HC Deb 28 May 1970 vol 801 cc2037-42
The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Richard Crossman)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now make the further statement I promised yesterday about the latest Report from the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I met representatives of the medical and dental professions this morning. They put to us in the strongest terms their view that the publication of the report should not be delayed until after the General Election.

My right hon. Friend and I reaffirmed the Government view that the report and the Government's decisions on it should be published simultaneously. But in view of the strength of the representations made by the professions, we informed them that the date of publication, with the announcement of the Government's decisions, would be brought forward to Thursday, 4th June.

The representatives of the professions then sought, to use their own words, " an unequivocal assurance that the Government would not in its decisions in any way modify the Kindersley recommendations either by phasing or by reducing the totality of the award."

My right hon. Friend, in reply, stressed that the Government had not yet completed their consideration of what is an extremely complex report and that he could not agree to give any indication of the Government's decisions before publication on 14th June.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

As the right hon. Gentleman has given way so far, why will he not announce the decision now to accept the recommendations? I am sure that we all hope that the professions will accept the position, but does not the Minister see that, on past experience, they are fully justified in fearing that he will recant and make an award subject to arbitrary Government action contrary to the intention of the Royal Commission?

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot give that assurance, will he at least give the assurance that, as the Review Body has to take account of the economic situation of the country, if he varies the award, which no Tory Government had to do, he will explain to the House and to the country how the magic improvement in the economy has so rapidly vanished that he cannot afford whatever sum it is?

Mr. Crossman

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. Yesterday, I explained to the House that I had been asked by the professions to publish the report. I replied that I would consider publishing the report and the Government's decision. This I have done, and I have acceded to their request on the ground of the strength of feeling in the professions.

Now a new demand is suddenly put forward that, in addition to publishing on 4th June, I should anticipate publication by announcing a decision now. This is plainly ridiculous. The decision will be announced when the report is published.

Mr. Lipton

While I greet with modified rapture the Government's decision to publish the report and their decision on 4th June, which is only a few days ahead, may I take it that my right hon. Friend's assurance still holds good, that the delay between the final report of the Review Body and 4th June will not be to the prejudice of the medical profession, and, in particular, junior hospital doctors?

Mr. Crossman

I think that I gave a somewhat better assurance than that. I said that no doctor would lose a penny in the sense that it would be retrospectively paid from the day on which we received the report.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we totally dissociate ourselves from the remarks made by the spokesman for the Tory Party? We think that it is perfectly reasonable that the Minister should not make any statement in advance of publication on 4th June, although we reserve the right to criticise any arrangements which are not in accordance with the Kindersley Report?

Mr. Crossman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. This was the point that I put to the doctors and dentists. I said, " It will come out on 4th June. I do not ask you to do more than weigh it and make up your minds about it. But I think that it is reasonable, when we have changed the plan to suit their demand, that you should give us time—because it is an extremely complicated report—to give really considered judgment to it."

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House feel that the junior doctors have a real case and, therefore, welcome the Government's decision to bring forward the date of publication? But is it not also a fact that hon. Gentlemen opposite are totally hypocritical in their demand that the Government should make up their mind at this stage, especially as the Tory election manifesto says that the Government should not make hasty decisions?

Mr. Crossman

I agree with my hon. Friend. I put it to the Opposition spokesmen that they might be unwise, before they have read a line of it, to assume that they can unequivocally support the whole of the Kindersley Report. It would seem to me much better to have our discussion and our thoughts about it when it has been read. That is the point that I put to the doctors; I did not think that I would have to put it to the Opposition as well.

Sir D. Renton

Is it not painfully obvious that if the Government had intended to accept the recommendations of the report they would have published it—and their acceptance of it—with alacrity? Is not their failure to do so to be regarded with great misgiving?

Mr. Crossman

No, I would not have thought so. Reports vary in importance. This is the first basic report. It was promised last year. Last year, there was an interim report, and it was said that this present one would be a basic, far-reaching, and deep-thinking report. Therefore, it is of infinitely greater importance, and it was obviously impossible to publish it without consideration.

Mr. Michael Foot

We all accept that my right hon. Friend will deal with this matter most fairly, but will he undertake not to accept too literally the recommendation made by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Macleod) quite recently, namely, that the way to deal with the wages problem was for the Government particularly to reject all wage demands in the public sector—a policy that would be most unfair to the doctors as it was when it was applied to the nurses by the previous Conservative Administration?

Mr. Crossman

I can tell my hon. Friend that in our thoughts about the Kindersley Report we have borne in mind the fact that we should disregard the advice of the right hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Macleod).

Mr. Doughty

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as a statement of Conservative policy what was said by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr Michael Foot) is wholly inaccurate? Secondly, nobody on this side of the House—or the other side, except for the right hon. Gentleman—knows the contents of the report. It is only part of the whole National Health Service. Can the Government make their recommendations without regard to the many other sides of the Health Service, of which this report can form only one part?

Mr. Crossman

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member. I wish that he could persuade his Front Bench to be equally reasonable.

Mr. Rankin

When my right hon. Friend says that the report will be published on 4th June, does he mean that it will be available for those in Glasgow and the rest of Scotland on 4th June?

Mr. Crossman

I have considered that point. We shall be publishing the report at mid-day on 4th June. I shall consider the problem raised by my hon. Friend and make sure that copies are available in the North at the earliest possible moment. I regret that the report will be published when the House is not sitting, because I would have liked to present it to the House first.

Mr. William Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that the acceptance of the report will not contribute to a wages explosion, about which the Opposition complain so much? Can he say whether his statement today will result in the B.M.A.'s withdrawing its threat of withholding medical certificates?

Mr. Crossman

The threat was not by the B.M.A., but by certain individuals—[Interruption] Well, yes, it was put by the B.M.A. to its council today and yesterday and passed. I told them that I deeply regretted the fact that doctors were making these apparent threats of strike action simply because a report which they wished to see published was being published six days later than they desired. I thought that strike action in hospitals was a little peremptory and violent in response to that.

I am distressed by this and by the mood growing up, especially among junior doctors. I agree that junior doctors have a very strong case, but I do not think that they strengthen it by threatening violent tactics. I really do not. [Interruption] I think that they could learn a lesson from the behaviour of the nurses and what the nurses achieved by not doing what they have done.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the profession accepted the original recommendation of the Royal Commission—under Sir Harry Pilkington—only on the basis expressed in the report that this award was to be implemented as rapidly and as wholly as possible, in order to keep the question of doctors' remuneration out of political considerations? That is why the doctors are suspicious. It is not because the report is not to be published when they wanted it.

Mr. Crossman

There is something in what the hon. Member says about the memories of 1966, although the situation then is not closely similar to the present situation. I would have thought that the doctors themselves should remember that at present they are almost the only group that has a special commission of this kind, and that it is impossible to demand that a Government should automatically and without proper consideration accept anything that the Commission says. That was certainly not the intention of the Government that set up the commission.

Mr. Pavitt

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Government accepted the last Kindersley award within a few weeks, but that the B.M.A. rejected it, and negotiations dragged on for a long time, not because the Government would not accept it but because the B.M.A. would not?

Mr. Crossman

I agree that that is a fair summary of what happened.

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