HL Deb 09 July 1979 vol 401 cc656-9

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I informed your Lordships that some staff working in the Palace of Westminster are taking industrial action beginning today. The Institution of Professional Civil Servants (the IPCS) has instructed its members employed at the Palace of Westminster to strike for a fortnight from today. Thirty-two staff are involved, but I cannot yet tell the House how many will obey the strike call. These staff are engineers and technicians responsible for the maintenance and operation of virtually all services in the Palace of Westminster. They supervise about 170 Department of the Environment industrial staff who are not in dispute and are expected to continue to work so far as they can. It is expected that they would repond to any situation involving serious risk to health and safety. The Property Services Agency will make every endeavour to maintain at least a minimum level of service.

I deplore the action which leads me to make this Statement. It is, as your Lordships will be aware, only one part of the current campaign by the IPCS. I firmly believe that when two parties find that they are in an honest dispute with one another—which is what we have here—the right course can only be to go to arbitration according to the well-established procedures, and in particular should this be true when a Civil Service union finds itself in dispute with the Government. The Government have offered this and have agreed to abide by the ruling of the arbitration tribunal. The union's response has been to escalate industrial action which, given the circumstances, I see as totally unjustifiable. I deeply regret the inconvenience which may be caused to your Lordships.


My Lords, may I say that I personally deplore the action very much. I support very strongly what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said. I regret that the union will not accept arbitration and I wish that it would think again about this. I noticed that today's Press said that they had been offered by the Civil Service Department staged rises of up to 26½ per cent. Will the noble Lord confirm that? But even if this is so, it shows that really it should go to arbitration.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for making the Statement this afternoon. Certainly, we on these Benches regret the situation which has made this Statement necessary. We are glad that the Government have offered arbitration and have agreed to abide by the ruling of the arbitration tribunal. We wonder whether there has been any response at all from the union to this offer; whether it has actually rejected it or whether it has just ignored it. At any rate, we hope that the offer will be accepted in due course and that the dispute will be satisfactorily settled very shortly.

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for what they have said, and for the support that they have given me in what I told your Lordships' House. As to what was offered to the IPCS, all Civil Service grades subject to pay research have been offered salary scales calculated in precisely the same way according to the same interpretation of the evidence. Other unions have accepted this but the IPCS have not, arguing that the results would leave them worse off than an up-dating of previous settlements. But pay research is not, as noble Lords will be well aware, a comparison with the past, but a comparison with the present and the present salaries paid to comparable staff outside. If this causes salary relativities to change, then that must be accepted.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the business of the House will be severely affected, and in what way? I think it would be for the convenience of Members if we knew.


My Lords, I sincerely hope not. The trouble will arise if things break down. The lifts will be working, for example, and those who work the lifts are not in dispute. The only trouble will be if a lift breaks down. But I assure your Lordships that if a lift breaks down with one of your Lordships inside it, means will be found of getting him out of it. Where steam supply is concerned, the boilers are automatic and that should go on all right, unless it breaks down. If it breaks down, your Lordships might be inconvenienced in the restaurant, and places such as that. The air conditioning could break down and that would be nasty, particularly for the other place. Your Lordships will be glad to hear that sewerage is unlikely to be affected. But supply services, including such day-to-day services as carpet repairs, furniture moving and furniture repairs, are likely to he disrupted.


My Lords, can the noble Lord the Leader of the House assure us that the Accountant's Department will still be working?


My Lords, I cannot immediately think what prompts that question from the noble Lord, but so far as I know there will be no interference.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in his original reply he said that the union had instructed its members to strike on such-and-such a day? Can he say whether the union has taken pains to circulate the offer which is on the table at the moment, so that these people who have been instructed can inform themselves of exactly what is at stake? Is he aware that it is not just the convenience of Parliament—which is of course of great importance—that is involved, but the vital and very essential and sensitive services in different parts of the country which will be affected by the campaign being run by this union?


My Lords, I quite agree with the last part of what my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing has said. There are sonic very serious aspects to this industrial action, of which this is but one example. As to the extent to which the union has circularised its members about the offer, I rather have the impression that it has concentrated more on its side of the case than on the Government's side of the case. On the other hand, I have done my best, and my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the CSD has also done his best, to ensure that everyone in the country, including of course the members of the union, realise what the position is and the offer that is on the table.