HL Deb 06 December 1990 vol 524 cc335-40

7.4 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th November be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Section 6 of the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 provided that the Act would expire on 31st March 1990 unless continued in force for a further year by order laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House. Last year Parliament approved such an order. This extended the life of the Act until 31st March 1991. The order now before the House, which is also made under Section 6 of the Act, provides for the Act to continue in force for a further year, until 31st March 1992. This is necesary to enable my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science in due course to give effect to the teachers' pay settlement for 1991–92, following the report of the interim advisory committee on school teachers' pay and conditions and consultation on its recommendations.

Because of the consultations which have to be undertaken after the committee reports, the order to give effect to the Government's decisions on its recommendations cannot be made before May at the earliest. So if the life of the Act is not extended in the way proposed it will not be possible to deal with the 1991–92 pay settlement.

I should explain the background to this order. On 12th December last year my noble friend Lord Davidson, in moving the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 (Continuation) Order 1989, explained that an extension by one year of the arrangements whereby teachers' pay and conditions were determined by the Secretary of State on the advice of the interim advisory committee was necessary because of the continuing and fundamental differences of views between the relevant parties as to the nature of the permanent arrangements that should be put in place. But he also reported on the discussions which were taking place on the basis of three new options outlined by the then Secretary of State. He confirmed that it was the Government's aim to bring forward legislation to establish new permanent machinery in the next Session of Parliament.

That is precisely what the Government have done. The School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill received its Second Reading in another place on 27th November. Your Lordships will have a full opportunity to discuss the provisions of the Bill in due course. When my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State announced the Government's proposals for new machinery on 26th April this year, he invited the local authority employers and the teacher unions to comment on how best to handle the 1991–92 pay settlement. He noted that the three broad options appeared to be: to deal with the settlement in the new machinery, retrospectively if necessary, once it had been put in place; to run the new machinery on a voluntary, shadow basis in anticipation of the passage of legislation; or to ask the interim advisory committee once more to make recommendations.

A number of different responses were received. There was no support for the option of dealing with the settlement retrospectively once the new arrangements were in place. But nor was there sufficient agreement about the desirability of running the new machinery on a shadow basis. My right honourable friend the then Secretary of State therefore announced on 23rd July that he would seek the approval of Parliament to extend the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act for a further and final year, and to invite the IAC to make recommendations for a settlement to cover the year April 1991 to March 1992. The decision has been welcomed by many of the parties concerned.

The committee has been asked to report by 18th January. It is now well into its stride. In previous reports it has recommended far-reaching improvements to the teachers' pay structure. The committee has this year been asked, in particular, to consider what further modifications should be made to the system of selective payments to increase flexibility and to improve recruitment and retention.

This time next year the employers and the teacher unions should be hard at work negotiating the 1992–93 pay settlement. 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 31st March 1991 so as to pay teachers an increase next year. I commend it to the House and ask that the order be approved.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th November be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee]. —(Lord Cavendish of Furness.)

Lord Peston

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his very full and clear statement, which I found interesting, particularly in the sense that he clarified the problem that confronts us in what we hope is the last year for having a Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act continuation order. I shall not delay your Lordships by dwelling on the unhappiness that we have experienced for several years during which teachers have not been free to negotiate in the normal way. We have not been happy about their loss of negotiating rights. Indeed, we have always been concerned about the legality of that situation within the European framework.

I am willing to let bygones be bygones. This is the last year of the order. We look forward to the new Bill. I am willing to draw a line under the past. We shall approach the new Bill in a proper spirit of reform, hoping that it will provide a proper negotiating procedure.

I cannot refrain from pointing out that one idea that has been put forward as much by members of the political party opposite as by members on this side, is that, as we come to reform or abolish the poll tax, that situation might be dealt with by changing the system of meeting the costs of education, not least of which would be teachers' pay. There will be much to consider in the coming year. I look forward to what we may do in the future rather than repeating the criticisms of the past.

There is a final matter that we should reflect upon. We all accept that teachers are central if any of the education reforms that we have in mind are to succeed. There is not a lot that governments or opposition spokesmen can do in education: what teachers do, because they are not very different from the rest of us as ordinary people, to some extent depends upon how well they are paid in real terms. Therefore, I am bound to ask whether there is anything that the noble Lord can say at this stage about the likely path of real wages for teachers.

There is a related matter which is not unconnected with local government finance. Whatever award is made—and I hope that it will be a generous award—to encourage teachers to respond as positively as they can to the extra demands made upon them, one has to ask who will meet that cost. Is it to be expected that central Government will find a way of meeting more of the cost and taking some of the burden away from local authorities?

