Orders of the Day — Teachers (Salaries)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st August 1961.

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Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen 12:00 am, 1st August 1961

I have learned over the years to appreciate so highly the devotion of the servants of this House to this free Parliament of ours that I would wish to apologise for keeping them so late if it were not for the gravity of the grievance I raise tonight, and the fact that this is one of the most precious occasions of the Parliamentary year.

I think also that hon. Members will agree with me when I say that in the midst of a long sitting like this one it might be an appropriate occasion for a back bencher to tell you, Mr. Speaker, how much we appreciate your own inestimable services to Parliament in the Chair, at whatever hour of the day we choose to keep you sitting.

I also want to say how grateful I am to the Minister of Education for being here, and also to express gratitude to my two hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White). I do not like attacking a man behind his back, and as I propose to attack the Minister tonight, it is right that he should be here. The fact that both Front Benches are occupied is some indication of the seriousness of the issue.

Last week, the Minister told the Burnham Committee that he refused to accept its freely negotiated salaries increase for the teaching profession; that the £47½ million which was accepted by both sides must be reduced to £42 million, and that the elaborate system of differentials built up inside that global sum, a system which has been built on years of hard bargaining, experience and especially based on the fight of the teaching profession for a decent basic professional scale, must be swept away and replaced by differentials devised by himself.

Over a quarter of a million teachers in the country, most of them lifelong supporters of the Government, to my regret, are outraged by the right hon. Gentleman's decision. The profession is utterly united, the only differences of opinion among teachers being whether the £47½ million itself was not too low a figure for an adequate professional scale, and also about the way in which their unanimous repudiation of the proposed reduction should be expressed.

I should be failing in my duty to education and to the profession which I had the honour of serving before I came to the House if I did not try to convey to the Minister and to the House the bitter resentment of the teaching profession and the dangers to education itself if the right hon. Gentleman pursues the course that at present he seems to be pursuing. I want to urge him this morning to alter his decision.

The Burnham Committee has functioned effectively for forty-one years. It is one of the excellent instruments set up in this century for public servants, local government workers and Civil Service workers, and, indeed, for all kinds of groups of workers and their employers to negotiate wage and salary agreements. To the Burnham Committee during the last forty years local government has sent some of its most able and enlightened voluntary public servants. The Teachers' Panel, as the Minister knows, is led by an outstanding man with an international reputation in the education world for ability, courage and character.

The Burnham Committee itself consists of representatives in equal numbers of the teaching profession, on the one hand, and the local authorities on the other, presided over by an impartial chairman. Its record over the last forty years has been one of distinguished chairmen. There are three partners in the matter of teachers' salaries—the teachers, the local authorities and the Minister of Education, and the latter two foot the bill in about equal proportions.

I have no doubt that during the forty years' existence of the Burnham Committee Governments have whispered from time to time to the local authorities the kind of maximum figure that the Government would tolerate. But never before in the history of the Burnham Committee have a Government interfered in the present manner. Never has an award been rejected. Never have a Government set themselves up as a body competent to do the detailed work of the Burnham Committee.

I find it difficult to speak temperately of the grave significance of this interference. When the Minister's colleague, an earlier Minister of Health, rejected in December, 1957, a Whitley Council award the Medical World Newsletter of that month said: Of course, the Minister himself is no more responsible than the unfortunate Sputnik dog"— this was the first dog, the one that is still voyaging through space— The day is long past when a Minister of Health carried any real responsibility for his own decisions. He now moves in a fixed orbit pre-determined by his master the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His function is merely to carry the can and be the scapegoat in case of trouble. He has our sympathy. For "Minister of Health" read the present Minister of Education and we have an exact description of the present position.

