HC Deb 21 February 1963 vol 672 cc639-45
Mr. G. Thomas

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Education whether he would make a statement on his intervention in the deliberations of the Burnham Committee.

The Minister of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)

As the House will be aware, I have written to the Chairman of the Burnham Committee indicating my views on the provisional agreement reached by the Main Committee. Copies of my letter have been placed in the Library.

As I made clear to the Chairman, I do not propose to ask the Committee to revise its agreement on the grounds of its cost. I am, however, seriously concerned at the principles on which the Committee appears to have based its proposals and at the resulting pattern of increases. I have set out fully why these do not seem to me to be in the best interests of the education service and I have, therefore, asked the Committee to re-examine and to modify them before I can formally give my approval under Section 89 of the Act to the proposals as a whole.

I have written at this stage in order to avoid unnecessary delay and to do all I can to ensure that increased scales along the general lines indicated in my letter may be agreed and in operation from 1st April next. I have told the Chairman that I am most willing to meet the Burnham Committee.

Mr. Thomas

Since this dictatorial decision was taken without any consultation with either the teachers or the local education authorities, and since it is now clear that the Minister is taking over control of teachers' salaries, thus exercising the back-door way of centralising control over education and limiting local authorities, will he say whether he is aware that the National Union of Teachers, which he did not consult before making this statement, has made it quite clear that it would have wished higher salaries to be given to head teachers and people in responsible positions, but that it was limited by the fact that £20 million was the maximum sum that could be given, and that, as only £20 million was available, the National Union of Teachers believed, and still believes, that the distribution which was made was a right one?

Sir E. Boyle

I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about dictatorial action. I am clear that Section 89 of the Act leaves it open to the Minister of the day to reject proposals on whatever grounds may seem to him to be reasonable. I do not believe that any Minister of Education, whatever his party, can disengage from considerations of the structure of teachers' salaries, which must affect teacher supply and the staffing of the schools, for which any Minister of Education is charged with a heavy responsibility.

I do not regard my intervention as a vote of no confidence in the Burnham Committee. The law as it stands empowers me either to approve or reject these proposals. I was acting only in accordance with these powers. But there are considerations of the public interest, of the education service as a whole, and of my wider responsibilities as a Minister, of which the present provisional agreement did not seem to me to take adequate account.

This was not a small settlement; £20 million is not a small sum of money. In these circumstances, it seemed to me that I was fully justified in drawing attention to the disadvantages of the distribution proposed and of the principles on which it was based. I have set out my views fully in my letter to the Chairman, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will study what I have said.

Mr. Longden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those who have the best interests of the teaching profession at heart will back him in his efforts to obtain a better salary structure? Is it not the case that, even under his own proposals, new entrants into the teaching profession will enjoy an increase of 15 per cent. within the first two years of their service?

Sir E. Boyle

My hon. Friend's mathematics are, I think, correct, and I am grateful for what he has said. I believe, as I said in my letter, that the expansion of the teaching profession as well as the esteem in which it is held, and thus its attraction for recruits of high quality, depends, just as much on the opportunities of advancement which it offers to the most able, best qualified and most ambitious of its members as on the level at which the more junior members of it are paid.

Mr. Wiley

Is the Minister aware that he is continuing the policy of his predecessor in disrupting the work of the Burnham Committee? Is he further aware that his predecessor, at any rate, had the courage to threaten legislation and then did not resort to it, and that as he did not resort to it we must take it that the Government accept this negotiating machinery? In that case, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that to behave like this means that it will be impossible for bodies to behave in a responsible way and that to wait for the constituent bodies to affirm the decision and then intervene is thoroughly irresponsible?

Sir E. Boyle

The hon. Gentleman has referred to 1961. Personally, I prefer to look ahead and to think about the sort of teaching profession which we shall have in this country during the years ahead, when standards of education will become steadily more important. But, since the hon. Gentleman has referred to what happened in the past, may I say that I recall that my noble Friend, Lord Eccles, was blamed on that occasion for intervening too early. Now I have been blamed for intervening too late.

In my view, it would have been wrong for me to set aside the formal procedures until I was sure that the Burnham Committee's provisional agreement was likely to be approved by a majority of the constituent associations. I did this fully conscious of the seriousness of the decision that I was taking.

Having weighed everything up, I am absolutely sure that it would have been wrong of me to take no action on this occasion under Section 89 and that it would not have been consonant with my duties in the public interest.

Mr. Hornby

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the longer a teacher stays in his profession the worse paid he becomes by comparison with those following other careers? Will he therefore persist in his attempts to create a better career structure for teachers, even though this may involve some modification of the negotiating procedures?

