HC Deb 08 February 1956 vol 548 cc1745-78

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

7.17 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

I should like to thank my hon. Friends from Scotland for terminating their proceedings so early in the evening and thus enabling a matter which I think is of great importance to be given adequate and, I hope, very full discussion. I am obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for being dead on time to listen to the debate.

The matter which I wish to raise concerns the clerical and administrative staff within the hospital service for which the Minister is primarily responsible. I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends will speak later during the debate and will want to talk about other staffs, but I wish to concentrate on this particular section of the hospital service.

As long ago as 1951, the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) raised this problem in an Adjournment debate. He spoke of the urgent need to attract recruits of the right kind and quantity to the hospital administration. The Director of the Nuffield Foundation raised the same point at the last Health Service Conference at the Royal Institute of Public Administration in October, 1953, when he stressed that hospital administration was one of the most difficult forms of administration and required very able administrators, not only at the centre but in the field.

The growing unattractiveness of hospital administration as a career has been the subject of comment at a recent conference of the Association of Hospital Management Committees. In the hospital service, in which I have the honour to be of some help as chairman of a local management committee and a member of a regional hospital board, I recognise that the administrative and clerical workers are a very important part of that service. It is, of course, right that the main emphasis should be on the patients and that everything which we do in this service should, in the long run, benefit the patients.

We have all given a great deal of attention to the conditions of the nurses and where we have been able to do so we have tried to improve their conditions, but the subject of their pay is a matter for another debate. I think that the Cinderellas of the service are those who are doing what I call a back-room job, and who are often forgotten by their own colleagues in the hospital service.

There is no doubt that today—and I choose my words carefully—all the staff are gravely dissatisfied with their salary position. I am sure that, from inquiries that she has no doubt made since she knew this debate was to take place, the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary will know that to be true. The National Union of Public Employees, N.A.L.G.O., and other bodies closely associated with these people are perturbed and worried not only about the present salary position as such, but about its effect on recruitment.

Unless it gets the very best clerical staff, the hospital service—and, therefore, in the long run, the patient—will suffer. Carefully selected, well-trained clerical staff can do a great job in relieving doctors, nurses and other technical staff of routine matters. We must have the right type of people in sufficient numbers to ensure that the patient, and his relatives and friends who come to inquire about him, get a sympathetic, intelligent and courteous reception.

The administrative officer has a tremendous task in the service. He has a very complex job which requires highly-skilled professional knowledge. He has to be humane and has to administer the organisation so that modern science can be directed in the most beneficial way to the individual problems of the patient. To that part of the work I wish to pay tribute. Ever since 1948 these people have done a fine job, and it is a great pity that tonight we must talk about their salaries. I think this subject could have been dealt with much better in other ways, but the fact remains that there is tremendous dissatisfaction among these people throughout the country.

I can give the House one small example of how recruitment is affected. The Dart-ford Group Hospital Management Committee, which is one of the largest in the country, has recruited only three grammar school boys into the service since 1948—and all three have since left because the rates of pay offered to young people entering the service just cannot be compared with those offered by outside industry. If the Parliamentary Secretary has been to the regional board's headquarters—as I am sure she has—she will agree that one would be lucky to find on the staff side anyone under 35 years of age. There, too, the staff position is desperate; and the hon. Lady well knows the importance of the work done there.

I must here say a word about the responsibility of the Minister. When questions about remuneration and conditions in the service are raised it is customary for the Minister, or for the Secretary of State for Scotland, immediately to disclaim responsibility by saying that such matters are appropriate to the Whitley Council. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not use that argument tonight, because I intend to deal with the Whitley Council machinery and hope to show that in this case responsibility cannot be evaded by the Minister in that way.

Not only has the Minister ultimate responsibility—whatever may or may not be done by the Whitley Council—for ensuring the continued efficiency and well being of the hospital service, but, despite the customary disclaimer of responsibility, the Ministry does, in fact, directly participate through its own representatives, officers and civil servants in the Whitley Council negotiations. Those representatives largely control the decisions of the management side. On every Health Service Whitley Council there are eight representatives from either the Ministry of Health or the Treasury —eight. I would like to ask the hon. Lady why, in heaven's name, we have to have eight civil servants on the Whitley Council to discuss wages and conditions. Why eight?

Those eight representatives attend not simply in the capacity of advisers, but consider it their right and duty to put forward proposals and, when necessary, to veto alternatives. Though not in a numerical majority it is well known that if they are outvoted, or are likely to be outvoted, the civil servants insist on "reserving the Minister's position." Inevitably, in such a service as this—and with the power of the Exchequer purse behind them—they are able to get the agreement of the management side.

That being the case, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary not to say that she is very sorry about it all but that it is purely a matter for the Whitley Council. I ask for something more than that. I want to be quite clear what she proposes to do. I hope, too, that she will not say that she understands that the matter has been referred to the Industrial Court. I wish tonight to show how this position has arisen, and to warn the House that unless something is done the hospital service will suffer even more. If it suffers, so ultimately will the patients.

Perhaps I may now be permitted to give a short history of the salaries of the administrative and clerical staff. In 1948, when the National Health Service was launched, the then Minister had to recruit staff for it. Many of the London hospitals which were taken over were, in fact, run by the London County Council, and the procedure then adopted—rightly, I think—was to recruit the staff from local government sources, and the Minister himself adopted for the Health Service the then current salary scale of the administrative, professional and technical staffs in local government service.

That gave a range of salaries in the general clerical and administrative grades rising from£360 for the lowest to£760 for the highest grade. For designated officers such as secretaries of regional hospital boards and management committees, finance officers and the like, special temporary scales were introduced, and most of those people entered the service at the pay they were receiving from their old authority at the date of transfer and kept it until offered Health Service gradings. Many officers in the L.C.C. area found that the London County Council was then paying rates higher than those paid by these other authorities and, therefore, opted to remain on their old salary.

The Parliamentary Secretary may be interested to know that those who opted to receive that London County Council salary are today drawing exactly the same amount. They have had no increase at all, because the salary of the Health Service has not yet reached that level. They have remained on the same salary, although since that year—1948—the London County Council has granted increases to the remainder of the staff amounting to 35 per cent. It can "be imagined how bitter and annoyed those people feel.

