HC Deb 13 March 1973 vol 852 cc1125-7
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Civil Service Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

I regret that the OFFICIAL REPORT and most of the other parliamentary papers which we receive in the normal course of events are not available in their usual form because of industrial action by some of the staff affecting the Parliamentary Press.

Special steps have been taken to produce today's Order Paper, and limited quantities of the OFFICIAL REPORT of yesterday's proceedings were made available at the Vote Office and the Library.

I very much regret any inconvenience to hon. Members, which I shall naturally do what I can to reduce.

Mr. Sheldon

The House will understand the reason for the statement the Parliamentary Secretary has just made, but will he bear in mind the particular problem concerned with the delay in publishing the OFFICIAL REPORT? The last time this happened the HANSARD for the day in question was held over for some weeks after the settlement of the dispute. Yesterday's HANSARD is particularly important, because it includes the last day of the Budget debate, and a particularly important speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Will the hon. Gentleman make sure that there will be no excessive delay of yesterday's OFFICIAL REPORT?

Mr. Baker

I will do what I can to meet the hon. Gentleman's point, which is very important. I hope to produce up to 50 copies of HANSARD each day.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

Each time my hon. Friend makes the same statement, I ask him why we do not have our own printing press on the premises. How many more such statements does he intend to make before giving the matter careful consideration?

Mr. Baker

I understand the disquiet expressed by my hon. Friend, and know that it is not felt by him alone. But it is up to the Services Committee to decide how Parliament's printing requirements are satisfied. I am merely its servant in the matter, and the will of the House must prevail.

Mr. Skinner

Is not the strike due principally to the pay research problem that besets the Civil Service? If so, cannot it be said that this thing, this Order Paper that I am holding, has been produced by blacklegs?

Mr. Baker

The emergency arrangements were made under the aegis of the House. It is correct that those who are on strike today are members of the Civil and Public Services Association, members of a Civil Service union and not a printing union. I very much regret that they have taken this action, because I do not believe that it helps the CPSA case at all. Their action is damaging not only to the efficiency of government but to the standing of the Civil Service in the country.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Are not there printing establishments with good industrial relations, and should not the Services Committee now consider making a change? Is not the present state of affairs becoming a contempt of the House?

Mr. Baker

I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the Chairman of the Services Committee.

Mr. Orme

Have not industrial relations in the department concerned been extremely bad in recent years? First there was trouble with the print workers and now there is trouble with the civil servants, arising out of the Government's policy. The Government are responsible for what is happening today. When will the Minister do something about it?

Mr. Baker

I refute that allegation entirely. The Government are not responsible. They have made their position absolutely clear on the application of Priestley, but the very first time we had an opportunity to negotiate with the Civil Service unions at Easter 1971 we made the acceptance of Priestley subject to any overriding national policy. That is what the Government are asking the country to follow.