8.25 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I intend to speak very briefly. First, let me thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for clarifying the procedural issues. I wrote in a note to colleagues that I understood that this would be the last occasion on which we could scrutinise the process before ratification. I now understand that that is not correct, although certainly the decision will be set in stone, and we shall not have an opportunity to change it unless we vote down the Act of Parliament that will be implemented. However, I should like one further clarification.

I understood that whatever amendment was made to the text of the treaties would require an Act of Parliament, regardless of whether the European Union Bill was passed, because that is the way in which we have always implemented treaty changes. To that extent, the EU Bill means no change. It would be a shame if we lost the opportunity to discuss matters before they go to the Council, but I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) that it is up to the European Scrutiny Committee to bring them before the House.

In the few minutes for which I intend to speak, I shall concentrate on what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane). The Government should be worried when there is agreement between those two Members. On this occasion, they agree that momentous events are afoot. My hon. Friend seemed to be saying, in so many words, that while we had always opposed the formation of a federal Europe which would inevitably be dominated by Europe’s major economic superpower—Germany—we were now facilitating the creation of a federal Europe, at least within the eurozone.

The text that we are approving states:

“Member States whose currency is the euro may establish a stability mechanism to be activated”,

and so forth, but there is no explicit exclusion of countries that are not participating in the euro in terms of its effects. What exactly is a mechanism? We have in mind some kind of bail-out fund, but the annex to the Council conclusions that were produced in December contains a draft decision that refers in more detail to what this instrument might actually concern. It states:

“The ESM will complement the new framework of reinforced economic governance, aiming at an effective and rigorous economic surveillance, which will focus on prevention and will substantially reduce the probability of a crisis arising in the future.”

All that sounds extremely beneficial and positive, but, as we know, the problem is that although specific sanctions do not apply to non-euro state, there is no exclusion of economic governance over all member states. Everything that the EU does implies that one day all its members will be members of the euro. That is clearly the direction in which it wants things to travel.

Mark Reckless: Is my hon. Friend aware that the issue is clarified by the decision made on 11 March on the pact for the euro? Annex I contains four guidelines. Guideline (b) refers to “Participating Member States”

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and guideline (d) to “Euro area Member States”. Guideline (c) states that we must consult our partners

“on each major economic reform having potential spill-over effects”,

and that that applies to “Member States”, but it makes no reference to the euro or to participating. It does involve us.

Mr Jenkin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. It underlines the fact that we are at a crucial crossroads in the development of the European Union and our relationship with our European partners.

A few months ago I attended a private discussion, and those present included some very senior recently retired Government figures. One of them said—Chatham House rule, I am afraid—“You must be very pleased, Bernard, that the new Government are going to consider all this, because obviously there will be a consolidation of the eurozone area, and Britain will have to establish a different relationship with the European Union because we will remain outside it.” I said, “Well, I’d love to think the incoming Government have thought about all these things, but it seems that their minds are closed. I don’t think they want to think about this at all.” The result is that events are sweeping us along. We are not setting the agenda. The agenda is being set for us, and we are not even looking ahead at the consequences of what we are agreeing to.

That could have profound consequences for the future of our relationship with the EU. Indeed, I would say that it brings forward the inevitability of the United Kingdom finishing up having to make a dramatic in-or-out decision. If the Government have a lever in their hands but are still unwilling to exercise leverage to start drawing the distinction between those who want to consolidate the euro area and those who want to remain outside it, we do not have a European policy worth the name. We will therefore be driven into deciding on this binary question of whether we stay in or get out—and I hear that the Labour party may be beginning to flirt with the idea of holding the referendum that it denied the British people when it was in office.

We should consider the vote achieved by the UK Independence party at the recent by-election, as there has been a constant upward trend in every by-election since 1997. If we do not recognise that a part of the despair with politics that we experience in our daily contact with our constituents is a result of our powerlessness, and of our denial of the real choices and issues facing this country, we will drive those who feel such despair into the hands of more extreme parties than the mainstream ones where we all wish to be.

