HC Deb 26 July 1972 vol 841 cc1999-2003
Dr. Miller

I beg to move, Amendment No. 22, in page 17, line 26, leave out paragraph (a) and insert: '(a) to reassess in consultation with the trade unions and other representative organisations concerned, the arrangements for the recruitment, appointment, promotion, remuneration and conditions of service of staff, and to advise the Secretary of State and the appropriate authorities of changes which it may recommend to such arrangements'. I move the Amendment on behalf of myself and 10 of my hon. Friends who tender their apologies for being unable to be present tonight.

The Amendment refers to what will be known as the Scottish National Health Service Staff Commission. We feel that the Commission's functions should be much more explicit than at present adumbrated in subsection 3(a), which concerns the recruitment, appointment and promotion of staff.

In a modern context, this should be a matter for the trade union movement. At present, the Whitley Council organisation deals with it. I have done some research into the Whitley Council. I have in my hand a booklet published in April, 1920, entitled "Whitley Councils—What they are and what they are doing", by the right hon. J. H. Whitley, M.P. In this booklet appear the terms of reference of the original Whitley Committee. They make interesting reading, particularly in the light of what is happening today. There are two terms of reference, as follows:

  1. "(1) To make and consider suggestions for securing a permanent improvement in the relations between Employers and Workmen.
  2. (2) To recommend means for securing that industrial conditions affecting the relations between Employers and Workmen shall be systematically reviewed by those concerned."
The Government could, perhaps, do well to pay heed to those two terms of reference proposed for the original Whitley Council. Incidentally, the price of that booklet was 6d. There was another one, priced at 4d., "The Whitley System Explained—for Civil Servants and Others", which went into considerable detail on the sort of problems with which the Whitley Councils were intended to deal.

12.30 a.m.

We contend that the Bill does not enshrine the spirit of negotiation in the modern context and that the old Whitley Council concept is out-moded and should be replaced by something else, by negotiation and consultation with the trade unions and other representative organisations concerned in the National Health Service, so as to give employees more equitable arrangements than they have at present.

In an earlier debate, I said that, with the recent increases, the average remuneration for the general medical practitioner in Scotland was £8,000 to £8,500 a year. Unfortunately, for many employees in the service the scales of payment fall drastically below anything received by the average practitioner. There are about 10,000 medical laboratory technicians employed in the National Health Service. The pay which these essential people receive is abysmally low, and the Whitley Council arrangements have made only marginal improvements in their salary scales, especially for the lower and middle grades, though the top grades are a little better off. A highly-skilled senior technician, for instance, still receives less than £2,000 a year.

The purpose of the Amendment is to bring negotiations into a different arena, to ensure that there is adequate representation by the trade unions, particularly the one which is most involved in representing the medical laboratory technicians, to which I have the honour to belong, but bringing in also other trade unions representing Health Service employees. The time has come for the antiquated and creaking Whitley Council negotiating machinery for salaries and conditions to be replaced by something which is more in keeping with modern concepts of negotiation between an employer, which in this instance is the State, and employees who are carrying out very important tasks in the health service.

I must thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you have had a hand in this, for permitting this Amendment to be discussed. It did not have in Committee as full a discussion as it should have had. There is a very strong feeling among the trade unions representing employees in the National Health Service who perform a most valuable service that their opportunities for putting forward proposals about remuneration and conditions of service are not adequate or satisfactory because of the outmoded Whitley Council machinery.

I ask the Under-Secretary to give thought to this matter. The Bill will be a blueprint for the proposals in the English Bill, and many of our English counterparts in the House will be putting forward views similar to those which I have expressed.

Mr. Monro

An absolutely identical Amendment to this Amendment was discussed in Committee where the case was ably put by the hon. Member for Both-well (Mr. James Hamilton). At the end of the debate the hon. Gentleman accepted the Government's case and withdrew the Amendment.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin-grove (Dr. Miller) has put forward two points. The first is that the Whitley Council machinery is out of date and should be replaced. Secondly, he has doubts about the staff commission. As I said in Committee, the Bill is not a vehicle for changing the Whitley Council machinery. It has worked well for a long time, but it will have to be modified subsequent to the passing of the Bill. The existing Whitley machinery is based on voluntary agreement, and any new machinery would need to be discussed between management and the staff of the new authorities once they have been set up. It certainly is not possible to include in the Bill a change of this nature at this stage.

The Staff Commission, in its shadow form, if I may call it that, has already been set up and is ready to begin to ask the different organisations and shades of opinion for views on the transfer of staff. The hon. Member knows, as I know, and I know that the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. John Smith) knows, that the Staff Commission will consult the trade unions. Indeed, a member of the commission is a very distinguished trade unionist himself. I have given assurances in the House and outside that those presently in the Health Service would have very special consideration throughout the deliberations of the Staff Commission.

We would hope that there would be the very minimum, if any, redundancies in Scotland. We must accept that some senior staff may have to move to different areas to retain their senior positions, but I think it is clear from what I have said before, particularly in my detailed speech in Committte, that the Staff Commission will work well, and it has been generally accepted in Scotland.

The Whitley machinery should not be disturbed by this Bill at this stage, and I would ask the hon. Member to withdraw his Amendment, as his hon. Friend the Member for Both well withdrew his in Committee.

Dr. Miller

I appreciate that it is rather difficult in a Bill of this description to make an Amendment with such far-reaching and comprehensive aspects as this one. I am sure that the Under-secretary accepts that there are very grave discrepancies in the operation of the Whitley negotiating machinery, but in view of the fact that he indicates that the Staff Commission will operate more closely with the trade union movement, and that, perhaps, we should wait to see what evolves from this type of collaboration, I, with some degree of reluctance, beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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