Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Coleman.]
I wish to raise on the Adjournment the subject of a pay anomaly that has not received quite the same attention as has the pay anomaly to the firemen. It may seem strange that I should seek to do this in the atmosphere generated by the Government's attempt to hold the line against pay increases above 10 per cent. This is a small and not a very popular part of the community in relation to increases in pay over the average, but the mere fact that it is a small group and a group that may not be much favoured by the general public does not mean that it has to suffer injustice. I think that along with a number of other small groups, of whom the methodist ministers are one, the pay anomaly in this case is perhaps greater than that of anybody else since it has persisted longer than the first stage of the current pay policy.This matter began in the period between 1974 and 1975, when the Government had no particular pay policy other than to maintain a 12-month difference between settlements. It was difficult to impose that on most of the country, since it did not have the voluntary assent of the TUC. It was in that period that this anomaly arose, and it has been going on ever since. Every successive Secretary of State for Education and Science has conceded that this anomaly exists and that an injustice has been perpetrated from which university teachers should be removed at the earliest possible opportunity. The only thing that lies between the Minister and me is "when" that earliest opportunity will be. I have before me a copy of the handout given by the Department in response to the recent reply from the university teachers. I shall read it because it is vital to that group of university teachers. The history of this matter is not in any doubt. All sides are agreed that the way in which it arose was that between 1974 and 1975 there was a substantial award to teachers in schools and further education establishments, other than universities, under the Houghton Committee. In that year further education teachers received 36 per cent. The average settlement for the British industrial worker was 27 per cent. The university teachers received 8 per cent. and not unnaturally went back to the Department of Education and Science and asked for a further increase to bring them into line, but they were met by the 12-month rule. The matter then went to arbitration, and the teachers were awarded a substantial increase, based, to some extent, on an assurance from the Department that they would receive in addition a cost of living increase estimated by the Department's negotiator at about 20 per cent. In the event they were met by the first stage of the pay policy and the increase finally represented no more than about 4 per cent. The disparity has existed ever since. For the last two years most university teachers, except those in the higher ranges and professional posts, have been receiving substantially less than their competitors in further education and yet have been teaching people who, on the whole, receive more. I believe in an incomes policy not to restrain incomes in a period of economic necessity but as part of a general policy of redistribution of income, and on that basis would accept the narrowing of differentials. However, it is now clear that the country, the TUC, the CBI and —I regret—the Minister do not accept that. All are agreed that everybody should be allowed to get back their differentials. If that is so the case for the university teachers is overwhelming. The only argument against it is that this year, because we have not negotiated a voluntary stage 3 with the TUC that would have allowed the degree of flexibility that would have taken care of the anomalies that have built up in stages 1 and 2, the Government are reduced to trying to hold the line at 10 per cent. overall. They have issued a White Paper, paragraph 14 of which says:
This anomaly could be negotiated on a phased basis. The Association of University Teachers has assured me that it is prepared to be flexible to meet the Government's difficulties in trying to hold the line at 10 per cent. It would be prepared to make some kind of settlement that would allow the anomaly to be eliminated over a period of time on a phased basis. The Association asks that it should be given a firm assurance that the anomaly will be negotiated on that basis and asks, in addition, that there should be prearranged dates at which the phasing should take place. That seems to be an unexceptionable attitude, except, of course, that the Government do not know whether there will be a Stage 4 and what will happen next year. That is where we come to the difficulty with the second part of the sentence in paragraph 14. The Government have told the firemen and many others that although they recognise these anomalies they cannot allow more than 10 per cent. overall. However, if we are to postpone until next year the settlement of a succession of anomalies that have accumulated not only in stages 1 and 2 but before, next year there will be a whole crop of anomalies to settle—some of them involving substantial amounts. The police are claiming that in their case the anomaly amounts to about 90 per cent. That means that next year we shall have a similar difficulty. Even in a period of oil boom no one will say that we can have runaway inflation. The base may be lower next year, but, substantial anomalies of that kind having accumulated, the settlements will be very expensive. Therefore, it is surely more logical—I say this with great humility to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister through my hon. Friend—to say that this year, in addition to the 10 per cent., a few anomalies should be eliminated in selected cases which are clearly special in view of their justice, the