Orders of the Day — Hospital Officers (Whitley Council Representation)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25 October 1949.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]

8.26 p.m.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

I wish to draw attention to the refusal of the Minister of Health to negotiate with the National Federation of Hospital Officers. I think that in the course of the discussion it will appear that an injustice has been done, but I think it will also appear that there is some serious defect in the principles governing the constitution of the Whitley Council. The National Federation of Hospital Officers was formed in January, 1948, and was registered as a trade union on 8th April, 1948. It was prescribed in its constitution that only administrative, clerical, professional and technical workers in hospitals should be eligible for membership, and that its activities were to be limited to the interests of hospital services and hospital officers. It was further provided that its activities should be strictly non-political.

I make the point straight away that there is no other trade union in existence which satisfies the conditions I have mentioned. The reasons for its formation were that a number of hospital officers felt that the creation of the National Health Service would substantially alter their position, and they had regard to the statement made by the Minister that their terms of employment would be centrally determined and that for this purpose Whitley Councils would be set up. They also felt that their collective advice would be helpful to the Minister in the interests of the hospital service. The membership of this new organisation grew rapidly, especially in the administrative and clerical field. At the present moment, in that field—that is to say, in the administrative and clerical field—they have approximately 3,500 members out of a total membership of about 6,500, but it is the 3,500 with whom we are concerned.

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there is no machinery under the Whitley Council whereby these people could be represented otherwise than by this new organisation? I speak as a governor of a teaching hospital. Surely they have all the machinery open to them for every grade. I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman's argument is that they had no other way open except by this new organisation.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

The hon. Member will appreciate that it would have been open to them, had they so wished, to have joined one or other of the trade unions which were represented on the functional council, but for a variety of reasons, which I will give if any hon. Member so desires, they preferred to join the new federation. I should be glad if the hon. Member will interrupt again if I do not cover his point sufficiently as I proceed.

I would make this point with reference to the 3,500 administrative and clerical members of this federation: No other trade union has so many administrative and clerical hospital officers in its membership. At the end of 1947 the Minister of Health set up as part of the Whitley system in the National Health Service what was called the Administrative and Clerical Functional Council. What he did was to convene all the organisations which apparently claimed to represent any of the persons affected, and, having convened them, passed to them the ball and said, "Set up your own staff side and get on with it." That is more or less what happened. The result was that there was a staff side of this functional council set up consisting of 11 trade unions and one professional body. So far so good.

I have no complaints up to this point. But trouble soon arose. On 9th July, 1948, the new federation, the National Federation of Hospital Officers, having by that time achieved a membership of 2,000 persons whose affairs would be dealt with by this functional council, wrote to the secretary of the staff side applying for seats on the functional council. Having regard to their membership, which by that time was at least comparable with that of the only three bodies which had any substantial membership in this category, it seemed to be a reasonable proposal. They did not get an answer for some time, but on 8th October, 1948, a letter was received from the secretary of the staff side rejecting the application in these terms: On consideration of the request I was instructed to inform you that the application was not approved. He does not give any reasons or any sort of explanation, and no inquiry whatsoever had been made by the existing staff side of the National Federation of Hospital Officers as to their membership or the character of their organization; indeed, no inquiry whatsoever had been made.

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

The hon. Gentleman asked me to interrupt whenever I wanted to. I should like to ask him what evidence he has that this claim was rejected without any inquiry whatsoever. My evidence is that there was a thorough inquiry.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

I have received my information from the National Federation of Hospital Officers. They have sent me the correspondence from which it is evident that there was no inquiry whatsoever as to their membership at this stage from the staff side. Later on the Minister did make inquiries, and I shall come to that in due course.

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

I am sorry to interrupt again, but the hon. Member asked me to interrupt whenever I thought he was wrong. What evidence has he for saying that this was turned down without full inquiry?

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

The evidence, I think, is quite sufficient. The fact was that they did not ask the National Federation of Hospital Officers for any particulars whatsoever of their organisation. That is evidence that they made no inquiries. At any rate, if they made inquiries, why on earth did they not ask the National Federation of Hospital Officers for information? If the hon. Member has any explanation of that, I am quite prepared to give way again. At any rate, the application was rejected without any explanation whatsoever and without any inquiry, at least from the Federation. The next step, therefore, was that the Federation appealed to the Minister to see that they had fair treatment. If they were not to be given seats on the staff side of the functional council, then they asked the Minister to grant them the right to have separate negotiations direct with the Minister. The attitude of the Minister throughout and at this stage in particular, was that the composition of the staff side was entirely a matter for the staff side itself. I shall have some comment to make on that later, but that was his attitude.

However, the Minister apparently made some approach to the staff side with regard to the possibility of seats being allotted to the Federation because, on 11th August, 1949, the Minister wrote to the Federation that the staff still refused. There is no indication in that letter that they had given any reason for their continued refusal. He added that separate negotiations were being considered. Then the Minister asked for particulars of the membership of the Federation and he also asked if he could have access to their records in case he desired to inspect them. In reply to that, on 5th September this year, the Federation wrote to the Minister saying that their membership was then 3,065 administrative and clerical officers of hospitals in the health services, and they also said that they would welcome any inspection of their records by the Minister.

After that the Minister wrote this letter, dated 21st September last: The Minister has taken into account all the circumstances, including the figure of the present membership of the Federation, which was supplied in your letter of 5th September, and has reached the conclusion that he would not be warranted in entering into separate discussions with the Federation on matters coming within the scope of the administrative and clerical staffs' Whitley Council. I complained that the staff side gave no reason. Again, the Minister did not give any reason for refusing separate negotiations. Quite naturally, the Federation thought that a most unreasonable attitude, and wrote to the Minister asking the number of members which would be necessary before it was regarded as appropriate that these separate negotiations should take place; to which a letter dated 10th October was returned. I apologise to the House for having to read it. It is not an easy letter to read, and not an easy one for anyone to follow, because of its tortuous terms. The Minister wrote: You will appreciate that before agreeing to a step which might create difficulties in relation to the Whitley Council, through which the Minister at present receives advice on the salaries and conditions of service of the administrative and clerical staff, and towards the establishment of which the Minister himself took the initiative, the Minister would need to be convinced that the circumstances were such that if the Federation's request were refused a substantial injustice would be done, in that a large proportion of the staff concerned would be deprived of a voice in these matters. Direct comparisons between the Federation's membership and the membership of individual associations represented on the Whitley Council are not, therefore, completely relevant. I do not know what is meant by "completely relevant." Surely, a thing is either relevant or not relevant; but if that is not relevant, what is relevant in this matter? I hope the Minister will tell us. Surely the whole basis of the thing should be the appropriate membership. I really hope the Parliamentary Secretary will explain what the Minister meant by "not completely relevant."

The letter continues: It is open to the Federation to repeat their application at a later date, when it will be reconsidered in the light of the circumstances that then apply, including the Federation's figures. If the figures which had already been given do show that this Federation had more appropriate members than any other body represented upon the functional council—

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

The hon. Member will doubtless have an opportunity of denying it later on. If those figures are not sufficient to satisfy the Minister that this Federation has a good case, what figures would do? I always understood that the Whitley Council system had worked satisfactorily. I must say I have had rather a shock in realising the attitude, at least of the Ministry of Health, with regard to the system, because it seems to me that if Whitley Councils are all like this, so much the worse for all concerned.

