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Social Services

Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 30 January 1979

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National Health Service (Industrial Relations)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he last met representatives of the National Union of public Employees to discuss industrial relations in the National Health Service.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he last met representatives of the National Union of Public Employees to discuss industrial relations in the National Health Service.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to meet the health services trade unions.

Last Thursday I met representatives of the management and staff sides of the Whitley councils for both ambulance men and ancillary staffs. The staff sides included representatives of NUPE. Following that meeting urgent discussions between the two sides have taken place, and are continuing, with a view to finding a framework within which a settlement of the claims could be reached.

What specific proposals does the Minister intend to incorporate into his promised patients' charter which will ensure that patients do not suffer from the activities of certain members of the National Union of Public Employees, such as those about whom we read daily?

I have never promised a patients' charter. That would be a very rash thing to do. I have had discussions with both the unions and the professions. It is extremely difficult to draw a clear line between urgent and emergency cases and those where delays will be harmless. I believe that everyone working in the Health Service recognises that. The unions have come out strongly in favour of support for the emergency ser- vices and it is essential that we ensure that they are able to see that their members respect that in different parts of the country.

Is the Minister aware that the call for the Prime Minister to intervene arises from the fact that many people consider? Is that right hon. Gentleman aware that today NUPE has called out all 483 members at the Westminster hospital and that more than 200 hospitals are closed or partially closed? Will he, for the first time, tell the House what action he intends to take to deal with this appalling situation?

We must get our facts right. It is not true that 200 hospitals, or anything like that number, have closed. It is true that a significant number of them are dealing only with emergency cases, and I am very worried about that. The effect of industrial action in the Health Service is extremely serious. Between a third and a half of our hospitals are now reduced to emergency admissions, and over most of the country the ambulance services are giving emergency cover only.

As I said in answer to a previous question, the trade unions have told their members to maintain emergency services, but there are some situations—I believe that Westminster is one of them—which cause me very great concern. The threat to patients' safety and well-being is now, in some areas, so great that I have asked the general secretaries of COHSE and NUPE to meet me. I intend to impress upon them the seriousness of the position and the importance of redoubling their efforts to ensure that industrial action is kept under control.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the need to admit anyone to hospital is an urgent issue of some character, but that the official policy of COHSE, right from the beginning, has been to see that proper and effective emergency cover is provided in all those cases which COHSE and the medical profession recognise as being emergencies?

As nurses now have a special claim waiting to be examined, and acknowledging that they did not get all that was recommended by Halsbury, what progress is being made on that claim?

The position of COHSE is absolutely right. It has sought to limit action to non-emergency cases. As I have said, however, it is very difficult to draw a line. Each individual's case is for him an urgent or emergency case. For elderly people and long-stay, high-dependency people in long-stay hospitals, it is urgent that they should be properly looked after. It is not just a question of admissions.

I know that senior officials of the unions involved are concerned about this matter. I understand that they have been giving urgent consideration to it and that they are preparing detailed guidance for their members on the importance of preserving essential services.

The Government are giving serious consideration to the nurses' pay claim. I think my hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister received the staff side of the nursing Whitley council only a few days ago, and I met the chairman of the management side only a few days ago.

Will the Minister consider the situation at a hospital much nearer to his own constituency, to wit, the St. Andrew's hospital at Thorpe, Norwich, which is now in great trouble and is, I understand, taking in no more patients?

Yes, I am aware of the situation in the Thorpe hospital. This is one of many situations across the country in which management is having to deal with action that has been taken, and is having to deal with it in the best way that it can. One cannot get away from the fact that where this sort of action is taken, inevitably there are consequences for patients, both those in hospitals and those waiting for admission. One cannot escape from that.

My right hon. Friend points to the difficulties, but does he realise that in establishing a code for picketing there were difficulties there, and that it is even more imperative that, where human life is at risk we establish with the unions a code of conduct to avoid the distressing circumstances that have occurred over the last two or three weeks?

