(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the dispute on teachers' pay following the adjournment of the talks in the early hours of this morning.
I regret that there was not a settlement to the teachers' pay dispute by early this morning. I am sure that the whole House shares that regret. The Government are clear that they want the dispute settled and our schools back to normal, but not at any price.
Yesterday, the management side made clear its willingness to see a settlement involving 5 per cent. for all teachers from 1 April this year, with an underpinning figure of £480 a year. In addition, it was willing to contemplate a merger of scales 1 and 2 with effect from 1 September and a further 1 per cent. on all scale points with effect from 1 November, provided that agreement could be reached in principle with the teachers on a total structure package covering pay and conditions to be discussed with me in time for any resulting agreement to be built into next October's rate support grant decisions. That would have given teachers a money increase of a little over 5·8 per cent. this year and the base line for teacher salary negotiaions beyond November 1985 would have been increased by over 6·4 per cent.
I understand that the employers made it clear that those figures took them to, and in many cases beyond, the limit of their ability to pay. The teachers were not willing to accept. The House is aware that I wrote on 21 May to the then chairman of the management panel about pay and conditions of service. I have since repeated the Government's position. We are not willing to make additional resources available for 1985–86 or to relax expenditure targets and grant holdback arrangements for that year, but we are willing to make extra resources available for teachers' pay in 1986–87 and to help meet the cost of removing midday supervision of schools from teachers' standard duties provided—I must emphasise this—that there is satisfactory progress by October towards the Government's objectives for improving quality and standards in the education service.
I have made it plain that October is the critical period because of the timing of Government decisions on rate support grant. After yesterday's meeting, it is all the more important for local authorities and teachers, as well as the Government, that acceptable progress be made by October, thus allowing additional resources to be unlocked for the education service. As a result, local authorities would be able to offer substantially improved career and promotion prospects based on consideration of all of the relevant factors such as teachers' qualifications, skills and experience, the quality of the work done and the demands of particular teaching posts and the difficulty of filling them. Linked with that, the Government would want a clearer statement of teachers' duties. The Government are willing to consider whether midday supervision might not be outside the standard expectation and be arranged and paid for separately. I dearly invite local authority employers and teachers to make progress in those directions.
The Secretary of State has once again told the House about the contribution that he is prepared to make towards an agreement with the teachers next year, but parents want to know what, apart from general exhortation, he is doing to solve this year's dispute. I am disappointed that the Labour-led employers' imaginative new approach has not yet produced a settlement—[Laughter.] It is quite clear that Conservative Members are not interested in a settlement.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, during the 13-hour marathon session, the employers and the teachers demonstrated flexibility? Should not the Secretary of State show equal flexibility and help teachers and employers to bridge the gap that is still between them? Could he at least relax the RSG penalties? The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Labour party is doing everything in its power to bring about an agreement.
Is it not about time that the Secretary of State descended from his ivory tower and did everything in his power to solve this dispute, which is proving to be so damaging to our education?
The Government will not relax the target and penalty framework. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that I have been offering on behalf of the Government the same sort of contribution towards the financing of education on the same conditions as have been repeated frequently since 21 May for well over a year. The teachers have consistently refused to discuss it. It is not I who have lacked flexibility. As for the opportunities of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Labour Party, I would remind both him and them that they have allies in the teacher associations. What is he, and what are they, doing to bring the teacher associations, in particular the National Union of Teachers and their leaders—[HON. MEMBERS: "You are the Secretary of State."] The hon. Gentleman laid himself open to this question, since he asserted that he and his party are doing their best to bring the dispute to an end. I have to remind him, and it, that they have allies among the teacher unions, in particular among the leadership of the National Union of Teachers. What are they doing to bring those individuals to their senses and face reality? The pupils must come first. I should like for once to hear the hon. Gentleman put their interests before those of the unions.
Mr. Teacher—Mr. Speaker. [Laughter.] Your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, was a teacher, but that does not justify my slip of the tongue. My hon. Friend has made a valid point. I am not at all convinced that every individual teacher knows what is on offer from the Government. If I could find a way of making sure that all teachers did, I should pursue it. It would then be up to the teacher unions to pursue the idea of balloting, again in some cases, if they so decided.