I leave the following thought with my right hon. Friend the Minister. As this Parliament progresses, this debate will not subside or go away. Instead, it will become more intense, particularly as the economic realities of the euro are based on denial. It is rather like the denial that there was for a period in respect of the European exchange rate mechanism before it broke up. However, because it is so much harder to break up the euro, the denial will go on for longer and the pain inflicted will be much more intense. There will be riots in the streets of European capitals before this situation is resolved, because I do not think it is possible for countries to make the kind of adjustment that the euro is currently imposing on them without the flexibility of separate currencies, which is why it is an accepted fact

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among many economists that at least some of the southern European states will leave the euro before this crisis is out.

Several Hon. Members: rose—Order

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Three speakers wish to contribute, and there are eight minutes to go. I call Steve Baker.

8.33 pm

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): First, I wish to associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). Too often, when addressing questions such as the one under discussion we get bogged down either in procedural matters or, matters that verge on the nationalistic, but this evening he has transcended that old territory and talked about what is good for the UK and Europe in broader terms. I shall attempt to add to his remarks.

If we wish to say something about what is going on in Europe today, we must talk about the broader sweep of political economy, and I therefore also refer to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash). We must say something about the EU, and I say this:

“It is the last gasp of an outdated ideology, a philosophy that has no place in our new world of freedom, a world which demands that we fight this bureaucratic over-reach and lead Europe into the hope and potential of a new, post-bureaucratic age.”

That is how the BBC reported the remarks my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made in Prague in November 2007, which, coincidentally, was the month when I joined the Conservative party and approached my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe to discuss becoming a Member of Parliament.

Mr Lidington indicated assent .

Steve Baker: I see that my right hon. Friend remembers that, but I suspect he regrets giving me the reference.

Mr Lidington indicated dissent .

Steve Baker: I am most grateful for that.

We have talked about political economy, and great matters are at stake. It seems to me that there have always been two visions for Europe: a classical liberal vision and a vision of a so-called social Europe—an interventionist Europe. A classical liberal Europe would enable free movement of people, services and goods, all of which are to be applauded because we know that human flourishing depends on free trade and peace. The big question is: when did Europe become a social Europe, a socialist Europe and an interventionist Europe? Is it right that we put our faith in the omnipotence of government to solve all our problems and to deliver stability and prosperity?

With this measure, the European Union becomes explicitly a transfer union and is explicitly moving money and wealth around from one member state to another, and I suspect that Germany has very nearly had enough of it. We should not persuade ourselves that this is an entirely new phenomenon. I was most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone for giving me the opportunity to write in his European journal with a colleague and friend of mine, Professor Philipp Bagus,

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a German economist at a Spanish university. We explained how the European Union is inherently a monetary transfer union. By monetising their debts, profligate countries have been able to appropriate for themselves wealth from the productive nations such as Germany. This has been going on in a way that very few people understand for a very long time, and I believe that it has substantially contributed to the crisis that we are in. Having lived with this principle of redistribution by subtle means for a long time, we now seem to be explicitly adopting the notion of fiscal transfer union and direct economic governance.

Mr MacShane: May I invite the hon. Gentleman to read the Hansard record from 1984 when Mrs Thatcher brought back the rebate? My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said that she had hauled down the Union Jack and hauled up the white flag of surrender to Brussels. She replied that that was quite wrong, that it was right that we should transfer, and right that we aid Portugal and the poorer members of the EU. At times, I feel like a Thatcherite.

Steve Baker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that, but the question is not whether we should help our friends in Europe, but how we should do so. Everybody here is interested in securing the maximum of human flourishing right across Europe—I do not doubt that—but the question is how to do that. Should it be done through the omnipotence of the state or through free trade, free markets and peace?

I believe in stability and prosperity for Europe, but I do not believe for one moment that the European Union is capable of delivering it. I finish by reading a quote from a great French liberal statesman. He said:

“The state is that great fiction by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.”

If this measure goes through, Europe will indeed have adopted that idea and it will have done so very much to its disadvantage.

