HC Deb 10 February 1956 vol 548 cc2035-44

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Studholme.]

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)

I want to draw the attention of the House to what have for some time seemed to me to be a number of cases of real injustice, although their total number is perhaps not large. They are, nevertheless, unjust in the way that things are working today. I refer to the salaries of the hospital farm managers. There are few of them now——

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Studholme.]

Mr. Fort

I was saying that the number of hospital farm managers in this country is really very few, scarcely 140 at the present time. The injustice is in the salaries paid to those farm managers in the lowest grade.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

How many are there?

Mr. Fort

I was saying that the total was 140 altogether, and perhaps of those 100 or so are in the lowest grade.

According to the regulations of the Ministry of Health, the following factors ought to be taken into account in assessing the grade in which these hospital farm managers are to be put, and on which their salaries depend: the total acreage of the farm and the proportion which is devoted to crops, vegetables and fruit; the number and type of livestock; and the estimated annual turnover. This list of factors omits the success a farm manager may have in changing what may be a run-down farm or, at any rate, a farm which, for one reason or another, is not in the best possible state, into a profitable farm.

The case to which my attention was drawn in my own constituency was just such a one as that. When my constituent took over the farm is was losing nearly £3,000 a year. It is now making rather more than £1,000 a year. I think I need give only one other figure, and that is for the milk production. When he took the farm over it was yielding about 54,000 gallons of milk a year, or about two gallons per milking cow. At the present time it is yielding rather more than 85,000 gallons a year or well over three gallons a cow, and that is well up to the standards in that part of East Lancashire, where farming conditions are difficult. There is no doubt that my constituent has been doing a good job, and there is no doubt that farm managers who have been graded in the lowest grade, Grade I, in other parts of the country are doing an equally good job, and yet they receive very little pay.

The scale which was originally laid down was that in the lowest grade the starting salary was £500 rising by seven annual increments of £25 a year to £675. Men in Grade III started at £740 and rose to £950. There was an intermediate grade which gave a maximum of £820 per year. The scales have now been raised by about £50 a year each, and yet my constituent, who is graded in the third grade, earns, even under present conditions, scarcely £25 a year more than his own head stockman. It must seem unfair to a man who is carrying real responsibilities and making a great success of the farm to find that he is earning scarcely 10s. a week more than his head stockman.

I have taken up this matter strenuously with both the regional hospital board and the Ministry. As always, both have been courteous and fair in what they have written to me, but I think that the difficulty with which those who have done the grading are confronted is very well summarised in a letter in which the Manchester Regional Hospital Board said: But the basis of grading is not the condition of the farm or the worth of the individual in charge. It is the size of the job, and here again the size of the job is not measured solely by the size of the farm. More important is the kind of farm and the number, variety and extent of the responsibilities carried. It is quite obvious that if the qualifications are being interpreted in that way, and I have no doubt that it is a fair and legal interpretation of the Ministry's instructions, the result is often unfair. When a farmer who is making a good job in building up a farm which has been running down or, as in the case I have mentioned, where the place is geographically difficult, it is unfair that because of this interpretation of the qualifications it is found impossible to grade him higher and give him more than what is really a very low salary.

The other point which I have to mention, though I find it difficult to present strong evidence on it, is that there is a suspicion that the interpretation of the regulations varies very much between one regional hospital board and another. In the case of this hospital board there were ten farm managers to be graded. Only one was graded in the highest grade. Another achieved it when he protested about it. The remaining eight appealed under the Whitley Council arrangements, but only to be raised from the lowest to the intermediate grade. Only two were successful. I find it difficult to believe that among ten hospital farm managers in the north-west only one-third could be assessed at more than the lowest grade.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health whether she would consider doing what would go a long way towards meeting the sense of unfairness from which these managers suffer. It would be to introduce at least one other step in the grading scale, or alternatively to redraft the qualifications in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture so that the condition of the farm as well as its type could be taken into account in the grading.

I suggest that my hon. Friend should consider introducing at least one other grade between the lowest and middle grades so that one would have a bottom grade paid as at present from £550 to £725 and an intermediate grade receiving perhaps £575 rising by increments to £750. In that way those running farms, if not of the most varied types but other than the smallest, could feel that they were getting some reward for the extra work they were having to undertake, and the difficult work which they are having to do as farm managers, certainly in the area I know.

