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Houses Of Parliament(Facilities)

Volume 888: debated on Thursday 13 March 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.
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 Government industrial civil servants.

I very much regret the continuing inconvenience to hon. Members as a result of this dispute. All the papers which we need for today's business both on the Floor of the House and in Standing Committees have been supplied, although later and in more limited numbers than usual. Notices of motions and Questions should be available this afternoon. I particularly regret that some of the papers for this morning's Standing Committees were not available until shortly after the Committees had started their work.

Some improvements have been made in the catering services today.

Discussions are continuing with the official leaders of the unions. I would repeat that negotiations have not broken down, and I would once again urge the unofficial strikers to follow the advice of their leaders and return to work.

I feel sure that it would be the wish of the whole House that, despite all the difficulties and inconvenience to hon. Members, which I recognise are very substantial, the business of this House must continue. I do ask for the continued understanding and co-operation of the House in this very difficult situation.

I will, of course, continue to keep the House fully informed.

While I would agree with the Leader of the House to this extent, that it would be very wrong for Parliament to be seen to capitulate before this kind of pressure, there are still one or two points of detail which must be answered. More than one hundred Government amendments have now been tabled to the Oil Taxation Bill due for consideration by the House on Wednesday. I think that only my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) has had sight of these so far. The jamming of the post has stopped communications reaching Members of Parliament on this important matter. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look into this as a matter of urgency since the position is quite intolerable.

May I put to the right hon. Gentleman as a matter of general issue that it is very dangerous indeed if we are to sustain confidence in democratic institutions that Parliament should be revealed as powerless to sustain its own work? This sort of occurrence calls in question the deplorable practice that has grown up over recent years whereby we are almost inhibited from commenting upon anything once an industrial dispute is in existence.

I checked up on the Oil Taxation Bill, this morning. My right hon. Friend and I are meeting all the House authorities—the Clerks, the Serjeant-at-Anns, the engineers and the Post Office—twice a day, and we are assured that these amendments can be made available. However, I will keep this matter under review, and if the amendments are not available the Oil Taxation Bill will not be taken on that day. However, I shall see that the amendments are available.

The right hon. Member referred to the post. It is coming in and going out—

The letter boxes were closed this morning but they are open again and post is coming in and going out.

On the last point, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to do anything to exacerbate the situation, but I fully agree with him, and I hope that all hon. Members will help me in my determination to see that Parliament keeps working as near to normal as possible.

Can my right hon. Friend assure us that all post which has been posted in the building in the last two days has left the building and is on its way?

Does the Leader of the House realise that hon. Members hold him, as Leader of the House, personally responsible for ensuring that we have the proper facilities to continue with the business of the House? If the pickets—as is suggested in the Press—carry out their threat to picket mail for 24 hours, will the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements with the Post Office for hon. Members to have their mail redirected to other addresses before it has to cross the picket line, so that hon. Members may get mail from their constituents?

Perhaps I should amend the reply I gave a moment ago. When I mentioned mail I was referring to letters. There has been a problem with parcels both coming in and going out. I understand that it is all right at present, but there has been some delay with parcels. The collection and delivery of letters has been functioning normally.

In reply to the question asked by the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), we should wait to see what happens and meet the situation as it arises. I accept the responsibility which he said was mine, and I shall do my utmost—everything humanly possible—to see that inconveniences are reduced to the minimum. I must ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to support me in my determination to keep Parliament working.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the information he gave during business question time about the availability of the Sex Discrimination Bill is not correct? It is not available in the Vote Office. What steps will he take to see that it is available quickly?

I said that I would inquire into the matter. All I did was to repeat the information I received. I imagine that some copies came in and were taken out very quickly. I will certainly look into this immediately. Some copies were available, because I saw one, but I will look into this.

I do not think the Leader of the House mentioned post to Government Departments. He will realise that if post to Government Departments were subjected to a ban that would be almost as crippling as a ban on the post in the House. Have any arrangements been made to ease the difficulty of Government Departments?

