Skip to main content

Parliamentary Papers

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 11 May 1977

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

(by Private Notice) asked the Leader of the House whether he will make a statement about the present state of the printing of parliamentary papers.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Michael Foot)

The printing of parliamentary papers has been disrupted because of a dispute about flexibility and overtime working involving the National Graphical Association and NATSOPA machine room staff at the Parliamentary press. Discussions between officials of Her Majesty's Stationery Office and representatives of the staff concerned have taken place and are continuing. Existing arrangements will ensure that essential parliamentary papers continue to be available. I naturally very greatly regret the inconvenience which is still being caused to Members in all parts of the House.

Obviously the Leader of the House is aware of the great inconvenience and the seriousness of any interruption of the normal supply of parliamentary papers. Will he agree that it seems to some of us that these disputes have become rather more frequent in recent years, which is extremely unfortunate? Can he hold out any hope that there will be an early settlement to this particular dispute, and can he hold out any hope that there will be a more lasting settlement, so that the House of Commons and Parliament do not suffer from the interruption in the supply of papers in the future?

I agree with everything the right hon. Gentleman has said about the seriousness of the interruption in the supply of papers for the House. I do not think that anybody in the House can doubt that. But let us try to settle this dispute, and then we can see how we can prepare for the future. The most immediate concern is to try to get a settlement of this dispute.

Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House precisely who are the people doing the copying in the House? Are they members of a trade union? Have they been accepted to do the job by the trade union in dispute? Have they been checked for security? Are they issued with security passes? What is the cost of using these people in comparison with a settlement with the trade union concerned?

Further, is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are most disturbed that hon. Members are not allowed to use the rooms downstairs while they are being used by people whom we might well consider to be blacklegs?

I fully acknowledge the inconvenience for Members of the House arising from the use of these rooms, but the general arrangements for the operation that is required to deal with the situation were announced in the House by my predecessor and the House was able to consider all aspects of the matter then.

I do not think that any question of blacklegging arises. Certainly the question has not been raised at all in any of the discussions which have arisen in the last day between my hon. Friend from the Civil Service Department and the representatives of those working here. Since they have not raised the issue, I do not think, therefore, that it is wise for the House to raise it.

Is the Leader of the House aware that we are very grateful to those downstairs who have produced our Order Papers, whether they have had fingerprints taken or blood tests, or any other tests that hon. Members might think relevant?

Will the Leader of the House, in view of the exchanges yesterday—this is a serious point—consider whether it might be possible for at least one copy of the proceedings of this House to be made available in typed or duplicated form in the Library so that right hon. Members who wish to refer with greater accuracy to the events of the previous day can do so?

The right hon. Gentleman will see that we have done our best under these operations which are now in effect and which have been used on previous occasions to produce a form of the reportwhich is available to the House. Many copies of that were available yesterday, not merely in the Library but for the House generally.

I support the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) concerning the uneasiness felt by hon. Members on the Government side about the present printing arrangements. Will my right hon. Friend not agree that had the questions asked by my hon. Friend been answered, it might well have been possible to remove some of the fears that we have about the alternative printing arrangements used in the House at the moment?

There has been no complaint by any of those working here about the emergency measures which the House has put into operation. I think it is therefore unwise for us to raise those questions. We are seeking a settlement of the dispute. In the meantime, the measures which were put to the House and explained to the House by my predecessor are now in operation.

Will the Leader of the House convey to those who are concerned with the printing of parliamentary papers that they normally do a most excellent job in frequently very difficult and time-limited conditions? Because of that, this House should be the best possible employer of any in the country.

The statement that the Leader of the House made to the House is very similar to that which has been made by many Leaders of the House previously—in other words, "Let us settle this dispute and then deal with the overall problem". The overall problem has not been dealt with. May we have an absolute assurance from the Leader of the House that he really will now deal with the problem on a longterm basis?

There is a difference between saying that anyone standing at this Dispatch Box, or any Leader of the House, will try to find a long-term solution and in seeing that it is put into operation.

I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the very great skills used by those who produce the papers for this House and the speed with which they are normally produced. I pay the highest tribute to those who are engaged in these operations. But I think it is essential that the papers for this House are supplied. That is why the emergency operation system was described to the House earlier, and why occasionally, unfortunately, it has had to be brought into existence.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I have your guidance on this matter? Hon. Members, when they put serious questions, which they are entitled to ask, as to who is doing the printing, whether these people are members of the trade union, what is their pay, and so on, ought surely—[Interruption.] I am not asking Opposition Members for their advice. I am asking Mr. Speaker for his guidance. Are we or are we not entitled to an answer to these serious questions? Many of us on the Government side, if not on the Conservative side, would like to know the answers.

Order. The hon. Gentleman well knows that I am not responsible for the content of answers.

I had Interview Room H booked for 4 p.m. today for a meeting to discuss pre-school education. I have received a note from the Serjeant at Arms telling me that the meeting room has now been lost. There is nowhere to go. Will you advise me, Mr. Speaker, where such a meeting could take place?

Order. I was afraid that the hon. Gentleman was about to ask me to tell him where to go. It is obvious that, with the difficulties facing us, special steps have to be taken. This House must be allowed to function.