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National Health Service Employees

Volume 579: debated on Tuesday 3 December 1957

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46.

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware of the resentment felt by the trade union movement at the action taken by the Minister of Health with regard to the three per cent. award unanimously agreed by the Administrative and Clerical Workers (Hospital Staffs) Whitley Council; and what action he proposes to take to ensure that the good will of the trade unions is maintained in future negotiations on the various Whitley councils.

As was said last Tuesday, good will can best be secured by a real understanding by all concerned of the purposes of the measures which the Government have had to take.

That is no answer. Surely the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Whitley Council machinery, which has been in existence for 50 years, is now in very great danger, and that means the whole position of the country is in great danger? This is not a matter to be pushed back to the Minister of Health, who started it anyway, but for the Prime Minister, who should use his initiative to repair some of the damage that has been done.

On the general question, I think my Answer is correct and the more the whole problem with which the Government are trying to deal is understood, the better it will be. In regard to this particular Question, there is to be a meeting tomorrow between the Minister of Health and some of the representatives of this Council.

May I repeat to the Prime Minister the question I put to the Minister of Health about the meeting tomorrow and ask whether the Prime Minister and the Government will be open to reconsider their previous decision after that meeting?

I think I could do no better than to answer in the same terms as my right hon. and learned Friend, which are that those who come to see him will put forward their point of view and whatever points they wish to make. My right hon. and learned Friend will, no doubt, consider them in conjunction with his colleagues after he has received the deputation.

The deputation asked first to see the Prime Minister and he referred them to the Minister of Health. If they are not satisfied after the meeting on Wednesday with the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health, will the Prime Minister be willing to see them after that?

Perhaps I had better read what I wrote to them, and which was published. I said that I would prefer them to see the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health and that it would be right if in the first instance the staff side would address its requests to them. I said:

"I am, therefore, bringing your letter to their notice. I shall be prepared to reconsider your request that I should receive a deputation if, after any meetings you may have had with the Ministers concerned, there remain further considerations which you would wish to put to me."
They accepted that and I think it was a proper decision.

Does not the Prime Minister realise that this action of the Minister of Health has raised a first-class issue of industrial relationships of the greatest importance, and that the recommendation about salaries and wages was quite modest in relation to recent developments? In the circumstances, in view of the very big issue involved, could not the Prime Minister respond to the request of my hon. Friend and receive a deputation himself, recognising that this is a really first-class issue for the Government in industrial policy?

No. I think the Whitley Council representatives concerned were quite satisfied with the decision which I took. On this matter of the deputation, this is a Council which deals particularly with the employees who come under the Secretary of State and the Minister of Health. I think it, therefore right in the first instance, at any rate, that it should have its meeting with them If, after that, it is thought wise and helpful, as I made perfectly clear in my letter. I should be very willing to receive it.