pay and conditions order under the new Act immediately upon the expiry of the 1987 Act on 31 March 1992.

Until the first new pay and conditions order is made under the new Act, the 1987 Act needs to be kept in being for a very short time for a very specific and limited purpose—to ensure that all teachers continue to be covered by the existing pay and conditions order made under that Act. Section 6(3) of the 1987 Act provides for statutory conditions of service to continue to apply to existing contracts until new provision is made.

Teachers who enter with new contracts of employment after the Act expires will not, however, be covered. Therefore, we must ensure tonight that there is a smooth transition between the old and new pay and conditions orders and that the provisions of the 1991 pay document will continue to apply in the case of contracts of employment entered into after 31 March 1992, but before the new order giving effect to the 1992 pay and conditions document comes into force.

That is why we are obliged to take the House's time to seek approval for the final continuation order. I commend the order to the House to afford continued statutory protection to the very small number of teachers taking up new contracts of employment during any hiatus between the current date of expiry of the 1987 Act and the coming into force of the first pay and conditions order under the 1991 Act. The 1987 Act will finally be repealed alongside the making of the first pay and conditions order under the 1991 Act.

The continuation order has no bearing on arrangements for next year's pay settlement. The new schoolteachers review body is hard at work. It has received evidence from the teachers' associations, the employers and the Department of Education and Science, and has listened to the representations of all those bodies. As I have already explained, it will present its first report to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister around the end of January next year. That report will make recommendations on the pay increase to be given to schoolteachers next year, with particular regard to any modifications which might be introduced to the system of selective payments to increase the flexibility of employers in meeting the needs of recruitment and retention. It will also consider how the pay of schoolteachers might be more closely related to their performance, in line with the principles of the citizens charter.

The review body will recommend precisely as it sees fit. The Government for their part have given a firm commitment to implement the recommendations of the review body unless there are clear and compelling reasons to do otherwise. I am confident that the work of the review body will reinforce teachers' professionalism and raise still further the esteem in which society holds our teachers.

In the meantime, this order is required simply to ensure a smooth transition between the old and new statutory arrangements and to ensure that there are no gaps in the statutory provision for the pay and conditions of schoolteachers. As such, I commend it to the House.

10.2 pm

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

I thank the Minister for the way in which he introduced the debate and set out the technical reasons for the order. We shall certainly not oppose the order because, as the Minister rightly explained, it deals with a particular provision relating to new teachers and their contracts of employment. While we have had our differences with the Government about the interim advisory committee and the way in which it has worked, it might be worthwhile at this stage, in what might be our final debate on the work of the interim advisory committee, to thank its members for the work that they have done in the past few years. They may not always have turned up with what teachers would have wished, but I am sure that there has been a great acceptance of the way in which they have carried out a very difficult task. We wish those who worked on the interim advisory committee well and we look forward to the next phase in the determination of teachers' pay which is the work of the pay review body under the chairmanship of Sir Graham Day.

As the Minister knows, we had our disagreements on the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill and on the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions (No. 2) Bill last year. To get to the pay review body involved an interesting and long gestation period by Ministers. It would not be appropriate to go through the arguments again today, but I suspect that teachers will judge the effectiveness of the pay review body not by our arguments on the Floor of the House or in Committee last year, but merely by the way in which it delivers. We expressed our reservations about the conditions attached to the pay review body—both the preconditions and the ability of the Minister or the Secretary of State to interfere at a later date. We look forward with interest to what the pay review body will report in January. We note that the Government are asking that organisation to bear in mind an increase in line with inflation, and feel that that may well not be sufficient, but we await the outcome with interest.

I agree with the Minister that there is a need for a consultation process. It is almost unique to hear a Minister —particularly, perhaps, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science—talk about the need for consultation. It has not been a characteristic of the Department of Education and Science in the past few years —[interruption.] The Minister seems not to accept that, but if he talked to teachers about one or two recent arbitrary changes in education provision, he might well hear the view that there could have been more consultation. We welcome the promise of consultation on the report of the pay review body and hope that when that consultation takes place the Government will listen to the views expressed. It is no use having a one-way consultation process: the Government must listen.

We recognise the need for and the purpose of the order, and we shall not oppose it today.

10.7 pm

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I begin by echoing what the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) said about the interim advisory body. I have always felt a little uncomfortable about the interim stage. The Government cannot say that because, by definition, the Government have to be comfortable with everything, but it has not been a profitable period for teachers in terms of their pay.

It seems that it is impossible—or should be impossible —to discuss any aspect of teachers' pay, however technical, without relating it to the quality of teachers' performance and teaching methods. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State does not object, I should like to pay tribute to the Government's overall strategy. While the Government are rightly pursuing the pay review body, which I believe and certainly hope will result in a substantial rise in teachers' pay, they are simultaneously engaged—not before time—in asking serious questions about some of the methods used in our schools, most recently in primary schools.

I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will agree that there is a fundamental connection between teachers' pay—and the mechanics of it—the esteem in which teachers are held and the methods that they use. One of the main reasons why teachers have fallen in public esteem is that the public have lost confidence in teaching methods, which, in turn, seem to have lost contact with common sense as perceived by the man on the Clapham omnibus.

In supporting the order—one could scarcely do otherwise—I should like to stress that the way forward does not lie merely in improvements in teachers' pay, necessary though they are. The way forward must also lie in a two-track policy by which we continue to promote a public debate on some of the catastrophic failed philosophies of the past. Last week, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said that he was not going to tell teachers how to teach in primary schools or pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry that he had just announced. He then proceeded to make some characteristically common-sense comments which might seem to carping critics to pre-empt that inquiry, but who cares about that, provided his comments made good sense, which they did?

I commend the Government's handling of the pay review body and their general approach of marrying this policy, which will lead to higher pay for teachers, with a determined critique of the elements of teachers' performance which need to be discussed and openly and rigorously criticised.

10.9 pm

Mr. Fallon

This has been a brief but interesting debate. I thank those who took part in it, and I echo the gratitude that they expressed to the interim advisory committee as the end of its days draws nigh.

I was a little surprised to hear the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) looking forward to the review body's recommendations. We should not forget that his party voted against a review body. Even though tonight's debate has been reasonably even-tempered, we shall lose no opportunity when the time comes next year to remind teachers who supported a review body and who opposed it.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central suggested that we wanted the increase from the review body to be in line with inflation. That is not quite what we suggested, which was that it should have regard to affordability. The hon. Gentleman has read one too many union submissions to that body.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) must be right to say that pay should increasingly be linked to performance. That idea is in the Secretary of State's remit letter to the review body. I look forward to that beginning to apply to the teaching profession. It is long overdue and it will be warmly welcomed by senior and successful classroom teachers, who can look forward to seeing the additional efforts and successes that they have achieved in the classroom being properly rewarded in their pay structure.

In general, we look forward to the recommendations of the review body—

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be wrong for a local education authority to pay teachers and others to go around and interfere when a ballot has taken place for a school to opt for grant-maintained status? The headmaster of a school in my constituency, Alan Bentley, says that people claiming to represent the LEA are calling on parents and trying to persuade them against voting to give their school grant-maintained status. Is that not wholly wrong?

Mr. Fallon

That is an extraordinary allegation and it sounds a disgraceful state of affairs. If my hon. Friend will send me the details, I will have the matter investigated.

We are confident that the review body will do much to enhance the status and professionalism of the teaching profession. I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 (Continuation) Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 20th November, be approved.