HL Deb 24 April 1995 vol 563 cc701-3

2.57 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have issued any guidelines to National Health Service trusts concerning the present negotiations on the pay of nurses and ancillary staff.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, guidance on local pay has been issued in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which advises that pay offers should be fair, affordable, simple and understood. The management executive in Scotland will issue guidance on local pay for nurses this week.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Will she confirm that 75 per cent. of local trusts have not responded to the letter which I understand was written by the director of human resources for the health service, Mr. Jarrold, on 11th April? What will the Government do if that letter is simply left in abeyance by local trusts? Will they guarantee the 3 per cent. rise which the Royal College of Nursing wants across the board?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the letter, as the noble Baroness said, has only just been received by health authorities and trusts. We are encouraging trusts and health authorities to make their offers quickly. The majority which have made offers have made them at around 3 per cent. It is up to local management to decide the level of local pay.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, while accepting that nurses' pay is a sensitive issue and one that has great popular support, does my noble friend agree that it is possible that Members of the party opposite, suffering from an understandable lapse of memory because it is a long time since they were in office, have forgotten what happened when they were in office?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend is referring to the fact that as regards real term pay settlements, the Labour Party reduced—cut—nurses' pay by 3 per cent. whereas this Government have increased it by 51 per cent.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, was it not inevitable, once the changes in the structure of the National Health Service were made, that such confusion would arise? Is this not an issue on which there ought to be a national pay policy for the National Health Service?

Baroness Cumberlege

No, my Lords. I have been taught that when in charge, ponder; when in trouble, delegate; when in doubt, mumble. There is no confusion. I shall not mumble on this occasion. I am absolutely convinced, as are Her Majesty's Government, that the National Health Service can no longer live in Jurassic Park where 70 per cent. of the costs are not decided by the people who actually employ the staff. We must get away from the national agreements and into local agreements where local managers can manage, working closely with their staff.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, does that mean that we are now in a situation in which market forces and the efficiency of the administration determine nurses' pay rather than their training, ability and efficiency? If that is so, we really are going down a very difficult and wrong road.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the whole purpose of local pay is that local managers should consider not only the recruitment possibilities for their area, living costs, travel costs and rent costs, but also the skills and abilities of the staff whom they employ. Only last week an article in the Guardian said that an element of local pay for nurses makes good sense. We believe that. We believe that it should mean that nurses should be paid more in parts of the country where those costs are higher. That was a view confirmed also in the Evening Standard and the Economist. Those people who are enlightened recognise that the future must lie with local pay.

Lord Hayhoe

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the arrangements which have been the subject of our exchanges this afternoon were the result of the recommendation of the independent review body? They are not the result of a decision by the Government, other than the Government very properly accepting without reservation or amendment the extremely clear recommendations put to them by the independent review body. I believe that that body was generally and broadly accepted as good when it was set up some years ago.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The review body was set up in 1983. It was fought for extremely hard by the nurses, midwives and health visitors who wanted an independent review body. The review body has made those recommendations. Indeed, over the past 11 years since the Government established the body, nurses' pay has risen faster than earnings in the economy as a whole. It is disappointing that on the one occasion on which the review body recommends local pay, it is not received warmly by those nurses whom it is intended to help.

Lord Desai

My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell the House which of the four criteria—fair, affordable, simple and understandable—are not met by the current offer, which has made the nurses so unhappy?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, one must recognise that those who are opposing this measure are those who, in the past, have had the power, as trade unions, to negotiate nationally. We believe that that time should come to an end now. It is relevant that the employers of those staff should take into consideration all the local factors. I can understand the RCN and UNISON and the other trade unions all wishing to resist that because, after all, that is where their power base lies.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness says about local organisation and local agreements. However, problems arise when those local agreements are not accepted or when they break down. As UNISON has pointed out, local agreements are good but there appears to be nowhere to turn to if those agreements are not adhered to or cannot be achieved.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, if nurses or other members of staff feel that they are not receiving a fair deal, there is a strict legal system to which they can appeal in terms of employment law and so on. It is interesting to note that nurses who are members of UNISON are opposing this measure and yet for 40 per cent. of its staff who are not nurses, UNISON is going along with local pay. Indeed, the RCN and UNISON are putting a considerable amount of investment into their local stewards to negotiate local pay. Therefore, they recognise that it will come and that it is up to them to consider the offers that are being made and to do the very best for their members.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, perhaps I may return to my original Question about what the Government will do if local pay is not agreed. If the Government are content for there to be substantial agreements at local level which do not meet the 3 per cent. figure, why is it that Mr. Jarrold, in his letter to local executives, wrote—and I believe that I have this correctly: Ministers have expressed concern that there have not been more pay offers"?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, as I explained earlier to the noble Baroness, that letter was sent out as recently as 11th April and still has to be received and considered. Of course, a I per cent. increase in pay across the board will be awarded to all nurses, midwives and health visitors. The other 2 per cent. is a matter for local negotiation. The offers are on the table and local organisations must decide whether or not to take up those offers.