I appreciate what my right hon. Friend has said. I have said that these are matters which I shall raise when I meet the general secretaries of COHSE and NUPE. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Very soon. It will not be easy to draw up a code of conduct, because the circumstances of every case are different, but I think that we shall determine it. For instance, there are some severe problems with the laundries. Hospitals cannot function without clean linen, sterile dressings and equipment, so the strike action in laundries and sterile supply units imposes a serious threat to the safety of patients. Those are the sorts of issues that I shall raise with the union general secretaries.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the actions of quite small numbers of laundry workers are resulting in large numbers of beds being closed, such as in Exeter, where 300 out of 1,000 beds have been closed? Will he now authorise the use of voluntary labour to keep these ancillary hospital services going?

There are certain circumstances in which, even in emergencies, staff may not have been prepared to fulfil their duties, and those are the sorts of circumstances under which volunteers can help. There are other ways in which volunteers can help. But we must be very careful in handling these industrial disputes to ensure that we do not take action that will make them worse and provoke a greater response. We have to avoid that.

On some of the particular cases that have been raised—the hon. Gentleman has just raised one—we have set up a hot line between my Department and the trade unions at national level to deal with cases in which action has gone beyond the level approved by the unions. In many cases we have been able to bring about an improvement in the situation.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that so long as this industrial problem continues the Tories will have a field day blaming the Government and condemning the strikers, seeming to speak on behalf of those who want the hospitals to flourish properly and giving the impression that they are in favour of lots more money for the strikers and for the hospitals? Will my right hon. Friend be guided by the experience of the lorry drivers' strike, which is now drawing to an end, and understand that if we are to resolve this problem that will be achieved not by standing up to strikers and Labour supporters but by getting a settlement, and that that settlement will have to be well over the percentage terms that have already been offered to the unions?

There are two parts to that question. On the latter one, I agree that it is urgent that we should get a settlement. Where we are dealing, as we are with some of these cases, with low-pay situations about which people have strong feelings, the Government are not inflexible. The Prime Minister has taken two initiatives which I believe point the way to settlement. These are the sorts of things which are now being considered by the staff and management sides.

On the first part of the question, I am afraid that it is true that whenever there is a situation such as this right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition will always exploit it to the maximum degree. They will overstate the case to their own advantage. At the same time they preach the case of free collective bargaining, which has never been in the interests of the low-paid.

Benefits (Industrial Disputes)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what was the total sum paid in supplementary benefit to the families of those on strike during 1978.

£3·1 million up to 28 November 1978, the latest date to which figures are available.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is a gross waste of public money? Does he agree also that strikes should be financed by trade unions and not by the taxpayer? Does he think it is time that the law was changed?

No, Sir. This money was paid to the families of strikers. Last year, only £5,000 was paid directly to strikers, and that was in exceptional circumstances. This money has gone to families, and the Government are not prepared to change the policy on this matter.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that we very much welcome that firm reassurance from the Government that dependants of strikers, particularly children, will not suffer because people are taking industrial action?

I thank my hon. Friend for that statement. I remind the House that if we were to stop payment and if, for instance, families were thereby broken up and children were put into care, the cost per child for residential care would be £81 a week. That ought to be taken into account.

If that remains the policy for the dependants of strikers, what does the right hon. Gentleman plan for those who depend upon those who take strike action for the work which they would do if they were not on strike?

That has nothing to do with the question. The question is concerned with benefits for strikers' families. I have given a clear answer. All but £4 of any tax refund and strike pay is taken into account in deciding a family's entitlement to supplementary benefit.

Apart from the cost implications, does my right hon. Friend agree that any policy change would create greater bitterness and unrest in industry? Does he agree that any policy change would not be supported by the Tory trade union organisation?

I noted with interest that the Conservative Trade Union Association came out firmly in favour of the Government continuing to pay benefits to strikers' families. The present industrial difficulties could be much worse if we did not act in a civilised manner, and we shall continue to do so.

Nurses (Mental Hospitals)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the current annual average earnings of a State registered nurse at a mental hospital.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what are the current annual average earnings of a State registered nurse at a mental hospital.

Information on the annual average earnings of this particular group of staff is not available. The pay of a State registered nurse working in a psychiatric hospital who also has a qualification in psychiatric nursing is on the scale £2,941 to £3,550. This includes an allowance of £165 for working in a psychiatric hospital.

