HC Deb 18 June 1964 vol 696 cc1563-77

In section 214 of the Income Tax Act 1952 (under which a relief is given in respect of persons taking charge of a widower's or widow's children or acting as his or her housekeeper), after subsection (3) there shall be inserted the following subsection:— (4) This section shall apply to a claimant being a married woman employed by a local education authority as a teacher as it applies to a claimant being a widow, with the substitution of the words 'her husband' for the words 'her deceased husband':

Provided that—

  1. (a) no relief shall be allowed under this subsection unless the claimant proves that she was employed by one or more local education authorities as a teacher throughout the year of assessment preceding the year of assessment for which the claim is made and is still so employed in that year; and
  2. (b) it shall not be necessary for a claimant under this subsection to show that a female person employed as mentioned in subsection (1) of this section is also resident with her and her hubsand; and
  3. (c) a deduction of tax to be allowed under this subsection shall be a deduction from the amount of income tax with which the claimant or her husband is chargeable in respect of her emoluments as a teacher "—[Mr. Lubbock.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.27 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This new Clause is, I think, self-explanatory. It would give to a married woman teacher the same allowance as is now given under the Income Tax Act, 1952 to a widower, or a widow for the employment of a housekeeper to look after the children. We have put this new Clause down in the context of the very grave teacher shortage which the country faces today, and which should not need any further emphasing in this Committee.

It is obvious that for the individual child the most important thing in the whole of his schooling is the amount of individual attention that he gets from the teacher. Therefore, everything that we can do in this Committee to make sure that the numbers of teachers in our schools are increased must per se be a good thing. The situation is far from happy at the moment, and I am afraid will remain so for many years to come. As the Minister of State for Education and Science said when speaking to the Women's Press Club at the beginning of March this year, We are still 60,000 teachers short of the number needed to get rid of oversize classes. He went on to say that on present recruiting plans, although we shall recruit 300,000 teachers during the 1960's, of whom 200,000 will be women, 190,000 of these will have been lost during the same period. So by 1970, some six years from now, we shall in fact still be 35,000 teachers short of our target, without making any allowance for the raising of the school leaving age to 16. That creates the demand for an additional 20,000 teachers in itself.

If I may refer to the Report of the Ministry of Education for England and Wales, Cmnd. 2316, in page 3 it is stated: The further massive increase in teacher supply that is needed underlies the urgent need to recruit from all sources. As well therefore as expanding the training colleges, more married women teachers must be persuaded to return to the classrooms. Yet, if one looks at the table in page 74 of this Report, one finds that the number returning in the period 1st February, 1963, to 31st January, 1964, was in fact smaller than the equivalent for a year earlier.

7.30 p.m.

Almost as many young women are leaving the teaching profession as are joining it, largely because of earlier marriage and earlier family building. It is estimated, for example, by the National Advisory Council for Education that in 1965 alone the number of women teachers leaving the profession, 18,000, will be only 600 short of the number joining it. Last year 30,000 teachers were recruited, but the teaching force in schools increased by only 4,500. Therefore, we believe that everything possible must be done to ensure that married women teachers return to the schools as soon as possible. This is a particularly urgent matter now in the light of what we know about the coming bulge in the primary school population.

There is considerable evidence to show that revised Income Tax arrangements of the kind which we propose in this new Clause would encourage married women to return to teaching. First, I would mention the Kelsall Report, "Women and Teaching", published at the end of last year, which was an independent survey by the professor of sociological studies at the University of Sheffield. A very large sample of women from three different cohorts was followed up, and they were asked for their views on the measures likely to attract women back into teaching. One of these measures was the kind of allowance which we envisage in this new Clause.

The Report states that the proposal that married women returning to teaching should be given some tax allowance in respect of additional domestic help commanded a significant degree of support which was fairly evenly distributed between graduates and non-graduates, and between pre-war and post-war cohorts. If one includes all the women in this survey who gave the improvement of tax incentives as one example of an inducement which would bring them back into full-time or part-time teaching, that represents quite a substantial proportion of the respondents.

