HC Deb 05 February 1979 vol 962 cc98-168
Mr. Speaker

Before we begin the emergency debate, I should inform the House that, in addition to the application for the emergency debate which I granted, I had received notice of application under Standing Order No. 9 from the hon. Members for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice), Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott), Chelsea (Mr. Scott), Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) and Gosport (Mr. Viggers). I was grateful to all those hon. Members for not seeking to pursue their points of order once it was clear that I had granted the debate.

Secondly, I should like to inform the House that in this debate I shall seek to the utmost of my ability to ensure that every region in the country is covered. I shall try not to call two hon. Members from the same region until I have covered all the regions. It is a short debate, and therefore I ask hon. Members to bear in mind the fact that, if they are lucky enough to catch my eye, they can prevent another hon. Member from speaking if they go on for too long.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

Leave having been given this day under Standing Order No. 9 to discuss: The effects of the current industrial unrest in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in particular the threats presented to the welfare of hospital patients and the disruption of local authority services.

Since I first applied for this debate last week, the situation, as one has come to call it, can be summed up in the immortal words of the Minister for Agriculture: There has been an improvement in the deterioration, if you see what I mean". Although burials in Liverpool have resumed—and we are all thankful for that, at least—and although the immediate threat to London hospitals seems to have been lessened in some degree, a glance at this morning's provincial newspapers shows that we are still facing the mounting chaos which the Prime Minister dismissed as eyewash when he returned from Guadeloupe.

The Western Morning News put the matter as graphically as any when it said: Hospitals, schools, dustbins—gloom. Now water threat. South-West strikers to turn screws. The strikes crisis will get worse in the South-West this week. It goes on to talk of the hospital situation, and so on.

One sees similar stories in The Scotsman and in the East Anglian Daily Times. I shall not quote from all those journals because, Mr. Speaker, you have given us all an injunction to be brief. I hope that hon. Members from the regions will be able to speak for themselves. But it is a sobering experience to look through the provincial newspapers in the Library. There are accident hospitals closed here, emergency facilities withdrawn there, no sterilised equipment beyond a period of 24 hours elsewhere. There is rubbish piling up in the streets, and threats from sewerage workers in the North-East who will not settle for 14 per cent. But underlining all this is the terrible threat to the nation's hospitals and to the Health Service. That is my main concern this evening and it is the subject to which I shall devote most of my remarks.

If one goes into the Library now and reads the London evening papers, one sees that, despite the late-night efforts of the Secretary of State for Social Services, for which we are all grateful, there is still a real and threatening crisis in London.

One sees that a 24-hour strike is threatened in a children's hospital beginning at midnight tonight. One also reads about the disruption of funerals and of mourning relatives being left with a body and no grave in which to put it. These are terrible, macabre stories and we should be thoroughly ashamed that they are happening in this country.

The Scotsman this morning carried the following reassuring headline: Callaghan steps in to stop the rot. I wonder what that means. We also read in the same newspaper that the TUC leaders are due to go to Downing Street today. However, if something is to be done, the Prime Minister should turn to this House. I regret the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is not here, although one appreciates why. Therefore, I hope that the remarks we make in his absence will be duly reported to him. But the tragedy is that the Government have forsaken Parliament for their extra-parliamentary special relationship only to find that those upon whom they rely have no power on the ground. In a nutshell, that is what it is all about.

The Secretary of State for Social Services appears to understand what is happening. In a speech yesterday he is reported as saying: Enough is enough. Now that negotiations will be taking place this week, the time has come not for escalation but for de-escalation … A small minority have carried their activities beyond what their own trade union leadership accept as tolerable. He bemoaned the fact that trade union leaders could not always deliver the goods.

Where has all the power gone? We shall not be persuaded later this week if another social contract is cobbled together. The power should reside in this House in a Government answerable to this House. The people should be able to look to Parliament to rely upon it and to believe that decisions taken here will be honoured and obeyed—until a new Parliament is elected.

It is no good relying on this spurious special relationship. It has been shown up to be totally phoney and hollow. It is still less useful for the Prime Minister to rely on a disunited party. Many Labour Members below the Gangway have given the right hon. Gentleman scant support in his efforts in recent months. The Prime Minister is like a eunuch attempting seduction. He is unlikely to succeed unless he comes to this House and asks us to restore his authority.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Not even then.

Mr. Cormack

The right hon. Gentleman says "Not even then." But I am a sanguine man, and perhaps one has to be. Perhaps I am a little more charitable than the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps the iron has not entered quite so far into my soul.

If the Prime Minister does not wish to face the country in a general election, he must come to this House to ask us to assist him in governing the country. What we want is a response to the challenge, and not an explanation of impotence from the Dispatch Box. That is what we have had day after day from Minister after Minister in the last three ghastly weeks. Ministers have come, or have been summoned here, to answer private notice questions, but they have waffled and prevaricated and have given no clear lead or definite answers.

There are those in this country who are quite prepared to sink differences in seeking to reach agreement on those subjects that matter. In her speech three weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition threw down a challenge, but she also made an offer which she repeated in a remarkable broadcast a few nights later. Answer came there not from the Prime Minister. Last week the Leader of the Liberal Party made a notable broadcast. One does not have to agree with everything he said to appreciate that at least he tried to be constructive. But again answer came there not from the other side.

In the current dispute, surely it should not be beyond the will and wit of Parliament to come to an agreement on certain basic issues. When we examine the public service dispute that is now taking place, we realise that there are few in this House who are other than ashamed and sickened by what they have read, seen and heard in the last couple of weeks. There should be no strikes in areas where people are at risk. They should not be tolerated. [HON. MEMBERS: "Should they be shot?"] They would certainly be shot behind the Iron Curtain, which certain hon. Members opposite seem to find so attractive. They talk of the Nirvana of Eastern Europe, and some of them even go to Cuba and wax eloquent about what goes on there. Yet they come to this House and lecture us about democracy. It is the Left-wing fellow travellers of the Labour Party who sit below the Gangway who are selling the country short and damaging our democracy—and all for a system in which there will be no freedom, no democracy and no strikes.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) is being as inaccurate as he is stupid—and that is saying something. However, there were phrases in the hon. Gentleman's remarks that transgress against the general custom of the House. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will draw them to his attention.

Mr. Speaker

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to recite to me what the phrases were. I thought that they were general phrases and were not directed to any individual. In this House many things are said that neither side likes.

Mr. Cormack

There are Labour Members who will willingly write in the Morning Star and address rallies of the Communist Party, and who will come back from good will visits to countries of Eastern Europe and tell us, with great eloquence and fervour, about the beauties and freedoms that they find there.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I did not understand that the relevance of Standing Order No. 9 included a recital of the politics of Eastern Europe.

Mr. Speaker

We are on the Adjournment and it is a very wide subject—as long as the hon. Gentleman is not asking for legislation.

Mr. Cormack

I was slightly provoked, Mr. Speaker, but I would say that it has everything to do with what we are discussing. Many of us on the Opposition Benches, and many people outside the House, can see that we are moving on a road towards an Eastern Europeantype State. What I am saying should be heard throughout this House and this country. Those Labour Members who hold up the countries of Eastern Europe as being their Nirvana must know that in those places there is no freedom—there is no freedom to strike, there is no freedom to disagree, and there is no freedom in the system such as we enjoy here. I shall not be provoked further. I believe that my remarks are entirely appropriate and in order.

Dealing with the present situation, what I am suggesting is that most hon. Members—in all parts of the House—are agreed on certain basic matters. It is a pity that the Prime Minister cannot come to the House and seek the support of those Members throughout the House—he would have to isolate some of his own Left wing—to enact those measures which will protect the freedoms of the democracy which most of us believe in and wish to see preserved.

The right to strike is one of the most important and fundamental rights, but the right to work is equally important. What many of us are thoroughly sickened by—and the Prime Minister is one of those who is sickened by it—is the fact that striking has become the weapon of first and not of last resort. When sick people and corpses are used as pawns in industrial battles, we have sunk to a pretty low level. Today there are stories in every newspaper which should make every hon. Member sickened and ashamed.

I should like the Prime Minister to agree that these people—who are badly paid and deserve far more than 5 per cent., this rigid 5 per cent. that has been talked about so often—should be given a fair deal. There should be a proper review body set up for them. But in return the right to indiscriminate striking should not be theirs, any more than it is the right of the police or of the Armed Forces.

One of the tragedies of this Government is that the Prime Minister has alienated so many of those people upon whom we all depend. The police and the Armed Forces were seething with discontent before awards were made. It was too late. The Prime Minister has been guilty time and again of reacting and not anticipating. If he had only anticipated a little more, he could have foreseen this public service strike and done something about it.

Last year there was the same procedure with the firemen. Again, moderate people who would not normally go on strike were driven into the arms of militants because of the action of the Government. This has happened again and again.

Last week the Prime Minister came to the Dispatch Box, as he does every Tuesday and Thursday, and talked about picketing. He said that he would not hesitate to cross a picket line. He was called a scab and a blackleg for saying that by one of the hon. Members for Sheffield this morning. One expects that. But there is a great deal of agreement in the House of Commons on picketing and I should have thought that it would not have been beyond the wit and will of most Members to clarify the law which was made so obscure by the Attorney- General when he explained it to us recently.

The country has reached a desperate stage when a picket can say: I'd like to see what happened to him"— this is, the Prime Minister— if he tried to cross this line. What James Callaghan says does not mean anything any more". That is the tragedy of the situation. What the Prime Minister says does not mean anything to those militant hotheads who have taken command of their unions in so many instances.

We have seen this time and again, over the past few weeks, where codes of practice have been hammered out. I am not doubting the good faith of those who have agreed these codes of practice with the unions, but they have been flagrantly disregarded and disobeyed. We must put power back into the hands of responsible trade union leadership. That is what it is all about.

That is why it is so important to consider what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has mentioned so often, the secret ballot. No one will pretend that a secret ballot will always produce the right answer—of course not. We shall frequently be disappointed. What are the trade union leaders so afraid of? They are desperate to see laws passed which oblige companies to disclose information but will not have their own rules opened to the slightest scrutiny. Decisions to strike should always follow a secret ballot, supervised impartially and counted without fear or favour. We must work towards that end.

Most hon. Members, in their hearts believe that to be so. There would seem now to be a unique opportunity for the Government to say "Yes, let us work together". If the Prime Minister will not go to the country now, he should use the few months between now and the general election to hammer out a consensus on those important issues of industrial relations, taking them out of party politics. Whoever wins the general election will then have a better bedrock from which to work.

Those are some of the sensible things which the Prime Minister could and should seek to do. However, I fear that he will not do so. These are areas where we should co-operate. There should not be any dispute between us about the basic ground rules of democracy in a free society. Yet, day after day, Ministers are unwilling to criticise because they are afraid that it might be said that they are union bashing. In fact, they are protecting the disloyal by not criticising, because the people who are causing most of the trouble at the moment in the Health Service and elsewhere are disloyal to their own unions.

The country is thoroughly perplexed. The Government have wavered over their incomes policy. Is it 5 per cent. now or 10 per cent.? It seemed to be 10 per cent. last night, but I see that that has been contradicted in this evening's newspapers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has huffed and puffed and said that he could do what was necessary through taxation. We may well have to do so, but if he does it will be the responsible who suffer in the end and not the irresponsible. Those who settled earlier within the Government's guidelines will suffer most of all from whatever action the Government may subsequently take.

It seems to me that it is only this House of Commons which can really help the Prime Minister over the biggest hurdle of all if he is to overcome the consequences of his his own words in 1974, when he opened the floodgates to all this when he went down to Wales and said "A Labour Government will back your claim". There were many scathing references then and afterwards to the three-day week. If we go on as we are at present, we shall have a no-day week for increasing numbers of people.

Coming back to the Health Service and the Secretary of State who will at some stage intervene in this debate—I am very glad to see him here—fine words are not enough. The Government must be absolutely tough. If the current negotiations do not work out as the Government hope, the Secretary of State must make it quite plain that he, as Secretary of State, is responsible for the Health Service and its well-being, will not negotiate under duress and that there will be no question of sitting down at a table with people who are putting patients' lives at risk. That is vitally important. The stories that are coming in daily are dreadful.

There are problems in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is why I enumerated each country separ- ately when I made my application this afternoon. Let us appeal to the Government to try to bring together all those, other than the dissidents, to hammer out a sensible code of industrial practice. It could be carried through this House—there is no question of that—and it would do inestimable good to the future of the country.

If the Government do not respond in a positive and sensible way this evening, I sincerely hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends will express their disfavour in the Division. I hope too that hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies and the Scottish National Party will desist from supporting the Government as they have recently and show that they are as concerned about the true issues that affect their country and our country.

One has suspected that it has all been a case of waiting for 1 March. But their referendum is not at risk. Whether it takes place on 1 March or has to be postponed because of a general election, the fact is that it will take place. Neither of the major parties has put that at risk. What is at risk, however, is the fundamental freedom and democracy upon which any Assembly which might emerge, as well as the House of Commons, fundamentally depends.

Everything is at risk. I ask SNP members to recognise that when it comes to the vote, though I hope very much that this matter will not come to a vote, because I hope that we shall have a positive and a sensible response from the Secretary of State which will indicate that he is prepared to enlist the good will and support of all those, save a few hon. Members below the Gangway on the Labour Benches, who are really revolted and sickened by what has been going on.

