§ 79. Mr. Henderson Stewart
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any statement to make on his dispute with the Scottish chemists.
On examining the payment which had been made to chemists during the recent period, I formed the opinion that their rates of remuneration were too high and should be reduced. Negotiations were accordingly begun on the Whitley Committee and these are continuing.
In the meantime, and as a purely temporary and provisional arrangement to protect the taxpayer, I have made a reduction of 8 per cent. in the payments otherwise due, since should negotiations or arbitration eventually lead to a reduction in the rates of remuneration I must have a legally competent method of implementing such a reduction retrospectively.
I regret that a considerable number of chemists have given notice of withdrawal from the National Health Service to take effect at the end of November. I cannot agree that this extreme action is warranted. I understand that the chemists' representatives do not object to the principle of retrospective application of any reduction in remuneration that may follow Whitley Council discussions, but that they do object to the method by which the provisional cut has been made. I have been advised, however, by my legal advisers that the only course open to me to achieve the end in view effectively and equitably was the one I have followed. I would emphasise that the cut is meantime a purely temporary arrangement which will 187W in due course be superseded by such permanent amendment, if any, as may be required to give effect to the result of negotiations or arbitration.
I would appeal to all chemists to weigh carefully this explanation again given and consider whether the very small difference of opinion between us on method justifies their withdrawing their services before the result of negotiations or arbitration is known. I should greatly regret, as I am sure the chemists would, any inconvenience caused to the public by any hasty action on the part of the members of a profession who have hitherto given the community loyal and efficient service.
I propose to invite the representatives of the chemists to meet me in the near future.