The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Edward Short)
I wish to make a statement, Mr. Speaker, on the present state of the negotiations for an interim increase in teachers' pay.
At the last meeting of the Burnham Committee on 13th February, the Management Panel reaffirmed its previous open offer of an 11.6 per cent. increase for the lowest-paid teachers, tapered to 5 per cent. on the maximum of the basic scale, together with the contingent commitment to arbitration on it under the conditions [column 414]offered by my right hon. Friend the First Secretary and myself. These conditions were:
1. The chairman would be a person of the highest possible status and unquestionable independence—possibly a judge.
2. A firm assurance that the Government would not seek under the Remuneration of Teachers Act to set aside the award.
3. An assurance that paragraph 94 of the White Paper on Prices and Incomes Policy, which specifically mentions teachers, enabled general comparability with other groups of workers as well as all other factors to be taken into account by the arbitrators.
4. An assurance that Burnham itself could redistribute the global sum awarded if it so desired.
The teachers again rejected both the open offer and arbitration.
The Management Panel then offered to begin an immediate review of the structure of teachers' salaries, and, secondly, to bring forward the next general settlement from 1st April, 1971 to 1st October, 1970. It said that it had in mind an overall substantial increase, provided that it was based on a structural review of salaries from 1st October and that in the financial year 1970–71 this would produce a substantially greater increase than the open offer from 1st April.
I believe that this offer would give teachers, particularly those who make teaching a lifelong career, much better salary prospects than they have ever had before. The teachers neither accepted nor rejected this proposal until they had more information. It was agreed that there should be informal exchanges between the two panels and a meeting of the full Committee on 11th March.
This delay of one month between the meetings of Burnham appears to me to be too long, and I have written to the chairman and the leaders of both panels to see whether an earlier meeting can be arranged. I have also told the Teachers' Panel that immediately the present dispute is settled I am ready to open talks with all parties on the reform of the Burnham machinery.
In the meantime, and in spite of the latest offer, the teachers' organisations [column 415]have decided to continue with their strikes; and, indeed, there are reports of plans to escalate them. I very much regret that the teachers have not agreed to call off their industrial action in view of the new offer which has been made to them; to do so would be in accordance with accepted negotiating practice.
I now invite them to look at the matter again so that serious consideration can be given to working out a solution in a calmer atmosphere and damage to the education of thousands of children avoided.
In making this appeal, I believe that I shall have the support of the whole House.
Is Edward Shortthe Secretary of State aware that we warmly welcome his efforts to bring forward the Burnham meeting to an earlier date and share his concern that the educational welfare of children may be damaged if the present situation is allowed to continue? Is he aware that when we heard that there was to be a statement from him today we hoped for a more positive initiative to resolve the present deadlock, in which a responsible profession feels it is being driven to take action which is alien to its nature?
Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that we hope that both sides still remain ready to negotiate so that a satisfactory settlement may be reached in time for it to be paid on 1st April?
A very positive initiative has been taken by the Management Panel. It has agreed to bring forward the next two-yearly settlement from 1st April, 1971, to 1st October of this year—that is, to advance it six months—and to make a substantial increase then, which will have to be negotiated but which would certainly give the teachers more money in the next financial year than the open offer on their interim claim for 1st April. I very much hope that a solution can be worked out along these lines, because it would herald a new era in the whole question of teachers' pay.
Arising out of the supplementary question asked by the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), is my right hon. Friend aware that he has shown far more sympathy for [column 416]the members of this devoted profession in the very proper representations they have made than has any previous Minister of Education in any previous Administration? Will he confirm that there are no strings whatsoever to this arbitration offer? Will my right hon. Friend ask the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers to meet him so that the possibility of no further strikes until a settlement of the present negotiations has been reached can be discussed?
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. There are three things on offer to the teachers now. There is, first, the 11.6 per cent. for the lowest-paid teachers tapering to 5 per cent. for those on the maximum, or, if they prefer it, they can have it across the board. Secondly, they are offered arbitration under almost unique conditions. Thirdly, they are now offered the new package by the Management Panel which offers excellent prospects for the future.