7.20 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David Ennals)

I welcome this debate. That was why I rose to my feet earlier in the day when it was decided whether the debate should be held.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) has shown an interest only in exploiting for party political purposes a situation which causes grave concern. In all that he said, he showed very little concern for the National Health Service itself. I hope that he will not think me discourteous if I deal with the problems of the NHS.

I want to make this intervention early in the debate so that hon. Members can be fully informed of the extent of the troubles in the NHS. The industrial action of the hospital ancillary workers and ambulance men is causing serious disruption. But the situation has not been helped by many parts of the media, and, I regret to say, by some Opposition Members who have, in some cases, indulged in inflammatory exaggeration of the real state of affairs. I thought it right to intervene early on to set the record straight.

Between one-third and one-half of the hospital service—as I reported to the House last Thursday—is providing only essential and emergency services. Hospitals have been hit most seriously in the North of England. But much of the rest of the hospital service has been forced to restrict admissions to a lesser extent. In virtually the whole country, the ambulance service is providing cover for emergencies only. This in itself has restricted the number of patients admitted to hospital or conveyed for treatment. Non-urgent admissions to hospital have been cancelled by the thousands. Out-patient treatment has been equally disrupted. Experience has shown that each time there is industrial action in the Health Service waiting list, which we all acknowledge are already too long, increase yet again.

However, it is not true that ambulance men have left people to die. It is not true that emergency cases have been left untreated. It is not true that hundreds of hospitals have been closed.

The hon. Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan)—I do not see him in his place now—said last week that 200 hospitals were closed. The figure is five. Also, a small number of day hospitals are shut.

But I take no satisfaction at all from the fact that many of our hospitals and most of our ambulance services are providing only essential and emergency services. An emergency service does nothing to help those who have been waiting for non-urgent operations. The operation may not be urgent, but the conditions from which these people suffer are often painful and debilitating. An emergency service does nothing for many of those waiting for out-patient appointments or needing treatment as day patients.

The results can only mean more delay, greater uncertainty, more frustration, discomfort and worry. Worse still, there is no clear line between essential services and those where delay will be harmless. Let me give two examples.

First, I mention laundries. In some areas there have been all-out strikes in hospital laundries, lasting a week or more—in Northampton, Nottingham and Lincolnshire, to give but three instances. Fortunately, most of the hospitals are able to cope.

My second example is blood donors. In many parts of the country, drivers and other workers in the blood transfusion service are banning overtime or working to rule. There is, I am happy to say, no immediate shortage of blood. But I am worried that we might lose blood donors who have had their sessions cancelled during this dispute.

These are some of the difficulties which we face and which we are tackling in a practical way all over the country. In spite of this, Opposition Members accuse Ministers of inaction. This charge was made on the radio this morning by the hon. Member for Reading, South—who is still not here. I listened to him with very great interest, because, while he and his right hon Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) were tucked up in bed, I was engaged in all-night talks on the Westminster hospital group dispute. [An HON. MEMBER: "About time too."] The result of those talks is that 17 hospitals which would have been closed today are still in operation.

The problem at Westminster is just one example of the many local difficulties that exist across the country. I am certain that during this debate hon. Members will take their own examples. In most cases, as I have said, there has been some reduction in services. That is inevitable when industrial action is taken. That is why I deplore such action in the Health Service whenever it comes and from whomsoever it comes.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Ennals

But I have to remind Opposition Members that, although their shock and indignation make them feel better, that does not get patients treated and it does not resolve the dispute.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I am particularly worried about the pile-up and hazard to health due to the closing of laundries. Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House any estimate of how long disposable supplies will last? My hospitals are now having to use disposable supplies, apart from what is provided by the few patients who can bring in their own sheets. Does he have any figures as to how long even these emergency disposable supplies will be available?

Mr. Ennals

The situation is causing concern in several hospitals. It varies from one hospital to another. Where there is a particular situation of grave concern, if we can help, apart from local management, we shall certainly do so. While industrial action continues, the Government and the health authorities are taking practical steps to preserve services to patients. I say "practical" to distinguish what we are doing from the hysterical and sometimes provocative approach adopted by some Opposition Members.

From the start of the present industrial action, the unions have made it clear that their members should maintain emergency services. They have since given more detailed advice, which has become known as the "code of conduct." I have welcomed this initiative. I applaud it again today. But I believe that it does not go far enough. I have raised with the union general secretaries a number of points of clarification which I shall be discussing with them again tomorrow. But, as a matter of practicality, if industrial action is under way we must do what we can to protect patients from its worst effects.

I am only too well aware that in some places local action has gone beyond the code. To me, that is a matter of great regret. But I think that Opposition Members should show some recognition of the responsibility shown by many members of the unions—including many who are taking limited action—and the very real efforts being made by the leaders and full-time officers of the unions to keep things under control.

Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

The right hon. Gentleman has made no mention yet of telephonic communication. Does he not agree that it is particularly dangerous for a hospital to refuse to connect the telephone? Is he aware that at Fairfield hospital, in my division, anyone who telephoned this morning was told without qualification that no calls would be connected? Will he look into this matter and see whether something can be done to relax it?

Mr. Ennals

There can be no justification whatsoever for action such as that. As hon. Members know, usually when there are problems such as this during this difficult period of industrial action, local management seeks to deal with them because they go beyond what is reasonable. Where a matter cannot be resolved locally, the hot line exists. Sometimes an approach to a regional officer of the union can help, but always we want to find a way in which we can resolve difficulties such as this.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant and Waterloo)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ennals

I have given way.

For my part, I should like to pay tribute to the very many members of staff who are doing their best in difficult conditions to provide a decent service for patients. I saw something of this when I visited Queen Elizabeth hospital, Hackney, last week and when I visited Westminster hospital today.

I want also to recognise the way in which NHS managers are coping. They have very difficult decisions to make on how best to respond to industrial action and the problems that flow from it. The task of keeping the services going is not easy. To do it, the health authorities must have some flexibility. They must have room to exercise their own judgment in the light of the situation as they know it, and I have given them that flexibility. For the most part they are using it sensibly in the interests of the patients.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

The right hon. Gentleman has now used seven times the phrase "industrial action", to which many of us object. The phenomenon he is describing is "social obstruction". What aura of legitimacy or orthodoxy is he seeking to confer on this activity by describing it inaccurately as "industrial action"?

Mr. Ennals

The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), when he was Secretary of State for Social Services in 1973, used precisely the same term. I do not know to what extent the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) was leaping to his feet then, at a time when there was six weeks' industrial action by ancillaries in the NHS. The Conservatives were in power. It was nine days before the then Secretary of State came to the House and said a word about the industrial action that lasted for six weeks.

We must try to see how local management can be supported in dealing with the interests of patients, to preserve the service to patients. That is the task, not to prove the machismo to the wilder elements on the Tory Benches. That is why I have advised health authorities to deal with their difficulties by local discussion where they can. The union leaders have told me that their full-time officers are ready to be brought into discussions at local level when difficulties arise. I have advised health authorities to be ready to contact full-time officers of the union concerned, especially in cases where staff have taken or threaten to take industrial action which goes beyond the advice given by the union. Where that fails, I have, as I have pointed out, set up a hot line between my Department and the union headquarters to sort out cases where emergency or essential services are threatened.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is a medical service with which we are dealing? Who are the trade unions to decide what clinical decisions shall be taken, what is a real emergency and what is not? What does he mean when he says that unions are being consulted about this? Are they not exactly the wrong people to take the decisions? Should he not be taking his advice from his medical advisers?

Mr. Ennals

I made it clear that there are certain situations in which local organisers have gone beyond the code of conduct set up by their own unions. I have said that it is reasonable that local managers, when trying to deal with such situations, should try to deal through the union officers. I added that we have set up a hot line—there is nothing original about that. I notice that the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East also said in 1973: There has been throughout some sort of hot line operating between my Department and the national headquarters, and I have paid tribute to the efforts of the unions. I am doing the same as was done by the right hon. Gentleman, therefore.

I turn now to the question of volunteers. A large number of volunteers are at work helping to keep the hospital service going. Some are members of staff doing jobs normally done by others; some are voluntary workers who were assisting in hospitals in various ways long before this unfortunate dispute started; others are members of the public who have come forward to help during the present difficulties. Many of them are relatives of patients.

Hon. Members opposite have tried to create the impression that the Government are in some way opposed to volunteers coming to help. That is nonsense, and they know it. The Conservatives are trying to make political capital out of this tragic dispute and are ignoring the practicalities. Let me give a clear statement on the use of volunteers. We have taken the view that hospital authorities should not appeal for or employ volunteers as long as essential services are being maintained. The reason for this is that the unions have said that they will not keep to their undertaking to maintain essential services in the event of volunteers being employed. It is in the interests of the patients not to risk total disruption of the services. I have made it clear to the hospital authorities that if a safe level of essential services cannot be maintained in a hospital they will have to look to volunteers, but that before any such action is taken we put the position to the union."—[Official Report, 21 March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 459.] Is that a fair and reasonable decision of policy?

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

Does not that quite extraordinary statement mean that the unions have a veto on whether volunteers come into the hospitals?

Mr. Ennals

The hon. Gentleman interrupted before I finished. The words I have delivered are not mine—they are the precise words used in the House during the 1973 ancillary workers' dispute by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East. Last week the Leader of the Opposition leaped to her feet, as did the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was answering questions, demanding that we should make some great public appeal. They challenged the view taken by my right hon. Friend and myself that these are matters of judgment by local management.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)

I recognised where the quotation was coming from, but is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) made that statement, some 9,000 ancillary workers were on strike—that is, about 5 per cent. of the total? About 300 hospitals were affected by strikes then, whereas well over half the 2,300 hospitals are now affected. My right hon. Friend said that there were nearly 30,000 beds out of use. That compares with the description that the right hon. Gentleman has given of what is happening now. Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that this situation is totally different?

Mr. Ennals

The way in which the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford is wriggling is fascinating. I point out to him that in that dispute, about which we have heard so little from hon. Members opposite, over 1 million bed days were lost, thus adding over 100,000 to the waiting list. We have never since been able to catch up with that addition to the waiting list. It is sheer hypocrisy of the Leader of the Opposition and of the right hon. Gentleman to say that somehow or other the Prime Minister and I should be appealing for volunteers to rush their way to the hospitals regardless of the consequences.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly said in 1973 that these were matters that should be left for local judgment. Why should we take irresponsible action if it were to do more harm than good? I do not believe that the decisions about the National Health Service and local situations can be taken simply at the Elephant and Castle.

A set of general principles may be set out. Basically local people must make judgments about local situations. I absolutely endorse the words that I quoted from the speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East, who has not made any appearance in this debate. Neither has he dissociated himself from the position that the Opposition Front Bench have taken in the past 10 days.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

If the right hon. Gentleman is going to make foolish comments such as that, where is his right hon. Friend the Minister of State? I gave notice that I intended to refer to him in this debate.

Mr. Ennals

Important discussions are proceeding. I do not think that it is necessarily to be expected that every Minister will sit here. That is all right for the Opposition. However, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to make any comments about my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, either the Minister of State or I will be perfectly able to deal with them.

We have seen a totally different point of view presented by the Conservative Party when they were in Government from the position they adopt now in Opposition—when, in a two-faced way, they sought to exploit a situation that affects the welfare of our fellow human beings.

I said that I welcomed the contribution that volunteers made. I am clear that where and when they should be used is a matter for local decision in the light of local circumstances. That is a practical approach.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)

Will my right hon. Friend make clear, in using the statement of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), that that referred to extra volunteers? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend lay particular stress on the need for nothing to be done during this dispute involving volunteers which would in any way damage or disturb a relationship which it is important should continue long after this dispute is settled?

Mr. Ennals

Dealing with the second question first, this point was put to me during a long phone-in programme on this question in which I took part yesterday morning. I pointed out that the Health Service was run by all kinds of people working in our hospitals and clinics. When this industrial dispute is over—as I hope it soon will be—they will all need to work together in the interests of the Health Service. Anything that now seeks to increase division and create disruption and upset can do no good.

I now refer to the first part of my hon. Friend's intervention. It is true that volunteers add enormously to the humanity, the family relationship and feeling that exists for patients in the hospitals. Nothing has been done by the trade unions or others to undermine that valuable role of volunteers in our hospitals.

The whole country is concerned about this dispute and the risks that it poses for patients. It is legitimate for right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to express that concern.

When the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford speaks, the House will judge his contribution to this debate by its practicality. What concrete proposals has he for settling the dispute? What figures does the right hon. Gentleman suggest for the pay rise? What is his party's policy for tackling inflation? How would he contain the industrial action? Those are questions that he never answers. I shall give the answers.

The crucial issue now is how we may arrive at a reasonable settlement of this pay dispute and get the Health Service fully operational again. I say "reasonable settlement" because the Government simply do not have the resources to pay whatever figure is demanded to end the dispute. There have been moments when it seemed to me that some people have simply said "Pay them the money". That is the easy way out. That does not make sense. That would result in leapfrogging pay deals pushing up the rate of inflation and leaving everyone worse off in the end.

