Teachers' Dispute

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 4th July 1985.

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Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education 3:31 pm, 4th July 1985

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the teachers' dispute following the failure of the management panel of the Burnham committee to put any proposal to the teachers' panel.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

We are all surely very unhappy that this long dispute continues. I intensely want to see pupils receiving uninterrupted education, but the Government have wide economic obligations and are not willing to make extra resources available for teachers' pay unless those extra resources would be used to make progress towards our objectives for improving educational standards. That means improving promotion prospects and giving better rewards to good quality teachers.

Last July—a year ago—I made plain my willingness to help progress in this area. On 21 May this year I made plain the Government's willingness to provide extra resources for teachers' pay next year for this purpose. I repeated that offer in meetings with the employers' associations on 24 June and 1 July and in a letter to the teachers on 2 July.

Both employers and teachers were well aware of the Government's position before yesterday's requisitioned meeting. They also know that I stand ready to join in discussions to make the progress which is so urgent and necessary—given the October deadline for decisions on the rate support grant settlement—if we are not again to miss the chance of reforming the pay structure.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Why did the Secretary of State instruct his officials to wreck yesterday's Burnham committee meeting? Why did he use his 15 block votes against a peace proposal supported by 19 of the 24 elected representatives?

Does he understand that his high-handed behaviour has so angered local authority associations that the Burnham machinery is on the point of collapse? Will he admit that the only constructive talks that are now taking place are outside Burnham — those between the Labour-led employers and the teachers' representatives — and that that is no thanks to him? Is he aware that he is starving schools of resources, has demoralised teachers and is doing his best to undermine any chance of ending the turmoil in our schools? Why is the Secretary of State such a wrecker? For the sake of our children, he should resign before he does any more damage.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

These are very strong words. The hon. Gentleman is speaking as if my representatives voted down some substantive offer. It was not like that at all. The House should know that what was being discussed was whether a joint meeting of teachers and employers with me should be sought. Both sides have known very well for months that I am intensely willing to see them. My representatives opposed the addition to the request for a meeting of words which run utterly contrary to what I have repeated time and again to be the Government's objectives and decisions. No joint request to meet me was being voted upon. What was being voted upon was whether certain words should be added to a request for a meeting. The House knows that I stand eagerly ready to meet both sides of Burnham should they wish to talk to me.

Photo of Mr David Madel Mr David Madel , South West Bedfordshire

As the Government have said that they will make additional resources available for 1986–87, including an expanded network of in-service training, should not the teacher unions accept the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service's offer of informal talks to reach the goal of an improved and new salary structure and an improved education service?

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

My hon. Friend is surely on the right constructive lines, but I must emphasise that the teachers, led by the National Union of Teachers, have refused to negotiate the offer to make extra funds available to meet the Government's objectives of better promotion prospects and better standards in schools since last year. They are still refusing to consider at all, let alone seriously, the renewed and repeated offer that I made in my letter of 21 May and which I repeated to the employers' association last week and to the teachers a couple of days ago by letter.

There is ample opportunity for teachers to secure the improved career prospects that they understandably want, if only they will get down to serious discussion of the 21 May letter—and in time to catch the October deadline, if extra money is to be put for that purpose in to the rate support grant settlement this year for next year.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

For how much longer will teachers be expected to put up with pay rises below the rate of inflation when their job is getting increasingly difficult and everybody is expecting more? If the press leak of a 2 per cent. availability is untrue, how much money, on agreement with the teachers, will be available?

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

I accept that, in many places and under many conditions, the teaching job these days is extremely difficult. I have accepted that for a long time. However, I ask the House to realise that universal indexing is the road to further inflation and thus to more unemployment.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time for restructuring Burnham has come as it is no longer capable of handling the affairs of the great teaching profession? Is he aware that there are schools where there have been no parental meetings and no reports for perhaps three years? Is it not disgraceful that strikes are so damaging children's education? They will never recover. Worse, Labour party spokesmen go all over the country encouraging the strike and damaging children.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

I am willing to be convinced that there is a better method than Burnham to arrange these affairs, but even if the Government were so convinced, legislation would be needed and there would inevitably be a delay before legislation could be introduced. While my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) was asking his question, I heard the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) talking about the use of the veto from a sedentary position. I must remind the House that the veto was not used yesterday and that it was introduced when a Labour Government were in office. The hon. Gentleman ought to bear that in mind.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Weetch Mr Kenneth Weetch , Ipswich

Does not the Secretary of State agree that the Burnham negotiating machinery has been creaking at the joints for years? Does he further agree that instead of being a negotiating body it now resembles a Gilbert and Sullivan opera? Will he use his influence to ensure that the realities of the position appear in the negotiating machinery, in that the Government are the paymasters? It should reflect just that.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

But that is precisely what was intended to be reflected by the veto arrangements introduced when the Labour Government were in office.

Photo of Mr Roy Galley Mr Roy Galley , Halifax

No doubt my right hon. Friend will disregard the extravagant words of the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice). As we say in Yorkshire, he rattles like a "can o' mabs" and there is nowt much inside.

While acknowledging the difficulty of persuading the teachers' unions to negotiate seriously about teacher assessment and improving standards, may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider going further, as a long-term objective, and offer the union a little more money and a pay review body system in return for a no-disruption agreement?

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

Those are propositions which, in the right context and circumstances, might deserve consideration. However, at the moment the teachers are unwilling even to address themselves to the serious offer made in my letter of 21 May. I would have thought that the whole House was united in seeking the better promotion and career prospects for teachers of quality and better schooling for our children.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd , Stretford

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that even Conservative-controlled authorities are now so worried about the damage being done to children's education and the morale of the teaching profession that they have urged that negotiations take place within Burnham leading to an adequate salary increase for teachers? An example of that is the Conservative-controlled borough of Trafford. Those authorities look to the Secretary of State as the only person who can break the deadlock by accepting the need for a pay increase and by agreeing to fund it when it comes.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

The hon. Gentleman is repeating a request that, time and again, I have refused. The Government are not willing to make more money available, except to make progress towards the Government's objectives of better promotion prospects, a better career structure for teachers and more effective education in our schools.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

My right hon. Friend has fallen into the inadvertent error of referring to teachers when he means the teachers' union representative on the Burnham committee. Will he write to individual teachers and governors of schools — as the Secretary of State for Social Services did in the recent dispute over prescriptions — so that the teachers and governors know what my right hon. Friend is offering, which is a very fair offer?

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

As is often the case, I strongly agree with what my hon. Friend has said. I do fall — especially when trying to speak briefly in the House — into the error of assuming that all teachers agree with teachers' asssociation leaders. On my hon. Friend's suggestion of a letter to all teachers, I have seriously considered that possibility, but I am not the employer of the teachers. However, I take my hon. Friend's idea seriously.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons

While the Minister's sincerity is obvious, as he has utterly failed to secure the co-operation of school teachers, should he not consider making way for a successor?

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

It is all very well the right hon. Gentleman courteously and gently putting that proposition, but I am convinced that the country and most teachers accept the Government's purpose of better education in our schools. I have taken the steps that should enable teachers and employers to get down to negotiations, to secure the additional public funding that is on offer for next year.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Warrington South

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree with me that it would be a tragedy if the impasse were to continue any longer. Is not the only answer for the teachers to put to the test what my right hon. Friend has said and agree to discuss salaries together with future prospects in teaching as a possible way out?

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend.