The Minister's answer is less than revealing. Is it not a fact that as late as yesterday he refused a formal request to meet the ancillary staff representatives? Was that not because he would have found his miserable 4·8 per cent. pay offer indefensible?
Is the Minister aware that 400,000 ancillary staff are excluded from the nurses' pay review and that they earn less than £80 for a 40-hour week? Is he further aware that 40 per cent. of male ancillary staff and 70 per cent. of female ancillary staff earn less than £6,000 a year? Has he no compassion for both patients and staff? What will he do to rectify that pathetic level of wages?
I have three points to make. First, I have not refused to meet the staff side. I said that I did not think it appropriate at the moment. However, I would not rule it out later.
Secondly, the offer is not 4·8 per cent., it is 5·4 per cent., which is significantly more than ancillary workers received last year.
Thirdly, we have offered to talk about a reduction of one hour in the working week, together with other changes. The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right before he starts attacking me.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it might solve a great many problems if the ancillary workers' pay review was carried out on a local rather than a national basis? Would that not mean that local health authorities could take the local conditions into account, especially for clerical and secretarial work?
We have said, in general terms, that we want to move towards greater local flexibility within a centrally determined structure. However, that is under discussion more in respect of administrative and clerical staff than ancillary workers. Of course, a great deal of flexibility is already reflected in local bonus schemes and other arrangements.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to put it on record that the nurses and doctors cannot run the hospitals without domestics, laboratory staff and medical secretaries, who are all part of the health team? How can he claim that it is purely a matter for the Whitley council when, after the talks broke down last month, the health authorities made it plain that they could not fund an improved offer without more money'
As the right hon. Gentleman has responsibility for the money available to the health authorities, why does he not face up to that by meeting the staff side and explaining why he thinks that some of the worst-paid people in Britain should settle for a wage increase that is well below the national average?
I have already said that the pay offer to ancillary staff is larger than they received last year. I must make it clear that the staff side has attached particular importance to a reduction in the working week, and the Government have made a suggestion about that that needs to be talked through.