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Teachers (Pay)

Volume 79: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a further statement on the teachers' pay dispute.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the current teachers' pay dispute.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress has been made since 2 May to resolve the current teachers' pay dispute.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on the teachers' dispute.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the current dispute between teachers and their employers.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the progress of the teachers' pay talks.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph): The Burnham committee met on 15 May, when constructive informal exchanges took place between the leaders of the two sides. The independent chairman noted that neither side had committed itself to a particular line or figure. Discussion is to be resumed on 23 May.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present negotiating machinery does not work adequately? Will he therefore institute urgent reform of the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 to ensure that new machinery is devised which will include appraisal of teachers' performance and a restructuring of their salary levels?

I am ready to be convinced, but I have not yet been, that a structural change is necessary. What my hon. Friend wishes for exists to a large extent in Scotland without achieving the purpose he has in mind.

The Secretary of State is aware that the Conservative party lost control of a large number of shire counties about 10 days ago and that more and more of the local education authorities are now saying that the teachers deserve a decent rate of pay. Will he therefore say that if a better offer should be made, rate capping and other financial restraints will be lifted to enable more money to be found to give a decent rate of pay to the teachers?

As I have said several times before, the answer to that question is no.

As the Burnham negotiations are continuing to break down, does the Secretary of State not think that it is about time that he personally became involved and took over the negotiations with the teachers? I draw to his attention early-day motion 681. I hope that he will use it as a formula for a settlement of the dispute.

I have seen early-day motion 681, but we must wait and see what happens in Burnham, which meets again on Thursday next.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if our schools are to provide the kind of education that our children need it is vital that there should be a drastic restructuring of the teaching profession? Is he also aware that it is important to make it clear that should such a restructuring be agreed, money will be made available to finance it?

My hon. Friend knows that I have urged the employers and the teachers to negotiate such a restructuring and that I have said that if the result appears to me to be educationally desirable and financially affordable I shall take it to my colleagues.

In view of my right hon. Friend's disappointing reply, will he say what hope he has for the pupils and teachers at the Endeavour school in Middlesbrough, a school for those with special handicaps, a third tranche of whom will have to suffer inconvenience after the Whitsun holiday unless there is a resolution of the dispute?

I would rather speak in general about the behaviour of those teachers who are disrupting or who are on strike and say that I think they are letting down their profession, seriously damaging the interests of the children and doing great harm to the households of many parents.

Has the Secretary of State fully considered the fact that the morale of teachers is at an all-time low? Does he not appreciate the detrimental effect that this can have upon the long-term future of our children? Why does he not provide extra money in order to try to reach an amicable settlement?

I have also borne in mind that in several cases the union leaders have been systematically, in my view, misleading the members of their unions. The teachers' unions have refused to negotiate, to arbitrate or even to discuss the restructuring which the employers have asked them to talk about.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as from today, the National Union of Teachers has called out the teachers in four schools in my constituency, three of them primary schools, and that this has been put forward publicly on the basis that these schools are in the constituency of a former Secretary of State for Education and Science? Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that one can have no possible shred of respect for the leadership of a union which attempts to justify' its behaviour upon such a spurious ground? Will he sadly confirm my view that as a body the NUT is becoming the gravest danger to the professional standing of teachers?

I sympathise with the parents and children in my right hon. and learned Friend's constituency, but the behaviour of any union and teacher who damages the children's education is unforgiveable.

Is it not a fact that inflation is running at 6· per cent. and rising, that teachers have been offered 4 per cent., that they have lost 30 per cent. and yet they are the most moderate group of people and are struggling for a living wage? Will the Minister make it clear that he has 15 votes on the Burnham committee and that he has used them twice recently to stop a negotiated settlement? Does he accept that that is the reality and that the struggle will go almost indefinitely unless more money is placed on the table to give the teachers a living wage?

Let me agree with one point made by the hon. Gentleman—most teachers are moderate and hardworking and take their job seriously. Let me also tell the House that the votes to officials of the Department were provided during the time of or in the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965, which was passed by a Labour Government.

Should not classroom disruption stop at once and both sides make a real effort to get a three-year pay deal which should have within it the beginnings of great rewards for effective teachers?

I very much agree with the general gist of my hon. Friend's question. I wish that the teachers would go back to negotiations, and let us hope that on Thursday they start to do so.

If the Secretary of State wishes the teachers to negotiate, will he at least press his Cabinet colleagues to allow those authorities which overspend their targets not to be penalised?

No, Mr. Speaker, that would be providing further public money, and I have already told those concerned that that is not what the Government intend to do.

In this present difficult situation, does it not need constant re-emphasis that there is a prospect of more money if only the teachers and employers can reach agreement on the lines suggested by my right hon. Friend?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that. The answer is definitely yes.

Is the Secretary of State not more than pleased that the NUT has exempted certain authorities from industrial action?

I am glad that any school that would otherwise be disrupted is not disrupted, but I cannot in any way respect the NUT's decision to exempt some authorities and not others. The children are in the charge of teachers who are failing in their responsibilities.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the metropolitan borough of Stockport today no members of the NUT are on strike in the constituency of Demon and Reddish, but that they are on strike in the constituencies of Stockport and Hazel Grove merely because the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has given wholehearted support to the NUT's action whereas I and my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) refused to do so? Are the pupils not being used as political footballs, and has my right hon. Friend a word to describe that kind of pressure being brought on hon. Members?

I repeat only that I deplore the thoroughly unprofessional behaviour of those teachers' union leaders who are conducting that policy and those teachers who co-operate with them.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the veto, which came in at about 1965 when a Labour Government were in office, is not a matter about which I am prepared, or any holder of my office has ever been prepared, to make predictions.