What is a reasonable settlement? Some people have said that it should be the "going rate"—a new phrase that they use to mean a settlement equal to the biggest pay settlement they have read about in the newspapers. That is a recipe for disaster. There have been some large pay settlements in this pay round. But the idea that everyone is getting 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. —and that everyone must secure that kind of figure or be left behind—is simply not true. The big settlements are the exceptions and not the rule. When a group of employees settles for 5 per cent. or 8 per cent., including a productivity element, there is little or no publicity. There have been many settlements at that level. The average is still below 10 per cent.

I repeat to the local government workers, those in the National Health Service, the ancillary workers, the ambulance men and others, that everyone else is not doing so much better than is proposed for them. The Prime Minister spelt this out in Newcastle on Saturday. There is no such thing as a going rate of 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. Most settlements have been in single figures. It is important that they do not rise above that. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that the Government were not prepared to finance settlements above single figures. If finance is not available, jobs must be lost.

Discussions between the management and staff sides have been taking place over the past week or so in an effort to find a basis for settlement. However, the Government believe that the time is right for a further three-pronged initiative to try to resolve this dispute and end the disruption in this vital public service.

First, I have invited the representatives of the National Health Service management to meet me tomorrow. The aim is to get substantive negotiations going again as quickly as possible against the background set out in my right hon. Friend's speech on Saturday—in particular, the Government's determination not to finance inflationary pay settlements.

Secondly, I am asking the unions to give these negotiations a chance to produce a workable settlement by giving the public a breathing space from industrial action. The unions have made their point. It is not in keeping with the service to prolong the risks to patients. It would be right for the unions now to suspend industrial action while talks take place. I hope that they will respond in a positive way to this appeal.

Thirdly, the Government intend to make rapid progress in setting up a pay comparability inquiry so that we may establish whether National Health Service ancillaries and ambulance men have fallen behind other workers in terms of comparable pay. If they have done so, we can begin to correct the situation next year. The comparability approach is a major step forward. It will help to ensure that Health Service workers are dealt with fairly in relation to others. These are practical proposals for resolving this tragic dispute: urgent negotiations for a single-figure settlement in this round, including a better deal for the low-paid, the early establishment on an agreed basis of a body to look into the comparability position, and suspension of industrial action while talks take place. I believe that that is the right way forward. It is in the interests of patients.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

Is my right hon. Friend saying that when the comparability test is understood and the ultimate settlement is made the outcome of those talks will be retrospective to coincide with the single-figure negotiations or settlement that he is talking about?

Mr. Ennals

No. I did not say that at all. I said that I thought that it was of extreme importance that, in their interests, those who work in the public service should now have a proper, established system of ensuring comparability between the work they do and the pay they receive for it and that of people working in the private sector.

I believe that the three points I have made point the right way forward. I believe that they are in the interests of patients, the staff concerned and the country as a whole.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

May I make a further appeal to the House. I shall not be able to call hon. Members from all the regions unless hon. Members are very brief.

7.51 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

When, shortly before this debate started, I telephoned the administrator of my district health authority to ask him for an up-to-date report on the district, he gave me those details but wanted to fill them in after telephoning another area. He said "This may take me a little time as the telephone receptionist is taking emergency calls only." I thought that that was rather humorous until I thought it out.

All the hospitals in the North-West are on an emergency-only system, and the person who decides on the emergency is apparently the telephone receptionist— not a consultant, not a hospital registrar, not a ward sister, not even a probationary nurse. When we talk about the hospitals being on an emergency-only system, it sounds all right. The public may think "It's all right. They are dealing with emergencies." But that means that at least 30 per cent. of a hospital is inoperative. In the big hospitals 70 per cent. may be emergency cases. In other hospitals it may be much less, but the hospitals are inoperative to a substantial extent.

One finds similar problems when one inquires how many are on strike in a particular hospital. Let me take the example of the two large hospitals in my own district, Walton and Fazakerley. The only people on strike there are those in the central sterile supply department. That sounds fine. One thinks that the hospitals are entirely operative but for that department. But the modern hospital has no alternative sterilisation to the CSSD, and if that department is out of operation for a week it can bring the hospitals to a standstill.

In the north of my constituency the hospital transport drivers are on strike and the stores workers have put an embargo on the distribution of food or any other supplies from stores. If one inquires, one finds that the hospital is almost operative, except for those people. But if the food and all other hospital stores are not to be distributed to the hospital for a week, the hospital comes to a standstill.

The gravediggers and the crematorium assistants were a dramatic case which hit the public pretty hard. Incidentally, it is said that they are back at work, but they are not back at work in my constituency or in many other areas in the North-West. The Secretary of State has looked only at Liverpool, and even there, where he thought the men were going back last week, they are not back now. Last week those in the north of my constituency were on strike and bodies were not being buried or cremated. Those men went back, and now those in the south of my constituency are out. That is quite a dramatic strike.

What I fear is the danger that, where the strikes in a hospital are not quite so dramatic, the public will think that everything is all right, whereas actually we are being brought within a few days of the brink of disaster within the National Health Service.

In my view, the Prime Minister has made three major political blunders in dealing with the present crisis. They are past, present and future. In the past we failed to heed the warnings of the trade unions that they really intended to disrupt the services, not only in the hospital service but, as we saw before, in the supply services—the transport to the docks, and so on. He has shown the sort of foresight and preparation arising out of those warnings that an ostrich might show. He seems to have convinced himself that if he goes on repeating "Five per cent., 5 per cent. and no more" everything will be all right and that the trouble will fade away.

The Prime Minister should have realised in December, if not earlier, that the threats of the Transport and General Workers' Union, the National Union of Public Employees, the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the rest were really meant, that they really had to be taken seriously. Instead, he seems to have prided himself that by doing nothing about the tanker drivers' strike he got them back to work, that by doing nothing about the lorry drivers' strike he got them back to work—but at what sacrifice, what disaster for the country while they were out? Indeed, what a slap in the eye it was to his "5 per cent. and no more" policy. The right hon. Gentleman failed to heed those warnings.

There is no doubt that the Government would have been in a good position to negotiate before the strikes started if they had shown that they had really made preparations for the maintenance of essential supplies, that the Army was deployed and ready to take over essential services, and that voluntary help was organised.

It is my view that almost all those who have gone on strike were entitled to consideration of their claims, entitled to fair negotiation. But the negotiations are not fair if the Government have made no preparations at all for what should happen if those negotiations break down. That is my charge against the Prime Minister, that he has left us in the position of the people feeling that they are held to ransom, that the Government are not prepared for what to do in the case of a breakdown and that therefore there is no bargaining position.

So much for what I call the past blunder. That leads me on to the present blunder. By trade union leaders being allowed to make inflammatory speeches about disruption of services for the past two months before the strike started, little Frankenstein monsters were created which were quite out of the control of the unions. I refer to the strike committees, which have almost governed the North-West over the past three weeks. I suppose that the Prime Minister genuinely believed that he could shuffle off responsibility for any action if the trade union leaders concerned produced a code of conduct and told their members "Be good boys. Keep the rules. Play the game", and so on.

In the North-West it has become almost proverbial that the union members have not played the game according to those rules, particularly in my area on Merseyside. We have seen how that plea over codes of conduct has utterly failed. The lorry drivers' strike committees refused to allow goods to pass through, although those goods were specified in the code as being exempt from picketing. We have heard many stories. One that I recollect is that of certain ships' chandlers. Ships' stores were supposed to be exempt if they were being carried on to the ships. The ships' chandlers applied four times for dispensation for one particular load and when they wrote to me they told me that each time they applied they were told in unparliamentary language to something or other off.

In most cases, to apply for the dispensation took four hours—four hours sitting in front of a gentleman appointed by the strike committee to give the dispensation. That had to be repeated daily because the dispensation lasted only one day—the day on which it was dated. In the face of that failure of the code at the time of the lorry drivers' strike, we are now faced with a hospital code and with the Government relying upon a hospital code in order to save lives.

From the information that I have received about the North-West, I do not believe that that code is being any better observed than was the lorry drivers' code. This is an abdication of government. The Government are putting their faith in a voluntary code of conduct which it has been proved cannot be enforced by the unions on their members. That is surrendering government, not even to the trade unions but to the strike committees.

In the past the Prime Minister has failed to heed clear warnings of disruption ahead. In the present, for Government rule he has substituted trade union codes which are unenforceable. In the future, he now tells us that he is negotiating a new social contract. The previous thing called a "social contract" disappeared into thin air. Why does he think that the next one will have any greater success? After all, a social contract is a device for deciding outside Parliament the terms of legislation. To be a success, it must undermine the parliamentary process of legislation. But it will eventually disintegrate and we shall again be back in the same sort of crisis as we are facing now.

Surely it is time that this Government resigned, got out and let the electorate decide so that we can cease these continual crises under this Government.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

The situation with which we are faced is a total disgrace, and I do not believe that any hon. Member can deny that. The situation in Cornwall seems to be average to most other parts of the country. We have an ambulance service which will answer nothing but 999 calls. Apparently the 999 calls that are accepted are those relating to renal dialysis, radiotherapy and complaints in regard to which immediate curtailment of treatment could lead to possible death. That seems to be the general situation throughout the country. Patients seem to be served with meals and staff seem to be on the diet.

All three laundries in West Cornwall are on half steam, and we are told that on Wednesday two will shut down totally. In addition, on Thursday, in Barncoose and Tehidy hospitals, which on the whole deal with geriatrics in Cornwall, all ancillary workers will stop work. That seems to be the general situation that we face throughout the length and breadth of the country, and no expression other than "a disgrace" can describe it.

I should like to say a few words on the issue that we should be discussing, pay. That is what this is all about. We can be outraged at individual behaviour in hospitals—indeed, I am—but the issue that we must discuss is pay. Perhaps the House ought to concentrate its mind a little more on the issue which is the nub of this problem.

The dilemma we are facing is a traditional one—that of differentials as against low pay. In fact, one cannot kowtow to both arguments. The Conservative Opposition have made their position perfectly clear in the last 12 months. Given that argument, they are in favour of increased differentials. That is an argument which can be credibly presented, but one cannot argue for low pay at the same time.

Certainly the Liberal Party argues the low pay case. It would be interesting if the Government were to say which side of the argument they are on, because one can do nothing about low pay unless one is prepared to reduce differentials. The great irony of the present situation is that the people who have driven a coach and horses through the pay policy—the tanker and lorry drivers and the Ford workers—are, within this definition, among the well paid.

Mr. Kinnock


Mr. Penhaligon

The hon. Gentleman says "Rubbish". I remember asking a series of parliamentary questions so that I could find out where MPs stood in the PAYE league of the well paid. I was amazed to discover that only 5 per cent. of the PAYE population in this country earns more than Members of Parliament. Therefore, if one really wishes to do something for the 56 per cent. of the population which earns less than the national average wage, it is no good looking at those who earn more than Members in order to resolve the problem. One has to look at the bulk of the population, which includes the fairly well paid, by which I mean £110 to £130 a week. That is the dilemma.

An hon. Member tries to represent both arguments, yet one cannot ride both horses at the same time. Either one can do something for the low paid or one can argue for differentials, but it is not a credible proposition to try to argue for both.

Of course, it is the Liberal Party's view that we should have a prices and incomes policy. We have stood for that for a long time. I sometimes think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) has stood for that argument in his own constituency nearly to the point of asking for his own extinction. But the Liberal Party has consistently fought hard for that for a long time.

The Government are now talking about the worst of all possibilities. I am quite prepared to defend a 5 per cent. norm in my constituency so long as it is adhered to. I suppose one could defend an absolute confetti money year in which everyone received 20 per cent. and we landed back where we started. But one cannot defend what the Government are now prophesying as their policy, which is 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. for some of the very powerful and about 10 per cent. for the very weak. That is a totally indefensible policy, and I do not know how Labour Members will be able to defend it to their own electorates at the next election.

Labour Members accuse the Conservative Opposition of exploiting the present situation. Of course they are. In the silly game of politics that we play, that is one of the things that happens. An adage of politics is "Never waste good agony". At the moment, there is plenty of good agony around, and the Conservative Opposition are certainly selling it to the people.

I am a relatively young Member of this House, but my experience is that in Opposition the Labour Party is a little better at exploiting good agony than is the Conservative Party. I regard the fact that they exploit it as obvious, and it is slightly hypocritical for the Labour Party to say that it would not do so if the situations were reversed.

Mr. Ennals

The hon. Gentleman may say that he is a very young Member, but he is becoming very experienced in the art of arguing in two directions at once. Is he about to explain the reason for his vote, and that of his party, against the Government's sanctions policy in order to retain some influence over settlements in the private sector? I look forward to an explanation.

Mr. Penhaligon

As I said, that is all part of the silly game of politics. The right hon. Gentleman knows why we voted against sanctions. Unfortunately, this House has not invented a third Lobby. There are times when about 40 hon. Members would love to go into it, because we do not like the silly game of politics that is being played. But a random sanctions pay policy, which is what the Government were propagating, is a non-starter, and the Government know that.

Frankly, even if the sanctions policy had been maintained, I do not believe that we would be in a situation very different from the present. The Secretary of State can pretend that it is all the fault of the Opposition. He might well be able to get away with that argument in Norwich, but he certainly could not get away with it in the West Country, where a little sanity on these issues prevails.