What is the right hon. Gentleman's view about the pay of these nurses being increased in line with that of lorry drivers?

The hon. Gentleman knows that nurses and midwives have submitted a claim to be treated as a special case. The Government are giving serious consideration to that claim. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already received a deputation from them. Discussions are proceeding and the Government will make an announcement as soon as a decision has been taken.

The whole House would wish that those who cannot look after themselves properly should be looked after properly. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that proper staffing of a proper quality can be maintained at the present level of earnings?

There is no doubt that if there were higher levels of earnings there would be faster recruitment. It is true that there are shortages of nurses in some areas where recruitment is difficult, partly for geographical reasons and partly, perhaps, for pay reasons. However, there has recently been an improvement in the numbers coming forward for training. We continue to see a steady increase in the number of nurses working in the National Health Service.

Is my right hon. Friend seized of the importance of danger money in psychiatric nursing? Is he aware that if a qualified mental nurse is in a locked ward it is his skill and his knowledge that enables him to ensure not only his own safety but that of his patients? When he is considering these matters, will he bear in mind the need to recruit nurses and the needs of this specialty? Will he take special cognisance of these matters in his negotiations on pay with the nurses?

I shall bear that in mind. It is important to have enough nurses in our psychiatric hospitals. It is because there have been difficulties in recruiting that we have made the special additional payment available to those who work in psychiatric hospitals. I am sure that that is right.

In his discussions with the leaders of the nursing profession, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that in these days of enormous wage claims the country as a whole is especially worried about differentials? Does he agree that in the nursing profession there is a need to give extra reward to those who have obtained higher qualifications and that the present state of affairs in the profession is far from satisfactory?

I know that arguments will be advanced in favour of special assistance for those at the lower end of the scale, the low paid, and in favour of those at the higher end of the scale. That is always a problem. If we deal with a low pay problem by awarding a substantial increase the differentials are extended but there is still a group at the bottom of the list whose members are called the low-paid. I agree that there is a great deal of feeling among nurses on this issue. There is a great deal of public support for nurses because of the nature of their work. That is why the Government are giving serious consideration to the claims that they have submitted.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that we on the Labour Benches want to see nurses properly paid? Will he take the opportunity to remind the Opposition that private expenditure by nurses and others in the public sector depends on there being an adequate level of public expenditure in the first place?

That is true. It was in 1970 that the Labour Government made a major advance in the level of nurses' pay. They picked them up virtually off the floor. It was in 1974, at the time of the Halsbury award, that a Labour Government made a sizeable increase in the level of nurses' pay. It ill becomes Opposition Members to criticise our performance.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that he and his predecessors have been in charge of these matters for five years? Does he realise that the nurses submitted their claim for special treatment in the middle of last year? How much longer will they have to wait for an answer? Does he recognise that the anger that a number of us faced in Central Hall a few days ago—a meeting that no Minister attended—was due as much as anything to the fact that they have been kept waiting month after month for an answer? When will the Government give them the answer?

The claim was submitted very early because it was the nurses' hope, and their case, that they would receive some additional payment over and above the 10 per cent. that they received in the present pay year, which ends in April 1979. On behalf of the Government I had to say that the guideline for that pay year applied as much to the nurses as it did to any other group in society.

We are considering the claim that they have made for a settlement from 1 April 1979. I realise that nurses are anxious and impatient. However, there is some time to go and they should not conclude that the Government have forgotten their case. We are considering it carefully.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what has been the increase in sickness benefit, unemployment benefit and the death grant, at constant and at current prices, since each of the following years, 1948, 1958, 1968 and 1978.

The standard weekly rate of sickness and unemployment benefit was £1·30 in 1948 and £15·75 in 1978. At current prices these rates would be £8·44 and £15·88. The death grant was £20 when it was first paid in 1949 and £30 in 1978. Current price equivalents would be £125·86 and £30·25.

