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Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In a few moments, we shall be asked to consider a ten-minute Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). It is my submission that that Bill should not be proceeded with, for a number of reasons.
If you, Mr. Speaker, consult page 464 of "Erskine May", you will read that the normal rule applying to ten-minute Bills is that "a private Member may not move for leave to bring in a Bill of which the main object is to create a charge by way of taxation or expenditure."
A footnote explains that, under a ruling made in 1985,
"Even the use of the word Finance' in the short title has been refused."
That ruling resulted from a decision made earlier that a ten-minute Bill could not be proceeded with because it sought to raise money. The word "pay" in the Bill's description could be construed as a form of expenditure. My first reason for objecting to the Bill's consideration relates to its short title, which, because it refers to Ambulance Staff Pay Determination, is not permissible. Secondly, the mention of the appointment of a pay board in the Bill's description again endorses the belief that it seeks the expenditure of revenue by the creation of a pay board, and for that reason the Bill cannot be countenanced.
My third reason concerns the operation of the Bill. I refer right hon. and hon. Members to Hansard for 5 March 1929, when there was a debate on a ten- minute Bill whose subject was superannuation. A former hon. Member, a Mr. Kelly, raised that issue because in those days a civil servant who was asked to serve in one of the colonies lost his entitlement to superannuation payments during the time that he was away. Mr. Kelly sought to introduce a ten-minute Bill to correct that situation. On that occasion, Mr. Speaker listened for a few moments, and then said :
"It is the question of the exact operation of the Bill if it becomes an Act of Parliament. Probably he"--
the civil servant in question--
"would be entitled to a larger pension if the Bill passed." Later he said :
"I could not allow a private Member to bring in a Bill which increases the charge on the Exchequer".--[ Official Report, 5 March 1929 ; Vol. 226, c. 218.]
The Bill about which we may shortly hear would, by inference, commit the House to expenditure by setting up a pay board and, because the description of the measure refers to annual increases in ambulance staff pay, would more or less commit us to increases in staff pay. I submit, therefore, that, under the precedent which I have cited, the Bill cannot be proceeded with.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. An important matter has been raised with me-- [Interruption.] --and I trust that hon. Members will allow me to deal with it. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) for having given me notice of his intention to raise it because that has enabled me to look up the precedents, as he has done.
Column 172I am satisfied that the main purpose of the Bill about which we are to hear is the appointment of a board. However, the hon. Member is correct in saying that, if leave is given for the introduction of the proposed Bill, its text should not have as its main object the creation of a charge. The Public Bill Office may be relied on to ensure that that will not be the case. [ Hon. Members :-- "On a point of order."] Order. I cannot see how there can be anything further to that point of order, with which I have dealt.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North ) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. After most of us have left the House and have been long forgotten- -that is, if any of us have been noticed in the meantime-- [Interruption.] You, Mr. Speaker, will be remembered. I am not seeking to ingratiate myself. I am not an ingratiating sort of person. You will be remembered, Mr. Speaker, as the Back-Benchers' Speaker, the tribune of the Back Bencher. You will also rightly be remembered for being concerned about the dignity of the House. Governments and Oppositions are powerful machines, but from time to time they are a little clumsy and allow issues to pass by. On such occasions, it is the Back Bencher who can sometimes have the opportunity to bring forward vital issues. One need only mention--
Mr. Marlow : The issue before us is the question of the ten-minute rule Bill, the jewel in the crown of the Back Bencher's armoury. For most of the time, life for a Back Bencher is splendid, but is dependent on chance, others and the ballot. The ten-minute Bill allows the humble Back Bencher who is persistent the opportunity in prime time to bring an important measure before the House of Commons. That right has traditionally been reserved for the Back Bencher. An arduous process is involved--
Mr. Marlow : I was saying, Mr. Speaker, that it is an arduous process. The hon. Member concerned must go to an office, a garret, an attic above the Chamber and spend a sleepless night tossing and turning about among yellowing folios, concerned lest he might lose his opportunity with a ten-minute Bill and another hon. Member might-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker : Order. I do not think there is any matter of order in the point that the hon. Member is now raising. The same procedures must be carried out whether hon. Members sit on the Government or Opposition side. I think we had better get on.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the appointment of a pay board to supervise a pay mechanism for annual increases in ambulance staff pay ; and for connected purposes. This afternoon, if it chooses, the House can divide on the Bill, but the public have already given their verdict on who has won the debate on the ambulance dispute. Across Britain- -in opinion polls, in petitions, in donations and in today's rallies--the public have demonstrated how they wish the House to vote. If only the majority party would listen to the public. If those taking part in today's rallies had been in eastern Europe, Conservative Members would regard them as heroes for expressing their views.