If the hon. Lady would consider either loosening the definition of the qualifications to be taken into account when grading or, in conjunction with that, to introduce at least one other grade, she would be removing a sense of real unfairness which is affecting a small number of people, because those who are doing such an excellent job should not be treated as they are being treated today.

4.12 p.m.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) for the very fair way in which he has raised this point. I accept the fact that there are difficult problems in assessing the work of the farm managers because no two farms are identical in size or in the manner in which their land is carved up. Much depends on whether it is arable, woodland or pasture land, how much livestock there is and the function and work of the individual farm.

Taking all those difficulties into account and recognising them, the scales for farm managers were negotiated by the Administrative and Clerical Staffs Whitley Council in 1952. This Council had amongst its members, both on the management and on the staff side, people who were fully qualified to deal with, and to speak from their experience of, agricultural matters. Taking into account all the difficulties and variations, they came to the decision that three grades provided the most appropriate solution to deal with the comparatively small number of farm managers working in the National Health Service.

The present grades receive the same general salary increases as apply to other administrative staff. For Grade 3, which is the top, the scale is from £810 a year rising by various increments to a maximum of £1,045. For Grade 2 the scale is from £720 rising to £910, and for Grade 1 the scale is from £560 rising to £750. Some slight alterations were made in 1954, but I have not the figures here. There were then 158 whole-time and three part-time farm managers.

I would not disagree with my hon. Friend as to the great diversity between one farm and another. Nor do I underestimate the difficulties of the Council in formulating the criteria which should decide these three grades, because farms in the National Health Service vary from 75 acres to quite a number of over 1,000 acres and there is one farm of 2,135 acres.

Apart from the size of the farm, there are many other factors to be taken into account. My hon. Friend suggested that sufficient consideration was not given to diversity. Yet it is exactly on diversity that grading is decided. This is not necessarily considered on acreage, but on how much is given over to the raising of special crops, on how large are the herds on the farm, and other particular responsibilities. It is very much a matter for decision and judgment by the Council, and not least its agricultural members, to pronounce upon the comparable responsibilities of farm managers.

The grades are related to their responsibilities. Account is taken of how much is cultivated, how much of the land is woodland, how much is arable, what special crops are grown on the farm, what vegetables are grown and what livestock is kept. That is a wide range of analysis in order to give as fair an assessment as possible of what responsibilities are involved for any farm manager.

The three grades were fixed after very considerable discussion. It was felt that having more grades might give rise to even more altercation—if the grades were narrower, farm managers would be likely to think that they should be in the grade immediately above that in which they had been placed—than a clear-cut division into three grades, as at present. When the gradings were fixed, advice was taken from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—which, naturally, had a far wider experience in agricultural matters than my Ministry—and that Ministry's knowledge and experience was taken into account when assessing the various types of farming.

It is always easy to criticise a grade. No grade has ever been fixed in any section of the National Health Service or any other service without someone feeling that he should be in a higher grade than the one he was in. Hon. Members not infrequently receive letters from constituents who feel that they have been unduly badly treated because they have not made the grade above the one in which they find themselves.

Mr. Buchanan was appointed to Grade 3, and his grading was on the basis of acreage, livestock——

Mr. Fort

Mr. Buchanan was appointed to Grade 1.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. I was taking the grades the wrong way round.

Mr. Buchanan was appointed to Grade 1, and initially he appealed to be graded as high as Grade 3, which covers farms with vastly greater acreages and vastly greater responsibilities than those of the farm which he controls. His farm consisted of 276 acres, of which by far the greater part was permanent grassland and woodlands, and only 51 acres was arable land. There was a certain amount of livestock. On the assessment of the grading committee, he was put into Grade 1, the lowest grade. I apologise. My hon. Friend has misled me; and I wrongly gave way when he intervened. Grade 3 is the lowest and Grade 1 is the highest.

Mr. Fort

I have here A.C. circular No. 28 showing the salary scale for Grade 1 as £500 rising to £675, and that for Grade 3 as £740 rising to £950.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

I have minutes with me which I will examine straight away, and we will settle this matter once and for all. Grade 1 is the lowest, and Grade 3 is the highest. Grade 1 was the one in which Mr. Buchanan found himself, and Grade 3 was the one for which he initially appealed.