In 1951, the Whitley Council for the administrative and clerical staffs agreed on a new salary scale. The result was that three clerical and eight administrative grades were telescoped into seven new ones which, for ease of reference, were lettered A to G, the salary scales remaining basically the same as those paid in local government at that time. The hospital service staffs have always regarded the salaries of local government staffs as being comparable with their own. Since 1951 such salary awards as have been agreed by the Health Service Whitley Council have been in line with the increases granted in local government circles.

Failure to reach agreement on a salary award in the Health Service Whitley Council in 1951 resulted in the claim going to arbitration under the Industrial Disputes Act. The Industrial Court accepted the argument put forward by the management side that the staff's responsibilities, type of work, conditions of service, salaries, and so on, were strictly comparable with those of local government. That was the argument of the management side before the Industrial Court in 1951. The Court agreed with the management side and decided that, wage for wage at all levels, the staff should get the same increases as local government. The Industrial Court awarded accordingly.

The staff's reaction to that in 1951 was, "This is better than nothing. At least, we have established a definite principle." They were consoled with the thought that in the light of the management side's argument and of the Industrial Court's decision, they would not fall any lower than local government scales; for that was the principle then argued.

But the staffs were quickly disillusioned. Almost before the ink on the arbitration decision was dry, the National Joint Council for Local Government Staffs announced a new improved grading structure and increases in pay for all staffs. That was what was done in local government. The staff side of the Health Service assumed from the previous decision that they would get a similar increase and that new rates would be given to them. Instead, the management side of the Whitley Council made a complete about-turn and did not agree at that stage that local government rates should apply. They argued strenuously against it.

It took seven long months of bitter negotiation with that Whitley Council to win increases which were still short of those given to local government and which, consequently, placed the staff of the Health Service away at the bottom of the list as against comparable staffs in banks, insurance companies, nationalised industries, the Port of London Authority and, of course, local authorities.

That agreement—I am talking now of a year or so ago—was received with much disquiet by the staff and also by the employing authorities—that is, the regional boards and management committees—who saw that their recruiting difficulties would be accentuated. I remember that my own committee at the time sent a resolution to the regional board on this question and, I believe, it went forward to the Ministry.

The matter has now reached an even greater crisis. Last December, local government staffs received increases ranging from 5 to 9 per cent., with greatly improved salary scales for the clerical staff in London in particular. They received improved subsistence rates, and local authorities were told that they could, if they wished, introduce a five-day week. Improved scales were adopted for typists and similar grades. This agreement was reached in local government after the employers had refused to negotiate on a claim for the restoration of the 1948 purchasing power to staff salaries. They were, however, prepared to make some improvements by the agreement which gave extra increases over and above the increase I have mentioned.

The Health Service claim for restoration of the 1948 standards was rejected out of hand. The management side was not prepared to consider it at all. The staff then made a modified claim for a 12½ per cent. increase but this met with the same blank refusal. After the publication of the local government award, the management side made a small offer for some grades, which was substantially less than in the case of local government, which the staff side could not accept.

The management side has refused to budge and the claim has now gone again to the Industrial Court, which, if it is consistent, must award increases similar to those granted in local government as was done before. This means that there will probably be more months of delay while the matter is being considered. By then, the whole argument will probably be clarified again on a local government basis. The staff, however, are conscious that whatever happens in future, this is the Whitley Council machine that they must use and that this is the sort of thing with which they will be faced again and again.

I want to say a few words about the Whitley Council machine. At these meetings, there are no negotiations as I understand them in the trade union movement. My experience is that when going to negotiate a wage claim, a person goes in front of his employer, he argues his case, the employer argues back, and eventually a decision is reached. What happens with this Whitley Council machinery, however, is that there are no negotiations round the table. On entering the meeting, one finds the eight civil servants representing the Ministry of Health and the Treasury. The staff side goes in and puts its case. Then, the management side withdraws to a private room to discuss the staff side's proposals. The management side sends out its chairman from the private room with his side's answer. If the staff side do not like his answer, they tell him so and give him the reasons. Then he goes back to his colleagues, including all the civil servants, in their private room to tell them what the staff side has said. This is the most lopsided method of negotiation I have ever heard of.

At one meeting of the Council, the management side trooped off to its private room at 4.30 in the afternoon. The staff side waited patiently for the reappearance of the management side. Time went by, and at half-past five the secretary of the staff side went to find what had happened and found that the management side had gone home, having left its secretary to tell him that the management side had decided to fix another meeting. That is, the kind of frustration which is encountered, and it is about time that this Whitley Council was shown up for what it is doing. This is a very serious matter indeed.

I cannot get over the fact that this bright body should have eight civil servants. The fact that eight of them are wanted from the Treasury shows how dull-witted they must be when eight people are needed to do a job which, I am sure, could be done by one. Up to the end of last year, the Council met quarterly. Now, it meets bi-monthly and sub-committees meet when necessary. I am told, however, that the management side find it surprisingly difficult to arrange a meeting of the salaries negotiating sub-committee, which seldom meets more frequently than once a month when considering a salary claim.

I am told that at one of the negotiating meetings for salaries, when the staff side went in a civil servant came out and addressed them on the economic plight of the country and the need for wages restraint—in the middle of a wages claim! I am all for being lectured when necessary, although I do not think that civil servants are the right people to do it. They have their own negotiating machinery, and I have figures which show that they have not done so badly for themselves. I wonder how they would like it if somebody lectured to them, although I do not quite know who could do it. At any rate, that was what they did on that occasion.

I am not quoting salary rates but am discussing rather the general principle. All this is having a very disheartening effect on the staff. In page 266 of its Report, the Guillebaud Committee refers to the Whitley Council machinery and says: In general terms, it seems to us that the employing authorities in the hospital service are under-represented on the Whitley Councils particularly in comparison with the Health Departments; and we recommend that the representation of Regional Hospital Boards and Hospital Management Committees be substantially increased. This will have the dual effect of bringing greater experience of hospital management to Whitley Council discussions and also of helping the Management Sides to carry the hospital managers along with them in implementing their decisions. That is a very important point. The Committee recommend: that the Health Departments should review the present arrangements for consultation with Regional Hospital Boards, and should invite Regional Hospital Boards to review their arrangements with Hospital Management Committees, in order to make certain that the Management Sides of the Whitley Councils are as fully aware as possible of the views of these authorities before decisions are reached on matters which will affect them. That is common sense. That is referring to the Whitley Council machine, the management side of which is so heavily weighted by people who are not of the management side that the real views of the management are not known. There should be wider representation on management committees.