Just consider what happened. The Minister—I am not complaining of his initial action in the least—convened a certain number of bodies which represented a certain proportion of the people involved, and invited them to form a staff side, which they did. The moment they had done it, he said, "The future constitution and conduct of the staff side is entirely a matter for the staff side itself." In fact he has created a closed shop, with no mandate from anyone in the service except their own members.

I do not want to go into the details of the various trade unions and the one professional body which form the staff side, although I have the information here. If any hon. Member wishes me to do so, I shall be very pleased. The fact remains—and I would insist only upon this—that on the staff side there were three bodies with a fairly substantial membership, and an appropriate membership, but none of them equal to the present membership of the National Federation of Hospital Officers.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

Why does the hon. Gentleman say that? That statement is not true. Is he saying that there is no individual union represented on the staff side of the Whitley Council which has a larger membership than the National Federation of Hospital Officers? If he is making that statement, it simply is not true.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

I am referring only to that part of the membership whose affairs come under the review of the functional council, that is to say, the administrative and clerical council for the whole service. One of the unions which is one side of this functional council is the Transport and General Workers' Union, but I think that the appropriate membership is almost negligible.

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

Has the hon. Gentleman heard of ambulance drivers?

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

They are not administrative or clerical officers, and therefore their terms and conditions of service would not come within the purview of the functional council, so that is an entirely irrelevant interruption.

The other point is that the National Federation has a larger membership than any body which has a seat on this council. There are altogether about 40,000 hospital officers of the administrative and clerical category, and I think that it is rather a pity that these bodies which are established on the staff side, and which represent only about 8,000 out of this 40,000, should try to keep the remainder from joining any other union. It seems a curiously jealous thing to do. These existing bodies were not appointed by the Minister; therefore, they can only have been self-appointed. They are only responsible for their own members. They are forming a tight vested interest. If no other union is to be eligible for a seat on the staff side of this functional council, it seems to me to be rather a shocking denial of choice to a large number of persons who are not yet represented. Surely the Minister is not seeking to restrict their choice of trade union. If he takes the line that the constitution of the staff side is to be entirely a matter for the staff side itself and is going to leave it there, there is only one way out of the difficulty and that is for him to grant to the National Federation of Hospital Officers the right to separate negotiation direct with himself.

8.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

I rise on behalf of the trade unions and professional associations now forming the staff side to ask the Minister not to accede to the request submitted by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor). I want to make this quite clear in regard to the position of those trade unions and professional workers. As early as February of last year, these organisations issued a manifesto or statement dealing with the problem in the following terms. I hope that the House will forgive me quoting this statement because it is, I think, of importance that we should get this in the right perspective from the beginning of the problem. This is what they said: The following trade unions and organisations have learnt that moves are being made to launch a new organisation under the description of 'The National Federation of Hospital Officers.' The majority of hospital officers are already attached to one or other of these long-established organisations, all of which in their appropriate spheres can adequately cater for their existing members in the new situation arising out of the Health Service Act, and for any staffs, and particularly those in voluntary hospitals, which have not hitherto been within the scope of collective bargaining. A new body such as that projected can only gain membership at the expense of the existing organisations. Initiated, as we believe, from above"— note, "from above"— by certain persons who are or have been associated with the voluntary hospitals it is unlikely to strike any roots, but it can only arouse a just resentment in the existing organisations which, in the teeth of no little opposition in the past, have followed the principles of collective bargaining, now to be followed under the Act, and have already gained much for hospital staffs.Its impact is disruptive of their present effort to bring the new Service into being without any kind of friction among employees. But, above all, at this juncture a move of this kind is seriously prejudicial to the work already done and the further effort yet to be made in getting into running order the new bargaining machinery for the National Service.Within the last month or two the existing organisations, at the invitation of the Minister, have had a series of consultations on the new machinery to deal with pay and service conditions, and by a remarkable display of co-operation and good will have reached agreement with the Minister and among themselves on the main principles, and have already in a number of cases agreed on their representation on the staff sides of the several functional councils of which it will be comprised.It has been reported to us that the promoters of the movement have put it out that the Minister considers that certain grades of the Service should belong to a separate organisation. We have sought and received an assurance that that is not so. We have all long experience in our organisations of hospital staffs, and we shall continue to consult each other with a view to effective action. We do not intend to see our existing work undone or our further work prejudiced. It is our policy to co-operate with the Minister and with each other in implementing the great legislative benefits of the Health Act to the best public advantage, and to secure all that is justly due to all officers and servants who will serve the public in this sphere.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could give the House his estimate of the total number of persons whose affairs are dealt with by this Administrative and Clerical Functional Council, and the aggregate number of members of those bodies who have seats on the staff side?

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

The unions concerned, as the hon. Baronet will see when I state the organisations, cater for and cover, and have within the scope of their membership, the overwhelming majority of the staffs concerned.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

I did not ask what was within the scope of their membership, but how many members they had.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

I have not the precise membership of each of the organisations, but I can let the hon. Member have it a little later on.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

I do not want it later on. I want it now.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

These are the organisations concerned: The Association of Insurance Committee Officers, the Civil Service Clerical Association, the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union, the National Association of Administrators of Local Government Establishments, the National Association of Clerks to Insurance Committees, the National Association of Local Government Officers, the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, the National Union of Public Employees, the Society of Civil Servants, and the Transport and General Workers Union, comprising the clerical and supervisory staffs.

Photo of Sir Henry Morris-Jones Sir Henry Morris-Jones , Denbigh

As we are dealing with an entirely new situation since the National Health Service Act has come into being, can the hon. Member give an estimate of the number of voluntary hospital staff workers who are covered by the unions he has mentioned?

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

The hon. Member has asked for it, and my answer gives a cast-iron reply to the case which has been submitted for this new organisation. They claim that they represent 90 per cent. of the chief, and possibly the deputy-chief, administrators of teaching hospitals. That is the claim they put forward. This is quite a small group. There are only some 22 undergraduate and 14 postgraduate teaching hospitals in the country. Therefore, it will be seen what an infinitesimal number of persons they can claim to represent, unless they attempt to try to poach members of existing organisations.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

Will the hon. Member explain what he is talking about? It is perfectly true that the National Federation of Hospital Officers has 17 members out of the total of 22 chief administrative officers of undergraduate teaching hospitals. Is he suggesting that that is their total interest among the persons whose affairs are to be dealt with by the functional council?

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

I say so very definitely, because the overwhelming majority of the staffs are already members of the existing trade unions. Perhaps I may be allowed to continue.

The staff side trade union and professional organisations were already acting as negotiating bodies before the National Health Service Act, 1946, was passed. As the hon. Baronet has rightly said, they were invited to meetings at the Ministry of Health in October and November, 1947, and were asked to agree to the setting up of the new functional councils. The administrative and clerical staff side was constituted on 7th November, 1947, and the hon. Baronet will agree as stated in his speech, that the National Federation of Hospital Officers did not exist on that date.

In accordance with National Whitley practice—and this is where the Minister is fundamentally right—another organisation can obtain admission to the National Whitley Council only with the consent of the existing staff side. That is a normal National Whitley Council procedure, and the Minister would be departing from it if he adopted any other practice.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

Does the hon. Member mean to tell the House that however large the representation of a new organisation may be, it ought not to be admitted to the staff side, unless the existing members of the staff side consent.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

That is a purely hypothetical question; I am dealing with facts as they exist. A case founded upon an imaginary position requires no answer.

