HC Deb 30 June 1982 vol 26 cc877-9
3. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement about the Health Service workers dispute.

12. Mr. Harry Ewing

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

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

The effects of the dispute have been damaging to the care of patients in Scotland, with some areas and services being more seriously affected than others. In some cases the trade unions have failed to provide even the basic levels of service required by their code of practice. Whatever the feelings on their pay claim, there can be no justification for the trade unions' action in withdrawing essential services from those least able to look after themselves.

The Government last week authorised an improved offer to nurses and professions supplementary to medicine of 7.5 per cent., to ambulancemen and pharmacists of 6.5 per cent., and to other staff of 6 per cent. I hope that all staff concerned will accept that these increases are reasonable and realistic in present circumstances and will now return to normal working.

Mr. Canavan

Now that a conciliatory meeting has been arranged between the trade unions and ACAS, will the Government depart from their inflexible attitude and agree to meet the ACAS chairman in order to give further consideration to the justifiable 12 per cent. wage claim? What the Government have offered so far is an insult and amounts to a wage decrease in real terms to nurses and other ancillary workers who are essential to the survival of the National Health Service, founded by a previous Labour Government but threatened with destruction by the present Tory Government?

Mr. MacKay

There has been real growth in the Health Service since this Government took over from the Labour Government. As for inflexibility, we showed in our offer last week of 6 per cent., 6.5 per cent., and 7.5 per cent. a degree of flexibility. The inflexibility has come from the trade union side, which has stuck rigidly to a demand of 12 per cent. and above.

Mr. Ewing

Will the Minister accept that the trade unions, far from being inflexible, are very flexible? It is the trade unions that have asked to see ACAS next Tuesday. The Government have so far made no conciliatory moves in the dispute. Will the Minister accept that, even under the Government's improved offer, according to official figures published in The Guardian today student nurses will actually be worse off financially? When will the Government see sense in this dispute? They are just as responsible as anyone else for damaging patient care.

Mr. MacKay

The Government have said all along that they are not prepared to sanction a recourse to arbitration. It would be wrong to subcontract to some independent body the decision about how much the Government and the taxpayer can afford. The increases that we announced last week, which show flexibility on our side not matched on the other side, are believed by the Government to be fair and in line with settlements of about 6 per cent. in comparable parts of the public sector.

Mr. Ancram

In the light of my hon. Friend's reply that the trade unions in certain areas were not acting in accordance with the trade union code of practice, will he identify the hospitals where the code has not been adhered to?

Mr. MacKay

There are a number of hospitals in Scotland, including, I think, some in my hon. Friend's constituency, where, during some of the time in the last five weeks, the code of practice was not adhered to—

Mr. Canavan

Which ones?

Mr. MacKay

There were two hospitals affected in Edinburgh during the laundry dispute, which, fortunately, has been partially resolved.

Mr. Canavan

There are more than two hospitals in Edinburgh. Name them.

Mr. MacKay

They were the Edinburgh Royal infirmary and the Royal Edinburgh mental hospital.

No reduction in the level of care for seriously ill and highly dependent patients is regarded as acceptable by the Government. When large hospitals like the two that I have mentioned and others are left without catering staff, porters and cleaners, and when soiled linen is allowed to pile up for days on end and there are insufficient quantities of clean bedding or clothes for elderly and mentally ill patients, it is clear that the standards of care have fallen below a tolerable level and that the code of practice is not being obeyed.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will the Minister accept that if there is any inconvenience to patients, the responsibility lies squarely on the Government? Will he accept from me that the final word has not been said on this matter by a long way? How can the hon. Gentleman and the Government say in the same breath that there is no extra money for National Health Service employees but that there will be at least £1,000 million available for financing the Falkland Islands fiasco?

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. The figure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence mentioned yesterday was £500 million for this financial year out of the Contingency Fund. That comes out of the Contingency Fund.

Mr. Willian Hamilton

Then pay the nurses out of it.

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman obviously does not understand what the Contingency Fund means. Let me reiterate. Last week we offered a reasonable increase consistent with increases to teachers, to civil servants and, indeed, to the Armed Forces. I hope that workers in the National Health Service will at least take away our offer and consider it, as the nurses are prepared to do.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that the nurses are a special case and that this has already been recognised by the Government? Does he further agree that during the winter of discontent the National Health Service unions, along with other unions, brought about the demise of the Labour Government so that they could return to free collective bargaining.

Mr. Norman Hogg

Is that what they have?

Mr. Walker

Part of free collective bargaining is job security, holidays and pensions. All of this has to be computed when one is working out wages, particularly at a time—[interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. MacKay

Our record of expenditure on the National Health Service and increases that we have given to the nurses, in particular, since the last election, are matters of which we can be proud. They contrast with the increases given by the Labour Government which ended up in all the trouble of the winter of 1978–79, which Opposition Members seem to have suddenly and completely forgotten.

Mr. Robert Hughes

How can the Under-Secretary justify giving different levels of pay increases to different people working in the National Health Service, especially as he has recognised the importance of porters and laundry workers in keeping the service going? What justification exists for widening differentials when people are already taking a very real cut in their standard of living.?

Mr. Mackay

In making an offer of 7.5 per cent. to the nurses and professions supplementary to medicine we are recognising their special position within the National Health Service as the people who give direct patient care. We are also recognising the expensive training that equips them for their position in the Health Service. I am certain, whatever the Opposition may say, that the people of this country recognise that it is right to pay special attention in wage negotiations to the particular case of nurses and professions supplementary to medicine.

Mr. Canavan

Give them the 12 per cent. then.

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