HC Deb 28 July 1982 vol 28 cc1048-50
9. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a further statement on the industrial dispute in the National Health Service in Scotland.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John MacKay)

I regret that disruptive action by some groups of health service workers continues to affect the care of patients in Scotland. Many patients suffer discomfort and inconvenience, and the treatment of many sick people is being delayed.

The Government's offer is a reasonable one in all the circumstances, and I urge the unions to call off their strike action and resume negotiations.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Minister aware that many hon. Members such as myself continue to support action being taken by the nurses and ancillary staff in the health services? Is he surprised about that, since large numbers of nurses will be worse off, net, after their pay increase of 7.5 per cent? How can he, or anybody in the Government, defend the 10.3 per cent. increase to the police and the 7.5 per cent. increase to nurses? Is it because the Government think that nurses are less important than policemen?

Mr. MacKay

My right hon. Friend is meeting the negotiating body on police pay today and it is not for me to join in speculation on that. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the last four years of the Government in which he served, when increases in pay for nurses lagged well behind the RPI, whereas since the last general election the increase to nurses has been in advance of the RPI.

Mr. Grimond

Although some of us do not support the industrial action, we are puzzled by the Government's policy. What is the logic of giving senior civil servants, judges and now the police a much larger increase than the nurses? What is the logic of saying that the people who work in the Health Service, who do a good job and are badly paid, should have a much lower increase?

Mr. MacKay

The right hon. Gentleman ought to compare like with like. The groups most comparable with the Health Service, such as those in local government and the Civil Service, have received wage increases averaging 6 per cent. Indeed, the Armed Forces received 6.1 per cent. and teachers 6 per cent. Therefore, our offer to the Health Service workers is well in line with what the vast majority of other workers have received.

Mr. McQuarrie

Is my hon. Friend aware that a considerable sum of money is spent by health boards on property and administrative staff? Were the Government to carry out an investigation into that sort of wastage, they could well have more money to pay the nurses and the ancilliary workers.

Mr. MacKay

That is certainly an area where the health boards could look for savings, and I hope that they will do so. We have encouraged the health boards to look over the next two or three years for an average percentage reduction in administrative costs so that as much taxpayers' money as possible goes direct to patient care.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Minister aware that many people are beginning to question the way in which higher salaries are being treated by the Government and believe the Government's philosophy to be "To him that hath shall be given"? As many people regard as unfair the way in which defenceless people on low incomes are being treated, is it not about time that the Government took action to give a reasonable wage increase to the NHS workers?

Mr. MacKay

As I have already said, since the general election the Government have given considerable extra money to the NHS and to its employees. We feel that the 7½ per cent., 6½ per cent. and 6 per cent. offers currently on the table are consistent with the other offers that have been accepted in other walks of life, both in the private and public sectors. We know that neither the taxpayer nor the Health Service can afford to pay the 12 per cent. claim for which the NHS workers have asked.

Mr. Harry Ewing

If the taxpayer cannot pay the 12 per cent. to the nurses and the ancillary workers, how does the hon. Gentleman justify the taxpayer paying 18 per cent. to judges, 14.6 per cent. to higher civil servants and 10 per cent. to the police? He cannot have it both ways. What does he mean by "negotiations", especially when he has gone out of his way to say that there is no room for further negotiation? What about the dispute in his Department? We understand that some of his civil servants have withdrawn co-operation as a result of the way in which he has handled the Health Service dispute.

Mr. MacKay

Perhaps I can convince the hon. Gentleman of the realism of this situation. I noticed that this morning the national executive of the Labour Party was picketed by its employees who are unhappy about the fact that their wages will not be increased.

Mr. Ewing

Answer the question.

Mr. MacKay

If the hon. Gentleman reads my previous answers, he will see that I have answered all his questions. We have moved from our original offer of 4 per cent. The unions have made no move and I urge them now to do so.

Mr. Ewing

What about the dispute in the hon. Gentleman's Department?

Mr. MacKay

Part of my Department is involved in a dispute, which means that some of the questions tabled by hon. Members cannot be answered because we do not have the detailed statistics. I hope that those involved will take the same advice as I am giving to the rest of the Health Service and return to normal working and negotiations.