The existing bodies have spent many years in building up the conditions of service from which hospital staff are now benefiting. As a matter of fact, the salary scales at present enjoyed by hospital staffs were negotiated, in the main, by the National Association of Local Government Officers with the Local Authorities National Joint Council. If there is one weakness in the present administration it is that there are too many organisations in existence today.

Now I come to a charge which I wish to make: it is felt that this Federation is not a bona fide trade union, but a counter trade union organisation, what we would have called, in the old days, in the railway service, a goose club. Its sponsors—and here I challenge contradiction—were the chief administrative officers of certain ex-voluntary hospitals, most of whom were known to be opponents of trade union organisation in their hospitals before the introduction of National Health Service. Propaganda material was issued from the offices of the British Hospitals Association, the recognised association of voluntary hospitals.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

These gentlemen were not in the least opposed to trade unionism. What they were opposed to, and what is reflected in the constitution of the new Federation, was political trade unionism.

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

Can the hon. Baronet tell us whether any of these administrative officers tried to get out of any trade union organisation and form another trade union, because of political pressure inside their hospital because, if so, I have never heard of it.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

At the beginning of my speech I gave an account of the formation of this body. I made it quite clear.

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

I think the hon. Baronet should withdraw that charge, which is a grave reflection on the hospitals of this country and particularly on the people he is now championing.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

I understood that the hon. Baronet was suggesting that most if not all existing trade unions covering hospital services were political organisations. If so, that is not true. Many of them, if not the majority, have no political fund of any kind.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

I never made that suggestion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] No, I did not suggest that they were all political trade unions. Some are and some are not, and I am prepared to give details of those which are and those which are not.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

If these gentlemen object to political trade unionism surely there is plenty of opportunity for them to become members of trade unions or professional associations which have no avowed political objects. I have no doubt that the funds of Lord Woolton, for example, have been built up by so-called non-political contributions.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

There can be no doubt that the opposition which existing trade unions and professional organisations have to this new body is not confined to those within the staff side of the Council. Professional bodies such as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Institute of Hospital Administrations are not political organisations. Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that?

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

No. Surely the hon. Gentleman knows quite well that it is not a trade union at all; it is an education body to which a number of trade unions, who are now members of the Federation, belong, because of its educational functions. All those members of the Institute who are now members of the Federation have repudiated the Institute as a negotiating body, and wish their cases to be dealt with by the Federation.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

If the hon. Member were not so elastic in getting up and down I might get on with my sentence.

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

The hon. Member challenged me.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

I was saying that the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the Institute of Hospital Administrators and the Institute of Hospital Almoners have expressed themselves as opposed to this new body. I hope I may be allowed to submit some evidence on that from notes in the "Local Government Chronicle," which, the hon. Gentleman would agree with me, has some weight. This is what it said in February, 1948: Shortly before going to Press, we were informed that steps are being taken to establish a new trades union under the title of the National Federation of Hospital Officers to cover those who are within the new national hospital service. This is certainly startling, because as everyone knows there is not only a National Association of Local Government Officers, but nine other unions which have in the past effectively catered for all the people in question. Amongst these nine other unions are the Transport and General Workers Union, the National Union of Public Employees, the General and Municipal Workers and others whose work in the past has been beyond all praise. At times, in the face of strong opposition, they have by a process of collective bargaining gained substantial and enduring benefits for their members. It would not be too much to say there is no one who will be employed under the National Health Scheme who would be without representation by an existing union. There is not only, as it seems to us, no need for any new body to be established, but the competition and the conflicting activities of such a body would gravely prejudice all the good work that has been done in the past by the other unions. What is not clear to us at the moment is from whom the suggestion comes that this new association should be formed. Anyone with the most elementary knowledge of medical and hospital administration knows that there is an appropriate union, active and well-informed, to cover every type of employee. Beyond this point we would, at the moment, not go, but we think this of such general interest and importance that further and more detailed enquiries must be made so that the exact nature of this proposal may be ascertained and the extent to which it will conflict with the existing associations if it is established. I wish to say a word or two—

Photo of Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott , Pudsey and Otley

Would the hon. Member say from what he was quoting?

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

"The Local Government Chronicle." I thought I had given the title.

I have before me a copy of a letter from this organisation, the National Federation of Hospital. Officers. It is from the North-East Metropolitan Region, and I hope I am not giving gratuitous advertisement to this, and to something which is suggested in the letter. It is dated July, 1949. It says: Dear— name left out. At a meeting of the North-East Metropolitan Region of the Federation held at St. Bartholomews Hospital on Monday, 11th July, which was opened with an address by Mr."— so and so— methods were discussed by which funds could be raised by the region to tide the Federation over its temporary financial difficulties. Several suggestions were put forward, but they were not considered sufficiently profitable to help the Federation to any appreciable extent. Mr."— so and so— stated that the Manchester Region had decided to raise £200"— Two hundred pounds!— towards the fund, and in view of this he sincerely hoped that the North-East Region would be able to arrange some scheme among themselves to exceed this figure. A member suggested that the only way to achieve any substantial amount would be to organise a sweepstake"—

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

Would the hon. Member allow me? Is this not a private letter?

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

This was met with general approval and a committee was immediately formed to organise and run a sweepstake on the Cesarewitch which is run in October. The committee is confident that it will result in handing over a handsome sum to the Federation. But we need your co-operation to dispose of as many books as possible and I am enclosing a book … when you have disposed of your books please send them to … from whom an acknowledgment will be sent. We have had difficulties in raising trade union money in the past, but I have never known any reputable trade union attempting to raise funds for its normal activities by running a sweepstake. That gives some idea, I think, of the status of this "spoof" organisation. I am sorry I have taken up so much time, but in the main it was due to the number of not quite friendly interjections from hon. Members on the other side of the House.

Photo of Sir Hugh Linstead Sir Hugh Linstead , Wandsworth Putney

Before the hon. Member sits down, as he is acting as the spokesman of what I might call the other side, I wish to ask him a question. I think that he is proposing that the staff side shall be increased by co-option. That is a very difficult case for him, because essentially this should be a democratic machine. I would ask him to justify in a few sentences the maintaining of the co-optive element and how it is possible to get some dealings with the co-optive element which will be truly representative of the staff concerned.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

If you will allow me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in answer to that point, I would say that I never have suggested any co-option. What I did say was that the staff side, which existed at the time the Council was set up, is a body to determine whether any other organisations should be brought within the scope of the staff side of this Council. I said that in the opinion of the staff side the existing organisations provided full and adequate representation for all covered by the Council.

9.15 p.m.

Photo of Lord John Hope Lord John Hope , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

I wish to comment on two points made by the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden). First, I think that to raise money by means of a sweepstake is a good deal more desirable, whatever the cause may be, than a political levy. My second comment concerns the observation of the hon. Member—an observation which, of course, he was bound to make—that there were represented on this council sufficient trade unions to deal with those with whom we are concerned in this Debate tonight. He mentioned, among many, one or two unions whose very nature I should have thought lent colour to the case which the hon. Baronet raised. He mentioned the National Association of Local Government Officers and also the National Union of Public Employees. He knows as well as anybody else that both those organisations offer membership to anyone in the employ of a public authority, from the town clerk downwards, and I believe I am right in saying that the National Association of Local Government Officers also covers the gas, electricity and water undertakings.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

For the sake of accuracy, it must not go on record that the National Association of Local Government Officers admit into membership everybody in those services. There is a level below which they do not admit people. Broadly speaking, they take in the clerical, professional, technical and administrative staffs.

