HC Deb 09 January 1974 vol 867 cc1-4

Mr. Dalyell (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement on the strike of Scottish ambulancemen.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Hector Monro)

In the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on 19th December—[Vol. 866, c. 319–21]—in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), he gave details of the offer made to the Staff Side on 12th December. It had earlier been agreed to rectify an anomaly that had arisen following the November 1972 agreement by pay ing time-and-a-half rate for Saturday morning working and to give two extra statutory days holiday a year.

This offer is precisely the same as that accepted by the same trade unions for ambulancemen in England and Wales. It is a good offer and together with the rectification of the anomaly would mean an increase of £4.50 a week to the average weekly earnings of ambulancemen bringing them to just over £40. The trade unions were also assured that after April there would be a Health Service Whitley Council for ambulancemen, and if the men would return to normal working the existing efficiency agreement would be examined in detail to see whether bony payments would be appropriate.

Despite all this, the men decided to continue their industrial action and management had to say reluctantly, and after six weeks of industrial action, that there remained no justification for continuing to pay the men for work that was not being done. I regret very much that the men then decided on a complete withdrawal of labour—and this against the advice of their trade unions. But I am encouraged that about 200 of the 1,100 ambulancemen have now returned to normal working and there are signs that this number is increasing.

Since the all-out strike action started on Monday we have been able to provide in all areas a complete and effective emergency and accident service by the use of volunteers who responded so readily and in such large numbers to the call that my right hon. Friend made on Sunday. We now have over 2,500 volunteers registered—more than double the number of ambulancemen in Scotland—and they have done a magnificent job in keeping this essential service running so well. I am sure that everyone will wish to join me in saying "Thank you" to these public-spirited people and also to all the officers in the service who have responded so well to the calls that have been made on them.

Mr. Dalyell

Since, in contrast to the position in England and Wales, there is a direct Scottish Office responsibility, what are the Government doing to get the parties round the table?

Mr. Monro

My officials and myself are in constant consultation with the trade unions and I am ready to see them at any time they wish.

Mr. MacArthur

Will my hon. Friend, in fulfilment of his Scottish Office responsibility, call the widest possible attention to the fact that a large number of ambulancemen in Scotland have kept to their posts and are continuing to perform their splendid public service? Further, will he find a way of expressing more widely than he has done today the gratitude of the public and of hon. Members for the great service to the public given by those people who have so generously volunteered their services to keep going this essential service to the public?

Mr. Monro

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. As I have indicated, about 200 ambulancemen have remained at work, and I am grateful to them. I echo my hon. Friend's statement that many volunteers have come forward and are doing an excellent job.

Mr. Millan

Although it is very satisfactory that emergency services have been kept going by the use of volunteers, is it not critical that ambulancemen who normally behave very responsibly should have gone to the extreme length of withdrawing even emergency services? Can the hon. Gentleman be more positive about the continuing negotiations and perhaps say something more specific about the possibility of efficiency payments being made, because it is perhaps in this way that there is a possibility of resolving this very difficult dispute?

Mr. Monro

I have indicated to the unions through my officials that, as soon as the men return to normal working, we shall go into the matter of efficiency payments in detail and give it the fullest consideration, and certainly we would start doing that tomorrow if the men would return to work. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my officials and myself are ready to meet the unions tomorrow if they would like us to do so.

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