Mrs. Thatcher (by Private Notice)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on the current situation with regard to teachers' pay.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Edward Short)
In March, the Burnham Committee concluded an agreement on new scales of salary for school teachers in England and Wales to run for two years, until 31st March, 1971. The agreement represented an increase in the salary bill of 7.1 per cent. and the cost was £33 million on the total salaries bill.
In October, the Teachers' Panel presented a new claim for a further increase, to run from 1st April, 1970—that is, in mid-term of the current agreement—of £135 a year for all teachers. I estimate that this would cost £44 million, or 8½ per cent. of the total salaries bill. At a meeting of the Committee on 10th November the Teachers' Panel rejected a Management Panel offer of £50 and the Committee then agreed to adjourn for about one month. It is to meet again on 15th December.
On a point of order. As the N.U.T. and the N.U.S. have been coming out on strike for over a fortnight, Mr. Speaker would you please explain how this can be a Private Notice Question?
Any question of allowing a Private Notice Question must be left to Mr. Speaker. He cannot say why he does and he cannot say why he does not, except that he does not far more often than he does.
As the final decision on how much the teachers can now be offered through Burnham is the Government's, and as this is now an unprecedentedly serious strike, will the right hon. Gentleman decide the amount urgently so that Burnham can be reconvened this week and at least he will be doing something to avert a prolonged strike?
The final decision on how much the teachers can be offered rests with the Management Panel. I have two representatives on the panel. The [column 1302]panel consists of a number of organisations, all of which must be consulted and a great many of whom wish to consult their local finance committee chairman. It is a long process. The teachers themselves agreed to a month's adjournment. That month's adjournment is now taking place.
Mr. R. C. Mitchell
Will my right hon. Friend instruct his two representatives on Burnham to support a substantially improved pay offer to the teachers?
I told the House that the offer made to the teachers will be for the decision of the Management Panel on the Burnham Committee.
Is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman accepted that the time has come to end the charade whereby we think that the negotiations are between the local authorities and the teachers? They are between the Department—that is, the Government—and the teachers. Will the Secretary of State now accept my suggestion that this dispute, and the whole matter of teachers' pay and its structure, should be referred to an independent inquiry or to the National Board for Prices and Incomes?
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that this is a charade, it is another example of how out of touch with real life the Liberal Party is. The hon. Gentleman's second point may have substance in it, and I am prepared to examine it.
Mr. Christopher Price
In giving advice to the Management Panel of the Burnham Committee, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the chief bitterness lies among the younger teachers, and particularly the younger men teachers with family responsibilities? Will he see whether a method can be devised whereby the lower-paid teachers receive a larger increase than the higher-paid teachers?
There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says. The teachers' claim is for an increase of £135 across the board.
Sir D. Renton
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the view of Edmund Burke that example is the school of mankind?[column 1303]
Yes, and it is a pity that the Conservative Party did not learn that a long time ago.
Is my right hon. Friend surprised to hear that a junior teacher wrote to tell me that his salary was less than that of the second groundsman on the playing field of his school? Does not he think that the teachers' demand is an extremely moderate one which should be immediately met?
I have said on many occasions that I think the teachers ought to receive more pay. We are now in the middle of negotiations. We agreed a salary increase costing £33 million earlier this year which was to last for two years. However, negotiations have started for an interim award, the local authorities have made an offer which would cost a great deal of money, and we are now considering with the local authorities what further amount can be offered, if any.
As the Secretary of State has said, have not the local authorities finished consultations amongst themselves and have not they had consultations with the Secretary of State, and the decision is now awaited? As the negotiations are to continue, should they not be resumed at the earliest possible moment, rather than be put off to the original agreed date of 15th December?
Will the Secretary of State consider reconvening the meeting earlier, having discussed with his Cabinet colleagues and with his representatives on the Management Panel what is possible—[Hon. Members: “Too long.” ] It is a very important matter, even if hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway do not think so. Once the dispute is settled, the Secretary of State, with the Management Panel and the teachers, can take a fresh look at the whole salary structure of teachers, which lies at the root of the problem?
The date of 15th December for the next meeting of the Burnham Committee was decided by the local authorities. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's last point, I agree that there may well be a case now for either the Burnham Committee or another body to look at the whole structure of teachers' salaries.[column 1304]
We all know that the date was fixed by the Management Panel, but the situation now has become much more critical and it is difficult for children who are missing their education and for the parents. Will not the Secretary of State therefore be more flexible and speed up his discussions with his colleagues, give advice to his representatives on the Management Panel and reconvene the meeting earlier?
The right hon. Gentleman can best help this situation if he will stop, and ask his hon. Friends to stop, playing politics with this difficult matter. [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] I have the hon. Lady's broadcast of last Sunday if the House wishes me to read it.—[Interruption.]
Order. Noise does not help.
Let me repeat, the Management Panel decided the date of the next Burnham Committee meeting. I do not decide the date; I have nothing whatever to do with the date.