I am not looking for any more tasks—I have sufficient voluntary jobs to do in this short life of mine—but I should not mind going on that Whitley Council machine and taking a look at those eight civil servants. I make the hon. Lady an offer. If there is a vacancy on that Whitley Council machine, I am quite willing to go on it.

It is very distressing indeed that these staffs should be in the position of asking for this matter to be ventilated in Parliament. This is not, I ought to say, just a personal application to me. These people were aware that I know something of this matter through being within the hospital service. I know that every London Member of Parliament has had representations made to him and that the hon. Lady knows a great deal about it all. I know that she has this great service at heart. I ask her tonight not to say, "This matter is under active consideration. It has been referred to the Industrial Court and, therefore, I cannot make any comment, "but to say exactly what she proposes to do; for unless we get satisfaction, we will not get the kind of staff we want or ought to have, and they are an important part of what I believe is the greatest Health Service in the world.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)

I am sure we are all grateful to the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) for bringing up this matter, which is obviously of very wide interest and seems to raise serious issues. I am sure that he is grateful to our Scottish colleagues who hurried through their business earlier, thus leaving plenty of time for this debate. I am a little surprised that some of them have not managed to stay for this debate, especially as I believe several who sit for constituencies in Lanarkshire will have had word of this problem, as I have had, from members of the staff of Law Hospital. In parenthesis, I would remark that any comment one makes on this problem is not intended to derogate in the slightest from the splendid services which the staffs in the National Health Service are giving, and particularly at Law Hospital.

I must crave the indulgence of the House, and especially of the Parliamentary Secretary, because, unhappily, I have presently to go to an outside engagement arranged some time ago, and it may not be possible for me to hear my hon. Friend's reply to the debate, or, indeed, other speeches by other hon. Members.

I listened to the presentation of the case by the hon. Member for Bermondsey with very great interest. Not the least interesting part of it was his informative summary of the Whitley Council story. I think it is well to refresh our minds from time to time of how the Whitley Council system came into existence, and to remind ourselves that it has done very useful work. As I see it, that is not the point at issue tonight. The point we are asked to consider—and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I have misunderstood him—is whether, and, if so, in what direction, the Minister should intervene in a matter which, so I apprehend, has been referred to the Whitley Council machinery, or has been referred to arbitration. If that is the point at issue, then it is a very serious one indeed.

Mr. Mellish

I appreciate what the hon. Member says, but the trouble in discussing this matter is that no time is the right time. I do not expect the Parliamentary Secretary to say, "All right, we have taken it over and we shall give an extra amount of money." I have tried to recall how this Whitley story came about, and I believe this story had to be told, even though the case is before the Whitley Council.

Mr. Maitland

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. Of course, we cannot say that because the Whitley machinery exists and because it is in operation we cannot discuss it. Of course we want to discuss it from time to time. It is part of the duty of Parliament to keep such matters under review. I am sure, however, that, when he reflects, the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is one thing to discuss the general operation of the Whitley Council machinery, with recourse to arbitration, and such like, but that it is a different matter to relate such a general discussion to a series of wage claims in particular. If we proceed in that kind of course we may be in danger, which would certainly be regretted on both sides of the House, of allowing wage and salary issues to be debated across the Floor of the House, and I for one am quite sure—

Mr. Mellish

I accept in principle the hon. Gentleman's argument, but something has to be done if the machinery is inadequate. We must by Questions, or by debate on such an occasion as this, bring these matters here if the machinery is frustrating machinery.

Mr. Maitland

I am obliged again to the hon. Gentleman. I think that he and I are closer together in this matter than he may, perhaps, think.

Certainly we have an absolute right to discuss the merits of a system of negotiating machinery, and if persons who have to submit to that machinery have a sense of frustration such as has been described—and I would not contradict the hon. Gentleman's description—then it is very natural that this House should concern itself with it; but, in so doing, it ought to be very careful not to allow a wages issue to become a matter of debate between one side of the House and the other. We should not want that to happen. I should be a little surprised if it were thought to be a sound trade union viewpoint that the Minister should be invited to intervene in a matter that either is already under arbitration or is likely to be submitted to arbitration soon. I do not believe that that is what the hon. Gentleman intended. I think he was trying to smoke out the Parliamentary Secretary, which it is natural enough to want to do. We often want to smoke out Ministers. I am quite sure, however, that the hon. Gentleman does not want to go down in history as having tried to bring wage claims on to the Floor of the House, to be settled between one side of the House and the other.

As I have mentioned, I have myself been approached by persons working in Law Hospital in my constituency, all of them organised in N.A.L.G.O. I would not claim to be particularly knowledgeable about this matter. I wonder if my hon. Friend can tell us, when she replies to the debate, whether it is or is not the case that N.A.L.G.O. is one of several, I believe seven or eight, bodies which represent persons engaged in such work, and whether it is not the case that the others at least have not been Lobbying their Members. I have heard only from N.A.L.G.O. I cannot judge whether N.A.L.G.O. represents a larger body of opinion than that of its own members.

Mr. Mellish

Will the hon. Gentleman please accept it from me that the trade unions representing this type of worker are very much concerned and are very glad we are discussing this matter tonight?

Mr. Maitland

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I was asking only how many organisations are involved and which others have brought the matter to the Minister's attention. I have heard only from N.A.L.G.O. It may be that other organisations have lobbyed such other hon. Members as they felt would give them a sympathetic hearing, and they felt they had access to.

Perhaps my hon. Friend can tell us whether it is the case, as I believe, that the point at issue now relates to salaries for the higher grades. If my information is correct—it may be wrong, and the hon. Gentleman may well correct me—the rates have been largely agreed for the lower grades, and we are considering what should be done about the higher grades.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong.

Mr. Maitland

The hon. Gentleman says that I am quite wrong. I am only asking my hon. Friend for information when she replies to the debate.

I wonder if she can also tell us in how many cases this matter is going, or looks like going, or has already gone, to arbitration. There may be only a few cases. There may be many cases. An answer on that point would give us some idea of what cause there is for the sense of frustration which has been described, and of what the extent of that sense of frustration may be. It is difficult for me to judge, having had representations from the staff of only one of no fewer than five hospitals in my constituency—and that not the biggest; or, if it is, it is only just the biggest. Representations have not been backed by complaints from the staffs of the other hospitals, all of which I visit frequently, so that I do not think there can be in their minds any thought that I am not, generally speaking, accessible to them or that I am indifferent to their problems.

