HL Deb 17 April 1991 vol 527 cc1519-29

5.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows: The Government have been reconsidering the best approach to settling 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, and progress in implementing the education reforms. As I made clear when I was appointed to my present office, my concern is that we should have a well-qualified and well-paid teaching force, dedicated to serving the needs of pupils. My right honourable friend 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. Mr. Speaker, 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. Teachers have worked with great professional commitment on the implementation of the 1988 reforms. The recommendations of the Interim Advisory Committee, culminating in their 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 acknowledgment of the professional status of teachers, and our offer to them of the review body status reserved to certain key non-striking professions. Mr. Speaker, 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 its 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 which 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 pay and conditions Bill. The body will not be subject to a pre-determined 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 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 wholehearted co-operation with these new arrangements as an essential element in that process. My Lords, that concludes the statement.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, what is surprising about the Statement that we have just heard is that it offers absolutely no explanation why the Government are withdrawing a Bill and producing a totally new approach. So far as I am aware, there has been no consultation either by the local authorities or the teachers' unions on this. It was only on 27th November of last year that the Secretary of State for Education in a Second Reading of the teachers' pay Bill in another place said that the Government were totally committed to the Bill that they are now withdrawing. Why are we now seeing this U-turn?

Perhaps I may quote from the Secretary of State's speech on that occasion. He said among other things that the Government's decision was to restore teachers' negotiating rights. He said that the Bill provides for direct national negotiations between employers and unions. At the end of his speech he said: I do not believe that we shall embark on a fresh review of pay arrangements, when the Bill contains excellent arrangements that should be enacted and put into force".— [Official Report, Commons, 27/11/90; col. 749.] In the circumstances, is it not rather surprising that we are suddenly confronted with a Statement which will produce completely different arrangements?

In another place, the Opposition supported the Bill although of course they put down reasoned amendments. Why has so much valuable parliamentary time been wasted on processing a Bill through Parliament? Fortunately in this House we have not wasted time because the Bill has not reached us. But can that be regarded as good government? I admit that the time that has been wasted and that the costs involved in producing the Bill and in discussing it in another place are small compared with those associated with the poll tax and with the subsequent revisions to it. But it does not seem to me to be good government and good decision making to have such U-turns.

The central issue in relation to teachers' pay is resources. We have underfunded teachers' pay now for a very long time. Although teachers had a relatively good settlement this year, they have fallen behind many other groups. As a result, there are serious shortages of teachers in a number of subjects. Every prediction that has been made in recent months suggests that that will become worse.

The Government now say in the Statement that, pay should be such as to recruit, retain and motivate sufficient staff". Of course it should. However, the Government have had every opportunity over the past 12 years to produce pay that is sufficient to recruit, motivate and train sufficient staff, but they failed. The huge wastage, with large numbers of teachers leaving the profession —very often after only a few years—is a measure of that failure.

On this side of the House we share the Government's view on the importance of teachers' professionalism and on the need to raise their esteem. We are very glad of and welcome the fact that the Government wish to reinforce the professionalism of teachers. However, I regret to say that in the past 12 years it seems to us that a great deal has been done to undermine that very professionalism. The over-prescriptive nature of the national curriculum is a good example.

Perhaps I may ask two or three specific questions. The Statement makes very little reference to exactly what the ambit of the review body should be. There is no information whatsoever provided on the composition of the review body. How will people be appointed? Who will be appointed? Perhaps the Minister will say something about those key and important considerations. We shall wish to scrutinise the Bill carefully in respect of these issues.

Why is it that grant-maintained schools will be able to make their own arrangements? Public money is involved in supporting grant-maintained schools on both the capital and the recurrent side. There appears to be no reason why they should be treated differently from schools elsewhere in the system. Is there to be collective bargaining for them but not for teachers working in the maintained schools run by the local authorities?

Will the Minister describe the position in Scotland about which, regretfully, I am unclear? In paragraph 5 of the Statement are the Government saying that it will be illegal for teachers to strike? That appears to be implied. What will the Government do if teachers do not accept that there are no circumstances in which industrial action is justified? The proposals now put forward appear to rest on the teachers' acceptance of that. However, it is not necessarily the case that they will accept such a dramatic change in their position.

In my view the Opposition spokesman on education in another place, Mr. Jack Straw, rightly took the lead in condemning the frivolous and unjustified proposals for industrial action put forward in teachers' conferences at Easter. I share his views on the matter. However, that is different from saying that there are no foreseeable circumstances in which industrial action may be justified.

