A claim for improved pay and conditions of service was submitted on 5 April. Since then we have received numerous letters from hon. Members and individual medical laboratory scientific officers. Negotiations are continuing in the appropriate Whitley council.
The Minister will know that the Secretary of State has reason to be grateful to these laboratory technicians, in that his blood samples, when he was in a private clinic, were tested and quantified by these technicians in St. Thomas's hospital. So the critical position of these technicians is well known to the DHSS team. Will the Minister concede that what is necessary are pay and conditions that will not only retain the technicians that we already have but attract to the profession people of the necessary calibre to service the industry?
I am sure that almost every hon. Member, quite apart from my right hon. Friend, has had cause to be grateful to MLSOs at one time or another over the years. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the management side has put to the Whitley council a pay offer of 5·5 per cent., together with proposals for a restructuring, which would lead to a further increase in pay on assimilation to the new structure. Those proposals are designed precisely to meet the sort of problem to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that these people, although far less glamorous than nurses, in many cases undertake work of greater responsibility than nurses, with life and death involved, and that, certainly so far as Adenbrookes in my constituency is concerned, they have had a raw deal and deserve better treatment?
I am not sure that I care to tread into the minefield of the precise comparison with nurses, hut I certainly wish to pay tribute to the value of the work of MSLOs. The nature of some of that work has changed a good deal, hence the importance of the restructuring proposals.
As the management and staff sides meet tomorrow, why does the Minister not take this convenient opportunity to say that he will fully fund the cost of regrading? If he will not do so, can he really expect the House to believe that regrading is the way to solve the problem of low pay when he knows that management is offering only 2·1 per cent. to cover its costs? How does he hope to meet the Government's targets on cervical screening when the laboratories that carry out the screening are losing trained staff at the rate of 15 to 20 per cent. a year?
The offers being made by the management have been made after proper assessment of the cost. I am confident that they can be met. I should like to take this opportunity to wish both sides well for successful negotiations tomorrow.