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National Health Service (Pay)

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 30 November 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement concerning the current situation in the National Health Service workers' pay dispute.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received concerning the current situation in the health service workers' pay dispute.

The Royal College of Nursing is balloting its members on the pay offer made in the Nurses and Midwives Whitley Council on 9 November plus the offer by the Government to set up a review body for pay. The council of the Royal College of Nursing has recommended that it be accepted. So far as other staff are concerned, the talks with the TUC health services committee stand adjourned while the union leaders consult their members on a financial framework proposed by the Government that would permit pay increases of 6 per cent. this year and 4½ per cent. for 1983–84. The Government have also offered to enter into discussions on improved long-term arrangements for pay. We expect the results of both the ballot and those consultations by mid-December. I hope that the outcome will be a period of stability to allow the National Health Service to recover from the damage caused by this dispute.

I thank the Secretary of State for his detailed reply. Are the increases that have been offered genuine, or will they be paid for by voluntary or compulsory redundancies?

They are genuine increases. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have increased staff, particularly nurses, in the National Health Service.

Does not the Secretary of State's reply endorse the Government's attack on the NHS workers, and is it not a declaration of war on them? Further, is it not the case that if the Secretary of State does not change his policies and try to get a settlement we shall witness the start of a winter of discontent before the end of the year?

That is an utterly absurd supplementary question. Even the hon. Gentleman should recognise that the review body that has been offered to the nurses has been wanted by nursing leaders for years. I seriously ask the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition to reconsider their attitude to the dispute, because they are giving the impression that they do not want it to end.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we all want to see proper rewards for nurses for their excellent work? Will not the setting up of the review body lead to a better distribution of resources and increase the status of the nursing profession?

My hon. Friend is right. The nursing review body has been sought by leaders of the nursing profession for many years. In other words, it has wanted a more satisfactory system of determining pay. We have offered that to the nursing profession and I am glad to say that the council of the Royal College of Nursing has accepted it and recommended its acceptance by its members.

Does the Secretary of State consider that his conduct of the dispute so far has been a success?

My conduct of the dispute, as well that of the Government, has been fair. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support its outcome.

How much of the pay award will come from the budgets of the regional health authorities and how much will come from the Government? As the Secretary of State thinks he has done so tremendously well up to now, what will he do if the Health Service unions turn down the offer?

I shall not answer the hon. Lady's second question. I hope that she will use what little influence she has left in persuading the Health Service unions that this is a reasonable and fair offer and that it is about time, for the sake of everyone in the Health Service and, above all, the patients, that the dispute came to an end.

The hon. Lady will know that this year the regional health authorities paid about £67 million. She will also know of the effect of public expenditure decisions. In other words, the money that we provided from the Contingency Fund this year will continue.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the nursing profession accepts the award that is offered there will be no justification for other grades to refuse it?

I hope that that is so. I hope, too, that both the nursing profession and all those in the National Health Service will consider not just the pay offer that has been made, but the offer that we have made of a review body for the nursing profession, and—

The hon. Lady should wait. I hope that they will also consider the offer of talks on better long-term arrangements for everyone in the NHS. I should have thought that that was what the NHS wanted.