Education Bill

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Mr. Willis: I beg to move amendment No. 499, in clause 115, page 72, line 13, after 'exist', insert

    'subject to an annual affirmative resolution procedure'.

In opposition, the Labour party strongly opposed the setting up of the School Teachers Review Body under the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1991. At that time, it rightly argued that the body was in direct contravention of International Labour Organisation recommendations, which it then strongly supported. The teaching profession assumed that when there was a Labour Government with Mr. Kinnock as its socialist Prime Minister, which they expected to be in 1992, there would be a return to the norm of proper bargaining between teachers and their employers.

I strongly support the principle that every worker has the right to be represented and to negotiate pay and conditions. It is sad that some members of the modern Labour party do not feel that that right should be protected. The Government do not intend to repeal the 1991 Act, and they are determined that the School Teachers Review Body should continue under the Bill. That organisation is appointed by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State; there is no other case in Britain of an organisation that decides on the pay and conditions of a group of workers, who are not allowed to negotiate, being appointed by those who provide the resources; that is, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. I accept that that situation is not of this Government's making, but it is important to remind the Committee about it before I talk about the substance of the amendment.

Mr. David Miliband (South Shields): If the hon. Gentleman reflects on the past 10 years, does he think that teachers would have got a better deal bargaining collectively or would it have been a better deal for schools? The average pay rises for teachers as a result of the STRB compared well with the previous 10 years and with what they got out of collective bargaining. I ask that question in a reasonably open spirit.

Mr. Willis: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking the question because he is wrong. Since the STRB was set up, comparing teachers' pay with that of other non-manual workers, the average received by other non-manual workers—[Interruption.] Some comparisons have to be made and that is the yardstick that the Government have adopted. It has gone down significantly over the period, but that is not my main argument. In the past 10 years, we could have moved towards a single professional association representing all teachers, which is essential and I have argued the case with the individual teacher unions. The division gets in the way of direct collective bargaining and agreements between employers and teachers.

The purpose of the amendment is to apply our annual affirmative resolution procedure to the STRB, which is now 10 years old. To be fair, since coming into office in 1997 the Government have made

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significant changes to the remuneration of teachers: they have introduced a threshold, performance management, advanced skills teachers and other arrangements. It was the Government, not the School Teachers Review Body, who decided to implement those changes. I do not question their right to do so, but the time has come for them not just to reaffirm the STRB as the model for deciding these matters for the next five to 10 years, but constantly to review the position.

The Government envisage at least 10 per cent. of schools having earned autonomy by the end of this Parliament. One element of earned autonomy is the ability to determine pay and conditions. The grant-maintained experience showed that few schools took advantage of such arrangements, so I doubt whether many schools will take advantage now. It is more likely that the STRB will become increasingly obsolete.

Every year, the House has an opportunity to examine the work of the School Teachers Review Body and, under affirmative resolution procedure, to declare whether it is appropriate for it to continue. After all, it is a quango, not a direct negotiation between teachers and their employers. It is time for the Government to assess whether the STRB is appropriate in our new era of valuing teachers. The Secretary of State made a statement to the Social Market Foundation about professionalism and trust, but in an age of professionalism and trust we have no need of a body to tell teachers how much they can earn. The amendment is designed to deal with that matter.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. As usual, he speaks with a forked tongue: the amendment says one thing, but his explanation says another. I sympathise with his argument that a quango takes negotiation out of the hands of individuals and their employers and places decision-making in the hands of a national body.

The School Teachers Review Body was set up for good reasons. As the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband) pointed out, since its establishment in 1991—my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Baker of Dorking set up its predecessor—the teaching profession has benefited from reasonably generous pay increases and from the fact that negotiations about salaries were removed from the sphere of conflict between employer and employee.

That was very much the position before 1986. Hon. Members may recall that at that time the employers' organisations were on one side, and the teachers' trade unions on the other. In the middle were the Secretary of State's appointees. They all attempted to reach a mutually agreed position on teachers' pay and usually did so to the sound of considerable argument in the background. On many occasions, there were strikes or other so-called industrial action and activity that diminished the professional standing of teachers in the eyes of the world outside and that did considerable damage to pupils in their classrooms. It is fair to say that, since 1986, those noises off have reduced.

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We should ask what the consequence would be of what the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough proposes. He says that there should be a single teaching union, but why? What is the benefit to teachers of being forced into a monopoly trade union rather than one that more effectively represents their standpoints and views of professionalism? Some teachers believe that it is inappropriate to strike or take similar action. Others believe that when their union says that action should be taken, they should join it willy-nilly.

I have been a member of unions that hold both positions. I am a former member of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers and of the Professional Association of Teachers. I left one union and joined the other because I felt that the strike action that the NAS/UWT promoted in 1978 and 1979 damaged my relationships with the pupils whom I was in the school to teach and with other members of staff in the common room.

There is a good reason why members of the teaching profession should not have a monopoly union representative. They hold different views, as is right, but different unions found it much more difficult to agree a unified position when it came to pay negotiations. As a result, some were striking for one thing and some for another. It was often difficult for employers to meet the desires of both branches of the teachers' side of the Burnham committee.

I am not convinced that it would be better to return to the model of employee-employer relations in the teaching profession that existed right through the 1960s, 1970s and into the middle of the 1980s. My late father, who joined the profession in 1937, strongly believed that it was the action in the 1960s that so diminished the standing of teachers in the public's view. He was uncomfortable because he felt that that action had undermined his relationships with his school, pupils and parents exactly as I described and he did not want teachers to be put in that position.

There are different views on the issue, but I do not believe that a professional goes on strike. They must put the needs of their clients—pupils, in this case—above any personal aspiration. A return to the bargaining arrangements as they were called—battling arrangements would be a better description—of the 1960s is the last thing that we want in the profession.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment talks merely about maintaining the review body by an affirmative resolution each year. I see no difficulty in having a debate on teachers' pay each year. The Liberal Democrats have many Opposition days on which they can bring motions before the House . If they think it is important, perhaps they could do that. I do not know how frequently they have done so in the past.

It will be unwise to assume that this review body will cease to be of relevance, even in the conditions of earned autonomy that the Government hope will

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prevail among many schools as a result of the passing of this Bill. It is useful to have a national benchmark. It is particularly useful for teachers to be placed on the same level as right hon. and hon. Members of this Committee, nurses and doctors, the medical professions, and high court judges, in having an external review of appropriate remuneration levels for the profession and the minimum conditions in which teachers are expected to operate. That is not to say that teachers by private arrangement should not agree differently, and that they should not agree differently under the conditions of earned autonomy that the Government are proposing. I see no difficulty in having a professional benchmark in the way that the School Teachers Review Body was designed to establish.

To reiterate, the STRB has led fewer strikes or industrial disputes and has achieved better remuneration and terms of conditions for teachers than was the case before these arrangements were established.

 
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