HL Deb 11 March 1975 vol 358 cc140-3

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether as from 17th March 1975 Gov-ernment messengers have been instructed by their union not to search the hand baggage or car boots belonging to visitors to Government Departments, and whether this will result in the closure of certain offices to the public, and if so which.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

My Lords, I understand that the Civil Service Union, which represents messengers employed in Government Departments, has so instructed its members. The Civil Service Department is engaged in talks with the Union with a view to resolving the matter and is also consulting other Departments. I am hopeful that a solution satisfactory to all par-ties will shortly be found.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that Answer, may I ask him whether he is aware that he has not answered the second part of my Question, as to which Departments are concerned regarding possible closure? Would he be good enough to tell me which Departments are likely to be con-cerned?


My Lords, at present this question is largely hypothetical. I hope a solution will be found before 17th March, in which case none of these offices will be closed.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Public Record Office, which attracts over 2,000 readers weekly, many of them coming from overseas, will be affected unless the situation is resolved by 17th March, and that the Civil Service Union gave notice of their intention to the Department some six months after an interim arrangement had been made in August? Could he personally intervene and meet both sides to stop this closure taking place?


My Lords, I have already expressed the hope that a satisfactory conclusion will be reached and that there will be no question of any of these offices being closed.


My Lords, can the Minister say why the union are not interested in aiding in the promotion of public security?


My Lords, if I may say so, the supplementary question of the noble Lord is, as usual, not particularly helpful.




The messengers of the Civil Service provide a very notable service, not only to your Lordships' House but also in all the Government Departments. They have undertaken special duties in this time of emergency. What they are now seeking is a form of regrading; that is what the negotiations are about. Their threat of a certain withdrawal, I suspect, is a traditional way of seeking to bring a settlement more quickly than perhaps they themselves may have expected. But I hope that no reflection upon the messengers of the Civil Service will be accepted by your Lordships' House.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether he thinks that, if Government messengers did search some of the baggage, they would find the Social Con-tract?


My Lords, I wel-come the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition back to the Front Bench. Obviously his journey in the sunshine has done him a lot of good. I hope he will keep that colour, too.


My Lords, will my noble friend agree that the time has now arrived when the Whitley machinery covering the Civil Service in this country is due for overhaul and that it has become more or less obsolete in many respects? Is he aware that, having had long experience in regard to Whitley machinery governing 420,000-odd people, I am of that opinion and think the time has arrived when there ought to be an overhaul?


My Lords, all things concerned with human beings—and this is also to be found in your Lordships' House—can do with some improvement and modernisation; but I should not like it to be thought that the Whitley machinery, which has stood the test of time, is not adequate for present negotiations. This is a matter which both sides need to look at, and no doubt it is being looked at.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that for years the Whitley machine has been a body dealing with dragged-out negotiations, and that at the end of the day the men become frustrated and take unofficial action because the machinery takes too long to take a decision?


My Lords, the Whitley machinery provides an opportunity for both sides, the representatives of employers and the representatives of workpeople, to meet in a civilised way to find a solution to their difficulties. On occasions it may be long and protracted, but that is not necessarily the fault of the Whitley machinery.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that if action is taken in this instance it will be official?


My Lords, the noble Lord is obviously far better aware of the circumstances than I am. I hope that he is not right.


My Lords, will the Minister say whether searching of boots of motor-cars is not a job of some expertise, and whether it is inappropriate that it should be carried out by this par-ticular category of employee? Should it not be done by people specially trained to discover things that are hidden, and to deal with them if they discover them? May this not perhaps quite justifiably explain the problem?


My Lords, obviously those who have undertaken these duties feel that there should be recognition of their work. But we are in a difficult period of threats to public buildings, and if we were to rely upon experts to do work of this kind then of course we should not be able to provide the same amount of cover as we have done during the last two or three years. Much should be said in commendation of all our staff who have, as part of an extra duty, carried out the searches which have given protection to our public buildings.