We agree that pay and conditions must be linked, but would not the Secretary of State agree that he must show a little more flexibility? Nobody will come out of this dispute getting what he wants. Might he not think again about the 14 points in his letter of 21 May and at least agree some of the uncontentious points? It seems that the Government have two alternatives. The first is to do nothing and let the teachers and the employers stew. The other is to show a little understanding of what is going on and to depart a little from their inflexible position.
The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that I have offered, on behalf of the Government, additional money for teachers on condition that they cooperate in improving the effectiveness of schooling, which is, after all, for the benefit of the children.
Since it must by now be abundantly clear to everyone, first that the Government will not add further funding this year for teachers' pay, and, secondly, that the employers have gone as far as they possibly can, as they said last night, within those limits is it not now in the teachers' own interests that they should start to talk immediately about restructuring pay and conditions so as to take advantage of what the Secretary of State has said about next year? Could my right hon. Friend consider whether it would help in that direction if he indicated the sort of figures that he might have in mind, should a suitable agreement be reached?
I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, but I shall be unable to give an indication of a figure for what might be available until some willingness to negotiate is shown and some progress has been made.
Is it not a fact that the Government are grossly undervaluing teachers in the state sector and are responsible for the lack of the education that children would have received if the Government paid teachers a proper wage?
Why has the Secretary of State, at this time of all times, linked conditions of service with teachers' wages for the first time when they are saying that they should get their proper wage now and that they would be willing to discuss conditions of service and restructuring afterwards? Most people do not know that, because the press does not tell them. It is disgraceful that the alliance should have gone along with the Government in this.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the time has come to discuss the salaries of head teachers and deputy head teachers separately? Will he bear in mind that for one spell of 13·5 hours last week, teachers' unions and the employers were talking separately and came together for only 18 minutes of negotiation? Does not that show that the Burnham structure has decayed and should be dispensed with?
Does my right hon. Friend know that the Labour education spokesman, the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), shared a platform in outer London the other day with Militant Tendency and sacked miners and said that he was delighted that there were strikes in 14 schools, including two special schools? The Labour party, and especially the hon. Member for Durham, North, is damaging children. It is time that it stopped.
I have to agree with my hon. Friend that the Labour party seems to choose to support teachers the whole while, in conflict with the interests of the children. I am concerned that, as far as I can gather, the differentials of head teachers seem to have come under pressure during the negotiations. I hope that the importance of adequate differentials for heads and their deputies will be borne in mind.
Will the Secretary of State take on board the fact that if he were negotiating on behalf of a private organisation or company, he would rightly have been sacked many months ago? Will he also take on board the fact that the choice that he is giving teachers is either more flexibilityfrom the Government or that they should leave the profession if they want an adequate standard of living?
No, there is a third alternative, which is to negotiate to secure additional money from the taxpayer so that transformed career and promotion prospects may be made available to teachers.
Is it not clear that my right hon. Friend's letter of 21 May offers a sensible basis for the settlement of this difficult and long-running dispute? Would not it be helpful if the proposals in that letter were made more publicly available to the people who should know about them?
I am constantly paying tribute to the hard work, dedication and effectiveness of most teachers. I have stirred a finger to offer additional money in return for co-operation.
While I acknowledge that the entry pay for qualified teachers is not high, and that many teachers feel that they must take on administrative duties to enhance their top salary level, does my right hon. Friend agree that both parents and pupils will rightly feel dismayed at the breakdown of last night's talks, when they might otherwise have hoped that the new school year which begins in September would not be disrupted, especially pastoral and extramural studies?
Is the Secretary of State aware that, as a consultant to the NUT, I have plenty of allies in the union, and, indeed, sufficient contact with teachers to know the measure of anger that they feel and the degree to which teachers, including some of our best teachers, are voting with their feet? How often has the right hon. Gentleman met the teachers to discover those facts for himself?
I am in the habit of accepting practically every opportunity given me to meet teachers. When I visit schools I always make plain my willingness to meet deputations of the staff. The hon. Gentleman should take account of the doubts expressed by some of my hon. Friends. Do all teachers know the shape of what the Government are offering? I wonder whether they do.