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Commons Chamber

Volume 181: debated on Tuesday 27 November 1990

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 27 November 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

London Docklands Railway Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Mersey Docks And Harbour Bill Lords

North Yorks:Hire County Council Bill Lords

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Education And Science

Education Expenditure

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what has been the increase in absolute spending on education, in total and per pupil, since 1979.

Direct spending on nursery, primary and secondary schools in England rose from some £4·2 billion in 1979–80 to some £9·2 billion in the latest outturn year, 1988–89. This represents an increase in spending per pupil from some £515 in 1979–80 to £1,360 in 1988–89. That is a real-terms increase over and above inflation of more than 40 per cent.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the figures given in his answer, even when adjusted for inflation, help to explain why most schools are far better equipped for a modern education than they were 10 years ago and have a much better pupil-teacher relationship than they had 10 years ago? Does he also agree that high-quality education does not depend solely on a massive increase in resources, as some Opposition Members sometimes seem to believe?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree with him. The figures that I gave refer to the latest outturn year. The settlement for next year takes standard spending assessments up by 16 per cent., which is a further 10 per cent. ahead of inflation. I strongly agreee with my hon. Friend that with this growth of resources must come ever-better targeting and ever-better measurement of the standards being achieved in our schools through the use of those resources.

The Government's policy of expenditure on city technology colleges means that they are treating pupils unfairly. How can the Secretary of State possibly justify spending £8·5 million of taxpayers' money on one school—the city technology college in Telford—when less than £8 million is being spent on all the other schools in the county? Is not it time the right hon. and learned Gentleman listened to the overwhelming representations that he has had from all sections of the community and scrapped this unfair concept?

I think that the hon. Gentleman's perception is mistaken. The money spent on city technology colleges is not spent at the expense of other schools—it is money which would not otherwise have been spent on education. It is a policy of envy to say that Telford should not have a city technology college unless all pupils can go to it. The CTC is an attractive addition to education facilities in Telford and as the Member representing that town the hon. Gentleman should support it.

I welcome and applaud the increase in absolute spending. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take note that in Hampshire too much money is being held back by the education authority? Will he intensify his approaches to Hampshire education authority to ensure that money is passed on to the schools?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are looking at that very important point and will shortly issue a circular indicating the minimum amount of the total available that should be distributed to schools and the minimum amount within that total which should be based on the number of pupils in each school. That should bring each county and each education authority into line with best practice, which is exactly what my hon. Friend would wish.

Qualifications

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals he has to reform qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds; and if he will make a statement.

We are considering proposals for the reform both of academic and of vocational qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I think that he will agree that education provision for 16 to 19-year-olds is rather a shambles. The Minister's answer does not reflect the views about A-levels expressed by his party in the last three to four weeks. When do the Government intend to put forward firm proposals for reforming A-levels and bringing this country into the 1990s?

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. He should know perfectly well that we are awaiting proposals from the School Examinations and Assessment Council. Having considered the council's views, we shall then take into account the views of other organisations. I am also surprised at the hon. Gentleman because I should have thought that he would concentrate on the 70 per cent. of 16 to 19-year-olds for whom A-levels are not important, and especially on the need for the reform of vocational qualifications and the need to raise the esteem in which they are held compared with A-levels.

As my hon. Friend knows, more than 25 per cent. of A-level pupils come from Headmasters Conference and Headmistresses Conference schools. Will he ensure that there is full consultation with such schools before any decisions are made about a replacement for A-levels?

Yes, the HMC has made known its views on the SEAC principles document. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has already met it to discuss its views.

Given what the Minister has said about the need to raise the standing of vocational qualifications, with which I agree, does he accept that the best way to do that would be to bring together vocational and academic qualifications in one broader modular system so that the subjects that pupils choose have equal standing and pupils can study a mixture of the two?

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there is a case for some form of credit transfer between vocational and academic qualifications, we shall certainly consider that. It will be important to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained for both academic and vocational streams.

Local Management Of Schools

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what measures he is considering to encourage local authorities to delegate more control of money to schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Michael Fallon)

My right hon. and learned Friend and I intend to ensure that as much as is reasonably possible of the schools budget of local authorities should be delegated to schools to manage themselves. We shall be publishing a draft circular next month, which will consult on proposals to that end.

In illustrating the benefits of local management of schools, is my hon. Friend aware that the school of which I am chairman of governors is two teachers better off and plans next year to raise its resources by 50 per cent. as a result of LMS? Given that the proportion of non-teaching staff to total teaching staff is 35 per cent. in some authorities, such as my own, while in some Labour-controlled authorities, such as Coventry, the proportion is as high as 53 per cent., what action is my hon. Friend planning to take to ensure that resources are spent where they should be spent—in the classroom?

Councils are holding back between 17 and 29 per cent. of their schools budget, or between £65,000 and £228,000 per school. Those variations are huge and unacceptable. We shall be proposing a tougher limit to get more money through to the schools.

Does the Minister accept that in certain local authorities, such as Leicestershire, there is insufficient money in the proposed budget to pay for items such as outstanding repairs? Will he give the House the assurance that where there is a strong case for repairs to be carried out before delegation, the Government will come up with the necessary resources before the budgets are delegated?

Councils have substantial resources, which they are holding back at the centre. In many cases, they are spending on unnecessary bureaucracy and on central administration resources which have been siphoned off from the schools and could have been spent years ago on repairs and maintenance.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best method of delegating greater financial control from local education authorities to schools would be to persuade local education authorities to go down the grant-maintained schools route because that would ensure that schools have a better opportunity of deciding for themselves exactly where their money should be spent?

Yes, a grant-maintained school receives about 95 per cent. of its schools budget direct, which it can then allocate according to its own priorities. While local councils continue to hold back so much money, a vote for grant-maintained status means a vote for substantially more resources.

Will the Minister confirm that every local authority budget was individually approved by his Department and that what he is actually doing is attacking those local authorities that have substantial responsibilities for spending on school transport and school meals and have held special needs provision centrally?

All the schemes were approved in principle by my Department, but it was only this autumn that we saw the precise figures for each of the individual items within the budgets. The problem applies even to metropolitan authorities. For example, Newcastle is holding back £199,000 per school, and the Labour-controlled metropolitan authority of Leeds is holding back more than £100,000. Unlike the Opposition, we care about those differences and we intend to do something about them.

My hon. Friend is aware of the appalling record of Cumbria local education authority in the delegation of funds. Will he make the strongest representations to that authority? Is he aware that I welcome our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State's statement earlier that he intends to set a minimum level of delegation?

Sadly, I have to tell my hon. Friend that Cumbria is by far the worst performer in the country in that respect, holding back some 28 per cent. of the money allocated, which therefore does not get through to the schools. We shall certainly ensure that the tougher limit that we propose will apply to Cumbria so that more money goes to the classrooms.

Distance Learning

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has any proposals further to promote distance learning in rural areas.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Alan Howarth)

The Government recognise that distance learning methods are an efficient and effective means of expanding the education opportunities available to students living in rural areas. The Government support the Open university, and are also providing special support for the further development of open and distance learning by local authorities.

I welcome the Minister's positive reply. Is he aware of the whiteboard techniques adopted in Orkney in my constituency, which allow teaching from central point to be disseminated to a number of points? Does he agree that that offers opportunities to keep open schools that might otherwise be closed as well as opportunities for adult education and training? Will the Department carry out a study of what is happening in Orkney and its possible application to other rural and dispersed parts of the country?

I understand that not only the hon. Gentleman, but his right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), recently had the benefit of an electronic whiteboard tutorial in Orkney. I share the hon. Gentleman's view that that technology may well open up useful possibilities for students in remote areas, which could be of great benefit. The Training Agency has sponsored two pilot projects in the highlands and islands, and I look forward with interest to its evaluation of them.

The Minister has already mentioned the Open university. Can he confirm that the Government intend to maintain and, indeed, enhance its level of funding relative to the rest of higher education so that it can maintain its initiative in distance learning throughout the United Kingdom?

