HC Deb 21 June 1973 vol 858 cc881-5
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The House will be disappointed to learn that the dispute concerning the linotype operators at the Parliamentary Press has not been resolved. Her Majesty's Stationery Office has not been able to persuade the national officers of the National Graphical Association or the local chapel to agree to an offer that comes within the limits of the Government's policy for phase 2. Negotiations are continuing to seek a solution as quickly as possible.

I regret very much the inconvenience that this has imposed upon hon. Members, and, in particular, the fact that HANSARD in its normal form has not been produced during the last 10 days and today's Order Paper and Votes and Proceedings were also affected. Photostat copies of the HANSARD reporters' transcript are available for reference in the Library and a number of copies are placed in the Whips' offices. However, the Government are taking steps to expand the emergency arrangements for making available papers essential for Parliament to function. I regret that these papers will not always be available in the form or as early as hon. Members are accustomed to.

I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the staff of the Vote Office and the House for their help and co-operation during this time.

Mr. Sheldon

I associate the Opposition with the thanks to the staff. Two questions arise from the new forms of publication to which the hon. Gentleman referred. First, what is to be their form? Are they to be lithographed or duplicated? How early can they be provided?

Amongst other things, the expansion of the number of Select Committees has meant that at crucial times of the business of the House a larger number of right hon. and hon. Members are away from the Chamber. They rely to an increasing extent on their reading in order to catch up with what they have missed. This is an important point.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman asked about the nature of the emergency arrangements. We are mainly concerned with the provision of essential papers for the House. These are the Order Paper and the Votes and Proceedings in a typed form by some method of duplication. I will try to see that these are available as early as possible, I hope by about 10 o'clock each morning. But HANSARD is too large an undertaking to deal with by this means. One of the basic problems affecting the Parliamentary Press is that the demands of the House for more papers increase each year. Since 1964 the page content of parliamentary papers has more than doubled.

Sir Robin Turton

There has been a surprising complacency by two successive Governments in dealing with these interruptions of parliamentary business. Is my hon. Friend aware that at the present time Select Committees can get no printed evidence of the witnesses before them and that they can have no reports printed? This is a very serious dislocation of parliamentary business, which the Government should deal with. It is their responsibility to find an adequate solution, which they are not doing at the present time.

Mr. Baker

I understand the impatience of my right hon. Friend and of other right hon. and hon. Members. The printing of HANSARD for both the House and the Standing Committees is a major undertaking which it would be exceedingly difficult to do under the aegis of the House. What I hope is possible, and to achieve in the next few days, is the provision of the urgent and essential papers for Parliament under the aegis of the House.

Mr. Grimond

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that HANSARD is one of the most urgent and important papers? Is he aware—no doubt he is—that a great deal of legislation is going through which is of interest not only to right hon. and hon. Members but to many individuals, public bodies and local authorities outside who at the moment have no idea what is happening and what representations they may make? Could not the hon. Gentleman arrange, in addition to the rough transcripts available in the Library, for one master copy of the proceedings in the form of HANSARD to be placed in the Library so that those hon. Members who wish to send a part of the transcript to, for example, their local authorities could have that part photostatted?

Mr. Baker

I will consider the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion because I am very conscious of the inconvenience not only to the House but to other people who read its proceedings. It would mean that each day the reporters' transcripts would have to be typed up rather than set, because it is the linotype operators and the composing unions which are in dispute. I will see whether something cannot he done to improve the arrangements.

Mr. Biffen

As this is a pay dispute, can my hon. Friend indicate what the average weekly earnings are of the people affected by the dispute, how much they are claiming in addition to their current rates of earnings, and how their present level of earnings compares with workers similarly employed within the metropolis?

Mr. Baker

By no stretch of the imagination can this group of skilled workers be called "low-paid". Their normal earnings are as high as £90 a week for night work and £70 a week for day work. One of the major purposes of phase 2 of our policy is to help the low-paid, and this can only be achieved if higher-paid workers are prepared to accept the limits laid down by the policy. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will accept that that is fair.

Mr. Edward Short

As this dispute arises from the Government's grossly unfair phase 2, what are the Government doing to try to get a settlement? The hon. Gentleman will recollect that during a previous dispute, in 1969, the Labour Government agreed with the then Conservative Opposition on emergency arrangements. May I take it that the Government will discuss the emergency arrangements with the Opposition and, in particular, agree on what are essential parliamentary papers?

Mr. Baker

I give the right hon. Gentleman my assurance that what he suggests in the latter part of his question will be done. The emergency arrangements were agreed in 1969 during the troubles then, and the usual channels will be aware of what those arrangements are. I will ensure that the Opposition's views are taken into account as to what are considered to be essential papers.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked what the Government are doing. We are in continuous negotiation with the union. There is a meeting of the national officers of the NGA today to consider our latest position.

Mr. Crouch

This is something much more than just inconvenience to Members of this House and of the other place. It is not only interfering with the functions of Parliament but could lead to an interference with the judgment of Parliament. Members of another place are anxious to see what has been going on in this House during the last 10 days. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the photostat copies he is making available will also be available to the other place?

Mr. Baker

Yes, indeed. The Parliamentary Press has to print all the papers for the other place, and I will make quite sure that such copies are available to Members of the other place.

Mr. Heffer

Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House how much extra cost the interim measures will involve and how this would match up with settling the dispute?

Mr. Baker

That is really impossible for me to estimate at this stage. The point is that the actual demand by the men in this case is beyond phase 2, and, as the Government have made clear, because of the overall national consideration, and the essential fairness of that, it would be quite wrong to consider a claim over the limits of phase 2.

Mr. Marten

As a by-product of the lack of HANSARD, could my hon. Friend take the opportunity to remind his colleagues on the Front Bench that when answering Parliamentary Questions they should not, as the Minister of Agriculture did this afternoon, refer to previous answers that should have been printed in HANSARD but are not available?

Mr. Baker

The photostat transcript is available, but I will bear that point in mind.

    1. c885
    2. EMPLOYEES' CHARTER 130 words