Ambulance Dispute

– in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 8 November 1989.

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Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston 3:35, 8 November 1989

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the current state of the ambulance dispute. It would be difficult to conceive a matter more urgent than the grave crisis that confronts the ambulance service in London. Management have withdrawn the emergency cover provided by professional ambulance staff and their 450 ambulances. Emergency cover for London is being provided by 53 police vehicles, which may be joined this afternoon by 50 Army vehicles. Yesterday, the Secretary of State accused ambulance staff of pretending and posturing. Today, it will be he who is pretending if he claims that that represents adequate emergency cover.

There are two questions on which it is vital that the House should have the opportunity of challenging Ministers. First, why have they insisted on calling in the Army when ambulance staff are available at every ambulance station in London? Yesterday, the Secretary of State claimed that the 14 points of the work to rule prevented ambulance staff from providing emergency cover. I have those 14 points here, and nearly all of them relate to non-emergency work. Yesterday, the Secretary of State claimed that the 14 points included a ban on radiophones, but there is no ban on radiophones for emergency use. The text specifically states: Crews will now return to ambulance stations for next instructions unless contacted by control to answer an emergency call. It is not ambulance staff who have suspended emergency calls but management who have decided to escalate the dispute.

The second question to be addressed is how can Ministers be so convinced that 6.5 per cent. is the right award for ambulance staff, yet at the same time be so terrified of putting that case to arbitration? The country knows that this dispute could end today and that full cover could be restored if the Secretary of State would call in the arbitrators instead of the Army.

The budget of the National Health Service, the pay of its staff and the maintenance of the ambulance service are all matters for which Ministers are responsible, yet since the start of the dispute eight weeks ago they have not once met the staff side in an attempt to find a solution. It is the Secretary of State, not Duncan Nichol, who is responsible for the cash limits on the National Health Service, and this House is the place where he must be held to that responsibility. I submit that this is a proper matter requiring urgent debate.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, the ambulance dispute. I am satisfied that the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 20. Has the hon. Gentleman the leave of the House?.

The pleasure of the House not having been signified, MR. SPEAKER called on those Members who supported the motionto rise in their places, and not fewer than forty Members having accordingly risen, the motion stood over under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) until the commencement of public business tomorrow.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey 3:39, 8 November 1989

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It might be helpful following your ruling, Sir, if I were to say that the debate on parliamentary pensions, which was arranged for tomorrow afternoon, will need to be postponed. The House will regret the need for doing that, but obviously it follows from the ruling that you have given. I hope to find time for that debate as soon as possible.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Further to the point of order Mr. Speaker. Of course we accept that the debate on Members' pensions should be postponed. The Opposition, at least, recognise that, although that matter is important, the dispute in the ambulance service is far more important.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A number of us heard the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), who has chosen to leave the Chamber, say clearly —indirectly addressing you, Sir—"You grant that and you lose your job."

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I do not think that I need hear any more. Fortunately, I did not hear that remark.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I have dealt with the hon. Member's application under Standing Order No. 20.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

This is on a different point. I was sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) and I did not hear him say anything. What I did hear was the Leader of the Opposition, in his agitated and florid way, inciting his Back Benchers to raise points of order.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I hope that we can now get on with today's business in a parliamentary fashion.