need or their contribution to the economy. I do not suggest that it is an easy task to choose such cases, or that it can easily be done unless the trade union movement as a whole accepts that some such cases can be settled this year without adding a lever to other claims where that special case does not exist. I believe the firemen's to be one special case. The Methodist ministers have a similar claim. The strongest case is that of Members of Parliament, but we were stupid enough to take a 25 per cent. cut in our proposed increase in order to try to set a precedent for the rest of the community, which they immediately forgot. As this was our fault, we should live with it for a while. It should teach us not to make these offers of charity to the nation. Of the rest, the university teachers are probably very high in the list of those who, having suffered an injustice for so long, should have it eliminated immediately. That means giving them as much as can be given under the 10 per cent., plus something towards a beginning of the elimination of the anomaly. Subsequent stages in its elimination should be settled in the negotiation, and a time limit given within which that elimination will take place. I say that with heat, because in 1974–75, when I was defending the Government against the onslaught of the lecturers from York University, I told the lecturers that they had to take the Government's pay policy that year, and that if it raised an anomaly they would have it settled in the following year. They told me then that there was never any chance of that, because by then there would be a statutory pay policy. I did not agree. They were right, and they have waited long enough. Simply to tell the university teachers tonight that they can wait till next year is not good enough, as we shall still have difficulties with pay policy then. Of those concerned—there are only about 20,000 people in the whole of the university teaching profession—64 per cent. are lecturers earning between £3,300 and £6,000 a year, on the Department's own figures. They are only slightly above, and some are even below, the average industrial earnings. It is not by and large an occupation that leads to much greater wealth than the average. Having suffered that depreciation in their living standards for so long, they can justifiably claim that they are a special case and that a start should be made in ridding them of the anomaly."It will not be possible in the next 12 months to deal with the whole range of pay anomalies and other problems that have inevitably arisen during a period of strict pay guidelines. Only the most serious difficulties can be tackled in the coming year, if necessary on a phased basis and taking full account of the need to keep the total settlement within single figures."
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) for leaving me time to intervene briefly. I fully support his arguments.I should like to add a strong personal note. I am deeply concerned about the emphasis now being given to higher education. Whereas in the 1960s it was perhaps exaggerated, it has now become the Cinderella of the education service. This is a matter of deep concern to me, not simply because of my constituency but because of my background and my belief that there are certain areas of public expenditure which are in investment for the future. I regard higher education, and particularly long-term research and the maintenance and improvement of standards in higher education, as one of the main areas of investment. I agree that the university teachers have a strong case. They have a feeling of betrayal, a feeling of having been cheated. I hope that the Minister will respond not merely to the case raised by the university teachers but to the concern of many of us that the future of higher education should be placed on a rather more secure long-term basis than at present.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) on having chosen this subject for the Adjournment debate, and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) on having entered the debate. It is right that the House should have the opportunity—albeit in only a short debate—of dealing with the remuneration of university teachers.My hon. Friend said that this is a small but important group. I entirely agree that it is an important group. The fact that it is small and does not have political muscle does not necessarily mean that its claims before the House should be denied and thrown on one side. That should not happen because of its smallness. My hon. Friend mentioned Methodist ministers and went on to refer to Members of Parliament. There are ministers other than Methodist ministers whose salaries have been fixed since 1972, but I shall not go into that issue. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members who met university constituents in the Lobby on 16th November found them articulate and reasonable. Since 1974 they have borne with commendable patience a substantial depression in their salaries relative to other teachers who are engaged in work of comparable standard. I do not go along with the hon. Member for Cambridge when lie says that higher education is the Cinderella of the education service. I remind him of the recent rate support grant settlement, which proves that that is not so. The Government have recognised that a pay anomaly exists in respect of university teachers and have undertaken to review and rectify it as and when the constraints of pay policy permit. In my brief there is a fairly long and perhaps tedious outline of the historical facts of the university teachers' pay claim. I need not weary the House with that, because there is no contention on the historial facts. First, I shall deal with what happened to the pay of university teachers in the summer and autumn of 1975. At