This House should be discussing pay. The situation is clearly a disaster. In Cornwall, because of low wages, anyone who works for the Government regards himself as well off and fortunate to be in a secure job. But even in Cornwall the dispute is as strong as anywhere else in the country. That is a condemnation of the pay policy or lack of pay policy that the Government have pursued over the past four or five years. The Government were elected on a "no pay policy" ticket. After 18 months they had to reverse it, but they have never put before the House a policy that could be voted on and approved. It must be a policy supported by all if we are to get over wage inflation. The Government now have their come-uppance. The Labour movement has clearly achieved power, but they have failed to face the dilemmas presented by that power. We cannot increase differentials and at the same time help the low paid. Which side of the argument does the Minister support?

8.10 p.m.

Mr. Giles Radice (Chester-le-Street)

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), who opened the debate, quoted from the newspapers and the media. I was more impressed by his right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). He was quoting from direct knowledge. I was also impressed by what the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) said.

I understand that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West was endeavouring to appeal across party lines. It was an odd and partisan way to do that by pouring scorn on trade union leaders and many of my colleagues. It is all right for me to pour scorn on my colleagues but not for hon. Members opposite to do so, especially when they are trying to appeal across party lines. His appeal did not ring true. I believe, Mr. Speaker, that you said that he was speaking in general phrases. That is an apt summary. It was general phrases, no solutions. The cry that we have heard from the Opposition over the last four weeks is "Do something", but they have not said what.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Use the troops to start with.

Mr. Radice

I shall try to examine the issues, and I turn first to the problem of pay, like the hon. Member for Truro. The first cause of the dispute in the public sector is low pay. I declare my interest. I am a sponsored member of the General and Municipal Workers Union, many members of which are involved in the current dispute involving workers in the Health Service, water authorities and the local authorities. Other members are awaiting with great interest the outcome of the dispute, for example those in gas and electricity supply.

I believe that everybody in the House agrees that a considerable number of local authority and health ancillary workers are low paid, especially those who do not have the opportunity of earning overtime. Taking 1975 as the base date, the gap between the average earnings of local authority manual workers and the ancillary workers, on the one hand, and national average earnings, on the other, has quite clearly widened. In 1975 the average earnings of local authority manual workers were about 78 per cent. of the national average. Today it is about 75 per cent. Comparable figures for Health Service ancillary workers are 83 per cent. and 76 per cent. It is only fair to point out that 1975 was a good year for public sector pay. In the early seventies, the gap between the local authority manual workers and average earnings was wider than today.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

If there are settlements of between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. and the NUPE workers have a settlement at less than 10 per cent., their comparative standard of living will be less than today.

Mr. Radice

I shall come to that point.

The second cause of the disputes is the distributional struggle between different groups of public service workers. Take the case of the ambulance men. Their earnings do not class them as low paid; they are about average. However, they have to do a considerable amount of overtime. But that is not the real problem. The real problem is that the firemen got a good deal last year, and the ambulance men want something like it this year. Similarly, the water supply workers want to be more closely attached to gas workers' earnings. One will always have these problems. Particular groups of workers want a special deal of one sort or another.

The third factor is the relationship between public sector pay and private sector pay. Taking the long-term view, one can see that since the early 1970s public sector pay has risen faster than that in the private sector. However, in the past two rounds there has been a slippage, particularly among some groups—though not the miners or the electricity supply workers, who have done well in every round. The reason for the slippage is incomes policy being applied more strictly to the public sector than to the private sector. Also, the norm has been expressed in percentage terms in the last two rounds. These are the underlying causes of the disputes and I draw two implications from them.

I believe that there should be a quick settlement of all the disputes. I deal particularly with the case of the local authority and Health Service workers. The Government's offer is a good one, let us make no mistake about that. It provides the £3.50 underpinning, a slight amount of extra money mentioned by the Prime Minister in his speech in Newcastle on Saturday, and, above all, the comparability studies, which are worth much more than the money on the table. If I worked in a local authority or in the Health Service, I would look at this very carefully.

An early settlement is in everyone's interests. It is in the interests of the community certainly, but it is also in the interests of the workers. It is not just a question of the loss of pay that occurs because people are out on dispute. If there is a quick settlement on the basis of the Government's offer, this will be very helpful. On the other hand, if there is a going rate which is uncertain and moving steadily upwards, this must be against the interests of local authority and Health Service workers. The longer the uncertainty continues, the worse for those involved in the strikes. If there is no quick settlement, other more powerful workers will use their muscle to ensure that a local government settlement is a first rung on the ladder upwards to new going rates, with the result that the local authority workers, far from improving their position, will be much worse off than before.

The time has come for the TUC to take the initiative. In early 1974 other affiliated unions said that they were prepared to hold back for the miners if that group were treated as a special case. Now the miners and electricity supply workers, local governement officers, teachers and doctors—who have just put in a large claim—should be prepared to say that they will not use the level of the settlement in the local authorities merely as a first step on the way to a higher level for them.

We have heard a lot about low pay in this House and outside. If people genuinely believe there is a problem of low pay, they should put their money where their mouths are.

There is no way that the serious problems with which we are concerned—low pay, the distributional struggle going on in the public sector, and the relationship between public sector and private sector pay—can be solved within the context of unrestrained collective bargaining. I accept that, in contrast with 1975–76, the pay rounds of 1976–77 and 1977–78 were not particularly helpful to the low paid, but that does not mean that unrestrained collective bargaining would have been better. In fact, it is likely to have been far worse. Under such a system, the rewards go to those with the greatest bargaining power, while the low paid, who are always the weakest, do worse and fall even further behind.

What we need to do is not to abandon an incomes policy but to ensure that an incomes policy always makes provision for the low paid, either through flat-rate increases, such as those that we had in 1975–76, or through exceptional treatment for low-paid workers.

Most people accept the case for comparability between the public and the private sectors, but that cannot be achieved without the support of some sort of incomes policy. Unrestrained collective bargaining is no help.

The distributional battles can be left to free collective bargaining if one likes, but at what cost to the community? It is surely much better to sort out these problems through the TUC public services committee, an extremely good innovation which hon. Members should warmly recommend, or, if that does not work, through an anomalies or relativities body on a voluntary basis.

All that has happened in the past three or four weeks has confirmed my belief that it is not possible to run a modern economy without some sort of permanent incomes policy. I only hope that the same message is getting through to those who espouse unrestrained collective bargaining. I hope that the chickens are coming home to roost for those on the Opposition Front Bench who have been espousing that cause in the past three or four years. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is the Government's chickens which are coming home to roost."] No. It is the Opposition's chickens. I know that Conservatives do not like facing facts. They find it unpleasant because it is much more difficult than talking in generalities.

Let us turn to another question that has been raised in the past week or so, namely, trade union power. Some Conservative Members, still smarting from the 1974 general election defeat which they wrongly thought was caused by the miners, have decided that they can get their own back on us and have not been able to resist saying "We told you so". But they have got it wrong. The history of 1974 shows that it was not the miners who beat the Conservatives, but the Conservatives themselves. They went for an election gamble on an anti-union ticket, and it did not come off.

If anything, recent events have shown that trade union organisation is by no means all powerful. Often it is too weak to persuade members to follow union policy. In addition, trade union power is of a blocking, negative sort. It can withdraw labour, picket docks and cold storage depots and shut cemeteries, hospitals and even schools, but, as we arrange things at present, it cannot help to create extra jobs or investment or new markets in the world.

I believe that the TUC must ensure that trade unions practise high standards. That is what the TUC is for. We must have high standards of practice in picketing, where there are closed shops, in relations between workers and trade unionists, and in trade union government. But we also now need a decisive move towards industrial democracy so that trade unionists are genuinely involved in all major industrial decisions.

Trade unions have obligations to each other. They have obligations to their industries or services. They have obligations to the community. That sense of obligation will be reinforced if they feel a real sense of commitment to that service or industry.

A number of prominent trade union leaders have recently said that we need a better way of doing things. We need to find a better way to deal with pay negotiations, for the low paid as well as the better off, and for the private as well as the public sector. There is a strong case for annual tripartite discussions on inflation targets and more synchronisation of pay claims. We must have some way of dealing with relativities and anomalies.

But as well as our concern with those immediate problems we must not forget the crucial need, if our industries and services are to recover and prosper, for a real involvement by employees in the running of their industries and services.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)

The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) referred to the winter of 1973–74 and said that the then Conservative Government were defeated by themselves. That was not quite the sequence of events that I recall. What I do recall about that winter—which is different from this winter—is that in the wage bargaining round between 6 million and 7 million people had accepted the third phase of the Conservative Government's pay policy. At this stage of the negotiations, fewer than 1½ million people, including the public and private sector workers, have accepted the policy. That is a small number compared with those involved in settlements in the winter of 1973–74.

Today's debate stands in the shadow of two failures. It is a sad and malancholy debate. We are debating once again the breakdown of our health services. I remember a similar debate in 1974. It was then a matter for censure and regret, as it is tonight, because human suffering was involved.

We are discussing a political failure and a social failure. The political failure rightly can be laid at the door of this Government. The seeds of that political failure were sown in the autumn of last year when some Ministers thought that they could get away with a 5 per cent. limit on wages this winter.

One would not have had to step far away from the Elephant and Castle to realise that that policy was never a runner. How could one say to the mass of working people in both private and public sectors that 5 per cent. was the going rate when inflation was running at 7 per cent.? Everyone involved knows that after tax a 5 per cent. limit really means a 3 per cent. or 3½ per cent. rise.

The political failure was compounded by a slow surrender. A fortnight ago Ministers in the Department of the Environment let it be known that 8.8 per cent. was a negotiable figure. At Newcastle on Friday afternoon the Prime Minister said that we could go to the limit of single figures. The Secretary of State for Social Services was the first to pounce upon that. He said that that meant 9.9 per cent. I interpret what the Secretary of State said then and tonight as meaning that the limit is 9.9 per cent.

That is the political failure of the Government. They began unrealistically and they have had to retreat. They have lacked authority. The Secretary of State has added to that lack of authority. In all his ministerial statements he conveys an aura of limpness. If he says "It will not happen; it is unacceptable", it is a racing certainty that it wil happen and that it is about to be accepted. The Government can be condemned for that political failure.

Mr. Ennals

Presumably the hon. Member, having criticised the Government, plans to say what his pay policy is. I should be most interested to hear it.

Mr. Baker

I was about to conclude my analysis. I shall do that and then I shall come to my suggestions.

Perhaps the Minister will reiterate what his pay policy is for Health Service workers. His authority was totally undermined when he was interrupted by his hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) during his statement on his three points. The hon. Member for Tottenham said "It is not acceptable". That underlines the decay of the Government's political authority.

The Government's second failure is a social failure. That goes much deeper than the political failure and the failure of Ministers. It is deeply regrettable that groups of workers are, for whatever reason, prepared to withdraw their labour even if that means that other people suffer. That has happened with growing regularity during this decade. It was not a characteristic of industrial disputes in this country before the 1970s. It is a measure of the impatience and the sense of injustice now felt by groups in our society that they should be prepared to do so. That social failure has very much deeper causes and requires much more fundamental changes to deal with it.

The Secretary of State gave the impression that the position in London was markedly better. It is fair to say that in parts of London it is no worse. The strike that was threatened today for the hospitals in South Westminster has not taken place, and the position is better. In North Westminster the hospitals to which my constituents would turn face a worsening situation. The hospital at Praed Street and the hospital in Harrow Road, which most of my constituents would use, have been the subject of effective picketing.

No volunteers have been allowed into Praed Street today. The hospital is accepting emergencies only. At Harrow Road all the ancillary workers are out and the pickets are on duty. Some 60 volunteers got into the hospital, but I believe that that was unofficial. Tonight we are threatened with the closure of the children's hospital in the same group.

An emergencies-only service, as the Secretary of State was prepared to recognise, is totally inadequate, particularly for central London. A high proportion of my constituents are elderly. Anybody who represents a city centre seat recognises that the proportion of elderly people in it is much higher than the national average. They call upon the services of the hospitals much more than the younger people. They may not fall into the emergency category, but many of them should still be going to hospital regularly.

The Secretary of State said that waiting lists lengthen. Of course they do, and that means that the old people who are waiting for treatment get put off repeatedly.

The result of all this is that morale in the Health Service today is as low as at any time since 1948. Most Health Service workers want to get on with the job. In London the situation is exacerbated by the fact that we have to put up with the Resource Allocation Working Party. For central London and, I dare say, for the area of the hon. Member for Tottenham, that means simply that there is less money to go round. That makes matters a great deal worse. If the Government are trying to exercise an incomes policy in a period of restraint and restriction while trying to cut services, they are on to a non-starter from the beginning.

The Secretary of State asked what I would recommend. I suggest two things. The first concerns volunteers. The right hon. Gentleman should change his tone about volunteers. I heard the Minister on television or radio over the weekend. He almost said, though not quite, that volunteers were blacklegs. That was the implication of the way that he answered a question on that programme. He said almost the same this afternoon when he suggested that volunteers exacerbated the situation. Most people in this country believe that it is the pickets who are exacerbating the situation.

I do not press him very hard for a clarion call for volunteers, but I believe that his tone concerning volunteers should be changed. St. Mary's hospital, in Harrow Road, would not have operated this afternoon but for 60 volunteers. Is there not a word of thanks to those volunteers from the man who is responsible for the Health Service? Would the Minister like to thank those 60 volunteers?

