HL Deb 04 July 1985 vol 465 cc1333-6

5.3 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to a Private Notice Question which is being given in another place on the teachers' dispute. The Statement is as follows:

"We are all surely very unhappy that this long dispute continues. I intensely want to see pupils receiving uninterrupted education, but the Government have wide economic obligations and are not willing to make extra resources available for teachers' pay unless those extra resources would be used to make progress towards our objectives for improving educational standards. That means improving promotion prospects and giving better rewards to good quality teachers. Last July, a year ago, I made plain my willingness to help progress in this area. On 21st May this year I made plain the Government's willingness to provide extra resources for teachers' pay next year for this purpose. I repeated that offer in meetings with the employers' associations on 24th June and 1st July and in a letter to the teachers on 2nd July. Both employers and teachers were well aware of the Government's position before yesterday's requisitioned meeting. They also know that I stand ready to join in discussions to make the progress which is so urgent and necessary, given the October deadline for decisions on the rate support grant settlement, if we are not again to miss the chance of reforming the pay structure".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Is the Secretary of State really going to be content to let this dispute go on by using his veto as he did yesterday? The 15 votes which his two DES representatives have on the Burnham Committee and those of the five Tory ACC councillors could prevent the continuation of discussion, which means that this dispute could run on into the Autumn. It is quite incredible that a Secretary of State for Education could be a party to this.

The committee was not seeking yesterday to improve the offer to the teachers but to put forward a statement of support for their case to form the basis of a joint approach to the Secretary of State in order for discussions to take place. The local authorities are in a very difficult position indeed, and it has been very difficult for them and for the teachers to approach the Secretary of State. Is the Secretary of State really not going to do anything to improve matters within the next week or so before the end of this term?

Lord Rochester

My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, for having repeated this Statement, even though because of the excitement following the last Division I am not sure that I altogether heard the earlier part of it. We on these Benches naturally deplore the continuing disruption in schools because of the adverse effect on the education of children. At the same time we regret the increasing disparity between the pay increases offered to teachers along with so many other public servants and settlements being reached in the private sector. What, beyond exhortation, are the Government going to do about this difference between the two sectors?

Of course we hope that agreement can be reached as to the criteria to be used and the procedures to be followed in determining teachers' pay. For my own part, I have no objection to the principle of performance assessment provided that it is done in an acceptably objective way. Nor do I object to the principle of differential payments for certain teachers, such as maths teachers, as recommended by your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology of which, for this purpose, I was privileged to be a member. But whatever the criteria to be used, is it not high time, if I may return to an old theme, that the Government took the initiative in seeking to ensure that where they are directly, or, as in this case, indirectly, the paymaster and negotiations result in a failure to agree, the issue should be resolved in a civilised manner by a single, independent standing body whose findings could be overturned only by resolutions to that effect passed by both Houses of Parliament? I have said this on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House and I make no apology for doing so again. Is not the alternative continuing disruption on the part of people who perceive themselves—in my opinion rightly—to be unfairly treated?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am very grateful for the brief way in which the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, received this Statement. I was a little surprised by what the noble Baroness said about the meetings which took place yesterday. The meeting was requisitioned by representatives of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. I am quite sure that they sincerely wish to make progress but my understanding is that the substantive issue addressed in the management panel was the sort of statement which might have been represented to my right honourable friend in the name of the committee.

The committee is made up of three groups; representatives of the teachers, representatives of the employers and representatives of the Department of Education and Science. I am sure the noble Baroness will understand that it would be an oddity for the Department of Education and Science representatives to make such representations to my right honourable friend. He would normally expect any joint approach to come from the teachers and employers. Such an approach need not be the subject of a written preamble agreed at a full formal session of Burnham.

Both sides know that my right honourable friend stands ready to meet them in groups or together. I must repeat that to say that there is a stalemate is not the case. My right honourable friend is willing to meet the teachers' representatives any time. I do not know why the noble Baroness says that this is so difficult. Indeed, he was ready to do so in May when the teachers declined, and he remains ready now.

I think that the idea that there was a veto, as the noble Baroness said, is just not true. The DES representatives have not exercised a veto. As far as I understand the position, what was under discussion in the Burnham management panel was not a figure but a set of words without a figure. The press seems to imagine there was more substantive discussion. All I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, is that there is an offer for the teachers to go to arbitration, which surely is a fair way of deciding these matters, and they have turned it down.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his words and I am very glad to hear that the Secretary of State is willing to see the members of the panel, the local authorities or the teachers, either alone or together. I very much hope that that will happen. However, I understand that the DES did use its votes yesterday. The DES representatives used their 15 votes with five Tory members of the ACC and they were able to defeat the others by one vote.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, on one point I entirely agree with the noble Baroness: that is, I hope the teachers will now decide to see my right honourable friend; and he is very willing to see them.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the teachers have given any reason either for their unwillingness to have discussions with the Secretary of State or to go to arbitration?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I think their reasons are fairly well known. The teachers have put in a pay claim for 12 per cent., which they are now trying to achieve. Also, they are not willing to talk about conditions of service, which is one of the bases of discussion on which my right honourable friend wants to talk to them.

Baroness David

My Lords, is it not the case that it is not much use going to arbitration when the Secretary of State said beforehand that he is not going to put any more money on the table to honour the decision which might be made?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I was replying to what the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said about the teachers going to a body of people who were not involved, and surely that must be an arbitrator.