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Hospital Supervisors (Dispute)

Volume 957: debated on Tuesday 7 November 1978

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied that the strike of hospital supervisors could not have been settled weeks earlier on the same terms.

The dispute was eventually settled on the basis of the salaries offered on 12th September, but the outstanding issue concerned productivity allowances. The staff side was demanding minimum allowances of 15 per cent. of salary for all supervisors, whether or not they were involved in productivity schemes and regardless of whether the schemes were financially viable. A settlement was not possible while the staff side adhered to a demand which was incompatible with the principle that productivity deals must be self-financing. Had that principle been accepted earlier, there could, no doubt, have been an earlier settlement.

Can the Secretary of State explain what it was that Len Murray managed to do in 48 hours that he and his Department had failed to do in more than 48 days of strike and his Government had not done in more than four years in office? Len Murray is not God. Does not the fact that he managed to settle the strike so quickly imply either blinding shortsightedness or great obstinacy on the part of the Secretary of State?

The settlement was reached within the Whitley Council, but I certainly pay a very warm tribute to the role played by Len Murray. He called together the general secretaries of the unions concerned and went through the issues that had been considered by their negotiating officers. As a result of that helpful approach, the staff side took a different position and enabled the negotiations to be satisfactorily concluded.

As the Secretary of State chose to assert in the course of the dispute that

"Patients are dying as a result of this dispute,"
will he publish the names of the patients who have died? If he cannot, or will not, will he apologise to the unions and the trade unionists who were involved in the dispute?

I made it very clear immediately I saw the statement which was on the Press Association tapes that I had been misquoted. I did not say that I had any evidence that patients had died. I said that consultants had told me that patients were dying and that there was no doubt—it was accepted by both sides, negotiators as well as management—that patients' lives were at risk. That was the issue.

Is the Secretary of State aware that no one on this side of the House is in any doubt whatever that the consequences of the dispute were absolutely disastrous, both in terms of lives and in terms of the waiting lists?

Is it still, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman's view not merely that the claim made by the unions was in excess of the limits allowed under the pay policy but that it was their intention, as he suggested on Thursday, to use their claim to smash the pay limit?

The Secretary of State shakes his head, but does he not recollect that when I said that it was as good a way as any of smashing the pay limit he is quoted in Hansard as saying "That is right"? Therefore, presumably, he thought that it was being used to smash the pay limit. Is not this as strong an argument as one could have to show that the existence of a rigid pay limit actually provokes disputes that would not otherwise happen?

No. I certainly did not say that it was the clear intention of the unions to do this. I said that there was very little doubt that if the unions succeeded in getting an agreement outside the pay policy—and I have to say, as I did in the House to the right hon. Gentleman, that that had nothing to do with the 5 per cent. —the central issue would be whether productivity agreements were self-financing. That was the issue on which the discussions centred during the last two or three weeks of the dispute. I certainly did not suggest that it was the intention of the unions to smash the pay limit. I said that if we, or management, had accepted the submission made by the unions, a severe dent would have been made in pay policy, which would not have been tolerable.