HC Deb 15 March 1976 vol 907 cc935-9
The Minister of State, Civil Service Department (Mr. Charles R. Morris)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the supply of parliamentary papers.

The difficulties over deliveries by Her Majesty's Stationery Office transport, of which the House is aware, are not yet resolved, but the papers necessary for today's business are again available in an alternative form, and a limited number of copies of Friday's Hansard are also available in the Library and the Vote Office. As I have previously told the House, all the papers are being printed normally and the inconvenience arises solely because the dispute is affecting HMSO deliveries.

The House may wish me to give some further information about the causes and nature of the dispute. The HMSO management decided at the beginning of last week to transfer a driver to different driving duties. I am informed that the agreement with SOGAT, the trade union concerned, allows this specifically. The Chapel objected on the ground that it had not been consulted in advance. On Tuesday morning the drivers declined to perform their normal duties in protest.

Joint discussions were held to resolve the issue and the Chapel was also told, in accordance with standard HMSO practice, that the drivers would not be paid for any time they were not working normally. The dispute then escalated into a full-scale stoppage which, HMSO informs me, is outside the terms of the procedure agreement and therefore unconstitutional. I am advised that further joint meetings have been held and a full-time SOGAT official has been involved, but the Chapel has declined to return to normal working unless the drivers are paid in full for the time lost in the dispute. This has now emerged as the central issue in the dispute.

Further efforts are being made today to resolve the issue and to achieve a resumption of normal working. I do not wish to say anything more which might possibly prejudice an early settlement. I regret that the House is experiencing continued inconvenience. I hope that the normal service of printed material can be resumed very shortly. In the event that the difficulties continue, every effort will of course be made to ensure that the essential needs of the House are met as they were last week and again today.

Mr. Peyton

From what the hon. Gentleman has said, it sounds as though a great deal of unnecessary printing is being done. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that, whilst none of us would wish to prejudice the chances of a settlement—to use that time-honoured phrase—Parliament has been exposed to this kind of experience far too often recently. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take into account the fact that while those involved in such a dispute have a view, Parliament also has one, and that the whole position of Parliament is being outraged if this becomes a habit. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also take into account that we—both sides of the House—have been very patient for a long time and that it is time that this sort of thing stopped. It might be helpful if we were to have a debate on this subject in the near future.

Mr. Morris

The question of a debate is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. But this is not a new development in terms of relationships between successive Governments and the operations of HMSO. When the right hon. Gentleman referred to my hon. Friends—and obviously he was speaking in the context of the trade unions at HMSO—I hope that there was no implication in what he said. Whilst I appreciate his concern and understand the frustrations of parliamentarians in regard to the dispute, I need no lessons from hon. Members opposite on the conduct of industrial relations.

Mr. Peyton

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read in the morning what I said—assuming that he will have the opportunity. I said nothing of the kind that he thought I said. I certainly did not approach the matter from a partisan point of view. I said that Parliament—both sides of the House—was being inconvenienced.

Mr. Morris

I hope that in the morning I shall have the opportunity of reading what the right hon. Gentleman said because my interpretation was based on how I actually heard him.

Mr. Skinner

Will my hon. Friend take into account that, because we are having to have the papers printed in another way, the cost of the additional printing could now perhaps be more than the amount of money involved in the original dispute? Is it not rather inappropriate to be concerned about not paying these men for the dispute when we were told at the weekend that certain trade unionists were to get a sum of money for attending trade union meetings in order to assist the management? Might we not do better along those lines? Is it not at times like this that we begin to appreciate that the drivers normally deliver every day?

Mr. Morris

I remind my hon. Friend that the original dispute was about the allocation of drivers to particular duties. It was not a question of paying men for not working. The question of paying men during an industrial dispute is now emerging as the central issue. It is a subject of discussion between the two sides.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the inconvenience we all feel from this sort of dispute—which we all regard as one which should be settled as soon as possible—is what overseas customers of British companies feel when British products cannot be delivered because of some nonsense that ought to be settled? Will the hon. Gentleman also accept that if the problem is merely one of delivery—just as when my children cannot go to school by bus because of a bus strike I take them by car—some of us could perhaps take our cars and bring the papers here ourselves?

Mr. Morris

This is a serious dispute. I have responsibility for HMSO and not for bus undertakings.

Mr. Stonehouse

If the dispute continues, could not arrangements be made for hon. Members or their representatives to go to the printing works and get their Hansards and other documents they require? Why cannot that be done?

Mr. Morris

I hope that no hon. Member will take action which in any way exacerbates the dispute.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the Vote Office this morning copies of the Energy Bill were not yet available, but I understand that at least one copy is available to at least one hon. Member? Will the hon. Gentleman assure us that there will be no attempt to schedule the Bill for Second Reading until such time as other hon. Members have had an opportunity to study it?

Mr. Morris

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. I will endeavour to see that copies of the Bill are available.

Several hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot go any further with this now.

Mr. Rost

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister of State, Civil Service Department has just stated that the House is being inconvenienced. I put it to you that the matter is more serious than that. Tomorrow's business is a debate on the EEC's energy policy, and it is impossible for hon. Members to debate the matter intelligently without having available to them copies of the Energy Bill, which was published over the weekend, which is apparently available in another place, and which was commented upon in the Press over the weekend. It is, therefore, a question not just of inconvenience but of the unavailability of essential documents reasonably in advance of a debate in the House.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that those responsible for providing the papers heard what the hon. Member said, but it is not a matter for me.

Mr. Morris

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We shall be making efforts to ensure that copies of the Bill in an alternative form are made available to the House.