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 Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth 12:00 am, 1st August 1961

I also offer my apologies to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the staff for speaking at this early hour of the morning. I always seem to be apologising for that reason. Nevertheless, I felt that this was an occasion on which I should take part in the debate.

After the Chancellor made his economic statement last week, the country having been geared to expect very tough measures, people wondered what had happened. They did not at that time detect in the Chancellor's speech the kind of measures which they had been led to expect. Now, of course, it is quite clear that a great many decisions will have to be taken. I do not complain about that because I fully support the Chancellor in recognising the need for the economic stability which is absolutely essential for this country, but I believe that many people will be involved—unexpectedly, in the light of my right hon. and learned Friend's statement, at any rate—in having to give reluctant acquiescence to measures which will be put forward.

It is extraordinary that when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education has taken the step that he has—I am not commenting on it at the moment—it has been left to an hon. Member on the Opposition side to raise the issue directly with by right hon. Friend at just after four o'clock in the morning and that this is the first opportunity that Parliament has had to discuss what is, after all, a new and unprecedented decision on the part of my right hon. Friend. That causes me great and deep concern. Whether or not one agrees with my right hon. Friend, I should have thought that it would be in the interests of the Government for him to have been given an opportunity to come before the House at a normal time to put his case.

I have no complaint against my right hon. Friend, because I think that he has been put in a difficult position. If, however, as a Government, we are to give, as, I believe, we are capable of doing, a lead to the country in this economic crisis, we cannot do it when the first important step is being discussed in the way that it must be discussed. But for the fact that we are here with my right hon. Friend ready to reply on an issue raised by the hon. Member for Southamption, Itchen (Dr. King) from the Opposition benches, I would not have taken part in this debate at this hour in the morning. I repeat that I am very sorry for my right hon. Friend.

I cannot understand why the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have made the brief reference that he made in the economic debate to the teaching profession. It would have been much wiser if, immediately following my right hon. and learned Friend's statement, responsible Ministers—not only my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, but Ministers from other Departments who will be concerned in dealing with this economic crisis—had all been permitted to come and make their observations.

If the Government are being tough with the people, at least they must face them and tell them exactly what they intend to do. The people can either accept or reject. I have been long enough in politics to know that when there is tangible danger, one can obtain the support of the people; but they must be trusted and given leadership.

I am deeply concerned that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for whom I have great respect and admiration, should have decided to make such a laconic statement —that is, perhaps, the best word to describe it—concerning a Department about which he is not qualified to comment in detail and, at the same time, to deprive my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education of the opportunity of arguing his own case. It was a great pity and a great mistake. At least, those of us who are here tonight appreciate that my right hon. Friend has come himself. I hope that he will be able to put forward his arguments for the decision which he has had to take.

That leads me to another point which I want to make, because if I do not make it now I cannot see when I shall be able to do so. There are other Ministers involved in the matter of negotiating machinery and I think that, in the interests of the country as a whole, we should hear something about what is in the mind of the Treasury. I am glad to see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in his place, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. That is tremendously important and I shall say why in a moment.

Right throughout the whole structure of the country there must be hundreds of thousands of people wondering what their future is going to be. We have been given no lead except the decision of the Minister of Education on the Burnham award and we really want to know if Parliament is to rise far the Recess with all these people left in a state of anxiety and conflict—people among whom there are no doubt many who are willing to co-operate with the Government in bringing about economic stability. I have no quarrel about the short-term or the long-term plans, but the Government must let the country know a great deal more about What they have in mind.

My mind goes back to 1931 when the country was very easily led into supporting some very drastic measures. All the people who accepted them are to be commended, but the country did accept those measures in order to reestablish financial and economic stability.

There was a Question and Answer in the House on Monday, and I mention this because there are hundreds of thousands of people involved in the National Health Service who also will be wondering what the future holds for them. The Question was asked by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Kenneth Robinson). He asked the Minister of Health … what new instructions he has given or proposes to give to his representatives on the various Whitley Councils in the light of Government policy on wages and salaries in the public service; what action he intends to take on Whitley Council agreements involving increased remuneration submitted for his approval; and whether claims will be allowed to go to arbitration as hitherto in the event of disagreement between the two sides". The Minister of Health answered, I have nothing to add at present to the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer". That was pretty neat, because my recollection is that in the Chancellor's statement nothing was said about the Health Service, but only about education. But then the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North, said, But is the Minister not aware that within the Health Service there are many of the most under-paid categories of skilled and trained staff? It would be most unfortunate and grossly unfair if they were caught in the wage freeze in the public sector which the Chancellor adumbrated last week". All the Minister of Health then said was I have nothing to add".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1961; Vol. 645, col. 927.] He may have had nothing to add, but but I have quite a lot. I do not think that, when one has a situation such as we have got in the National Health Service, it should be left at that. I think that people in the Health Service of all grades, of all categories, of all professions, have got a right to know what is going on. I fully recognise the difficulty which my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in. It was very difficult in the Parliamentary timetable and in the scene as it was set, with the Budget and Finance Bill, and the economic statement and economic debate, to come out with a full-scale plan involving everybody in the public sector, but I do not think that it is fair to the country—and, of course, the same goes for the private sector as well—for millions of people, as there are if we add the private to the public sector, discussing whether there is an intention of interfering with arbitration, with the industrial courts and the wages boards—for instance, for agricultural wages. All this ought to have been put in some perspective by Ministers to the country and to this House.

