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Education (Student Loans) Bill [Money]

Queen's Recommendation having been signified--

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Education (Student Loans) Bill, it is expedient to authorise

(a) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any sums required by the Secretary of State for making payments under that Act ;

(b) the payment of any sums received by him by virtue of that Act into the Consolidated Fund.-- [Mr. Garel-Jones.]

10.15 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I thought that, by popular request, I would make a few comments on the money resolution, which is important for several reasons. It is not so much the amount of money involved--compared with what we discussed last night, it is relatively modest--as the fact that there are some peculiar arrangements regarding the Secretary of State's ability to administer it. That is why I want-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. We are debating the money resolution. I ask the House to listen.

Mr. Cryer : As ever, Mr. Speaker, I am most grateful to you. We should take some interest in the expenditure that is authorised by the House, sometimes with so little scrutiny. The explanatory memorandum says that 10 to 20 per cent. of the annual outlay will go on administration. I imagine that most people will think that a relatively high proportion. As £109 million is involved in the first year--it will double by 1992-93- -it is worth observing that the Secretary of State could spend the money on far more important and pressing things. For example, Bradford local authority has applied for £28 million in capital allocation this year, but the Government, who are of the same political conviction, have awarded it only £8 million.

Buttershaw first school has been partly housed in three temporary classrooms for so long that they are crumbling and have had to be taken out of use. The children have to be bussed for an eight-mile round trip day in, day out, and a school has been reopened to accommodate them. That demonstrates the pressing need for expenditure on educational provision in Bradford.

I should have thought that, rather than concentrate on money resolutions that facilitate a turnover of £109 million in the first year, we should satisfy such a basic requirement as we have in Bradford. I remind the Minister, if he knew it in the first place, that Buttershaw first school, like many schools in Bradford, has been waiting for years for permanent extensions. School rolls in Bradford are increasing, not diminishing.

We have 600 temporary classrooms in Bradford, many of which are reaching the end of their lives. It is time that money was allocated to provide permanent extensions so that our children can have decent facilities. I hope that the Minister notes that. That would represent a far better priority for this money.

One of the rather curious features of the Bill that has not been mentioned so far is that it gives the Secretary of State extraordinary powers, all linked to expenditure. The Bill is basically a thin framework delegating a wide range of powers to the Secretary of State. They include a Henry VIII clause which, as I am sure the House knows well, is a clause which enables the Minister to alter the primary

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legislation, the Education (Student Loans) Bill, without the necessity of coming before the House for further approval. Schedule 1, which settles the Bill's ambit, the number of institutions available for students who qualify for loans, can be added to, subtracted from or changed under negative procedure regulations by the Secretary of State without any guarantee that the regulations will come before the House. If, as the Bill makes plain, they are by annulment, the regulations are subject to revocation by a prayer.

As the House knows, there is no guarantee that a prayer will be debated and, even if it is, the debate will last for no more than one and a half hours. If the prayer is down for hearing after 10 o'clock and there is a Division, the time taken by that Division is taken out of the debate. Therefore, only one hour and 10 minutes will be given to debating the regulations, and then only if the Government Whips agree, yet those regulations affect primary legislation. In effect, the Minister is being given the power to produce the equivalent of primary legislation without the House necessarily being involved. That is a wide power, to which attention should be drawn. Schedule 2 sets out the financial parameters of where the £109 million will be spent in the first year, doubling by 1992, and so forth. When the Under-Secretary of State replied to the previous debate, he made no reference to the arrangement which may provide for the loans to be made and recovered. Arrangements have no statutory meaning. [Interruption.] As a Back-Bench Member says sotto voce, I missed some of that speech because I was chairing the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments which was taking extensive evidence from civil servants on yet another statutory instrument which in the Committee's view was defective and that will be reported. Presumably, the arrangements are those provided for by regulation. I know of no statutory provision whereby Ministers simply have the right to arrange things. They must present what they do to the House for scrutiny. If they have the power simply to make arrangements, that does not occur.

Schedule 2, paragraph 3(4), says :

"Regulations made under paragraph 1(1)(b) or (c) above may confer functions on any such person or body as is mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) above, including power to exercise a discretion in relation to any matter for which the regulations provide."