8.38 pm

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I had not intended to do so, but I wish to set the Minister’s mind at rest. I can assure him that few, if any, Members who have reservations about this wish to block the treaty amendment incorporated in this motion. He rightly said that it is in our national interests that the eurozone should seek the maximum stability and be empowered to do so. He went on to say that we must therefore not impose any conditions in giving Europe permission to go ahead with this treaty change. That is a non sequitur. As long as we suggest reasonable and moderate conditions and concessions by way of repatriation of powers, there is surely no conceivable likelihood that Europe will forgo something of first order importance

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to it in order to prevent our having something that is of very minor importance to it. Would Europe seriously forgo establishing a stability mechanism for the euro in order to prevent our getting back powers over the working time directive? This is of second order importance to us, but of first order importance to Europe, so it provides an opportunity for us to seek concessions, and we should take that opportunity.

The second reassurance I want to give the Minister is that we on the Government Benches want the coalition agreement to be implemented. We see in the measure an opportunity to carry forward that agreement, which commits the coalition to a review of all the powers and competences that have been given to the European Community. The only purpose of doing so is to see which of them should be returned to this country. Many suppose that the Liberal Democrats do not really want that to happen. I am sure that some do not, but one of the joys of coalition for me has been getting to know more Liberal Democrats, and I know that many of them are quite pragmatic about this. One very senior member of the coalition Government has told me that he believes that 30 or 40 of the measures that were transferred in the Lisbon treaty and others should be returned. The whole coalition Government, not least the Liberal Democrats, are committed to the principle of localism. They want to see government in this country when it is not appropriate for it to be transferred, or if it has been wrongly transferred to Brussels in the past. This is an opportunity to secure the return of those powers and I urge the House to take that opportunity.

Question put.

The Deputy Speaker’s opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 23 March (Standing Order No. 41A).


Police Station (Wombourne, South Staffordshire)

8.41 pm

Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to present this petition, which has been signed by 1,256 people who support my campaign to keep a police station in Wombourne.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of the South Staffordshire constituency, and others,

Declares that the police station in Wombourne is being considered for closure; and further declares that Wombourne has a population of 14,000 who depend upon the service that it provides.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to ensure that the police station or a new alternative station is opened in the village of Wombourne to serve its residents and those in the local area.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.


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Classroom Teaching Assistants (Cumbria)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(James Duddridge.)

8.42 pm

Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): It is nice to see so many Cumbrian MPs in the Chamber, because it demonstrates just how important this issue is. I will begin by being extremely blunt. What Cumbria county council is doing through the single status process is wrong and unfair. Classroom teaching assistants are angry, disillusioned and demoralised. I have had more than 70 teaching assistants come to my surgery recently. They feel hurt, upset and desperately worried about their future. The situation has brought some of the most caring and professional people I know out on to the streets of Cumbria. That is how important this matter is to them. Regardless of the levels and bandings they fit into, they see what is happening as grossly unfair. This is really about reducing people’s salary by a third. It applies to staff in care homes, some of whom came to see me recently, and I am told by a lady called Sarah Field that adult education teachers are in the same position, but this debate is about teaching assistants.

I recently spoke to a head teacher in west Cumbria who told me that back in 1997 the only additional resources she had had were packs of felt-tip pens. Her school had since had new classrooms, new computers, whiteboards and all sorts of modern innovations, but she said, “I’ll tell you something: the most important resource we have in schools is classroom assistants.” That is how strongly she felt about the situation.

Teaching assistants work as an integral part of the team. It is not strange or even a coincidence that Cumbrian primary schools are in the top 10% in the country; I think it is very much to do with the support staff, who are working with teaching staff and improving standards in teaching and learning. Support staff enrich the experience of pupils. Teaching assistants cannot be lumped together as their jobs vary enormously. They do a fantastic job, and some work with children with complex needs.

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): I wish to point out the expertise that my hon. Friend brings to this debate: he was formerly a teacher in west Cumbria. Does he agree with me and with Ofsted that the introduction of teaching assistants has made an absolutely fundamental difference to attainment levels in primary and secondary schools, not just in west Cumbria but across the country, and that the abolition of the national pay and conditions framework, the effects of which we are now seeing, will lead to a race to the bottom when it comes to pay?