Photo of Lord John Hope Lord John Hope , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

All I can say is that these organisations were mentioned by the hon. Member to strengthen his own case, but I do not think that they did that, for the reason which I have given. I want to return to the point raised by the hon. Baronet—a point which was ignored by the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield—in connection with the refusal of the Minister to allow separate negotiation. The point which must be answered concerns the question of numbers. I note that the Minister did not say that numbers are, or were, irrelevant in this case, although in the last letter which the hon. Baronet quoted there appeared to be some attempt to run out on those lines. There were two letters, both of which were quoted, before the last letter. Both asked specifically for numbers and the matter was thought to be so important that the second letter in effect, said, "If we are not quite sure that your numbers are accurate, do you mind if we come and poke about among your books just to see whether you are right or whether you are wrong?" That is what it came to.

There was never any suggestion that the claim of this Federation was bogus in any way in terms of strength. Presumably, why the Minister wanted to know how many people wished to join the union was because he wished to measure up the strength of the claim of these people. I hope that we shall get an answer on this question of the relevance of numbers. At the same time, I hope that the Minister will let us know how many people would have to be on the strength of this Federation before the Minister would allow it the right of separate negotiation. Finally, I wish to say that if ever I heard a tale of sour grapes, it was the tale narrated by the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield who, in jovial mood, is about to leave the Chamber. If ever I heard a tale of dirty work by the Government, it was this one.

9.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Hardy Mr Edward Hardy , Salford South

I should like to say that I consider that the opening statement in this Debate was most misleading, just as the notices sent out by the Federation of Hospital Officers were misleading. I had several communications from these people, who sought this representation and who pointed out in a circular letter that they did not desire to belong to a political trade union. I replied to these people and gave them the name of an organisation, and told them that, if they had no interest in politics and had no desire to discuss politics in any form, they could contract out of the political levy.

In view of the play that is being made by these people, who may be looked upon in some quarters as the aristocrats of the hospital service, and may even be the people referred to by the Conservative Party Conference when it talked about Conservative trade unionists, I want to state the name of one trade union which for 40 years has been catering for the interests of hospital staffs and no other—the Confederation of Health Service Employees. If these people had been particularly interested in the trade union movement, I have no doubt that they would have made some effort to join long ago.

After all that we have heard tonight, I think it should be stated that we have only had administrative and clerical staff in hospitals since 1947; we never had them before. It is going to be a difficult matter if we are to take up the cases of every few people who get together, because they may be a break-away organisation of people who left their own trade union to form such a combination. If we encourage such people to gain representation, we may have difficulties in connection with the joint machinery, because the Whitley Council machinery has been in existence since 1932, so far as hospitals are concerned. If we accept what these people say and the Minister recognises them as a negotiating body, we shall be flooded with applications from all sections of the hospital services. I support the attitude of the Minister. I do not think these people are entitled to be recognised as a negotiating body, because there are other organisations, and in particular one outstanding organisation, which has, in all these years, been representing every section of the hospital services.

9.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Christopher Hollis Mr Christopher Hollis , Devizes

I think the trade union movement may come to regret very much the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Hardy). A more dangerous admission than he has made I could hardly imagine. The hon. Member said that if the application were to be granted, the Minister would be flooded with other applications from existing trade unions. I do not believe that that is true, but, if it were, I would not attempt to make such a damning attack on the existing unions as the hon. Member for South Salford has done. It is the most dangerous suggestion I have ever heard. May I restate the issue, which was so admirably stated by my hon. Friend in opening this important Debate, and, in doing so, attempt to clear away some of the irrelevancies which have surrounded it. The position is one which is entirely reasonable to everybody concerned, and which it was hoped would be settled without undue controversy.

The hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) based his case on the manifesto of the other unions of February, 1948. He explained how they expressed their opinion—which was no doubt a quite honest opinion—that they were perfectly able effectively to cater for all the needs of the hospital officers. That was one of the opinions expressed, and, on the basis of that opinion, quite logically, they prophesied that if this Federation was formed, it was unlikely to strike any roots. I have no doubt that they were perfectly honest in that opinion, and it may have been a perfectly proper opinion to hold. On the other hand, those who wished to form this Federation held the opinion that the provision of the Health Service would substantially alter the position of hospital officers vis-à-vis their governing bodies, and it was felt that the formation of a collective organisation was necessary in order to protect their industry.

One set of opinions thought that the existing organisation was sufficient, and another set thought that a new organisation was desirable. There were two perfectly honest opinions, and the only thing to be said is that the people who held the second opinion have been proved right because, contrary to all the prophesies, this new Federation has quite clearly struck roots, and is now growing very rapidly. Therefore, the whole question is not whether it is possible for these people to join some other union; nor are we concerned as to whether or not it is better for these people to join, say, the Transport and General Workers' Union, or to have their own union. All that we are concerned with is to make it perfectly clear that it is only reasonable that they should be allowed to choose for themselves, and that their organisation should be given proper recognition.

The only other point I wish to make is this. I think it would be for the convenience of the House to make absolutely clear the position challenged by the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) about the staff side turning down this application without investigation because, as a matter of fact, that can be proved from the documents. The National Federation made application on 9th July, and received no answer at all until 8th October, 1948, when they received the following letter: I placed before the staff side of the above functional council at a meeting held on Wednesday last, the 6th instant, the request contained in your letter of 9th July for recognition of the National Federation of Hospital Officers. On consideration of the request, I was instructed to inform you that the application was not approved. It is obvious from that reply that the application was turned down without any investigation into the nature of the Federation. In their letter of 18th October to the Ministry of Health, the Federation said: It is significant that no inquiries of any kind were addressed to the Federation in regard to its membership or the extent to which it could properly claim to be a truly representative body of the hospital officers of the country. Therefore, there can be no question whatever that my hon. Friend is entirely in the right.

9.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

I had no intention of taking part in this Debate tonight, and it is only because of the invitation extended to me by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) to interrupt him if his facts were wrong or his statement was not quite true, that I rise to speak. It is perhaps quite wrong that I, as a governor of a teaching hospital and of a number of other hospitals, should attempt to talk on what is a very complex problem within our hospital administration.

The hon. Baronet has not rendered a service to the hospital administration of this country by raising this matter tonight. If this discussion could have helped the hospitals along, I would have welcomed it, but I have a feeling that his whole intention was to throw a spanner into the works and endeavour to make things more difficult for those of us who have to administer the teaching hospitals of this country. There is no section of hospital workers, from the highest down to the lowest, who cannot be represented on the staff side of the Whitley Council through their appropriate trade union. If they say they cannot, the answer is that it is sheer snobbery. We know that in various sections of this and other professions we still find that some people think it is injurious to their dignity to belong to an appropriate trade union. There is no one in any section of the administrative staffs of our hospitals who cannot be represented through the appropriate trade union unless they feel that it is infra dig to belong to a trade union.

Photo of Lord John Hope Lord John Hope , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

When the hon. Member says "appropriate," in whose eyes is it supposed to be appropriate?

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

I know perfectly well which is my appropriate trade union; so does any other professional man who really wants to find out what is his appropriate trade union.

Photo of Lord John Hope Lord John Hope , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

Including, therefore, the National Federation? Does the hon. Member not allow them the choice of their appropriate trade union just as he reserves to himself the choice of his own appropriate trade union? Is that his argument?

