Is my right hon. Friend aware that many civil servants and, indeed, other public service workers, such as nurses and teachers, are complaining that their wages have fallen behind those of comparable workers in the private sector mainly because of the excessive wage restraint of recent years? In view of the fact that their complaints are backed by the independent findings of the Pay Research Unit, is it not a dishonest farce for the Government to have agreed to reconstitute the Pay Research Unit unless they also give a firm commitment to implement its findings from April of this year?
The Government's position in regard to the pay of the Civil Service has not been wholly ungenerous. In 1975, on the basis of a Pay Research Unit report, we conceded pay increases of up to 30 per cent. In all stages of the Government's pay policy since then—in 1976, 1977 and 1978—civil servants have received the maximum available under those phases of Government pay policy. We have reactivated the Pay Research Unit. We are now processing the reports emanating from the unit.
Does my right hon. Friend accept also that those civil servants who form the bulk of the Civil Service trade unions are in the relatively low-paid category, such as those who serve behind DHSS counters, some of whom receive less in wages than they are paying out—and that is not to make an argument for reducing unemployment benefit, but rather the other way? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is talk of industrial action? I suppose that that is the last thing the Government want at present.
Let me take up one phrase that my hon. Friend used. He described certain groups of civil servants as "low paid". This will be established only when we have processed the Pay Research Unit reports. There are 450 of those reports, the last of which was updated on 7 February. We are only in the process of examining those reports at the moment. This is by no means the time to be talking of industrial action.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear when next he meets Civil Service trade union leaders that Government public relations officers are not available to them for the purpose of advising them on ways of busting the Government's pay policy? Does he regard this as a suitable opportunity to comment on the most disturbing press reports which have appeared about the activities of a certain public relations officer in the DHSS?
Although my right hon. Friend needs more time to process the reports, is he not in a position to say what broad level of pay increases is represented by the PRU findings? Will he give us an assurance that he will accept the findings and not try to tie the Civil Service to a 5 per cent. limit, which would be totally out of line with the findings of the PRU?
My hon. Friend suggested that I was seeking more time to process the reports. I am not. We are going through the normal process of negotiation. We reactivated the PRU towards the end of 1978 and it has been collecting the evidence of fair comparisons. We are now processing that evidence. The operative date for the next pay settlement is 1 April. Let us complete the negotiations before anyone suggests a mad leap into industrial militancy and conflict.