Some years ago the block grant placed local authorities and the Minister fairly and squarely in the hands of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Now by this action the process is carried a stage further. The Minister of Education is abdicating to the Treasury the little power he had left to be a good employer. I believe in local local government. This Government are destroying it. By this latest action the Treasury tears up a second negotiated settlement and sets itself up as capable of deciding even the detailed way in which the global sum which it seeks to force on the Burnham Committee shall be shared out. I respect the competence of the Treasury and admire the work of the Ministry of Education, but neither Department is qualified to do the work which local authorities have devoted themselves to, often under great difficulty, during the past forty years. There is a steady depreciating by this Government of the devoted labours of professional and voluntary workers in the local government field. More and more power is being transferred from county hall to the Cabinet, and more and more power is being transferred from members of the Cabinet to the Treasury. This is from a Government who always profess that they want to give greater freedom to local authorities.

This week Education is right when it bitterly says: The days of education as a local government service would appear to be numbered. Does not the Minister share my view that, if this statement is right, it would be a disaster to the great marriage of local and national government that we have built over the past fifty years in education? First, then, in the Minister's action there is a grave challenge to local authorities. Last Wednesday the local authorities decided to stand firm with the teachers. Both sides agreed to the £47½ million negotiated figure and both of them together refused to accept the instruction of the Minister to make the cut of £5½ million which he demanded. I believe that at their meeting this morning, in about six hours' time, they will stand firm again, as the teachers decided to do last Saturday.

The Minister and hon. Members, of whom I am pleased to see so many at this early hour of the morning, may be interested to hear the resolution passed unanimously by the executive of the National Union of Teachers last Saturday morning: The Executive of the National Union of Teachers bitterly regrets the action of the Minister of Education in summarily rejecting the proposals negotiated by the Burnham Committee, and the more so since they fall far short of the teachers' claim and were only accepted with great reluctance in a time of economic crisis.It considers that Sir David Eccles' letter, which limits increases to £42 million and suggests a re-distribution in a different way from that recommended by fifty-two teacher and local authority representatives closely in touch with the needs of the schools, completely denies the principles on which negotiations have been conducted in the Burnham Committee in the forty years of its history. Such action is deeply resented.In these circumstances, the Executive instructs its representatives on the Burnham Committee to inform the Authorities' Panel at next Wednesday's meeting that it can take no part in distributing the £42 million in the manner dictated by the Minister, nor agree to any reduction of the increase previously recommended to the Minister. Let nobody think that this is merely a teachers' battle. Already the civil servants have seen the danger sign. Yesterday's Daily Telegraph carried this statement from the Society of Civil Servants: The Society will take whatever steps are needed to safeguard negotiating machinery. Pay in the public sector lags behind, and the Society sees no justification for penalising public services. I hope that the N.A.L.G.O. will also see the threat, and that all non-Government workers who take part in wage negotiating bodies will rise to challenge this new claim which the Government are making in the action of the Minister of Education; this claim that they can override Whitley Councils, Burnham Committees, and all the elaborate wage negotiating instruments which we have been setting up for the past fifty years. I hope that they will get together in resisting the action of the Government.

I wish to keep party politics out of what I say tonight, but I cannot avoid mentioning one simple fact. Last week one Hampshire gentleman sold land which he bought for £950 thirty years ago for £33,000—one single transaction, probably tax-free, in which a fantastic reward is earned for ownership only, and simply because planning permission has been given to build on that piece of land. That single transaction earned the owner more than almost any teacher, any civil servant, any local Government worker, any miner, any engineer, earns by a lifetime of labour for the community. In reference to correspondence in this week's London evening newspapers, I interpose that the £1,250 teacher who has been the subject of discussion gets by no means the typical wage or salary of a teacher.

When we reward in such fantastic measure the landowner as compared with those who are working for the community, I think that our values are plumb crazy. How can we meet the grave challenge which both sides of the House admit we have to meet today to save Britain's economy when the Government make it vastly profitable for the speculator and the landowner, and at the same time turn to lop off £5½ million from salary increases, freely negotiated, to a profession which everybody in the House, and almost everybody in the country, admits has long been underpaid? We give the greatest rewards in Britain to those who do the least for the nation, and then expect to hold our place in a highly competitive world.

