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Houses Of Parliament (Facilities)

Volume 888: debated on Tuesday 11 March 1975

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The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a further statement about the effect on the House of the unofficial strike by some industrial civil servants.

I must first apologise to the House that the usual arrangements for the supply of papers are subject to delay and restrictions on circulation.

Arrangements have, however, been made for copies of the Order Paper and Notices of Questions, motions and amendments to be available in Vote Office, although later and in more limited numbers than usual. Hansard is not generally available, but copies for reference are available in the Library.

I understand that difficulties have now arisen over postal services. I would therefore advise hon. Members to post their mail at the Parliament Street Post Office or other letter-boxes outside.

I realise that this will cause considerable inconvenience, but I ask for the understanding and co-operation of hon. Members in this difficult situation.

I shall keep the House informed of any fresh developments.

I do not think that there is anything very helpful that anyone can say about the matter, except perhaps to comment that the state we have reached is symptomatic of the degradation into which Parliament and this country have sunk.

Disregarding that last remark, will my hon. Friend accept that many of us are in extreme difficulties over the mail? If we are being exhorted to post our letters outside the building, may we also collect them from outside the building?

I shall keep the House informed of any developments. I understand that the postmaster has closed the boxes. Therefore, in order to send their mail, hon. Members will have to post it outside. I regret that very much.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confim that Hansard is being printed, and it is just that copies are not allowed to be delivered to the House?

What is the position over picketing? Am I correct in understanding that when lobbies come to the House they are not allowed to carry banners outside the building, yet the pickets appear to be carrying banners?

The hon. Gentleman's latter point concerning what happens outside the House is for the police, not for me. However, I shall make inquiries about it. I think that the least we say about the printing, the better.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it would be in the best interests of the House, as well as the workers concerned, for him to use any good offices which he may have to encourage a settlement based on the good case that the men have for an increase in their wages? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the men consider that they are exactly the kind of workers that the social contract is supposed to be about—that is, that they are under-paid and are the sort of people to whom we are supposed to give justice? I suggest that that is the most profitable way in which the matter can be pursued.

Informal discussions are proceeding through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment with the interested parties. I strongly urge the unofficial strikers to follow the advice of their official union leaders, who have adopted a most responsible attitude throughout the negotiations, and to return to work.

The right hon. Gentleman has so far referred to the inconvenience to hon. Members in the dispute. Have he or his colleagues given any thought to the fact that the dispute is a gross interference with the work of Parliament, and that it should be considered from the point of view not only of inconvenience to hon. Members but of their capacity to serve their constituents and the capacity of Parliament to operate freely, which are of such importance to our democracy?

It would be an exaggeration to say that we have reached that point yet. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be an extremely serious situation if we reached it. But so far, yesterday and today, we have had all the papers necessary for the House and the Committees. They have arrived rather late, and have not been in the usual numbers, but we have achieved that, and we shall continue to try to do so.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that no hon. Member on either side of the House should do anything to support the action while it is unofficial? But, assuming that it becomes official, will my right hon. Friend see to it that the grievance of the lower-paid workers, whose basic pay is a disgrace to the House and to the country, is remedied through the official channels in the proper way?

If the dispute became official, the situation would certainly be different. Negotiations are proceeding. It seems to me that it would be useful if I made information on the wage rates received by the unofficial strikers available to the House. I shall see how I can do that.

Whilst I do not wish to comment on the merits of the case, if it is true that copies of the Order Paper are being printed but cannot be delivered here because of the action of pickets who are on unofficial strike, is not that in effect a breach of privilege?

Privilege is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and the Committee of Privileges. So far, the Order Paper has been made available.

None of us would want to interfere with normal negotiating procedures, but is it not a pity that the workers concerned, whose work we normally appreciate and on which we depend so much, did not make their grievances known to hon. Members before taking strike action? I am sure that hon. Members would have considered them sympathetically and have given such support as they might have been able to give before the men took the drastic action of withdrawing their labour.

I do not think that unofficial action of the present kind will help in any way. The negotiations are going on. I believe that the best interests of everybody and of the House will be served by trying to expedite those discussions as much as we can.

Will the Leader of the House first pass on the thanks of the House to the staff, who always turn up trumps to give us an Order Paper of some sort? They must be under tremendous pressure, and we should thank them.

With regard to the postal arrangements, will the right hon. Gentleman make certain that we know whether our mail is likely to be delivered here? Our constituents will expect that it has been delivered to us. Can other arrangements be made if necessary, so that we can at least collect our mail and do not have irate constituents under the false impression that we have received it?

Thirdly, is the right hon. Gentleman making sure that outside individuals and bodies which are drastically affected by our deliberations can still obtain the necessary papers, now that they are not being delivered to the House? If not, can they be told where they can obtain them instead?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point, and when the strike is over I shall find a more appropriate and more adequate way of thanking the staff than is possible now, for reasons which the hon. Gentleman understands.

I shall make inquiries about the hon. Gentleman's second point and let the House know about the delivery of letters. I am not sure what the position is. It seems to change from hour to hour.

I do not know of any difficulties experienced by outside individuals and bodies, but if hon. Members know of problems in that respect I shall see that those concerned receive copies of the appropriate papers.

Order. We have a debate later in which about 60 right hon. and hon. Members will be seeking to catch my eye. We must go on to the next statement.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a matter of privilege; namely, the action of certain public servants and those inciting them to obstruct the work of Parliament—