Under the Government's prices and incomes policy, which has now collapsed, the teachers, like many other salaried workers, believe that their status has been reduced. As this is a national problem, it is very unfair that punishment should be specially inflicted upon parents and children in Birmingham. In these circumstances, to reassure people in the city who are suffering, will the Secretary of State now say what steps he personally will take to bring this unhappy situation to an end?
That is precisely what my statement was about. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read it. I do not employ the teachers. They are employed by the local authorities. The local authorities on the Management Panel, on which I am represented, have tried to meet the teachers. They have made this very generous offer, which could result in extremely large increases for career teachers on 1st October of this year.
As a member of the teachers' union, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his painstaking efforts to solve this very difficult problem? In his approaches to the teachers, will he bring to their attention the feelings of many hon. Members on both sides, amongst whom are many who support the [column 417]teachers' pay claim in that their claim has been seriously damaged by tactics which are alienating public opinion in general?
I would not like to comment on the teachers' tactics. I think that they have as much right to strike as anybody, but they must bear in mind that in all industrial action there comes a point when they get diminishing returns from the industrial action. I rather think that they have reached that point in their present action.
Would not a constructive way out of the present impasse be for all parties concerned to allow the question of the interim award to go to arbitration, where teachers could reasonably expect to get an amount fairly equal to the £135 they are asking for, and then, after that, to consider the whole restructuring of the salary scales and accepting the offer of the authorities to bring forward such results from the negotiations to 1st October?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman up to the very last part of his question. Clearly, if they are to get a very big increase from arbitration, the next increase cannot be brought forward to 1st October. They cannot have it both ways——
It would be a happy compromise.
It may be, but that would give them twice the amount that they are asking for.
Before asking the right hon. Gentleman a question, I should declare an interest as an adviser to one of the parties involved in the dispute.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, on both sides, his attempts to solve the dispute will be welcomed—because none of us like strikes by teachers or anyone else—particularly his attempt to bring forward the meeting to 11th March? Can he now confirm that this offer to bring forward the meeting will involve an offer of about £42½ million? Is that the figure that he is considering as a substantial overall increase? Does he consider this amount enough to “buy off” the interim award and restructure salaries?[column 418]
How much the Management Panel would be prepared to offer on 1st October I do not know, but this is the purpose of the informal discussions between the two sides between now and the next full meeting of Burnham. But the authorities have said that, in their view, this would give the teachers in the financial year 1970–71 substantially more than their open offer.
Mr. R. C. Mitchell
My right hon. Friend has said that the offer to the lowest-paid teachers would be over 11 per cent. Could he give us the percentage figure overall and tell us how this compares with increases granted to other groups in the community over the last few months?
Overall, it would be between 5 and 6 per cent. on basic salaries. They offered either to give it across the board or tapered, giving more to the younger teachers, because the publicity of the teachers' organisations had been based on the so-called “£13-a-week” teacher, who, in fact, gets £860 a year.
I cannot answer the second part of my hon. Friend's question off the cuff.
To offset some of the political advantage which the Opposition are trying to make out of this, would my right hon. Friend say that he would recommend to any arbitration that the prices and incomes policy would in no circumstances apply? Is it not a fact that the teachers feel that they are being unjustly treated under the policy which has patently failed? Should not my right hon. Friend recognise this position?
I do not recognise it at all. The policy has not failed miserably. The policy applied over the last few years is responsible for the turn-round in the country's economy.
Since delay seems to be inevitable before this matter is finally settled, and bearing in mind that the Minister has told us what he has done to meet the teachers' demands, would he now consider doing something specific for Birmingham children who are left without books? Could he not at least direct books to be made available, so that these children may continue their studies?[column 419]
I cannot send my staff there to teach the children in Birmingham. The position in Birmingham is that, of 327 primary schools, 260, I believe, will be closed down and about half the 134 secondary schools. But I should have thought that the hon. Lady could have helped best by adding her voice to my appeal publicly in the House today to the teachers to call off their industrial action while the negotiations are going on.