With permission, I will circulate the figures in the Official Report.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those figures show that the death grant has remained unchanged since it was fixed in 1967 at £30? Does he realise that the average cost of a funeral at that time, consisting of a hearse, coffin, three taxis and opening a burial ground, was £47? Does he agree that since then the cost of the average funeral has increased to £180, which is a 391 per cent. increase, which was confirmed yesterday by Scottish undertakers? Will he bear in mind that the death grant in 1967 represented 63 per cent. of the cost of a funeral, whereas today it represents only 16 per cent.? Is there not an overwhelming need for an immediate substantial increase in the death grant in view of the prodigious increase in burial and commission expenses—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey). However, if I did not, it would be the end of Question Time. This is an extremely long question.

Will the Minister take action, in view of the prodigious cost of burial and cremation expenses?

I concede that my hon. Friend has made a first-class case on this problem. I remind the House that the Government are aware of the gap to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention, but this is a matter of resources. We have made a priority of tackling poverty and helping in the struggle against inflation, both with pensions and with child benefit. We have to take account of the needs of the disabled and the blind, and we must bear in mind the recipients of maternity benefits and the long-term unemployed. We have to weigh up all these priorities.

Has the right hon. Gentleman calculated how much it would cost to bring the death grant up to the level advocated by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey)? Do the Government plan to bring this matter into the list of priorities, since it clearly has not been there for the last 10 years?

It is in the list of priorities. We considered this matter very seriously. It would cost £96 million a year to bring the benefit up to the level requested by my hon. Friend. That considerable amount of public expenditure must be set against other priorities.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that a number of social security benefits have declined in real value over the years? In this International Year of the Child, will he pay particular attention to uprating the maternity benefits, which have fallen way behind other benefits? Does he accept that that would make a major contribution to the quality of infant care in this country?

There is another question on the Order Paper dealing with this matter. My hon. Friend has drawn attention to another priority. As a result of the amendments made to the Social Security Bill, the Government are committed to looking at these benefits each year.

In view of the Minister's remarks about the Social Security Bill, and since the Government did not seek to remove the clause requiring this matter to be reviewed in the present tax year, may we take it not only that the review is being carried out, but that its conclusions will be published?

The review is being carried out. I shall consider the hon. Member's latter point.

Following is the information:




Current price equivalents are given in brackets.

Death grant was introduced in 1949.

Essential Supplies (Hardship Cases)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied that his Department was able to deal satisfactorily with any hardship cases, especially affecting elderly people, caused by the disruption of essential supplies of food and fuel, in respect of recipients of supplementary benefit assistance.

Yes, Sir, but if the hon. Member has any particular case in mind and will let me have details, I shall look into the matter.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I shall pass the details to him. Now that old people have had five to six weeks of very cold weather, will the hon. Gentleman consider embarking upon extra publicity, through the normal media, to make sure that those who are perhaps too proud to apply for this kind of help will do so if they need it?

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's point. We have to stick to a budget, and advertising in some elements of the media is an extremely expensive proposition, particularly on the short-term basis that the hon. Gentleman has recommended. There is, of course, the good neighbour scheme and a number of other arrangements by which we can get information to elderly people about the facilities that are available through the supplementary benefit system. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

What steps is the Minister taking to bring to the knowledge of ordinary pensioners the availability of social security payments when the lack of paper interferes with the payment of their normal pensions, as has happened to many pensioners in my constituency?

I was unaware of the difficulty described by the hon. Member. If he will give me the details, I undertake to look into the matter immediately.

Will my hon. Friend indicate the method of advertising employed? Recently, one or two cases have been brought to my attention concerning people who have been receiving pensions, but not supplementary or other benefits. Although there is an extensive advertising campaign, would not matters be simplified by putting a slip in the pension book to ask pensioners whether they are receiving the full benefits, in addition to pensions, to which they are entitled?

I understand that on the back cover of the pension book there is a reference to further assistance that might be available. If pensioners were to read that—of course, not all of them would want to—they would obtain the information. I do not see that putting anything else into the pension book would assist greatly, but I shall examine the other suggestions that have been made.

Will the Minister consider using local radio to help some elderly people? They listen to local radio, and I am sure that a number of the companies would be only too willing to help the elderly at this difficult time.

