HL Deb 13 May 1986 vol 474 cc1049-52

3.50 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 that is being given in another place on the interim settlement of the teachers' pay dispute. The Statement is as follows: "Last Friday, the Burnham Primary and Secondary Committee agreed to increase teachers' salaries in England and Wales from 1st April 1986 by 5.5 per cent. or £520, whichever is the greater. This agreement was reached following undertakings to the management panel from all the teacher associations represented on the teachers' panel. First, the entire teachers' panel has given an assurance that there will be a return to peace and calm in our schools immediately. Secondly, the entire teachers' panel notes and supports the ACAS talks and will co-operate in every respect. Thirdly, the teachers' panel agrees that the payment at 1st April 1986 is without prejudice to any subsequent consideration by Burnham in the light of progress in the ongoing talks embracing all the aspects being discussed under the aegis of ACAS.

"This settlement clears the way for constructive discussion and negotiation under the leadership of the panel appointed by ACAS. It does not prejudge the outcome of the ACAS process and it is to that exercise that teachers, employers and the Government must look for a satisfactory longer-term outcome to the complex issues raised by the recent dispute. I very much welcome the fact that the National Union of Teachers, which represents a substantial group of teachers in our schools, will now play a full part. We must all welcome the assurances now given about the immediate return to peace and calm in our schools.

"The ACAS-led negotiations are addressing a range of issues—pay levels and structures, teachers' duties, teacher appraisal and career development and future negotiating machinery. Clearly, no Secretary of State can commit government in advance to the outcome of such an exercise. But I do wish the talks well and hope that they can result in satisfactory resolution of the fundamental problems arising from the present pay structure, the lack of definition about teachers' professional obligations, and performance appraisal and career development. The Government will consider the conclusions carefully and fully when those are available."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that my colleagues and I on this side of the House welcome the settlement very warmly indeed? It arose from a meeting initiated by my colleague in another place, Mr. Giles Radice, between the NUT and the local authority representatives. We are grateful to him for his efforts. Does the noble Earl realise that this is only a beginning and that if the Government are to bring a lasting peace—a peace that we all want very badly—to our schools, they will have to find more money than the amount promised last year of £400 million a year for four years?

Will the Government ensure that the hints this weekend by Mr. John Biffen and Mr. Nigel Lawson that we need to spend more money on education are translated as quickly as possible into cash? Will the Minister also agree that all the innovations proposed by the Secretary of State, including appraisal, can only be achieved with the co-operation of teachers? Will he mark his determination to seek that co-operation by withdrawing Clause 37 of the Education Bill on appraisal with its implication of coercion if he cannot negotiate it freely?

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I should also like from these Benches to thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement. It is indeed welcome news that an interim settlement has been reached. It is particularly welcome that the National Union of Teachers has accepted it and will henceforth take part in the important discussions with ACAS. It is good also that an undertaking has been given that there will be no further disruption in schools while deliberations with ACAS are continuing. It looks, at last, as though there is light at the end of the tunnel in respect of a desperately damaging situation in our schools with the prospect of a solution being found perhaps by the end of the summer.

I should like to repeat the suggestion made by the noble Lord from the Labour Benches that the Government should consider withdrawing Clause 37 as a matter of diplomacy. One of the four working groups with ACAS is specifically preoccupied with the appraisal of teachers. It seems to me that it might be a diplomatic move to withdraw this proposal of reserve powers from the Secretary of State at this moment until the matter has been thoroughly discussed and agreement reached in the ACAS deliberations. That is all I wish to say. I thank the Minister again and welcome the good news.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am very grateful for the manner in which both the noble Lords, Lord Irving of Dartford and Lord Ritchie of Dundee, have received the Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Irving, asked whether the Government would make immediate extra finance available. I am afraid that they will not. Friday's settlement did not purport to satisfy the Government's conditions for extra resources. It was made clear to local authority employers in advance of last Friday's Burnham meeting that no extra resources would be made available by the Government at this time. Nonetheless, they chose to reach the settlement of last Friday. I am glad that the noble Lord pointed out that everything is much better done by co-operation. I can only echo that.

The noble Lord asked whether I would show a sign of goodwill by announcing immediately that we would withdraw Clause 37 of the Bill currently in progress through your Lordships' House. That was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee. As I made clear over and over again at Committee stage of the Bill, this was always supposed to be a long stop—a very long stop—in case agreement is not reached. These talks are going on. They will go on for some time. With the best will in the world, there is absolutely no guarantee that a satisfactory result will come out of it. I cannot therefore given an undertaking. This is, as I say, a long stop. We must try to have it in the Bill, arranged as a long stop.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, everyone will feel the general relief that must be felt thoughout the country, particularly by parents, at the ending of this dispute, even though someone with as suspicious a mind as I have may think that its timing and the collaboration of Mr. Radice are not wholly to be disregarded in their political effects. I should like to ask my noble friend a question relating particularly to his reply about further resources. Does not the whole history of this dispute show once again the illogicality of a system in which an important body of people—namely, the teachers—are employed by one lot of people, the local authorities, and, in the end, paid for by central government? Is it not time that this anomaly was removed and that the teaching force, as in all other European countries, became direct employees of the Government, who actually pay them?

The Earl of Swinton

No, my Lords, I am afraid that I cannot agree with my noble friend. The whole point is that the teachers are employed and paid for by the local authorities.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I have listened to what the noble Earl had to say regarding goodwill and give and take on both sides. Is he prepared to go back to his right honourable friend and ask him whether he would now be prepared to postpone the sitting of the GCE examination rather than rush it through at this stage?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, again, I cannot give that undertaking. I am of course aware that both the NUT and NAS/UWT regard the introduction of the GCSE as a separate matter from the pay dispute. In saying to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, that I am not prepared to go back to my right honourable friend and ask him to postpone this, I understand that my right honourable friend is very willing to receive from the teachers' organisations any further and detailed comments they may have about preparation for, and funding of, the GCSE. We stand ready to consider these matters further.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us will regard this amount which has been given, we assume as an interim arrangement, as a very meagre contribution to a great profession? Since we shall again be asked to consider the high increases to be awarded to judges, civil servants, admirals and various other persons of that kind, I hope that this is not going to be the end of the story and that there will be a real increase of some meaning to the teaching profession when these talks conclude.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I should not have thought that this was a mean settlement. It is a settlement that has been agreed by the teachers and their employers, as I understand it, unanimously. I think that everybody is fairly satisfied with it.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I hope that I was right in understanding the noble Earl to say that the Government would listen to representations from the local authority associations on adequate funding for the implementation of the GCSE. Will that include sufficient provision for the in-service training that will be necessary for that purpose?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, a lot of money is already going in. I think that the noble Lord got slightly muddled. I said that we would listen to the teachers on this, but of course we are also prepared to meet the local authority employers if they have any worries and concerns about it.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, will the noble Earl bear in mind that all the parties to this unhappy situation have a chance for a new start and that it would be very sad indeed if the Government, by failing to respond with some cash, were to set back the whole enterprise in a way that would be damaging to everybody—schools, children and parents?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I just cannot accept that. I have said that it was made quite clear to the local authority employers in advance of last Friday's Burnham meeting that no extra resources would be made available by the Government on this last occasion. They have made what the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has said is a mean offer. But they have put it forward and it is up to the local authorities to meet the cost of the settlement from within their budgets.