The capital and recurrent grants for the Open university total £79·5 million in the current year, and its block recurrent grant will rise by 8·3 per cent. in 1991. That is clear evidence of the Department's firm support for the Open university. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a review is taking place, and the Open university is playing its full part in that. The review is continuing, and conclusions will be reached in due course. Our expectation is that the Open university will find ways to develop its mission, rather than to curtail it.

Does the Minister accept that increasing fees for courses are a deterrent for many people who would like to take the opportunity of studying with the Open university? What is the Government's specific policy on the future level of fees and on support for part-time and distance learning students? Does the Minister accept that they need better support, and what does he intend to do about it?

From the impressive history of the Open university in recent years, it is clear that a large number of people want to study with it and that they have not been deterred by the fees regime. The review is under way, and the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised form part of it.

School Administration (Lancashire)

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has any plans to meet the chief education officer of Lancashire county council to discuss the contraction of central administration and transfer of resources to schools for local management; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. and learned Friend has no plans at present to meet the chief education officer of Lancashire county council. However, we have made clear our general view that local education authorities should streamline their central administration so that more resources can get down to schools.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the county council is holding back £130 million—one third of its revenue budget—for a number of items, particularly central administration? Will he join me in urging the county to spread down much of its central administration costs to schools administered by local management, where funds are much needed and would benefit the children in the classroom?

Yes. Lancashire's central administration alone amounts to £11·5 million. In total, Lancashire holds back 23 per cent. of its school budget—an average of £110,000 per school. Lancashire county council has much to do in releasing funds to its schools.

Why does the Minister not meet the head teachers of Lancashire schools, when he would find out that their real complaint is not about the county council's actions but about those of the Government in not providing sufficient funds to make local management schools work, in encouraging bureaucracy, and in making it difficult for head teachers to remain educationists? Is it not time the Government did more to ensure that teachers can get on with their real job of teaching?

The teachers, governors and parents whom I meet are increasingly angry at the amount of money allocated to their schools being siphoned off by county hall. We are determined to do something about that.

Should not central administration in Lancashire and in nearby Stockport be largely contracted out?

We believe that the schools themselves should decide on the support services that they need and the scale on which those services should be provided. Only by delegating budgets to schools can those decisions rest in the hands of head teachers and governors.

City Technology Colleges

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he next plans to visit the city technology college in Nottingham to discuss the funding of city technology colleges

I hope to arrange a visit to the city technology college in Nottingham early in the new year, as soon as my diary commitments permit.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the amount of money spent on one city technology college in Nottingham is greater than the amount needed to repair all the other schools in Nottingham? Had that money been reallocated, it could have met the cost of building eight new schools in the Nottinghamshire area. As it is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's own education authority, will he do something about that problem and end the ridiculous and elitist CTC system?

That money has provided an extremely well-equipped, brand new school in a depressed part of Nottingham inner city. The college is popular with parents and with those who teach there and it makes a valuable addition to the city's education facilities. The money for it was not provided at the expense of other Nottinghamshire schools and the whole project will bring in £2 million of private sector investment in education which would not otherwise have been available to pupils in that city. Given the range of issues confronting Nottinghamshire's education authority, it is absurd for the hon. Gentleman to raise only the question of trying to close down or get rid of one of the city's finest new features.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that before Nottingham city technology college was opened, the county council was asked whether there was scope for any closures and replied that there was not, yet immediately the college was opened the authority announced the closure of three schools when it could have sold one to the CTC and received £3 million to spend on other education provision?

My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) both know as well as I do that Nottinghamshire county council has a long history of such actions, refusing to sell derelict flats for rebuilding, to sell old people's homes to private companies which would refurbish them, or to make premises available for the city technology college, preferring to lose money, incur expenditure, and make cuts in services—cuts which would otherwise be unnecessary. The county council's attitude to the CTC has been churlish from the beginning and flies totally in the face of the opinions of very many people in Nottingham.

Is the Secretary of State aware that when commenting on the withdrawal of support for a proposed city technology college in the Prime Minister's borough of Barnet—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not in Nottingham".]—Sir Cyril Taylor, the chairman of the CTC trust, said:

"It is madness to go on spending money on the original type of college"—
the original concept of the CTC—[Interruption.]——

When the Secretary of State goes to Nottingham—notwithstanding that the Minister described that as a misplaced leak, Sir Cyril Taylor has not denied the veracity of those words—will he agree that if it is madness as far as the chairman of the CTC trust is concerned, it ought to be madness as far as he is concerned?

I am glad to say that nowadays the Labour party is totally outgunned in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire and the hon. Gentleman's intervention in our local controversies is not too welcome. We are on course for 15 city technology colleges, of which seven are already under way. If there is doubt about the future, it is caused in part by the Labour party's threat not to continue with the programme, a threat which has an obvious deterrent effect on sponsors. I invite the hon. Gentleman to come to Nottingham to visit the city technology college and to see for himself what a valuable addition it is to education facilities for children in Nottinghamshire.

Lea Capital Expenditure

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to announce his response to the bids from local education authorities for capital expenditure; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. and learned Friend expects to be able to announce the annual capital guidelines for capital expenditure on education in 1991–92 to local education authorities shortly before the Christmas recess.

Does the announcement in October that there would be extra money for education mean that there really will be extra money to spend on the repair of buildings? Will the Minister give all parents throughout the country, and especially those in Staffordshire, an assurance that the quality of children's work will no longer be affected by outside toilets, leaking roofs and mobile homes which have long outlived their useful life?

The annual capital guidelines for local authority schools next year will be increased by 15 per cent. above the guidelines for this year. A total of some £472 million will be available. The criteria for applications under the guidelines are well known to local authorities. It is up to the authorities to rank their projects in order of need.

Does my hon. Friend agree that many local authorities suffer from poor physical stock, largely due to the political motivations and actions of the Opposition, who starved local authorities that refused to go comprehensive at the time of the last Labour Government? Should not the Labour party take a large share of the blame in the light of its responsibilities at that time?

My hon. Friend, who knows a lot about these matters, is certainly right in that respect. Annual capital guidelines have been increased substantially for next year over this year and it is open to local councils to top up the guidelines from receipts, from income and by greater flexibility in the disposal of land.

Is the Secretary of State aware that Her Majesty's inspectors reported that a third of children were learning in accommodation so substandard that it was badly affecting the quality of their education, that at least a £4 billion backlog of repairs has built up in the past 11 years and that it is a sign of the Government's complacency and neglect that in every year of their Administration, including next year, less will be spent in real terms on improving schools than in the last year of the Labour Government?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman was able to do his homework for this question. The increase in gross capital expenditure per pupil in maintained schools was about 16 per cent. in real terms between 1978–79 and 1988–89, and I have announced a substantial increase for next year.

A-Level Examinations

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received on the future of GCE A-level examinations.

Some respondents to the School Examinations and Assessment Council's consultation exercise on draft principles to govern A and AS examinations have copied their views to me. I have also received some views directly.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. We believe in high academic standards. Will he confirm that his aim is to maintain the high academic standard of the GCE A-level examinations that employers, universities and the professions require?

I can certainly confirm that. Also, employers are looking to us to do something about those who ought to stay on after 16 but for whom A-levels are not suitable. The answer lies not in making A-levels easier for more people to pass, but in the arguments put by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. We must have other qualifications, including vocational qualifications, that are of high status and of a good standard and can exist as an alternative alongside A-levels.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the young men and women who are at present subjected to the narrow, stuffy and repetitive routines of A-level can feel the benefit of the much more open and lively courses that are going on, such as on the certificate of pre-vocational education? That has many young men and women in the west end of Newcastle in my constituency buzzing with commitment and enthusiasm. Will he please ensure that A-level students benefit from such activity?

I share the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for the development of a better system of vocational qualifications. However, it is unnecessary to attack A-levels as he did because they are two separate things. People can take a mixture of both if they wish. It is getting hold of the wrong end of the stick to attack A-levels before going on to commend, sensibly, the development of better and more attractive vocational qualifications.

In considering the future of A-levels, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that science subjects continue to be taught as individual subjects and examined individually? Does he agree that that is necessary if we are to continue the high academic standards in Britain?