Two other Reports arrived at similar findings. One was the British Federation of University Women Report entitled "Women Graduates and the Teaching Profession", edited by Dr. M. Collins, lecturer in education at the University of Leicester School of Education. This came out in May this year. One of its conclusions is that expanding the home-help system would meet the difficulty of teachers coping with their own homes. I agree that that is not precisely the same as we envisage in this new Clause, but the effect of it would be the same. This Report found that many of the graduates who are not teaching considered that the lack of domestic help was a major deterrent to their return.

The same conclusion was arrived at in another Report entitled "The Employment of Cambridge Graduates", published in May last year, which emphasised that the possibility of "unoccupied" married women graduates taking paid work depended almost entirely on their having reliable domestic help. In this survey, 49 per cent. of the 1952–53 women graduates who completed the questionnaires and 38 per cent. of the 1937–38 group were: not in paid jobs at the time of the survey, and all but a few of these were married with children. I think, therefore, that it can be accepted universally that there is evidence to show that married women could be encouraged into teaching if the 75 per cent. relief were available to them which is at present available to widows who have a female person in the capacity of a housekeeper to look after any child they may have at home.

The new Clause allows relief to the claimant only if she has been employed by one or more local education authorities as a teacher in the year preceding the year of assessment for which the claim is made. The Clause has been so worded as to ensure that the facts available about the regularity of employment of those teachers have been proved before the relief is given. It might be found that if this principle were accepted the Inland Revenue did not need to restrict it quite as strictly as we have done in the Clause. There is an obvious conflict, I think, between making the relief available as quickly as possible so that we can get married women back into the classrooms soon and ensuring that the relief was paid to those who had returned on a regular basis. However, I do not think that that is an argument against accepting the Clause. The only conclusion that one can draw from that is that one needs to give the Clause a trial and then it could be extended later if it were found successful in its object.

The Clause restricts the concession to teachers who are employed by local education authorities. It might be asked why it should not also be applied to other professions in which married women are needed very badly, such as the nursing profession. I should have no objection to it being extended, but I think that the need for married women to come back to the classrooms is probably the most severe social need that we have at the moment.

One other objection which might be made to the Clause is that it would encourage married women to neglect their family responsibilities and to return to the teaching profession before they were ready to do so. But I do not think that that would be a valid objection, because teachers are responsible people and they would not do this unless they felt that their family commitments were properly fulfilled.

I should like to quote something which was said by the Secretary of State for Education and Science last week. He stated: Two enemies of education are dogmatism and uniformity".

That could well be applied to our consideration of the taxation system. I do not wish to hear a reply from the Government Front Bench to the effect that this Clause cannot be incorporated in the Finance Bill because it does not fit in with the rules under which we determine our taxation. That would be a very illogical answer and one which would disappoint the Committee very much.

How are the teachers to be attracted back to the classrooms? I do not believe that it can be done purely by the sort of advertising campaign which was carried on in April and May. I think that a much greater incentive needs to be given to married women teachers to encourage them to come back into the teaching profession. There is a large number of schemes in the Kelsall Report, which has been out for several months, but I have seen no sign of action being taken on any of them. This is one positive proposal which I believe would have the needed effect, and I very much hope that the Government will accept it.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I am very glad that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has tabled this new Clause with the support of other members of the Liberal Party. I apologise for not being in the Committee when the hon. Member rose to move it. I am, however, interested in it and I was determined to catch your eye, Mr. Blackburn, if I could, in order that I might tell the Treasury Minister that this is the kind of thing for which many of us have been asking of various Chancellors of the Exchequer and various Governments over a period of years with, I am bound to say, no success. Although I am always an optimist, I doubt very much whether, as was surmised by the hon. Member, the new Clause will be acceptable to the Treasury at this stage. Although my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary was very forthcoming the other night, for which I was personally very grateful, after a great deal of pressure, I think that probably tonight we will hear all the old arguments which have been put forward year after year.

My objection to Government is that everything is so departmentalised that we never seem to be able to discuss all the actions that could be taken to build up our teacher force with all the Minissters at the same time. If this type of suggestion were to be made when my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Education and Science was sitting on the Front Bench instead of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, my right hon. Friend would immediately say that this was a matter for the Treasury and not for him. It is a tremendous weakness in Government when all of us who are interested in providing the best possible education know that there is this great shortage of teachers and are not able to obtain a comprehensive discussion on a matter of this kind.

