HC Deb 07 February 1977 vol 925 cc1053-5

Mr. Tebbit (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement on the Post Office dispute preventing normal delivery of mail in London postal districts El to E18.

The Secretary of State for Industry (Mr. Eric G. Varley)

I understand from the Post Office that some staff in the El district of London are taking unofficial action which affects mail through the El to E18 districts. The Post Office and the Union of Post Office Workers are seeking a resolution of this dispute.

Mr. Tebbit

What is the Secretary of State doing to assist the resolution of this dispute? Is it not a fact that we have experienced more interruptions in the delivery of mail in the last three years than we experienced in the previous one and a quarter centuries of efficient delivery of mail by the Post Office?

Mr. Skinner

Cut out the cliches.

Mr. Tebbit

Even a cliche is acceptable if it is true. Would the Secretary of State join me in telling Mr. Jackson that he would be better advised to attend to the affairs of his own union and ensure that mail is delivered to my constituents and other people in East London than to parade his conscience about stopping the mail from being delivered to people in South Africa?

Mr. Varley

I thought that there was something behind the mischievousness of the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and he has just outlined it to the House. He is not concerned with the mail in El.

Mr. Tebbit

That is a lie and the right hon. Gentleman is a liar.

Hon. Members


Mr. Varley

The only thing the hon. Member wants to do is to get back to the dispute, which is still a subject for the courts. I hope that instead of parading this vendetta against the Union of Post Office Workers he will realise that Mr. Tom Jackson and his colleagues are doing everything they can to bring this dispute to an end.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take one question from each side on this statement as there is a major statement to follow. I did not hear anything that happened in between.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Harold Lever)

That is just as well, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Mikardo

Would my right hon. Friend accept that Mr. Jackson will have a much better chance of reaching a settlement of this dispute with the Post Office if he is not burdened with the sort of comments that we have heard from the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)?

Mr. Varley

I agree entirely. The hon. Member already has been characterised as one of the most abusive Members of this House. Today he has underlined that totally.

Mr. Rost

Would the Secretary of State enlighten the House by telling us what this dispute is about? Would he answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and tell us what he intends to do about it?

Mr. Varley

It would not be appropriate for me to intervene directly when the Post Office Corporation itself and the Union of Post Office Workers are doing everything possible to bring the dispute to a conclusion. [HON. MEMBERS "What is it about?"] I understand from the Post Office that the dispute concerns proposals to cut down overtime by recruiting staff. The Post Office is having discussions with the Union of Post Office Workers, and I am sure that the hon. Member will join with me in hoping that the dispute will end as quickly as possible.

Mr. Speaker

Order. A moment ago I said that I would take only one question from each side. I propose to take two from each side. I have my own very good reasons for this change of mind.

Mr. Spearing

My constituents are in E13 and E16. Would my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the original dispute was official or unofficial and whether the rearrangement of overtime is restricted only to the El office, which serves the rest of the eastern area, or whether it is common to other parts of London?

Mr. Varley

I think—I am not certain about this but I shall check it out and let my hon. Friend know later—that this dispute is unofficial and affects only the El district. But of course the impact goes right through to the E18 district.

Mr. Pardoe

I declare an interest in that I am a director of a company that currently has many hundreds of thousands of export documentations tied up in the dispute. May I assure the Secretary of State that my interest is only to get the post moving again? Is there any hope in his Department that this dispute can be settled quickly? Is there anything that any Government authority can do to expedite a settlement?

Mr. Varley

Not at this stage. I do not think that there is any action that I can take as Secretary of State that will bring about an earlier resolution of the dispute than the action already being taken by the Post Office Corporation and the Union of Post Office Workers. I know that both bodies are very anxious to bring the dispute to an end as quickly as possible so that the mail can move normally.

Mr. Canavan

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. I distinctly heard the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) refer to the Secretary of State as a liar. Would it not be better to ask the hon. Member to exclude himself from the House until he learns how to behave?

Mr. Speaker

If such an expression were used, it must be withdrawn of course. Did the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) use that expression? If so, will he withdraw?

Mr. Tebbit

Out of deference to you, Mr. Speaker, the House and the Secretary of State, I withdraw the expression that I used. It was wrung from me by the type of expression that the Secretary of State uses increasingly and by his attitude that any criticism of him is—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Once a statement has been withdrawn, it is withdrawn.