I am sure that the Minister will look at this matter sympathetically within the limits of her responsibility. I do not think that any of us want to ask her to do more than interest herself in the whole subject, and in the whole sense of frustration, if that is the case, in the Whitley Council procedure. I cannot believe that anybody so responsible as the hon. Member for Bermondsey would be suggesting or wants to be thought to be suggesting that the Minister should intervene directly in a particular wage negotiation while it is going through the recognised machinery.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising this matter. I shall look forward to reading the Minister's reply in tomorrow's OFFICIAL REPORT since, as I have said, I may not be able to remain here to hear her myself. I might add that I have had no representations on this subject from Hairmyres Hospital, Stone-house Hospital, Douglas Cottage Hospital, St. Mary's Hospital, Lanark, or Lockhart Hospital, Lanark. These hospitals, all very large, are all in my constituency. I hear from them from time to time and all of them know that I am very eager to help all hospitals as far as possible.

7.52 p.m.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

This is a very difficult subject for us to deal with in the House. I quite agree that it would not be right for us to fight the battles of particular wage claims as such in this Chamber, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) that if there is a general feeling of anxiety about the working of the Whitley machinery it is right that we should discuss it. In doing so, we may have to mention examples in order to make some of the problems clear.

I have had some responsibility in the past in this matter and I appreciate the very real problems that are involved. It is true that this feeling of anxiety and frustration does not apply only to this particular group of staff. We are all conscious of the complaints which we have had from nursing staffs on many occasions about exactly the same problem. They all feel that it is impossible, in the present state of Whitley machinery, to carry out negotiations in a form which any of us understand as negotiation. This state of affairs is described as the "dead hand of the Treasury" and by other expressions of that kind.

The feeling appears to be very general throughout hospital staffs that applications for wage advances and discussions of matters of that kind are of little avail unless the whole issue is taken as far as arbitration, and that it is impossible to have any discussion of a wage case unless it goes right through some form of court procedure. Inevitably, with these long negotiations going on all the time and the calling of one Whitley Council and another, by the time any conclusion is reached by means of the courts the award has to be back-dated a long way. All the time there are increasing feelings of anxiety and frustration.

This is a very difficult problem which comes down to some fundamental issues. It involves the whole position of the Treasury in relation to settlements of this kind, and there is a strong feeling that the Treasury is unwilling to allow any normal negotiation procedure to be carried on. There is a feeling that the Treasury insists upon prior approval of any suggestion that is to be put forward on the management side, and that it is this that causes the major delay. I agree that the Guillebaud Committee suggestion is a valuable one. I have a copy of some representations which have been made. These representations come not only from N.A.L.G.O., but from other organisations as well. Some very important professional bodies also raise precisely the same point.

They say—and the Royal College of Nursing has said so among other bodies —that they begin to wonder about the value of making these initial approaches at all. They ask why they cannot go straight forward and have the arbitration proceedings because, they say, that seems to be the only thing that counts. If that is the general feeling, there is surely a strong case for a very careful examination of the machinery.

I know the difficulties only too well. There is the problem that there are so many organisations. That fact in itself does not help in speeding up procedure. It is a problem which has had to be faced in many other spheres. There is also the problem of the professional bodies which claim a rather special position because of their past history. Then there is the matter of the unions which now have a more important part to play than they had in the past.

All these factors undoubtedly cause real difficulties. I am not, therefore, expecting any immediate solution, but I submit that it is time we had a quiet, careful examination of the machinery to see if any improvement can be made. In this respect the recommendation from the Guillebaud Committee is of some value.

I should like to take this issue a little wider and suggest, as indeed did my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey, that the whole question of recruitment of adequately trained administrative staff is a matter of the first importance for the development of our hospital work. It has been customary in the past to tend to brush off administrative staff as of less importance than many of those who do the much more exciting and dramatic things in hospital work. However, I believe that there has been a gradual increase in the understanding that, if our hospitals are to be as efficiently run as we all want them to be, a great deal more attention must be given to the quality of the administrative staff. It is unfortunate that we have come rather late to the consideration of what can be done in this respect.

An interesting experiment is being made by the King Edward VII Memorial Fund in the college which that organisation has set up. I hope that by now that college has provided us with sufficient experience of the kind of training which would be valuable for hospital administrators and has given a useful lead to the Government on what could now be done on a wider scale and on a more official basis. This small college has been run for some years and has enjoyed the advice of able administrators, including some hon. Members of this House. I should have thought that by now the Government might have been expected to suggest how the training of hospital administrators can best be organised in future, and how it can best be linked with some of the other hospital training work, for example, with the School of Hygiene, or with welfare training, and so on.

This would encourage hospital administrators to feel that they are part of a wider team, including those with medical training. If we are to attract into either the present college or any future official college for hospital administration the people we want, then we must consider the status, salary, and other conditions to be offered to them. That is where we come back to the point raised by my hon. Friend. We want people to feel that this is a vital and valuable career, as useful and helpful to the community as any other. At the moment, however, I am afraid that we are not succeeding in making quite that appeal.

I do not expect the Parliamentary Secretary to reply to all these points on the spur of the moment, but I hope that the hon. Lady and her right hon. Friend are as anxious as we are to see progress made in this respect. I hope, too, that the debate will prove to have been of value, not only by resulting in elucidation of the Whitley machinery, but also of the equally important matter of the training we give to our future hospitial administrators.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)

Since the National Health Service Act was passed I have been fortunate in that successive Ministers have reappointed me to one of the hospital regional boards and I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has raised this subject tonight. One of the problems which every regional board has to face is that of the inadequacy of the Whitley machinery. My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the administrative and clerical employees, but this kind of thing appears to be operating in every part of the Health Service.

As one who has had something to do with Whitley machinery in local government, I can tell the House that as employers' representatives we used to meet the trade unions. We discussed our problems and arrived at the solution by a majority decision on either side. The difference in this machinery is that apparently the Ministry has interposed between the employing authority—which, I assume, is the hospital regional board and the management committee—and the trade unions, the Ministry of Health officials, and the Treasury. That is not negotiating machinery as we normally understood it in local government service.

This problem expresses itself in many ways. For about a year in the Borough of Hackney we have had difficulty with a chimney which emits considerable grit and smoke. The local authority and the public health authority have been in touch with the regional board on this matter. The answer of the regional board engineer has been that he has to rely upon Pakistani stokers. He cannot get our own people as stokers because the rates of pay laid down by the machinery are insufficient to attract responsible and efficient men.