Monday's Daily Mail contained an interesting public opinion poll, certain features of which cannot have given very much satisfaction to Her Majesty's Government. I will not mention those tonight, but this poll showed that when people were asked whether they supported the Government's attack on teachers, only 27 per cent. agreed with the Government, while 66 per cent. disagreed. Public opinion is with the teachers, and if there is to be a struggle —and as one who cherishes education I hope that there will not be a struggle —public opinion will be a vital factor in that struggle.

I appeal to the Minister. He and I differ very deeply on certain basic attitudes to education, as both he and the House know. But his second stay at the Ministry has won him golden opinions from educationists. I would not go so far as Professor Vaizey, who recently wrote of him as a Minister of outstanding ability whose record ranks with Forster and Butler", but his achievements in education are of no mean value.

It is only two years ago that he was cheered to the echo at the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers for an inspiring speech on the work which he and the teachers hand in hand were going to do. I am certain that that spontaneous tribute from the teaching profession must have deeply moved and pleased him. It is no secret to say that he would get no such reception if he attended the extraordinary conference which the teaching profession proposes to hold on 30th September.

I believe that it would be lamentable if this Minister were compelled to go down in history as a Minister who was made to spoil a very fine record of service to education by embittering the teachers in order that the Chancellor, who flung away money to the Surtax payers in his first Budget this year, could clutch that £5,500,000 from members of the teaching profession who will never get into the Surtax-paying range. Or that, as the country is beginning to think of him as a Fisher, he should end his career as Minister of Education as a Geddes, with the difference that at any rate Geddes was not called on to apply the axe to his own great work in education.

Again I put to the Minister a quotation from Education. This week it states: To take it out of the teaching staff is shortsighted and extravagantly mean. Education suffers when the teacher suffers. An attack on the teacher is an attack on education as a whole. In fact the latest developments this week have proved that that is literally true, because the attack on the salary of teachers has been immediately followed by a circular to local authorities announcing economies in the building programme for schools for 1962–63.

I have a feeling that party discipline, quite properly, drove many hon. Members opposite last week regretfully to support the attack on teachers' salaries as part of the Government's general strategy, just as I have a feeling that the Minister must have strained his own loyalty to the Government and to the great educational service when he decided to destroy by a single act the good-will which existed between him and his 250,000 employees, most of them good, simple, foolish Conservatives. I would urge both him and hon. Members opposite to reconsider what they are threatening to do to education, because for the harm done this autumn and winter the Minister will have to accept full responsibility.

The teachers feel that they have already responded to the Chancellor's economy drive. Like other citizens they suffer from the other measures which he has introduced in his £200 million cut in national expenditure. Moreover, the teachers had decided by a majority that the proposed £47½ million was not enough, and until the Chancellor's statement they had determined to insist on more. They accepted the Burnham award only with reluctance at the last minute and only because of the economic crisis.

The teachers have been underpaid all this century. I read with conflicting emotions the words of tribute paid by Member after Member to the teaching profession in the 1918 Second Reading debate on the great Fisher Act. On 13th March, 1918, Sir Henry Craik said: We have, as Scott somewhere said 'treated the schoolmaster as we would treat the deerhound. We have kept him starved that he may be more alert to bring down the quarry'. He went on: I claim for the teacher that it is essential to improve his position if we are to have good education and I submit that discontent among the teachers is a source of serious social danger."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1918; Vol. 104, c. 364.] But little has been done, in spite of the numerous tributes in words paid in 1918, to improve the professional status and professional well-being of the teachers during the past forty years beyond the improvement in the lot of the citizens which has come from the building up of the nation's economy.

It has been a British custom all my lifetime, whenever there is to be an economy drive, to level the first blow at the teachers and at education, and teachers have fought all through those years for a decent professional salary scale. They have never had one. Even if their original claim, not for the £47½ million which they negotiated, had been conceded, their final position would have been inferior to that of a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, and a policeman, not to mention the speculator and the property owner and company promoter.