In its strict legalistic phraseology that means that the House is handing over to the Secretary of State power to sub-delegate regulation-making powers. I am sure that the House would not agree to that if there was a clear alternative.

That means that the Minister, through regulations, can confer functions-- that is, hand over powers--on any body that is provided for in the first paragraph of this part of the schedule, which means those persons and bodies that will deal with the loans and repayments. It includes a power to exercise a discretion in relation to any matter for which the regulations provide. Therefore, the Minister is handing over a power to a body that can simply ignore the regulations that the Minister, if a prayer is tabled, will bring before the House for debate. This is an important matter and relates specifically to the money, so it is not unfair to raise it on the money resolution.

Paragraph 3(7) of schedule 2 says :

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"Any person or body having the function of recovering loans under the arrangements may, for appropriate consideration, assign the right of recovery to a third party."

That means that debts can be sold, and that means that the accountability of the Secretary of State to the House for the money resolution--that is, paying all receipts into the Consolidated Fund--is simply moved a stage further. He can say that no money is coming in and he cannot get any money back, because the person or body who had the function of recovering loans-- the person or body mentioned in schedule 2--has assigned the right of recovery to a third party, and that party has been wound up in 14, 15 or 100 cases.

The detailed administrative provision for this legislation is through regulations. The accountability for delegated legislation is minimal, and the Minister is abusing it. The Government claimed that they would take government off our backs, but they are producing more delegated legislation each year than was produced by the whole of the 1974-79 Labour Government. The Tory Government claimed that that Administration produced a huge mass of legislation that bore down on manufacturing industry and the population in general. The Government are producing more instruments and it is an abuse of the House to provide for annual expenditure of £100 million to £200 million in such a way that the responsibility is one stage removed, through regulation and delegated powers granted by the legislation. Then, within that framework of legislation, the Government have provided for sub-delegation of legislation. That makes the accountability of the Minister to the House one stage further removed and even more diffuse.

We should look carefully at the money resolution. Having been prepared with a brief because I might speak, the Minister should explain these points. They are reasonably important and merit an answer. The money resolution debate is an important opportunity, brief though it is, to raise these issues and try to get something on the record.

10.28 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson) : The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) has a habit of raising points such as these. He spoke first about the contrast between the estimated administrative cost of the order of £10 million to £20 million and the flow of funds in the early years of the scheme. He made a perfectly fair debating point, but if we are to set up a student loans operation, quite extensive machinery needs to be established before the volume of the business builds up.

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We shall need staff, a computer and buildings. The amount of money involved will build up eventually to thousands of millions of pounds. As we argued in the previous debate, big savings will be made from the start of the operation of the scheme. Unlike the alternative envisaged by the Opposition, the loans scheme will result in due course in substantial savings building up, in relation to which the administration costs will be rather small.

Let me say a word about the arrangements that are to be embodied in regulations to be brought before the House.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : The amounts recorded for loan outgoings in the financial and explanatory memorandum are quite different from those recorded on page 43 of the White Paper. I see no mention of the access funds, which are part of the scheme, in the financial and explanatory memorandum, nor is any account taken of the costs of deferral or default. Are those taken into account anywhere in the memorandum? The memorandum states that loan repayments will exceed the cost of the scheme "in due course". Can the Minister tell us exactly when he thinks that will happen?

Mr. Jackson : That depends entirely on the assumptions made in the projections. The hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well ; we have discussed it on many occasions. The hon. Gentleman asked about access funds. We do not propose to take powers for that purpose in the Bill, because we already have powers to constitute such funds, and we shall set them up under those existing powers. Their cost does not, therefore, arise in the explanatory and financial memorandum, but it is, of course, taken into account in the White Paper. The figures differ because the White Paper refers to the academic year and the financial and explanatory memorandum to the financial year. Let me finish answering the hon. Member for Bradford, South. The arrangements will be embodied in regulations that will be brought before the House and will be constructed by analogy with the arrangements for the payment of student grants. We discussed all that in our previous debate. We also discussed the regulation-making powers--in that picturesque phrase, "the Henry VIII clause". We have discussed all these matters extensively. I have nothing to add to what was said, and I do not believe that the hon. Member for Bradford, South has added much to the argument.

