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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Education Bill

Education Bill

Column Number: 497

Standing Committee G

Thursday 17 January 2002


[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]

Education Bill

Clause 118

Power to prescribe pay and conditions

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 529, in page 73, line 35, at end insert:

    ''(except where it is agreed between the parties that a services contract is exempt from the provisions of this Part).''.—[Mr. Brady.]

2.30 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 526, in page 73, line 39, after ''carry out'' insert ''only''.

Amendment No. 527, in page 73, line 40, at end insert:

    ''(e) he carries out work of a kind which is specified by regulations under section 129(1) for part of his contracted hours, in which case powers under section 118 may be applied to that proportion of the contracted hours.''.

Amendment No. 528, in page 74, line 20, at end insert:

    ''( ) Nothing in this or other education legislation shall prevent a local education authority or governing body from employing a teacher on a contract for services.''.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Before we adjourned, I was about to say how grateful we are for the Minister's comments on the amendments. He gave some useful assurances; for example, that there will be a more detailed exposition under clause 129 of the Government's thinking on the work that is reserved for teachers. We look forward to that discussion.

We also received greater clarification about teachers employed on a contract of services. The assurance that schools are already permitted to employ teachers on such a basis means that amendment No. 528 is not necessary, but the discussion that ensued about the rules pertaining to pay and conditions for such teachers was helpful.

I am happy with the assurance of further discussion under clause 129 and, with the useful information that we have gleaned, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 118 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Column Number: 498

The Chairman: Before we move on, I should just say that, in the event of a miracle that gets us to the end of today's business, we will have a meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee to cancel Monday's sitting. That may be an incentive to hon. Members.

Clause 119

Order under section 118: scope

Mr. Brady: In the spirit of your guidance, Mr. Griffiths, we have already discussed the central point of amendment No. 523 regarding the upper and lower limits to be set by the STRB. There would be no useful purpose in further discussion and, therefore, I do not intend to move the amendment.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I beg to move amendment No. 514, in page 75, line 1, leave out '(b)' and insert:

    ''(2A)An order under section 118 may.''

I will keep my discussion as brief as possible, having cognisance of your advice, Mr. Griffiths. The Committee can have me for the whole afternoon, as I was kicked off the ''Richard and Judy'' sofa. I gather that the viewing figures will plummet as a result.

The amendment is important because clause 118 is wide ranging and gives significant additional powers to the Secretary of State, as we discovered in the debate this morning. The amendment proposes that any order under clause 118 may be bargained rather than determined through the full review body structure. I hope that the Minister agrees to the amendment because, although formal structures exist for that purpose, the more that can be done through informal bargaining, the better. It speeds up the process, gets a better decision and satisfies all the parties. I trust that the Minister will support this minor amendment.

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): The amendment is rather less minor than the hon. Gentleman has suggested. It would give my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the power to determine that any matters that were the subject of a pay order, rather than just the specific items listed, should be settled by agreement at local level. That would wholly undermine the School Teachers Review Body process. We do not want to move wholly to local negotiation. It is appropriate for some elements, but we do not want to impose on schools the burden and difficulty of doing everything locally rather than through the STRB mechanism as at present. That would lead to significant discrepancies between different parts of the country, which would concern some Committee members.

The current process works well and is fair and independent. It is appropriate for a professional group in the public sector such as teachers. I oppose the amendment on the grounds that we do not want to move to a system in which all the matters are determined locally.

Mr. Willis: That is exactly the response that I expected from the Minister, who has seen through this minor amendment. It has, however, enabled us to

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establish that the Government are not clear on where they want to go on the issue. On one hand, they want innovation and earned autonomy, which includes moving away from pay and conditions, but on the other, they want a control system through the STRB. I support the national framework, so I support the Minister on that point, but there is a clear contradiction between the Government's spin on freedoms and the controls at the other end. The Minister has spotted the extent of the amendment, which has been debated. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Willis: I beg to move amendment No. 515, in page 75, line 10, leave out subsection (4).

I confess that this is a major and important amendment. Clause 119 tells the Secretary of State that she has unprecedented powers over the areas concerning teachers' pay and conditions, which is not a good thing. This morning, I mentioned the Labour party's commitment to the International Labour Organisation convention. It signed the 1998 convention, but with virtually everything that it does in the public sector, it is moving away from such conventions. That direction may be a clear policy, and it may come from the No. 10 policy unit, which the Secretary of State must abide by, but we should challenge it and caution people about it.

The provision in the Bill would get over the problems that the Government had in 2000 with the National Union of Teachers in the High Court, when they tried unilaterally to introduce performance-related pay by arguing that the amendment was so minor that they did not need to consult the STRB or the professional associations or seek affirmative resolution in the House.

I accept that there is some transparency with the STRB and that, as the Minister said, it has, by and large, worked reasonably well over the past 10 years. It is important for me to acknowledge that on the record, too. One attraction is that all the evidence that goes to the STRB is transparent and published. We see the Government's evidence, for what the professional associations are bidding and what the local authorities want. It is all published and above board. However, clause 119 will go further than that. It will allow the Secretary of State to decide what is a minor matter. It will not be good to have all the powers with the Secretary of State, no matter how good the current one is.

In answer to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband) who said this morning that it would be good for teachers, I now have figures. In 1992, the average teacher's pay was worth 118 per cent. of average non-manual salaries; by 2001, that had fallen to 108 per cent. A 10 per cent. drop may not seem that much to the hon. Gentleman with his vast wealth

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coming out of South Shields, but it is for teachers. Teachers' salaries during that period have not been as generous as the hon. Gentleman would have us believe. He has had a sheltered existence in the No. 10 policy unit, but even he will know that year on year, the staged pay awards to which teachers were subjected under the previous Government made a significant difference to their overall rise in earnings. Giving teachers staged pay awards to meet the Exchequer's demands was an abominable way of treating them.

The amendment would remove subsection (4) and curtail the powers of the Secretary of State. It would mean that she could not decide on all the issues herself; she would have to go through the process of the STRB or get affirmative resolutions. That would be a good protection for teachers, and I hope that the Minister will see its sense and agree to the amendment.

Mr. Timms: The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) raised several matters in moving the amendment, and I shall respond to some of them at least. Removing subsection (4) would not have an impact on the NUT judicial review. There are measures in other clauses, particularly in clause 121, that would have an impact, but subsection (4) does not. He said that we were taking unprecedented powers, but that is not true. There is nothing new, and the subsection is simply a replication of what was in the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1991.

The hon. Gentleman referred also to the STRB process. He will acknowledge that STRB recommendations since 1997 have been met in full. There has been a 25 per cent. increase in the salary of good, experienced teachers during that time. Things have gone well, and the STRB process has been an important element. As he did this morning, he raised the question of the International Labour Organisation. We satisfy the ILO entirely on our approach to these matters.

The amendment would not benefit teachers. There will be circumstances in which the flexibility that subsection (4) permits will be helpful. It will allow payments to be made to teachers that are not part of remuneration and can be determined locally. For example, golden hellos can be paid, and other one-off payments that are not appropriate for consideration by the STRB because of their limited effect and lifespan require the flexibility. It is important that matters that are not core professional duties or working time may be determined locally, a point that the hon. Gentleman made recently. To remove that flexibility would not help. I hope that he will accept my explanation and withdraw the amendment.


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