With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement. On Thursday 29th June I made a statement about the catering services of the House and I undertook to make another statement today.
Further discussions on the matter took place with union representatives on Friday last and I am glad to be able to report that some progress was made. I very much hope that further discussions will take place and that we shall be able to build on the progress made, so that we cart achieve a permanent and successful solution to the present difficulties, which will remove the sense of grievance that the catering staff feel over the lack of a pension scheme.
I am fully aware of, and regret, the great inconvenience caused by the disruption in catering services, but I hope that the House will be willing to accept what I have said and to await the outcome of further discussions. I shall report further as soon as I can.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us who have been here for quite a long while were astounded to learn that members of the catering staff do not qualify for a pension and that a certain member of the staff whom we all know personally is retiring next year after 25 years' service and will not get a single penny? That cannot be right. Will my right hon. Friend please ensure that such a wrong is righted as quickly as possible?
It is in that spirit that I am approaching the matter. What I said to the House last week was that I thought that the first thing was to get a sensible discussion going in a proper way. That is what we did last Friday, and I think we are making some progress. Let us move along in that direction.
The Lord President has made a statement about the catering services of this House. Important though they are, would it not have been better if he had come to the House and made a statement that the Government would reorganise business for this week so that we could have a debate about Rhodesia, where many of the Queen's subjects—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is my hon. Friend aware that, while he and those around him are trying to resolve this matter, it is rather significant that the Opposition have not made any request or asked any questions about it? If by any chance there were not to be a Labour Government next time, could we not then have a situation in which the delay which has gone on for so long could go on even longer? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that whatever decision is made is made very urgently in order that we can get the matter tied up before the so-called October election?
I do not know any more than my hon. Friend does about any October election. I do not regard an unfortunate outcome as being on the cards. I would not trust the Opposition, of course, but that is a different matter. I am hoping that we shall not have to trust them in this respect. I take into account what my hon. Friend said about the desirability of proceeding with this matter at a good pace. That was one of the considerations that we mentioned when we discussed the matter on Friday.