We merely seek to establish in a flexible and responsive way the legal arrangements for paying student loans that are most sensible in terms of the administration of a loans scheme. That is what we propose, and that is what we hope to be able to achieve.

Question put and agreed to.

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Teachers' Pay and Conditions

10.33 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John MacGregor) : I beg to move

That the draft Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 (Continuation) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 7th November, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.

Section 6 of the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 provides that the Act shall expire on 31 March 1990 unless it is continued by force for a further year by an order laid before and approved by resolution of each House. The order now before the House provides for the Act to continue in force for a further year, until 31 March 1991. This is necessary to enable me in due course to give effect to the teachers' pay settlement for 1990- 91, following the report of the interim advisory committee, due next January, and consultation on its recommendations. If the life of the Act is not extended in the way proposed, it will not be possible to deal with the 1990-91 pay settlement.

My predecessor had always hoped to be able to put new pay determination arrangements in place in time for the 1990-91 settlement, but we never expected that it would be easy to devise new pay determination arrangements which, to be worth while, would need to be permanent, stable and effective.

The deep differences of opinion between the six competing teacher unions, the employers and the Government, which were very evident during the events which culminated in the failure of Burnham, the passage of the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987 and the establishment of the interim advisory committee made that only too clear. The problem is not to obtain complete agreement on new pay determination arrangements--I suspect that that could never be achieved--but enough to ensure that they can operate successfully and are likely to endure. We need more time to achieve that, so it is necessary for the present arrangements to be in place for one more year. That is why the order has been laid before the House. In 1987, the Government's immediate concerns were to bring pay and conditions together and to establish a proper career structure for teachers. That was achieved in the 1987 settlement, which gave teachers a 16.4 per cent. pay increase. Aspects of that settlement which were controversial at the time are widely welcomed now. Incentive allowances have proved their worth, and following the recommendations of the interim advisory committee, their introduction has been speeded up so that there are now some 170,000 available in schools. The effectiveness of the interim advisory committee itself has been widely praised, and rightly so, and I would like to pay tribute to the committee today for all the hard work that it has put in and which it is doing now.

In October 1987 the Government published a Green Paper discussing the question of new permanent teachers' pay machinery. We stated three key principles relevant to the establishment of new teachers' pay determination machinery which are in the interests of the education service and the nation as a whole.

The principles were that it should be designed to provide that settlements have due regard to the need to recruit, retain and motivate sufficient teachers of the right quality. Secondly, it must ensure that settlements support effective management of the schools and provide for

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proper career-long development and incentives for teachers. Finally, it should be designed to ensure that settlements have due regard to affordability and to the needs of the national economy.

The Green Paper discussed a number of different possible future pay determination arrangements and proposed the establishment of a teachers' negotiating group with the Government in a majority on the management side and with an ability for the management side to break deadlock by imposing its proposals subject to the approval of Parliament.

It became clear from the written responses to the Green Paper from the interested parties and from the views expressed during meetings with my predecessor in the autumn of 1988 that there continued to be widely differing views about the best way forward. In particular, there was no basis of agreement on such fundamental features as the role and powers of the Government, how to deal with a breakdown in negotiations and how to cover the interests of heads and deputies. There was no prospect of meeting our original aspiration of having new permanent machinery in time for the 1990 settlement, and no advantage in trying to rush things to this end. The subject is too important and too much hangs on our getting things right for it to be sensible to do that.

It was against that background that my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told the House in July that he was arranging a further series of meetings with the teacher unions and employers, at which he saw the discussions as ranging more widely than the proposal for a teachers' negotiating group set out in the October 1987 Green Paper.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York) : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way at such an early stage. Will he confirm that the negotiations took place against a background in which it was clear that teachers' salaries increased under the Labour Government by an average of 6 per cent., while they have increased in real terms by 35 per cent. under the Conservative Government?

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the relativities, but he has not got the figure absolutely right. Under the Conservatives, the figure is 30 per cent. However, the relativities are quite correct and his point is absolutely right. I was referring to what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told the House in July. He recognised then that it would not be easy to find a solution which was acceptable to all parties, but he reaffirmed the importance of getting the new arrangements right. He recognised that this would take time and said that he was accordingly asking the interim advisory committee to sit for a further year to give that time. He also said that he would in due course ask the House to approve a consequential one-year extension of the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1987. That is what we are considering today.