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

No, on the contrary. Before this new organisation, this mushroom growth, grew up, there were appropriate trade unions which could have taken all of them in, but they would not come in because they felt that they ought to belong to something "super," something above the ordinary adminisrtration on the trade union side in hospitals. I have every sympathy with the members of this new organisation; I know lots of them and I have to work with them day by day. My one condemnation of them—and I have told them so personally on the floors of the hospitals—is that they have tried to walk out of the ordinary trade union organisation in an endeavour to make for themselves something above the level of any other organisation. That is why I say it is quite wrong for us in this House tonight to be boosting the claims of these people for separate representation. There is not one of them who could not be represented through the ordinary trade unions and the ordinary trade union machinery of the staff side of the Whitley Council.

This is holding up the smooth administration of our hospitals. I know for a fact that many of these people were looking forward to tonight's Debate because they knew that the hon. Baronet was going to raise this subject. They knew very well that I had refused to raise it. They have taken great hope because the Conservative Party were going to raise the banner of "free trade unionism" or, as I would say, the breakaway unions. I have told them that I will have no truck with it. Let me plead with the Opposition. I do not mind them being political; I do not mind them attacking the Labour Party or this Government, and going for us good and hearty, but I ask them not to try to interrupt the work of our hospitals in order to score cheap political points.

9.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

I think that the speech just made by the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) was one of the most extraordinary speeches ever made in this House. I wholly fail to understand the basis of his arguments. I think we ought to be grateful to the hon. Baronet the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) for raising this matter, which is obviously important and has considerable influence on matters beyond the immediate scope of this discussion. I should like to ask the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras one or two questions. First, does he object to any new unions being formed in this country?

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean trade unions or unions?

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

The hon. Member does not object to new trade unions being formed. Why, then, does he object to this Federation being formed?

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

The right hon. Gentleman must be fair. If he expects me to answer one question, I must be allowed to interpolate "no unnecessary new trade unions"; in other words, breakaway unions.

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

That, of course, is entirely begging the question. I suggest that the hospital officers who joined this union and formed it did so because they thought there was some need for such a body. May I now put a second question to the hon. Member? Is there any union in this country, including all the big unions he has mentioned, which has as many hospital officers as members as has this Federation?

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

I would challenge him and ask, which?

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

Since I know something about the origin of this new union, I suggest that on hospital administration the General Municipal Workers, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Union of Public Employees have far more members, because this Federation has, I think, 2,000 members and they have hundreds of thousands.

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

I may tell him that he is wrong in his information. This union has more members among hospital officers, administrative and clerical, than any other union in the country, and the Transport and General Workers' Union, which the hon. Member mentioned, probably have not more than one or two hundred at the outside.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I challenge that because I know as a fact, which I personally investigated, that the union of which I am a member, even as a medical man, and on whose national executive I sit—The Confederation of Health Service Employees—has more officers as members than has this union.

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

I am always willing to give every opportunity to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) and I would like him to tell me how many members there are of that union who are hospital officers.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I honestly could not give the figures straight off. Naturally, I did not expect the question, but I can assure the right hon. Member—and he knows I would not say something which was challengeable—that I have gone into this question personally, and from the investigation I made I am convinced that the Confederation of Health Service Employees has as many officers as members as this union.

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

I can only assure the House that my information—and I have taken some pains to find this out—is that there are more hospital officers in the National Federation than there are in any other union, including the one just mentioned. If the hon. Member can prove to me that that is not correct, of course I will withdraw my statement. In the Federation there are between 3,000 and 3,500 members.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Wimbledon

Has the right hon. Gentleman taken into account the membership of the very old-established and well-known professional workers union—the National Association of Local Government Officers?

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

Yes, I have taken that into account and I should think that there are at least 500 more in this Federation than in the association which the hon. Member mentions. Well, suppose I am not right, and suppose that this particular Federation has not the largest number of members, then I still entirely deny the basis and the strength of the argument which the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras put forward. Is it suggested that this Federation, which at any rate has a substantial number of members—it has over 3,000 members—should have no representation? Do hon. Members opposite who claim to be democrats, think that that is a justifiable argument?

I am sorry that the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) is not here. I always thought he was an old democrat. It disappointed me terribly to hear him take the line he did. He was taking the line that the existing unions must be maintained at all costs, that there should be a monopoly for the existing unions, and that no new unions should be brought into existence. That is not the sort of line to which a democratic assembly like this ought to listen for one moment. If an organisation can be built up with this number of members, and occupy a position of the sort that this Federation does, is it to be denied the right to exist and the right of representation? Hon. Members opposite may laugh because one of its branches is said to have sought to raise some funds by a sweepstake. It is all very well for hon. Members to laugh at that, but when one is starting a new show it is very hard to raise funds.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

The right hon. Gentleman is very fair, and is a very fine Conservative, for whom I have personally the greatest respect, as he knows; but he is not being perfectly fair on the point he is making. There is no objection to anyone forming a trade union, even though it be a parvenu union with certain pretensions to trade unionism. It is not that. It is the fact that after the Whitley Council machinery and the functional council machinery has been laid down, a new union comes in. This new union comes in and says, "We want representation on the staff side of the Whitley Council and on the functional council." [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because it upsets the previous arrangements made.

Mr. Speaker:

Is this a speech? After all, every interruption, if it becomes a speech, must affect my next calling.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

This is a very important point in the Debate, because the right hon. Gentleman is pleading that we are opposed to new unions being, formed, and I am trying to explain to him, a very fair Member, that he is quite wrong.

Mr. Speaker:

Could not the point be made if the hon. Member caught my eye? There is a lot of time yet.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I was not sure that I should catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

I think the point which the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) has made is plain. His complaint is that this union was formed after the Whitley Council was set up. That is the burden of his complaint. But I do not think that is objectionable at all. This, after all, is a new Whitley Council. It is not a Whitley Council that has been going on for years and years. A new Whitley Council has been set up. It appeared, after it was set up, that it did not quite fill the bill. Therefore, this new organisation was formed, and asked the Whitley Council if it could join it. That is all it asked. It asked to join the Whitley Council. The existing members of the staff side of the Whitley Council said, "No, we do not want you."

What I now want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is this. What is his line on this? When he learned—and it took him a long time to learn or to decide—that the existing staff side did not want to accept this new Federation, what did he do? He quite properly made some inquiries from this new Federation as to the numbers of their membership, and he ascertained what those numbers were, and he was told that he might have the opportunity of checking the information from the books of the Federation, and so on. There is no dispute as to the membership. That is accepted. Then he wrote ultimately—or one of his officers did—on 10th October a letter which has been quoted already by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield—a letter which, I think, was really very shocking. In it he said: The Minister would need to be convinced that the circumstances were such that if the Federation's request were refused a substantial injustice would be done, in that a large proportion of the staff side would be deprived of a voice in these matters. What a terrible argument to put forward. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The argument is that, "We are not going to do justice; we shall not allow this to happen unless a substantial injustice would be done." If that is all we are going to get from the Government—

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Does the right hon. Gentleman really suggest that the Government should decide who shall represent the staff in Whitley Council discussions? Is that his proposal?

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

I suggest that if the Government find that a considerable body of the staff cannot get representation on the Whitley Council, there is only one thing to do, and that is to give them direct access to the Minister and for him to negotiate directly with them. What other decision could be made by the Minister? I say that these people must either be admitted by the Whitley Council or given direct access to negotiate with the Minister. I do not propose to speak at any greater length, but I feel very deeply about this, as do many other hon. Members on this side of the House, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider the decision he has made and not expect the National Federation to be satisfied with the final paragraph: It is open to the Federation to repeat their application at a later date when it will be reconsidered in the light of the circumstances then applying, including the Federation membership figures.