Mr. Ennals

I think that if the hon. Gentleman had listened to the programme in which I took part yesterday he would have heard me express great thanks for the way in which volunteers are providing a service to our hospitals. I said that there had been occasions now and previously when volunteers had made a great contribution. I have no doubt that if I issued an appeal there would be thousands of volunteers wanting to plunge in and help. I ask the hon. Gentleman, does he not agree with the advice given in 1973—which is just as sound today as it was then? If we allow volunteers to pour in and that disrupts the situation, is it a wise thing to do? Does he not believe that this is something best left to local management?

Mr. Baker

I thank the Secretary of State for his thanks to those 60 volunteers at St. Mary's hospital, Harrow Road. I am not suggesting that he should issue a clarion call for volunteers to rush in. He should, however, go out of his way to thank and encourage volunteers where they are allowed into hospitals. In his negotiations with the unions tomorrow, the Minister ought to make it the major point that he wants to see them encouraging volunteers to go in. That is what leadership is all about. It is not about quoting what was said in this House tu quoque five or six years ago.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me what I would do. Perhaps it is starry-eyed of me, but I should like to see strikes in essential services becoming a thing of the past. I am realistic enough to know what happens if we withdraw the fundamental right to strike from a group of workers. We found, when in office, that it was exactly the reverse of the desired objective when we allowed public sector workers the right to strike —something which they had not had previously. We should ask whether certain key groups of workers should get certain guarantees on the lines of guaranteed relativities if they are prepared to surrender their right to strike.

I favour a series of relativity exercises for the public sector because I can see no other way in which we can satisfy the anxieties of the workers about being left behind. I believe that this possibility should be urgently examined to see whether we could persuade these very low-paid workers that they will not be left behind. The situation is made much worse by the fact that we are emerging from a period of pay restraint and the people we are talking about think that they have been left behind in the race.

I believe that that is the way forward. It is not an easy way. It is a very hard way, but I believe that that way has been made all the more difficult by the political failure of this Government during negotiations. They began unrealistically and this has led to the present chaos.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. May I tell the House that there is less than an hour for all the hon. Members who wish to speak?

8.39 p.m.

Mr. Terry Walker (Kingswood)

It is sad that once again we have to discuss this problem. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), who opened the debate, drew attention to the problems currently facing the National Health Service. It is right that we should be discussing this matter, but I think that by pursuing the party line, which he did by attacking the Prime Minister and other Ministers, the hon. Member was emphasising the attitudes among Opposition Members and candidates throughout the country, without providing an answer to the problems facing the Government. I am sure that the House is grateful to the Secretary of State for the action which he has taken in the past 24 hours. He has taken a practical approach to the problems confronting us. That approach is necessary.

Tory Members have called on the Government to resign. That would not solve the problem. We would still be faced with the difficulty of knowing what to do with the Health Service. Tory Members with any memory will recall that not so long ago they had similar problems. My right, hon. Friends must understand, however, that there are serious reservations about the Government's policy towards low-paid workers in local government and the Health Service. Many of us believe that such workers need a substantial increase to give them a better deal. Recalling the ease with which the BBC employees had their claim met, we cannot help wondering whether watching television is more important than maintaining essential services. When we listen to the BBC moralising on present problems, we cannot help but wonder what happened which allowed that claim to go through in 24 hours. Why did my right hon. Friends, and indeed Conservative Members, say nothing about it?

Industrial action is now being taken in local government and in the Health Service by those who have seen what has happened to the BBC staff. They have seen this leapfrogging while they have remained on low wages. What has been proved by these workers taking their present action—regrettable though it is—is that they are essential workers. Yet we are prepared to accept the fact that they do not receive a living wage.

Tory Members have been quick to condemn this industrial action. However, we have seen industrial action practised by the hospital consultants for a long time. My right hon. Friend has spoken of this frequently. We have not had the support of Opposition Members in dealing with that type of industrial action. We want social justice. To achieve it there must be a substantial pay increase for those in local government and in the Health Service. They have proved that their jobs are indeed essential.

We have heard the hypocrisy put forward in the House about the chaos which would be caused in the country. My right hon. Friends have heard repeated calls for states of emergency to be declared, first in connection with the tanker drivers' strike and then the hauliers' strike. What would have happened if the Government had been trigger-happy and had rushed in? What was behind all this? The Opposition were not really interested in solving the disputes. They were interested in creating greater chaos. If we had moved in the troops to deal with the tanker drivers, or the hauliers, other workers would have gone out on strike and there would have been utter chaos. My right hon. Friends have been right to resist the calls for states of emergency. Happily, we have overcome some of the disputes.

The question of volunteers within the Health Service has been raised and will no doubt occur again in the debate. The role of volunteers is vital within the Health Service. There will always be a need for them. That being so, it would be most difficult if the role of the volunteers were to be brought into disrepute because of something that happened in the present situation. Therefore, my right hon. Friend is right. We must ensure that these matters are negotiated—and what is wrong with that?

The role of the media has been a bad one throughout these disputes. The irresponsible way in which they have acted has highlighted our difficulties. Friends abroad who have read British newspapers have telephoned people in the United Kingdom to ask whether they could send food parcels. What is patriotic in that kind of nonsense that appears in our newspapers? The newspapers and television have painted a picture of gloom and despondency. I believe that we should deal with these claims as a matter of social justice.

There has been much union-bashing from the Opposition Benches. However, for a period of three years the trade union movement has co-operated with the Government in maintaining an incomes policy. I have not heard many Tories paying tribute to the unions on that score, but that is what has happened.

We have now reached phase 4, and that phase has not been recognised by our friends in the TUC. The unions have undoubtedly made sacrifices, and that certainly applies to low-paid workers whose lot has become worse year by year. Therefore, the Government are right to return to discussions with the TUC in an effort to reach some agreement. Great efforts are now being made by the Government to that end, because that is the only way in which we shall overcome the present difficulties.

Labour is the party of negotiation. On the other hand, the Conservatives have proved themselves to be the party of confrontation. In the meantime, we must recognise the claims of the low paid in local government and in the NHS. For too long those workers have been allowed by successive Governments to lag behind to the detriment of themselves and their families. My right hon. Friend has announced that tomorrow he will negotiate on pay comparability, and the whole House will wish him well. It is vital that the present position is resolved.

8.47 p.m.

Sir William Elliott (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)

I shall do my best to adhere to Mr. Speaker's ruling and keep my remarks short. Therefore, I shall resist the strong temptation to take up some of the comments of the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker). However, I must deal with his closing words in which he suggested that the Conservatives were the party of confrontation. Who at the moment is confronting whom? Are not the workers who are now on strike confronting the Labour Government?

The hon. Gentleman is wearing rose-tinted spectacles if he seeks to blame the media for exaggerating situations which I believe are the worst that I have experienced since I have been a Member of this House. The Secretary of State for Social Services asked about the Conservatives' answer to inflation. Those of us who listened to an American economist speaking on the radio this morning do not have to be asked that question. He suggested, as every sensible person would agree, that all our problems flow from lack of productivity. The present Government have failed in that regard.

One of these days I shall see a wage claim that is presented asking for a percentage increase but not seeking a shorter working week. What a pleasant change that would make in seeking to solve the basic problem that besets the Health Service and everywhere else—namely, the basic problem of productivity. It would be refreshing to have the suggestion of a wage increase, but with added rather than fewer hours.

I am extremely grateful to be called in this debate because it is an emergency debate. I believe it is the duty of us all to make quite clear how serious a problem the present industrial action in the Health Service is—and elsewhere in those parts of the country we represent.

During the past weekend the Secretary of State visited Newcastle, as did the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport. They addressed a confer ence at Newcastle, to which I was not invited. It was a party conference and I fully understood that omission. However, whilst the conference was progressing in our civic centre, I spent my time, as the only Conservative Member for the city of Newcastle—that is a temporary embarrassment, I assure the Secretary of State—touring the city streets. I should never have believed that I could have seen such sights as I saw this past weekend. Refuse proliferates. Plastic refuse bags had burst open in the back streets. Dogs roamed the lanes. The health hazard is enormous. In the civic centre the Secretary of State for Transport was saying that he feared that Labour's electoral chances had declined. Yet in several speeches in this debate this evening we, the Conservatives, have been accused of making this situation a political issue.

It is right that this debate should take place today. It is far more important that the health of our people and the well-being and health of patients in our hospitals should be considered, rather than the electoral chances of the Labour Party at a conference in Newcastle or anywhere else.

It is my desire to bring to the attention of the House the crisis facing the hospital service in the Newcastle area because it is a very extreme crisis. I suggest to the hon. Member for Kingswood that the situation is very serious indeed. The latest report issued today by a consultant at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Gateshead—which is not far from the constituency of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice), who has spoken in this debate—said: supplies of sterile equipment for emergency operations will dry up within 48 hours because of an indefinite strike by 12 women in the central sterile supply department. The consultant, Dr. Vickers, is on record as saying: If treatments are not carried out at the right time then some patients will suffer and some may die. What was the response to this serious statement? Mr. Arthur Caley, general administrator for the Gateshead health authority, said: This is very serious and it is a disturbing development. The union will object if any other grade of staff or any volunteers are used. I ask the Secretary of State to take this warning from a senior consultant in the Tyneside area very seriously indeed in his general attitude to volunteers. I appeal from this House to the 12 women concerned in that particular department to return to work at the earliest possible moment, in the interests of humanity.

To some degree the crisis in Newcastle's hospitals can be estimated in approximate figures. Again, they illustrate the seriousness of the present situation. In the last two weeks 1,600 outpatients in two hospitals have had appointments postponed, and 1,750 cases for treatment have had their treatment postponed. The number of in-patient entries cancelled in the past two weeks is 300.

The Secretary of State referred to the number of hospitals which had been closed in the past two weeks. I should point out to him that in my area—and, I am sure, in others—sections of hospitals have been closed, which is just as serious.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Does my hon. Friend realise that the Secretary of State seriously misled the House when he referred to what had been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan)? My hon. Friend for Reading, South referred to 200 hospitals closed or partly closed and the Secretary of State never referred to the words "or partly closed".

Sir W. Elliott

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) was absolutely right. It is not just in the Newcastle upon Tyne area, to which I am particularly anxious to refer. I have read of partial closures elsewhere. However, the hard facts with regard to Newcastle are that six wards in critical areas of hospitals. including one children's ward, have been closed in the last two weeks. No one should underestimate the effects of this general holdup. How many cases which are near emergency will become fully so within the next two weeks? I rather think quite a substantial number.

Newcastle upon Tyne, as the Secretary of State well knows and has acknowledged in the House on a previous occasion, has an appallingly long surgical waiting list. It will be made even longer for a great deal of time to come because of the present stoppage. It is salutary indeed to attempt to estimate in terms of pain what the effect of strike action will be throughout the country as a whole and my city in particular.

Our hospitals keep going at present—I think that the Secretary of State was quite fair in this section of his speech—certainly in Newcastle, because of the dedication of certain sections of people within the hospital service. The nursing profession is strained to the utmost. I had considerable evidence of that during the past weekend. So are the administration staff, who are doing a very good job and performing many tasks which are outside the bounds of their normal work. I pay tribute to both bodies.

However, I think that one should warn the Secretary of State and the Government, and certainly the House, that, if this dispute continues, breaking point for the nursing profession—indeed, that profession, nationally, has issued a warning about this—will not be not very far away. Certainly those who are administering the hospital services are in some cases quite near breaking point, too.

I should like to quote from a letter that I received today from a senior official of the hospital service in Newcastle upon Tyne. The sentence is simple but very important: We cannot go on like this much longer. So far, I gather that the unions are honouring their pledge to remove from Newcastle's hospitals infectious waste, but it is just as certain that other forms of waste are not being removed. I have it on skilled authority that non-infectious waste can quickly become infectious, and, indeed, without its becoming infectious it is an extremely high vermin risk and a very high fire risk.

In Newcastle, as elsewhere, there is no shortage of offers of voluntary help. It has been suggested from both the Labour Front Bench and the Labour Back Benches that we should not exacerbate the strike situation by allowing volunteers to come in. In the name of maintaining central services threatened if voluntary help is accepted, area officials in Newcastle upon Tyne have agreed not to accept volunteers as yet. But co-operation must be two-sided. Breaking point is near.

In what I hope is a short intervention, I wish to say only this to the Government. Area officials are honouring the so-called code. I believe, and so do many of them, and so does the Secretary of State, that its terms are inadequate. They are inadequate to ensure a minimum emergency service in our hospitals. Secondly, with regard to those in our hospitals who do not observe the code, hospital authorities should not hesitate, with the backing of the Government, to send them home. The wreckers within the trade union movement must not win the day—and they exist in Newcastle as in other areas.

The most critical area with regard to services in Newcastle—I am sure that this applies to the country as a whole—is that of the laundry service. It was very distressing to hear of the announcement on Friday that there would be, from today, a ban on the treatment of dirty linen in Newcastle's hospitals. When I point out that one of the Newcastle area's hospitals is a very large psychiatric hospital, one cannot underestimate the seriousness of that statement.

