HC Deb 29 June 1978 vol 952 cc1586-8
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

I should like to inform the House that I have nothing to add to the statement that I made earlier about the disruption of the catering services of the House. I do not mean that in any way disrespectful to the House. I fully accept that it is extremely inconvenient to the House that there should be disruption of the catering services.

As soon as I heard the grounds and difficulties that led to yesterday's action, I called for a meeting. We had a meeting. I am prepared to have another meeting.

I underline again that in the interests of hon. Members, of those who serve the House and of those who have momentarily withdrawn their services, I believe that the best way in which to proceed—I hope that we shall have the assistance of all hon. Members—is by trying to get the issue back into the proper and normal method of procedure for dealing with such disputes. As soon as we can do that I think that we can make progress.

Mr. Fell

The right hon. Gentleman is being very reasonable, as he always is in all things. He will realise that there are extremely good relationships between hon. Members and the staff. I believe that that is so in all parts of the House. However, such an affair cannot but weaken the good relationships that exist between the staff and hon. Members. Therefore it is a matter of the greatest urgency. Will he now inform us what is happening? We have not yet been told what is happening. There are many rumours. One rumour is that the Treasury is holding up the whole thing. If that is true, will he have some influence on the Treasury to stop holding up the matter? What is going on? May I conclude—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Surely that is enough of a question. It is a time for questions and not debate. Mr. Fell, to conclude.

Mr. Fell

May I conclude by saying that I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is, as he says, seized of the importance of the matter?

Mr. Foot

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am.

Mr. English

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have any assistance that hon. Members can give him. Will he confirm that, for example, a chef, who I believe is not actually on strike, somewhat regrettably, when he retires after 40 years' service, will get no pension, whereas, if he worked for the Government Catering Department, he would? If that simple matter is one of the causes of the dispute—my right hon. Friend refused to confirm that it was—does he not think that it should be speedily and straightforwardly settled on the simple basis that our staff are entitled to treatment as good as that accorded to civil servants over the road?

Mr. Foot

Because I do not believe that is the sensible way to get this matter settled, I do not think that I should reply to the question in the way in which my hon. Friend put it. When industrial disputes take place it is necessary to have some system whereby they can be resolved—and resolved speedily. I want to get this dispute resolved speedily. I do not believe that the way to get disputes resolve speedily is to have pronouncements made in the House on all these various matters. I hope that those concerned will be prepared to discuss the matter in the way that I have suggested. I assure the House that immediately I heard about this dispute yesterday I offered to have the meeting. I had the meeting and I stand ready to have further meetings either today or tomorrow to overcome the dispute.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I propose to call one Member from each side.

Mr. Shersby

Will the Lord President bear in mind that Members have entered into commitments with their constituents in many cases for dining engagements in the House next week? Will he therefore make arrangements, if possible, to advise Members at the earliest possible moment whether catering services will be restored to normal as from Monday next so that constituents and others will not be unduly inconvenienced?

Mr. Foot

That is another aspect of the great inconvenience caused by this situation. I shall come to the House tomorrow and consider whether I can make a further statement then and, if not then, on Monday. I want to overcome this matter. However, I repeat that, in order to overcome it, it is not only necessary to discuss what may be thought to be the issue but to have an orderly system of discussion to resolve the matter.

Mr. Torney

Is the Lord President aware that before coming here many Labour Members worked as full-time officers of trade unions? I am sure that those hon. Members would be willing to offer the Government the benefit of their experience in negotiating on this dispute if the Lord President would like to avail himself of it.

Mr. Foot

I shall be happy to accept the offer made by my hon. Friend in that or any other area—in the Lobbies or anywhere else—and to discuss the matter with him. I accept his offer in the spirit in which it was given.