The members of the public who attended those rallies were prompted by two motives. The first was to show support for the ambulance crews on whose skills in saving lives they depend in an emergency--skills that we all saw in action only last week, when crews who had not been paid since before Christmas turned out to tend the casualties of the gale-force storms. Let me warn Conservative Members, however, that a second motive also drove so many members of the public to take part in the demonstrations : impatience with a Government who had begun the dispute too afraid to go to arbitration, and who are now too stubborn to sit around the table and negotiate with staff unless those staff surrender first.
That impatience is now mixed with incomprehension at the fact that, throughout the five months of the dispute, the Secretary of State has not once sat down with the staff side in an effort to find a solution. Today's demonstration will have been worth while if it persuades him to take 15 minutes out of his time to do that now. The dispute is now in its 20th week. There are different ways of measuring the cost of such a prolonged dispute. There is, for instance, the cost of human suffering--the suffering of accident victims who have been left longer in pain and distress before being attended to by staff without adequate training ; the suffering of elderly and infirm patients who have been denied treatment at the day care centres that they have been unable to reach since September. It does not help those people for us to argue about who is to blame for the dispute. The only question that will help them is : who will solve the dispute?
There are, of course, other ways of measuring the cost. There is the price that has been paid in the morale of ambulance staff, who have seen their work devalued and their commitment exploited. Among the casualties of the dispute are the ambulance staff who have left the service and will not return when it is over. Among them is Malcolm Woollard, who last year received the "Ambulance Person of the Year" award.
Mr. Woollard is known to Conservative Members, because six years ago he worked for 17 hours on the shift that was called to the Grand hotel in Brighton. At the time he did not feel that his work was properly valued, because he had had the opportunity of an exchange of views with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who has just addressed the Chamber at such length. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman spoke more crisply, saying to Mr. Woollard : "At least it makes a change from standing around at the county show."
Column 174In the second month of the dispute, Mr. Woollard left the ambulance service for a job that pays him 50 per cent. more for working fewer hours. The longer that the dispute is allowed to continue, the greater will be the loss of skilled staff, and the lower will be the morale of those who remain.
It is also possible, however, to put a cash figure on the cost of the dispute. When we debated it three weeks ago, I put the total bill for police and Army cover at £10 million. It is now clear that my estimate was too cautious. It is evident from figures that I have since obtained that the cost of cover by the police alone now exceeds £13 million, while the bill for Army cover must now be well over £5 million. The Health Service is now paying the police and the Army £2 million a week to do a job that ambulance staff can do better. There is a cruel irony in that figure : £2 million is exactly 1 per cent. of the total ambulance pay bill.
Mr. Cook : As I was saying, £2 million is exactly 1 per cent. of the total pay bill. In other words, in the time since the House last debated the dispute--three weeks ago--the Government have spent on makeshift cover as much as it would take to improve the offer by the amount that might bring back full cover. If the money to settle the dispute is there, why is it not used to settle it rather than to prolong it?
The object of the Bill is to extend to ambulance staff the same pay mechanism as is currently enjoyed by people in the other emergency services. The Secretary of State has been unable to sell to the constituents of any hon. Member the notion that ambulance staff are not entitled to the same treatment as people in the other emergency services because only one in 10 of their calls is an emergency. In the recent debate the Secretary of State, to confirm that claim, referred me to figures collected in York. I have taken his advice : I have looked up the York figures. Having done so, I have to tell the Secretary of State that those figures do not support his claim that only one in 10 of ambulance calls is an emergency. On the contrary, the figures show emergency patients, on the basis of the Secretary of State's own estimate, as representing one in five of all patients collected by the ambulance service, and, in terms of all mileage covered by the ambulance service, emergency calls take up not one in 10, or one in five, but more than one in four of all ambulance miles.
It is now clear that people in the ambulance service spend an even higher proportion of their time on emergencies than people in the other two emergency services. Therefore, there can be no reasonable grounds for denying them the same pay mechanism as is available to the people in the other two services. As someone once said, "All three deserve to have their pay negotiations put outside the arena of industrial dispute by being given firm and automatic linkage to national price or wage rises."
That someone was, of course, the Prime Minister, on whose behalf a letter in those terms was sent to two
Column 175ambulance men who had written to her. She was right then to recognise the logic of their case ; she is wrong today in refusing to admit that the same logic still stands.
The Bill would give effect to that commitment by the Prime Minister. It would provide the pay mechanism that we know is supported by 40 out of 45 chief ambulance officers--the same local management to which the Secretary of State keeps promising local flexibility. It would give ambulance staff a guarantee that they would receive a fair award. More important, it would give public and patients a guarantee that this vital emergency service need never again be disrupted by dispute.
