Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

HC I [Teachers (Superannuation) (Opposition motion)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [865/446-49]
Editorial comments: 1738-50. MT intervened at c447.
Importance ranking: Trivial
Word count: 1123
[column 446]

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

A retreat by the Government produces harmony. That is marvellous! If only they would retreat from all the other major policies which are discussed in this House from time to time, we might have real harmony in the House.

I shall not pursue the logic of the speech by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) too far. He said that he was not influenced at all by the Labour Party back-bench Members' follow-up motion but he was influenced by the Conservative motion. In other words, he is not interested in the merits of the case; he is interested in the label on the bottle. If it is Tory, apparently it is fine. I must say that is a singularly unfortunate appreciation of the merits of the teachers' case. That is what we are considering. We are not considering the merits of the Labour Party motion. The Government have accepted it. That is fine. What we are discussing are the merits of the teachers' case.

The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), who I am sorry has left the Chamber, and for whom we on these benches have a great affection, for many reasons other than the fact that he is, like myself, a sponsored member of the NUT——

Mr. Hattersley

Another one?

Mr. Hamling

Yes, another one. He said that the Government hitherto have only been maintaining a façade of opposition. I thought that was marvellous—only a façade of opposition. I must say that it has been maintained for a long time, causing a great deal of distress and a great deal of misery—although that perhaps is not quite the right word. [column 447]There was a great deal of heart-searching by the teachers.

Mrs. Thatcher

What about your Government?

Mr. Hamling

We happen to be talking about this 6½ per cent. That is what we are discussing. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say “What about your Government?” but she is always saying how much better she is than we are.

Mrs. Thatcher

That is true.

Mr. Hamling

The record shows, in view of the financial burdens that we had to endure and in view of our record of building, which Government did the better job for teachers.

I started teaching a long time ago—in 1930—and to that extent I have another interest to declare. It has taken a Conservative Government to make teachers go on strike——

Mrs. Thatcher


Mr. Hamling

Oh, yes. Never in all my time as a serving teacher did the strike notices go out in my school. I was the NUT correspondent and I should know.

Mr. S. James A. Hill

Times have changed since 1930.

Mr. Hamling

The teachers have become militant because of the Government's hard-hearted attitude. They were never so militant before the right hon. Lady became Secretary of State.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Brierley Hill)


Mr. Hamling

They never came into the Lobby of this House in such an angry mood until the present Secretary of State took over.

Today we have seen the fox lay down and die. A leading parliamentarian once said on another parliamentary occasion:

“Look, they have shot our fox” .
In this retraction of months of opposition the fox has not been shot by the Secretary of State; it has laid down and died. It would be interesting to know what is behind the Secretary of State's words. She said that the teachers should now go back to the working party and [column 448]that provisions such as paragraphs I and 3 of the resolution should form the basis of negotiations. That is my recollection of what she said.

What does that mean in practice? Does it mean that all the teachers' demands will be accepted, or will they simply form the basis of negotiations? I do not want to be a Scrooge at this feast but I am always tempted to look carefully at what the Government offer. Are they saying that they will accept all the terms of the motion, that they fully accept everything in it, or are they saying that it should form a basis of negotiation inside the working party?

I hope that the Under-Secretary will be a little more explicit when he replies to the debate and will tell us what is the Government's policy. I know that it must be difficult for him because he is not the Secretary of State. This matter has been dragging on for a long time. There has been a great deal of private lobbying, a great many deputations and much private discussion and we should pay tribute to the many people inside and outside the House—apart from the Tory recalcitrants—who used their influence in persuading the Secretary of State to change her mind. We should congratulate the trade union leaders in the teaching profession on their part in these discussions. There is no doubt that there has been great concern among the teachers for a long time and that in many ways the profession has reached a crisis point.

When I started teaching we never had the sort of problems which now face the profession. There were large classes—I taught classes of an average size of 55, and that was 35 and 40 years ago. However, we never experienced the other pressures, such as part-time teaching and teacher turnover. In the schools in which I taught we would have people on the staff for five, 10 and 15 years, and they gave the school a degree of permanence. I can remember one man retiring from the staff at a school where I taught. He had been there for 39 years. I would not encourage that because within four months of retirement he had died of boredom.

There have been cases recently where a teacher has the job of checking that every class is covered for registration and assembly. It is terrible that a school with [column 449]a comparatively small staff, of say 14 or 15, should be short of two or three teachers regularly week after week. All this bears out how low is the morale of the teaching profession and how great are the pressures upon it. To that extent the concession by the Government to public opinion will do something, even though it is a small gesture, to deal with the difficulties and anxieties.

The Secretary of State said she was powerless over the question of pay because it was a matter for the Pay Board and phase 3. It is not. It is a matter for Government policy, and my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) was correct in saying that the Government should not shuffle off their responsibilities. They have a great responsibility in the wider sphere of the rewards given to public servants in the teaching profession and elsewhere. They must accept that responsibility and not try to pass it off on someone else.