HL Deb 18 June 1981 vol 421 cc755-7

3.3 p.m.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they intend to take to avert an ambulancemen's strike.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

My Lords, the Management Side of the Ambulancemen's Whitley Council has offered an increase of 7¾ per cent. in basic rates. We consider that this will lead to earnings by ambulancemen which are fair both to the men themselves and to the general body of taxpayers who have to find the money. The Government greatly regret that the sick are being harmed by industrial action taken by ambulancemen in pursuit of higher earnings.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. May I ask her whether she is aware that the ambulancemen have shown exceedingly great patience? As long ago as 1966 there was the Miller Report. This was followed in 1970 by the McCarthy Report, which recommended the rationalisation of the ambulance service, proper training and proper qualifications, and a sane system of collective bargaining. In 1979, the Clegg Report recommended an all-in salary covering weekend work in precisely the same was as it affects firemen and the police. In so far as ambulance staffs are a vital part of our emergency services, what the ambulance staffs are asking for and what they have waited for for nearly four years is that the treatment meted out to them should be as near as possible to the conditions meted out to their colleagues in the police force and the fire service.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government fully recognise the important role which the ambulance service plays as part of the National Health Service accident and emergency service. The fact is that the Clegg Commission considered the ambulancemen union's claim for pay to be settled in relation to the pay of police and firemen but concluded that emergency work was only a part and by no means the most time-consuming part of the job of each of the three services.

On the comparison of the pay of ambulancemen with that of firemen, may I say that the comparisons are complicated? If, however, one takes an ambulanceman of two years' service working the fire service's duty system—that is, 42 hours a week with duties rotating over seven days and 24 hours a day—he would earn on ambulance scales about £108, which would now go up to £116. This should be compared with the fire service's rates of pay since 1st April 1981 of £110 a week. So they are very nearly similar when an accurate comparison is made.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, would not the noble Baroness agree that it might help to avert action of this kind if the Government were to enter into consultations with representatives of employers and trade unions aimed at establishing agreed, long-term arrangements for pay determination on a much wider basis than those which are required to deal merely with ambulancemen or, for that matter, ambulancemen, policemen and firemen?

Baroness Young

My Lords, so far as ambulancemen are concerned, which is the point at issue in this Question (the others are wide of the Question) the negotiation of pay and conditions of service is still the responsibility of the Whitley Council, which includes representatives of the four relevant trade unions, the National Health Service employing authorities and the three health departments. In this particular intance, the management side have responded to an invitation to exploratory talks at ACAS on 11th June with a view to settling the dispute.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether or not it is true that the ambulancemen are wishing to consolidate all the various payments that they now get for unsocial hours, for overtime and for other special circumstances in their basic pay henceforward? If this were to be brought about, is it not true that they would then be getting £170 a week? Would not this be disproportionate when one considers the amount that the other people in similar circumstances are receiving?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think I have said enough to indicate that if you try to compare like with like, under the new proposals ambulancemen will receive more or less the same rates of pay for the same amount of work as do firemen. I think all noble Lords will recognise that the police are a different service, in that there are various restrictions which apply to them which do not apply to the other services. The latest evidence which I have is that on the new rates of pay which have been offered, assuming the sum expected for overtime, shift work and weekend work, a leading ambulanceman in London could expect to earn about £184 a week and a qualified ambulanceman in London about £166 a week. The rates of pay are somewhat lower outside London.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the ambulance staffs—there are ambulancewomen as well as ambulancemen—are highly skilled and very important people? When there is a fire, they may be without the police but the ambulance staffs are always there. If there is a riot or a severe police problem, ambulance staffs are required. The point is that the co-ordination of these three services is admirable and I give credit to all three of them. Is the Minister aware that on 12th of this month the Secretary of State issued a press statement in which he made certain remarks concerning pay? If he means them, the Confederation of Health Service Employees, which represents the ambulancemen, are prepared from this moment onwards to meet him, because they believe that this is the first time he has made them and that they represent a real basis for negotiation.

Baroness Young

My Lords, as I indicated earlier, the Government recognise the important work which ambulancemen and ambulancewomen do, but all the evidence is that only about 10 per cent. of their time is spent on emergencies. Their other work, which is extremely valuable, is not in precisely the same category of difficulty and danger as is emergency work. This is the difference between the ambulance service and the other services.