We have to ensure that science subjects can be taught separately to their present standards where the school and pupils want that and where it is suitable. If we are to have broader science teaching, it must be of the same quality as individual science subjects. Room must be kept in the curriculum and scope must be given to pupils to have separate science subjects if that is what they prefer.

At a time when university vice-chancellors, polytechnic directors, the Confederation of British Industry, all the teachers' organisations and the Government's Higginson report demand reform of A-levels, why do the Government still resist? Now that the Prime Minister has gone and the fear of her ideological commitment to A-levels is out of the way, why does not the Secretary of State announce that A-level reform is necessary and that we need an integrated modern system of post-16 education and training qualifications?

I am all in favour of broadening the range of the curriculum and the education and training provided for people after the age of 16. The A-level part of that is not the problem. It serves its purpose extremely well for the moment in providing a route to our excellent three-year degree courses. The other part of the picture needs to be addressed first. It is no good putting attacks on A-levels at the top of the agenda when considering how best to improve opportunities for post-16 education.

School Buildings, Devon

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what capital allowances were made available to Devon county council in each of the last three years for replacing old school buildings with new ones.

Devon received capital allocations of £8·434 million in 1988–89, £14·177 million in 1989–90 and an annual capital guideline of £12·984 million in 1990–91. It is up to Devon to decide how much to spend on replacing old school buildings out of all the capital resources available to it, of which the education annual capital guideline is only a part.

Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that there is little point in funding half a dozen or so new buildings a year when 536 existing schools are not properly maintained under the Government's guidelines for the community charge? Would not it be better to allow Devon the discretion to decide whether to build half a dozen new buildings or to maintain some of the 536 buildings that are deteriorating rapidly?

Devon has done relatively well, not just in the current year's allocation but in the allocation for the previous two years. The annual capital guideline for this year amounts to 45 per cent. of Devon's submitted plans, whereas the national average is only 35 per cent. It is for Devon to rank its priorities under our criteria and for my right hon. and learned Friend and me then to allocate the available sums. However, I shall reflect on my hon. Friend's point.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the large number of Victorian and other primary schools that were built in the last century in Devon? When the bids come in from Devon county council, will he bear in mind that very large number and give the bids his sympathetic consideration?

My hon. Friend puts his case well at almost exactly the right time of year.

Nursery Education, Normanton

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what assistance he intends to offer to help nursery education in the Normanton constituency; and if he will make a statement.

It is up to Leeds and Wakefield local education authorities to decide the resources that they wish to devote to nursery education within the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Is the Minister aware of the effect of the standard spending assessment on nursery education in Wakefield, which forms part of my constituency? Is he further aware that the rate support grant cuts of the past 10 years, the dreaded poll tax and the lack of teacher training and of a proper wages structure are having an effect on nursery provision in the Normanton constituency? When will the Minister stand up for nursery education and give children in families who are suffering from stress, because of unemployment and high mortgage and interest rates, the chance of early entry to the education system?

Now, Sir. Seventy per cent. of three and four-year-olds attend nursery education in the Wakefield local education authority area. Indeed, 150,000 more children throughout the country now receive nursery education, compared with 1979. [Interruption.]

Order. I ask the House to listen, please, to Education questions in silence.

Education Vouchers

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consideration he is giving to the use of education vouchers as a means of extending choice to parents.

We have no plans to introduce a voucher scheme for schools. We have already extended parental choice through our policies of ensuring that schools admit pupils up to the limit of the schools' physical capacity.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. I presume that he remains loyal to his beliefs when it comes to choice. Does he agree that had he remained loyal last Wednesday, Back Benchers would have had the freedom to choose the leader whom they wanted—the Prime Minister?

First, the Prime Minister and I and my hon. Friend are all agreed that the purpose of education policy is to extend parental choice and then to make sure that taxpayers' money follows that choice into the schools. We have achieved that aim in the policy of education reform on which we have embarked. It makes the need to introduce vouchers—once considered—redundant. I certainly voted for the Prime Minister last Tuesday when a large number of my colleagues did not. I have absolutely no doubt that whoever succeeds the Prime Minister will adhere to the policy of improving choice in schools, putting better resources into our schools, following parental choice and raising education standards.

Of what benefit would education vouchers be to parents who face teacher shortages, particularly in London? Did the Secretary of State see last night's television report or read in this lunchtime's Evening Standard that 1,600 teachers in London have left schools in the past two months, which has affected the education of tens of thousands of pupils? Is not it a fact that it is not education vouchers but poor pay and low morale that are the real reason why parents, pupils and teachers get a rotten deal from the Government?

There are particular problems in London, but we shall shortly be discussing teachers' pay when we debate the Bill that is on the Order Paper for today. During the debate I shall reveal that not so many people have entered initial teacher training for the first time since the late 1970s. The vacancy level in our schools has come down sharply this autumn and the teacher wastage rate is very low. Therefore, we are introducing the Bill to enhance still further the attractiveness of teaching as a career and to get teachers of the quality that we require. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about one thing only: that vouchers have no relevance whatever to the important task of raising the morale of our teachers and getting teachers of the quality that we need.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider vouchers for nursery education? Low-income and one-parent families experience difficulty in finding kindergarten and nursery schools, but expansion of choice could be achieved by a voucher scheme.

I shall consider my hon. Friend's suggestion, with others made about nursery education provision for the under-fives. We have ruled out vouchers for statutory schooling between the ages of five and 16 because of our excellent system of reform, which achieves all the purposes for which vouchers were originally devised by the inventor of that notion.

Teacher Vacancies

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is his most recent estimate of teacher vacancies; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State published on 5 October the results of the Department's survey of teacher vacancies conducted at the beginning of September, a copy of which is in the Library. On 3 September, local education authorities reported just over 1,400 unfilled posts—very many fewer than the vacancies reported in January. Those results are encouraging and show that our measures to improve teacher recruitment and retention are being effective.

That is a terrible record for this Government. I want to know whether every child will have a fully trained teacher. Come on, let us have an answer.

Order. There are four minutes to go before Prime Minister's Question Time.

The hon. Gentleman's education authority of Nottinghamshire had 138 vacancies last January. In September, it had only five.

Will my hon. Friend reject the constant attacks of the Labour party and its allies on the teaching profession and accept that teachers in post are as good as they have ever been and that they give wonderful service to our children, despite the Labour party's attacks?

It is important that the Labour party should cease to denigrate the profession. The vacancy rate is 1·8 per cent., which is one of the lowest of any profession.

University Teachers (Morale)

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has had from university teachers about their current state of morale.

My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State received from the Association of University Teachers a copy of its autumn 1990 publication, "Goodwill Under Stress". I met a delegation from the AUT on 20 November. We had a friendly and useful discussions about a range of issues. I pay tribute to the staff of the universities for the quality of tutorial and pastoral care that they give students in the United Kingdom.

Does the Minister accept that the AUT document clearly shows that in the past 10 years university teachers have been overworked, undervalued and underpaid? Is not it highly significant that when Sir Edward Parkes, the chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, was asked to comment on the resignation of the Prime Minister, he said that in the past 10 years too much of the energy of academic staff had been devoted to damage limitation? He further said that universities would regard the demise of the Thatcher years without regret.

I know of no one who denigrates university teachers or who holds them in less than full respect. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman does not disregard them. In the period during which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has held office, there has been an increase of no less than 40 per cent. in the number of young people who have had the opportunity to participate in higher education. That is only one of the remarkable achievements under the inspired leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Would not morale in the teaching profession be greatly improved if we identified weaknesses in teachers so that they could be given more training in that direction? Would not a good appraisal system produce those goods? We need to appraise teachers, weed out bad ones and help the good teachers more.

As my hon. Friend knows, appraisal schemes are under active consideration by local education authorities all over the country and our policy is moving forward in that regard. Equally, higher education institutions are introducing their own appraisal systems. Of course, it is right that those who are performing outstanding work should have their performance recognised and that should be reflected in pay scales.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 27 November.

Mr. Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Mr. Speaker, this morning I had a number of meetings. After my duties in this House, I shall continue to reply to some of the 30,000 letters that have so far been delivered to Downing street in the past few days.

