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 Mr David Eccles Mr David Eccles , Chippenham 12:00 am, 1st August 1961

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) was absolutely right in saying that the Government needed this opportunity to say a few things about this very important question. I agree entirely that it has been something of an embarrassment not to be able to come to the House and explain the facts of the case. The House will appreciate that, during the last few days, the Parliamentary timetable has been extremely full. I know that if my right hon. Friends could have given me the opportunity at a more suitable hour they would have done so. Therefore, I thank the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) for bringing about what I hoped would happen.

Nobody regrets a dispute with the teachers on their salaries more than I do. With the help of many hon. Members, the hon. Member for lichen and many of my hon. Friends, I have tried for a number of years to arouse support among the public for education in this country, because it is clear that, in the scientific and technical world in which we live, education is essential, and for no country in the world more so than it is for Britain.

When one looks at the structure and the standards of our education, again I am on the record as always having put first an adequate supply of properly trained teachers as the pivot on which the whole system turns. The Government have no doubt that more teachers and better qualified teachers are the greatest single requirement of the schools and colleges. I say that once more only in order that hon. Members may not be under any illusion that in approaching this salary question I have not had in mind the gospel I have tried to preach for so long.

At the same time, it is not true that we have unlimited money at our disposal, or ever will have under any Government, to improve the education system. We shall be the prisoners of priorities for as long ahead as we can see. I said that in the debate which the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) has quoted. If I remember aright, I said that I believed the public was willing to pay the rising bills for education provided that we got value for money and provided we got our priorities right. That is the position on which we stand.

It is no less a fact that we are not in equal difficulty over the recuritment of all kinds of teachers or that the salaries of all teachers should on any rational estimate of the needs of the schools be improved equally. Given the number of places in the teacher training colleges, which number we are now in process of doubling, we have had, and we now have, no difficulty in finding suitable applicants for all of them. Indeed, the contrary is true. We are gradually but sensibly raising the entrance qualifications of students. So there is no comparison with the police, who were seriously undermanned with a large number of vacancies that could not be filled.

On the other hand, ever since I have been at the Ministry, I have been seriously perturbed by the level of salaries of the older teachers, of the teachers with special responsibilities, and those with higher qualifications. The hon. Member for Itchen mentioned the acute shortage of science teachers. I am sure that the attraction and the prestige of a profession is to a substantial extent a reflection of the way the higher posts are rewarded: the "plums" at the tap are the world's criterion of a profession's reputation, and we badly need more highly qualified teachers than we are getting today. Therefore, I was glad that the increase which could be offered to the teachers—it turns out to be £42 million—would be the highest ever made in a Burnham review.

Obviously, a sum of this very large size gives considerable scope for improvements, but we must spend the money to the best advantage. Of course, we all want an improvement on the basic scale, and I am particularly concerned that more should be done for the young men when they marry and have children. I welcome very much the Burnham Committee's idea of double increments at the right points in the scale which would benefit these men but will not apply to those young women who leave the schools with less than five years' service.

Many people have written to me to ask how it is that teachers, educationists and writers in the Press, all of whose business it is to instruct other people how to describe accurately what is going on around them and to recognise truth from an error, can call a salary increase of £42 million a cut. We all have hopes that we cannot realise, but we do not call a reduction in unrealised hopes a cut.

I have been accused of interfering unduly with the Burnham machinery. It is, therefore, important that I should give in as clear language as possible the background to our decision that £42 million was the right sum to offer in present circumstances, and why we made the offer when we did and in the manner that we did.

As has been said tonight, an important factor in this matter which has not received much attention is what has happened north of the Border, in Scotland. Last April, the Scottish local authorities and teachers' representatives presented my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with an agreed proposal for an increase in teachers' salaries amounting to 18 per cent. My right hon. Friend used the powers which he possesses, and which I do not, to reject the 18 per cent., and proposed new scales amounting to a 12½ per cent. increase which, after further consultations, he increased to 14 per cent. This is the size of the increase which was settled for Scotland, early in the summer, before the financial crisis had become acute.

It has been alleged tonight that the Government did give a whisper to Burnham about the size of the increase; but this was no whisper. It was the plainest of plain hints that 14 per cent. was the maximum which could be added in present circumstances. Nevertheless, the Burnham Committee provisionally agreed on an increase of 16¼ per cent., costing £47½ million for the primary and secondary teachers in England and Wales. Now a proposed increase of this size, out of line with Scotland, naturally caused the Government great embarrassment and, furthermore, we noted with concern that at a general conference at Margate, the N.U.T. rejected the 16¼ per cent. increase as totally insufficient.

