§ Mr. Fry
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before I came to the House this afternoon I was informed by the Refreshment Department that there was a danger of all functions downstairs being cancelled tonight and later in the week as a result of industrial activity by the staff employed in the department. This will undoubtedly cause considerable confusion and disappointment to many constituents who are booked to attend functions in the House over the next few days. There seems to be considerable uncertainty about the extent of the industrial action and how long it is to last.
The Government boast of their ability to get on with the trade unions. Therefore, is it not right that we should expect a statement from the Leader of the House on the nature of the action, how long it is likely to last and what the Government propose to do to resolve it?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We have a Services Committee and a Catering Committee, but if the Lord President seeks to reply, I shall be very relieved.
§ Mr. Foot
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I did not hear that it was a 1217 point of order: I thought that the hon. Gentleman was asking a question. I apologise for rising on that account. I fully understand the desire of the House to ensure that there is no disruption of our nomal methods of proceeding in these matters. I am making inquiries to see whether we can overcome the difficulties. I do not have a statement to make now. However, I fully understand the desire of the House that we should enable our normal customs and practice to proceed satisfactorily and I shall do my best to ensure that that happens.
§ Mr. Goodhew
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Lord President has been kind enough to say something on the matter, may I ask him whether it is possible to get the strike delayed by 24 hours? For instance, I have 60 constituents coming to the House this evening. It is impossible for me to contact all of them to tell them not to come.
§ Mr. Foot
I understand the feelings of hon. Members and I understand the feelings of those responsible. I see that the hon. Member for Fareham (Dr. Bennett), who has an intimate knowledge of these matters, is in his place. We were hoping to have a discussion before the proceedings of the House started today. We shall be having a discussion very soon. We shall ascertain how best we may seek a solution of the difficulties.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett
The General Manager of the Catering Department received a note this morning informing him that all labour would be withdrawn in all the Catering Department branches from 6.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. today. We hope to try to persuade those concerned that that should not be done, but I cannot hold out very much hope. However, I shall engage myself in all conversations both with the Leader of the House and with the union to try to avert this action.
1218 The reason behind the proposed action has been the inordinately long delay in making any progress towards pension rights. The matter also concerns days off for the staff, which in Civil Service arrangements may be taken at any time but which the staff thought would be unduly disruptive for the Catering Department. Therefore, they were asking for a certain allowance of holiday time in lieu. Those are the issues on which the action has been called. I shall do my best on behalf of the House to try to resolve it.