Education Bill

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Mr. Timms: The review body has worked well in its 10 years' of existence. It has certainly brought stability to teachers' pay settlements. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields was right to point out that it has served the interests of teachers well too. The review body was born out of years of previous conflict. I do not think that anyone would regard the old way of doing things as a good way to settle these matters, but all that has ended.

The review body is widely supported among teachers and employers. With the exception of the National Union of Teachers, the other unions do not object to it, so it has achieved a remarkably wide array of support. That reflects the success that it has had in its 10 years in operation and the fact that it replaced a bargaining system that had failed.

It is unacceptable that the STRB should exist only on the basis of the annual parliamentary debate. That would be a recipe for disarray. Perhaps the suggestion was simply a probing point. I think that the Minister would agree that weakness, confusion and uncertainty about teachers' pay is in nobody's interests and that it is important that we have a clear system and that people know how it works. People need to be confident that the system will deliver a sensible outcome, as it has done in the past 10 years.

I have more sympathy with what the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said about the attractions of a single teaching association. I certainly had more sympathy than the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on that matter. Of course, it is a matter for all of the profession entirely. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough made a very valid argument on that point, but I do not agree with him about the amendment. I think that on reflection he would also feel that the confusion that it would cause would be unhelpful. I hope that he will withdraw it.

Mr. Willis: I am grateful to the Minister for the courteous way in which he has dealt with the amendments. At least he is not still fighting an election.

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How we deal with teachers' pay and conditions in the future is an important issue. The employers' organisations that sponsored this amendment, not the National Union of Teachers, also hold strongly to the view that the STRB has served a purpose and should be replaced. We should negotiate about that. The Government are rightly considering innovative ways in which we can take the profession and our schools forward, and the amendment would keep that process under review. I hear what the Minister says, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 486, in page 72, leave out line 15.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 487, in page 72, line 16, after 'appoint' insert 'the chairman and'.

Mr. Brady: These are probing amendments, and they would bring the appointment of the review body chairman into line with the mechanism for the appointment of review body members. Committee members will have noticed that the chairman will be appointed by the Prime Minister, whereas the other members will be appointed by the Secretary of State. Would it be more appropriate for the chairman to be appointed by the Secretary of State? That would acknowledge that the Secretary of State has a role in the development of education policy, given that doubt has arisen as to where Government education policy originates.

There is increasing press speculation that the shift is continuing and that Downing street is in the driving seat on education policy more than the Department. I am giving the Minister an opportunity in the turf war between the Department and Downing street to seize a small but important piece of territory. I am sure that with the support of his hon. Friend the Whip, his hon. Friends on the Government Benches—one or two may have divided loyalties—would be readily persuaded to join him in emphasising that the Secretary of State is capable of making such decisions. In appointing the chairman of the review body, the Secretary of State may be able to perform a useful function.

Mr. Timms: At present, all members of the School Teachers Review Body are appointed by the Prime Minister. The Bill will change that: only the appointment of the chairman will be left to the Prime Minister. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not the result of the turf war to which he erroneously alluded. It puts the arrangements for that review body in line with the arrangements for all the others. The STRB has a critical role: a large number of public sector workers are affected by it. Pay is one of the key factors in recruitment and retention, which is currently an important concern. The reports of the review body have a critical impact on the country's economy. They are sent to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. The STRB chairman has a key role and should be appointed by, and with the authority of, the Prime Minister: that gives the body additional status. It is also appropriate for review body members to be appointed by the Secretary of State. That arrangement puts it in line with other

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review bodies: the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, the Doctors and Dentists Remuneration Review Body, the Review Body for Nursing Staff, Midwives, Health Visitors and Professions Allied to Medicine, the Prison Service Pay Review Body and the Senior Salaries Review Body. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight reminded the Committee that Members of Parliament are the beneficiaries of such a body as well. The arrangement in the Bill will put the School Teachers' Review Body in line with the others, so I commend it to the Committee.