Today, the voice of the ambulance staff has been heard in rallies in every major town. That voice cannot be heard in this Chamber, so I shall let it speak for itself in the words of an ambulance man from Cheshire who wrote to me to describe the emergency work that deserves this pay mechanism. He said :
"I have been assaulted, more than once, but once sufficiently to be paid a sum of Criminal Injuries Compensation ; I have disarmed a youth of a razor blade with which he had slashed himself and his girl-friend ; I have made my way across roofs in pouring rain to reach an injured person ; I watched a baby burn to death in a motorway crash and still had to go on functioning to tend the other injured, including the mother.
I don't care whether you think my job is dangerous. I only think it is important and valuable to the community, and I will go on doing it whether they give me 11.4 per cent. or 6.5 per cent. or nothing at all."
That ambulance man does not deserve nothing at all ; that ambulance man deserves a just settlement and a fair pay mechanism. On this day when the public have demonstrated their support for the ambulance men's claim, I challenge Conservative Members if they dare to mark it by voting down a Bill that would provide a just settlement. 4.34 pm
Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton) rose
Sir George Young : All Members of the House will want this industrial dispute brought to an early close. All Members have elderly or ill constituents who have been affected by the disruption over the past 20 weeks. Many of us are worried about the impact of the dispute on the volunteers who are trying to keep the service going and we are worried about the impact of the dispute on the families of the ambulance staff.
There is another matter on which I hope that we are all agreed. I should like to place on record my appreciation for the skills, courage and commitment of the ambulance men. That is not in dispute this afternoon. What is in dispute is the best way of recognising those qualities, which are shared by others in the NHS who work shoulder to shoulder with the ambulance men and who also display skills, courage and commitment. The solutions that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) has put forward
Column 176to the House will not heal the divisions in the NHS as he suggests that they would. They will simply sow new divisions in the NHS to replace any that he may have resolved.
The Opposition have repeatedly maintained that industrial disputes are best settled by employers and unions sitting around a table. They have often maintained that Parliament has no useful role to play by passing legislation. Today they have stood on their head--they now think that legislation will resolve the industrial dispute. It is wrong to raise the hopes of the ambulance men and their families, the ill and the general public by implying that the Bill holds the key to peace in the NHS.
Let me explain why. Pay review boards, as proposed by the hon. Member for Livingston, have been set up to settle the pay and conditions of professional staff who, first and foremost, have pledged renunciation of industrial action. That is why the Government gave the nurses a pay review board--something denied to them by the Labour party. In the dispute, the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the National Union of Public Employees--the unions representing the staff--have never suggested that they are prepared to forgo industrial action. They have not put that on the table because they cannot deliver it. Given the history of industrial disputes in which those two unions have been involved--in 1978-79, 1982-83, 1988 and the current year--it would be naive to believe that those two unions would ever forgo the strike weapon. Therefore, the first condition for a pay review board is not met. There is no equity in offering 22,000 people who have chosen to take industrial action arrangements that are confined to groups that do not strike. The message that the House should send out today is that those who are involved in the dispute should return to the negotiating table. As we heard during Question Time, 84 per cent. of NHS staff settled their pay last year without recourse to industrial action --840,000 workers settled at less than 7 per cent. and 500,000 nurses received a 6.8 per cent. increase. Against that background, how does one begin to justify substantially higher pay rises for another group in the NHS? The offer on the table already gives salary increases of between 9 and 16 per cent. over the next 18 months, depending on location and on the extent of paramedical training. By the end of last month, the back pay available to those in dispute already totalled between £680 and £1,450. In London, the new rates offer between 10.9 and 16.3 per cent. and increases of 22 per cent. in overtime rates. In addition to those increases, there are, on the table, flexible local arrangements to help recruitment and to reward local productivity and other service improvements as well as a joint review of the 1986 salaries structure and a national framework for staff with intermediate medical skills.
With that on the table, and against the background of the settlements that I listed, I see nothing dishonourable in the unions saying, "Yes, we would like to return to the negotiating table. We would like to talk in particular about local bargaining"-- [Interruption.]
Column 177opportunity for yet higher offers. That is the way forward, unlike this exercise in political opportunism, which seeks to raise the temperature when it should be lowered.
The Labour party never offered arbitration to NHS workers in dispute. It never offered a pay mechanism for ambulance staff. It did not even pay the ambulance staff as well as they are paid now, even before the present offer. For those reasons, I urge the House to oppose the Bill.
Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business) :--
The House divided : Ayes 187, Noes 268.
Division No. 55] [4.39 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)
Beith, A. J.
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Cunningham, Dr John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Duffy, A. E. P.
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Harman, Ms Harriet
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Heffer, Eric S.
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Mo n)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marek, Dr John
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)