Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of those who voted for his party did so on the basis that there would be a complete end to any incomes policy? Is he aware, further, that when it is stated in this House, as it was yesterday, that the report of the Pay Board on London weighting will not matter very much and will merely be the basis on which to build an additional settlement, supporters of the right hon. Gentleman's party cannot understand why he is still resisting their pay claims?
One of the reasons why the hon. Gentleman's constituents may not understand the situation is that they have been listening to him. If they had listened to my right hon. and hon. Friends they would know that our policy is to make a change-over from the compulsory system which we condemn to a voluntary one, as we said in our election manifesto, and that we wish to make the smoothest possible change-over from one to the other. Meantime, we have indicated—all this has been stated clearly to the House—that we think it right to take into account the report on London weighting because it is an extremely complex matter and because we think that the advice of the Pay Board can be of assistance to all those affected—not only the teachers and NALGO members, but all others affected —although we also say that the settlement which we hope will be very speedy after 30th June does not necessarily have to be bound by the exact terms of the report, since that, too, would be difficult. Therefore, by then we hope and trust that there will be the opportunity of free negotiation on this matter, which we believe to be the proper way of dealing with it.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the issue of the London weighting allowance has been festering for three years without any endeavour to resolve it and that he has inherited a nasty situation, which is having an effect on recruitment in local government in London? Is he aware, further, that if he does not resolve the problem in one-tenth of the time that the Tories took to create it he will be regarded as slipping up a little?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I assure him and his constituents that no one could have put the case on this matter more forcibly than he and others of my hon. Friends representing London constituencies did. They have put the case to me very strongly, and it is partly on that basis that we have worked out what we think will be the speediest way of securing a proper settlement of the matter.
Is the right hon. Gentleman happy to use the Pay Board and its machinery as an excuse for delaying settling this very important question of the London weighting allowance?
I am not using it as an excuse. [Interruption.] I cannot help what the hon. Gentleman thinks. That is his business. This is an extremely complicated matter, and no one is more impatient than I am to get this report in our hands and to be able to act upon it. But it is not an excuse to say that we should have that report, because the matter is very complex. When we get it, I think that it will assist all those affected. I think that is the best way of proceeding.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Government supporters feel that 15,000 London teachers yesterday amply demonstrated the necessity for action on this report before 31st May and that they expect the settlement finally concluded to be vastly in excess of the derisory 30p a week offered by the last administration?
I am grateful for that. I went to meet members of the demonstration yesterday. They put their views to me forcibly, as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have done. We have stated clearly our position about it. I agree especially with what my hon. Friend said in his second observation about the settlement that we shall have to reach after 30th June. I sought to describe yesterday some of the ways in which I thought that that could be achieved as quickly as possible. It is a most important settlement, and it will be reached in very different conditions from those which operated when the previous administration were in power.
I met a deputation from the National Joint Council for Local Authorities' Administrative, Professional, Technical and Clerical Services and representatives from the Greater London Council on 1st April. They presented a most powerful case and I promised to discuss it with my colleagues. However, the Government have decided that increases in London weighting beyond those permitted by the Pay Code must await the Pay Board's report, and I have written to the parties explaining our reasons fully.
The hon. Gentleman's suggested explanation has nothing to do with the facts. I am glad to relieve his mind on that point entirely. We listened to a most powerful case that was argued by NALGO. Its members certainly have a strong case, as have the teachers and many others. We had to take them into account as well. We said, and still say, that we should await the board's report for dealing with London weighting because it is so complicated and a number of people are not covered by the present system. That is why a fresh inquiry has had to be set up to look into the matter. It is an inquiry with much wider terms of reference than any previous inquiry. Therefore, it is sensible to await the outcome.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the London allowance is an important ingredient in the make-up of the wages and salaries of teachers and local government officers in London? They have been frustrated for three and a half years. The fact that my right hon. Friend now occupies his present position has rekindled their belief in industrial democracy. They believe that it is now worth while protesting and seeing a Minister of the Crown because they are confident that they will get results far superior to their endeavours, which have been absolutely frustrated during the last three and a half years.
I certainly appreciate the frustrations of NALGO members and others which my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have expressed to me. I am sure that those frustrations are real and not simulated in any sense. I have certainly taken them into account. I hope that the way in which we propose to go about it, although unpopular and criticised, will be found to be the best way in the end, because it will enable negotiations to take place covering a long period ahead in the best possible circumstances. It is difficult to ask people to be patient in such circumstances, but I ask them to be so. I believe that eventually they will understand why we have approached the matter in this way.
It is not quite a conversion on my part. As the right hon. Gentleman will recall, in the first remarks that I made from this Dispatch Box I said that I thought it would be foolish for us to stop the board from making its investigations in the middle of its report, and the fact that it is taking such a long time to do that is further proof of how wise I was not to say that its previous work should be abandoned. There was no conversion on my part. It was just my normal recognition of common sense.