10.15 am

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Minister. He gave an explanation that seemed to run along the lines of the Secretary of State being permitted to perform some functions, but with her work being sent to the Prime Minister for checking or marking at the end of the process. That will not come as a surprise to Committee members. The Minister said that I was wrong to imply that there was turf war, so we are left to draw the conclusion that there is just a meek surrender from the Department. I gave the Minister an opportunity; sadly, he has chosen not to take it. However, I do not intend to press for a Division, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 537, in page 72, line 17, at end add—

    '(5) The National Assembly for Wales may establish a consultative committee on pay and conditions for the teaching profession in Wales, which may make representations on any function relating to teachers in Wales to the Review Body.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 538, in clause 116, page 72, line 20, after 'state', insert

    'or a committee established under section 115(5),'.

No. 539, in clause 117, page 73, line 11, after 'schools', insert—

    '( ) a committee established under section 115(5),'.

Mr. Brady: As you know, Mr. Griffiths, from your splendid time in the Chair of this Committee—a time that I am sure you will remember with great joy and affection—I have sought to be entirely even-handed. I do not like to leave out any Government Member, and from time to time I have tried to give the Under-Secretary of State for Wales a role in our proceedings. Without wanting to impose significant changes to the powers of the Welsh Assembly or shift the balance of the devolution settlement, the amendments would open up a new avenue for greater consultation. They would not replicate the STRB mechanism exactly, but would allow the National Assembly for Wales to establish a consultative committee to have an input into the deliberations of both the STRB and the Secretary of State, or the Prime Minister as the case may be, in matters of teacher remuneration.

As we see light at the end of the tunnel in the Committee's proceedings, I was keen to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales was not entirely left out. He should have an opportunity to speak for the Principality and about the possibility that

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consultation might be established with the STRB mechanism.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): I am touched by the caring, loving and tender approach of the new Tory party, as shown by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West this morning. It is not something we are used to from the Tories in Wales, as you would know Mr. Griffiths.

Mr. Willis: There aren't any.

Mr. Touhig: Well, there are one or two still under the surface.

The amendment would allow a form of special consideration of teachers' pay and conditions in Wales. Pay and conditions are not devolved to the Assembly and are matters for the Secretary of State. The STRB is required to take evidence from representatives of local education authorities, other employers and teachers, and we believe that those arrangements are appropriate means of reflecting the interests of the teaching profession in Wales. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is committed to consulting the Assembly before taking final decisions on matters relating to the review body. For example, the Department's evidence to the STRB takes account of comments made by the Assembly.

I am concerned that the amendments carry the potential to lead to significant differences in the pay structures of teachers in England and Wales. There is no question of that happening while teachers' pay and conditions remain the responsibility of the Secretary of State.

The question of whether teachers' pay in Wales should be devolved is separate. It was resolved in the face of stiff opposition from the Conservative party when we settled the devolution arrangements in the Government of Wales Act 1998 and transferred a number of functions to the Assembly. However, this was not one of them. I believe that it is the Conservative party's policy to extend the devolution settlement by adding more powers and responsibilities to the Assembly in Wales. If that is now its policy it is very new, which is interesting. It may or may not have told its colleagues in Cardiff.

The practical consideration of the STRB's work load must be taken into account. The board does not carry out separate consultations for England and Wales. It is a body of unpaid volunteers, and it does not have the resources to do so. These amendments would carry greater logic and conviction if they were aimed at establishing a new review body for teachers' pay in Wales. However, that would fly in the face of the devolution settlement and I do not believe that his party would want to do that.

I am concerned about the prospect of separate pay and conditions developing between teachers in Wales and England. We would be on a slippery slope regarding Welsh interests. As you will know, Mr. Griffiths, Welsh schools suffer fewer problems with teacher recruitment and retention than schools in some

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parts of England. I am sure that market logic will dictate that separate pay and conditions for teachers in England and Wales would lead to the pay of teachers in Wales eventually falling behind that of teachers in England. I am sure that that is not the hon. Gentleman's intention, and it is certainly not something that the Government would support. In the light of those comments, I urge the hon. Gentleman to be satisfied with the present devolution settlement, as we are, and to withdraw his amendment.

 
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