A lot would depend on the advertising rates being charged by the various elements of the media. If the hon. Lady is referring to editorial matter, that is something that we can look into very quickly.

Foster Children


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement about his discussions on boarding-out allowances for foster children with the local authorities.

Following meetings with my Department, the local authority associations have issued circulars to local authorities recommending common age bands and age relativities for boarding-out allowances. I am arranging to send my hon. Friend copies of these circulars.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information, but does he recall that last year he published in the Official Report the boarding-out scales for all local authorities in England and Wales? Will he consider republishing that, possibly in April or May, so that we can make a comparison to see whether his efforts to persuade local authorities to improve boarding-out allowances have met with success?

I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion about timing, but I do not want to encourage his optimism about the dates that he put forward. We shall probably want to do this exercise again subject to resources and by a timing which would allow a reasonable period for local authority action to be taken on the first list.

What positive steps is the Minister taking to encourage local authorities to increase the number of children in foster care and so reduce the number of children in institutional care?

We are continuing to promote as vigorously as possible the idea of boarding out and foster care in all the guidelines that we issue to local authorities. I am happy to see that the numbers boarding out are rising.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the table showing comparative figures will probably show that the highest cost areas do not necessarily give the biggest boarding-out allowances? The differences in cost have often been given as justification for a variation in rates. Is it not time that my right hon. Friend took powers to ensure that boarding-out allowances are uniform throughout the country?

The table certainly revealed wide discrepancies between the rates of the various local authorities. We have no powers to insist on local authorities adhering to a specific scale. They are entitled to fix their own scales, but they did not feel able to take positive action on this matter, other than to make recommendations, because of the substantial regional and local variations in costs.

Hospital Waiting Lists (Birmingham)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied with the waiting lists for surgery in the Birmingham area.

Waiting lists and times are much longer than I would wish. The Birmingham area health authority (teaching) is opening a new eye department of 30 beds at East Birmingham hospital and is extending the existing eye department at Selly Oak hospital from 18 to 30 beds. It is proposed to upgrade and reopen the twin operating theatre suite and two wards at Good Hope hospital to relieve orthpaedic and surgical waiting lists. A further 11 ear, nose and throat beds will be provided in Selly Oak hospital.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the already disgracefully long period that my constituents have to wait for surgery will be made even worse by the NUPE dispute? Bearing that in mind, will the right hon. Gentleman dissociate himself from the remarks of the Secretary of State last Thursday when, in this House, he condemned the director of radiotherapy at the Queen Elizabeth hospital who had said that patients were being sent home and were not being allowed surgery, and that lives were at risk? Is he aware that the following day more than 100 nurses and doctors at that hospital backed the director and disagreed with the Secretary of State? Does he agree that they know best whether people's lives are at risk?

I am only too happy to take every opportunity of associating myself with remarks made by my right hon. Friend, and I rely on the area health authority to give me a feel as to what is happening in Birmingham. It dissociated itself from the consultant to whom the hon. Member referred. There is now an agreement between the management and the shop stewards at the hospital, and that is being operated.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that general practitioners in Birmingham have adequate information on the waiting lists of various consultants so that they can avoid using the prima donnas all the time? This causes extensive waiting lists, which are not necessary.

This is a matter in which the National Health Service has been traditionally inadequate. We have done our best in recent years to make sure that details about waiting lists are circulated to GPs so that they can take rational decisions.

Is the Minister aware that greatly lengthened waiting lists for orthopaedic surgery in Birmingham cause painful distress to those affected? Will he look especially at that issue, and also at the waiting list affecting Selly Oak hospital?

The area health authority has taken action to upgrade and reopen the twin operating theatre suite and two wards of the Good Hope hospital to relieve orthopaedic and surgical waiting lists. A further 11 ear, nose, and throat beds are to be opened at the Selly Oak hospital.

Will my right hon. Friend make clear that, sad as it is that there should be waiting lists for surgical conditions, these are for non-urgent conditions, and that every emergency and every urgent surgical condition receives immediate treatment?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is provision to make sure that urgent cases are dealt with within a month, throughout most of the country. I agree also that waiting lists are a crude indication of the facilities available. Many factors are involved besides a shortage of facilities, though this does occur from time to time.