The remit which I have set the IAC is challenging. In addition to considering what the permanent pay increase for 1990-91 should be, I have asked it to make recommendations for the further expansion of incentive allowances to help local education authorities to tackle their particular teacher shortage problems ; to look at the

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situation in London, where there are particular problems in some inner-London boroughs ; and to review the pay of heads and deputies. In recognition of the task which I have set the committee, I have provided for the teachers' pay bill for 1990-91 to increase by the fair and substantial sum of £600 million--55 per cent. more than this year's remit and twice that of last year. I look forward to seeing the committee's report in January. I am sure that it will match the high standards set by its two previous reports.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Since the Act was passed, as the Secretary of State well knows, the International Labour Organisation has ruled that this method of settling teachers' pay is in breach of the convention to which we are a signatory. How on earth does the Secretary of State justify coming back to the House with not only an extension of what, in international law, has been ruled an unacceptable procedure but restrictions, even if they were more generous than they were before, on the amount available for settling the teachers' pay claim?

Mr. MacGregor : The ILO is well aware that we intend to establish a permanent new pay machinery, and it is content with that. [H on. Members :-- "When?"] I have just been talking about that, and I will talk about it again right now. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members will allow me, I will refer to the point right now. The House will rightly be concerned whether the extension I am seeking today will enable me to bring forward legislation to establish new permanent machinery in the next Session. Obviously, I cannot commit the Government in advance of the next Queen's Speech--any Queen's Speech--but let me tell the House tonight that that is my aim. At the meetings held in July, my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, outlined three new options for consideration : negotiations between employers and unions, with necessary safeguards for the Government's interests ; a permanent IAC-type body, possibly linked to a no-strike agreement ; and a movement towards greater local flexibility, which might lead to individual LEAs or schools opting out of national negotiations. I have just completed a helpful and constructive round of meetings with the teacher unions and employees at which I have heard their views on each of these options.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn) : The Secretary of State has just spoken about provision for local authorities to opt out of national negotiations. Leaving aside other arguments, does he understand that that will lead to a significant increase in the teachers' pay bill? Is he willing to ensure that the Government will support that increase through the poll tax?

Mr. MacGregor : I must make it quite clear that we have been looking at all the options with all the organisations concerned. We have been receiving a wide variety of views in response. My position is quite clear : I need to consider the position, taking into account the responses that I am receiving, not only from those whom I have met formally but from others who are putting views forward.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West) : My right hon. Friend has said that he is considering all the views

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from the organisations he has consulted. Does he agree that there is one particularly difficult body of people whom he cannot consult? I refer to teachers who are either not members of trade unions or would welcome the opportunity, if my right hon. Friend were only to signal it, to leave in droves the unions which they regard as useless but in which they remain only because they can otherwise have no influence on their pay and conditions?

Mr. MacGregor : I have had formal meetings and received representations from all six teacher unions. I am, or course, prepared to receive views from any quarter during the consultation period.

I do not under-estimate the difficulties, but I believe that there is a strong desire on all sides to make progress, and I intend to pursue this matter vigorously. In the meantime, we need this order to pay teachers an increase next year. I commend the order to the House and ask that it be approved.

10.44 pm

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn) : We oppose the order. It breaks clear undertakings to restore negotiating machinery by March 1990 and is part of a policy approach that has collapsed teacher morale and constricted teachers' pay and is leading to a mounting teacher shortage crisis.

Although the history of the principal Act involved in the order is well known and need not be repeated, there have been the clearest undertakings that negotiating machinery would be restored by 1990. That point was made in January this year in response to a question from the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) when the previous Secretary of State said :

"The Government hope to introduce new permanent machinery in time for the 1990 settlement".--[ Official Report, 31 January 1989 ; Vol. 146, c. 159.]

On 27 July 1988, in response to a question from the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the Minister of State said : "it is not possible to have negotiations in 1990 with a negotiating body unless such a body has been thought through and some conclusions have been reached by the end of 1989."--[ Official Report, 27 July 1989 ; Vol. 138, c. 483.]

