HC Deb 26 October 1982 vol 29 cc873-7
2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what progress has been made in the talks on a new structure for the pay of nurses and ancillary staff in the National Health Service.

15. Sir David Price

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether, in the light of the dispute within the National Health Service over pay, he is yet able to bring forward proposals for improving the methods of settling pay within the National Health Service.

The Minister for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I have chaired four meetings so far which have discussed better permanent pay determination arrangements for nurses and midwives. Separate discussions are being held with representatives of the professions covered by the main Whitley Professional and Technical A Council. Some limited progress has been made. As my right hon. Friend reported again to the House last week, we remain prepared to meet the Trades Union Congress health service committee to discuss possible changes in the pay determination arrangements for other groups of National Health Service staff—including ancillary staff—whenever it is ready to call off industrial action and begin talks.

Mr. Hamilton

When will the Department stop misleading the country and the House on these matters? Is not the so-called two-year offer worse than the original offer of June, which was rejected overwhelmingly by all the unions and the Royal College of Nursing? Is it not the case that there is no more money on the table and that the Government are asking low-paid workers to accept 4 per cent. in 1983-84, which is disgusting and completely unacceptable?

Mr. Clarke

We do no service to anyone by these quibbles over figures. Plainly, the offer we made involved no reduction whatever on the offer we made previously for more money this year. It also included more money for the second year based on a suggested 4 per cent. increase, which is higher than the pay factor that the Government have decided for the public sector as a whole. All that was paving the way to better long-term arrangements for determining the pay of nurses and midwives. The Government are anxious to move on to such arrangements. I only wish that the trade union movement was equally anxious to do so.

Sir David Price

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that in manufacturing industry the lesson is clear that the closer to the shop floor negotiations take place the more likely one is to achieve a solution satisfactory to every one concerned? Will he therefore try to get some local element into the labyrinthine complexity of National Health Service pay negotiations? Does he not recognise that it is ridiculous to try to work out the last penny in London for catering staff in hospitals throughout the nation?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend that the closer one gets to the shop floor in the Health Service the more one finds impatience over the fact that these matters are dragging on and a desire that union leaders should get back to talking and resolving the issues. The Government are trying to resolve with the trade unions and others the right level of resources for the Health Service as a whole. The Whitley Council machinery, which includes representatives of local management, exists to apportion the money among the various staffs. The refusal of the TUC to go to the Whitley Council is stopping the detailed negotiations that my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Mike Thomas

How can it be right for the Government, in seeking to achieve a proper long-term settlement of the dispute, to ask some of the lowest paid people in the country to take a real cut in their pay, as the Minister admitted in the House last Wednesday? Is the Minister aware that he would sweep out the baby with the bath water if one result of his activity was the removal of the no strike rule 12 in the current RCN ballot?

Mr. Clarke

Health Service workers as a whole are not exceptionally low paid compared with the generality of employees. They are asking other employees—for example, local government manual workers—to take part in days of action in their support when those local government manual workers on average earn less than Health Service workers. Everyone this year has accepted pay offers below the level of inflation. The offer to the Health Service workers and the nurses compares favourably with others. The offer we have made for next year compares favourably with the public sector pay factor put forward by the Government.

Mr. Terry Davis

On the need for a new system to determine pay in the National Health Service, is it not a fact that the trade unions were originally given to understand that the Government wished to introduce a new system in April 1981? They were then told that the Government wished to introduce it in April 1982, then that it would be April 1983, and now, through the medium of the latest offer, that it will be April 1984. Why is it always jam tomorrow, never jam today?

Mr. Clarke

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has given a totally inaccurate account of progress towards the Government's ambition for better long-term arrangements for nurses, midwives and professions supplementary to medicine in the Health Service in particular. The first offer was made by my predecessor. It took a year for the staff side even to answer the letter suggesting that talks should begin. Finally, at our insistence, we got talks started. There has been a lack of progress. I am not satisfied that all those negotiating for the TUC really wish to achieve a successful conclusion, because better long-term arrangements would reduce their bargaining position in the annual bargaining arrangements. The only reason why we suggested 1 April 1984 compared with the last date given was that we were obviously making slow progress in the tripartite arrangements, and we thought it the earliest practical date at which to aim. If people will get down to quick progress on better long-term arrangements, the Government, the Royal College of Nursing and many others who are interested would like to see us get on with it.

