HL Deb 03 July 1974 vol 353 cc307-12

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, with permission I will repeat a Statement which has just been made in another place with regard to the supply of Parliamentary Papers. The Statement is as follows:

"Members are aware that since June 20 there has been difficulty regarding the supply of Parliamentary Papers. This has resulted from industrial action involving composing staff at the St. Stephen's Parliamentary Press.

"Further industrial action was introduced this morning in seven of Her Majesty's Stationery Office's eight printing works by members of the National Graphical Association. Although no formal notice of any action has been received by H.M.S.O. from the Association at national level, it is understood to be in support of the Union's claim for improved pay and conditions which is currently under review.

"Among the work affected is the supply of Government Papers to Parliament. Copies of the documents essential to the business of the House will continue to be made available, in limited quantities, in one form or another.

"Every effort is being made to resolve the dispute which is, of course, taking place against the background of recent difficulties in the newspaper and general printing industry, particularly in London."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating that Statement. The House has shown restraint in not pressing the Government upon the most inadequate position concerning the supply of Parliamentary Papers. As I am sure the noble Lord will agree, the important thing is to try to resolve this dispute. From my own experience when I had Ministerial responsibility for Her Majesty's Stationery Office I know that solutions are often made harder rather than easier to achieve as a result of exchanges that can easily become rather partisan across the Floor of the House. However, this Statement indicates that the situation has taken a turn for the worse. Seven out of the eight printing works of Her Majesty's Stationery Office have now been affected by this dispute, and the time may he approaching when the degree of inconvenience for Parliament will become intolerable. If this point is reached, the Government may then have to consider other arrangements for the printing and supply of Parliamentary Papers so that the essential work of Parliament can continue. I shall not press the noble Lord any further to-day, but if it proves necessary to make arangements outside the normal printing service because of the industrial situation I am sure the noble Lord will have the support of all Members of the House.


My Lords, I do not wish to press the noble Lord upon any of the details of the negotiations, but may I ask him what arrangements we can make to ensure that this House can do justice to its legislative function? A number of very important measures are going through different stages in another place; I am thinking particularly of the trades union Bill, to which I understand some important Amendments have been made, and there may be other measures which are affected. If we are to do our job, it is essential that in the hands of those noble Lords who are going to take part in the debates there should be a proper record of what happens in the other place. May we therefore have a look at this matter through the usual channels?


My Lords, I am grateful for the restraint shown by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, the Leader of the Opposition, and by the House as a whole. Recognising that over a period of weeks now we have been operating under very considerable difficulties, I am grateful for the way in which the House as a whole has co-operated, particularly those who have been operating the emergency services. May I say in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that we have had two disputes. The first one has now been reconciled. The current dispute, which the noble Lord recognises is now of very grave proportions, is new and became known to the Government yesterday. Steps are being taken to see whether a solution can be found. Her Majesty's Stationery Office have gone as far as they can within the legal framework under which we are now operating. With regard to printing outside, I believe that one-fifth of all our Papers for Parliament is printed now by private printers. However, it is a very complex service that has to be provided, and it is questionable whether outside printers would be able to give your Lordships' House the same flexibility—the one-off print—which is very much a part of our Parliamentary service.

My Lords, I am particularly conscious of legislation, and I should be very happy, and would regard it as part of my duty, to have consultations through the usual channels about ways and means of overcoming any difficulties which may arise. I hope that any noble Lord—it is not just a question of those who are sitting on the Front Benches—who may have any particular difficulty will approach my office and I will see what steps can be taken to help him. However, at the present moment the less said about the conflict the better. I hope that we shall use ingenuity to overcome the present difficulty regarding Papers.


My Lords, while paying tribute to those who are operating the emergency services and recognising the great sense of justice of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, may I ask him whether those who are responsible for all the extra duplicating work—one can see it today in the case of the Housing Bill which we are discussing—are receiving extra remuneration either from this House or from the National Graphical Association?


My Lords, the noble Lord has referred to a service which is provided by a unit that was set up to deal with such a situation. I think that the less said at this stage the better, but I hope that in a more convivial way this House will be able to show its appreciation to those who have carried a very heavy burden during the last few weeks.


My Lords, will my noble friend consider one way in which he might be able to help this House when we come to deal with some of the complicated legislation that comes up from another place? The Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill has been mentioned already. We shall not have before us the Hansard report of the Committee stage of that Bill in the other place which has undergone fairly considerable amendment. Would my noble friend therefore consider the possibility of having a memorandum drawn up which, in 1,500 or 2,000 words, would describe the way in which the Bill has been amended in the Standing Committee of the other House? Perhaps some of the other legislation could be dealt with in the same way.


My Lords, speaking as a Minister who will be taking part in this particular legislation, the fact that my noble friends opposite will not be able to have all the Hansard copies of the Committee stage might well be an advantage! However, in regard to my noble friend's suggestion, during the last few weeks I have made available to those noble Lords who have been leading on some rather complex legal legislation the Explanatory Notes on clauses. I will see whether that material can be made available. If I am unable to obtain sufficient copies for all I may be able to obtain sufficient copies to put into the Library for noble Lords to study. But certainly for those noble Lords who will have the responsibility of leading for their Parties I will undertake that that material is made readily available.


My Lords, when the supply of Papers to your Lordships' House is interrupted, as it has been not for the first time on this occasion, and without wishing to enter into a dispute across the Floor of the House upon the merits of the case, would the noble Lord the Leader of the House consider that this House should at least know what it is that the trade union has a grievance about? Would the noble Lord consider giving an undertaking to circulate to Members of your Lordships' House a statement prepared by the trade union so that we may at least be aware of the grievances that it feels?


My Lords, I will consider that suggestion, but I am sure that the noble Lord will understand that although explanations may be given upon an industrial dispute and may well be understood within this general atmosphere, when they are published in the newspapers or in an OFFICIAL REPORT that may reflect the situation quite differently and perhaps cause greater difficulties when one is seeking a solution to an industrial dispute. So far as the, suggestion of the noble Lord is concerned, I will look at it and see whether we can help in this respect.


My Lords, could the noble Lord inform us whether the agreed procedures for conciliation and for settling disputes in the industry have been gone through'? One wonders why this latest dispute has been, sprung upon us so suddenly?


My Lords, would the noble Lord please forgive me? I suggested that at the present moment one ought not to go into the details of the problem. I should prefer to leave it as I have already explained.


My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister realises what a wonderful organisation Her Majesty's Stationery Office has been? The service that we have had in both Houses of Parliament for a very long time has been the envy of many another Parliament. We come now to the point where it is suggested that we may contract printing outside, and indeed we must do it if they fail us in this matter. However, would it not be well to put it to the heads of the Stationery Office that a great tradition is in danger of being broken, because once we contract printing outside, that loyalty and efficiency, which together provides us at such short notice with our Papers, will have gone for ever?


My Lords, I endorse everything that the noble Viscount has said about the great tradition and the great service of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. I will certainly see that the sentiments expressed by the noble Viscount, which I know will be shared by everyone in this Chamber, are conveyed to the head of the Department.


My Lords, can the noble Lord give a simple answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Hankey; namely, whether all the usual procedures of conciliation have, in fact, been carried out or whether this is a short cut?


My Lords, I thought I had the sentiment of the House when I resisted the invitation to go into any details. If I were to go one stage to meet the noble Lord I think that I should be on a slippery slope. I would prefer to take the sentiment of the House and to remain silent on this issue.

Forward to