After this conference, no one could tell what would happen next in Burnham. We therefore had no agreed figure before us when it became necessary for the Chancellor to announce measures to deal with the financial situation. One of the most important of these measures was a pause in salaries and wages in the whole of the public sector, and a call for a similar pause in the private sector. It appeared to the Government, as I am sure it does to the whole House, to be only fair that outstanding claims in the public sector should be cleared up before this pause began. Of these outstanding claims by far the largest were the Burnham proposals for a figure which was then unknown because of the N.U.T. rejection of the provisional agreement, but which obviously was not going to be less than £47½ million. Here, the timetable of the Burnham Committee is very important.

The Committee was not due to consider the situation following the rejection by the N.U.T. of the £47½ million until two days after the Chancellor's statement in this House. Now, it would surely have been wrong to have allowed the Committee to hold its meeting and try to arrive at fresh conclusions after the Government had announced their economic measure's if, in making his announcement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said nothing about teachers' salaries. In my view it would have been nothing short of dishonourable to have waited till after the Burnham Committee's meeting and Parliament had risen for the Summer Recess to make our decision public. Those are the reasons why teachers' salaries were specially mentioned in the Chancellor's statement and speech and why I told the representatives of the Burnham Committee the day after the statement precisely where the Government stood on the matter.

It is more than a little difficult to understand how anyone can talk about the teachers being singled out, or picked on, when an increase of £42 million, which becomes £53 million when it includes technical colleges and others concerned, is offered at this time. In fact this £42 million represents very substantial improvements on the present scales of salary, at least as good as the average increase in salaries in productive industry Which is 5·8 per cent, a year for 1959–60, the latest year for which I have figures. The offer of £42 million is almost 6½ per cent. a year.

I want to illustrate how good the £42 million offer is by one or two examples which I can produce out of the application of this figure. A non-graduate teacher, two-year trained, aged 26, now gets £685 a year. Under the £42 million offer the figure could be £820. The head teacher of a primary school of 200 to 300 children—a non-graduate head teacher—now gets £1,305: he could get £1,540. A three-year trained graduate with a pass degree at 26 now gets £777 10s.; he could get £920. An honours degree graduate aged 40 who is head of a department in Grade E now gets £1,645: he could get £1,975. These examples, I assure the House, are picked at random; they are not specially favourable. They are calculated on the assumption that the increase in the differentials made in the provisional Burnham agreement is maintained and that the basic scale of two-year trained teachers rises from the present figure of £520 to £1,000, to £570 to £1,170, and that the double increments at the fifth and sixth year are maintained. I think that that does show that to call this offer a mean offer in any sort of way is very very far from the truth.

I have to come to a very serious feature of the present situation which has already been mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East, and that is that I have no power to do more than reject an agreed proposal by Burnham which for any reason the Government find unacceptable. Unless, therefore, the Burnham Committee is willing to submit to me salary increases worked out to reach a total of not more than £42 million in a full year nothing can happen and the teachers will get no increase at all. This is the last thing which the Government desire, and I very much hope that we shall not be driven to legislate in the autumn in order to have the authority to pay these very substantial increases represented by the £42 million.

A further consideration much in our minds—and this is nothing new; I have been thinking about it over the whole of the last year—is the embarrassment caused by the present method of conducting the Burnham negotiations. As the House knows, this Committee was established in days when prices were comparatively stable and changes in salaries were infrequent and small. Under such conditions it was unlikely that the Burnham Committee would ever recommend to the Government increases of a size that conflicted with general financial policy, and I subscribe to the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen to the work which the Burnham Committee did throughout that period.

But now all this has changed, and as a result of full employment and a rapid growth in the economy, which unfortunately has been accompanied from time to time by inflationary pressures, we have a new situation. My right hon. and learned Friend said in his statement to the House last week that we have to face this situation, the solution to which has so far eluded us. We have now to work out a long-term policy for salaries and wages in the public sector based on the proposition, and I am quoting my right hon. and learned Friend's words, that …increases in incomes must follow and not precede or outstrip increases in national productivity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1961; Vol, 645, c. 223.] It is perfectly clear that if we are not able to do that we shall have one financial crisis after another.

Yesterday afternoon my right hon. and learned Friend told the local authority associations that during the pause in salaries and wages he would open discussions about the means to implement this long-term policy throughout the public sector, and the authorities told my right hon. and learned Friend that they would be glad to co-operate in these discussions. For my part, I have told the Burnham Committee that it is desirable that the Minister shall in future be associated with salary reviews in such a way that the Government's views on the size and general lines of the distribution of salary increases should be made known to the Committee at an early stage in the negotiations.