The past four years have been a most unhappy time as regards the approach to teachers' pay. I look forward to a new spirit in approaching the matter. We shall do the best we can by looking at the Bill and hoping to amend it in a way that will be satisfactory to all concerned.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for the clear way in which he presented the reasons for the order. The Act which the order seeks to extend was due to last for three years at the most and in fact has lasted for five years. A temporary arrangement which lasts for that long seems to be a permanent definition of temporary. However, there is now light at the end of the tunnel since the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill is now in progress through Parliament, with the prospect of proper new arrangements for teachers in 1992. I join the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in the spirit of the hope that springs eternal. We on these Benches shall not oppose the order.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, quite obviously we must approve the draft order. However, we should never have been required to deal with an order of this kind at this time. In 1987 some noble Lords wanted to shorten the limit of time allowed to replace the ad hoc arrangements by more normal and satisfactory machinery. We thought that two years was long enough, but it seems that it was not.

When we come to consider the new Bill we can reasonably ask what everybody has been doing in the past three years to produce a scheme of more normal relationships in discussing pay and conditions.

I too should like to look forward. I have a good deal of past to look at as well. It is 16 years since I urged the teachers and the Government to get their act in order. There is an unhappy relationship and rivalry between the teacher organisations. They are divided by their history in some cases. Their trade union structure is an inheritance. Names have been changed but fundamental differences remain. It is a great pity. The other side of the problem is that there are always two employers. How does one get normal machinery—for example, on the model of the civil service —when there is a disconnected assortment of staff unions and twin monsters as employers? During one of the past disputes, one employer criticised the other employer and sided with the staff against the government, which held a different view.

What worries me is that there is no sign that the deep difficulties in regard to the machinery will be overcome. What is contained in the draft order is virtually to be written into the Bill in the event of failure of the new negotiation machinery to reach agreement. All those matters will have to be discussed when we see the Bill. It has started its progress in a standing committee in the House of Commons and we shall have to see what its final shape will be. We may still have many difficulties to face. I should like to see some signs of this new spirit, which I believe may be coming. It will greatly help the situation.

I firmly believe that the funding of our education service will have to be reviewed in connection with any other far-reaching investigation into the structure and funding of local authorities. The cost of education is the largest single item in the poll tax and it is likely to grow. Where is all the money to come to give teachers the new status to which the Prime Minister referred?

I realise that some of those issues are beyond the scope of the present debate, but this is a curtain-raiser to what is to follow. I hope that the Government and the unions will attach considerable importance to the proceedings on the Bill. I do not think that it would be fair for both sides to come back to Parliament to consider changes in the method of dealing with staff pay and conditions if the same old structure that led to the breakdown during the Burnham Committee's tenure of office remained in existence. It is a sad story. To one who was present at the beginnings of the Whitley Council system in the civil service from 1919 onwards seeing the contrast between what was done in the civil service for a much larger and a much more varied workforce than the teachers, emphasises how deplorable has been the set-up in the teaching profession. The fundamental defects exist now. I can only hope that we shall see some hope in the new Bill.

I have strayed beyond the bounds of the order but I cannot keep out of a debate on teachers' pay, however short it may be, nor can I get rid of the disappointments which have clouded my outlook in relation to the field of education over the past 16 years.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, this has been a brief debate and perhaps it is the better for that. I should like to thank the noble Lords who have taken part, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Holme of Cheltenham, for refraining from getting involved in the Bill. It is helpful at this stage not to discuss the Bill which will shortly be before us.

I have noted the various comments made by your Lordships and I shall draw them to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

As I made clear in my opening remarks, this is the last occasion on which the Government will be asking the House to approve an extension of the 1987 Act. Legislation now being considered in another place will replace the interim advisory committee with new permanent machinery for negotiating teachers' pay and conditions. I believe that the proposals mark a significant step forward in restoring teachers' status and morale. I hope that they will be welcomed by the House when we have an opportunity to debate them in due course.

We should not forget, and I acknowledge, the admirable job which the IAC has done since 1987. It has produced three excellent reports which the Government have warmly welcomed and implemented in full. I have no doubt that the report which is due to be presented to my right honourable friend next month will be of an equally high standard.

It is a fundamental belief of the Government that flexible pay systems which allow the targeting of resources where they are most needed are the most effective way of tackling any local recruitment and retention difficulties. The teachers' pay structure should also be flexible enough to enable LEAs and governing bodies to reward good teachers and those who take on additional responsibilities. That is why the Government put in place the incentive allowance system in 1987 and that is why we have welcomed successive reports from the IAC which have built on that base and further extended local flexibility each year.

I turn to the points raised by your Lordships. All noble Lords talked of the damaging effect of the delay in bringing forward legislation. In the spirit that has dominated this short debate I do not attribute blame. However, I tried to touch on the reasons for the failure to achieve a consensus which contributed to the delay.

It is said widely that teachers' pay has fallen behind during the lifetime of this Government and there is talk of differentials. However, the fact remains that since 1979 teachers' pay has risen on average by some 30 per cent. in real terms. It is considerably higher in real terms than it was immediately following the 1974 review presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. In cash terms, since 1986 it has risen by more than 50 per cent.

We look forward to the legislation arriving in this House. In the meantime, the order is needed to ensure that teachers receive a pay rise next year.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.22 to 8 p.m.]