The Minister has had a communication from the council in which it has been made quite clear that we have had very real difficulties in recruiting staff in the last year or so and now we find it impossible. Has not his recent mischievous example earned him the reputation of being the meanest Minister of Health since Neville Chamberlain?
The hon. Member is clearly embroidering on the letter in such a reckless way as to raise doubts whether he has even seen the letter to which his Question refers.
The Minister knows quite well that I have seen the letter because I have been in correspondence about it, and he knows there was a previous Question last week about it. In view of the inability of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to understand Questions put to him and to know what is happening in his Department, I beg leave to raise the matter at the earliest opportunity on the Adjournment.
I am aware of the decision referred to in the latter. I continue to receive regular reports and have no evidence of any detriment to patients or interruption of services.
How long is this to go on? Is the Minister really happy about it, as he does not seem to care one way or the other what happens? A vast part of his staff is engaged in an overtime ban which may have a serious effect; they are getting no help from his Ministry but instead a lot of smug replies. What is the Minister going to do about it?
It is not for me to do anything about the ban. I have said from the start of the outbreak of this ban that it would be entirely inconsistent with the duty of Ministers if they allowed themselves to be coerced in the exercise of their statutory duty by such direct means as this.
Is the Minister aware that there are very real dangers of these bans extending and that, in time, they may affect every hospital in the country, especially mental hospitals, which are already in difficulties? Will he not show his willingness to take some action to remove the difficulties he himself imposed originally?
No, Sir. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), I am receiving regular reports and keeping this matter under careful review. The overtime ban at mental hospitals to which the hon. Member has referred did not arise out of the question of the decision on the Administrative and Clerical Whitley Council claim but was, in fact, going on some time prior to that.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware that he was a coward when he singled out this staff, because its members are unable to hit back in an effective way against very unfair treatment. Many other sections of the community might have withdrawn their labour, but these workers cannot do that; they are trying to get him to understand their problem.
I made it quite clear in the debate we had on 6th November, and in my subsequent statement to the House at a later date, that there was no question of singling out this particular staff. A timetable was clearly imposed by the date of the recommendation and the statutory duty imposed by the Regulations upon my right hon. Friend and myself.
Are we now nearer to a settlement of this matter? Can the Minister tell the House what the position is? I understand that he met the deputation, and the Prime Minister met it. Can he give an indication of when these discussions will come to a conclusion and when at long last he can report to the House that he has conceded this claim to these people?
When the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself found it necessary in the exercise of our statutory duty to withhold approval for the time being, we gave an undertaking to review the matter at an appropriate time. In our judgment, that time has not yet arrived. My right hon Friend and I saw the deputation from the Administrative and Clerical Whitley Council. We have also seen a deputation from the Staff Side of the General Whitley Council for the National Health Service, and the Prime Minister is due to see a deputation from the same gentlemen.
In view of the fact that I asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman the day before he met the deputations whether he would receive them with an open mind and he said that he would receive them with a receptive mind—that was a fortnight ago—surely at this stage he is able to tell the House before the House adjourns for Christmas what is to be the Government's attitude towards these matters?
The numbers of people engaged in these occupations have gone up a little, but the work has also gone up and it is right that we should try to get higher productivity in this context, as we should all over the industrial field.