HC Deb 23 July 1974 vol 877 cc1269-72
2. Miss Fookes

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is prepared to make a review of the composition of the Burnham Committee.

6. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received about the composition of the Burnham Committee.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Reg Prentice)

I have received applications from three teacher organisations for seats on the Burnham Committees and I have recently made some changes in the representation on the management panels. I have no plans for a general review.

Miss Fookes

Will the right hon. Gentleman show a sympathetic view to the Union of Women Teachers? It has a substantial membership and is well worth being represented on the Burnham Committee.

Mr. Prentice

I have informed the Union of Women Teachers that I have no plans to add it to the members of the teachers' panel. It seems that the general advice that I received from the teachers' unions generally was correct in that the interests of career women teachers are adequately represented on the teachers' panel at present. I understand that the local authority associations and the teachers' associations represented on Burnham intend to have further discussions on their views on the future representation on Burnham. No doubt the hon. Lady will be made aware of those discussions in due course.

Mr. Crawshaw

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many thousands of teachers have no direct representation on the Burnham Committee and that those who are seeking representation are not wishing to gain it at the expense of those already on the committee? If initiative is to be taken, where has it to come from. If we are to wait for those already on the committee to take such an initiative we shall never get any changes. Surely the initiative should come from my right hon. Friend. He must realise that many people have a legal claim to representation.

Mr. Prentice

The situation is complicated, and has been for many years, by the fact that there are many teachers' organisations. My personal view is that I wish there were fewer. Given the present situation, I see the next stage as being discussions between the local authority associations and the teachers' associations. I do not close my mind for ever to some reform that I might initiate, but I have no immediate proposals for any reform.

Mr. Marten

Will the right hon. Gentleman be slightly more forthcoming. and educate the House, including myself, as to whether he has the power to alter the composition of the main Burnham Committee? He must be aware that there is widespread dissatisfaction throughout many teachers' organisations about the present representation, which seems to be dominated by the National Union of Teachers.

Mr. Prentice

I have the power to bring before Parliament orders to alter membership. As I recall, the statute states that to take an organisation off the Burnham Committee I should need to lay such an order. I did that recently, in relation to the management side, with reference to the Association of Education Committees and the ILEA. I think that an alteration of numbers would not require that procedure.

Mr. Flannery

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on the Burnham Committee—I was a member of it—all teachers are very amply represented and that the word "dominated" is a complete misnomer? Is he aware that the interests of every branch of the teaching profession are at present quite reasonably catered for on the Burnham Committee?

Mr. Prentice

My impression is that the interests of teachers generally are represented vigorously and with ability within the framework of the Burnham Committee.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

May I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the claims of the Association of Polytechnic Teachers to be represented on the further education panel of the Burnham Committee? In view of the widespread concern that is expressed among teachers and also in the House about the composition of the Burnham Committee, will the right hon. Gentleman take the initiative himself and appoint an inquiry of an impartial nature into the structure of this body with a view to reforming it and making it more representative?

Mr. Prentice

I understand that the Association of Polytechnic Teachers has a membership of only just over 3,000 out of a total teaching force of over 60,000 in further education and of 13,600 in the polytechnics. That seems to be a strong reason for not giving the association representation. On the more general point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, I think it would be wiser to await the outcome of discussions, to which I have referred, between local authority associations and teachers' associations.