The same is true of other sections of the service. For instance, we are in the same situation over engineers. The Whitley Council machinery does not move fast enough to deal with our day-to-day problems. We cannot attract engineers to work in our hospitals because commercial firms are paying higher wages than we are allowed to pay inside the Health Service. For the same reason we cannot recruit cooks or hospital porters. The calibre of those recruited is such that many of our porters ought to be patients. Instead of wheeling bodies around they should be wheeled around themselves. Moreover, the incidence of sickness is such that it is uneconomic to employ these people.

As an illustration of our problems, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I mention the case of a Pakistani stoker who allowed the boilers to explode? Fortunately, with the assistance of responsible members. of the electrical trade union, we were able to deal with the difficulty. We want to pay someone a few shillings more to supervise, but we are not allowed to do so. We have to refer to the Whitley Council. As a consequence, people who are trying to do a good job inside the service feel themselves frustrated. The hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) said that he was aware of only one hospital in his constituency which had complained. This is not a question of how many complaints have been made but of the problem that people will not enter the hospital service. Those inside it do not complain, but it is impossible to recruit new staff.

I am not suggesting to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is an easy solution. I do say, however, that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to the grave difficulty in the service, a service which we all desire to be successful. By an examination of the existing procedure it is possible to meet the reasonable requirements of those engaged in it. The Ministry should inquire how far we can assist in a better appreciation of the service which these people render.

I hope that we shall hear from the hon. Lady that she appreciates the difficulties, and that she will tell us of some remedies which the Ministry of Health proposes to apply.

8.9 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) for the way in which he initiated this debate, though I cannot go all the way with him in meeting his requests. I well know his active work and interest in the National Health Service, since he serves on my local hospital regional board and is the chairman of a hospital committee. I also welcomed the contribution from my predecessor in office, the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop). I know he is aware that my reply will not go as wide as some of the issues he has raised.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey asked a great deal when he suggested that I should say plainly what we are going to do. The hon. Member knows very well that we are bound by the machinery of the Whitley Council and of the Industrial Courts Act, to which hon. Members on all sides of the House subscribe. I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates that it would be improper for me to discuss the merits of an individual case. For instance, I cannot discuss the claims that have been put forward and the arguments that will be advanced by the management side since this case has already been referred to the arbitration court. There it will have full and impartial investigation, and both sides will have an opportunity to put all the evidence they wish before the court.

It would be improper for me to anticipate or prejudice findings for which there is an established procedure. It would be a very great departure from what is accepted in this House as the procedure for joint negotiation. Consequently, I must confine myself to the general machinery for dealing with claims, the diary of events, the arguments for the claim and the facts which have confronted us.

Mr. Mellish

Will the hon. Lady concede my case that there is grave dissatisfaction among the staff? Will she please admit that?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

No. I would not give a wholesale undertaking like that. We shall never find any organisation in which all members of its staff are satisfied about their salaries and are not trying to get more. That includes Members of Parliament.

I will deal, first, with the machinery. The Whitley Councils are established on a recognised principle of negotiation, of joint councils of employers and employees. I have been somewhat surprised this week to hear, particularly so at Question Time on Monday, hon. Members suggesting that the Minister should intervene. In view of the authority that he carries, intervention could only mean that one way or the other he would be overriding decisions. It would be a complete contradiction of what we accept as joint negotiating machinery if he were to do so. My right hon. Friend believes that it would be quite improper for him to intervene in these negotiations.

The Whitley Councils were set up at the start of the National Health Service. Under the Whitley machinery there is the General Council which deals with matters concerning all grades, and there are nine functional councils of which the Administrative and Clerical Staffs Whitley Council is one. Less than justice has been paid tonight to the very substantial amount of work that has been done by the Whitley Councils in starting a great new service with all its difficulties of classification, salary grading and so on.

It would not be fair to suggest as one hon. Member did, that nothing was ever settled without going to arbitration. I have looked up the number of salary and wage claims which have been settled by Whitley machinery in the National Health Service without going to arbitration. The total is nearly 200. Consequently, it would be quite wrong to suggest that no claim is ever agreed unless it goes to arbitration. That just is not true. There have been cases which have gone to arbitration, but in the majority of cases agreement is reached between the two sides.

Mr. Mellish

When I was making my argument, I was dealing with major wage claims. I believe I made the point that a major claim was made earlier in relation to local government wage rates. It was sent to arbitration in order to get a ruling, which was given, about local government wage rates being applied to these people.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

I can answer that point. There have been five major, as the hon. Gentleman calls them, wage claims, dealt with by the Administrative and Clerical Staffs Whitley Council, apart from many claims of major importance to the grades concerned but not embracing all classes, and three were settled without arbitration and two went to arbitration. It is not fair to say that the Whitley machinery never settles anything without it going to arbitration.

The constitution of the Council was drawn up by agreement between both sides. Hon. Members have been having great fun at the expense of the management side, but no one has mentioned that there are thirty members of the staff side on the Council, which is very substantial representation on any count, as against eighteen on the other side. It was suggested that eight represented too many civil servants. The hon. Member for Bermondsey then said that the hospital management committees and regional boards had no opportunity; but they and the Executive Councils have ten representatives.

Mr. Mellish

I did not say that. I said that they had not got enough.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

They have ten representatives. If, as the hon. Member suggested, one civil servant is enough to express a view, I am surprised at the suggestion that ten members together on the board are not capable of expressing an equally emphatic view. I am, of course, aware, that the Guillebaud Committee has recommended that the non-Civil Service representation on the management side should be increased. The matter has not yet been considered by the Whitley Council. No doubt it, the hospital management committees and the regional boards will be making their views about it known to the Minister, who will consider the matter when he receives the views of the interested bodies.

Since the appointed day, five major general salary claims have been dealt with. In three cases settlement was reached without arbitration. As the hon. Member said, in 1954 agreement could not be reached on a general salary claim, and the dispute was referred to the Industrial Court. I do not think the hon. Member meant what he then said, but when he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow he will find that his words implied a reflection on the arbitration court. He said that the court just accepted the management's case. That is an implied reflection, because the court went into the matter in the greatest detail and in a most impartial manner, and I am sure that its views were not just an acceptance of what the management side had to say.

Mr. Mellish

If I gave that impression, I withdraw it immediately. The point I was making was that the management's case at that time was that wages in the National Health Service should be allied to those in local government, and the court accepted that point of view. I was attempting to deal with the point that in 1956 the argument on the management side is that local government wages should not be the criterion. This is part of the reason why there is so much consternation.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

That is still a matter to be decided by the court of arbitration.