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

There is nothing wrong with it, except that the Federation is already of considerable consequence, with a membership of over 3,000, and, in view of that, I think that the Minister will have the greatest possible difficulty in justifying his inaction now.

9.47 p.m.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I am very pleased to have the opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker. A great deal of what I had to say has already been bandied to and fro in the course of the discussion. The kernel of this problem is the right of a new union, comparatively recently formed from a source which had a number of opportunities in previous years to organise and get representation on bodies connected with hospital matters—the right of this body, when they suddenly reach a certain figure, to ask that they should have representation on particular staff representative bodies which had already been formed. They are now asking that this body, suddenly realising, after the passing of the National Health Service Act, that the voluntary hospitals are now part of the general hospital system, should come in.

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

Is the hon. Gentleman objecting that this is a breakaway union, or is he suggesting that this is a union of people who never before belonged to a union?

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I am not suggesting that this is a breakaway union, and I am not against anyone forming a union. I say that the request tonight is that a newly-formed body which has had no contact before with members of a trade union, is suddenly asking the Minister to give them definite representation on the staff Whitley Council. [Interruption.] At this stage, without any waiting and without any consolidation and reconsideration, they ask that someone on the representative Whitley Council or functional council should be pushed out because they say that they have a certain membership which has not yet been proved. That is my information.

This is a new union of doubtful strength and doubtful permanency, and I doubt very much whether it will last very long. I think that these people will eventually see that they can come into the ordinary general trade union movement and take part in it. That movement would meet them as comrades and friends, having regard to their main purpose—the pay and conditions of the staff employed in hospital institutions. Of course, they will not get an excessive amount of prominence and will not be all powerful, but they will come into the general trade union movement as many other workpeople have done. After all, the pharmacists—for whom the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) speaks—have their own representative on the Whitley Council and on the functional council, and they have never asked that somebody else should be pushed out because they wanted representation.

I am surprised that fair-minded men should put forward a plea of this kind. They talk of political trade unionism. Well, I have been in trade unionism since the age of 20, and although I realise that when trade unionists want certain legislation passed they have to appeal to the body which will agree to try to get that legislation passed—and I agree with that—to say that they are political trade unionists is a mistake. I am inside the union movement, and I know that trade unionists frequently fight for their rights inside the general Labour movement; sometimes they do not get all they want, but they fight for it and say "These are our terms; we would like you to pass or to consider this legislation." But they do not ask that every other piece of machinery set up and agreed to by all the other trade unions concerned, and by representatives of the staffs concerned, should be put out of joint simply because a new union, never heard of before, suddenly comes into being. I do not think that is a fair request to make.

There are many trade unions, past and present, which had and still have no representation. Some are too small; some are too disjointed; some are not sectionalised enough. For instance, the Transport and General Workers Union has been mentioned. Its health section is definitely sectionalised; it is part of the great union; but that particular section discusses only its own particular problems; it must not be thought that they believe the whole world is full of transport problems; it has its separate organisation.

To urge, as did the hon. Baronet, that this Federation has a greater membership than any other trade union represented on the Whitley Council or the functional council is quite a mistake. I know that the union I represent, with its 6,700 members—a membership which is rising—has a higher proportion of hospital officers—including medical men and medical superintendents—than this Federation has reached so far. It may reach that figure later on, but let us be fair about it.

Why ask the Minister to do something which will upset the whole representative staff side of the Whitley Council machinery in connection with a new Act, when the new national hospitals are taking over? This Debate should never have taken place, and I am surprised at the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton) coming into it, because his Parliamentary reputation for fair-mindedness is almost unique. I am really surprised at his entering this Debate and asking for something, when I am sure full consideration of the problems involved would not lead to his acceptance of any of the propositions put forward.

This Federation should wait their turn, prove their membership, and ask for representation on the appropriate occasion, but not now, when this Act has not yet, so to speak, consolidated itself, and when the machinery has not yet got into full working order; it needs a lot of oiling, a lot of attention, and a lot of adjustment. To ask for this change at this time is one of the biggest political mistakes I have ever known any trade union to commit. The hon. Baronet really ought not to do these sorts of things, which upset the whole machinery. If only he knew the difficulties we have medically, and from the point of view of the nurses, to get things adjusted, in consolidating the status of nurses and of doctors within the service, and the difficulties of grading and adjusting one side to another. It is a tremendous responsibility, on both the professional and the non-professional side. I beg the hon. Baronet to believe that some of us who are little behind the scenes are doing the best we can to get a smooth passage for the Act, which will certainly take at least five years to come into real fruition.

9.55 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

No one would deny the sincerity of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan). No one would deny the efforts he has personally made to ensure the greatest possible success of the working of the National Health Service Act; but, as I understand it—and he must forgive me if I misunderstood him owing to the fact that his words were very difficult to catch from this side of the House—the conclusion of his argument was based on the two remarkable alternatives of justice and expediency.

In the first place, he said that representation on the Whitley Council of the National Federation of Hospital Officers must not be admitted out of justice to those already on the Council, and, in the second place, he said it ought not to be admitted because as a matter of expediency it would be unwise to disrupt the existing arrangements that have been set up.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

At the present time.

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

Yes, at the present time. I have never yet known an argument which claimed to have justice and expediency as its two supports which did not fall between them both. It is quite impossible to walk upon these two legs. The chronological history upon which he built is not quite right. and his case was rather given away by the speech of his hon. Friend who spoke earlier in the Debate. I say that for this reason.

The House has already heard that it was towards the end of 1947 that the Minister decided to set up the staff side of the functional council. We have heard that it must have been about that time that the unions and organisations which were to be represented on the Whitley Council issued their manifesto. The first meeting of the officers who subsequently became the National Federation was on 9th January, 1948. The manifesto which the hon. Member quoted stated that it had come to the notice of these other unions that a movement was being put on foot to bring about this new organisation. Therefore, it must have been at the end of 1947, and it was at the end of 1947 that the Minister provisionally appointed the staff side of the functional council. Therefore, the argument that has just been advanced must necessarily fall to the ground, because when the proportions of membership of the different organisations represented on the Whitley Council were being worked out, it was then already known that the National Federation was coming into being, and allowance could have been made for them.

Photo of Mr Thomas Burden Mr Thomas Burden , Sheffield Park

The actual position is that the administrative and clerical staff side was constituted on 7th September, 1947, which was before the National Federation came into existence, and the constitution of the staff side was determined at that date.

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

I am very grateful to the hon. Member, because his date confirms what I was saying. Actually, I thought it was a little earlier, but the time-lag between November, 1947, and January, 1948, is shorter than I anticipated. Therefore, there is still less excuse for this provisional set-up not being taken into account in the appointments.

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Wilkins.]

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

There is, therefore, still less reason for this provisional set-up not having taken into account the possibility of a very large number of unrepresented administrative clerical and technical staffs in hospitals gaining representation on the Whitley Council.

I came to this Debate as a result of a letter from a constituent of mine, who sets out the facts fairly and squarely from his own point of view as a hospital worker. He said that the Federation is a nonpolitical body—which is admitted—and that he does not believe that politics and hospitals should mix; the suggestion that hospital employees should join one of the existing trade unions which either have political interests or which have no knowledge of hospitals is not acceptable. There he is wrong, but the writer shows clearly that the existing trade unions have not brought to his knowledge the opportunities which their representatives here claim they can offer to prospective members. My constituent wishes to enlist our help in ensuring that the Federation shall obtain representation.