Are we here discussing teachers' pay and how it should be determined or are we merely discussing yet another way of getting round the poll lax debacle? We appear to be abolishing teachers' negotiating rights which were to be maintained in the Bill that the Government are abandoning. Is it justifiable to scrap without consultation the right to collective bargaining with employers of a major profession for no reason other than a wish to reduce the role of local government? The Statement indicates that teachers are not government employees and that their pay is not directly financed from the Exchequer. That is the current position but will it remain so? Is the Statement a precursor to new arrangements that will take teachers' pay out of local government expenditure and transfer it to central government expenditure?

The Statement is unsatisfactory in providing no reasoned arguments. Its proposals involve an amazing U-turn on the Government's previous position. It is also unsatisfactory in leaving so many initial questions unanswered.

5.53 p.m.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. For some time we suspected that there would be such a Statement. There was an inordinate delay between the Committee and Report stages of the Bill in another place and earlier the Government gave the unconvincing reason that that was due to pressure of other parliamentary business.

In commenting on the interim arrangements made in 1987 for determining teachers' pay the Secretary of State said on Second Reading of the Bill last November that following: prolonged and careful consultations with all the interested parties"—[Official Report, Commons, 27/11/90; col. 743.] it was time to put more permanent machinery into place. So much for the Government's idea of permanence. That Bill provided for direct national negotiations between employers —that is local authorities—and trade unions subject to certain stringent conditions. My party supported the concept of national negotiations. However, this afternoon we have been told that the pay and conditions of teachers are to be determined in a completely different way by means of a review body. The most disturbing effect of what has happened—or what has not happened—during the past few months is the damage that the Government's indecision must have caused to the morale of teachers.

There must now be a new Bill. We shall determine our attitude to that Bill when we have it before us. In the meantime, I shall content myself by asking a few questions. Will there be any consultation with representatives of employers and the teacher unions before the legislation is drafted? Clearly, there was none prior to the making of this Statement. We have been told that the Government's proposals are made on the basis that teachers will not in future take industrial action about matters within the review body's ambit. I share that hope and expectation. Will the Minister confirm what I feel sure is the case: that the Government have no intention of statutorily denying teachers the ability to take industrial action?

The Statement indicates the Government's intention is to secure Royal Assent for the Bill in time for next year's settlement to be determined by the new body. Can the Minister give the House a clearer indication of when the Bill will be introduced? It is said that the review body will take evidence from all the parties concerned including the teacher unions. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in asking when we shall hear how the review body is to be constituted. In particular, can we be assured that its members will include people with practical experience of teaching?

5.57 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, for their response to the Statement. I shall try to deal with their questions as briefly as possible. Teachers have clearly demonstrated their professional commitment by the way that they have tackled the major education reforms. It is also true to say that circumstances have changed.

Only a year ago some teachers were placing far too much emphasis on their ability to take industrial action to allow my right honourable friend's predecessor to adopt this option. A significant number of teachers have always favoured a review body; indeed, three of the teacher unions have campaigned for such a body. The Prime Minister has also made plain his commitment to seeing teachers treated in a way which recognises and strengthens their professional status. He and my right honourable friend believe that the proposals announced today are the best way of achieving that. The latest report of the interim advisory committee also confirms the professional commitment with which teachers have approached the implementation of the education reforms. Neither teachers nor the public wish to return to industrial action which affects the education of the children. That has done a great deal of damage to the professionalism of teachers.

The noble Baroness referred to the underfunding of teachers' pay. I refute that statement absolutely. Under this Government teachers' pay has risen in real terms by 30 per cent. That compares with only 6 per cent. under the party of which the noble Baroness is a member. The average pay of a primary school teacher is now £18,300, and that of a secondary school teacher is £20,000. The spine for head and deputy teachers rises to just below £47,000. This Government does not need to be apologetic—

Lord Parry

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Does she realise that that statement causes a great deal of grief and misery in staff rooms because a great number of teachers do not receive anywhere near that amount of money?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I understand that under the new flexible arrangements where extra pay is awarded for good teaching, which is a new departure from the old system, many more teachers reach the average. However, this is not meant to denigrate teachers. It is meant to refute the wholly inaccurate statement constantly made across the Floor of the House that this Government's record on pay is bad. This Government's record on pay compares very favourably with the record of any government who have gone before.

Reference was made to grant-maintained schools being treated differently. Those schools which have achieved that status have chosen democratically to opt away from being run by local education authorities or centrally from government. They have opted to cope with pay in their own way. Under this legislation they will be party to these arrangements unless they positively opt away from them. It is our view that many GM schools may opt to remain within the system.

The appointments to the review body will be made, as are all review body appointments, by the Prime Minister. I can give an assurance to both the noble Lord. Lord Rochester, and the noble Baroness that it will not be illegal for teachers to take industrial action. We believe that this method of determining pay will appeal to the professionalism of teachers. There has been a very good record on this by the medical profession and we expect that the teachers will respond very professionally. However, it is not for me today to spell out in detail the Government's reaction to what they will do if teachers respond negatively to the proposals.