It was not only the issue of parity with the N.J.C. rates. There was the fact that the staff side was asking for a higher rise than the management had offered. After the arbitration court's inquiry, the staff side accepted the offer initially made by the management side. At that time many hon. Members received complaints abouts delays in the Whitley machinery. However, the fact emerges that had the staff side accepted the management's side offer in the first place, the delay would not have been so long. The arbitration court decided on the rates of the offer by the management side. It is a little hard to blame the Whitley machinery and the Management Side for delay when it arose over the desire of the staff side not to accept the original offer and to go to arbitration.

Mr. Mellish

This is most unfair. I am sure the hon. Lady does not wish to make the position worse than it is, but her words will be read by the staff. The reason for the argument about local government rates was that a decision on the point had been reached earlier. The staff side had no alternative but to go to arbitration to obtain a ruling. I remember telling the hon. Lady that, although the staff side did not get all it wanted at that time, it was consoled by the thought that the arbitration court had decided that local government wage rates should be the yardstick, for it could say that in future claims it would know where it stood. The whole burden of my case is that in 1956 the yardstick of the local government wage rates has been abandoned.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

I will deal with the hon. Member's point on local government rates, but on the question of whether every grade and every rate can be exactly similar to local government service, is it beyond the bounds of possibility that classification and responsibility in an entirely different service may not have an exact parallel in another service? That is an issue to be decided on this claim in the industrial court.

The fact remains that increases which had been offered by the management side in the negotiations under that claim were those finally settled by the court of arbitration. The remaining claim is the one now in dispute and it has just gone to arbitration. In its original form—the hon. Member for Bermondsey did not mention this—it would have resulted in increases for most grades from 20 to 27 per cent. on existing salaries, up to a maximum of£560 on the top salary.

That claim was rejected by the management and subsequently withdrawn by the staff side. In December, 1955—not very long ago for all the complaints about Whitley delay—a claim was submitted for a 12½ per cent. increase on all salaries subject to the present dispute.

Mr. Mellish


Miss Hornsby-Smith

That was submitted by the staff side and was the basis of its claim.

Mr. Mellish

Because local government had applied such increases itself.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

Local government has not applied 12½ per cent. increases.

Mr. Mellish

That was the point of the claim.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

The increase granted by the N.J.C. was not 12½ per cent.

The National Health Service management side made a counter-proposal which, broadly speaking, was 5 per cent. on existing salaries with a maximum of£100. The actual percentage increase would be higher than 5 per cent. at some points and lower at others. A certain amount of agreement on the lower grades was reached and in the main the claim in dispute is on the higher and not the lower salaries. On the rest of the claims, particularly in the higher grades, there has been clear disagreement, because in many cases there has been a demand for absolute parity with certain grades which are claimed to be completely parallel with the N.J.C. scale.

The matter has been dealt with quickly. The claim was submitted on 19th December and the joint secretaries, after failure to agree, wrote to the Ministry of Labour in agreed terms of reference for the consideration of the industrial court on 31st January. The senior grades were discussed. There was failure to agree and the reference to the industrial court has been widened to include the senior grades and both sides of the Whitley Council have asked for arbitration.

Here I should like to emphasise that nine organisations on the Staff Side of the Whitley Council are concerned. The hon. Member for Bermondsey seemed to suggest that all those parties were in favour of the particular action and representations which N.A.L.G.O. has made for Ministerial intervention, which has been the aim of telegrams and letters sent by N.A.L.G.O. to hon. Members and the Ministry.

I again emphasis that for the Minister to intervene at this stage would not only be quite improper, but would be contrary to the statutory procedure which this House has laid down under the Industrial Courts Act, 1919. We cannot wholly assume that all the other eight organisations on the staff side desire Ministerial intervention. They are going to arbitra- tion and will have every opportunity to make their case and produce their evidence. I believe that it is important that nothing should be said to attempt to prejudice or anticipate what those proceedings will bring forth.

Mr. Mellish

I am very much obliged to the hon. Lady for giving way so often. I wanted to get this clear. I understand that she cannot stand at that Box when something is going to an industrial court and do something at that moment; but whatever time one raises this matter is the wrong time. If I put down a Question when no matter is before the industrial court, asking whether she is aware of the grave dissatisfaction of hospital staffs with their wages, she will tell me that it is a matter for the Whitley Council; if the Whitley Council has received a claim, she says that to say anything in the House would be detrimental to future negotiations. Will she tell me when to raise it?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

The vast majority of hon. Members accept the principle of the Industrial Courts Act and of arbitration arrangements.

Mr. Mellish

No one more than I.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

They accept the basis of Whitley Councils. I am sure that the hon. Member would deplore as much as anyone any suggestion that hon. Members should decide rates of pay. I am sure that he will agree that there must be joint machinery between employer and employee. I am sure that I carry him with me on that. That view is held not only by Members on this side, but by Members opposite who, when in Government, said that wage rates and negotiations were not a matter for this House. It is important, having accepted that principle, that we should recognise that we must not go beyond the limitations which we have put on ourselves by Act of Parliament.

Mr. Mellish

If I am able to show to the hon. Lady—as I believe I have shown to the rest of the Members of this House—that the machinery is inadequate, or is not working as it should work in the view of most of us and that something should be done, is it too much to ask for the hon. Lady's assurance that she will look at the machinery? I should still like a reply to my question about eight civil servants.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

The representation on the Council was agreed between the parties. There has been a recommendation from the Guillebaud Committee. We have to wait until various interested parties submit views to the Minister and I should not like to anticipate what might come out of those representations.

Mr. H. Butler

I realise the difficulty and complexity of the points with which the hon. Lady has to deal. In addition to the point raised by my hon. Friend, can the hon. Lady tell the House whether she has received any letters from the secretaries of regional boards pointing out their difficulties in getting staffs under existing arrangements?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

I am quite prepared to deal with the hon. Member's point about staff in a moment.

Mr. Mellish

What about the eight civil servants?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

The hon. Member refers to eight civil servants, but it is fair to recognise that the Ministry of Health is the paying Department and is responsible to and through Parliament for the money it spends. I do not think that the hon. Member would suggest for a moment that Parliament should vote money without a hand in its dispensation. Whether, as the outcome of the deliberations on the Guillebaud Report, any Amendments may arise, is a matter for a decision when all the views from all sides are taken into account.