That was the basis on which I came to this Debate, but on hearing the speeches of Members opposite I thought this was a matter which was only indirectly concerned with the Minister. It is far more a struggle within the trade union movement between members of medical and hospital professions. The alarming thing is that the speeches to which we have listened from Members opposite show abundantly that what they are trying to do is to enforce the closed shop in these particular grades. That is something which this House ought not to tolerate for a moment.

The Minister has an opportunity of finding a way out. He has here, as I think we have now established, a properly constituted representative body, containing a great number of these particular grades of workers, who are not represented solely by any other union. He has this body with whom he is entitled, if he thinks fit, to have separate negotiations. I think the Parliamentary Secretary should say whether or not, after setting up a provisional council, he is justified in refusing to allow matters to be reopened when that council does not admit to its deliberations a body which is far and away more representative than any other body which claims to represent this particular class of worker. I hope that when he replies to the Debate he will say that these people, who, for reasons which presumably are amply sufficient—and they are responsible people; they are entitled to make up their own minds—do not wish to join an existing union and have gone to the trouble of setting up their own, will be recognised as a body with which the Ministry can deal separately.

10.4 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Shipley

My hon. Friend the Member for the Park division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) has said that this Federation is a spoof organisation. I cannot find any evidence that it is a spoof organisation. It may well be—I do not express any opinion—and it appears that there are two ways in which it might be bogus. It may be bogus because of its fictional membership, but from correspondence supplied to me it appears that the Federation has offered to lay open its records and membership lists to inspection by the Ministry or to anybody else. So I do not think that it can be suggested that there is any evidence that this organisation is other than a genuine organisation of over 3,000 workers in the administrative and clerical grades in our hospitals.

The alternative which has been put forward, in the words of my hon. Friend, is that this union has been organised from above. I do not understand what that means. If it means that it has been organised from the Ministry that is clearly not so, because the Ministry does not appear to love it at all. If, on the other hand, it means that it has been organised by some persons who in the past have been opposed to trade unionism, I do not see that that is an argument for refusing recognition today. It may be that they have been converted.

Do not let us assume for one moment that the Conservative Party is opposed to trade unions. Some of the most effective trade unions have been formed by people who are predominantly Conservatives. The only unions which they oppose are those which do not fit in with their own interests. They have been superlative in organising unions. My own union, the Law Society, which is not formed predominantly of Socialists, is one of the most effective in the country, and is the only one that has a closed shop on the Statute Book. We have very wisely decided not to enforce the closed shop, and I think it is a wise decision. However, there it is on the Statute Book. That being so, I do not think that it can be claimed that this is a spoof organisation.

Another argument which has been put forward in the memorandum read out by my hon. Friend is that this organisation can only gain members from existing organisations. That does not seem to me to be an outstanding objection to it. If members of existing organisations prefer to go over to another, I do not see that there is any reason why the full force of the existing unions and the Ministry should be called in aid to prevent them doing so. Next, it was argued that this new organisation is unlikely to strike any roots. Who can judge that except the 3,500 members who may or may not continue to pay their membership subscriptions after the attraction of the sweepstake has evaporated? It may be they only go into it for the sweepstake, but in that case we shall soon find out if recognition is given to this organisation on its merits.

I conclude by asking the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to answer if he will these few questions, which will enable those who have no particular prejudices one way or another about this organisation to decide what are the merits. The first is, what is the total number of administrative and clerical employees involved in this functional council? Secondly, what is admitted to be the genuine membership of this new Federation? Thirdly, if the Minister will not accord to this Federation separate consultation on its existing membership, what membership must it attain before that separate consultation is accorded? Fourthly, how long will the staff side of the functional council be able to prevent this Federation from having representation upon it?

Supposing, in other words, there are, for the purpose of argument, 10,000 administrative and clerical workers involved. At present, there are 10 unions claiming to represent them. Supposing the time comes when those existing 10 unions represented only 10 members each and the new union represents 9,000 odd, at what point can the Minister intervene and say to the staff side, "Now you are not representative of the workers in this particular industry"? I can see that we cannot have a lot of small splinter unions. It is hopeless to work on that basis. But at what point does representation in a union become sufficiently substantial to get on to the National Council?

Photo of Mr Haydn Davies Mr Haydn Davies , St Pancras South West

May I ask my hon. Friend a question? He has referred to this as a union, but the whole point of the case made by the opposition is that it is not a union, but a Federation.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Shipley

If I may say so with respect, I am not sure that there is any great substance in that point. After all the term "union" can be applied to a great many organisations. I somewhat irreverently referred to the Law Society as a "union," but I am not sure that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Johnson-Hicks) would agree. This is an organised body for the purpose of representing the views of its members, and whether we call it a union or a Federation does not seem to me to matter a very great deal.

10.11 p.m.

Photo of Sir Frederick Messer Sir Frederick Messer , Tottenham South

I wish to preface a word or two about this matter by saying how much I regret the Debate having taken place at all. I am sorry, because it seems to me that this is placing the Minister in a very difficult position. If the Minister did interfere it would immediately create difficulties on the staff side of the Whitley Council. It has always been an understood thing that the staff side of the Whitley Council decide who should compose the staff side of the Whitley Council. That is no new thing, and for the Minister to say that somebody must be accepted against those who are representing the workers in any industry would create an immense difficulty indeed.

This is not the first time this difficulty has arisen. It may be remembered that in the negotiating body representing the Post Office workers there is a minority who have repeatedly claimed the right, and have not been given that right, because of the number of members they represent. I recognise, however, that if there is a considerable body of a particular grade of workers we ought not to prevent them being able to negotiate. The alternatives therefore seem to be two. One is that the staff side of the Whitley Council should be persuaded that it is right to accept them, or if there is a substantial body they should be given the right of separate negotiation.

My own view is that separate negotiation is a bad thing and I would prefer that this matter should be left to the Whitley Council. It is not fair when the Minister, at some difficulty, has called into existence a new Whitley Council, to have the division which is bound to be created when this body comes along and says, "We have the right to be represented." My view is that the staff side of the Whitley Council and this organisation should be given the opportunity of settling down—for this is quite a new thing—and I am sure that ultimately agreement can be reached.

I think it is a wrong thing to impose on the Minister the obligation of saying that he must insist on recognition, and that this body has a right to membership of the Whitley Council. I would prefer that it should be recognised that this body has a right to continue their negotiations with the other trade unions so that representation can be afforded to them.

10.15.p.m.

Photo of Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan , Perth

I think the last two speakers have brought the Debate where it really ought to be, and instead of leaving a rather nasty taste in the mouth like some of the other speakers from the other side of the House, they have freshened up the whole thing. The real principle at stake here is the right of a body of workers in any profession or trade to form a union if they wish to do so. I do not consider that we are doing any good to the trade union movement, which after all, is the child of the Tory Party—[Interruption.] Yes, it is. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Asterley Jones) is a lawyer. He has no doubt forgotten the Act of 1824. He cannot go behind that, because that is when it started under a Tory Government. The fact is that every group of persons should have the right to form a trade union. That has been freely established in this country.