If this is to be the last occasion on which my right hon. Friend answers questions from the Dispatch Box, may I express the appreciation of Conservative Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and, I hope, of the whole House, for the skill, command and courtesy with which she has dealt with questions over the past 11 years?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Stansted airport's new terminal is to open in March next year, that the main roads serving it will not be available until 1995 and that the rail links serving it will not be of adequate capacity until that same year? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to get more public acceptance among communities that have major developments thrust upon them, it would be better if essential infrastructure came sooner rather than later?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. Stansted airport is close to the M11. I understand that the British Airways Authority is building a dual carriageway to connect the new terminal to the M11 and that it should be ready by March next year. I understand that British Rail is building a track to connect the terminal to the Liverpool Street station line and has already ordered rolling stock. That, too, should be ready by March next year. I hope that that will satisfy the last question by my hon. Friend that I shall answer.

Would the Prime Minister be good enough to tell us which of the policies that she leaves to her successor she now thinks should be scrapped?

I am happy that my successor will carry on the excellent policies that have finished with the decline of socialism, brought great prosperity to this country, raised Britain's standing in the world and brought about a truly capital-owning democracy.

If the Prime Minister thinks that nothing should be changed, can she tell us why on earth all those now competing for her job are desperately wriggling around trying to find a way out of the poll tax trap?

On the contrary, I really rather thought that they were keeping the poll—the community charge—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—the community charge or community policy and, whatever review they have, the result will be infinitely better than going back to the rates, which of course would be the worst of all worlds.

As this may conceivably be the last time that the Prime Minister answers, may I say to her that her honest approach to the poll tax is commendable? She is demonstrating that there are two, and only two, honest approaches: one is to keep the poll tax intact, as she wants, and the other is to abolish it entirely, as we shall do.

No, that is not correct. As with any new tax, one always both reviews it and continually amends it. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would know that after all this time.

May I voice the profound regret felt by millions in this country, and thousands of millions outside, that my right hon. Friend is not to continue in her high office? Is she aware of their acknowledgement of her unrivalled service in turning back the tide of socialism, ending the brutal tyranny of the militants in the trade unions and re-establishing Britain as a great power? Finally, may I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect——

Finally, may I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect with pride that a thousand years from now, when every other Member of the House is dead dust, she alone will have a hallowed place in the history books?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her generous tributes I am certain that the Conservative constructive policies will continue, and that they will lead to a fourth election victory.

Does the Prime Minister recall an important debate in November 1985, when relations between us were a little strained? Does she recall my addressing her thus:

"Millions of our fellow British citizens throughout this nation feel that the Prime Minister has a lasting contribution to make to the destiny of the nation."?—[Official Report, 26 November 1985; Vol. 87, c. 768.]
Is the Prime Minister now aware that the vast majority of those people wish that contribution to continue?

The right hon. Gentleman is very generous indeed. I think that it will continue from the Back Benches, as it has from the Front Bench.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it was as a result of her unique vision at the helm that the voters in my constituency, after 40 years, rejected Labour—in her words, rejecting "windy rhetoric" from the Leader of the Opposition—because they saw in her unique qualities of leadership? May I please take this opportunity—on behalf of my constituents, who feel a tremendous sense of loss—to convey my sincere best wishes, and to extend a very warm invitation to Denis and herself to come and see us in Wolverhampton any time?

I thank my hon. Friend very much. I think that our policies since 1979 have built a new opportunity Britain, which can hold its head high in the world of international affairs. I am sure that those policies will continue, and we shall all pull together to ensure that they do.

That is very impertinent of the hon. Gentleman.

I should have called Mrs. Mahon first.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 27 November.

Does the Prime Minister agree with her right hon. Friend the Member for Circencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who said in the debate last Thursday that her forced resignation had been brought about by an act of treachery by some of her colleagues?

I have resigned and there will soon be a successor. I wish him well. I am sure that he will continue the policies that have been so successful for Britain and that he will continue to defeat socialism.

Will my right hon. Friend come very soon to Calder Valley, where she will find an industrious, prosperous and happy community? The people there will say to her what they have said to me all weekend—"She's been a good 'un."

I think that, after that, I must go to Calder Valley and I shall look forward to it.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 27 November.

May I pay a warm tribute to the Prime Minister for her courage and dignity over the past few days? Given that the leadership of the Tory party may be decided by a third ballot and by using a system of transferable second preference votes, will not the Prime Minister reconsider the merits of that system for national elections?

I am sure that the hon. Lady will understand that I am all for first past the post.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 27 November.

As this may be one of the last tabled questions from a Conservative Member to my right hon. Friend, may I take the opportunity to ask her whether she knows how many questions she has answered in her capacity as Prime Minister. Will she accept the heartfelt thanks of all her many friends inside and outside the House, and especially of all her friends in my constituency of Spelthorne? May I express to her and to Denis every good wish for the future, and God bless?

First, this will be the last Question Time at which I shall answer; I do not believe in making a career of positively last appearances. I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words, especially those about my husband, and I also thank him for giving me notice of his question as I might not otherwise have known the answer. His question is the 7,498th oral question to which I have replied in 698 Question Times.

Q6.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 27 November.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does not the Prime Minister find it at all nauseating and hypocritical to be——

Does not the Prime Minister find it the height of hypocrisy and nauseating to be so highly praised by Tory Members when, last week, 152 of them stabbed her in the back?

The hon. Gentleman was not exactly complimentary on my last appearance, was he? I do not find it nauseating; I find it very refreshing.

Will my right hon. Friend, while she is still Prime Minister, write and leave signed by her a minute of the proceedings of the Heads of Government within the European Economic Community so that her successor can endeavour to protect Britain's long-term interests in the valiant and effective manner in which she has always done?

I can assure my hon. Friend that all the proceedings are well minuted and documented, and I most earnestly hope that the traditions of this House, which is the oldest democratic Parliament in the Community, will be fully upheld, because they ensure accountability to the people.

Q7.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 27 November.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

When the Prime Minister recalls the day when she quoted St. Francis of Assisi on the steps of Downing street, will she contemplate the increase in family poverty that resulted from her repeated refusal to increase child benefit? Will she recall the increased hardship that resulted from the 1988 social security changes? Will she think about the homeless, whose numbers have doubled since she came to power? Is she aware that Opposition Members represent communities some of which have still not recovered from the unprecedented rates of unemployment that she inflicted on them in the early 1980s? Those are some of the reasons why she will go down in history as the Prime Minister who rewarded the rich and punished the poor.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will also recall that Scotland is enjoying greater prosperity than it has ever known under any previous Government; that there are now 2 million more jobs than there were when I took over; and that, remembering the situation when I took office in 1979, there is much more peace in the coal industry now than there was then. We have much more peace in the coal industry, and we fought off some of the most difficult and vicious attacks, during the coal strike, that this country has ever seen. He should also recall that we have had the lowest number of strikes this year in the whole post-war period.

Bill Presented

Severn Bridges

Mr. Secretary Parkinson, supported by Mr. Secretary Waddington, Mr. Secretary Wakeham, Mr. Secretary Patten, Mr. John Selwyn Gummer, Mr. Norman Lamont, Mr. Secretary Hunt, Mr. Secretary Lilley and Mr. Roger Freeman, presented a Bill to provide for the construction of a new bridge over the Severn Estuary between England and Wales and roads leading to the new bridge and associated works; to make provision for the levying of tolls in respect of use of the existing Severn bridge and the new bridge; to make other provision for and in connection with the operation of the bridges; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 16.]

Orders Of The Day

School Teachers' Pay And Conditions Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.31 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given you notice. This Bill was published a political lifetime ago, on 15 November. Since then, the Prime Minister has resigned and each of the candidates for the Conservative party leadership has announced policies, including the central funding of teachers' pay, that are wholly inconsistent with the scheme of this Bill.

Is it in the interests of the good administration of Bills in this House for the House to proceed with this Bill when there is no guarantee that the policies contained in it will not be overturned by a new Administration?