But the Government have already given that commitment. In other words, if there are to be negotiations on pay and conditions, there must be negotiating machinery.

In breach of those undertakings, however, we are being asked to continue with imposed settlements for another year. Those imposed settlements are in clear breach of the convention of the International Labour Organisation. Imposed settlements have already produced a wholly unsatisfactory situation for teachers and teachers' pay. The Government have not even allowed the interim advisory committee the freedom to arrive at its own recommendations, as is allowed to a review body, before the Government then make a decision on those recommendations. Instead, the interim advisory committee has been put in the straitjacket of a prior cash limit.

The IAC has protested about that, saying that that limit has forced it to recommend lower pay increases than it would have wished and than would otherwise have been the case. It has also meant that part of the increase last year--and, no doubt, part of the increase this year--will be borne entirely by local ratepayers and subsequently by poll tax payers without the benefit of any rate support grant.

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The Secretary of State said that this year he set the interim advisory committee "a challenging task". He has not set it a challenging task--he has set it an impossible task. It is impossible to make compatible the requirement on the IAC to bring forward salary recommendations which can solve the mounting crisis of teacher shortages within the cash limits that the Secretary of State has imposed on the IAC in advance of its considerations.

The consequence of those imposed settlements has been a collapse in morale, which has led to a flight from the profession and a grave reduction in the attractiveness of teaching. It is time that the Secretary of State faced up to the scale of the crisis over which he is now presiding.

In the loans debate earlier, I mentioned that in the past eight years the proportion of graduates entering teaching had halved--from 8 per cent. in 1980 to 4 per cent. in 1988. More graduates are entering the law than are entering teaching. Of those who qualify as teachers, three in 10 do not enter the profession the following year, and of those who do, four out of 10 leave teaching within five years. There are as many people with teaching qualifications who are not teaching as there are with teaching qualifications who are teaching. There are teachers everywhere--except in schools. I am surprised that the Secretary of State does not understand just what a serious effect the collapse of morale has had.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Does my hon. Friend agree that apart from low pay and the denial of negotiating rights, one reason for the collapse of morale among many teachers in places such as Bradford is the determination of local education authorities and the Government to push ahead with doctrinaire education policies in the face of public opposition? Is he aware, for instance, that the Minister of State revealed today that even though Bradford education authority had given an undertaking that it would postpone the magnet schools programme, it has put in bids for nearly £3 million for the development of such magnet schools in Bradford and has had secret meetings with the Minister of State to further that programme? Does he agree that that sort of deceit and duplicity is doing much to damage morale among teachers and to alienate parents from these unpopular and doctrinaire policies?

Mr. Straw : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is surprising that the Secretary of State does not understand what effect a collapse of morale has upon the recruitment and retention of teachers.

In June 1976, a newish Conservative Back Bencher complained to the then Secretary of State for Social Services about near-record wastage in a profession. He said that, because of the low state of morale in the profession, the poor terms and conditions and the poor salary prospects, there had been a flight of individuals from it. That Back Bencher is now Secretary of State for Education and Science. He was referring to the medical profession, but the case that he made then applies equally to the teaching profession now.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : Medicine is an old and long established profession.

Mr. Straw : The point is exactly the same. In June 1976, the Secretary of State, then a Back Bencher, said that low morale and low pay had led to a flight of people fom the

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profession. Exactly those circumstances are now leading to a flight from the teaching profession and to problems of retaining teachers. Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) rose--

Mr. Straw : I shall not give way, as I am about to conclude. In his first three and a half months in office, this Secretary of State managed to visit just one school outside his constituency but did not manage to speak to any of the pupils about the effects of Government policy upon their school. Only someone who has kept himself holed up in Elizabeth house could possibly introduce this order or come out with the complacent claptrap that he and the Minister of State peddle about there being no serious problem in terms of a teacher shortage or teachers' pay.

Educational standards depend critically on the number and quality of teachers in our schools. Those requirements and teacher motivation will be maintained and increased only if negotiations are restored and teachers are better rewarded. We therefore oppose the order. 10.52 pm

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West) : I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about the cash increase for next year's financial settlement for teachers' pay. In common with my right hon. Friend, I hope that this will be the last occasion on which we must debate such an order. I hope that we shall have some form of new negotiating body in place next year. I also welcome what he said in his remit to the interim advisory committee about its need to extend local flexibility for teachers' salaries in 1990-91. I hope that the IAC will pay exceptional attention to the high housing costs and the high travel-to-work costs in certain parts of the country. I hope that it will also remember the extra costs of implementing the national curriculum and all the extra work involved.