Sir E. Boyle

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says. It is very important, I think, to consider comparability in the teaching, profession at all levels of teachers' salaries. I said in my letter that I did not consider that at present the minimum in the scale, taken by itself, was deterring young people from taking up teaching as graduates or non-graduates, but I went on to say that I did not wish for a moment to argue that in an agreement which is to last for two years the minimum for the lowest-paid teachers should remain unchanged.

All that I am saying is that in any Burnham settlement it seems to me of the highest importance that we should tackle the structure of pay for the teaching profession as a whole and have proper rewards and differentials so as to make the profession fully able to perform the service which it owes to the nation.

Mr. Grimond

I should like 4o ask the Minister two questions. First, is it not true that, without prejudice to his rights in the matter, this is an action which has never been taken before at this stage in the deliberations of the Committee? Would it not have been better if the right hon. Gentleman had made his views known to the Committee at a much earlier stage, before it began its deliberations?

Secondly, am I right in thinking that the present disagreement is not over the amount of money, but over its allocation? Is it not the case that the whole basis on which we are trying to fix teachers' salaries must be reconsidered? Will the Minister take an early occasion for making a considered statement to the House about his views as to how he thinks teachers' salaries should be fixed and what sort of scale there should be?

Sir E. Boyle

I explained just now why I thought that it would have been wrong for me to have intervened before. I am anxious that nothing should prevent the existing Burnham machinery from arranging for considerable increases in teachers' pay by 1st April, which was the date of the main Committee's agreement.

Thereafter, however, I am sure that consideration must be given to whether our present machinery and procedures are the most suitable in all the circumstances. At this stage, and so far as possible, though, I should like to keep these longer-term considerations, which, I agree, are important, separate from the immediate task of ensuring pay increases this year. I would rather not wish today to make any statement about possible future developments.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the total proposed by the Burnham Committee is most unexpectedly large? Will he bear in mind that many of us will support him, despite the views of both sides of the Burnham Committee, in his endeavour to allocate the increases to those who remain in the profession and to try to improve the quality of recruitment?

Sir E. Boyle

When he reads my letter, my hon. Friend will see that I say that I regard this as a generous settlement and one which I am not prepared to see enlarged. He will also see that I have said that it might be helpful if I indicated in general terms the kind of modified pattern which I will feel able to approve. That is to say, there is no attempt in the letter to force a detailed plan upon the Burnham Committee. I have merely laid down in general terms the sort of pattern that I would consider reasonable and in the interest of the nation.

Dr. King

Is the Minister aware that the amount of settlement is not in dispute, that his predecessor challenged the Burnham scale both on the amount to be allocated and the method in which it was distributed, that one would concede the right of the Government to fix an overall sum for the Burnham Committee to negotiate, but that his predecessor conceded in the last resort the right of the teachers and the local authorities, who know more about the day-to-day structure of the teaching profession than his own Department, to allocate the sum which the Gov- ernment allowed? Why should he antagonise the teaching profession at a moment like this, when he needs their support in the most vital task of the country, when even the amount of money is agreed by everybody concerned?

Sir E. Boyle

I assure the hon. Member that I would not have done this lightly. In principle, I have said I do not believe that any Minister of education can disengage from considerations of structure. [HON. MEMBERS "Oh"] I repeat that I would not have done this lightly. The point is that there are considerations of public interest, of the interest of the education service and of my responsibilities that seemed to me to make it necessary for me to intervene on this occasion. I would not have done this had I not been absolutely sure that the suggested distribution was too much against the best interests of the education service.

Mr. Denis Howell

Is it not precisely on the ground of public interest that the Government are to be condemned? Does it not show a lamentable frame of mind concerning young people — teachers hoping to get married, with all the expense of setting up home—to have years of training immediately behind them when they have no opportunity to accrue capital with which to set up home? Is this not precisely the moment when good-class people who should be attracted to the teaching profession should be encouraged? Because the Minister's intervention discourages that, is it not to be condemned in the public interest?

Sir E. Boyle

The hon. Member is quite wrong. I have not neglected what I call the equitable aspects of the matter. If he looks at my letter, he will see that I say that teachers, like everyone else, usually incur bigger financial responsibilities as they begin to move forward in their careers, and pay adjustments through the basic scale should surely take some account of this … it is from their mid-twenties and early thirties when their financial responsibilities are growing rapidly and before the majority of them can expect additional allowances for posts of responsibility, that teachers most need help through adjustments of the basic scale. I have considered carefully the equitable as well as the recruitment aspects.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate this now.

Mr. G. Thomas

In view of the Minister's unsatisfactory reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter at the earliest possible moment.