Mr. Edward Short (by Private Notice)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will make a statement on the breakdown of negotiations on teachers' salaries.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
The management panel has made an open offer, based on a new structure, which would give every teacher an increase from 1st April of at least 8 per cent., and would increase the total salary bill in 1971-72 by £51 million or 8.8 per cent. This offer has been rejected by the teachers' panel. A further meeting of the Burnham Committee is arranged for 5th March. Negotiations therefore have not broken down.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that it is true only in a technical sense that negotiations have not broken down? They have in fact broken down. The next meeting is merely to hear the [column 570]teachers' replies on arbitration. Is she aware that both major teachers' organisations have announced today that they refuse to take part in arbitration and, therefore, that the only way in which there can be arbitration is if the right hon. Lady imposes it upon them? Is she also aware that neither the teachers' unions nor any others have any faith in arbitration under this Government? The whole concept of arbitration is now discredited. Is she also aware that I share with her the view that teachers' salaries should be restructured to give the career teacher a better salary? Is she further aware that the proposals of the Management Committee, in which her representatives have concurred, are utterly unacceptable to the teachers because they divide up the teaching profession? How does she reconcile her support for this new structure, which would further widen the gulf between primary schools and secondary schools, with her professed desire to close this gap? Finally, how does she reconcile this miserable offer—[Hon. Members: “Oh!” .]—with the increases agreed for the Civil Service and nurses and the very large increases for the police to be announced tomorrow?
I will take the right hon. Gentleman's points in the order in which he raised them. The Burnham Committee will meet again a week on Friday and, therefore, negotiations are still continuing. On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, it might perhaps be helpful to give the precise arrangements for arbitration which, in the even of a breakdown, are that an independent chairman shall be appointed by my right hon. Friend R. Carrthe Secretary of State for Employment after consultation with the panels, and two members shall be selected by my right hon. Friend, one from each of two lists of not fewer than four individuals each considered suitable by the Teachers' Panel and by the Management Panel respectively of the relevant committee.
I think that the restructuring proposals are good proposals for the the Teachers' Panel to consider. As negotiations continue, I do not think that it would be right to go any further on that point.
Finally, I think that the conditions of service of the nurses and the kind of offer made with regard to night duty, etc., [column 571]are really rather different from the conditions of service of the teachers and the kind of restructuring offer which has been made to them.
Is the right hon. Lady saying now that she will impose arbitration on the teachers? Clearly, the process that she has described cannot take place without the co-operation of the teachers. Both major organisations have said today that they will not co-operate. In view of that, will she impose it?
Secondly, will the right hon. Lady answer my question about how she is able to say that these are good proposals for restructuring? How can she reconcile her support for them with her professed aim to close the gap between primary and secondary schools, when she knows that these proposals will widen the gap?
The right hon. Gentleman asks whether I would impose arbitration. I was not saying anything of the kind. I was saying that the time for arbitration has not yet arrived. Therefore, no decision has been made.
As for the structural arrangements, I stand by what I said. The restructuring arrangements are good and worthy of consideration by the Teachers' Panel.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the reform of the salary scale for teachers is a very necessary and long overdue element in any settlement that might be reached? Does not she also agree that it would be a great pity if these negotiations were to break down on this point? Does my right hon. Friend agree, finally, that the right hon. Gentleman's comments are one more example of the Opposition backing the highest bid, whatever the circumstances?
I hope that the negotiations will continue a week on Friday and will not break down. I hope, too, that they will result in a structural agreement.
Does not the right hon. Lady agree that the total amount available for this increase is quite inadequate and that an 8 per cent. increase will not even cope with the rise in the cost of living since the last award when one considers taxation and other deductions from pay? Does not she agree, further, [column 572]that the offer of a basic minimum of something like £1,059 is totally inadequate, especially to people who have spent three or four years living on student grants?
On a question of fact, the offer on the bottom scale for the three-year trained teacher would be £1,055 in the first year rising by 12 increments of £70 and one increment of £95, followed by a further increment of £100, the last increment to be given after three years, the others to be annual, to a maximum of £2,090. That is the basic scale. There are several scales above that. The maximum for the topmost head teacher would be £5,275 a year. It is inevitable that in any restructuring offer the amount in the first year should be followed by further benefits in successive years as teachers reach higher maxima by larger increments.
Mr. St. John-Stevas
Would not it be a remarkable surprise if one of the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen asked a constructive question on a pay dispute, instead of trying to make mischief?
Mr. Barry Jones
Is not it apparent in the current negotiations with the teachers that the local authorities are tied hand and foot to the Treasury Ministers? Is the right hon. Lady aware that the offer now made would result in a declining standard of living for teachers? Finally, is not there evidence that the phantom Secretary of State for Wales has responsibility for teachers in Wales?
The Management Panel made it clear at its Press conference yesterday afternoon that it both spoke and speaks with one voice, by which it meant the local authorities and the Government representatives on the panel. I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend P. Thomasthe Secretary of State for Wales is also in agreement with me.
Is it correct that the first offer has since been raised by the management side to 9.7 per cent.? Secondly, has my right hon. Friend studied the long history of arbitration proposals during the régime of the previous Government?
The conventions provide for “without prejudice” offers to be made higher than open offers, with a [column 573]view to trying to secure agreement. Such an offer was made. But such a without prejudice offer lapses if agreement is not secured.
In the interests of accuracy, will the right hon. Lady make it clear that that higher offer was conditional upon the teachers accepting in their entirety the structural proposals of the management side?
What about arbitration under the previous Government?
All the offers have been made in relation to the structural proposals.
Several Hon. Members
Order. I propose to move on now and, if I may, I will say why. It is a matter entirely for the Chair whether a Private Notice Question is accepted. I decided, after some initial doubt, to accept this one today. There has been eight supplementary questions. I do not think that because a Private Notice Question is accepted that necessarily means spending a quarter of an hour on each one. In this case, we have heard about the further meeting of the Burnham Committee on 5th March. There will be plenty of other opportunities to raise this matter again.
On a point of order. Do you consider it satisfactory, Mr. Speaker, that three of those supplementary questions should have come from the Opposition Front Bench spokesman? Is that a fair representation, knowing that the right hon. Gentleman represents only one union represented on the Teachers' Panel?
Further to that point. I must ask the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) to withdraw that remark. In this House, I represent the electors of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central.