I was asked also about the situation in Scotland. Teachers' pay and conditions in Scotland are a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. There is already established a permanent pay machinery in Scotland. I understand that my right honourable friend has no immediate plans to change that.

I was asked also about whether this is a paving provision to get round the community charge. The Government's record on meeting review body recommendations is exemplary. Other than as regards phasing rather than meeting in full the recommendations, the only recommendation which has not been accepted in full was that put forward by the Top Salary Review Body. I am not sure that the noble Baroness would be entirely unsympathetic to the Government's view on that.

As regards moving pay to central government, this is not a paving measure for that. This is a decision made on its merits. As I say, this is a decision which the Prime Minister believes represents the best way of recognising and strengthening the professional status of teachers. It is our view and hope that teachers will respond in a professional way to these proposals.

6.3 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us are delighted that the Government have had second thoughts as to the proper way of dealing with teachers' salaries? Is she also aware that many of us were very unhappy with the old system, which apparently some noble Lords would wish to revive, of negotiation by trade unions, backed by threats of industrial action? That has always seemed to me to be quite inappropriate for members of a profession with very high responsibilities towards young people and the community as a whole.

Is my noble friend aware that putting the teaching profession in the same broad position as other professions seems to make very good sense? I hope that this measure will soon take effect.

As regards industrial action, I share my noble friend's hope that under this system industrial action by teachers, which imposes hardship and loss on the children, will not be seen to be acceptable by that profession. By treating teachers as a profession, which this measure does, it will become apparent to all concerned that industrial action is entirely inappropriate, undignified and unworthy of a profession with such high responsibilities. Is she aware that we shall welcome the Bill, and the sooner it completes its passage the better?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. They echo all that my right honourable friend would wish to say. Many of us have very painful memories of the days of the Burnham Committee and the constant, almost annual ritual of either threat or actual strike action against our young people. Even threat of action was exceedingly disruptive to our young people. Therefore, we wish to see an end to that. We pay tribute to the interim advisory body, which appears to have established an equilibrium. We now wish to take that one stage further because we believe the atmosphere is right.

We have made it clear that these proposals are made on the basis that teachers fully recognise and accept their professional responsibilities and will not take industrial action about matters within the ambit of the review body. We fully accept that teachers will respond positively to that.

My noble friend reminded me that I was remiss in not referring to the timetable, which was a question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. I am not able to be specific except to say that it will be as soon as is practicable, and it is intended to have the Act in place so that next year's pay round can be fully dealt with.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for the fact that I was not in the House at the beginning of the Statement. I declare an interest to the House because I am an honorary life member of the National Union of Teachers. We are riot half as bad as the noble Lord thinks. I should be very proud to be a member of the teaching profession entrusted with the children of total strangers. We do not know how fortunate we are in this country to have thousands of men and women who, although they felt humiliated because they were not allowed to negotiate their own salaries, nevertheless have given of their utmost to the younger generation.

I could not help smiling a little at the noble Lord who sits to my left—only physically—when he reminded us that teaching is a profession. If one touches upon the interests of the doctors, one sees how they react. In this House the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has cause to know how the lawyers behave when they believe their interests are affected. They utter threats and make a great deal of noise. The teachers are a very gentle body compared with others who have longer experience of negotiating.

I was so pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, who reminded the House that there is a background to this. I wish the Government well in gaining good will because unless there is a happy and contented teaching profession, the country suffers. Therefore, I wish the Government well with all my heart in seeking good will.

However, it must be remembered that the dignity of the profession has been trampled on. From time to time—and not regularly because I like a life of peace —I go to the conferences of the National Union of Teachers. I know good people who have felt in their bones that the Government were wrong to take from them the Burnham Committee. Therefore, when it comes to considering the review body, I hope that the Government will take exceptional measures to ensure the utmost consultation with each of the teachers' unions.

Over 40 years ago I served for some years on the executive of the National Union of Teachers; I was also a member of the Burnham Committee. It seemed to work all right in those days. We never had enough but who expects any union in the world to say, "Yes, we have enough, thank you". No such union exists. It is no good being critical of teachers because they do not say that.

I hope that the noble Baroness who carries responsibility in this House for education will realise when she meets the teachers, as I trust she will, along with the Secretary of State that there is no ill will felt towards the progress of the education service. However, we must restore to that noble profession the feeling that they are honoured and respected, and that they enjoy the elementary human right of having a voice in what they should be paid for their labours.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my admiration for the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, knows no bounds. If only all members of the National Union of Teachers were like the noble Viscount we might have seen a rather different outcome to this matter.

