HC Deb 23 May 1960 vol 624 cc165-72

Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

9.58 p.m.

Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)

Since we debated the Bill on Second Reading, and gave it a welcome from both sides, a criticism has been made of part of its provisions in a very authoritative journal, namely, The Times Educational Supplement. We on this side feel that we ought not to part with the Bill before giving the Minister of State an opportunity to reply to this criticism and perhaps remove any misgivings that it may have caused in our minds.

I have already drawn the hon. Gentleman's attention to what The Times Educational Supplement had to say. It referred, in part, to the matters contained in Clause 1 (1, a), but the criticism there was not of major importance. I am more concerned with the criticism it made of what is provided for in Clause 1 (1, b), in which we are asked to give power to the Secretary of State for encouraging persons from the United Kingdom to become temporarily employed in Commonwealth countries as teachers. We authorise the Minister to make payments for facilitating the return to and resettlement in the United Kingdom of persons so employed. Wide powers are given to the Minister, as we noted when we debated this on Second Reading. No one has any objection whatsoever to them. We all thought that it must be a very good thing to encourage additional teachers to go into Commonwealth countries and, for that purpose, to give them extra allowances and to provide, perhaps, for the fares not only of themselves but also of their families, if they undertook this service abroad.

Now, however, The Times Educational Supplement suggests that there may be a snag here which we did not perceive when we dealt with the Bill on Second Reading.

The Times Educational Supplement says: No one would disagree with the aims of the recruitment scheme. The trouble about it is that it will be so difficult to work satisfactorily in practice. It will create—

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.

Proceedings on Government Business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[Mr. Alport.]

Bill again considered in Committee.

Mr. Marquand

As I was saying, the criticism is that this provision of extra allowances and greater facilities than now exist in order to attract 400 teachers to go from this country to Commonwealth countries is that It will create an aristocracy among the British teachers serving in Commonwealth countries for the financial inducements the Government is offering will apply only to a small minority of them, 400 out of several thousand. The invidious situation where one British teacher in a large urban school in Africa is getting paid much more than another will be difficult to avoid. It can be avoided only by the most delicate diplomacy in placing the teachers, and this in itself will restrict the scope of the scheme. It is even possible that the scheme might defeat the very object it is designed to promote, and to depress rather than stimulate the recruitment of teachers. If the prospective volunteer finds that he is not selected for the privileged few he may well give up the idea of going abroad altogether. We were rather disturbed, on Second Reading, by what we knew, and what the Minister of Education confirmed— that it had so far been very difficult to persuade teachers already teaching here to go abroad for a time. We are all extremely anxious to encourage this extra movement and provide the extra number, but I should like to give the Minister of State an opportunity to tell us how far this possibility of an adverse effect upon the majority of creating a specially privileged group might impair the possibility of recruiting, and might upset the whole position of teachers in Commonwealth countries so that, in the end, the result would not be achieved.

I have drawn the Minister's attention to the criticism, and I am sure that he will be only too ready to tell us, before we part with the Clause, what is the Government's opinion about it.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Richard Thompson)

I am obliged to the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) for giving me notice that he proposed to raise this matter which, I admit, might at first sight appear to present a problem in regard to the smooth working of these provisions. This difficulty was realised during the planning of the scheme, and I would entirely endorse what was said in the article quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, that It can be avoided only by the most delicate diplomacy in placing the teachers.… There is a little more to it than just diplomacy. I do not think that payments under this scheme need necessarily give rise to disparities, and the kind of difficulties that the article apprehends.

We have to remember that the posts to be filled will all be key posts, and it is in the nature of the scheme that they will be in places where recruitment is difficult—for instance, on account of the low salaries paid by the employer. There are not, therefore, likely to be other United Kingdom teachers receiving lower rates in the same place. It is certainly highly unlikely—and I stress this—that there would ever be two teachers in the same school where one received the special allowances while the other was on a local rate of pay.

That seems to me to be the practical answer to the doubt expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. In any case, if we take this matter a little wider than that, we have a problem here. We have, as we all know, a shortage of teachers in certain key posts and we have the inescapable duty to do something about it. In trying to redress that disparity, the financial inducements can hardly be ruled out. That is what we are taking power to give and I believe that, in practice, for the reasons I have given, we shall find that it will work out all right and will not give rise to the difficulties to which the right hon. Gentleman, quite properly, drew attention.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I do not want to detain the Committee, but I think that we should have a little more explanation than that given by the Minister in fairness to those teachers and staff of training colleges and similar establishments who are already in post. The only reference to them that I have been able to find in the speeches made from the Front Bench opposite during the Second Reading debate was that by the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations, in which he referred to their being eligible for fares to return home should they be short-listed for a post towards the end of their service.

This in itself is a very valuable concession which, I am sure, will be very much appreciated. I think, however, that we should look a little more seriously at the position of some of the people already in posts who might wish perhaps to return, not necessarily to the same posts, but to other posts in the same territory for another tour, or, if on contract, to renew their contracts. It is still not quite clear, from what we have been told, whether these people will be considered at the end of an existing tour, or contract for inclusion in this key post scheme.