Order. it is not a point of order at all—[Interruption.] It is very much a point of argument. I must tell the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) that he has tabled a reasoned amendment to the Bill. Had he wanted to do so, he could have put down an amendment in the terms of the argument that he has advanced—but his point of order to me now is not a point of order at all.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House is with us. Can he be prevailed upon to make a brief statement, given that none of the potential Prime Ministers will support the provisions of the Bill and that in four hours' time——

Order. All these are matters of argument which can be advanced during the debate. They are not points of order for me.

On a different point related to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is an amendment on the Order Paper in the terms that have just been discussed. Will it be possible for the House to vote on the amendment tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and his hon. Friends?

I have selected one amendment, in the name of the leader of the Opposition—I have not yet had an opportunity to say that—but I cannot select two. I have not selected the amendment in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has it not been nice to read the Prime Minister's obituary while she is still alive?

On a real point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you observed that, in this week's business, two days are devoted to an entirely non-controversial Bill which affects Wales and that there will be further consideration of the Statutory Sick Pay Bill which both sides of the House had difficulty in finding speakers to speak to last night? Because of the light load of this week's business, will you give further reconsideration to your decision yesterday on the bid by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for a debate on the all-important, crucial issue of the Gulf war?

That is hypothetical at the moment. I give consideration to important matters every day.

Order. I call Mr. Flannery although I think we should get on with the debate.

Order. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is seeking to speak in the debate, so I will hear his point of order.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) raised a point of order about the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill, and I want to raise a completely different point of order about it. This Bill has been condemned as a violation of international law with regard to the teaching profession by the International Labour Organisation of the United Nations. During the debate, it will emerge that the Bill is not lawful in accord with international law and it is time——

Order. Those are matters which the hon. Gentleman can rightly advance during the debate. If it is of any comfort to him, I propose to call him very early.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and his application under Standing Order No. 20, you said in column 620——

In replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow about this very important debate about the possibility of war in the Gulf, Mr. Speaker, you said:

"I cannot therefore today submit his application to the House."—[Official Report, 26 November 1990; Vol. 181, c. 620.]
Can you indicate whether the Foreign Secretary intends to make an emergency statement to the House before the United Nations meets on Thursday about the likelihood of war in the Gulf?

The hon. Lady correctly quotes me from Hansard. I certainly said that. However, I have not had an application today under Standing Order No. 20 on that matter, and I have no knowledge of whether the Government propose to make a statement about it. I hope perhaps they may.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Opposition are amazed that the Foreign Secretary is not offering to make a statement, given that the five permanent members of the Security Council are to set a date for war. Surely it is more important to talk about that than for the Foreign Secretary to worry about a career as Prime Minister.

That is not a matter for me. We will get on with the debate. I must announce to the House that I have selected the reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.38 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

The Bill contains the agreed policy of this Government. I can certainly speak for two of the candidates for the position of Prime Minister who are committed to the Bill, and I believe that I know the third candidate well enough and have followed his proposals rather more carefully to know that he will endorse it and will probably vote for the Bill's provisions this evening.

The Bill comes before the House in a very different climate from that which surrounded the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act: 1987, which it is intended to replace. The House will recall that, before the 1987 Act, there was a history of progressive breakdown in the so-called Burnham machinery and increasing disruption and bitterness in our schools, which had come to a very bad head shortly before the Bill.

Since we passed the 1987 Act, there have been four years of industrial peace in our schools, and a succession of fair settlements for teachers on the basis of the excellent and well received reports produced by the interim advisory committee have served teachers well. That committee has clearly demonstrated its independence and fitness for the job. As a result, over the past few years teachers have had a clear framework for pay, duties and working time. Employers and governing bodies have been able to reward good performance and the acceptance of responsibility. That has coincided with the Government's education reforms, which are giving a much clearer focus and direction to the work of teaching.

If one looks back to 1987, one can see that the result has been four years of achievement in our schools and real improvements in the way in which children are being educated. I recognise the amount of hard work that the teachers, whose pay is the subject of the Bill, have put into what is happening in schools today. I applaud the professionalism of teachers and the achievements of the teaching profession. I believe that teachers' status is well on the way to recovery from the damage done to it during that unfortunate period in the mid-1980s. As we proceed to implement our reforms, parents will gain a greater understanding of what teachers are trying to do and regain their trust in teachers' professional commitment to the education of their children.

The 1987 Act was always recognised as a short-term solution to immediate and pressing problems. As I have said, it has fulfilled its purpose admirably, but it is time now to put more permanent arrangements into place. That is what this Bill is designed to do. It gives effect to the decisions which my predecessor, now sitting beside me in his capacity as Leader of the House, announced in the House on 23 July when he was Secretary of State for Education and Science.

The decisions that my right hon. Friend and the Government took followed prolonged and careful consultations with all the interested parties. I am afraid that it was always clear that it would not be easy to reach agreement on difficulty and sensitive issues on which widely differing views were held. Nobody regretted the demise of the Burnham committee, which was soon behind us, but it was difficult to achieve consensus on what should follow. Different and incompatible views were expressed during the consultations—most favouring the restoration of negotiating rights for teachers, while others preferred some kind of independent review. It became clear that it was not possible to find an acceptable solution which commanded universal agreement. The Government's decision has been to restore teachers' negotiating rights. That has been welcomed by the employers and most of the major teacher unions.

The main features of the new machinery which the Bill will establish are very different from the ill-fated Burnham machinery. First, the Bill provides for direct national negotiations between employers and unions. There will be a separate sub-committee for heads and deputies. The Bill brings together in one negotiating forum both pay and conditions. It has a deadline for the completion of negotiations and provides a clear means of resolving deadlock. It also provides reserve powers for the Government to refer back to the negotiating body, with reasons, any aspect of agreed settlements with which they are unhappy and, in the last resort, to impose their own views.

The Bill also provides for reference of matters to an advisory committee if the negotiating body fails to reach agreement by the deadline and for individual local education authorities and grant-maintained schools to opt out of the national arrangements and determine the pay and conditions of their teachers locally. That is the Bill's outline, and I shall deal with each feature, but first I give way to my hon. Friend.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend—[Interruption.]

All teachers are crucial, but heads and deputies are centrally crucial in schools. Therefore, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the worries of heads and deputies that their sub-committee on pay and conditions is to report to the main committee and, presumably, will be subject to overruling by it? Can my right hon. and learned Friend reassure me that safeguards exist to ensure that the sub-committee will not be overruled, save in the most serious circumstances?

The Bill provides just such safeguards—it is not possible for the main committee so to override the sub-committee's recommendations that it makes it impossible for the Secretary of State to allow the head teachers and deputies to have what they want. I assure my hon. Friend that the Bill provides for the problem that he fears might otherwise arise.

The Bill's first clause, together with schedule 1, provides for the establishment of the new national negotiating committee and a separate sub-committee to take the initiative on matters involving heads and deputies. It also distinguishes between the statutory and non-statutory conditions of employment: it is only the former, the statutory conditions—pay, duties and teachers' working time—that will be dealt with under the procedures set out in the rest of the Bill. On other matters, the committee will be able to strike such agreements as it wishes, subject only to a requirement in clause 6 to notify me of what it has agreed.

Clause 2 is concerned with how negotiations get started, what the negotiating deadline will be, and what recommendations can be made as a result of different negotiations. Clause 3 and schedule 2 establish the procedures to be followed when negotiations result in recommendations, and clause 4 establishes what should happen if there are no recommendations by the relevant deadline.

I should say a little more about these provisions. First, negotiations—the initiative for negotiations will rest with the committees, not with the Secretary of State. The committees will be able to give themselves as long as they like to negotiate, the only constraint being that they must finish on time because teachers' negotiations have a history of being far too protracted. There will be no constraints on the negotiations and, in particular, no pre-set financial limits. The main aim of the negotiations will be a return to normal working, and it will be for the local authority employers to decide what they can afford and to reflect that in their negotiations.

Secondly, I referred briefly to the Government's powers to refer back and to override. I hope that we will not hear sanctimonious humbug about this because the need for the Government to have such powers is perfectly obvious and has always been accepted. Since 1944, Governments of all parties have been able to influence teachers' pay structure and contain pay costs. Only a particularly irresponsible Labour Government would not feel obliged to exercise an influence on teachers' pay structure and the total pay bill.