There is a move towards a common recognition of educational qualifications within the European Community. People hope that that policy goal will be achieved by 1993. To attain that goal, the highest educational standards and the best teaching must be achieved throughout the EC. It also demands the full implementation of the national curriculum in Britain. I hope that the Government will consider whether there are some areas where the European social fund could be used to tide us over when we run into difficulties about the payment of teachers' costs and salaries.

Educational reform has gone ahead at a tremendous speed and my right hon. Friend has already said that the implementation of that reform should not go ahead at such breakneck speed. The introduction of the important reforms relating to the national curriculum should be introduced at a slower pace. For 1990-91, the IAC should pay particular attention to the rates of pay for supply teachers and remember that different aptitudes are needed for being a supply teacher in a secondary school as opposed to a primary school. Another point which I welcome, and to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has referred, is that he wants the education services and local authorities to consult widely with industry about how industry can help to alleviate teacher shortages. When we look at what industry already does in education, with the technical and

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vocational education initiative and city technology colleges, it seems that industry is almost subsidising teachers' salaries. When the interim advisory committee is asked next year to consider the modification of selective payments in relation to teacher shortages in some subjects, it should also consider whether industry can temporarily directly subsidise teachers' salaries in some parts of the country for a certain period.

The impact of greater local flexibility in pay scales has an effect on the looming community charge. Local education authorities must be compensated properly from central Government if they have to bring in a host of local additional pay scales to ensure not only that the national curriculum is met, but that shortages elsewhere are overcome.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already given warnings about what inflation may do in the next financial year, and certainly in the next calendar year. Therefore, what the IAC recommends for 1990-91 could have an effect on the community charge and how it works out in relation to Government and the revenue support grant. Therefore, all I ask is that the Government do not contradict themselves. They must push ahead, quite rightly, with the national curriculum and solving teacher shortages, but they must not load the extra financial burden on areas which, through no fault of their own, have to grapple with teacher shortages.

With regard to the new negotiating machinery, I hope that we can reach a new teachers' incomes forum, call it what we will. However, three factors must be right before we can do so : first, the trade unions must work out a common position and speak with a single voice in any such forum ; secondly, if we are to have a forum which has direct talks with employers, we must have a fallback position--a board of mediation which intervenes to overcome difficulties--rather than having teachers resorting to industrial action in the classroom. Built into the system there must be an automatic form of conciliation and mediation so that we do not slide into the classroom disruption that we experienced earlier this decade. Thirdly, if employers are to agree to this they must have a system which ensures that the settlements they make are met with the resources necessary to implement them.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will succeed in bringing forward new negotiating machinery, but if he fails we must accept that we cannot have a new negotiating system which takes local authorities into account. In that case we would have to pay teachers centrally, and grasp the financial nettle which that would entail.

10.58 pm

Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham) : I am glad of the opportunity to speak in this debate because I, like many parents in So,uthwark, am concerned about the teacher shortage in the borough. I shall give some examples of how the teacher shortage is hitting schools in Southwark and say how the Government should respond to it. Some children at primary schools in my borough turn up at school not knowing whether they will be sent home or who their teacher will be. They may be in the same classroom as usual but with a different teacher. It may be

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that their class and the children with whom they are used to working are divided into two and placed into other already overcrowded classrooms.

At one school in my constituency, children had been prepared by their parents during the summer holidays to begin school in September. But the school had to tell parents not to bring their children for the first day because there was no teacher for the reception class. Imagine the feelings of the parents and children, the children having talked to brothers and sisters about starting school and the parents having prepared them for the occasion. Because parents in that situation cannot tell their children when they are likely to start school, a great feeling of insecurity is created among parents and children. However secure and stable the home background, an insecure and unstable school situation creates a feeling of insecurity in the child.