Reverting to the Minister's remarks about the director of radiology, is it not regrettable that he cannot recognise that the Government cast an unjustifiable slur on a very distinguished man? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the view that that doctor expressed was shared by all his colleagues in the hospital and by the hospital administration, and that his patients accounted for only about one-third of those who had to be sent home because of the interruption of supplies? Will he recognise that justice requires a retraction of what was said on Thursday?

I should not wish to retract anything that my right hon. Friend said on that occasion. It was a justified description of the real situation at the hospital, and the area health authority was clear that my right hon. Friend had accurately described what was going on.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will institute an inquiry into the running of Birmingham social services department.

I am currently considering a request for such an inquiry, but before making a decision I have agreed to meet a delegation led by my hon. Friend.

To help my right hon. Friend in his consideration, will he take cognisance of the report by the Birmingham children's defence committee on the savage attacks by the Tory local authority on day nursery facilities and the cut-backs and closing down of working children's hostels, which give a taste to Birmingham people of what the Opposition and the right hon. Lady might be offering? Will he take cognisance of that report and agree to meet the delegation next week?

I shall certainly meet the delegation as soon as I can fit it into my programme. The report to which my hon. Friend refers is important and lengthy. It is being considered by myself and my advisers. I am not yet in a position to comment on its contents, other than to say that I shall take it into account when considering requests for an inquiry.

Will the Minister study the New Society article of 11 January, which refers to the shift in emphasis which the Birmingham social services wish to give from institutional care to community care? Will he therefore take a balanced and objective view, unlike the campaign run by some hon. Members in this House and by The Guardian in recent weeks?

I always take a balanced and objective view of everything. If that is the intention of the Birmingham city council, it is woefuly failing in the case of the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, where the number of places available for various forms of personal social services provision is still below the numbers in the English metropolitan areas as a whole.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that among the large urban areas of the country, the social services provided by the Conservative council of the city of Birmingham are among the most backward and inadequate? Will he confirm that the level of facilities for the care of the mentally handicapped and the mentally ill in Birmingham is worse than in any other urban area in Britain?

Yes. That is the burden of the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). As to the mentally handicapped and mentally ill, Birmingham's services are not at the level prevailing in English metropolitan areas generally.

Will the Miniister take an informed and responsible view of the situation affecting the citizens of Birmingham, with its enormous responsibilities and limited resources? Does he realise, from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, that the situation will be made very much worse shortly?

I am grateful to have the support of the hon. Gentleman for directing more resources from the public purse towards social services, particularly in Birmingham. But I take it that he would not want Birmingham to be treated exceptionally in these matters.



I met the general council of the Trades Union Congress yesterday.

I welcome that fact, but will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he received any response to his repeated requests for advice on how to contain inflation in this pay round? Did he discuss these problems with regard to the next pay round? Did he receive any indication from the member unions about whether they were considering following the lead of the TGWU in issuing a code of conduct which would turn picketing into something more like a rapier and less like a blunderbuss?

We discussed both those issues yesterday. On the economic front, we discussed how to keep inflation down and I expressed some views on the aims that the country might set itself when the present burst of wage claims has run its course, as I dare say it will, although I hope that it does not do too much damage to the country in the process. We decided, therefore, to have fresh discussions on this matter. A small group of Ministers will be meeting the TUC to discuss this.

On the question of industrial action during disputes, which has caused a great deal of justifiable concern in the country, as well as in the House, it was agreed that a small group of Ministers, led by the Secretary of State for Employment, should meet representatives of the TUC to draw up, I hope quickly, a justifiable code of practice during such disputes that would protect essential services and prevent individuals from being harassed as they went about their daily work. I explained to the TUC my strong conviction that it was necessary that these issues should be brought to a conclusion very quickly.

Will the Prime Minister say whether the speech of the Secretary of State for Transport in his constituency at the weekend represents Government policy?