Tony Cunningham: I wholeheartedly agree; I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Let me read out what an assistant teacher in a special needs school has said:

“Children with complex needs have to be changed because of incontinence, and then physiotherapy is needed and leg splints applied, then hoisted onto the standers. After one hour they need taking out of their standers, tubes put in place and connected for feeding, after feeding medication is given. Children need this every day, plus hydrotherapy once a week. Children with challenging behaviour need assistance with Makaton (This uses signs, symbols and speech to help people with learning and communication

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difficulties to communicate.)…Children with learning difficulties need a lot of time, encouragement and resources like Makaton to enable them to achieve objectives and enjoy their lessons.

These are only a few of the duties I do with our children. I love my job, but a reduction in my wage will make it very difficult to carry on working in this school. Our children are the only reason we love to go to work”.

Is anyone going to tell me that that classroom assistant deserves the loss of a third of her salary?

If one asks the teachers and school governors what they think, they will say that the assistants do a great job and thoroughly deserve the pay that they get. They do not earn a lot; a full-time teaching assistant earns around £14,700 for a 32.5 hour week. The cuts will reduce their salary to £11,140. The council justifies the pay cuts by arguing that teaching assistants have a shorter working week and longer holidays than other staff. The council claims that teaching assistants get paid for 37 hours a week and receive 14 weeks’ paid holiday.

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. Will he clarify the single status aspects of the issue? To what extent does he think that the situation is part of national law, or is Cumbria doing something different from other county councils? What might the other options have been, within the legislation?

Tony Cunningham: If the previous Government’s policy had been continued, those classroom assistants would not have fallen within the single status process. That is the reality. It is not too late to change that; there are opportunities to do so. My figures are only rough but, interestingly, in Cumbria teaching assistants get something like £8.60 an hour, whereas in Lancashire they get £11-something an hour. It is not as though Cumbria has to, or is forced to, do what it is doing.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): Is not one solution to make teaching assistants a sub-group for the purposes of single status, so that their job qualifications and requirements are analysed on that basis?

Tony Cunningham: That is worth looking at, but inherent in what the hon. Gentleman says is the fact that he, like many other Cumbrian MPs, can find faults and flaws in the system; otherwise, he would not suggest changes to it.

I return to the point that I was making. The council’s claim is denied by the assistants. They are contracted for 32.5 hours and are paid for 32.5 hours. As for holidays, they are paid term-time only, albeit in 12 equal monthly payments. The special educational needs allowance given to teaching assistants working in those schools, doing work that I have just outlined, is being abolished. I echo Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who said:

“Working in a school is not the same as working in a county hall or local authority. These people need to have a proper set of pay and conditions that recognises what they actually do in schools.”

As my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) pointed out, I taught for about 11 years in west Cumbria, and I am the parent of children who have gone through the system, so I know the value of teaching assistants.

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The proposed pay cut is not just about money. It is about the standing in society that it gives to those who get little but give a lot. It is about people who are already on a low wage having that wage reduced even further, with no regard for what they do, what they contribute, or their input into our community.

Let us imagine what would happen if the Deputy Speaker suddenly announced that the wages of all of us in the House of Commons were being cut by a third, and the furore that that would create. Teaching assistants are not asking for thousands. They are not asking for bonuses. We read in the papers about the millions of pounds that bankers get in bonuses. Teaching assistants are asking to keep their wages the same as they are. That is not too much to ask. As a further insult, they do not even have the individual right of appeal. The fact that the volume of appeals is large should not be a reason to take away someone’s right to be heard.

I go back to what this says about our values. Surely these people should not be subject to a pay cut. Such an attack demoralises the very people we need to inspire our children. For my constituents, it is vital that their children—our children—are valued. That means that we value, and show that we value, the people who work with them. We do not just give them warm words; we give them a decent wage. We need to help our schools to continue to improve. To do that, we need highly motivated staff. We need to recognise the value of teaching assistants and what they give to our schools.

