HL Deb 21 June 1982 vol 431 cc798-800

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Lane-Fox

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 has been the average increase in nurses' wages since 1979.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, since March 1979 the average pay increase for all nursing and midwifery grades has been 61 per cent. Earnings, which represent on average an additional 16½ per cent. on basic pay, increased by some 60 per cent. over the same period.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend the Minister for supplying the figures, may I ask that they be made better known among members of the nursing profession, who may then be more inclined to co-operate with the Government in getting pay negotiations for the nursing profession put on to a more sensible basis?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I and my right honourable and honourable friends in the Department of Health lose no opportunity of making the figures public, not least in answer to Questions from the noble Baroness and Members of the other place. I am not sure what more there is that we could do in present circumstances, but certainly I hope that the importance of the figures that I have mentioned is not lost on those who are now contemplating industrial action of one sort or another.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in 1930 I introduced a Bill in another place for a living wage and an eight-hour day for nurses? They were treated like Florence Nightingales, needing little money. Despite the increases that have been made, is it not the case that nurses, who are fulfilling the most necessary contribution to society, have a wage that is still far less than the average in this country?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord is wholly right on that. No doubt the Bill that he sought to introduce all those years ago was right and proper at the time, but today, for example, an enrolled nurse earns £4,000, a staff nurse, £4,500, a ward sister's pay is approaching £6,000, and a nursing officer, Grade I earns £6,500— and that is before any offer in respect of 1982 is added on. So the picture is not necessarily as black as the noble Lord paints it.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in order to get a secretary in London, he would have to pay £6,000, and the kind of work in which she would be engaged would be of a pleasant and enjoyable character? With regard to the kind of work in which a nurse is often engaged, if the noble Lord were to visit the casualty department of a hospital in London any day of the week, he would see exactly what the nursing staff have to contend with.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not doubt that much of the work which nurses do is difficult, and very often they work very long hours indeed. But, on the other hand, the work is very satisfying, perhaps more so than the work done by the kind of secretary whom the noble Baroness has described.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will my noble friend acknowledge the magnificent way in which the nursing profession has so far declined to strike, and will that be borne in mind in their favour in any thoughts that the Government may be giving to their pay and conditions of service?

Lord Trefgarne

Yes, my Lords, the Government certainly recognise that nurses are a special case, even within the health service. That is why the offer that we made included special provision for the nurses, and that is why we made additional funds available for the purpose.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware of the fact that nurses make very good wives?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I regret that I do not speak from experience of that kind, but I am sure that the noble Lord is right.

Lord Jacques

My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that perhaps the best alternative to industrial action is arbitration, to which both sides can put their cases fairly?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, with respect, arbitration has one drawback, and that is that it does not say where any additional money is to come from. It is for the Government surely to decide how much money is available for the purpose. That is what we have done and that is what the offer incorporated.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister confirm that all emergency cases are receiving proper care and attention during the National Health Service industrial dispute?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am very sorry to have to say that during the last day of action (as it was called) emergency care was not maintained right across the country, in particular with regard to the ambulance services in some areas, and therefore special arrangements had to be made.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that the noble Baroness's supplementary question to him should be rephrased, in that it is a matter not of the nurses co-operating with the Government, but the Government co-operating with the nurses? I ask that bearing in mind that, although the percentages look all right on paper, what is overlooked is the fact that nurses have to undergo quite a period of training. Will the noble Lord also give comparative figures for other industrial increases, in particular in the higher regions of management?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, of course I do not have in front of me the figures for every single area of British industry, but the noble Lord recently asked me about the TSRB report, and on that occasion I was able to tell him (if he recalls) that members working in the health service have I think enjoyed a 20 per cent. increase since 1980, and are now therefore paid in the order of that percentage above 1980 levels, while those to whom the TSRB award applied are still paid only about 14 per cent. above the levels of that year.

Lord Segal

My Lords, in considering any salary increase will the noble Lord bear in mind that for the type of work that they do in saving human life nurses can never be adequately paid?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there is a good deal of force in what the noble Lord says, but I fear the fact remains that we have to find the money from somewhere. The health service employs altogether about a million people, about half of whom are nurses, and so your Lordships will appreciate that even a modest increase costs a very great deal of money overall.