National Health Service (Clerical and Administrative Workers)

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Commerce – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st January 1958.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey 12:00 am, 21st January 1958

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his meeting with Staff Side Whitley Council (Hospital Staffs) held on Monday, 23rd December, 1957.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

asked the Prime Minister what conclusions were reached at his meeting with representatives of the National and Local Government Officers Association on the veto imposed by Her Majesty's Government on the Whitley Council award of 3 per cent. increase for clerical and administrative workers in the National Health Service.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I have been asked to reply.

Having heard the considerations put forward by the deputation from the Staff Side of the General Council of the Whitley Councils for the Health Services (Great Britain), on which the National and Local Government Officers Association was represented, my right hon. Friend explained that the decision announced by the Health Ministers in relation to the pay of the administrative and clerical staff had been taken in the light of the need to maintain the position and purchasing power of the pound, and that the 3 per cent. increase could not be granted at the present time. My right hon. Friend agreed that the Whitley machinery in the Health Services needed to be reviewed and said that in this context the points made by the deputation would be borne closely in mind.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that reply—he will understand that most of us on this side of the House think that his conclusions are absolute nonsense—may I ask him if, in order to try to solve this very unhappy position, he will consult the Minister of Health to get an implementation of the award, which is the only way this staff can be satisfied that it is being properly dealt with?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

In regard to the award and in particular to any new grading and pay structure designed to improve prospects and recruitment, the refusal to grant the 3 per cent. does not automatically rule out approval of what I have just described.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the decision is having a serious effect on confidence in the negotiating machinery of the country? Will he particularly consider the position of the staff in the National Health Service and the possibilities of recruiting for the service if the present decision is maintained?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The present decision will be maintained as long as the situation continues in the economy at the present time. It has been deliberately promulgated because of the present situation. I would not agree that it has had an entirely bad effect on the general character of our economic problems. I do agree that it is very hard on this particular section that the incidence should have fallen on them.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

When the National Health Service was established and the Whitley machinery itself formed part of it, it was obvious that final responsibility must rest with the House of Commons because these were very large sums of money. Is it not a fact that it was then hoped that the Whitley machinery would stand as a shield between the House of Commons and the workers involved? Would it not be wholly undesirable that large bodies of workers should be brought into conflict with the House of Commons and that wage rates should be discussed on the Floor of the House of Commons? If the Government persist in their attitude, would it not be necessary for us to have debates on wage rates in the House of Commons and to compare conditions with other conditions enjoyed by other members of the community; in which case, could it not easily happen that large bodies of workers in the country would come into conflict with the House of Commons and strike against the House of Commons?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

One has to strike a balance between the sovereign power of the House of Commons and Parliament, the desire of hon. Members to discuss matters of vital importance here, and the importance of preserving what the right hon. Gentleman described as the shield of the Whitley machinery. As I understand it, since the beginning of the National Health Service it has always been accepted that Whitley agreements must be in the form of recommendations to Ministers. As Ministers are responsible to Parliament, it is impossible to keep Parliament away from these problems. I would add that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has deliberately said that he has undertaken to look at the Whitley aspect of this problem.