I am happy to report that my latest information is that, after long negotiation today, it has been agreed that dirty linen will be treated in certain hospitals, including the psychiatric hospital and the children's hospital. But the problem of linen remains acute. Cleanliness to a safe hygienic level must be maintained, and if it were to fall below tolerable levels we should be running into health problems of enormous magnitude. Refuse of all kinds must, under the code, be removed from all our hospitals.

If a revised code—and that is what I am asking for this evening—is to be brought into being, it should include such provisions. If these guarantees are not forthcoming, the Government must not capitulate; they must stand firm and bring in contractors and volunteers. It is firm Government action that is required at the moment, not the mixture of pleas and bullying which emerged from the Labour Party's local government conference in the civic centre at Newcastle over the weekend.

Gone for ever is the fallacy that only with a Labour Government can there be industrial peace. Never in modern times —and it is with a Labour Government— has there been greater industrial unrest in the area I represent. It can be no better summarised than by a letter from a constituent whose children attend West Jesmond school, which has been closed by industrial action. It says: We are desperate to save our children from learning little else but how to take industrial action. Is it possible that you could help in any way and make our feelings known to those who could make some efforts to resolve the present disputes? That effort I have made today, and I hope that note has been taken.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This is the last time I will appeal to the House, because I had been hoping to call from both sides of the House someone from Wales and Scotland as well as from London. That is still possible, but only if we have six-minute speeches.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

It has already been said that the debate is about wage bargaining in the public sector, and it is towards that end that I wish to address my comments. I want to follow, too, my hon. Friends who have expressed the point of view—against the views of the TUC—that there is growing opinion in support of the reintroduction of a fixed incomes policy. The debate is also about relativities and comparabilities, and about a method of relating income in the public sector with the outcome of wage bargaining in the company sector.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) attacked the views which have been expressed over the weekend about the general principle in this matter. The Tory Party has now clearly established that it intends, as the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) said at the weekend, to tilt the balance of power away from the trade unions. I think that it is demonstrated that it is commonly agreed in the Tory Party that that must be one of its major objectives.

The second thing that the Tory Party has said is that, given the opportunity, it would cut public spending. If public spending were cut, it follows that there would be an additional strain upon wage bargaining in the public sector, because there would be an enormous compression which must restrict the agreements ultimately made.

I want to relate all those remarks to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has said in his negotiating position, offering a maximum, at this stage at any rate, of about 9.9 per cent. increase and comparability at some later stage, some time in the future, when a method can be agreed as to how it can be done, in order to adjust the differences that have appeared between public sector earnings and company sector earnings. I said that that was not on. The trade union leaders representing the four unions that were named and the craft unions said that a settlement of the order of about 9.9 per cent., under 10 per cent., would so distort the existing wage structure differentials—not only the relativities between public and private sectors—that that was not possible at this stage. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will think again about figures of that kind.

The Minister did not give the relativities. It is understandable that he did not do so at that stage of the negotiations. Presumably he was speaking only for the Health Service and not the wider aspects of local authorities nor even those other public sector workers who have still to settle and who are about to enter a crucial stage in fair wage bargaining. The point is the 9.9 per cent. He did not relate it to a consolidated or unconsolidated base rate that now exists. The rate is 9.9 per cent.—of what? Where would the comparabilities start? What would be the relativities? Perhaps I should make a point about that matter.

I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) has returned. I may perhaps put to him a point about the incomes policy and why the TUC rejected it last year, and why it will continue to reject the idea of an incomes policy of a fixed kind similar to that which was discussed in the past.

I read with interest the new pamphlet "A Better Way" which appeared recently. It has a lot to offer. It is an admirable contribution to the discussion. The pamphlet says that the Government should make it known year on year how much is in the kitty and how much there is for distribution to top up the existing wage structures and perhaps bring about a little redistribution by way of comparability tests and getting the relativities right. That is all that the pamphlet talks about. It misleads people. It does not answer the major question that a voluntary incomes policy is not possible. It means nothing. The only incomes policies that can possibly work are those that are backed by statutory powers.

The great weakness about a statutory incomes policy relative to this debate is that the Government, when introducing a statutory policy, may talk only about maximum percentage increases or give a straight cash increase across the board. They cannot introduce any degree of flexibility that allows any element of plant bargaining or any adjustment between one group of workers and another. It is not possible to do that in a statutory incomes policy. That is its weakness.

There is also a weakness in this sense. Tonight we are speaking about the failure of three phases of incomes policy. It has produced this situation. The public sector workers have fallen behind their counterparts in the private sector precisely as a result of three phases of an incomes policy. Therefore, when the Government now say that the time has come under phase 5 to introduce some comparability tests, and that we should do something about the relativities, that asks too much of phase 5. Perhaps that is their intention. Perhaps they are now saying to the health and other workers "You must now work another year for Britain: let us put off the ultimate adjustments that are demanded in this dispute." Recent history is catching up with us. Therefore, the incomes policy is not on.

There is no such thing as unrestrained collective bargaining. There is always a restraint. There are ceilings in wages bargaining, which are set by the price that the private employer or the public sector can ask the rest of the community to pay for a service. The private employer must put a price on the product. That is the maximum against which wage bargainers have to negotiate. There is no other way.

If there is a pricing strategy that cuts right across the private and the public sector, it is possible by that means to relate the two sectors and to secure some justice between one set of workers and another and bring about some redistribution.

Mr. Radice

That is an incomes policy.

Mr. Atkinson

Of course it is an incomes policy. An incomes policy can be achieved in our kind of mixed economy only by having a pricing strategy, by being able freely to bargain against those restraints imposed by negotiated prices, agreed prices, that will come from such a strategy.

People say that it is impossible to get a relationship between the public and private sector—that has particularly come out in the present dispute—but in fact that is not so. When such negotiations are continuing it is possible to take craftsmen doing exactly the same job in both sectors.

Maintenance electricians and maintenance plumbers working in the private sector are doing exactly the same job as electricians or plumbers working in the public sector, particularly in hospitals. Let us say "There is a case. We have a comparability and relativity test at the same time for saying that those workers should earn roughly the same." Then we can start to organise the differentials in the public sector, in the Health Service and in local authority work, relating them to those craftsmen's agreements. We should get the relativities right and then get the differentials right in each industry. The thing then starts to fall into position.

The Government have no chance of succeeding in this long conflict unless they permit trade unionists to start negotiating the amount of resources to be made available in the public sector—not the other way round, saying that at the end of the day negotiators must come up against the restraints of cash limits and so on. Let the trade unions at the very beginning of the talks start to say how much of our nation's resources should be made available for health, housing, education and all the rest of the local authorities' work. Let the trade unions start in the beginning to agree upon the proportions and the allocation. Then they can argue sensibly about how those proportions are distributed within the various groups of workers. That is the more intelligent way of bringing sense into the whole business.

The questions of global amounts and poverty wages all come into this matter. It is because we have a very low wage economy that we suffer the problems we do. Even Socialists have found no substitute for money. Incentives must be paid for. We all recognise that.

The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), who spoke about productivity but was really talking about production, was corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). My hon. Friend was right to correct him for always complaining about an individual's productivity. That is not the question. The question is one of total output, and that means production.

The incentive of a higher wage society must go with our demands for higher production and greater efficiency in the country. We shall never get them, we shall never solve the problems in the private or the public sector, so long as we have the obsession with paying low wages and imposing the most dreadful conditions upon our workers.

There would be a revolution but for the fact that an enormous amount of overtime is worked and wives go out to work to augment the family income. The present assessment of overtime hours is 35 million a week in the public and private sectors combined. The Government have issued figures for the public sector alone, but the trade unions have done their homework. They have put the two together and have found that the total is the figure I have given.

We shall not be able to reduce the level of overtime, because of the drastic reduction that would mean in overall earnings, until we get decent wage structures in both sectors. That is what this argument is about. In order to make room for job creativity, and in order to avoid the consequences of 2 million unemployed in three years' time, we must offer workers some confidence by building a better wage structure through increasing the base rates so that they do not suffer a massive drop in income each week by a reduction in hours.

Therefore, when 9.9 per cent. is offered it must be put against the demand of public sector workers for a minimum of £60 a week for 35 hours. That is not on, and the negotiators will say that. I hope that we can get some sense and understanding out of these debates so that we can build for ourselves a society that recognises responsibility and does not continue to exploit the loyalty of people who empty the bins without complaint, who shift the rubbish, who do all the filthy jobs, who make our society possible and make it work. These are the people upon whom the community depends and upon whom it is built. These are people who do the essential jobs. If we are to reach a more sensible arrangement, we must come to grips with that realisation, and what I have suggested is the only way in which it can be done.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North-West)

I do not wish to follow too closely the arguments of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), except to say that I agree with him that the collapse of the present wage policy is as one phase follows another. It is totally wrong for the Secretary of State and some Labour Members to blame free collective bargaining at the moment when the Government's guidelines break down. If it is to work, free collective bargaining can work only in a climate of free collective bargaining. It is totally irresponsible to try to blame the people who advocate free collective bargaining for a breakdown of a wage guideline.

I particularly want to say something about the position in South Wales and in Wales generally. All hospitals there are working to rule, and in South Glamorgan there are selected areas for minimal work. We have reached the stage not of being on the pricipice but certainly of fast approaching it. A very serious situation is developing.

From my knowledge of those now engaged in industrial action, I believe that many men and women took that action with extreme reluctance. Many who are at present involved in working to rule have become increasingly alarmed at the consequences of their actions. They have become totally disillusioned with the union formula that only emergencies will be met, because the formula has proved insufficient to safeguard such emergencies.

I believe that the concentration on emergencies only has encouraged many people in the trade unions to adopt industrial action, because they felt that when it came to a matter of life or death they could at least ensure that no deaths resulted as a consequence of their action. But more and more people are realising that if routine essential treatment is not adopted this week the case becomes an emergency the following week. Indeed, it can be said that industrial action is creating emergencies which would not otherwise have existed.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the emergencies-only procedure can lead to strange situations? For instance, in the Portsmouth area, because cases are treated on an emergency-only basis, the ambulance drivers decided to deliver to the emergency hospital a legless 75-year-old man who was suffering from diabetes and chronic pneumonia. That hospital had no facilities to receive him whereas another hospital had.

Mr. Roberts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I suspect that few hospital workers anticipated the distress, pain and suffering that their actions have inflicted on patients and relatives of patients. Nearly all the hospitals in South Glamorgan are becoming cluttered with patients awaiting discharge who cannot go home because there are no ambulances. Anyone who has been in hospital for any time will know the distress that that can cause to a patient and to relatives. It also causes an additional strain and stress on the nurses and medical staff who have to continue looking after patients who should have been sent home. The ambulances and the ambulance men are available, but they do not regard taking sick people home as an essential service. It is not part of the emergency.

In the hospitals in South Glamorgan there are no telephone communications between the outside world and the wards. If a mother wants to telephone to find out how her child spent the night, she has to go through the emergency post. That is intolerable and something that the hospital workers did not expect.

Last Friday there was a threat that the university hospital, which is the regional and teaching hospital and the largest area hospital in South Wales, would be totally closed unless there was a satisfactory solution to the problem. That would be a disaster for the area and for the whole of Wales. I could give many more illustrations.

Many of us are asking what the Welsh Office is doing. Last week it decided to call an emergency meeting of area health chairmen. The meeting was called not for last week or today but for next Thursday. That action is not sufficiently urgent in a time of emergency. The Welsh Office should be told that it is facing a crisis in an atmosphere of complacency. When will the Minister show some initiative and call not only a meeting of the area health chairmen but a meeting of the unions and the area health officers? I know of no such plan. It is in the interests of patients and the people of South Glamorgan that the Minister calls the unions and the area health officers together at the earliest opportunity.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)

On the hon. Gentleman's ancillary remarks about complacency, he will understand that negotiations take place at a national level. It is for the area health authorities to deal with the matters locally. A fortnight ago when there was trouble regarding the ambulance men in Cardiff decisive steps were taken immediately to ensure that there was adequate cover for the Cardiff area.

Mr. Roberts

I am aware that a fortnight ago the Welsh Office took action. I have tried to show by giving one or two catastrophic examples in South Wales that the Minister should call the unions and area health officers together tomorrow or Wednesday. He should not delay giving a lead in these matters.

We should also like to know what guidance is being given to management on the question of volunteers. We accept the difficulties. But, whatever the guidelines, the Minister must indicate to management whether he will back any decision that it makes.

Many of us are concerned to know what will happen if the pay settlement is above 10 per cent. What will happen on the question of cash limits? Will we have an increase in the availability of cash or cuts in the hospital services in our area? Wales wants from the Welsh Office answers, not silence, action, not complacency.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

I shall not follow the line of argument of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) except to agree with him that the people engaged in the current Health Service dispute, as in other disputes, are not the callous, selfish maniacs that they are sometimes described. Frequently in our system, especially during the last three or four weeks, people engaged in industrial disputes, particularly those in sensitive areas of public provision, have been described as cruel and anarchic idiots, incapable of looking beyond their own interests. The Health Service is the last place in which we would find such people. They could not do the kind of jobs that they do and they certainly would not have settled for the kind of pay that they get if they had any of those characteristics.

