asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the progress of pay negotiations for National Health Service employees in Scotland.
Offers ranging from 6·4 per cent. to 4 per cent. have been made to most groups of staff. Some have been rejected by the Whitley council staff sides. Others are being considered by the negotiators or have been referred to union members for decision. NHS electricians and plumbers have accepted the management offer.
Does the Minister agree that the Government are operating an incomes policy that blatantly discriminates against all who work in the healing services? Will he urge upon the Government a policy that will result in proper pay levels for employees in the National Health Service, which should be a priority for the Government as well as for the community as a whole?
The present pay factors in the National Health Service are simply the result of a decision by the Government on what the country and the taxpayer can afford in the present circumstances. They are also part of our continuing battle against inflation, in which we have been successful, which will be to the benefit of everyone working in the National Health Service and everyone else.
Has there been any drop in recruitment of nurses and ancillary workers because of the present wage levels?
There has been no sign of any such drop. The increased number of nursing and ancillary staff employed in the National Health Service over the last three years shows that there is no shortage of recruits.
On what intellectual or ethical basis does the Minister justify those small, controlled increases to the lowest paid in the public sector while allegedly not believing in an incomes policy?
The Government and, through them, the employers' side of the Whitley council, are responsible for considering the effects of increases in the public sector on the taxpayer. We have that direct responsibility to the taxpayer and the community in our general fight against inflation. One of the factors in that fight against inflation is the need to get down wage settlements in the public sector. Our decision on pay in the NHS is part of our continuing determination to achieve that.
As the Government's policy on increases in salaries, according to the Prime Minister and others, seems to be a policy where increases are related to recruitment into the professions, and as there are at least three times as many applicants for entry into the medical profession as there are places for them, how does the Minister square the increases for doctors and consultants with the pittances that are offered to other workers in the National Health Service?
I have no doubt that if the doctors had not been offered such an increase, the hon. Gentleman would have turned his question round the other way. I invite him to read the recommendations of the TSRB and see how it came to that conclusion. The Government did not accept all the conclusions that it put forward this year or last year, because we are mindful of the other problems. We have to bear in mind the need to keep the salaries of those professional groups at such a level as to enable us to recruit and keep suitable staff in those responsible positions.