HC Deb 10 March 1976 vol 907 cc422-5
Mr. Peyton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I always hesitate to raise the question of the adequacy of the supply of paper in this place. Nevertheless, today the printing arrangements do seem to be in a state of—and I use the politest term I can—confusion. Standing Committee C, which will tomorrow resume consideration of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, will be in very great difficulty without an adequate amendment paper before it containing the proposed amendments and new clauses to that Bill. I hope that, in the absence of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, the Minister will be able to give some reassurance that we are not once again to be subjected to quite intolerable inconvenience. It is important that Parliament and the outside world should be informed of what is going on.

The Minister of State, Civil Service Department (Mr. Charles R. Morris)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Minister responsible for Her Majesty's Stationery Office, I regret that today there has been some difficulty over the supply of parliamentary papers. This situation has arisen because of unofficial industrial action by members of the transport staff of HMSO over the allocation of duties among HMSO drivers. As a result of this action, it became impossible to make certain deliveries today, including supplies of some parliamentary printing. However, as hon. Members are aware, the papers necessary for today's business are available in an alternative form. A limited number of copies of yesterday's Hansard is available to hon. Members in the Library and in the Vote Office.

The Parliamentary Press is itself working as usual, and copies of its productions, delivered by means other than HMSO transport, have not been affected. Hon. Members who normally receive papers by post will have had their copies, including Hansard, in the normal way.

I am advised that this action by the drivers is not in accordance with the procedural agreement between SOGAT, the union concerned, and the management of HMSO, but discussions aimed at an early resumption of work are now taking place, and I do not wish to say anything at this juncture which would prejudice a settlement of the dispute. I have taken account of the point made by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) about amendments in Standing Committee C tomorrow, and we shall endeavour to see that that Committee gets the printing that it is entitled to.

Mr. Kinnock

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would one be correct in assuming that, either in the case of alternative means of transport used or alternative means of printing, the documents we are having to use today were not printed by the customary printers, and that consequently we are using—I say this euphemistically—replacement labour in order to provide ourselves with parliamentary papers? Is there not a danger that this system will jeopardise the chances of a resolution of the dispute which caused the shortage in the first place?

Mr. Morris

I would be misreading the situation to describe the alternative form of parliamentary papers as in any way affecting a resolution of the dispute. We are hopeful that there will be an early settlement. It is not a question of the replacement of the normal printed form of parliamentary papers. As I indicated in my statement, the parliamentary papers have been printed.

Sir Frederic Bennett

I am glad of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but we require some clarification because this matter concerns every hon. Member and not just the two Front Benches. As I understand it, the papers are being printed, so this dispute is not like the last one, which was much more complicated because we had to provide alternative means of printing. I understand that this time it is a simple matter of getting to the House papers which have been printed. If the situation should continue, it is a rather easier problem to solve than the last dispute. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not forget that this is a matter of concern to all hon. Members.

Mr. Morris

I accept that it is of concern to all hon. Members, and I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that when I have given my reply to the point of order hon. Members will not feel it necessary to rise again—but they may. Arrangements are being made so that the House can function properly, and that was germane to the matter raised by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). There is nothing more that I can add at the moment by way of a ruling on the question.

Mr. Peyton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am very much obliged for what you have said. I hope that arrangements will be made for the Minister of State to report again tomorrow on the situation, and that he will make it clear then that arrangements have been made for the House of Commons to conduct its business in a proper fashion and not on a hand-to mouth basis. There is no reason why Parliament should adopt permanently too supine a position.

Mr. Speaker

It will be much tidier if the Minister of State agrees to make a statement tomorrow rather than that we should discuss the situation now on points of order which are really distant cousins to points of order.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I of course accept your ruling, but may I have an assurance that the distribution of these papers does not involve blacklegging in any way, and also that, before any new duties are introduced again, proper and full consultations are undertaken by the Controller of HMSO?

Mr. Michael Hamilton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that the House should have the Minister's assurance that, either today or tomorrow, he will not hesitate if necessary to use the equipment below this Chamber for printing parliamentary papers.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Further to that point of order. Mr. Speaker. If my hon. Friend the Minister of State is to make a statement tomorrow, is he aware that we are regularly being held up on this sort of question mainly because. I believe, of wage and salary questions? Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that this problem could easily be solved if the Government would just apply to these men the same rules and regulations, reported today in that worthy newspaper the Daily Telegraph, whereby £45 per day is paid for part-time work to members of an industrial tribunal? If the Government paid £45 a day tax-free with expenses to these workers——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Really, that is hardly a point of order. It is a point of argument, but it is not a point of order.

Mr. Morris

As far as I am informed, this dispute is in no way related to the wages and salaries of the staff at HMSO. As I said in my statement, it relates to the allocation of driving duties as far as it affects a number of drivers at HMSO.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil spoke about Parliament adopting what he described as a "supine" attitude. I hope that the dispute will be resolved quickly, but I assure him that if these difficulties continue, every effort will be made to ensure that the essential needs of the House are met. If necessary, I shall be happy to report to the House again tomorrow.