I had hoped that in tonight's debate we would not hear descriptions of these people as "irresponsible" or "selfish" or "concentrating entirely on their own self-interest". But there have been few instances of anything like an acknowledgment, let alone a generous acknowledgment, from Opposition Benches that we are talking about a section of the working class that has been goaded into the current action by years of being considered to be at the bottom of every pay pile. Sooner or later this reaction had to come. It has been spurred forward, naturally, by the fact that the Government have been seeking to operate a 5 per cent. wage policy at the end of three years of various sorts of wage restraint.

That 5 per cent. was unacceptable, is inoperable and will be insupportable because it is too low even to encourage people in the private or public sectors to come to the table to begin productive negotiations. Far from encouraging the idea that in order to compensate for a low basic norm there should be discussions about productivity, this 5 per cent. is the kind of figure that throws negotiators into resentful, unproductive and unco-operative silence.

In these circumstances, there is no point in anyone preaching that we should be able to depend on our workers in this kind of wage bracket to be co-operative and accept restraint. The fact is that we live in a society which victimises the slow and penalises the self-sacrificing. It is stupid for anyone to pretend that in this kind of society organised labour will be idle for long—especially when all around in that society they see the riches going to the fast, the fat and the profiteering. Sooner or later they are bound to ask when it will be their turn.

In that kind of society, in a market economy, in a system with a social code which teaches not co-operation and restraint but the law of the jungle, it would be idiotic to presume that, even with the best will in the world towards any Government, organised labour would be prepared to draw its claws all the time. That is why we have our present problems.

The situation is being exacerbated by certain difficulties. We have had the pet themes trotted out. We have had the relativities board trotted out. That is a bit like the boy standing on the burning deck in the middle of the conflagration criticising the design of the ship and the fact that not enough attention had been given to its protection against fire. It is too late in this development of incomes policy for relativities boards to be established with any hope of curing the present malaise.

It is equally stupid and even more destructive to talk about the removal of the right of public sector workers to strike. We will not defeat this essentially economic problem by juggling with the constitution in that fashion. We will not bring about industrial harmony by the withdrawal of civil rights for certain groups of workers. That will not ensure that the problem is resolved, that sick people are looked after or that dead people are buried.

There has been a galaxy of pet themes from all around. One is the proposal for secret ballots. In this country, as in everywhere else, and in our public sector and hospitals, as they have in our coal mining industry and our railways, secret ballots would inevitably and invariably guarantee the full-hearted endorsement of the original proposition for pay claims or industry action. I have no objection to secret ballots except that the time lapse between the original proposition and the publication of the result of the ballot wastes extra days, weeks or even months of precious negotiating time and the consequence of that would be entirely negative.

The Leader of the Opposition and many of her hon. Friends have given their des- criptions of the problem. The right hon. Lady is a mistress of innuendo. She has developed to a fine art the ability to give impressions that are later withdrawn or diluted.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Kinnock

I agree with the hon. Lady. The impression is invariably one of rubbish. The result of the right hon. Lady's actions is that she has become a predator, especially in these disputes, on misery. I have no objection to political profit being sought in these circumstances. We are accustomed to that, but for an alternative Government to do nothing by way of proposing serious alternatives and to concentrate entirely on that destructive attitude is totally and obviously unacceptable, and will not be commended in the country and can make no contribution to the resolution of disputes.

A contributing factor to the deteriorating situation and a mischievous and malevolent factor in the industrial disputes of the past month has been the totally irresponsible, frenzied, hysterical and sensational British press. I ask Conservative Members to look only at the front pages of the Sun and the Daily Mail. I have seen cartoons in recent weeks in the Daily Express and elsewhere of Hitler and Napoleon rubbing their hands at the prospect of a Britain on its knees. The only parallel in history for what we have seen passing for a free press in the past few weeks is Dr. Goebbels. The press has developed the art of suggestion, deception, misrepresentation and the big lie to a degree that he never managed to achieve.

I say seriously to Conservative Members that my view is not simply of the general paranoia of a party beleaguered by a free press but is a fact. That misrepresentation and exaggeration has contributed to fear, panic and disruption in our society, and Conservative Members should not seek to defend a press which acts in that fashion.

I say to the Government that it is not a question of their being supine in the face of trade union demands. It is a question of reality and of deciding whether it is better to try to secure a reduction of one or two percentage points in the inflation rate at the end of this year or to subject the country and the workers to the inconvenience and possible tragedy of the sort of disputes that we are experiencing and those that we can contemplate in future.

That is a decision for the Government. I believe that, even now, the concession of a minimum wage, based on the Government's own figure of £45 a week, the acceptance of the consolidation of the gains made in phases 1, 2 and 3 and the introduction of an 8.8 per cent. pay rise across the board in the public sector, with the finance to back that for the local authorities and hopital employers, could resolve the disputes and make a contribution at the root to overcoming low pay in our society. It would enable those in dispute to return to work to provide the services that civilisation and economic advance demand.

9.35 pm
Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)

This has been a revealing debate in one sense. We heard four speeches from the Labour Back Benches and we heard four totally different recipes for how to deal with the problem. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has decided that it is all whipped up by the press.

My hon. Friends have left the House in no doubt about the grimness of the situation. Over half our hospitals are being hit by strikes, walkouts, blackings, picketing, intimidation and vandalism. We heard about the tyre slashing at Westminster. We did not hear about the porters pouring blood and urine samples down the drain at the "path" lab at the Dulwich hospital.

The Secretary of State took my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) to task because he said that 200 hospitals were closed. It is typical of the Secretary of State that he chose to leave out the last three words of the sentence. My hon. Friend said that 200 hospitals were closed "or partially closed."

My hon. Friends have been describing the effect on the health services in their areas when wards are closed and patients cannot be admitted to hospital. In many areas the situation is out of control.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was right to say that when NUPE called for the maximum dis- ruption of services it uncorked a bottle out of which all sorts of evil genii have come and that it cannot put the cork back again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) said that the so-called code of conduct is totally inadequate and must be strengthened if there is any pretence of keeping emergency services going. But the House should say something about those who are helping to keep the Health Service going. We should say something about the thousands of staff who are refusing to join the disrupters and to the volunteers who are coming forward in droves to help out. The strikes and the disruption are throwing huge burdens on medical, nursing and administrative staff who are responding magnificently. We should thank them.

Nurses are scrubbing floors, administrative staff are collecting rubbish and soiled laundry, junior doctors and senior nursing officers are removing the bodies of those who die in the wards, medical students are acting as porters in accident and emergency units. I invite the Secretary of State to join me in thanking them for what they are doing.

Ancillary workers who are union members, vulnerable though they are to intimidation and reprisals, are resisting union pressure to strike. Many ambulance men have refused, as have those in Reading, to take action and are maintaining normal services. The same is true of workers in catering, portering, laundry and stores. Here, the Government can do something positive to help. The Secretary of State should state plainly and clearly that nobody who has worked normally during the dispute will lose his job. There must be no victimisation.

The Secretary of State has shifted his ground about volunteers. Last Thursday he was wholly negative. In his reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby he said: Of course there is no opposition from the Government side to the normal work that volunteers can do in a hospital. What is not right is that they should seek to do professional tasks which are carried out by others in the hospital."—[Official Report, 1 February 1979; Vol. 961, c. 1681.] But today the Secretary of State quoted with approval the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) in 1973 when he said: For my part, I have made it clear to the hospital authorities that if a safe level of essential services cannot be maintained in a hospital they will have to look to volunteers."—[Official Report, 21 March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 459.] We have waited until today before hearing anything like that from the right hon. Gentleman. But the truth is that the circumstances are totally different and infinitely more serious today than they were in 1973. Then only 5 per cent. of the ancillaries were out. Now it is nearer 50 per cent. Then only 300 hospitals were affected, with none of them remotely approaching closure. Today well over 1,000 hospitals are affected, and some are closed while others are nearing it.

Mr. Ennals

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin

No. The Secretary of State made a long speech lasting over half an hour.

The risk to patients today is far more serious than it was in 1973, and the need for volunteers is therefore much greater.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that in some areas today volunteers are not being allowed to do even the tasks they undertake in normal times? I have a letter from the co-ordinator of voluntary services at the Banstead hospital which is supposed to be protected because it is for long-stay mental patients. It says Our Union and Management Action Committee have now agreed that virtually all voluntary work should cease within the hospital until the end of this dispute. So not even the normal tasks are being done by the volunteers. What does the Secretary of State say to that, and what is he doing about it?

One of the few cheering aspects of Labour's surly Britain is the readiness of thousands upon thousands of ordinary citizens to come forward and help out in taking care of the sick in hospital. But they get scant support from the Secretary of State.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby complained that there had been no preparations to meet this disruption. That is inexcusable. We have known for months exactly what was going to happen. I have here an article from the Financial Times from as long ago as last October. It states: The plans are aimed at identifying areas of maximum disruption to the Health Service. The effects, it said, could be even worse than those of the strikes of the maintenance supervisors. Those are the same words as appeared in the NUPE instructions in December where the union called for the maximum possible disruption to services. There has never been any doubt about what was threatened, yet there have been no preparations.

In the words of one district administrator to whom I spoke, "There was no contingency plan at all. All we have had is belated talk of a hot line. DHSS instructions are so much hot air."

The Secretary of State may have said that this was a matter for individual health authorities, and it may have been, but we looked in vain for a lead from him. If it was to have been a matter for individual health authorities, how far did he help them? Let me quote from one of the instructions that he chose to send out when trouble was threatening. This document is headed "Management in Confidence" and it deals with the "prospective industrial action". This document was addressed to the very difficult question of whether staff who disrupt services should continue to be paid. These are the words of the Secretary of State, who said that things should be left to local management. The document read: The Secretary of State wishes to make a judgement on this issue, for application nationally". So much for taking decisions locally. Authorities are therefore asked to await Departmental guidance before suspending staff or withholding pay from those who are taking industrial action"? so no one was to lose any pay whatever action they took— or before 'laying off' staff who are not involved in the dispute and are willing to work normally but are unable to do so in consequence of industrial action by others. Therefore, nobody likely to be laid off was left with any incentive to ignore union instructions and stay at work.

The circular gave rise to the deepest anger among NHS management, which found the ground totally cut from under its feet. The document destroyed any chance that it had of persuading staff to stay at work and, perhaps more serious, it undermined what influence moderate and reasonable trade unionists may have had in countering the intimidation of the militants. So there was a row. What does the right hon. Gentleman do the moment there is a row? He backtracks. He sent out a hasty telex which said that the letter of 15 January, to which I have just referred, was to refer to industrial action other than strike action". However, he did not stop there. A few days later the Secretary of State climbed right down. In an absolutely choice piece of officialese, he wrote on 24 January: The Secretary of State has considered reports from authorities, and other relevant circumstances, and has decided that local management should now exercise their normal discretion in responding to industrial action short of strike action. What a deplorable exhibition of feebleness and indecisiveness! I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that it left local managements confused and bewildered, just when they were facing the worst disruption the National Health Service has ever seen.

But the right hon. Gentleman did not stop there. There was the disgraceful episode concerning Mr. William Bond at Birmingham, and the right hon. Gentleman will have to answer for that. The unions, often supported by Labour Members below the Gangway, have tried to accuse distinguished doctors of being willing to put their patients at risk for political ends. What the right hon. Gentleman did when he made that disgraceful attack on Mr. Bond on 25 January—he shakes his head, but I will deal with this—was to lend the authority of his office to that squalid campaign.

Mr. Ennals


Mr. Jenkin

No. I shall not give way until I have finished. In doing so, the Secretary of State ignored the fact that Mr. Bond had been supported by the entire medical staff at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, Birmingham. He ignored the fact that Mr. Bond was supported by the district nursing officer, Mr. Matthew Dalton; he ignored the fact that other consultants had had to send patients home because the pickets had cut off supplies; and the Secretary of State further ignored the fact that Mr. Bond had to be persuaded by his fellow consultants before he agreed that his patients should bear their share of the cutback.

Mr. Ennals


Mr. Jenkin

Let me finish and then I will give way. The Secretary of State was perfectly happy to blacken Mr. Bond's name by currying favour with the unions and by trying to pretend that the emergency service was operating. It was even more despicable of him to try to pretend that he had not issued the statement and that it had come from the area health authority.

Mr. Ennals

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for eventually giving way. I hope that he will now withdraw his absolutely unjustified attack on me. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, and he has only to look up Hansard to ascertain this, that I made no comment at all on the statement that had been made by Mr. Bond. I read a statement issued that day in Birmingham. I did not elaborate on it and I made no judgment. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now withdraw.

Mr. Jenkin

I shall give way again if the right hon. Gentleman will now say he dissociates himself from the statement.

Mr. Ennals

The statement was issued by local management. It was put out in the name of the area medical officer and was issued from the hospital as a result of the inquiry that he had made at my request that morning.

Mr. Jenkin

The right hon. Gentleman had one purpose, and one only, in quoting that statement in the House. It was to try to show that the fuss being made by the Opposition was without foundation. He ought to be ashamed. Patients go into hospital to be treated by doctors, and for the Secretary of State to undermine the clinical authority of doctors is a betrayal of his office.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Birmingham, Stechford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Secretary of State chose not to believe the director of radiotherapy at the Queen Elizabeth hospital—the man who knew whether his patients were going to die—and instead chose to believe, first, the NUPE regional officer and, second, members of the area health authority, who were not at the hospital? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that the medical executive member of that team refused to sign the document which is so much flaunted round this House by the Secretary of State?