I plead with the Minister to do everything in his power to stop what is happening, to ask the county council to rethink its strategy, and to work with the unions and any other relevant bodies to find a satisfactory solution. My message to Cumbria county council is clear—please, stop and think again. The bottom line is this: if the process goes ahead, it will be bad for the classroom assistants, for teachers, for schools and for the children we care so much about.

8.52 pm

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) not only for calling the debate, but for being generous with his time. I shall be brief and not take advantage.

The debate is about a group of people who are already not well paid—Cumbria’s teaching assistants are the second worst paid in the country, and that is before any pay cuts. It is about justice for them and about the impact on the quality of education experienced by our children throughout Cumbria. As a parent of three children at primary school, seeing the impact that Cumbria’s teaching assistants have in supporting them in their development and learning is overwhelming. It is appalling that they are under such a threat.

The issue arises as a result of a botched rebanding under the single status process. It was not even intended as a cost-saving exercise by the county council, which makes it all the more ludicrous. It is a huge error. It is important to say that we do not necessarily object to single status as a process. We understand that there are job evaluation processes to go through, but the process was utterly flawed, and the outcome is therefore flawed.

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Rory Stewart: Is not the answer, then, to define a single status which gives the right salary, the right respect and the right position to teaching assistants, rather than grading them below where they should be?

Tim Farron: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Someone without much human resources experience could see at first glance that the county council had botched the exercise by putting teaching assistants alongside talented, able, hard-working people who do a completely different job. It stands to reason that at the very least a different family needs to be created for teaching assistants to belong to. It is wrong to equate people who do teaching assistant jobs to a position that is on fixed hours.

Teaching assistants at the school my children go to in Milnthorpe are there helping with preparation at least half an hour before their working day begins. They are there afterwards if a child is in need or upset. They help with extracurricular work and child development. Crucially, from the point of view of the child, who will not differentiate, a teaching assistant is part of their teaching team. They should absolutely have a band of their own.

I want to quote a teaching assistant from Kendal in my constituency to point out the very different and intensive nature of the role that puts it beyond that of a regular fixed hourly job:

“I have been working with a child with severe autism. I support him every second of the day. He cannot be left unattended. I prepare all his activities and research different strategies to implement with him on a daily basis, often working late into the night. I have always felt valued by my school, but not now by my employer, Cumbria county council.”

That sums up the situation for many people in Cumbria.

The hon. Member for Workington rightly pointed out the issue of appeals. The county council, which is overwhelmed with appeals, says that it will look at only some of them. I am sorry, but it should either deal with them all, as a matter of justice, or get the message from the fact there are hundreds of appeals that they have got the banding badly wrong.

I understand that the Minister will probably say that that is a local government matter, but the issue is clearly about the impact on the quality of education in Cumbria due to a demoralised work force who are being deprofessionalised by a county council that has simply got this wrong. It is not too late to put this right. The lot of us here would like the Government to press the county council to think again.

8.56 pm

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), who spoke convincingly about what I hope and think is a shared aim among all Cumbrian Members who want to resolve this issue. I will be brief. In February alone I was lobbied by almost 100 people in the town of Millom. I had been asked to attend a brief drop-in session at a local school, only to find myself in front of 100 people faced with life-changing alteration to their remuneration as a result of the single status process that Cumbria county council is engaged in.

I was asked to attend a similar meeting at my children’s school in Whitehaven. There were more than 200 people there, with standing room only in the school hall. Some

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of those people could lose around £9,000 a year, a life-changing amount of money. For some of them, who were visibly upset, that means that they will be unable to pay their mortgages. For those who are married to other teaching assistants or other people affected by the single status process, it really is a calamitous event. I hope that the Minister and the Government will take that into account.

I make no apologies for relating the issue to my constituency rather than to Cumbria as a whole, because my constituency is the single most heavily reliant upon public spending in the country, with more than 50% of all jobs, according to independent tables, relying on public spending. It goes without saying that unprecedented and arbitrary reductions in the salaries of so many of my constituents will have a significant socio-economic effect outside those immediately affected by the move.

Pay equality is something that we all wish to see. I understand that the county council is having to cut its cloth because of the cuts it has to deal with, but the winners of the process that is under way in Cumbria—even those who are seeing slight improvements in their terms and conditions—do not like what is happening to their colleagues. They do not think that it is right to rob Peter to pay Paul.

Finally, I am clearly not a spokesman for any trade union or any of those involved in the single status process, and nor am I an advocate for industrial action, particularly indiscriminate industrial action. No one ever wants to see industrial action, which is the very last resort for any professional, but I completely understand why someone facing a life-changing reduction in salary who does not have their appeal heard would feel moved towards withdrawing their labour. That is a natural human impulse. Without continuing negotiation and a fair resolution of the situation, I struggle to see what options, apart from threatening industrial action, remain open to those who are being subjected to such swingeing changes to their standards of living. As my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) said, none of us in this House would put up with it, and we should not expect our constituents to put up with it, either.

9 pm

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): I add my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) for securing this debate, and for his generosity with his time. I will be brief, because I want the Minister to have a proper chance to respond.

I, too, attended a standing-room-only meeting of teaching assistants, at Ormsgill primary school on Friday, and the people there were absolutely united not only by the deep sense of commitment that they retain towards the children whom they care for and help teach day by day, but by the anger at the way they feel the cards have been dealt. There was such a strong feeling in that room, and it is felt unanimously by teaching assistants throughout Barrow and Furness and throughout the county.

We need to recognise that teaching assistants have brought enormous value to schools throughout the county and throughout the country over the past decade—value that is probably beyond their remuneration. The Government, pupils, parents and schools have had a

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brilliant deal out of teaching assistants, and that is why they find it so hard to take the fact that they face such an enormous cut, rather than a pat on the back for their work over the past decade. We all understand that the single status process is difficult, and we all understand that is probably necessary, but we all want the council to recognise that it has just got it wrong in this instance.

I shall finish with the words of a teaching assistant whose door I knocked on by chance while canvassing on Saturday, as I do every Saturday. During our conversation, she broke down in tears and said to me, “I just don’t understand how I’m going to be able to make ends meet and pay my mortgage, and I don’t understand why the work that I do every day is simply not being recognised.” I ask the Minister to reflect on what he can do to give guidance to the council, and to reflect the value that he knows teaching assistants bring throughout the country. We all urge the council to make the appeals process meaningful, not partial, and to look again properly at the whole issue, which in this instance it has just clearly got wrong.

9.2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): May I congratulate the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) on securing this debate and thank him and the other Members who have spoken for the way in which they raised an issue about which people in their part of the country clearly feel very strongly. I understand that. It is classically and appropriately one of the functions of an Adjournment debate in the House to raise issues that involve strong local feeling.

As I will explain, and as the hon. Gentleman and other Members will know, the Government’s role in decisions on pay and conditions and on work force issues is limited, but I will set it out. This debate has, none the less, given them an opportunity to vent the views of their constituents, and, as someone who has served as a member of a local authority and as a school governor, including at a special school, where particular demands were placed on the staff, I recognise and completely understand the issues to which they referred.

These decisions are essentially for the county council, as they are for any other local education authority, so it is probably appropriate that I set out factually the legal position that gives rise to the situation in relation to equal pay and single status on the one hand, and to the terms and conditions of the employment of teaching assistants on the other, because obviously in the case before us the two are interlinked.

Historically, the terms and conditions on which teaching assistants and many other local government staff are employed are decided not by central Government but by local authorities. In principle, that is right and proper, because they are generally best placed to do so. As hon. Members will know, there is a well-established mechanism in place with the National Joint Council for Local Government Services and other negotiating bodies of employers, trade unions, and other work force representatives that historically deal with these matters.

It is worth putting the single status agreement, which gives rise to this, into that context. The single status agreement is a national agreement between the trade unions and local government employers. The Government

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welcome the greater transparency that the agreement provides. Its principle is a good one, in line with the fact that we remain committed to promoting equal pay and ending discrimination in the workplace. I do not think that the underlying principles, or the agreement itself, are an issue between any of us. The signatories, including any local authority and the relevant trade unions, commit themselves to placing the majority of their work force into a single pay and grading structure, which is generally referred to as the green book structure. That provides the harmonisation that we all want and increases transparency.

