HC Deb 09 February 1982 vol 17 cc846-7
6. Sir William van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he last met representatives of the Royal College of Nursing.

13. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what progress has been made towards devising a method of payment of nurses mutually acceptable to his Department and the staff side.

Mr. Fowler

I last met representatives of the Royal College of Nursing together with other representatives of the staff side of the Nurses and Midwives Whitley Council at a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 18 December. This followed a meeting I had with representatives of the staff side on 10 December. On both occasions the Government's commitment to finding a more satisfactory arrangement for nurses' pay was emphasised. We are now anxious to make good progress in developing these arrangements, and I have just circulated a paper setting out my views about possible approaches and suggestions for taking matters further, which I hope to discuss with representatives of both sides of the Whitley council. I would like this meeting to take place as soon as possible, and certainly before the end of the month.

Sir William van Straubenzee

Do not the figures given by my right hon. Friend in his answer to the previous question show that the history of this matter has consisted of periods of erosion followed by a catching-up process? Does that not underline the urgency of finding a newer and more proficient system of negotiating pay? Does he understand that in his efforts to speed up this matter he has the good will of many hon. Members?

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is why we are seeking a permanent new arrangement for nurses' pay which, as I think the House will agree, many people in the profession regard as their No. 1 aim.

Mr. Hamilton

Is it not clear that there will be no such new arrangement in the current financial year, and that, meanwhile, there is a strong rumour—I put it no higher than that—that the Government will insist on an increase of 4 per cent. for nurses this year? If that is correct, is the Minister aware that the whole nation will be appalled and angered at this niggardly approach to the most worthwhile profession in the country, and that the country is unanimously behind the nurses?

Mr. Fowler

I repeat that the Whitley council has not yet met to consider the nurses' first claim. There is no question about the Government's commitment to nurses. Since this Government came to power, 21,000 extra nurses have been employed in the National Health Service.

Mr. Garel-Jones

In the course of my right hon. Friend's meeting with the Royal College of Nurses, did he take the opportunity to point out that the Government's success, with the assistance of the private and public sectors, in achieving moderation in wage claims——

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Member talked out the death grant Bill on Friday.

Mr. Garel-Jones

——particularly, for example, the moderation in the miner's wage claim—is a significant factor in assisting the Government perhaps to consider making special arrangements for nurses this year?

Mr. Fowler

My hon. Friend's general point is an important one and has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley). I say again that I am not prepared to be drawn, prior to the meeting of the Whitley council.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the Secretary of State concede that the present pace of the Whitley council is extremely slow and cumbersome? Will he continue to apply pressure for a speedy result and stop repeating his claim about the 21,000 new nurses, when part of the reason is that their hours were reduced from 40 to 37 a week? The 21,000 nurses are still doing the same job as they were before.

Mr. Fowler

Part of the reason is, of course, that the hours of work have gone down. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would think that that was a good idea and that he would pay credit to the Government for having financed that.

Mrs. Knight

Without asking my right hon. Friend to look ahead to the Whitley negotiations, will he always keep at the forefront of his mind that nurses provide a much-needed service and set a shining example of never striking, which others would do well to follow?

Mr. Fowler

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend said. I pay tribute to that and to the nurses who work in the hospital in my hon. Friend's constituency, which I visited during the vacation.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Further to the hon. Lady's comment, which I support, about the wonderful example of these public servants who never strike, will the Secretary of State consider giving them no increase, but pay them the same attendance allowance as that received by Members of the House of Lords, who are good public servants and who never strike? Does the Secretary of State agree that nurses would love to have the equivalent of hundreds of pounds or the tax free allowances of£35 and£40 a day that Members of the House of Lords receive?

Mr. Fowler

I prefer to maintain the course that we have already set and seek a new permanent arrangement for nurses' pay.

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