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend knows a great deal about these matters. The Secretary of State will rue the day that he chose to make that squalid attack.

My hon. Friend mentioned NUPE. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are facing serious difficulties because of the actions of NUPE. Much of this they have brought upon themselves. I understand that the Minister of State is a NUPE-sponsored Member of this House. We read in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday of how he has fearlessly disclosed this fact in the Register of Members' Interests. I will not quote the figures. They are all there. NUPE pays towards his election expenses and his local Labour Party. It is worse than that, because what the right hon. Gentleman has done is to elevate the local NUPE secretaries—those who are now causing the Government the maximum trouble—by plucking them out and having them up to talk to him in his office at the Elephant and Castle.

An example of this is the young man at the Westminster Hospital, Jamie Morris. Not once but several times, he has been to talk to the Minister of State in his office at the Elephant and Castle, bypassing local management and local procedures, even the union hierarchy. It is small wonder that that young man goes back to Westminster Hospital, as it was described to me the other day, on a gigantic ego-trip. That is the kind of person with whom hospital managements are having to grapple. If right hon. Gentlemen find that local unions do not obey the code, they have only themselves to blame.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Roland Moyle)

The right hon. Gentleman was courteous enough to say that he would raise this matter. There is no truth in it at all. If certain people are saying to the right hon. Gentleman what he has repeated in the House, I can only advise him that they are misleading him. If he continues to repeat this, he is misleading the House.

Hon. Members


Mr. Jenkin

Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman tells me that I have been misinformed, I shall withdraw. I am bound to tell him that the sources of my information are pretty impressive. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."] I can, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman would not like it.

Mr. Moyle

I would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would name the sources.

Mr. Jenkin

I am not sure how far I am at liberty to disclose conversations in the lobbies of this House. We shall have this out later. The source was the one man who would know.

Will the Secretary of State now change his tone towards volunteers? Will he give a categoric undertaking that no one who works on will be sacked? Will he give an undertaking that no one who disrupts services and refuses to perform his normal work will continue to be paid normally? Such a thing has been agreed at Liverpool and it is an absolute outrage. Will he recognise that his so-called three-pronged initiative has amounted to nothing? There is an agreement to meet mangement. What is the basis of the offer management is to put forward?

The right hon. Gentleman has asked for a breathing space. He no doubt heard what Mr. Colin Barnett of NUPE said about this on the radio this morning. The right hon. Gentleman has asked for a comparability stutdy. Why has nothing been done since the Prime Minister made the statement about comparability studies on 14 January? We must get rid of overmanning in the Health Service and work towards comparabilities and relativities. We have spelt that out.

After five years of Labour Government the nation is facing the worst threat ever known in the National Health Service. There is as grim a picture facing patients as we have ever seen since the last war. I have only one further question to put to the Secretary of State. Will he now resign?

9.55 p.m.

Mr. Ennals

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to reply to the debate.

We have listened to a typically cheap and squalid attack from the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin). He was totally negative in his approach. He had half an hour in which to set out his policy. I asked him a few questions when I spoke earlier. I asked what were his policies for settling the dispute. Nothing was said in reply. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are the Minister's policies?"] I asked what figures he would suggest for pay rises. Nothing came back. I asked him how he would deal with the problems of inflation. Nothing came back. I asked how he would contain the problems of industrial action. Again, nothing came back.

The right hon. Gentleman spent his time in making a squalid attack both on myself and on my right hon. Friends. [HON. MEMBERS: "And on the workers."] Yes, and on the workers. If the right hon. Gentleman intends to attack us, he should check his facts first.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Answer our questions.

Mr. Ennals

The right hon. Gentleman should be prepared to state the facts in this House. The Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman in handling this debate have used the present situation, which concerns everybody in this House, purely for party political purposes. He has used this as an opportunity for a further attack on the trade union movement—attacks which we hear constantly from the Conservative Party. Those who work in the NHS will deeply resent the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman.

Let me pay tribute to all those who work in the NHS. I agree with my hon. hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) that the vast majority of those who work in it, whatever their

role, are dedicated to their work. Squalid attacks of the kind we heard this evening can only damage relationships in the service—a service that will have to carry on its work when this industrial dispute is over.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ennals

No, of course I will not give way. The Opposition have jumped on the bandwagon again, this time in relation to a pay dispute.

Why do the Opposition intend to divide the House this evening? I put forward three proposals, and I want to know why they have decided to oppose them. I said that first we intended to have urgent negotiations for a single-figure settlement in this round and that we would enter negotiations now to settle the dispute. If Opposition Front Bench Members disagree, let them state their policy.

I said that the second rung of our policy was the early establishment on an agreed basis of a body to examine the subject of comparability. I believe that we have a special responsibility for those who work in the public service. There is no doubt that many of them feel that they have been outpaced by some who work in the private sector. We have taken this major decision and the Opposition, if they had any understanding of the needs of the public service, should support us in that initiative.

The third rung of our proposals was that we should appeal to the unions for a suspension of industrial action while talks take place. I hope that there will be a positive response from the unions—but if the appeal were to come from the Conservatives I can assure the House that there would be no response at all.

Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 262, Noes 270.

Division No.68] AYES [10.00 p.m.
Adley, Robert Bell, Ronald Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)
Aitken, Jonathan Bendall, Vivian Boyson, Dr Rhodes(Brent)
Alison, Michael Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Braine, Sir Bernard
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Benyon, W. Brittan, Leon
Arnold, Tom Berry, Hon Anthony Brooke, Hon Peter
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Biffen, John Brotherton, Michael
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Biggs-Davison, John Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)
Awdry, Daniel Blaker, Peter Bryan, Sir Paul
Baker, Kenneth Body, Richard Buchanan-Smith, Alick
Banks, Robert Boscawen, Hon Robert Buck, Antony
Budgen, Nick Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Pink, R. Bonner
Bulmer, Esmond Hunt, David (Wirral) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Burden, F. A. Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Hurd, Douglas prior, Rt Hon James
Carlisle, Mark Hutchison, Michael Clark Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Irving, charles (Cheltenham) Raison, Timothy
Channon, Paul James, David Rathbone, Tim
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, sutton) Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Clark, william (Croydon S) Jessel, Toby Rees-Davies, W. R.
Clarke, Kenneth (Rishcliffe) Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Cockcroft, John Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Jopling, Michael Rhodes James, R.
Cope, John Joseph, Rt Hon sir Keith Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Cormack, Partrick Kaberry, Sir Donald Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Costain, A. P. Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Ridsdale, Julian
Critchley, Julian Kilfedder, James Rifkind, Malcolm
Crouch, David Kimball, Marcus Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Crowder, F. P. King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Rodgers, sir John (Sevenoaks)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey King, Tom (Bridgwater) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kitson, sir Timothy Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Drayson, Burnaby Knight, Mrs Jill Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Knox, David Royle, Sir Anthony
Dunlop, John Lamont, Norman Sainsbury, Tim
Durant, Tony Langford-Holt, Sir John St. John-Steves, Norman
Dykes, Hugh Latham, Michael (Melton) Scott, Nicholas
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lawrence, Ivan Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Lawson, Nigel Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Elliott, Sir William Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Emery, Peter Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Shepherd, Colin
Eyre, Reginald Lloyd, Ian Shersby, Michael
Fairbairn, Nicholas Loveridge, John Silvester, Fred
Fairgrieve, Russell Luce, Richard Sims, Roger
Farr, John McAdden, Sir Stephen Sinclair, Sir George
Fell, Anthony McCrindle, Robert Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Macfariane, Neil Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) MacGregor, John Speed, Keith
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Mackay, Andrew (Stechford) Spence, John
Fookes, Miss Janet Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Forman, Nigel McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Sproat, Iain
Fox, Marcus Madel, David Stainton, Keith
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stanbrook, Ivor
Freud, Clement Marten, Neil Stanley, John
Fry, Peter Mates, Michael Steel, Rt Hon David
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Maude, Angus Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Mawby, Ray Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stradling Thomas, J.
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Mayhew, Patrick Stokes, John
Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Meyer, Sir Anthony Tapsell, Peter
Goodhart, Philip Mills, Peter Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Goodhew, Victor Miscampbell, Norman Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Gorst, John Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Temple-Morris, Peter
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Moate, Roger Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Monro, Hector Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Montgomery, Fergus Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Grey, Hamish Moore, John (Croydon C) Townsend, Cyril D.
Grieve, Percy More, Jasper (Ludlow) Trotter, Neville
Griffiths, Eldon Morgan, Geraint Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Viggers, Peter
Gryils, Michael Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Wakeham, John
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Morrison, Hon charles (Davizes) Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Walker-smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Hampson, Dr Keith Mudd, David Wall, Patrick
Hannam, John Nelson, Anthony Walters, Dennis
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Neubert, Michael Warren, kenneth
Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Newton, Tony Weatherill, Bernard
Haselhurst, Alan Normanton, Tom Wells, John
Hastings, Stephen Nott, John Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Whitney, Raymond
Hawkins, Paul Page, John (Harrow West) Wiggin, Jerry
Hayhoe, Barney Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Winterton, Nicholas
Heseltine, Michael Page, Richard (Workington) Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Hicks, Robert Pardoe, John Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Action)
Hodgson, Robin Parkinson, Cecil Younger, Hon George
Holland, Philip Pattie, Geoffrey
Hooson, Emlyn Penhaligon, David TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Percival, Ian Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Howell, David (Guildford) Peyton, Rt Hon John Mr. Michael Roberts.
Abse, Leo Armstrong, Ernest Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)
Anderson, Donald Ashley, Jack Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Ashton, Joe Bagier, Gordon A. T.
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Ginsburg, David Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Golding, John Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Bates, Alf Gould, Bryan Newens, Stanley
Bean, R. E. Gourley, Harry Oakes, Gordon
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Graham, Ted Ogden, Eric
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Grant, George (Morpeth) O'Halloran, Michael
Bidwell, Sydney Grant, John (Islington C) Orbach, Maurice
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Grocott, Bruce Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Ovenden, John
Boardman, H. Hardy, Peter Padley, Walter
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Palmer, Arthur
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hart, Rt Hon Judith Park, George
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Parker, John
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Hayman, Mrs Helene Pavitt, Laurie
Bradley, Tom Healey, Rt Hon Denis Pendry, Tom
Bray, Dr Jeremy Heffer, Eric S. Perry, Ernest
Brown, Hugh D. (Proven) Home Robertson, John Phipps, Dr Colin
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Horam, John Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Buchan, Norman Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Price, William (Rugby)
Buchanan, Richard Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Radice, Giles
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Huckfield, Les Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Richardson, Miss Jo
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Campbell, Ian Hughes, Roy (Newport) Roberts, Gwilyrn (Cannock)
Canavan, Dennis Hunter, Adam Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Cant, R. B. Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Robinson, Geoffrey
Carmichael, Neil Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Roderick, Caerwyn
Carter, Ray Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Janner, Greville Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Cartwright, John Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Rooker, J. W.
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Jeger, Mrs Lena Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Clemitson, Ivor Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rowlands, Ted
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)
Cohen, Stanley John, Brynmor Ryman, John
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Johnson, James (Hull West) Sedgemore, Brian
Concannon, Rt Hon John Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Selby, Harry
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sever, John
Corbett, Robin Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Cowans, Harry Kelley, Richard Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Kerr, Russell Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Craigen, Jim(Maryhill) Kllroy-Silk, Robert Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Crawshaw, Richard Kinnock, Nell Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Cronin, John Lamble, David Silverman, Julius
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Lamborn, Harry Skinner, Dennis
Cryer, Bob Lomond, James Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Snape, Peter
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Leadbitter, Ted Spriggs, Leslie
Dalyell, Tam Lee, John Stallard, A. W.
Davidson, Arthur Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lever, Rt Hon Harold Stoddart, David
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Stott, Roger
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Litterick, Tom Strang, Gavin
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lofthouse, Geoffrey Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Deakins, Eric Lomas, Kenneth Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Luard, Evan Swain, Thomas
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Lyon, Alexander (York) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Dempsey, James Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Dewar, Donald Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Doig, Peter McCartney, Hugh Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Dormand, J. D. McDonald, Dr Oonagh Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McElhone, Frank Tierney, Sydney
Dunnett, Jack MacFarquhar, Roderick Tilley, John
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McGuire, Michael (Ince) Tinn, James
Eadie, Alex McKay, Allen (Penistone) Tomilnson, John
Edge, Geoff MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Torney, Tom
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Maclennan, Robert Tuck, Raphael
Ellis, John (Brig & Scun) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Urwin, T. W.
Ennals, Rt Hon David Madden, Max Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Magee, Bryan Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Evans, John (Newton) Marks, Kenneth Ward, Michael
Faulds, Andrew Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Watkins, David
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Maynard, Miss Joan Watkinson, John
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Meacher, Michael Weetch, Ken
Flannery, Martin Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Weltzman, David
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mikardo, Ian White, Frank R. (Bury)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Millan, Rt Hon Bruce White, James (Pollok)
Ford, Ben Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Whitehead, Phillip
Forrester, John Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Whitlock, William
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Molloy, William Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Moonman, Eric Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Morris, Rt Hon Charles R. Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
George, Bruce Morton, George Wilson, Rt Hon Harold (Huyton)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Wise, Mrs Audrey Wrigglesworth, Ian TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Woodall, Alec Young, David (Bolton E) Mr. James Hamilton and
Woof Robert Mr. Donald Coleman

Question accordingly negatived.

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