We have had some very unhappy experiences in the matter of overseas service in general. We have had experience of West African lists A and B, and so on. It is most important that people who have already volunteered without the extra inducement to go overseas should have no feeling at all that they are likely to be unjustly done by. It is for that reason that my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) has raised this matter tonight, so that there should be no doubt in the minds of those already there and who have volunteered to go without extra inducement that they should be eligible, if circumstances seem suitable, for consideration in their next tour for inclusion in the special list.

The Minister cannot possibly say that there would be no circumstances in which one would not find side by side two persons, one of whom is already there on the old scale and the other who might go out. After all, there is a limit to what diplomacy can do, and to say that this is for key posts only is also a little confusing.

If we take countries like Nyasaland, or Tanganyika, there is an overall shortage of secondary school teachers, quite apart from people in training colleges or other posts that might be specially designated under this scheme, and I can fully envisage a situation in which we might get one teacher on one scale and another on another in some of these establishments. We certainly would not wish to keep out extra necessary staff because there might be difficulties of this kind. That is why I think that a clearer explanation should be given.

There is another point. In his opening speech on Second Reading the Minister gave a rough estimate of what the outward scheme, as we might call it, those going overseas from this country, might cost. He said: We estimate that the cost of this section of the scheme will build up to about£700,000 a year by the end of the five-year period".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1960; Vol. 623, c. 1143.] The end of the five-year period, of course, means 1965. He told us that it would cover about 400 teachers in schools and universities in the Commonwealth, in addition to those proceeding overseas in the normal way.

Clearly, two categories are envisaged for the future. I very much hope that we shall achieve the 400, but let us suppose for the sake of argument that we do not. Is there anything in the Government's mind to prevent some of this money being used for people who are already in post, if that should prove necessary? Let us suppose that there is some surplus on this calculation, for one reason or another. We should know whether the Government have thought the matter through carefully.

I should not be quite so insistent about it had we not had a singularly unhappy experience in another respect, as anyone who reads the book about service in these territories by a former right hon. Member of the House, Mr. Kenneth Younger, will appreciate. We do not want to repeat the same kind of mistakes in a slightly different context in this new educational endeavour which, in principle, of course, we entirely support.

I cannot help thinking that there is as much to be said for an overseas education service as there is for an overseas service in general. Perhaps it would be out of order to discuss that, although I am not altogether sure that it would be. A good many of the difficulties to which The Times Educational Supplement referred would be very much more easily dealt with if we had an overseas educational service, with secondment of people to different posts where they were needed throughout the Commonwealth. That would be a constructive way of dealing with the matter, and I wish that the committee which studied this matter before the Bill was introduced had been a little more insistent on that point. However, we cannot alter the Bill. I am not quite sure that something along the lines I have in mind would not be possible under its provisions, and perhaps the Minister will tell us whether he thinks that an overseas education service could be brought within Clause 1. I see nothing in the Clause which would necessarily prevent it.

An overseas education service might be a better way of dealing with the anomalies which I am quite certain will arise under the scheme if it goes through as at present envisaged. Such anomalies will be inevitable, I think. I admit that we should have been a little more alert on Second Reading to point this out. It seems inevitable from what the Minister said that two categories, a class A and a class B, are envisaged and this is bound to lead to jealousies. We were amply justified in raising the matter, and we hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Government really thoroughly thought the scheme out before putting down the Clause.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I support what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) and my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White). The Minister treated the matter far too lightly. After forty-six years' experience in negotiating teachers' salaries, I am quite certain that, if it is possible for an anomaly to arise, it will arise. The amount of feeling which an anomaly creates is really astonishing, and the worst of it is that the fewer are the anomalies the more is the ill-feeling created.

I hope that it will be understood that it will be possible for people already in post to come into this scheme. It is almost like the parable of the labourers in the vineyard in reverse. I have never been able to convince myself of the justice of the treatment meted out in the parable. I am sure that if it is applied in reverse it will be even more difficult to justify.

I urge the hon. Member to listen to what my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend have said. Once this kind of thing gets off to a bad start, or an anomaly is created, it is astonishing how difficult it is to remedy and, what is more, in the end how expensive it is to remedy.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. R. Thompson

Perhaps I could reply briefly to what the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said. She was concerned with the case of a teacher already in a post on the ordinary local scales and expressed concern about the impact that an additional teacher in the same school who was coming out on the assisted arrangement might have on that person. I did not say that it was impossible that this would ever happen. I said that, the distribution of teachers in key posts being what it is, it was unlikely.

The real safeguard, I think, is this. At the end of a contract, those returning will be eligible for future re-employment under the scheme. I think that that was the point about which the hon. Lady was particularly anxious. After all, this is a scheme to get additional teachers into places where they are sorely needed. I do not think that, in practice, we shall find, given the good will which has been already exhibited, it will be impossible before long to recruit up to the 400 we contemplate getting under this scheme.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.