HL Deb 12 July 1999 vol 604 cc9-10

3.2 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the Bett Committee report which has recommended substantial pay increases for academic and academic-related staff in United Kingdom universities.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, the independent review of higher education pay and conditions, the Bett Committee, was established by, and reported to, the higher education employers. It will be for them to respond to its recommendations.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does the noble Baroness accept that over the past few years the salaries of this group of staff in universities have fallen by some 30 per cent in real terms compared with those of other professional groups? Does she agree that in order to recruit and retain high quality staff it is crucial to the future of the higher education sector that remuneration should be adequate? Would she care to comment upon the effect of professional interrelationships which may have resulted from the recent decision of the Wellcome Trust to give a 30 per cent salary increase to research scientific staff working in the universities?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the figures cited by the noble Lord are not those that I have been given. The new earnings survey data show that between 1981 and 1998 university teachers' pay grew by about 18 per cent in real terms. I accept that compared with comparable groups the figure does not indicate a very satisfactory position for university teachers. Over the same period, the pay of a comparable group of non-manual workers rose by about 46 per cent.

It is important that remuneration should be adequate for any group. The Wellcome Trust made a decision to give its very senior research fellows a large pay increase. That is a matter for the trust. However, I must reiterate what I said in my initial reply. It is a matter for the employers, the universities, to decide what they pay their academic staff, and indeed the other staff who work in universities.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the Minister agree that something must be done as regards academic staff pay? The staff have been vilely treated over the past 20 years. It is more important that any action should be undertaken quickly. If the Government have plans for another vast expansion of higher education, they cannot be carried out unless staff are reasonably remunerated. Even then, it is questionable whether those plans should be carried out.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am sympathetic to the position of university staff. I should correct what the noble Lord said about plans for a vast expansion of undergraduate degree level and postgraduate courses. The Government have not made any decisions about that. The Bett Committee recognised that there was no funding in the CSR for substantial increases. When we consider the next CSR it will be a matter for further discussion on whether such funding should be made specifically available.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I was bemused by the Minister's last answer. I understood that the Government intended firmly to expand yet further access to higher education. What are the Government going to do? Recommendation No. 50 of the Dearing Committee was that there should be an independent review. That independent review has now taken place. Will the Government respond to the Bett Report? Will they set up a separate review? Alternatively, will they do nothing?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Dearing Committee recommended that there should be an independent review. That independent review has now taken place. It was clear that the Dearing Committee intended that it should be a review set up by and reporting to the employers. That is exactly what has happened. There is no case for the Government to interfere in and to respond to the Bett Committee at this point in time.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, is not additional government funding required in order to implement the recommendations of the Bett Report? They seek to put right the neglect of the past 20 years in relation to university pay and conditions. In the light of the contribution that our universities make to competitiveness within the UK economy and through investment by overseas students, does the noble Baroness agree that it is essential that the staff are paid adequately in order to maintain the high standards of British universities?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for commenting on the valuable work that is being done in universities. I agree that the economic contribution of our universities is considerable. However, we invested an extra £168 million in universities when we first came to power and a further £776 million in the CSR.

I have said—I say it again to my noble friend—that we shall consider the issue but I cannot anticipate the provision of the next CSR when the work on the many competing claims on it has not yet begun.