Mr. Forman

In seeking to secure better long-term arrangements for Health Service pay, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is helpful to look forward to a time when inflation has fallen still further? Will he consider the possibility of making fuller use of something like the pay information board, suggested by Megaw, for the whole public sector?

Mr. Clarke

As inflation keeps falling, the unreality of the 12 per cent. claim becomes ever plainer. I cannot for the life of me understand why the TUC has not budged from the 12 per cent. claim. The second point is one of many suggestions now being proposed for public sector pay determination. That and similar matters are among those we are trying to consider in the tripartite discussions with the management and staff side in the Health Service.

Mr. Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of all the replies, I wish to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.

3. Mr. Lofthouse

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received from regional health authorities about the National Health Service pay negotiations.

18. Dr. Edmund Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he has any plans to meet the chairman of the regional health authorities to discuss the financial allocation for increases in National Health Service pay.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Nor. Norman Fowler)

I have regular meetings, usually every two months, with the chairmen of the regional health authorities and have kept in close touch with them throughout this dispute.

Mr. Lofthouse

In view of the figures given in a parliamentary answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) on 5 July, is the right hon. Gentleman's statement of 25 May that an increase of 2 per cent. could be achieved any longer valid?

Mr. Fowler

As the hon, Gentleman has given me no notice of either of those points and the replies to which he refers, I shall study them and give him a formal reply.

Dr. Marshall

Would it not be more clear and straightforward for all concerned if financial allocations to regional health authorities for wages and salaries were kept completely separate from financial allocations for other purposes?

Mr. Fowler

Yes. There is something to be said for that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have had to ask the regional health authorities this year to make some contribution to the pay awards that have been made. I hope that for the coming round—this point has been made in reply to an earlier question—and the two-year settlement that we propose, this will not be necessary.

Mrs. Knight

Will my right hon. Friend confirm—or deny—that one difficulty that he faces is that the TUC is determined that all the differentials that help nurses should be swept away? This is an important point.

Mr. Fowler

I can confirm that. When the members of the TUC health services committee came to see me, they said that one of the sticking points for them was that they wanted no differential or preferential rate for nurses. The Government believe that nurses deserve a 1½ percent. differential as a reward for their professional training. We shall stick to that position.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue, does the Secretary of State agree that it is a waste of money for him to spend £85,000 on press propaganda putting the Government's side when he has the House of Commons, newspapers, radio and television which he could use without spending any taxpayers' money? Why did he waste taxpayers' money in that manner?

Mr. Fowler

As the hon. Gentleman will perhaps recollect, the advertisements were placed when the House of Commons was not sitting. It was August.

Mr. Lewis

The right hon. Gentleman could have made a statement at any time.

Mr. Fowler

We placed the advertisements to counter the thoroughly misleading and mischievous propaganda from the other side.

Mr. McCrindle

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the revised offer made on 16 September followed detailed negotiations with the trade unions and that the Government had every reason to expect the unions to accept that as the basis for further negotiations? Will he confirm that he remains available to discuss matters further along these lines if only the trade unions are prepared to talk with him?

Mr. Fowler

I confirm my hon. Friend's second point. My door remains open. There is £1,100 million on the table. We have also offered the Health Service unions talks about new long-term arrangements separate from the talks that we are having with the nurses. There is absolutely no question—it has never been seriously denied or challenged—that the proposals made on 16 September were carefully worked out following talks with Mr. Spanswick, the chairman of the health services committee and Mr. Jacques, the secretary. That makes it all the more indefensible that the trade unions are not even prepared to come to the negotiating table to talk.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is it not true that the regional health authorities will have to find 34 per cent. of this totally inadequate offer now? Will the Secretary of State, next time he meets the RHA chairmen, explain that he is not even giving a guarantee to fund this offer next year? That will mean an even greater cut in patient care.

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Lady refers to the knock-on effect into next year. What she says about this year is true. We made this clear at the time. In regard to the knock-on effect on the Contingency Reserve next year and whether the Treasury picks up the bill, I shall have to ask the hon. Lady to wait for a few weeks, when all will be made clear, even to her.