The hon. Member for Orpington was quite right. If a Treasury Minister were to accept the new Clause, I would immediately wish to go forward with all the various Clauses that I have moved in the past, generally at half-past six in the morning, over the many years when I have been in the House of Commons. This is not simply a matter for the teaching profession. There are many other professions. It has always been held by all the women's societies to be unfair that widows and widowers with resident housekeepers can get this tax concession when spinsters and bachelors, many of them disabled or with elderly parents to support, are not permitted to obtain the same taxation relief. This is a gross injustice in our taxation laws.

I have had some acrimonious correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this very matter. My hon. Friend is always charming about these things, but we are always told, as, no doubt, we will be told tonight, that nothing can be done about the new Clause but that it will be considered before the next Finance Bill. One could almost compile a phrase book of the sort of replies that we get from Treasury Ministers. They come every year and I am bored with them. They simply keep on coming.

When I raised this matter by correspondence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I said that when Lord Amory was Chancellor and the matter was raised in a slightly different context, he said that he would look at it again before the next Finance Bill. But, of course, nothing happened. By the time the next Finance Bill came along, Lord Amory was no longer Chancellor; we had another one. We have another one now. We are still no nearer to obtaining our objective.

What makes me extremely angry is that we never seem to have a proper inquiry into these taxation anomalies and injustices. Although the Chancellor said that he could assure me that he had looked at all these proposals which were made when Lord Amory was Chancellor, there are different ways of looking at things. I do not think that men look at things of this kind as well as women do, although I must except the hon. Member for Orpington, because he has put down the Clause.

I congratulate the hon. Member on getting the Clause selected. It is rather a new one from the Clause which has been argued over the years. I suppose that even the Chair occasionally gets tired of the same Clauses coming up year after year and never having attention.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. F. Blackburn)

The same speeches, not the same Clauses.

Dame Irene Ward

They are the same speeches with a kind of difference, Mr. Blackburn.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Orpington on finding a new idea in tune with modern requirements. That is the basis of the Clause. He has hit the nail on the head. Every paper which one picks up has something to say about how we should attract married women teachers back to the teaching profession. During the war, when we wanted to draft married women into industry, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a fairly good relief to attract men back. Spinsters have caught up with that, because they were drafted into the war effort willy-nilly. Married women, however, had certain concessions to enable them to serve the war effort, as they did, and rightly so, with great enthusiasm.

7.45 p.m.

I should like my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to accept the new Clause, but that is almost asking too much, because he knows what would follow from me on Report. I would try to get some more Clauses put down. I should like to know whether my hon. Friend has had representations from his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Education and Science on this matter. Has it even penetrated my right hon. Friend what action might be taken in this direction to help to build up incentives to married women teachers to come back? I doubt very much whether my my right hon. Friend has had any correspondence or conversations with my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary. Knowing what Governments are, I am pretty certain that my hon. Friend would not tell me even if he had, because that would strengthen the case for the new Clause.

If my hon. Friend is not accepting the new Clause, I want to know whether he will undertake that we can have the matter rediscussed on Report. He was so forthcoming the other night that I hope that with his pleasant temperament he will be as amenable tonight. I want the whole system of anomalies in taxation to be looked at properly. The Royal Commission on Taxation was rather a long time ago. All Chancellors of the Exchequer use the Royal Commission when it suits their case and disregard it when it does not. It is about time that we had a new approach to this matter.

I therefore support the new Clause and I hope that we shall have a reply from my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary in the same amicable terms as on the last occasion when we were concerned with an earlier new Clause to the Finance Bill. I hope at least that on Report he will be in a position to give us a proper appreciation of how the Treasury in modern times view the use of the taxation instrument to try to achieve the return of those in the professions to services which need replenishing by experienced people who could come back and do the work.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

I congratulate: the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) on raising the general question of teacher supply, which those of us who have worked in the schools and whose children are in the State schools know will be the major educational problem of the next 10 years. I know from my brief experience in the House of Commons and before that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) always looks after the general interests of professional women who are at work. Nevertheless, I should be sorry if the Government were to accept the Clause in its present form.

The first argument against the Clause is that it would be wrong to place women teachers in a separate category from any other sort of women, professional or otherwise, who are working. There are many reasons for this. A recent market research survey stated that certain professions were way up the list and certain professions were way down it in public esteem. Among those at the bottom were politicians and teachers, which rather put me in a double doghouse. There is something in this survey and I feel sure that to place women teachers on a pedestal in this way would be wrong.