Again, I would emphasise that the recommendation of the Guillebaud Committee was to increase the management side and not the staff side. I think that the hon. Member is being unjust to civil servants. He is attacking them rather savagely tonight. They have upon them a very great responsibility and, indeed, they carry out their duties with great integrity and in a very conscientious manner. I think that it is a great reflection on them that the hon. Member should consider them either unnecessary or unworthy for the task they are called upon to do in the Whitley Machinery.

I should like to say a few words about the background of the N.J.C. and the National Health Service Whitley Councils. The existing salary scales, which are going to arbitration, took effect from 1st March, 1955. The claims of both the N.J.C. and the Whitley National Health Service Council were considered in the latter part of last year. On 14th December, 1955, the National Joint Council for local authority staffs reached agreement on salaries up to£1,200. On an average this settlement gave a 5 per cent. increase at the maximum of each scale, so that the offer which applied to the lower grades in the comparable National Health Service Whitley administration and clerical grades was comparable to that granted by the N.J.C.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Lady, quite rightly, is reading from information which has been supplied to her. I have information which has been given to me. I am sure that these increases were from 5 per cent. to 9 per cent. and that alongside that were improved subsistence rates and the local authorities were told that they could, if they wished, introduce a five-day week.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

The basis was a 5 per cent. increase at the maximum of each scale. For grades above A.P.T. Ill the National Joint Council agreed increases of a larger percentage, for reasons, which they made plain in those negotiations, were peculiar to local authority service.

Here we come to the crux of one of the disparities between the higher grades. The hon. Member is aware that when the 1951 claim was made members in the higher grades of salaries, near£1,000, under the N.J.C. machinery were unable to get the rises which the lower grades got. Some of them got only £10; some got nothing at all, because constitutionally that particular Whitley Council could not give rises to anyone whose grade had gone over the£1,000 mark. That restriction did not apply to the National Health Service grades.

Therefore, for three or four years what would have been the comparable National Health Service grades had, in fact, been£40 or£50 ahead of the N.J.C. grades. In the agreement of December that disparity for these senior members of the particular grades in the N.J.C. was righted. The argument which the hon. Gentleman is putting forward is that that same differential should be maintained, but in fact the disability from which certain members who did not get an increase in 1951 under the N.J.C. have suffered for a considerable time has been put right. The hon. Member is suggesting that that differential should be maintained.

It is a problem peculiar to the N.J.C. and one which it had under the constitution of the award of that time. I think it not unreasonable that it should be accepted as a problem peculiar to it which it has righted, and one which does not create a new problem for us. I do not want to go into more details in that matter, because obviously the National Health Service salary grades are before the arbitration court and it would be improper for me to deal with them or to dwell upon them.

Mr. Mellish

I am much obliged to the hon. Lady. In dealing with this matter, she has omitted one very important fact. I omitted it too, so we are both guilty. I forgot to mention, and the hon. Lady has forgotten to mention, that there was a review by the Minister of Health—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

Is the hon. Member making a second speech or an intervention?

Mr. Mellish

It is relevant to the argument the hon. Lady has just used, and I am saying that she has omitted something which is important to this debate. Is the hon. Lady aware that the Minister of Health reviewed these grades and downgraded a great deal of them, so that there are many people today in a different grade to what they were in when they came into the service and cannot, as a result, get an increase in salary? When the hon. Lady is talking about differentials, will she remember that many of these people are now in grades which they were not in at the time of entering the Service, because of the economy drive?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

These are matters which are discussed with the Whitley Council. After a few years' running of the National Health Service, I know that, as the hon. Member quite correctly says, there was a review of all grades, and the new grades were agreed in very detailed discussion with the staff side of the Whitley Council. As is inevitable, even when the staff side agrees 100 per cent. on any particular grade or issue, anyone who does not gain an advantage from the regrading automatically writes to his Member of Parliament and complains bitterly about the Whitley Council.

I personally wrote many replies to hon. Members of this House who took up individual cases, and was able to say that this grading and these particular salary rates for this particular job had been agreed by both sides of the Whitley Council. It is inevitable in regrading that some people gain, while some others do not gain as much, and inevitably they will blame the Council.

We have had a very interesting debate, and I appreciate that I have fallen far short of the hopes which the hon. Member for Bermondsey placed in me, but the hon. Gentleman knows that I could not go very much further, because it is a most important principle that we should not intervene in the arbitration machinery which Parliament has set up and approved. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that in a wider field some other method should be used, he must set about altering the parent Act and not try to persuade the Minister to intervene in what is at the moment the law and procedure in this matter.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

We can all congratulate the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary on the way in which she has stood up to the questioning by my hon. Friends the Members for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler). I have seen nothing like it since I watched Laker and Lock bowling against Worcestershire on a sticky wicket, when they got them all out for 40. They got them out for 24 the day before.

I am not going over much of what has been said, and I agree with the hon. Lady that while this matter is before the arbitration court—no matter how it has managed to get as far as that—it would be wrong of her or her Minister to give any indication as to what he thought should happen. I only wish that the hon. Lady would go and bite the Minister of Education, who is now advising the parties to the Burnham Award to take a particular line; I am quite sure it would mean an easier life for all of us. I am a little concerned about the description which my hon. Friend gave of what happened during the negotiations—a point on which the hon. Lady said nothing. My hon. Friend said—and if I go a bit beyond what he alleged, I hope he will correct me—that the representatives of nine organisations who make up thirteen—

Miss Hornsby-Smith


Mr. Ede

There are thirty people on one side? Of course, they have to agree among themselves and reach a majority, and if sixteen agree on a line, that binds the other fourteen as well as themselves. They meet separately, and then the eighteen meet separately. After all, as I understand it, on a Whitley Council both sides are supposed to be equal in prestige. That is the essence of the thing. This is not a case of the labourer going cap in hand to the boss. The whole essence of Whitleyism, as started by a previous occupant of the Chair of this House, is that both sides are equal partners, working under common duress and trying to arrive at a just decision. I think it important that that position should be preserved and recognised.

My hon. Friend said that there are the forty-eight of them—or as many as turn up—thirty on one side who have to reach a decision and eighteen on the other side. That is very awkward on both sides, because they have an even number. They have had their discussion and each side has put forward at this stage—we will say without other than logical argument—the case they feel. Then eighteen go off to a private room. Apparently, the thirty remain in the room where the discussion has taken place.

