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Nhs (Industrial Action)

Volume 126: debated on Monday 1 February 1988

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4.22 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"Today's industrial action in the Health Service"
Quite candidly, there can be few applications under Standing Order No. 20 as clear-cut as this one. I have three minutes to convince you, Mr. Speaker, to make a simple decision. Which is more urgent and important—today's debate on the Licensing Bill, which will allow pubs to open for a couple of hours longer, or the reasons why tens of thousands of health workers in London, Coventry and throughout the country are on strike today?

The background to this escalating dispute is the massive £1,500 million of cumulative underfunding of the Health Service. The Chancellor would prefer that money to be used for tax cuts to the rich instead of providing guarantees of heart operations for the 100 bairns in the west midlands who are desperately waiting for them. It could be used for providing equipment that is now bought through raffles and jumble sales, or to give health workers a wage on which they can live, instead of the contemptuous 3 per cent. that the Government believe they can get away with, or to reopen wards and hospitals that have been closed by a Cabinet that has no idea about the NHS. Even the Secretary of State for Social Services went into a private hospital at £1,000 a week.

The Secretary of State this morning attended a conference in the Connaught rooms but paused for a few seconds inside the opulent entrance hall sharply to criticise the nurses in front of television cameras. However, he refused my request to meet nurses in uniform from Guy's hospital who were waiting outside and say the same things to their faces that he was prepared to say about them to the media.

In contrast, Opposition Members have spent most of the past eight hours visiting hospitals and talking to health workers. It is clear that it will not be long before the anger of working people boils over. The Daily Telegraph today reveals that 79 per cent. of voters support today's strike. When asked about the Prime Minister's statement that nurses were deliberately hitting at patients, 67 per cent. of Tory voters sided with the nurses and not with the Prime Minister. Workers throughout the country know that petitions, lobbies and arguments have never impressed the Cabinet. The only answer is action. In growing numbers, they realise that it is not the responsibility of health workers to take action to defend our NHS. It is the responsibility of all workers. That is why there are increasing calls on the TUC to turn Budget day into a one-day general strike to defend the Health Service.

If the House does not debate this crucial issue but instead spends the rest of the afternoon discussing pub opening hours, Parliament will be seen to be increasingly irrelevant and the support for national industrial action will grow. I urge you, Mr. Speaker, to accept this application.

The hon. Member for Coventry, Soul h-East (Mr. Nellist) seeks to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter, that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"today's industrial action in the National Health service."
Again, I have listened with great care to what the hon. Member has said, but I must have regard to the criteria of the Standing Order. I regret that I do not consider the matter that he has raised as being appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.