There are other ways of helping women teachers. I am encouraged in this view by the Kelsall Report, at Tables 25 and 26, which as the result of an investigation among the older and the younger women teachers show that what would be of far greater assistance to the younger women than any tax help would be nursery schools for their children. In any case, even if the Clause were accepted, the tax relief which they would get, being young people and way down on the income scale, and their husbands being way down on the income scale, would be small. The gain would be much more to people who were older and who would be far less likely to have the problem that we have in mind.

The best way to deal with this is inside the education system. This is the place to provide nursery schools which will provide facilities for teachers' children irrespective of the income of the teacher or the combined married couple. There should be a nursery school system. In addition, it is important to provide for part-time work in the schools. The young married woman teacher who has to fit into the nine to four period and cannot get away during the daytime often will not consider coming back to teaching; although she would like to help the community, she also has to think of her children and be with them at mealtimes, and so on. Also, the pension and superannuation arrangements for women teachers are a drawback to getting them back into the schools.

There is one method which could be adopted which, I think, is in order in this discussion because it comes under the aegis of the Treasury, and I think it would help both younger and older women teachers. The whole question of the taxation of combined incomes should be looked into. This would be not only for women teachers but for any other women who were working, because on the whole, in spite of the growing number of women in the professions these days, women go out to work because they need the money, and even if a girl is working in a factory, she is playing a part in the economic effort.

To make a judgment which said that we needed women teachers and would encourage them to come back by special help as suggested in this Clause would be wrong. Therefore, much as I know the need for more women teachers in the schools, I feel that this is the wrong way to go about it.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Alan Green)

This has been a short debate. Each point has been put with such clarity and brevity that I am grateful to those who have taken part.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) drew attention to what I agree is a very serious problem—an insufficiency of teachers. The problem will be with us for some time, I am sure, whatever Government there is after the General Election and a great sustained effort will have to be made to get enough teachers into the schools. I entirely agree that one source, the main source, is married women who have left teaching to found a home and have a family. This is a potential source of very valuable recruits. I have absolutely no difficulty in approving the intention of the Clause, but the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) put his finger on the main reason why I cannot recommend it to the Committee.

It is only fair to point out to the hon. Member for Orpington, in case he has an opportunity to move the Clause again on Report—I would point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) that I have no objection to that but I do not control the selection—that there is a very substantial defect in his Clause. I do not make this the reason for rejecting it, although I could not accept the Clause because of the defect. As the Clause is drafted, the proposed allowance would be available to a married woman teacher whether or not she had a young child which needed looking after. That would be the effect because the Clause would extend Section 214 of the Income Tax Act, 1952, which has that effect.

Within the point of discrimination made by the hon. Member for Leeds, South there are two discriminations in the Clause as worded. Even taking married women teachers, it applies only to some of them. There are all those in private schools, for example; there are many establishments where women teachers work. There are many in domestic science schools, many of which are private establishments and not run by the local authority. One would have to find means of removing that discrimination within a discrimination. Otherwise it would be wholly unacceptable to the teaching profession, let alone the rest.

My main ground is that I do not believe that this is the right way to go about the problem. I accept at once that the intention in the mind of the hon. Member for Orpington might not have been to get the Clause accepted. I do not accuse the hon. Member of doing anything wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth put her finger on the difficulty. This is a good way to get a discussion and have a good, sharp area of public activity with which to illustrate it. But I believe that we should all agree that if we are to increase the already quite good allowances for married women we must do it in equity without discrimination.

I take the point of the hon. Member for Leeds, South. Young or middle-aged married women who work in factories have just as much right in equity to an allowance of this character as any chosen members of any given profession. There fore, it is in equity that I must advise the Committee to reject the Clause.

I also take the point about the shortage of married women teachers. Many efforts are being made to attract them, and those efforts will have to go on being made. I am sorry that I cannot enter into an education debate at this moment. In any case, you, Mr. Blackburn, would not allow me to.

