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Teachers (Pay And Performance)

Volume 81: debated on Tuesday 25 June 1985

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had with teachers' unions other than the National Union of Teachers on a package of proposals for restructuring pay and performance.

Since last October I have had discussions touching upon these matters with the National Association of Head Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, the Professional Association of Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reply will be greatly welcomed by the hundreds of dedicated teachers in my constituency who are not members of the NUT and who abhor that union's wrecking tactics? Does he agree—he would have the support of the House if he did—that we should push forward with negotiations with unions other than the NUT on appraisals and restructuring, and not allow the unrepresentative majority of the NUT on the Burnham committee to block all sensible negotiations?

The statutory framework limits negotiations to Burnham. I am under pressure from many to seek legislative authority to change Burnham, and I remain ready to be convinced that that would be a useful step. However, that is the subject of a later question.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any Minister who has to rely upon his veto or the veto of his officials to overcome the Burnham committee's recommendations will fight a losing battle? It is like trying to stop the tide. The role of King Canute does not become the right hon. Gentleman. He should accept the majority wish of the Burnham committee, if and when that recommendation is made.

It was King Canute's courtiers, not the wise King Canute, with whom I think the hon. Gentleman is comparing me. How can the taxpayer be protected when the Burnham committee makes decisions about the spending of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money, unless someone has some power to set a limit, if necessary by veto, on what is agreed by those who do not pay for the consequences?

Is my right hon. Friend absolutely determined to stick to the October deadline for agreement if there are to be additional resources next year? Many people think that, even with the best will in the world, that is not an attainable target. Furthermore, they believe that it plays into the hands of the NUT, which, by its unrepresentative and militant stand, is undermining the good work done by other teaching unions, such as the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association.

The Government's choice of October is not an arbitrary one. It is the date before which decisions must be made if extra money is to be injected into rate support grant.

Why does the Secretary of State not do something a little ingenious for a change? Why does he not go to the Treasury, when the Chancellor has gone missing, call at the Bank of England, when the Governor is on the golf course or on a foreign trip, get £100 million of the money that is needed to resolve the teachers' dispute, and say, "I am just doing a Johnson Matthey"?

The hon. Gentleman is showing the degree of his ignorance if he thinks that there is £100 million lying about in either of those places.

What does my right hon. Friend think is the objective of calling out on strike teachers in constituencies which dare to return Conservative Members? Is the idea that we should go to my right hon. Friend to make a special pleading? If so, how do we avoid giving the lesson to children that bad behaviour, threatening and bullying win through?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the example that is being set is deplorable. To that must be added the ignoble and thoroughly deplorable practice of taking it out on children and their future, merely because, by chance, a particular person has been elected to represent the constituency.

How much money is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to put behind the package? I hope that it is more than the 2 per cent. which is rumoured in the press.

I am glad to say to the House and to those outside who are concerned about this matter that it would be wise not to take too much account of what they read in the press.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, if he had been able to pursue a more consistent package in the earlier stage of the negotiations, the response that he received from the organisations to which he referred when replying to this question might have provided him with an opportunity to resolve this damaging industrial dispute? Will he pursue a package, along the lines of that discussed with those associations, which will not only include a no strike deal but will put more money on the table and provide a long-term programme?

The essence of the proposal, which was confirmed in my letter of 21 May, has been on offer since July last year—11 months.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the majority of teachers in my constituency and throughout Britain generally do not support the disgraceful industrial action that is doing so much damage and marring the education of our children? Will he therefore urgently examine ways of getting the talks on performance and pay under way, even if that means upsetting the politically motivated leaders of the NUT?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is correct in saying that many teachers and some leaders of teachers' unions welcome the main features of the bargain proposed by the Government.