A high percentage of probationers teach in my area, and there is a terrible dearth of experience. Heads and deputy heads cannot do the important work in school that they should be doing, because they are having to cover classes. Section 11 teachers are having to be in the classroom instead of doing the valuable work that they should be doing. Supply teachers are filling permanent vacancies instead of being available to cover for teachers on maternity and sick leave. All that has a terrible effect on standards. Schools must hang on to their teachers and, when there are vacancies, there is no question of selecting from a mixed group of qualified teachers. Heads must take anybody who offers himself or herself for teaching. That, too, creates a feeling of insecurity among parents. The teacher may be perfectly adequate, but if it is known that there was no competition for the vacancy and no choice, morale is undermined. So, in addition to the problem of children being sent home, we have the insidious undermining effects of insufficient teachers and the result of that on the quality of education in primary schools.

The Government can do something to improve the situation. They are constantly talking about market forces. They cannot be paying teachers enough when we canot obtain sufficient teachers to teach in Southwark's primary schools. But it is also a question of the value that the Government place on teachers.

When attending the Labour party conference Brighton, I stayed with a friend who is a primary school teacher there. She was always awake at 6 o'clock in the morning preparing for the day's work and, however late I arrived home after conference fringe meetings, she was doing her papers and preparing for the following day's classes. Although she has two children, she assured me that the hard work and insufficient pay to meet her increased mortgage payments were not the only problem. Being committed to her work, she feels that the job is not given enough public recognition and value. The Government have an important role to play in that context.

Housing is another problem in that people cannot afford on a teacher's salary to buy or rent housing in Southwark. The Government must consider that problem if we are to resolve the teacher shortage.

In speaking of primary school teachers, we are referring to a largely female work force. If they are to return to teaching after maternity leave, they must be able to combine their working and family life, and that means more flexible hours, with the Government encouraging the provision of high quality child care for teachers, with after-school and school holiday provision. With female

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teachers being expected to work to a male employment pattern, we must not be surprised if they do not return to teaching at the end of their maternity leave. It is not only a question of leaving this to the local education authority. The Government should take a lead in financing the provision and in highlighting and fostering good practice.

A child's first term and years at school are vital. The teacher shortage is jeopardising that start for the children of Southwark. The Secretary of State has a clear duty, and he must act.

11.5 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) : I declare an interest as a long-time member of the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association. Like the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I am a parliamentary adviser to that association.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his comments of recent months, in which he has fully acknowledged the commitment, dedication and professionalism of teachers in this country. Those qualities are widely recognised. There is certainly a problem of low morale in the teaching profession, but, like the president of the AMMA, I must say that too often teachers talk themselves down. That is a major problem, and it is not helped by some of the comments that have been made here this evening. I very much hope that problems of morale will start to be tackled by the teachers themselves.

I do not doubt that there is a strong case for better pay and conditions and for a better career structure for teachers. There are new and serious problems. There are teacher shortages, for instance, but as my right hon. Friend said, they represent about 1 per cent. of the work force. In many other professions, that would not be regarded as exceptional, and the problem is unevenly spread throughout teaching ; it is uneven geographically and by specialty.

Attracting people back into the teaching profession will be a succsssful answer, I believe. As the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, there are as many graduate teachers outside as inside the profession. We should surely welcome them back with open arms. I advocate bringing into the classroom well qualified graduates who can be trained on the job.

I received an unsolicited letter from a constituent about this only this week. She says :

"Having seen, on South To-Day last night, Jack Straw pontificating on the question of employing graduates in schools without training except in school, I felt constrained to write to BBC South to point out that graduates could be employed in state schools without any further training in teaching until the 1970's."

My constituent graduated in modern languages. In 1965 she decided to teach and answered an advertisement placed by the

Labour-controlled ILEA for graduates to teach in primary schools : "I was then appointed as a qualified teacher, with no experience or training whatsoever, to a London Primary School. I learnt on the job with help from another untrained graduate! This was Labour Party policy when they were in office to overcome the shortage of teachers in London.

After moving to Salisbury I was employed in Secondary Schools both by Wiltshire and Hampshire County Councils as a qualified teacher It seems disgraceful that the BBC gives such prominence to Labour Party propaganda in suggesting that this is simply Conservative policy and therefore to be denigrated."

I must concur with that.

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