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Health Service (Pay)

Volume 24: debated on Wednesday 26 May 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what have been the average pay increases for general practitioners, nurses, consultants and hospital porters in Scotland since May 1979.

Excluding current pay offers, those groups have, in round terms, had the following average increases: 75 per cent. for general medical practitioners, 67 per cent. for staff nurses, 73 per cent. for consultants and 33 per cent. for porters.

In present circumstances, how can the Government justify such miserable increases to low-paid Health Service workers while giving apparently huge increases to already high-paid people such as judges and top civil servants? Does he agree that nurses deserve better treatment than they are now receiving? What does he intend to do to remedy that?

It is not valid to compare ancillary staffs with medical and nursing staffs in the Health Service. The latter group must meet higher standards of training. We have taken special account of their position by making an additional offer. Ancillary staffs earnings and the offer that has been made to them compares favourably with settlements awarded to similar manual workers in other parts of the public sector and in the private sector.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has been a substantial increase in the number of medical personnel in the Health Service in Scotland in the past few years? In view of that and the figures that he has just given, does he agree that it is wholly unrealistic for the unions to pursue industrial action for an equally unrealistic pay claim of 12½ per cent?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that a pay claim of 12 per cent. now is quite unrealistic. I confirm that the number of people employed in the National Health Service has increased since 1979. Since then there has been an increase of nearly 7,000 in the number of nursing staff. There has also been an increase in the number of doctors and porters.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in a written answer to a question of mine on 7 May 1981, I was told that the average increase in pay for doctors in 1979–80 was 26 per cent. and that it was followed by an increase of 31 per cent. in 1980–81? How does he defend that type of increase for those people, who do an extremely good job, with the niggardly offer of 6·4 per cent. to the nurses and 4 per cent. or less to ancillary workers? Does he agree that, as a result, many of those people will be worse off when their lodging allowances and others are deducted? Does he believe that that offer is defensible in the present age?

When the hon. Gentleman asked about doctors' salaries for those two years, he singularly failed to mention the fact that nurses' salaries had also been increased by the Government in those two years. The principal reason why the independent review body announced the increases for doctors in 1979–80 and 1980–81 was that they reflected the amount by which doctors' pay had fallen behind under the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a supporter.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a large number of people in the private sector have had no pay rise, far less have they had a 4 per cent. increase, and that a large number of self-employed people have suffered a decrease in income? Does he agree that it is wrong to use those people's taxes to give exorbitant pay rises in the public sector?

My hon. Friend is right. The Government must be seen to be fair to everyone, including those in the private sector who have had no wage increases and, indeed, those who have lost their jobs.

Is not the Minister thoroughly ashamed of the attack that he is launching on the nurses and hospital ancillary workers in Scotland? Does he realise that the Government's figures are grossly misleading and that the vast bulk of pay increases awarded to nurses in the past two years arose not from any generosity on the part of himself or his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but from the Clegg commission, which was itself a catching-up exercise? Is he aware that, as a result of this legacy, the next Labour Government will once again have to bring nurses' pay up to parity due to its having fallen behind again as a result of this attack?

I am surprised at the illogicality of the hon. Gentleman's question. He began by almost admitting that the large increases that we gave were the result of catching up. That catching-up was necessitated by the treatment meted out by the Labour Government.


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many employees of the National Health Service in Scotland receive wages which are below the level at which family income supplement becomes payable.

The income level at which family income supplement becomes payable varies in accordance with individual circumstances, but the minimum is £74 per week for a family with one child. It is not possible to identify the numbers of part-time and whole-time staff earning below £74 per week, but the average earnings of the lowest paid group of whole-time NHS staff are almost £14 per week above that figure.

That is a characteristically devious reply. Is the Minister aware that the people of Scotland set a very high value on the work and dedication of National Health Service workers? Is it not scandalous that a high proportion of skilled NHS workers are kept below the official poverty line? Does the Minister accept that he will be responsible for the consequences of the pay dispute that he has provoked?

It should not surprise me that the hon. Gentleman does not listen to the answers given from the Dispatch Box before putting his supplementary questions. As I said, the average earnings of the lowest paid paid group in the National Health Service are £14 per week above the £74 that I mentioned. Indeed, of those who earn less than £74 a week, more than half are part-timers. Among those who are not part-timers are nursing cadets and student and pupil nurses. I admit that they earn less than that figure, but clearly they are young and unmarried. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the young and unmarried should be considered for family income supplement.

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is no less care and concern among Conservative Members for employees of the National Health Service, who give great devotion and skill to that service? Does he also agree that since 1979 the Government have provided an increase of 6 per cent. in real terms in expenditure on health, which shows not only that there has been no cut in the Health Service but that pay increases must come from within that 6 per cent. increase?

My hon. Friend is quite right. We have indeed increased expenditure on the Health Service. This has resulted in increases in staff and a decline in waiting lists. I hope that the people involved in industrial action in the NHS will take account of the effect of their action on patients. I am sure that they do not wish to damage patients' interests, and I hope that they will obey the guidelines set out between management and unions in industrial disputes.

Will the Minister tell us simply why it is all right to give hospital ancillary workers 4 per cent., nurses 6 per cent., higher civil servants 14 per cent. and judges 18·6 per cent.? Where is the justice in that?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained the special circumstances that led the Government to implement the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body. Average earnings among ancillary staff in the NHS are about £104 per week, which is not out of line with earnings among manual workers in the rest of the public sector and the private sector.