the outset I must state clearly that no promises were broken. The transitional arrangements allowed under the new pay policy enabled the university teachers to receive in full the increase awarded by the arbitration board. As it turned out, the cost of living increase was less than the teachers had expected, but it had been made clear from the start that that increase would be subject to the pay policy prevailing near or at 1st October 1975. Secondly, the anomaly has a narrow and special basis in that it frustrated the intended purpose of the arbitration, which was to specify a comparability between university teachers and other teachers engaged in comparable work. Thirdly—I emphasise this—the university teachers were not especially picked out for punitive treatment. The anti-inflationary measures of July 1975 were applied uniformly and university teachers are by no means alone in having had their expectations frustrated. Worse anomalies were suffered, for example, by groups that were caused by pay policy to suffer differentials within a single chain of responsibility. What happened after that? The subsequent phase 2 of pay policy offered no relative improvement for university teachers as it limited pay increases to a standard amount within a maximum of £4 a week. The same limitation applied to other groups of employees who had suffered adversely from the timing of the introduction of pay policy in July 1975. Whether the new phase of pay policy will allow any scope for rectifying the anomaly remains to be seen, but the settlement for university teachers must be compatible with the guidance set out in the Government's White Paper "The Attack on Inflation" of 31st July 1977, which has the following to say about dealing with the range of pay anomalies and other problems that have inevitably arisen during the past two years of strict pay guidelines:
What scope this offers for progress towards remedying the pay anomaly for university teachers has not yet been decided, but my Department's officials have been in frequent informal contact with representatives of the university teachers and the university authorities. Because these informal negotations are taking place I cannot answer my hon. Friend's specific question. He asked whether any time limit could be set but we are still trying to solve this very difficult problem. Although there have been no formal negotiations yet in respect of a settlement to take effect from 1st October 1977, there is no question of the Government's going back on undertakings that were given at the time of the two previous pay settlements. The joint statement issued on 9th December 1975 said:"Only the most serious difficulties can be tackled in the coming year, if necessary on a phased basis and taking full account of the need to keep the total settlement within single figures ".
The joint statement on the October 1976 settlement said:"As"—the Secretary of State— "has indicated in the House of Commons on 24th October 1975, in reply to questions about the general level of universities salaries, this is a matter to which the parties will have to return when there is a different pay situation facing the nation. When that stage is reached, discussions on the implementation of the findings of the arbitral board will take place in Committee B".
The reference in that statement to the arrangements for financing universities refers to the cash limit that lies behind the university grant for the academic year. In announcing this grant on 28th March, my right hon. Friend said:"Committee B reaffirmed their statement of 9th December 1975 and agreed that as soon as pay policy permits, they will initiate a review of the anomalous situation referred to in that statement, taking into account the implications of changes introduced in the meantime in the arrangements for financing universities".
The Government have acknowledged that an anomaly exists and has undertaken that it should be rectified as soon as circumstances allow. However, the university teachers are by no means unique in suffering from an anomaly. They did receive a substantial pay award in consequence of an arbitration in 1975, even though the outcome was less generous than they, the universities, or the Government had expected. They have shared with the rest of the community the advantages in terms of a reduction in the rate of inflation which has been mainly due to the financial and economic measures applied by the Government since 1975. The university teachers can see the ultimate advantages of what the Government are doing in regard to pay guidelines, despite the fact that they are one of the most adversely affected sections of the community. They have the absolute assurance that the Government intend to rectify their disadvantage when circumstances permit. I do not want to be questioned further on it at the moment, because, as I have told the House, informal negotiations are taking place between the AUT, the university authorities and my Department on ways that may make it possible to deal with this situation, but I must emphasise that with the university teachers, as with the firemen, the power workers and other groups in the community, the Government must hold the line. The interests of the community as a whole must come first, and within the interests of the community as a whole come the interests of the university teachers."If the pace of pay and price increases generally, or of those which affect university expenditure, were substantially higher, taken as a whole, than those implied in the cash limit, the Government would be prepared to review the position in the light of all the circumstances of the time, including the economic consequences of higher inflation generally and the need to secure economic recovery."
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes past Twelve o'clock.