I should like to quote from one of my 'distinguished predecessors. During the passage of the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965, the late Lord Stewart of Fulham, then Michael Stewart, the Secretary of State for Education and Science said:
"I doubt whether any Government in any set of circumstances could put itself in a position where it could hand over the power on the global sum to someone other than itself."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 1 December 1964; c. 20.]
From 1965, the Government's interests were secured by a concordat that operated alongside the legal provisions of the 1965 Act. I shall not go back over the full 20 years——

I suspect that the number of hon. Members who will wish to speak in the debate will be smaller than might have been the case on another day.

As I say I shall not go back over the full 20 years, but most people are agreed that the concordat worked reasonably satisfactorily. It provided the Government with a weighted vote inside the management panel and a veto over proposed offers on grounds of total cost. That veto was conceded by the local authority employers and was not backed by any statutory provision. In 1985, the employers' side, the local authority side, then led by the Labour party, unilaterally scrapped the concordat, leaving the Government with a much diminished and quite inadequate influence on the outcome of the negotiations. That could not be tolerated by any Government.

The Government provide about two thirds of the money that is necessary to pay the teachers as a result of any settlement. There is room for argument, and I am sure that there will be much debate in Committee about the precise form of negotiations, but all negotiations must have reflected on one side of the table the legitimate interests of employees, and on the other side the legitimate interests of the employers and those who will be called upon to finance them.

Negotiations are between the recipients of finance and those who provide that finance. It would be quite absurd to devise a system whereby the local authority employers who provide the minority of the money for the settlement could reach whatever settlement they pleased without the Government, who have to use taxpayers' money and the business rate to provide the bulk of the finance, having any say and influence. In the consultations that proceeded my right hon. Friend's statement to the House in July, both employers and trade unions agreed that the Government must be able to have the last word on affordability in any new permanent machinery. The Bill therefore gives the Government a sensible and necessary role in determining teachers' statutory conditions of employment.

As will emerge in greater detail in my speech, I broadly accept what the Secretary of State has said about the Government's position. However, may I press him on the accountability of the Government and Ministers to Parliament, because one important defect of this Bill, as compared even with the Teachers Pay and Conditions Act 1987, is that decisions which the Secretary of State may make under his reserved powers under this Bill can be checked by this House only under the negative resolution procedure even when those decisions are contrary to the recommendations of the teachers' pay committee, whereas decisions under the 1987 Act had to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which was beneficial, certainly for accountability?

I shall look at that point again, but there are precedents for the negative resolution procedure, as set out in the Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has similar override powers in respect of certain pay settlements, which are also covered by negative resolution. If the Government were in conflict with the negotiated solution that they were overriding, a Prayer would be tabled, which the House would expect to debate. In practice, however, that is unlikely to be a matter of great significance to the House.

One snag with using the positive procedure is that the House of Lords would also have a vote and there are those with reservations about whether their Lordships should have the power to take decisions involving large sums of public expenditure. I cannot believe that this House would lose the opportunity of having a vote on the expenditure and on the Secretary of State's use of the override for teachers' pay settlements. There would be adequate opportunities for the House to have such a vote under the negative resolution procedure.

We are given to understand that, where the settlements are within the inter-quartile range, they will not normally be referred back on the basis of the cost of the settlement. Why is it only "normally"? Surely that provision in itself would allow the Secretary of State to say that, for financial reasons, the Government would never refer back a settlement that was within the inter-quartile range, where it has been agreed.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the undertaking that was given by my predecessor. The Government do not intend to act unfairly or arbitrarily.

Before turning to the basis on which the Government would not normally seek to exercise the override, I should first explain that the Bill provides some statutory procedures that would stop any Secretary of State of any Government behaving in an unfair or arbitrary fashion. Where the Secretary of State is unhappy with what has been proposed, he does not immediately move and refer that matter to the advisory committee. The Secretary of State's first step would be to refer that matter back to the negotiators for their reconsideration, stating his reasons for asking them to look at it again. Only if that process has been exhausted, if the two sides are still at loggerheads and differences remain, would the question of overriding the negotiators' recommendations arise.

When it comes to exercising those powers as a member of the Government, my predecessor gave the undertaking to which the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) has just referred, which is that normally the Government would not intend to refer back recommendations on cost grounds if the overall cost was within the inter-quartile range of the private sector settlements for non-manual employees. That does not mean that we will always refer back settlements that fall outside that range, but we shall expect the negotiators to justify them and to explain how they intend to afford the settlements without having adverse effects on other schools' expenditure if such settlements are reached. That means that teachers can be confident of fair treatment compared with the work force in general, and that they will have scope to improve their pay relative to others over time. The inter-quartile range is also the range that we have chosen for civil service pay, and it has greatly improved the arrangements for civil servants.

Having got to that point, the hon. Member for Truro may ask why we do not make the provisions absolutely clear. He may even want to put them on the face of the Bill. The Government will remain bound by the undertaking that was given by my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Education and Science, and which has been repeated by me today on behalf of the Government. The only reason for not making that undertaking statutory is that if, in future—perhaps by general consent—the Government were to give a different guideline which gave flexibility, it would be a pity if that required primary legislation.

The teaching profession may welcome the possibility of seeing what happens in the next few years, given the Government's commitment that we shall not normally interfere with settlements that fall within the inter-quartile range. The House should not make it too difficult for a Secretary of State to suggest a different Government guideline. Our policy is one that I think the hon. Gentleman would want, and we would not usually interfere provided that a settlement was within the inter-quartile range.

The Government's objectives for teachers' pay have been stated clearly on many occasions, and I am glad to repeat them today. We want teachers' pay to be sufficient to recruit, retain and motivate enough teachers of the right quality within what can reasonably be afforded. Having set down that principle, it is important that the pay arrangements should contain sufficient flexibility. I want there to be many well-paid, successful, professional teachers, but it is right that the money and any improved payments should go where they are needed most. Pay and negotiations should be used by employers, in this case influenced by the Government, in ways that serve managerial purposes and, in this service, that above all serve educational purposes.

Money should be used especially to reward excellence in performance, to recognise responsibility and to tackle recruitment problems. I and the Government would prefer the large sums of money involved in teachers' pay settlements to be used in that way rather than in the undifferentiated way of agreeing on one settlement figure for the profession as a whole.

Last weekend, I visited the South Beach first school in my constituency. I was given a copy of an assessment form covering science, English and arithmetic. The chart must be filled in because of the new assessment procedure. It takes a school teacher at least three quarters of an hour to do that for each child, and there are at least 30 pupils in each class. It is obvious that teachers cannot both be filling in forms and teaching their pupils, so they must take the forms home. Will the Government pay teachers extra money for taking home that work? I shall give the Minister the assessment form, as he may like to look at it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for handing me the assessment form for levels one and two used by South Beach school. I shall put myself to the test later and I hope that I can reach the necessary attainment level. However, the form was not created by the Government. South Beach school is under no legal obligation to use such a form and it is not part of the present reforms. I have not seen such a form previously, but it is possible that it relates to some earlier pilot projects on the tests that we propose to introduce in schools. The testing system for seven, 11, 14 and 16-year-olds is not yet legally in force, and it certainly will not follow the format of the hon. Gentleman's assessment form. We are contemplating a very much simpler form for seven-year-old tests. Of course, I am interested to know that an assessment form is being used sensibly, but I am sure that the Government can devise a simpler one.

It is important to have an assessment system for pupils and also to ensure that it is set out in a way that can be readily understood by parents. That is our aim. I think that most teachers accept that assessment of pupils and reporting the results to parents are an ordinary part of a teacher's occupation. Most teachers will welcome the framework that we will provide for them to do that. We held pilot projects in English schools last July on a particular method of testing seven-year-olds. A number of its features were not satisfactory and we have withdrawn that proposal. We are now working on what will be the statutory procedures for testing the English, maths and basic scientific knowledge of seven-year-olds in the summer of next year.

