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National Health Service (Pay)

Volume 35: debated on Tuesday 18 January 1983

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9.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what recent discussions he has had concerning the creation of a pay review body for the National Health Service; and if he will make a statement.

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what recent discussions he has had with the Health Service unions concerning the pay dispute; and if he will make a statement.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he proposes any early meeting with the health services committee of the Trades Union Congress to discuss health workers' pay.

Following the ballot of the Royal College of Nursing and the decision by the TUC health services committee to resume negotiations on the basis of the two-year settlement offered by the Government, agreements covering the period to 31 March 1984 have now been concluded in most of the NHS Whitley councils.

Settlements for the remaining staff groups are expected to be agreed in the very near future. Normal working has now been resumed throughout the Health Service. Consultations will begin shortly on the establishment of the new review body for nurses, midwives and professions allied to medicine. I hope that discussions with representatives of other Health Service staff will begin shortly to consider new arrangements for determining their pay in the longer term.

When will the Secretary of State announce the setting up of a body to cover staff other than the nurses of whom he spoke and those associated with them? Will that body contain a structure that will enable the management and trade unions to establish acceptable pay and conditions for those very deserving staff?

I do not envisage a body such as the review body to be set up for the other staff groups. However, I envisage the start of discussions with the Health Service unions as soon as possible in an effort to get new and better arrangements for the longer term.

Is the Secretary of State aware that 3 million working days were lost, compared with the 600,000 that were lost during the winter of discontent, as a direct result of his inability to settle the dispute sooner? What responsibility does he accept for the increased waiting lists?

I entirely reject what the hon. Gentleman says. We have achieved a fair settlement and not the surrender over which the previous Government presided. My regret is that industrial action continued for so long when a settlement was available much earlier. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to ascribe responsibility, I suggest that he considers the responsibility of the Labour Opposition, who at no stage condemned industrial action in the Health Service.

Will my right hon. Friend be careful to ensure that the new body does not turn into another Clegg commission? In comparing salaries, will he ensure that it is remembered that in the public service there is very great security compared with that in the private sector, where there are risks and strains and often redundancies?

Yes, but I think that my hon. Friend will agree that the nurses' review body recognises the special position of nurses and other professional groups which do not take industrial action. It is right to recognise their position and that is what the review body is intended to do.

The review body may not be independent enough, because it will take account, presumably, of the views of Conservative Ministers in fixing wage rates. Are we to learn that there will be a split between SENs and SRNs? Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that he should even offer other parts of the profession terms inferior to those offered by a review body?

It has been made clear to the review body that we are consulting on how many and on what groups will be contained within its considerations. It has been clear from the beginning that there will be no question of the review body covering, for example, ancillary workers, administrative workers and clerical workers. We have made our position clear.

The giving of evidence to the review body will be like giving evidence to the doctors and dentists review body. The Government will give evidence to the review body and the review body will consider it.

Has my right hon. Friend any information about the other strike—in social security offices, which recently terminated in Birmingham and in the Oxford area?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend's supplementary question stems from the main question. However, she will be aware that the strike to which she has referred has come to an end, which I welcome.

Why has the right hon. Gentleman arbitrarily excluded entire sections of the NHS? That is not sensible and it can lead only to even more aggravation.

The hon. Lady is being ridiculous. She has never advocated a review body for the whole of the Health Service. I have made it clear from the beginning that the review body recognises the special position of nurses, who do not take industrial action and who have never—certainly not under the previous Government—had any satisfactory system of determining pay. There is a background in the general labour market against which comparisons can be made with ancillary and administration staff and others. I think that the hon. Lady has a dud point.