Post is coming into Government Departments normally, so far as I am aware. I do not know of any difficulty there. There have been problems with post between the House and Government Departments, but I understand that these are being overcome.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether the heating of the House is in jeopardy? Does he not agree that all hon. and right hon. Members should be thinking in terms of trying to get the dispute ended and the men back to work as soon as possible? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the men have a deep-seated sense of grievance? They are lowly-paid workers who are convinced that something has been promised to them, but things seem to have gone wrong somewhere. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to pay strict attention to the dispute, as it has been difficult to see him on the matter?

There is no danger about the heating, short of a breakdown. We have ample supplies of fuel for quite a long time to come. I emphasise that this is an unofficial dispute, and the best help that all hon. Members on both sides of the House can give is to support the official leadership of the union.

On the assumption that the Leader of the House has in front of him an Order Paper such as is available to hon. Members who travel a considerable distance to get one at the place of origin, he will see on it Motion No. 364 relating to the interruption of parliamentary mail. The Leader of the House said that he was referring to inconveniences to hon. Members. I do not —and I hope that he does not—regard the interruption of mail to and from constituents as an inconvenience. It is a total interruption in our obligations to those whom we represent in the House. Will the Leader of the House give a categorical assurance—not just "so far as I am aware"—that from now on mail will reach this House and leave it in a normal way as directed by Members of Parliament? If not, what other arrangements has he for the post?

[That this House demands that Her Majesty's Government take immediate steps, using whatever means may be necessary, to ensure that the interruption of the Royal Mail to and from the Houses of Parliament ceases forthwith in order to enable honourable Members to fulfil their obligations to their constituents and to the nation.]

Clearly, I cannot give a categorical assurance that it will continue. All I am saying is that it is functioning normally at the moment. There has been a great improvement in the situation today.

Does the Leader of the House realise that that assurance—or lack of assurance—is not acceptable? Does he not understand that we are all prepared to be inconvenienced by the lack of cups of tea and by having to climb upstairs, but a breach of our contacts with our constituents and vice versa is not acceptable?

The comments of some hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches have not been exactly helpful. Indeed, a broadcast made by the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) recently did great damage, and nearly escalated the dispute into an official strike. He made comments on the radio which were totally untrue. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) that if there were a complete stop of all mail I would regard the situation as extremely serious. All I am saying is that there is not.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been alleged that hon. Members are not getting their mail. Will you, Mr. Speaker, ascertain how it is that I have received such a large amount? Is someone committing a breach of privilege?

I have no intention of investigating the hon. Member's sources of supply.

I must point out to the House that this is an Opposition Supply half-day. There is to be a debate on small businesses which has been asked for many times. We must now move on. Mr. Cormack, on an application under Standing Order No. 9.

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration; namely,

"the situation arising from the industrial action of certain public employees whereby Members of Parliament are being denied proper contact with their constituents and also full and proper access to printed parliamentary papers which are essential to the effective discharge of their duties."
—[Interruption]. In spite of the interruptions from the Government benches, I submit that the matter is an important one, and it is specific because it affects the effective discharge of our responsibilities. I suggest that because of that it demands urgent consideration.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) gave me notice that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which he thinks should have urgent consideration.

It is for me to judge whether the application should be granted. It may be that the matter should be discussed at some time, but my decision on whether it should be discussed today or on Monday is "No".

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House referred to a broadcast which I made yesterday. As his remarks came at the end of his answers to questions on his statement I could not make a reply, and I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will enable me to do so. In my broadcast I merely said what was the truth of the situation, namely, that hon. Members were not receiving their mail—

Order. I cannot allow this matter to go further today. Should there be a debate on the subject at some time this might be an appropriate matter for debate, but it is not a matter of order for the Chair.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In a matter of this constitutional importance, if the Leader of the House refers to my hon. Friend in the terms that we heard the right hon. Gentleman use, surely my hon. Friend has the right to reply.