As I said, I believe that teachers' pay should be used to reward excellence of performance, to attract particular skills, and to be flexible in other ways. If negotiations fail to reach a conclusion on either that or any other basis when the deadline is reached, the Bill provides for what will then happen. It would be unsatisfactory if a deadlock were reached in the main annual negotiations and teachers were then left for a year without a settlement.

Clause 4 provides for the Secretary of State automatically to seek recommendations from the advisory committee to be established under clause 5 and schedule 3. I make no apology for the fact that that committee is closely modelled on the interim advisory committee. It has operated successfully over the past three years, and it has earned general respect for its independence and the quality of its reports. It will not provide arbitration, but will work to a clear Government remit. However, I stress that that body will only come into play where negotiations end in disagreement. It is plainly necessary that, if the parties to the new negotiations fail to agree, the Secretary of State must look to other means of resolving them.

Over the weekend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to commit himself to a review of teachers' pay. If one takes place, how does the Secretary of State envisage that it will fit into the appropriate machinery? Would such a review be the responsibility of the interim advisory committee or of a separate, ad hoc committee? Will it supplement negotiations, and has the right hon. and learned Gentleman discussed that idea with the Chancellor?

As an elector in the leadership contest, I am following the statements of the three candidates with interest. I do not believe 'that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has committed himself, as a putative Prime Minister, to a review of teachers' pay. However, the hon. Gentleman will find that all three contenders for the premiership are united in a desire to see the status of teachers restored to the level of a few years ago. We all want to see their self-esteem restored, and have in place proper provisions for negotiating sensible pay arrangements.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has expressed his concerns about the status of teachers in this country, and I share his views. However, 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.

The Chancellor was talking not about detailed arrangements and machinery but of improving teachers' salaries and conditions. If the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) came along in the new capacity of Prime Minister, would the Secretary of State agree to a new review of pay and conditions? Would he think that was a worthwhile step forward?

So far, at this late stage in the contest, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has not committed himself to any specific enhancements in teachers' pay and conditions. Like me, my right hon. Friend has served as a member of a Government who have seen a steady improvement in pay and conditions. Teachers are on average 30 per cent. better off in real terms—that is, their spending power has increased by 30 per cent. over the past 10 years. Today's teachers are much better off than previous generations.

We are devising machinery—my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I will vote for it this evening—that is designed to pave the way for negotiations, which will no doubt continue to be funded in such a way that teachers' pay will certainly keep in line with movements elsewhere. We have said that we will not interfere if the settlements are within the inter-quartile range. In that way, teachers' pay will keep in step with that of other professions, and might even improve by comparison with them. Perhaps those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are more closely allied with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor than I am at this time in the leadership contest, and who are present in the Chamber, know otherwise—but I do not believe that he has committed a Government under his leadership to a specific review of teachers' pay and conditions—[Interruption.] I believe that authoritative comments are being offered from the Benches behind me.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, such has been the improvement in teachers' pay, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) might be enticed back into the profession?

Many right hon. and hon. Members might want the hon. Gentleman to return to his former profession, but I am not sure that would be in line with the Government's policy of enhancing standards in our schools. In case that remark is taken literally outside, I would not dream of traducing the hon. Gentleman's professional status as a teacher. However, there are times when I wish that he were back in the classroom.

The Secretary of State claims that teachers are 30 per cent. better off in real terms than they have ever been. How does he explain the fact that, in the four years since the interim advisory committee has been in operation, teachers' pay has not even kept up with inflation?

It may not have done so every year, but it has over the whole four years. The IAC was established on the back of a very large settlement. It is true that, thereafter, the settlement did not keep in line with inflation every year. That is no answer to the basic point that I made—the intervention by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) is no answer to that, either—which was that, during the period that the Government have been in office, they have shown that they recognise the need for the real income of teachers to rise in line with the improved prosperity of the country. Today's teachers have 30 per cent. more purchasing power than they had 10 years ago, when the Conservative Government came to power.

This is a good day for talking about the achievements of the past 11 years. Teachers who have been in the profession throughout the 11 years of my right hon. Friend's premiership will find that they are much better off today than they were when she came to office.

Could my right hon. and learned Friend remind the House—Opposition Members sometimes seem to be suffering from collective amnesia—that teachers' pay rose by 6 per cent. only during their term of office? I wonder why they seem to forget that, when they put so many questions to him about teachers' pay?

That is certainly the case. It is an irony that, under the last Labour Government, the pay of white collar workers, those in the professions and in the public services hardly improved at all. Blue collar industrial workers appeared to do much better than them but, In the end, no one thrived—especially in the face of the inflation over which the last Labour Government presided.

For a long time, our record on teachers' pay has been much better than that of the Government from which we took over. That record gives credibility to the Bill.

Hon. Members are encouraging me to give way because we have a lot of time. I shall give way once more, and then we shall have a change of subject.

I appreciate the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is giving way. Rather than teachers being 30 per cent. better off in real terms, since 1974 and the Houghton award, teachers are 40 per cent. worse off. So the right hon. Gentleman's figures are not accurate. In the past 16 years, teachers have generally had a bad deal, and they are now a lot worse off than they ever were.

Houghton was one of those sudden peaks. Thereafter, teachers' pay sharply declined.

Yes, it was. The then Labour Government, implemented Houghton to win an election, and there-after, teachers' pay dropped away. Returning to the present, I believe that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. I shall check, but it is my belief that, in real terms, teachers' incomes today are higher than they were at the time of the Houghton report recommendations.

The hon. Member for City of Durham shakes his head. No doubt, if I am wrong, my hon. Friend will be able to correct me when he replies to the debate.

Speaking as one who received the Houghton award of 34 per cent. in 1974, I think that the House should remember that there was 27 per cent. inflation a year later—[HON. MEMBERS: "There was not."] Yes—in 1976, there was. The value of Houghton's award was totally eroded by 1979. When the Labour Government left office, we were worse off than when we were paid the Houghton award.

We are reminiscing. I fought the 1974 election. The then Labour party bought the teachers by promising to implement Houghton, and bought nurses by promising to implement Halsbury. Once they got into office, the value of those awards in real terms was allowed to erode almost immediately.

The Bill is a much more sensible way to proceed. I am advised that, in the opinion of those who advise me, I was correct in our recent exchanges. Teachers are now 12 per cent. better off in real terms than they were after the Houghton settlement.

Let us return to the new arrangements. Clause 7 of the Bill provides for the making of orders to give effect to the changes in teachers' pay, duties and working time which emerge from the various processes that I was describing a few moments ago.

Clauses 8 and 9 provide for local education authorities and governing bodies of grant-maintained schools—who judged that they could respond better to local needs and circumstances by themselves settling the pay and conditions of their teachers—to apply to be allowed to opt out of the nationally determined framework. That builds upon the local flexibility which we have already achieved in the national arrangements in the past three years, and in my opinion is a natural extension of it.

I strongly approve of the development of more local pay bargaining and more local settlements on terms and conditions in the great public services. It would be especially advantageous for the teaching profession, many local education authorities and many grant-maintained schools.

I do not envisage that huge variations from national rates will be introduced rapidly, or at all in many cases, but the ability to tackle particular problems of local recruitment, to recognise particular skills that a school needs to offer, to reward particular performance, and to enter into agreements between the school and its staff, or the local education authority and its staff, about changes that staff want and agree to deliver in their part of the service, should all be permitted. I believe firmly that, steadily over the years, more and more local education authorities and schools and those who represent the teachers in those authorities and schools will see the advantages of moving out of national negotiating machinery and towards local pay bargaining.

On the basis of his comments, will the Secretary of State clarify whether he believes that it is preferable for most local authorities and schools to opt out of the national arrangements that he has been describing? Is it his desire that most should opt out? Can he elaborate a little on whether any research has been undertaken within the Department to assess the likely impact of such opting out? He has suggested that the impact might not be very great. What research has taken place, and will it be presented to the House.?