Things such as spine points, which are familiar to all those of us who have been in local government, are set by the national joint council. However, the decision on where employees are placed on the pay spine is a matter for the local authority. Although virtually all local authorities remain within the scheme, it is not compulsory; Government cannot compel authorities to be a member. Some authorities—I think only three, in fairness—have opted out in relation to areas such as school support staff. Broadly speaking, however, the scheme works satisfactorily and efficiently.

The fact that there is that need to place employees on a single scale means that local authorities need to go through a process of ensuring that equally valued work is paid an equal amount, so that they can then assess whether they are meeting their obligations under the Equality Act 2010. The implementation of the single status agreement, following several court judgments that have been pretty well publicised, has revealed some historical inequalities in pay. For that reason, authorities such as Cumbria, and many others, have carried out job evaluation exercises. Of course, the outcomes and decisions taken are individual matters for each authority, but many have gone through the process.

Tony Cunningham: Does the Minister accept, though, that if the process itself is flawed, we end up with a very different result than we would if it were a proper process?

Robert Neill: Any local authority must act properly in carrying out a process. As we have heard, an appeals process is in place. I am told—in a sense, I am relaying factual information held by my Department—that because, as has rightly been observed, there is a very high number of appeals, schools have been invited to nominate a representative for each post being appealed to attend a hearing on behalf of their colleagues. It is a little bit like a class action in the courts. That is not a decision that Government take or can impose; that is the view that has been taken.

Tim Farron: Will the Under-Secretary take the view that it is wrong, given the volume of appeals, to decide

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that the majority will simply not be heard? Is not that an obvious signal that the county council has botched this grade?

Robert Neill: It is dangerous and not helpful if I make a judgment on something to which the Department and I are not party, because I am not seized of all the evidence. However, I observe as a matter of common sense and of law that any employer who goes through a process has to meet their obligations under employment law more generally. It is probably best that Ministers do not try to advise either party about employment law, but it is a factor that everybody has to bear in mind in ensuring that any process is appropriate.

Mr Reed: The Under-Secretary is being generous with his time and I genuinely appreciate the constructive way in which he is trying to engage with the issues. I also feel for him because he has to answer the debate. Does he agree that it might be a more elegant and effective fit if he went back to his colleagues in government, particularly the Secretary of State for Education, and asked him to reinstate the School Support Staff Negotiating Body? That abolition, which the Secretary of State for Education announced last October, has landed the process in the single status framework, where it should not be.

Robert Neill: Of course all Ministers always take back to their colleagues matters that overlap, and that is on the record in Hansard for all to see. Let me deal with the specific point about the School Support Staff Negotiating Body. The previous Government set it up, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education decided to bring those arrangements to an end. However, it is worth noting that that body had not reached agreement about any of the issues with which it was tasked. Its existence or non-existence therefore had no influence on the particular circumstances that were determined in Cumbria. We could have a separate debate about whether that was desirable, but the decision to discontinue the body had no impact on the pay and negotiations of the school support staff with whom we are concerned today. It is important to state that. However, the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter, and it is now on the public record.

Mr Reed: The Under-Secretary has been exceptionally gallant.

Robert Neill: I hope that I have been exceptionally factual. It is my duty to the House. Against that background, I hope that hon. Members will understand—

9.12 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).

16 Mar 2011 : Column 453

Deferred Division

Environmental Protection

That the draft Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011, which were laid before this House on 8 February, be approved.

The House divided:

Ayes 282, Noes 20.

Division No. 230]


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bagshawe, Ms Louise

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Mr Steve

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

de Bois, Nick

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Field, Mr Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Mr Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hermon, Lady

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Javid, Sajid

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lancaster, Mark

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McCrea, Dr William

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs T heresa

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim


Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Corbyn, Jeremy

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Field, rh Mr Frank

Flynn, Paul

Hamilton, Fabian

Havard, Mr Dai

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kelvin

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Lucas, Caroline

Mann, John

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Trickett, Jon

Williams, Hywel

Question accordingly agreed to.

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16 Mar 2011 : Column 455

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