I would emphasise that the type of farm and its condition are the criteria taken into account in assessing responsibilities and the grading of the farm managers. In the case which we are considering, it was on the basis of the size of the farm, the variety of farming and the responsibilities that decided the committee to grade the farm manager in Grade 1.

Upon Mr. Buchanan's initial appeal for the top grade, the appeals committee—there were on it three representatives of the management side and three of the staff side, and one representative at least on each side was experienced in agricultural matters—agreed that the manager had been correctly graded. The Regional Hospital Board then considered whether, since the date of this farm manager's appointment, and in view of the work he had done, subsequent changes in the circumstances of the farm merited his being upgraded.

I should like here to say that it is not correct merely to say that, because someone has made improvements in a farm, that automatically merits higher grading. There is a range of increments between the lowest and the highest rate in any one grade by which a regional board raises the salary of a member of its staff. The very purpose of that grading and the increments which are laid down in any one grade is to give an opportunity to reward experience, length of service, or, indeed, progress in any particular job.

It would be unfair to suggest that merely because an improvement was made in a farm, that automatically rated a higher grade of salary. One might take over a farm which had been grossly neglected and it might be quite easy to show better results. On the other hand, a highly efficient farm manager might take over from an equally efficient farm manager and have no leeway to show improvement on the excellent results prevalent on the farm hitherto.

The Regional Board considered whether, since the initial grading of this man, there was any change in the circumstances which would justify it recommending a higher grade. It decided that his duties and responsibilities, despite—and I acknowledge this—an increase in output, particularly on the milk side, were not such that there was a case for upgrading to a higher grade of farm managers' salary. As a result of that decision, the farm manager lodged a second appeal, and on this occasion asked to go into the second, that is, the middle, grade.

On 31st March, 1955, his appeal was heard. Again, after going into the case in great detail—and the farm manager was represented and supported by his own professional organisation; had his case fully put and evidence fully considered—both sides of the committee agreed that there was no case, in the circumstances of his present employment for upgrading. I should like to say about these appeals that twenty-four appeals to the Farm Managers' Appeals Committee have been heard. An agreed decision has been reached on eighteen; seven appeals were allowed and eleven failed.

In running the National Health Service it is obvious that there must be some method of grading. One cannot have different kinds of salary for each hospital, for each farm, or whatever the case may be. There must be some basis of analysis and grading of salaries. The more scales there are, the more necessary it is to provide a very full definition in the greatest detail of the various factors to be used for assessment purposes, and an evaluation of the weight to be attached to those factors in assessing the grade.

All those points were initially considered by the staff and management sides of the Whitley Council when the grades were made. They recognised all the difficulties, realised the immense diversity from one farm to another and came seriously to the conclusion that the position was best met by the three grades which have been laid down and which still operate. A great amount of time was spent in trying to find a formula. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe that it is extraordinarily difficult to get a watertight formula which will even match two farms, let alone all of them, down to the last identical detail. A great deal of time was spent by the committee trying to find the formula to meet varying contingencies that operate among hospital farms.

Realising the difficulties, it was finally agreed that a broad assessment into these three grades was the best solution. To put it in another way, a hospital secretary, with 1,000 beds of normal occupancy, has responsibilities far greater than somebody with a responsibility in respect of 300 beds; but the occupancy of hospital beds is relatively straightforward to assess. A farm of 1,000 acres where less than half is cultivated may in fact be nowhere near as complex or call for as much farming experience as one of 500 acres where the farming is of great diversity, where there are livestock and the maximum amount of land is cultivated. The definition is, therefore, extremely difficult to draw up.

I do not deny the problems which the hon. Member mentioned, but I do not think the solution lies in trying to define yet another grade. What prompts me to believe that this farm manager has not been unfairly dealt with is the fact that in both appeals both the staff and the management side—in assessing the work he does, the size of the farm, the diversity of the work done on it, and the responbilities which he has to carry—have reached an agreed decision. As my hon. Friend is aware from what he was told when he took up the matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister, my right hon.

Friend does not feel that in those circumstances he should intervene on that decision. Generally, we do not believe that an additional grade is called for or would in fact solve the problem of what I agree is a difficult definition which we believe is best served at present by the three grades laid down by the Whitley Council.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Four o'clock.