HC Deb 27 April 1965 vol 711 cc324-8

Amendment made: In page 12. line 36, leave out from "schools" to "in" in line 37.—[Mrs. Hart.]

Mr. Noble

I beg to move in page 13, line 2, to leave out "70" and to insert "65".

Many comments this evening have been complimentary from one side to the other and the Amendments have been largely accepted, but I am bound to admit that I am a little disappointed with the hon. Lady on this one. We are moving into this brave new era about which we hear a good deal, and one of the features in our educational system is the increasing number of young people. I know and appreciate the hon. Lady's efforts, like those of my noble Friend before her, to entice a certain number of married people.

It seems a little out of line with the brave new world when we write into the Schedule: No person shall take office as a member of the Council (whether on election or reelection) after attaining the age of 70 years". In Committee, we went some way to persuading the Under-Secretary that 65 was old enough, considering the period of years they would serve on the Council, to bring them within shooting distance, so to speak, of the age of 70. In other words, I thought that we persuaded her that 65 would be a respectable age at which they would be neither too old to be useful nor too young to be out of touch.

It appears that the hon. Lady has not yet quite accepted this view, although the whole trend of industry, commerce, even indeed of Parliament, is to suggest that both for their own good and enjoyment and for the good of the institutions which they serve, the retiring age should be rather nearer 60 than 70. In this respect, therefore, the Schedule is being rather retrograde, although one realises that this is not a whole-time occupation and that there is wisdom to be found in people aged 80 and even 90.

8.30 p.m.

Sir M. Galpern

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that in Scotland we have teachers aged 80 and over in our schools and that we have encouraged people to stay on beyond retiring age because of the shortage of teachers?

Mr. Noble

I am well aware of that. As the hon. Gentleman will probably agree, particularly from his experience in the great city which he represents, the need for teachers in Scotland was very great indeed. I cannot believe that the same conditions will apply to the Teaching Council. I cannot believe that we will get to the stage when there will not be sufficient people in Scotland to man the Council. The hon. Gentleman is being pessimistic if he thinks that that could happen.

Within the context of the Schedule and the modern generation, looking forward to earlier retiring, and so on, to maintain age qualifications which were thought to be appropriate 20 or 30 years ago is not right and I hope that the Government will agree, even at this comparatively late stage in the Bill, and since so much has already been agreed between us, that 65 is old enough for people to be either elected for the first time or re-elected. Assuming that they will have two or three years' service, they will be reasonably and respectably old and their wisdom will have been given to younger people. To place the age at 70 is, I think, asking a bit much today.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

I will make only a brief intervention, because I was disappointed at the emphasis placed by the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) on what is these days almost a fetish of youth, and I speak as a young person. It is the belief that because someone is a bit younger he is necessarily better able and better equipped to contribute to something like the Council we are discussing. I do not see much difference between 65 and 70 as an age limit in this context or that a mere five years will make that much difference.

Nothing would be gained by acceptance of the Amendment and certain things might be lost. If the right hon. Member for Argyll was arguing that 65 is the age of spritely youth or if he had inserted 55 I might have seen the logic of his argument—the view that only persons within a certain age category were sufficiently thrustful to make the kind of forward-looking contribution which I imagine he is envisaging. As I say, the difference between 65 and 70, particularly nowadays, is not such that I would expect the Government to accept an Amendment of this kind.

Mrs. Hart

I am grateful for the remarks of the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), because he was right. I did undertake in Committee to look at this matter closely. There was a fleeting moment when I found myself a little swayed by the arguments adduced in Committee but, then, we all have those moments when we believe that youth at the helm is the order of the brave new world—although I do not like that phrase or the Aldous Huxley connotation it brings out. It must have been in one of those fleeting moments that I promised to have a look at this matter very closely. I have looked at it very closely, and I have thought about it deeply. I wish that I could agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said.

There are one or two points that we have to bear in mind. The first is that the Wheatley Committee, which, presumably, gave the matter a great deal of thought, made the recommendation that is incorporated in the Bill, and we would need very solid reasons for disturbing that recommendation since, in general, throughout its consideration of the Bill the Committee has felt it right to follow the Wheatley recommendations unless there have been good reasons for not doing so. There have only been one or two matters on which we have not closely followed the Wheatley recommendations.

I was concerned to look at the precedents in order to see what the right hon. Gentleman himself had thought about these matters when he was making decisions. I looked back to 1958 and found that in the Teachers (Training Authorities) (Scotland) Regulations of that year, an age limit was set for the Scottish Council for the Training of Teachers and for the governing bodies of the colleges of education. I at once thought, "The age limit here is bound to be 65", the right hon. Gentleman having argued his case so cogently in the Committee, but I found that not to be the case——

Mr. Noble

I was not responsible there.

Mrs. Hart

No, but the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors were, and the right hon. Gentleman himself never thought fit to change the age limit. I found that 70 was the limit, and I have no doubt that had the right hon. Gentleman felt strongly about this he would have made it his business to make the age limit 65 rather than 70. He did not, and I do not think that he would suggest that the members of the Scottish Council for the Training of Teachers or the members of the governing bodies of the colleges of education have been particularly elderly or old-fashioned in their thinking.

The new Council has certain built-in guarantees from the moment it is appointed against any tendency towards great age and grave and venerable years. For one thing, all the 21 serving teachers, the four principals of the colleges of education and the three directors of education are virtually certain to be under 65—and well under 65. That accounts for 28 out of 44 members. There is no reason to believe that the representatives of the universities—four of them, of the central institutions—two of them, of the Churches—two of them, of the local authority associations—four of them, or the nominees of the Secretary of State himself—four of them, will present a particularly elderly image.

The most likely effect of reducing the age limit to 65 would be that we would risk occasionally losing the possible services of some outstanding figure who could make a really powerful contribution on the General Teaching Council. This we would not want to do. Along with the increasing influence of youth there is also the generally declining extent to which old people are ageing. I hope that all members of the General Teaching Council will be young in their outlook—a great deal younger than 65 in their outlook—but, to ensure that, we have to allow for the possibility of having the occasional member over 65—and getting on to nearer 70—who could well be the youngest of them all in outlook. I therefore ask the House to resist the Amendment.

Mr. Noble

With the leave of the House, I should like just a moment in which to reply. I can see that the hon. Lady is determined to stick to her occasional greybeard, and perhaps she is right, but on every occasion, whether it be in respect of civil servants, or judges, or any class of persons, this argument is brought forward that there is the occasional man of great ability and that we should, therefore, make exceptions in his case.

I had hopes with this Amendment, because the hon. Lady showed some signs in Committee of agreeing with us. She described that as a fleeting moment during those proceedings, but I think that she probably feels that I am right. I rather agree with the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), and would willingly have put the age limit at 60—but not, I think, 55. I thought it a good thing to try, once again, to get the age limit down to 65, as the hon. Lady had so nearly accepted that limit in the Standing Committee.

I do not want in the least to stop the hon. Lady appointing an occasional person of outstanding ability who is just on 70. I am certain there may be the odd one who will do very well, but I hope that when consideration of new appointments is made for this and other bodies it will be seen that in general it is a good thing to appoint younger people. Although I did not alter the Regulations made by my predecessors, during the whole time I was in office I tried to appoint younger people to these bodies because that in 99 cases out of 100 they are able to give more time to the work and are more up to date in their thinking.

Having said that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.