This is obviously a body of some weight, whatever the actual figures may be. It would be a most unfortunate thing if, because of the prejudices of those who are already in the fortunate position of being represented on the Whitley Council, this considerable body of influential people in this walk of life should be debarred. It is said that the scheme is only just settling down. If it is still in a state of flux, should not that be the time to add this extra body to it? I think that this is the opportunity, instead of waiting for five years as the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) suggested. I was interested to note that last Thursday, in that very welcome incursion into Scottish affairs when nursing was being discussed, the hon. Member expressed his enthusiasm in favour of the right of nurses to be organised and represented. Why the nurses, and why not these officers?

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I thought I made that perfectly plain. I said that I had no objection whatever to anyone organising in a trade union—I like people to organise—but I was against their pressure at present to disrupt something already established.

Photo of Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan , Perth

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I think I have dealt with that point. I do not think that they ought to be left out and denied this extra privilege which the Whitley Council provides. I hope that the Minister will be reassuring, because a matter of very high principle is involved.

10.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I think that we should be encouraged by the increasing interest which apparently hon. and right hon. Members opposite are taking in trade union problems. This is something wholly new and something which on our side I am sure we welcome.

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to remind him that I was three years at the Ministry of Labour and that I spent a great deal of time discussing and dealing with trade union methods?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

There are two main issues which have been raised tonight. It is rather unfortunate that they should have been raised in this way because, almost inevitably, in view of the way in which the matter has been raised, the impression is apt to go out from this House—and it will not make matters any easier—that this affair has some sort of political connotation which it ought not to have. It is unfortunate that the result of this short Debate will inevitably have the effect of making the position on the Whitley Council more rather than less difficult.

The first of the two main issues is the question of representation on the staff side of this Whitley Council. The second is the question of whether or not the Minister ought to open up direct negotiation with this body in addition to his discussions in the Whitley Council. On the first question, we have had put forward by some hon. Members opposite, but not by all, the suggestion that my right hon. Friend ought to interfere with the staff side. Unquestionably, that is wrong. There is no doubt that if we were to accept that doctrine it would be absolutely impossible to work Whitley machinery.

If we were to have it suggested that the Minister as employer should have the right in any way to settle the form of staff side representation in Whitley Councils, I cannot but think that it would have the most disastrous effect not only upon the Whitley Councils in the Health Service but upon the many Whitley Councils which have been working smoothly and effectively over a wide range of other groups of workers. Frankly, I should like to know whether that indeed was the suggestion put forward officially from the other side, because it is a matter about which I am sure the staff side of Whitley Councils generally would like to know a great deal. They would be very interested to know if it is the suggestion of hon. and right hon. Members opposite that there should be this interference—

Photo of Sir John Mellor Sir John Mellor , Sutton Coldfield

As I started this Debate, may I make my own position quite clear? My suggestion was that, if the staff side would not admit a trade union which, obviously, on account of its strength, should be represented in negotiations, then the Minister should correct the position by allowing that union separate negotiations direct with himself.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I am glad to hear that the hon. Baronet is withdrawing from what I understood was the position he was adopting—that a position would arise in which the Minister himself should intervene and in some way insist upon a reconstitution of the staff side.

Photo of Mr Christopher Hollis Mr Christopher Hollis , Devizes

It is not we who are suggesting that. It is the Minister of Health himself, because he wrote on the 10th October that it was open to the Federation to repeat their application later.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I am coming to that point, on which the hon. Gentleman is raising the second of the two questions which have been raised this evening—the question whether or not the Minister should open direct negotiations, failing the admission of this body to representation on the Whitley Council. I was anxious that this matter should be made quite clear, because I gathered the impression, although I may be quite wrong, that hon. Members opposite were suggesting that the Minister should have the right to interfere with the staff side representation.

The second point is whether or not the Minister, failing a change of representation on the staff side of the Whitley Council, should open direct negotiations. Obviously, it is very undesirable to have to do so. Obviously, it would be very difficult for the smooth working of the Whitley machinery if separate negotiations are going on with another body. As the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) has stated, this is not a new matter. It has arisen before. My hon. Friend quoted the case of the Post Office, and I believe that it has also arisen elsewhere.

The difficulty obviously is that it would very much impede the smooth working of our Whitley Council machinery if we were to adopt the suggestion of opening up direct negotiations. As hon. Members opposite realise, after having read a great part of the correspondence which has passed, we have not by any means closed the door to future direct negotiations should we be satisfied that, in fact, a large proportion of the workers in this particular field would, by denial of direct negotiations, be ruled out of representation.

At the present moment, this body claims to have a membership of something just over 3,000, out of a field of some 22,000 workers. We do not feel that that is sufficient to warrant our interference with the existing Whitley Council, with the consequent danger of breaking up the existing Whitley Council arrangements, which we have got to face if we do open these direct negotiations. It would mean that we should be in danger, in effect, of dismissing the claims of the larger proportion of the employees as against the claims of the smaller. We accept the claim of this new body in regard to its membership; it is not very large, neither is it small. I accept the fact that it is a growing proportion at the moment, and, obviously, we would have to review this matter again at a later period.

Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London

Will the hon. Gentleman deal with one of the points I made, that this particular union has more members in it than any of the unions represented on the Whitley Council?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I am not denying that claim; I do not know whether that is true or not; but I do know that it does not represent anything like the total number of the workers represented on the Whitley Council at the moment, and that is the issue which we must consider.

This is not the only point. It was stated quite correctly in the letter quoted that it is not purely a question of membership. My hon. Friends who have had long experience in the trade union movement know very well that many comet-like bodies grow and disappear again fairly rapidly. It is a fair point that we must be sure not only of the precise size of the membership but also be satisfied before we open up negotiations that it is becoming established as a permanent body with some real title to claim representation.

Photo of Lord John Hope Lord John Hope , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

About how long does the hon. Gentleman think that would take?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I am not going to commit myself to a time limit or to precise numbers. Hon. Members opposite seem to suggest that this is a wholly novel situation. It is nothing of the kind; in this we are following the practice laid down in other cases, and I think it is right and fair that we should not only consider the numbers that would be excluded from representation if we did not initiate direct negotiations, but that we should also consider whether or not it has a reasonable claim to become an established body. In view of our past experience over a wide variety of fields of a number of bodies that rise and disappear again fairly rapidly, I hope that hon. Members opposite are not going to suggest that the staff side of the Whitley Council that has been developed with such care and such success over these last months should be lightly set aside for the claims of a body that has not yet had adequate consideration.

After all, this particular body has only been in existence for a comparatively short time, and in comparison with the organisations represented on the staff side of the Whitley Council it has been in existence hardly any time at all. On those grounds, while not finally closing the door to this body, I must say that there must be time for further consideration of this matter and that both the question of membership and the question of the stability of the body itself must be taken into account.

Photo of Lord John Hope Lord John Hope , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

If the case is as simple as the hon. Gentleman has stated it to be—and it may well be—why on earth did it take his Ministry all these months before they decided to turn down the claim? They could have found out in five minutes what the hon. Gentleman is now suggesting.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Not at all. Hon. Members opposite obviously know very little about trade union representation, about the Whitley Council organisation, and how vitally important it is to try to get co-operation all along the line. They seem to have been suggesting throughout, when they talked about the closed shop and all the rest of it, that here we are talking about one or two unions. We are not; we are talking about more than a dozen unions in this field, and, therefore, there is no question of isolation at all.

Photo of Sir Edward Keeling Sir Edward Keeling , Twickenham

I very much regret that the Minister has not replied to the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) who really conceded the whole case made on this side when he said that this new union was definitely entitled either to be admitted to representation on' the staff side of the Whitley Council—

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.