General incentives in the shape of allowances to make it easier for married women to go to work are, I can assure the Committee, very carefully considered, because their importance is obvious. What one has to be sure about is that one section of the population, whether men or women, whether a certain class of men or a certain class of women, whether because they are old or handicapped and so on, is not given something which another section is not. Where it is deemed right, where the practice sticks, where Governments of different kinds adhere to it—where it is deemed right to have a special allowance or a special differentiation between the ways in which the different classes are taxed, one ought always to be ensuring that the differentials are right in terms of the economic climate of each year in which they can be considered. One ought to do this, and I can assure my hon. Friend that this is done.

Dame Irene Ward

My hon. Friend is speaking very good sense and I do not disagree with him, but the point is that widows and widowers have an allowance for housekeepers. We have always been trying to get equity with them but have not made progress.

Mr. Green

One of our problems, particularly in regard to the housekeeper allowance, as the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) knows, is that it has long been regarded as an anomaly. I am not sure that one can cure an anomalous situation by creating more anomalies.

I accept that this really is a difficulty, but the main point on which I wanted to conclude was to say that I accept the real need to look each year at these differentials which have been created—for good reasons in all cases—first, to see whether they really continue to be sustainable, and, secondly, if it is possible to retain them—and I believe that in practically every case they will be retained—whether the differential which they represent between those in receipt of such allowances and those who cannot by the nature of things receive them is the right one.

8.0 p.m.

My right hon. Friend has decided that because of the substantial changes which he made in allowances last year, it would not be appropriate to make these changes this year. But, as I told the Committee the other day, he has reserved to himself the serious consideration of one of them, namely, age exemption relief on the specific ground that those people who have retired are living on inelastic incomes. I must advise the Committee to reject the new Clause.

Mr. Lubbock

I anticipated that the hon. Gentleman might use that argument of discretion against the form in which the new Clause was drafted, but I think I also said that if the principle was accepted we would have no objection to extending it to other professions.

As the hon. Gentleman concentrated his remarks so heavily on this aspect of discrimination, I should like to ask whether, if we put down a similar Clause on Report, taking into account the wording to which he alluded, to make it apply to other professions as well, it would be more acceptable to the Government. I shall be delighted if the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) joins us in putting down such a new Clause on Report.

I appreciate everything that the hon. Gentleman said about the nature of the discrimination, although I would not have thought that the first point about women teaching in private schools was particularly important. As I understand, there is no shortage of staff there. One of the things to which I was concerned to draw attention was the need to encourage married women back into the State schools. I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the same need does not apply in private schools.

I should like to ask the question asked by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth: have any discussions taken place between the hon. Gentleman's Department and the Ministry of Education about the findings of the Kelsall Report? This Report concentrates on the answers that were given by a wide sample of teachers to the question of how they thought they would be attracted back into the classrooms. It is important for the Government to make use of this information which has been provided by a more elaborate survey than any other which has been undertaken on this subject. I would be grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he would say a word on that.

Mr. Green

If I might be allowed to reply, perhaps I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Treasury—and I know that he will appreciate this—is extremely interested, and is bound to be, in any efforts by the Ministry of Education, with the help of such reports as the Kelsall Report, or indeed through the normal processes of consultation with local authorities, unions, and schools in general, to obtain teachers, but, apart from any other single factor, that will cost money. The Treasury always wants to know what it will cost.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there has been close consultation with the Ministry of Education. I have played a small part in this myself. There have been discussions on how to sustain this compaign to get more married women teachers back into the schools. I can give that general assurance. I do not suppose that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to produce out of the back of my head details of chapter and verse, but I promise him that that consultation does take place. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth was not here to hear me say that, because it might have comforted her a little.

I do not think that I can make encouraging noises about what would be the result of putting down a new Clause on Report to apply the proposed provisions to all married women, which is the only way in which a charge of discrimination can be avoided. In all honesty I do not think that I can do that. I do not have my right hon. Friend sitting next to me to tell me what I may or may not do, or how far I may or may not go.

I cannot estimate the cost of such a proposal, but I expect that if it was applied to all married women it would be substantial. To apply it to married women teachers alone would probably not cost very much—only about £1 million—but to apply it to all married women going to work to an extent which would be significant—and the point is that it has to be significant to make the difference between staying at home and going to work—would be very expensive, and I cannot see how my right hon. Friend could fit it into the context of this Budget.

I must in honesty give the hon. Gentleman that answer, but he will know that I am not the person who says whether anything put down on Report will be selected or not.

Question put and negatived.