I resent it on behalf of those whom I try to represent. One of my most ardent supporters, a very great supporter of the Conservative Party, a very responsible councillor of my own local authority, the County Borough of Tyne-mouth, who has never, so far as I know, even criticised the Government before, said to me what a pity it was that the Chancellor had made that comment about the teachers. Well, as I say, there are other people, too. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education cannot answer for the National Health Service, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will convey to their respective Ministers exactly what the position is and what I imagine is the feeling of all Members of the House over this matter.

I want to develop very quickly—I am not going to be much longer—just one or two points about the Health Service. I think that it is very important that we should know what claims are in the pipeline and whether the ones which are in the process of coming out of the pipeline are to be dealt with under the wage freeze and what is going to happen to those sections, of which there are many, in the National Health Service in which shortage of trained staff is having a bad effect on the proper administration and running of the Health Service as a whole. Are we, for instance, in the section of the professions supplementary to medicine, going to say, when we desperately want teachers in psysiotherapy and occupational therapy that we are not going to offer any inducements to try to get recruits either from training or teaching, because of the wage freeze? I may be wrong. It may be in the national interest that we should say we are not going to do a thing about them, but I think it ought to be known. Are we going to let the Health Service in many ways fail to recruit staff or are we going to make exceptions? I give just one example.

I sometimes think that it is all very well for Ministers to talk about the people of this country pulling up their socks and working harder—with which I agree—but I think that if the general public are asked to pull up their socks and to work harder, occasionally Government Departments should do that themselves, before they start lecturing the general public.

It is well known that there is a shortage of teachers of physiotherapy and that it is almost impossible to man new training schools. I understand that for nine months physiotherapists have been looking round the country for sites for new schools, but they cannot establish schools unless there are the trained staffs to run them. I am a member of the Council of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists and I know what is going on and how anxious the Council feels about these matters. A very important conference of senior, high-ranking physiotherapists will be held in October and two tutors have been appointed, one in education and the other on the technical side. Application has been made to the Minister for salaries to be paid in respect of those appointments. One salary has been fixed according to the Society's recommendation but the other salary recommended by the Society is unacceptable.

Can anyone go to appeal against this discrimination? Nobody knows, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will make a note of this and will tell her Minister. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman in turn will see the Chancellor. I hope that it will be noted that the physiotherapists are seriously discussing calling off the conference which I have mentioned unless satisfaction is forthcoming on this issue. To call off the conference would certainly not be in the interest of the Health Service as a whole. It certainly would not be in the interest of trying to train more physiotherapists. If the Parliamentary Secretary went round all the great hospitals she would find that there is a great shortage of staff in the "supplementary to medicine" group. I want to know what is happening about this.

I also want to know what is happening about the Younghusband Report on Local Authority Health and Welfare Services. I would have liked to have seen the Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, present. What are we doing about crime prevention? I understand from what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health said in the House yesterday that the build- ing of hospitals will not be affected by economy measures, because that is above-the-line expenditure. I suppose that the same must apply to remand homes and detention centres. But what is the use of having these buildings if we do not have the trained staffs to run them? It is extremely disturbing that we have had no leadership in these matters.

I know that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will not be replying to the debate, because that is in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education. It is his night. I only wish that he could have had a day on the subject.

I want to know from my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is happening about the arbitration machinery in the private sector. People employed in mines and factories and in all the public and semipublic sectors of the nationalised industries want to know what is happening. When will the Chancellor be in a position to tell us? One finds that over a very long period in the industrial courts and the arbitration courts awards have nearly always been made and, though not perhaps in every case, in the main the increases awarded in salaries and wages have been justified. All those people getting higher wages have gone to make up the affluent society of which the Prime Minister and I are very proud. But what is now going to happen? I will not talk about the small fixed income groups tonight, but I mention them so that the Financial Secretary will not forget them.

I do not consider that it represents leadership on an important matter of this kind if we have to discuss the first step in the long-term planning—that is how I interpret this new arrangement with regard to the Burnham Committee — at this time in the morning. Nor do I think that it ought to have been left to the hon. Member to raise the subject. This is a matter which should have been put by the Government, and I am very disappointed that they have not done so.