I totally agree with him that unless we carry teachers with us and recognise the professional commitment of teachers we shall not succeed and will not serve our children well. Where I take issue with him is that I have the most painful memories of the way in which the Burnham Committee worked. It is true that over the 20 years to 1986 collective bargaining, which included negotiating through the Burnham Committee, produced only three negotiated settlements for teachers. The conflict which represented all the other 17 years caused mayhem. Although it was a minority, some of the teachers within some teaching unions—including the NUT—did more damage to the professionalism of teachers than almost anybody else. Therefore, I believe that this is a way forward.

Teachers are professionals. They should see themselves as professionals and be treated as such. These proposals offer them a status which is reserved for non-striking professions.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, are not these proposals in the Statement in clear contravention of the United Nations international labour organisation on human rights provisions to which the Government of this country are a signatory? If the Minister believes that is not the case, will she say why not?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, they are not in conflict with the ILO. The review body approach to determining the pay of professional people in public service is well established in this country. I see no reason why its application to teachers should give the ILO any difficulty. The ILO conditions are not binding. We are recognising the full worth and professional commitment of teachers. The ILO should have no difficulty in recognising that through this new machinery.

Baroness David

My Lords, perhaps I could discover whether I rightly understood the Minister in her reply to my noble friend. I believe that she said that the Statement is not a paver to taking money out of local government to be put in to central government; that it is not a way or a precursor of teachers' pay being taken from local government and put within the orbit of central government. I asked about that in the debate on local government finance not long ago, when I also asked about the teachers' pay Bill. The noble Baroness wrote to me later saying that it was merely postponed, and we understand that. I should like to make sure that there is no question of teachers' pay being taken from local government and put within central government.

While on my feet I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that the Labour Party was not in favour of returning to the Burnham Committee.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I say again that this decision has been taken on its merits. It is not connected, not related and is not a paver for switching from local to national taxation. A switch from local taxation has just been made. The definitive statement on that is that the split between national moneys provided for local services and local taxation to be raised is around 14 per cent. local taxation to 86 per cent. national provision. In terms of the new arrangements, that has been established. However, the two decisions are not connected.

Baroness David

My Lords, have the local authorities been informed? I take it that there were no consultations beforehand. Have they been informed or will they have to read Hansard tomorrow to find out what happened?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Statement will be a new statement to the local authorities. They will be informed simultaneously with the announcement of the Statement. However, within the course of consultations on a way forward for new pay machinery for teachers we have heard the views of the teaching professions, the local authorities and indeed the Opposition Benches about the status of a review body.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give us one small piece of information regarding the timetable? Is it envisaged that the Bill will go through the House immediately and before the declaration of the next general election? That is not a frivolous question; it is important. For those of us who spent many years within the teaching profession one of the happiest developments over the past few weeks is that the major parties of Britain have at last, thankfully, put education at the top of the agenda for consideration by the parents of Great Britain at the next election.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am not able to say definitively whether the provisions will be in place before the next general election. However, it is the intention of this Government to see that the measure is in place in time to settle next year's pay award. Perhaps I could bounce the question back to the Opposition Benches. Should there be a general election and should, heaven forbid, they come to office, will they support these measures?

Lord Rochester

My Lords, the noble Baroness answered a number of questions but did not answer one which I asked; namely, in the apparent absence of consultation with employers and union representatives before the Statement was made, will there be such consultation before the legislation is drafted?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, this is a firm commitment to a Bill that will be processing through the House as soon as possible. The straight answer to the noble Lord's question is no. However, there will be consultation regarding the implementation of the legislation. There will need to be a higher degree of co-operation for the Bill to become an Act.

Lord Peston

My Lords, perhaps I could help the noble Baroness. Obviously we cannot say whether or not we support the Statement. One of our difficulties is that there is not much to support. However, if it is of interest to her, many of us on this side of the House were interested in review bodies in this field. The trouble is that we were persuaded by the Government, who put it as forcefully as they could, that the earlier measure that they abandoned was probably a better way forward.

I hope I do not sound cynical if I inquire of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, whether we may assume that if the Government had stuck to their Bill he would have opposed it; that he would have voted against it so forcefully in accordance with what he said. At this stage we cannot go further than query what is happening. That is what we have tried to do, and I hope the noble Baroness realises that. When we learn the details I ask her to recognise that we shall scrutinise them in our normally cogent but obviously fair way.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am flattered that I managed to persuade the noble Lord. If I persuaded him so easily on the last Bill perhaps I could use my skills to persuade him on this one.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the noble Lord puts a question to me. I only say that as he refused to answer a substantive question he will not expect me to answer a hypothetical one.