On 28 January the teachers panel rejected the management panel's offer of a 4 per cent. pay increase and refused arbitration. A further meeting of the Burnham committee was held on 11 February but no agreement was reached.
Given the damage that will be done to children's education, will my right hon. Friend appeal even to the members of the National Union of Teachers not to join in this militant action while negotiations are still alive, and will he give us some idea of the actual salary claim that has been submitted by the NUT?
I certainly appeal to the teachers not to disrupt the interests of the children in their charge. I believe that many teachers, even those who belong to the unions that have suggested disruption, will think many times before taking disruptive action. As for the evaluation of the teachers' pay claim, I have seen estimates which suggest that it might cost as much as 50 per cent. of the present remuneration of teachers, but lesser figures have also been canvassed.
Will the Secretary of State accept that in addition to the 23 local education authority areas mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), in which three days' industrial action is to take place next week in pursuit of the teachers' pay claim, many thousands of other teachers will also refuse to cover for absent colleagues and make voluntary contributions at lunchtime and after school to the duties they perform in the schools in which they work. Will the Secretary of State therefore advise his political friends on Solihull district council that since those duties are voluntary and are not part of the teachers' contract, the district council should not be proposing to take the NUT to court under the Trade Union Act 1984.
Such decisions are entirely for the local education authorities concerned, but the teachers ought to consider whether it is in their interests, in seeking higher esteem as professionals, to disrupt the education of the children in their charge. I believe that the vast majority of teachers will not do it.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that ordinary teachers are aware of the possibilities of enhancement that could come from restructuring? Does this not also cast a light on the effectiveness of the present Burnham structure?
I think that there has been a misconception and that it has sometimes been encouraged by some of the teachers' unions. Some form of teaching assessment, preferably associated with pay, might enhance the career development of teachers and improve the deployment of teachers by their employers, for the benefit of all the children.
Will the Secretary of State be more constructive this afternoon and recognise that teachers do an extremely difficult job, that they do it very well and that since Houghton their pay has fallen by 30 per cent.? Will he also recognise that it is a good pay claim, that teachers are worth paying properly in the interests of our children and that he ought therefore to intervene to resolve this dispute?
I certainly recognise that teaching is a hard job and that most teachers try to do it as effectively as possible. I accept that in the years immediately after Houghton while a Labour Government were in power the benefit of that pay increase was rapidly and dramatically eroded. Since the Tory Government came into office in 1979, teachers have had an actual increase in real pay. If they were to get anything like the increase which they are now seeking, the result would be an increase in unemployment, the level of which we already very much deplore.
While understanding the constitutional position, may I ask the Secretary of State to confirm that he is perfectly entitled to call the parties in and to tell them how much money is available?
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would join me in expressing what I am sure is a genuine feeling, that disruption of children's education is in no way justified. There is a negotiating machinery, and I have no right to call the parties in to negotiate. The employers have made it plain that 4 per cent. is the most that they can afford, and that is the inescapable reality.