In the 1918 debate, a Scottish Member said, … while I for one, would not for a moment belittle the industry of money-making, I think the industry of man-making is infinitely more important, and those who are engaged in it ought to receive infinitely greater support than they do at the present time. I would like to see the teaching profession so raised in the estimation of the people that to join in it would be regarded as one of the highest privileges that any man or women could enjoy.… We shall never get the best out of the child unless we can get the best out of the teacher."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March. 1918; Vol. 104. c. 760–61.] I am deeply concerned about the bitter sense of frustration and anger which permeates the teaching profession. It cannot be good for education. It cannot be good for education if the leaders of Burnham, both sides of which have so much to give to education itself, should now be doomed to devote their talents to fighting over salaries and to resisting the Government —talents which they ought to be devoting to the exciting task of educational development and expansion.

I say to the Minister that he cannot run the educational system which the best of both sides want for this nation if the key people in the system—the class teachers, the head teachers—are being turned cynical and bitter by the contrast between the esteem in which society professes to hold them and its willingness to make them the first victims of a new Geddes axe.

I commend to the Minister, who loves good books, the sad, cynical and famous French comedy, "Topaze." I am always anxious about the impact of cheap commercialism in the society in which we live on our children. I shall be even more concerned if the teachers themselves are corrupted, as the schoolmaster Topaze was corrupted in Pagnol's comedy, by the attitude of the Government to what I believe to be one of the key professions of the country.

Yesterday I received from my old school the terminal school magazine, which contained an appeal to all old boys of the school to help the school in its desperate search for science masters for next September. Every two years an old boy of my school whom I taught years ago—now a scientist in America— comes to London to buy for America young British scientific brains. English education needs the best brains that Britain can provide. America is prepared to buy them from us and to deprive our schools of them.

This year there are more over-sized senior classes than there have ever been this century. Next year sees another— I hope the last—crisis in the matter of teacher supply. The profession for which I am pleading has borne the brunt of the burden created by educational advance itself, by the problem of crowded classrooms, by the bulge, followed by a second bulge, to be followed, it is now clear, by a third bulge in the years ahead, and by secondary education for all; and next year many of those who thought that they might now find the size of classes being reduced will find that there will be a crisis again.

In spite of the difficulties, this underpaid profession has achieved great things for Britain, as the Minister not only knows but has generously acknowledged in speech after speech in the House and up and down the country at all times until his unfortunate decision of last week. Most important of all, our teachers are the answer—apart from their pupils, the most important answer—to the long-term aspects of the problem with which the Chancellor is confronted. On the quality of their work both intellectually and morally the whole future of Britain depends. In my judgment, the Chancellor ought not to be allowed to jeopardise the future for an immediate and paltry gain to the Treasury.

I care more for children than for anything else in the world. The months ahead may be fun for them, if there is a spate of strikes, whether the strikes be national, unofficial, sporadic or localised. It may be fun for them to be away from school, but the harm which could be done to the children would be incalculable. I hope that there will be no strikes, but it is difficult to argue with an angry man or with an angry profession which feels itself unjustly treated. There is no teacher worth his salt who does not give in time and in work inside and out of school much more than the law compels him to give. It would be a tragedy if the Government's mean action were to dry up in the teaching profession all that wonderful voluntary work.

Last week, the Minister said that there was an impasse which he hoped that both sides would overcome. But he has created the impasse. He can end it tomorrow. I urge him, for the sake of the great service for which he is responsible, to realise the gravity of the present situation. I urge hon. Members opposite to take note of the representations which they will receive from members of the teaching profession in their constituencies. Unique and unprecedented as this occasion is, the Minister will have to pass an Act of Parliament to carry out his decision if he is determined to reject the Burnham award. That is the measure of what he is doing.

I have before paid tribute to the local authorities for their willingness to undertake financial burdens for education, even though those burdens press heavily on the ratepayers. So far in this matter of the award to the teachers, they are ahead of the Government. There is still time for the Government to line up with the local authorities and to accept, as Governments always have done in the end during the past forty years, the findings of the freely negotiating body, the Burnham Committee. If not, I fear very much that the outlook for education this winter may be grave indeed.