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Teachers (Pay And Conditions)

Volume 115: debated on Tuesday 28 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to appoint members of the interim advisory committee on teachers' pay and conditions; and if he will make a statement.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that it was the divisions between the teacher unions and the outdated majority voting system that killed stone dead the Burnham committee on teachers' pay and conditions? Will he accept that there is an urgent need for a post-interim advisory committee on teachers' pay and conditions to he set up as soon as possible and that it will have to he different from the previous Burnham committee, for example, in not having a majority voting system?

I have made it clear that the proposals that the Government have put forward are of an interim nature. We want to find a permanent machinery for the determination of teachers' pay and conditions. The proposals that I have seen, which are tentative so far, are in fact a revamped Burnham. The president of the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association, Mr. Frank Groarke said in his address to the conference at Easter that some unions use the Burnham committee as a recruiting tent rather than as a negotiating body. I am not prepared to go back to a revamped Burnham. I want to find a way forward to determine a permanent machinery for the determination of teachers' pay and conditions, because I can assure the House that neither I nor any holder of my office wants to be the determiner of teachers' pay and conditions.

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that, in response to a question from me last Thursday, the Prime Minister said that the Government would

"use the coming years to secure a new negotiating arrangement"?—[Official Report, 23 April 1987; Vol. 114, c. 790.]
The two major unions, which represent the vast majority of teachers, met because of that answer and were outraged at what the Prime Minister had said. I do not know whether the Prime Minister tells the right hon. Gentleman, but she must have received a joint letter from those two unions today, in which they say that if she will discuss—[Interruption.]

I am asking a question Mr. Speaker. Does the right hon. Gentleman know that the Prime Minister has received a letter today in which those two unions make it clear that if she will agree to negotiate properly about next year's wage arrangements they will see her, but they want a promise first, and that is the only way in which our children can have an uninterrupted education?

I am aware that a letter has been sent to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asking for a meeting between Mr Jarvis and Mr. Smithies and my right hon. Friend. I can see no reason why my right hon. Friend should see those two union leaders, because six weeks ago I invited them to see me and they declined to do so. Those are the only two union leaders who have not seen me. The other four union leaders have discussed with me the draft order before the House, which I understand might be debated quite soon. The other two leaders have refused to come in and make their views known. I have made it clear that I do not want to be the determiner of teachers' pay and conditions. All interested parties will find it difficult readily to agree on a permanent machinery, but there must be no going back to the form of negotiations under Burnham.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the interim committee, as its name suggests, is of temporary duration and that its maximum life will be until 1990? Will he further confirm that the committee is designed to provide a breathing space between the demise of the Burnham committee and the introduction of new negotiating machinery? Will he repeat to the House his invitation to union leaders to meet him to discuss new machinery for negotiating teachers' pay and conditions? Will he confirm that two and a half years is a long time and that that period should be reduced?

There is no reason why the interim advisory committee should continue to operate until 1990. I wish to confirm that to the House. Later this year I want to meet the teachers unions, the local education authorities, churches and parent-teacher associations to try to find a permanent machinery. There are many models, ranging from a joint negotiating committee to a review body. Suggestions have been made that specific recognition should be given to the position of heads and deputy heads.

The Secretary of State has constantly asserted the importance of an interim measure. Does he agree that consent is an important element in all educational processes? Why did he not set up a tribunal of mutally acceptable persons to determine the interim procedure for negotiations? Would that not have produced a better atmosphere and been the most responsible thing for him to do?

I did something rather better. I brought a Bill to the House, which was debated in this House, and in the House of Lords, without any guillotine or restriction on debate. All proposals were put forward during debates on that measure. As to the negotiating rights that are being claimed at the moment, one of the unions which is most strident in claiming those rights, the NAS/UWT, has for the past year sat on the sidelines and refused to take a constructive part in the negotiations, which were suspended, and organised disruptions while the negotiations were continuing.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there is a world of difference between the appalling image of the teaching profession that is put across by the Easter conferences, or some of them, and the reality of the many good and moderate teachers who are doing good work in classrooms in Norwich and up and down the country? Will my right hon. Friend describe the ways in which he will help to restore the confidence of those good teachers in the way ahead in these negotiations and talks?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. At the Easter conferences we saw on our television screens a parade of militants. The majority of teachers are dedicated people. They are rightly held in high regard by the community. What we saw over the Easter weekend was a meeting of union activists. The disruption and chaos that are talked of should not be exaggerated. Before Easter, about 1 per cent. of schools were disrupted. Although that is small, it is unacceptable, because any disruption is unacceptable. Disruption is unjustified. Teachers will receive an increase of 16 per cent. this year and at the end of May will have substantial back-pay increases of several hundred pounds in their pay packets.

Is it not the case that in their letter to the Prime Minister today the teacher unions offered a way out of the present impasse and showed the way to peace in our schools? They made it clear that if the Government were prepared to agree to the restoration of negotiating rights for the 1988 pay round they would call off their action. Will the Secretary of State tell the House that either he or the Prime Minister will immediately arrange a meeting with the unions to discuss their constructive new initiative?

Six weeks ago I invited the leaders of the two unions to see me, but they decided not to come in. I saw the leaders of the other unions and they expressed their views about the new negotiating machinery. I reiterate that I am willing later this year to meet the teacher unions and the local education authorities, which, I understand, are sending me proposals, because I wish to reconfirm that in no way do I or the holder of my office wish to be the determineor of teachers' pay and conditions. We need a new permanent machinery, but so far the proposals that have been put to me are nothing more than a revamped Burnham.

Contrary to the bluster and histrionics of the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) and the teacher union conferences, will my right hon. Friend confirm that his moderate approach is the best way to obtain peace again in our schools, which will be supported by the vast majority of moderate and sensible teachers, provided that there is a real commitment to the restoration of negotiating rights as soon as possible?

I confirm that fewer than I per cent. of the profession are likely to disrupt schools this week. That is deplorable in view of the settlement that has been made. I confirm, as I said earlier, that we must find a more permanent machinery. That will be difficult in view of the different opinions of the various union leaders, but I shall persevere and try.

Does the Secretary of State realise that, almost certainly, he has within his hands the power to end this disruption if he will stop mouthing words and take action—[Interruption.]

—almost any action to begin to restore to teachers their rights to negotiate pay and conditions? Does he not realise that if he will not do that many in the country will draw the conclusion that he is cynically and deliberately playing into the hands of the militants for votes, scarificing peace in our schools for Tory advantage in the ballot box.

The hon. Gentleman could not have heard me. I have invited these two union leaders to come in and they have declined to do so. I want to find a permanent machinery as soon as possible, but the hon. Gentleman should not disguise from himself the great difficulty when the different unions have different interests and different views on what such machinery should be.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the NUT in Leicestershire has called for the reinstatement of the teacher who was sent to prison for dangerous drug offences? Does that not display an attitude to teachers' conditions which no responsible parent would share?

I read a report of that and I find that request quite deplorable. Those who have been convicted of dealing in drugs should not in future be allowed to be in charge of children.