Until a comparatively few years ago—at any rate in my lifetime—when a Division was taken in this House, hon. Members in one part of the House went out of the Chamber and the others stayed in and were counted in the Chamber. If an hon. Member did not wish to vote, he had to clear out pretty quick and take care that he did not get into the mob who were being counted outside.

These people go into a private room, and I believe it is generally arranged that there shall be two private rooms. One lot go into one room and the others go into another, and when they feel that the main body can meet again, they again go into the first room. My hon. Friend said—and I regard this as a matter fundamental to the whole issue of Whitleyism—that the eighteen go out, and when they have reached a decision as to whether they can agree with what the other side have put forward their secretary—

Mr. Mellish

And chairman.

Mr. Ede

Well, do not let us get down to individuals—one of their number comes and announces to the others what is the decision of the eighteen.

I am bound to say that I do not think that is in accordance with the Whitley spirit, and I hope, and I am sure I carry my hon. Friends with me on this, that the Parliamentary Secretary will feel that if on inquiry that is substantiated as the procedure which is followed, she should intimate that it could be improved. It is just the kind of thing which sometimes enables awkward corners to be got round without one side feeling that they have been rather spoken down to by the other.

If there were such an occasion when the others, when one lot, cleared off—I do not care which side it was—and left the others to send some messenger in to find out what was the decision, and they were told, "They have all gone home but I can tell you if you want to know," that, I think, is a piece of discourtesy which, if it occurred—I am taking the statement of my hon. Friend, to which the hon. Lady did not allude, as representing the feeling that there is on one side of this body—

Mr. Mellish

If I may help my right hon. Friend, it is perfectly true, I understand, that in fact they waited for an hour. When they went to inquire, they were told by the secretary and chairman that the management side had gone home. They said that they were remaining behind to arrange another meeting and they would be told.

Mr. Ede

Whatever it was, I hope that the practice will never be followed again of eighteen people having retired into another room, not coming backen bloc to meet other people, who are supposed to be their equals, engaged in the job of serving this particular industry.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

It would be most unfortunate if it went out from this House that this was the general procedure. It is the normal procedure for the full committee to meet when decisions are given, and I would be most grateful to the hon. Member for Bermondsey if he would give me details of this case, because it is certainly not common practice. On one occasion when I was in the Ministry I ran into a member of the management side, and when I asked him what he was doing there he told me that the staff side wanted to discuss a point; the management side had cleared out to allow them to do so, and were waiting to go back. The procedure operates both ways.

Mr. Ede

I do not mind that. There are thirty people on the staff side; a room that will comfortably accommodate eighteen might not be suitable for thirty, and I do not think anyone can complain if one side has to leave and go to another room as a matter of convenience. But when the meeting breaks up, I think that it should be a breaking up of forty-eight members, or as many of them as possible. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for intervening, because it establishes the fact that the Ministry regards the arrangements which I have outlined as the normal procedure.

We should be told a little more about the eighteen members. I understand that those members are divided into two groups, one of eight and the other of ten. Eight are nominated by somebody in the Civil Service, and ten by the regional boards. Does the Minister or the Treasury nominate the eight?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

Ten are nominated by the regional hospital boards—the executive councils, the boards of governors, and the hospital management committees—six are nominated by the Minister of Health, and two by the Secretary of State for Scotland. They are not necessarily civil servants.

Mr. Ede

They are the nominees of the Minister—either in England or Scotland—who is responsible for the service.

Do they go to the meeting with instructions from the Minister, or do they listen to the case first and then report to the Minister? The hon. Lady will appreciate the difference. I have been a Minister and I realise that a difficulty sometimes arises in these matters because persons nominated by a Minister receive prior instructions as to how far they can go. The hon. Lady will realise that they have to convey to the other side, as politely as they can, that when a certain stage has been reached they cannot go any further. This may be necessary on some occasions.

I hope that the hon. Lady will not think I am attacking her in any way; I am doing my best to have this procedure so elucidated that everyone will know what is expected of them. I am not asking the hon. Lady for any snap answers. I am trying not to set any traps for her which she might regret having been led into—even if I were capable of leading the hon. Lady into temptation. Having been responsible for educating a brother of hers, I can say that they are a tough lot in her family.

There may be occasions when. before the negotiations are over, it is necessary to say, "The most you can go to is this," but I venture to say that those occasions should be as rare as possible. At any rate, there should be a first meeting at which both sides can approach the matter without feeling that limits have been placed upon them. It might be very helpful on occasion if the Minister's representatives, whether civil servant or not, could go to the Minister and say, "This is the case." In certain circumstances there is a lot of feeling about this, because everyone who has been an employed person knows that a lot of the things about which there is most feeling are very often not very well understood by the people on the other side of the table, and one can sometimes ease small grievances in a way that greatly helps in dealing with difficult matters.

If there is a feeling on one side that the people on the other are union representatives who are being tied too tightly by their union with instructions, or a Minister's representatives who have been tied by his instructions beforehand, it does not make for very helpful procedure.

I was very struck by one thing which my hon. Friend said—that a board had only managed to recruit three boys from grammar schools, and that those three had left the service since. That is a very serious state of affairs. I hope that it will be inquired into and that it will be ascertained exactly why that peculiar state of affairs should exist. In a grammar school which should supply staff for this kind of authority in the area one does not want it to be thought that it is not a good thing for the boys to enter that authority's service.

I am not now saying that is said by the staff. I have advised the hon. Lady's brother in days gone by and I know exactly how much weight he thought should be attached to that advice. Speaking now, I would not differ from the views he used to hold. It is, however, a bad thing when among the boys at such a school it is said, "You recollect that Smith, Jones and Robinson went there and they pretty soon cleared out." That does not encourage the right type of boy in the locality to apply for these jobs, and I hope that something will be done about it.

I join in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey for raising this matter and for raising it in such a way that we have been able to have a good, widely-ranging discussion. I am quite sure that I speak for my two hon. Friends in saying that we all recognise the limitation necessarily imposed on the hon. Lady by the stage which these negotiations have reached. All we would ask is that she should report the spirit of this debate—which I hope I have as nearly as possible epitomised—so that where there are possibilities of improvement they shall be seized.

I understand that these boards are set up under Statutory Instruments, and if it is necessary to revise them in order to meet any of the criticisms that have been made, the hon. Lady can feel assured that if she brings such revisions forward—possibly after consultation with my hon. Friends—we shall be quite willing to do all we can to help the establishment of machinery that would enjoy the full confidence of all concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Nine o'clock.