HL Deb 15 November 1983 vol 444 cc1145-7

2.44 p.m.

Lord Molloy

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions they have held or plan to hold with the trade unions representing National Health Service employees regarding the future of the NHS.

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

My Lords, the normal channel for consultation with National Health Service interests is the staff side of the General Whitley Council, on which trade unions and professional bodies covering NHS employees are represented. My honourable friend the Minister for Health saw staff side representatives yesterday to hear their views on matters of current concern. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services meets the TUC Health Services Committee from time to time to discuss matters of topical interest. Meetings were held on 7th July and 12th September, and a further meeting will probably be held early in the new year.

There have also been discussions among my honourable friend and members of the committee on long-term pay determination arrangements for the National Health Service. Three such meetings have been held since July. My right honourable friend will also be meeting the General Secretary of the TUC and members of the General Council on 24th November to discuss future funding of the National Health Service.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am most grateful for the Minister's very comprehensive reply. I am sure he will agree that it is confirmation that the Government recognise the authority and knowledge of all those who are engaged in running the health service and who, via their associations, can respond and make recommendations to the Government. Inasmuch as there might be argument as to whether or not the National Health Service is facing difficulties, there seems to be among the staff representatives the need for a comprehensive meeting, apart from the meetings which the Minister has already outlined. May I therefore ask the Minister whether the Government would consider that perhaps the Whitley Council, the TUC and all the others involved should have a conference with the Minister in charge to discuss the future of the National Health Service?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friend and honourable friend will note what the noble Lord says. The Government are always willing to hear and consider the views of National Health Service trade unions on matters of mutual concern, but, as the noble Lord will know, at the end of the day it is for the Government to make up their mind on health policies.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to give an assurance that the Government will consider extending the period during which staff cuts have to be made? The evidence shows that insufficient time has been allowed for proper discussion as to reorganisation. Will the Minister therefore discuss with the TUC and the staff organisations the possibility of an extension or delay?

Lord Glenarthur

No, my Lords, that will not, I fear, be possible. As the noble Lord knows, the manpower targets for achievement by 31st March 1984 have already been settled with all 14 regional health authorities in England.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that anxiety about the future of the National Health Service is by no means restricted to the trade unions representing National Health Service employees? Is the Minister aware that, in addition, the British Medical Association and the General Nursing Council are very anxious—as, indeed, are patients and potential patients? May I ask the Minister to use his influence to persuade his right honourable friend to consult the community health councils, who will be able to give him a clear picture of how the National Health Service now looks to the patients who are having to use it?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the National Health Service unions not affiliated to the TUC, if they are what the noble Lord is referring to, do meet Ministers from time to time, and they account for about 150,000 people. So far as the community health councils are concerned, I believe that my honourable friend the Minister of Health is going to see them today.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, to follow up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, there are many professional associations within the National Health Service and elsewhere who are a little shy of calling themselves trade unions but who nevertheless have a specific point of view. Would the Minister therefore consider, in so far as concerns the people he mentioned—the Whitley Councils and the trade unions—who might have specific points of view to put forward, that if they were brought together for one day to assist the Secretary of State it would be of benefit to the Secretary of State, to the Government, to patients and to all aspects of the National Health Service?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I really think that I answered the noble Lord's question when I spoke earlier.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, accept that the cuts are much greater than those announced, as there were something like 7,000 vacancies at the time they were imposed?

Lord Glenarthur

That is another question, my Lords, and we have already debated the NHS at some considerable length last week.