As a matter of broad principle but not immediate policy, I would welcome it if the majority of local education authorities and grant-maintained schools were operating some degree of local pay bargaining. That is not an imminent possibility, and it might be undesirable to move to that quite so quickly. When local pay bargaining begins to be developed within a giant service that is accustomed to only national pay bargaining, it is wise for all parties to proceed cautiously. People become accustomed to their pay, terms and conditions being handed down from on high by the Burnham committee or, in this case, its successor, and the skills do not always exist locally to move straight to local pay bargaining. It is not as easy as it sounds or looks to start negotiating as a county with all the staff outside the national limits, or for a grant-maintained school to start negotiating with its staff.

There is scope for some research and for people to develop the skills they require. I believe that, as the opportunity is provided by the Bill for employers to leave the national negotiating arrangements, some will take advantage of it. People will get used to the new arrangements and I should like to see it become much more the norm inside the education service. As I have said, people should move slowly, because negotiations at local level are difficult when nobody locally has experience of pay bargaining.

I agree with the Secretary of State about the need to move slowly. He said that there is scope for some research. I asked what research the Department has undertaken into the likely impact of opting out. We have not seen any. If there has been research, will it be made available to hon. Members during the debates on the Bill?

I do not think that we have had any and, without prejudging it, I do not think that I would take much notice of it if we had. Hypothetical research about the impact of local pay bargaining in a service that has not had any is not, in my experience, very valuable. The main thing is not to have research into what might happen but to ensure that sufficient guidance and advice is available so, that what does happen is in the interests of the local education service and those who work for it. I shall inquire as to whether there has been research, but I am not instantly converted to the desirability of too much of it.

One of the unquestioned consequences of dismembering a national pay arrangement and handing it over to local negotiations is wage drift. What view does the Treasury take of the prospect of 75 per cent. of local authorities running their own negotiations?

Under this Government, the Treasury has always been supportive of moves towards local pay bargaining and greater pay flexibility, because it means that the management have the ability to get more out of the work force and to use the increased expenditure on its payroll in a way that produces improvements in service. There has been no resistance from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer or his predecessors to moving towards local pay bargaining.

It is true that there is a danger of pay drift in just moving towards local pay bargaining. A relaxed employer may decide that he will show what an enlightened local authority he represents by paying 20 per cent. more to all the teachers and that authority is then quoted by all the other authorities involved in pay bargaining. I see that Opposition Front-Bench Members are nodding enthusiastically at that. I am sorry that they share the low opinion of local government as employers that is sometimes held by Conservative Members. That is the danger, but it is up to employers to be more sophisticated and to guard against it. The pay argument could be applied to many other industries—to every company in the engineering industry and to all other large employers.

The Opposition have to consider whether they really fear the fact that employers should be allowed to opt out. They say that they do not see much more scope for variations to reflect the local pay market, or different skills, or agreements between governors, headmasters and headmistresses and staff about enhanced payment for recognisable and measurable improvements in performance. The Opposition take too nervous a view. Pay drift is a danger, but it can be avoided by sensible managers.

Local authorities must remember, especially now that their negotiating powers are being returned to them, that everything they do must be within the limit of what is reasonably affordable. If they do not agree on that, they will simply pay the teachers more and at the same time damage other parts of the education service.

My right hon. and learned Friend is right to say that progress ought to be steady rather than hasty in this important area, but I know that he will accept that clauses 8 and 9 are looked forward to by those of us who represent extremely high cost areas, such as the county of Essex, with much greater enthusiasm than any other part of the Bill. It is a wonderful breakthrough for us. It will allow us to overcome a considerable problem, upon which I hope later to be able to expand.

Caution is no doubt desirable, but no message ought to go out from the House today that responsible local authorities should not take full advantage of clause 8 when there is a demonstrable need, as there is in west Essex, to improve teachers' pay, whatever the absolute rate is throughout the country. Housing in west Essex is so expensive that teachers' pay must be improved there.

My hon. Friend will be reassured to hear that clause 8 does not inhibit the right of Essex county council to enter into local negotiations, if it so wishes. My personal advice, however, is that Essex ought to be careful how it proceeds. Nevertheless, Essex knows exactly what it wishes to do. I know that there are very real problems in Essex that must be addressed. They can be addressed only by the county council entering into proper local pay bargaining arrangements.

Did my right hon. and learned Friend have the pleasure of reading the minority report that I appended to the Select Committee's April report on the pay and remuneration of teachers? If he did, I wonder whether he saw that I suggested that teachers ought to be paid on an individual basis. That could be brought about by means of the Bill. If that were done, teachers would feel much happier. They would see that their contribution to the school—the task of teaching their subject and whatever other responsibilities they may have—had been taken into account by the school authorities. If teachers felt that their services were more valued, they would be much happier and would feel more settled.

At that time, I was reading other Select Committee reports, but I remember reading newspaper reports about the minority report that my hon. Friend had appended to the Select Committee's report. I remind my hon. Friend that a great deal of flexibility has emerged as a result of the advisory committee's recommendations.

Individual rewards for teachers are already much more of a possibility as a result of what has been negotiated. If local authorities have ideas of their own, clause 8 will allow them to decide what, for them, are better arrangements for the individual reward of teachers. The more flexibility there is in the system, the more people will see that that is a valuable way to improve rewards to the profession and thereby to raise teaching standards.

The new negotiating machinery to which the Bill gives effect amounts to a carefully balanced package that gives proper recognition to the legitimate interests of teachers, their employers and the Government. It is fair to teachers, parents, taxpayers and community charge payers. It is the best proposition available at a time when we must return to restoring negotiating machinery. It will be a valuable addition to present efforts to recruit teachers and will, I hope, lead to further improvement in the good level of recruitment and retention in the teaching profession.

The Department carries out a survey every October of recruitment to teacher training courses in all universities, polytechnics and colleges in England and Wales. The figures are much better this year than last year. Nearly 24,000 students started initial teacher training this year. That is a quite spectacular increase of more than 2,000 compared with last year. Recruitment to primary courses is nearly 12 per cent. higher than a year ago, which is a spectacular increase. Recruitment to secondary courses is nearly 6 per cent. higher. Recruitment to the main secondary shortage subjects, except mathematics, was higher than last year. There has been an increase of 30 per cent. in the intake of modern language specialists.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Michael Fallon)

Hear hear.

I repeat that, as I got a "Hear, hear". There has been an increase of almost a third in the recruitment of modern language specialists. Overall, recruitment was almost half as high again as in 1983, and was the highest since 1977. The House must agree that that is good news. It shows how effective our programme of action on teacher supply measures has been and that, contrary to all the myths, teaching is an attractive career and is becoming increasingly so. But we cannot rest on that—we must do better still.

Not only is recruitment suddenly up, but retention is satisfactory as well. I have been considering, for the first time, wastage ln the profession. Wastage—people leaving teaching for other occupations—runs at only about 1 per cent. per year. That is a spectacularly low figure and reflects job satisfaction as well as satisfaction with pay. The general vacancy rate in our schools, contrary to constant campaigning, has not risen in the past 10 years, but I accept that there are problems in one or two places. My Department's survey earlier this year showed that vacancies this year were particularly down in September, compared with a year ago.

Recruitment and retention is satisfactory, and the new machinery will have a good starting point in the current teachers' pay and conditions document. That already covers pay, duties and working time; it provides attractive pay levels and scope for desirable differentiation; and it provides wide-ranging local flexibility.

That is the background on which we must build. I share the views which I think my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was expressing at the weekend—that we should build on it by putting the machinery in place for the proper negotiation of pay and by continuing to build up the morale of the profession yet further. It is the key deliverer of the service, and as we restore its self-esteem and job satisfaction, the beneficiaries will be pupils, who will find a motivated teaching force applying themselves with even more dedication to teaching them.

Despite what the Minister has said, the view from the chalk face is different. Staff do not agree with his interpretation of recruitment and retention. Teachers in my constituency, with whom I have been speaking in the past few weeks, believe that only an attractive increase in salaries will recruit and retain teachers.

I am sure that teachers always aspire to higher pay and, quite properly, they always have a pay claim in prospect. As I have said in repeated exchanges, not only is their pay much better but we are attracting more people to the profession, the wastage rate is low and vacancies are down.

It is true. I quite understand why unions keep up a constant stream of propaganda that seeks to undermine that position. The Labour party should occasionally, as a responsible Opposition, address itself to the facts which I described.