My right hon. Friend was explaining that past history shows the consequence of unbridled wage settlements. They have led in the past to a wage freeze, and that could be the conclusion now. But the Government have no intention of introducing a wage freeze, certainly not at this stage of the wages round. On the other hand, it is our determination to try to ensure that we get settlements as close as possible to the Government's acknowledged view that 5 per cent. is right, a figure at which many people have already settled. The closer we get to that, the less will be the prospect of inflation.

The Secretary of State for Transport's speech on a pay and prices freeze was specific. Will the Prime Minister be equally specific and say whether or not he agreed with it?

Had the right hon. Lady not been so anxious to get in a second supplementary question, she might have listened to my answer. Shall I repeat it for her? The Government have no intention of introducing a wage freeze at this stage of the wages round.

The answer therefore is "No'. What has happened to the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility?

Individual Ministers are entitled, certainly in circumstances like this, to put forward considerations which will lead, instruct, guide and inform public opinion. I have defined collective Cabinet responsibility on many occasions, and that definition remains the same.

How can the Prime Minister go on saying that the Government's guidelines is 5 per cent. when, for example, there has just been a 21 per cent. settlement in the lorry drivers' dispute in the West Country? In the light of that, has he yet received any proposal from any of the union leaders along the lines of the philosophy that, at the end of the day, if there is no voluntary agreement, Parliament must lay down the framework within which wage as well as price increases can be allowed?

I go on saying that this is a guideline, because that is precisely what it is. The Government are not involved in negotiations between trade unions and their employers. What we can do—as we have done and have spelt out on innumerable occasions—is to suggest the best settlement for the conquering of inflation in this country. Let me repeat it once again. If everyone's increase averages 15 per cent., he will be no better off than if the increase averaged 5 per cent. That is a simple fact. But we live in a democracy. Statutory policies of the sort espoused by the right hon. Gentleman have had their place in the past, but they have been shown to be no more successful than periods of free collective bargaining. The plain truth is that neither solution is acceptable. Therefore, we in this country must practise a little self-discipline.

Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the TUC the role and motives of the media, not least the BBC, in creating the image of a crisis situation which has had nothing in common with what was really happening in the country? Will he consider suggesting to the BBC and ITV that when their interviewers interview those on strike they should themselves disclose their own total incomes?

I think that the opinion of the country is clear. That is why the high tide of hysteria, which was demonstrated in some parts of the media, is now receding. But that is not to disguise the fact that in relation to exports, orders and lost production the country has had a most serious setback as a result of the disputes over the last few weeks. In no sense has it been the kind of hysterical situation which, I am afraid, has been fomented in some quarters. However, that is not to disguise the seriousness of it.

Does the Prime Minister accept that in relation to industrial unrest no one in this House wishes the Government to be guilty of provocation? Nor does anyone wish them to be guilty of political cowardice. But the line between the two is very thin. In so far as the Government hesitate to enforce the law, and do not enforce the right of citizens to go about their daily business without fear, it is on the second charge that they are likely to be guilty.

Of course, we stand that risk. As I have said many times—the hon. Gentleman states it correctly—the line between provocation, where one makes the situation worse, and cowardice, where one does not carry out one's duty, is very thin. Governments must be the best judge of that. I can only leave it to the citizens of this country to determine whether or not we are drawing the line correctly. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not expect the Conservative Opposition to think so, but that is what they are there for. As to enforcing the law, the hon. Gentleman perhaps wanted to say that it is for the police to enforce the law. Certainly, the Government do not stand in the way of the police carrying out their duty. They are encouraged to carry out their duty where they think that it would be appropriate to intervene.

European Assembly (Members' Salaries)


asked the Prime Minister what suggestions he made at the European summit in December 1978 in relation to the salaries of European Members of Parliament.

It was agreed at the meeting of the European Council on 4 and 5 December that the emoluments of Members of the European Assembly should be based on those of Members of national Parliaments, and should be subject to national taxation. I supported this approach.

How does the Prime Minister square reducing the salaries of our elected representatives in Europe to the level of hon. Members of this House while apparently being satisfied that British commissioners and British civil servants in Brussels should receive the much higher European rates? Is not that to discriminate against the politicians in favour of the bureaucrats?