Certainly the hon. Member has the right to reply, but not by way of a point of order. I am trying to persuade the House not to raise what are false points of order. Of course, there must be an opportunity for the hon. Member to reply, if he can find one. There are ways of doing it. Should this matter be debated on some other occasion, the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) can ask the Lord President about it. At the moment, I am trying to defend the interests of the Opposition in their half-Supply Day on small businesses. If we have continuous points of order on this matter, I can only remind Opposition Members that it is their time that they are taking up.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you are the guardian of the rights of private Members, may I ask you how my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) could put the matter right? It is most unusual for the Leader of the House to make a remark of that kind in that way. Most of us believe that my hon. Friend should have an opportunity to put his point. How can he take that opportunity?

If it would help the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West —[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw"]—

Order. If the Opposition will not allow the Lord President to make his reply, they lose more of their time.

I am trying to help right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. If it will help, I will put a copy of the script of the broadcast in the Library.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It seems to some Opposition Members that the remarks which you made with regard to the opportunity perhaps of there being a debate suggest that possibly Mr. Speaker will find time. Can you enlarge on this, because it seems to be setting a new precedent?

No. I do not think that I should answer that question. There are applications from time to time under Standing Order No. 9. Of some, I get considerable advance notice. I shall not say anything further than that.

Order. As I heard the Lord President, he said that a contribution on the radio by an hon. Member had escalated the dispute. I have heard many worse things said in the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would not the matter be resolved to the satisfaction of both sides if the Leader of the House withdraws his remarks and then both could slog it out on another occasion?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Might I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) that, however justified he may feel himself to be, he is being extremely optimistic in the circumstances? Perhaps we would be well advised to accept your guidance, Mr. Speaker, and begin our debate on small businesses.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what you have just said, I shall be brief. The Lord President said just now that we were receiving our mail, and I was glad to hear that. However, my experience is that this is not the case. As matters stand at the moment, I shall find it very difficult to try to represent the interests of my constituents in our debates next week unless my mail begins to come through. If it proves to be the case that the mail is not operating as the Lord President said, may we have the protection of the Chair and have next week's business rearranged so that we have time to read our mail from constituents before the debates?

I have pointed out already that this is not a matter for the Chair. However, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's observation will have been noted by the Leader of the House. I am told that there has been a substantial improvement in postal deliveries. That is what I have been informed. But it is not a matter for me, nor is it a matter of order.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to delay the House—and I am speaking to a point of order to which Government supporters should listen. Last night I was told in the Post Office at six o'clock that my mail could not be accepted because it would not be taken downstairs for distribution outside this House. I understand that the position has now improved. But, from what I have heard today from the Lord President, I am not satisfied that he has spoken in strong enough terms to condemn the unofficial strikers—

I am trying to persuade right hon. and hon. Members not to raise matters on points of order which are not matters for the Chair. Whether the Lord President has spoken in strong, weak or medium terms is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the Lord President. Under Standing Orders, these are not issues for the Chair.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In reply to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), the Leader of the House indicated clearly that this dispute was aimed purely and simply at the Houses of Parliament and not at Government Departments. May I ask you to reconsider whether—

Whether the right hon. Gentleman said that or not, it is not a matter for me.

On quite a different point of order, Mr. Speaker, and I hope a genuine one. The result of the ballot for the Consolidated Fund debate was posted in the "No" Lobby. It has been removed. Has it been changed, or is there some other reason for its removal? Can you authorise that it be reposted?

I will investigate that act of non-co-operation and by all means provide another copy if need be. That was a genuine matter for the Chair.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A Bill was described as having been presented yesterday. The Sex Discrimination Bill was also described in the Press as having been published. But no copy of that Bill is available to any Member of Parliament. Not only is it not in the Vote Office—and that may be a matter for the Leader of the House —but the Public Bill Office has not seen the Bill and the Library has no copy of it. There is not one in the building. Is it not wrong that the public Press should have information about a Bill supposed to have been presented to the House but which is totally unavailable to hon. Members? I was told that I could get a copy if I went to Kingsway and bought one.

What appears in the Press is not a matter for me. As for the remainder of the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks, I will go into the matter and see whether I can assist in any way.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Division list printed in Hansard for the Division at. midnight on Tuesday 11th March suggests that I voted in both Lobbies. I did not. I voted only in the "No" Lobby.