Fortunately, it is not my responsibility to have to reconcile these two things—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—It is not the Government's responsibility to fix the salaries of civil servants in Brussels. It is the responsibility of Parliament only to fix the salaries of Members from this country who attend the European Assembly. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is failing in his usual, logical approach to these matters.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in European News that discrimination in this respect would be overcome by increasing the expenses of European Members—rent allowances and every other expense? Will he ensure that this does not happen with regard to our representatives?

I have not seen that report, but I shall certainly take it into account if any proposals have to be made to Parliament in due course.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 January.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. I also spoke at the lunch given by the Evening Standard for the winners of its drama awards—and a very agreeable occasion it was. I must say that I enjoyed the company there much better than I sometimes enjoy it here. It was much more receptive and appreciative than are the Conservative Opposition. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's obviously impossible position in dealing with the present situation in this country, will he turn his attention for a moment to Scotland? Because of the hurdles placed in the way of the coming referendum, largely by the Conservative Opposition and by some of his own rogue elephant colleagues, and because of the possibility of bad weather, will he look sympathetically at the possibility of holding the referendum over two days rather than just one?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. But I think we should perhaps proceed in the way that we have already decided, have the referendum on one day and hope that God will smile on Scotland and Wales on that day. As to the hon. Gentleman's sympathy with me about what he called the impossible task that I have today, a little historical perspective enables one to regard this with a certain detached philosophy and a great belief in the British people will enable us to come through.

Will my right hon. Friend today find time to explain his earlier remarks about the demand by the Secretary of State for Transport for a statutory wage freeze? Does he agree that such a policy would attack the living standards of the lower paid and cause almost as much damage to trade union relations as some of the more irresponsible statements of the Leader of the Opposition? If collective responsibility is a good enough doctrine to silence or sack a Parliamentary Private Secretary, why is the Secretary of State for Transport still in the Cabinet?

On that basis, I sometimes think that I would govern alone, perhaps with one or two exceptions—and how much worse it would all be then. But seriously, I have nothing to add to what I have already said, which should satisfy my hon. Friend.

Will the Prime Minister be a little more specific about the reply that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), when he said that he did not intend to introduce a wage freeze "at this time in the wage round"? Does he intend to introduce a wage freeze at a later time in the wage round? Does he recognise that if there is to be a wage freeze at all to save us from inflation, it had better be sooner rather than later, otherwise the going rate will be 20 per cent.? However, he can save the day now by introducing it now.

I said "not at this stage in the wage round" on the ground that a number of settlements have already gone through, and therefore it would be extremely unfair to say that, for example, local authority workers should have no increase at all. That was the significance of the words "at this stage". An offer has been made to local government workers of an increase—a substantial improvement in their low pay and a study of comparability, which they do not all understand. I agree that it is a little extraordinary that people should repudiate the idea of a norm when we have a new definition of "norm", which is the going rate. That is what the Government must set their mind against. I cannot explain in detail what the hon. Gentleman asks. I cannot be pinned down in this way.

If the House will permit me a little licence, it rather reminds me of what someone said would have happened if Sir Winston Churchill had made his speech on television about fighting on the beaches, and the interviewer had asked "Exactly which beach do you intend to fight on, Sir Winston?"

Has the Prime Minister studied the Attorney-General's statement that the present law on picketing permits what he describes as "lawful intimidation"? If the Attorney-General is correct, is this not overwhelming evidence that the present law on picketing needs changing?

I have studied the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend. Although that statement aroused a certain amount of laughter, I could think of a perfect illustration of lawful intimidation. When the Leader of the Opposition threatened the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) that he would lose his post if he did not walk through the Lobby, that was lawful intimidation.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is a condition of employment to be regarded as lawful intimidation?

Questions To Ministers

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that we covered only eight meagre questions on social services? Can you do something to ensure that we get more succinct and shorter answers from the Government Front Bench?

The hon. Member is not quite correct. We covered 11 questions. A number were bracketed together and I called the hon. Members concerned. Also, the issues raised were of such a nature that there was a widespread interest in the House. Every time I moved on, there were still at least a dozen Members on their feet.