§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. David Gammans)
With the permission of the House, I should like to make a statement on the decision of the Government on the recognition of staff associations in the Post Office.
My noble Friend deferred any immediate decision on the Terrington Report in the hope that it might still be possible to bring the recognised and unrecognised Post Office associations together. In one case a settlement has been reached, that of the National Guild of Motor Engineers, which has agreed with the Post Office Engineering Union to amalgamate on terms which give the motor transport staff in the Post Office more voice in their affairs. I congratulate both parties on the good sense and statesmanship they have shown.
I will now deal with the case of the Engineering Officers (Telecommunications) 1543 Association and the Post Office Engineering Union. It is not disputed that on the basis of numbers E.O.(T.)A. was entitled to the consideration which one of my noble Friend's predecessors had promised. Consideration, however, is a very different thing from automatic recognition. The consideration that was promised has certainly been given in full measure.
Since this matter was first raised, the situation has changed in several respects. My noble Friend has had the benefit of the advice of an independent committee under the chairmanship of Lord Terrington. He has also had the advantage of the opinion of a man with wide experience in labour relations, Sir Richard Lloyd-Roberts, whose appointment was agreeable to both sides and who attempted conciliation between them. The advice tendered in each case was the same: that E.O.(T).A. should not be recognised.
There are some facts of which the House may not be fully aware. As pointed out by the Terrington Committee, out of 60,000 engineers, the grade of technical officer, for which E.O.(T).A. claim recognition, comprises some 14,000; but members of this grade hold 16 out of 23 places on the Executive of the Post Office Engineering Union. This grade also has ample representation at lower levels in the P.O.E.U. structure. Moreover, each separate section has its own separate conference, and although the National Executive Council has ultimate power to override the sectional bodies this power is rarely, if ever used.
In addition, the Post Office Engineering Union, during the recent negotiations, made an offer, in my view almost unprecedented, to alter their rules so as to provide that no recommendation by a sectional committee could be over-ruled by the Executive Council without a two-thirds or even higher majority. As I have already said, the grades which E.O.(T).A. seek to represent already possess a majority of at least two-thirds on the Executive Council.
All these facts lead to the inevitable conclusion that the interests of the staff whom E.O.(T).A. claim to represent are already fully safeguarded and that no injustice is being done or is likely to be done to that staff. While, therefore, he 1544 honours the persistence and sincerity with which E.O.(T).A. have fought their case, my noble friend is afraid that there are no valid grounds, as things are now, for acceding to their claim for recognition.
There remain two other cases that I must deal with; first, the National Association of Postal and Telegraph Officers and the Union of Post Office Workers. N.A.P.T.O. claim to represent a grade numbering 21,900; only 2,600, or about 12 per cent., are in N.A.P.T.O., the rest being in U.P.W. On figures, N.A.P.T.O. do not qualify even for consideration; on merits their case is not strong either. I should mention that U.P.W., like P.O.E.U., have shown their willingness to facilitate a friendly settlement by amending their rules. My noble Friend is afraid that N.A.P.T.O. have not made their case, and for this reason he is unable to grant them recognition, although he appreciates the sincerity of their aims.
In the case of the National Association of Telephone Supervising Officers and the Association of Controlling Officers, both associations agreed to the appointment of Sir Richard Lloyd Roberts as conciliator, and my noble Friend is now considering his report.
It has, of course, for long been accepted that the departmental classes of the Post Office are not typical of the rest of the Civil Service and I would therefore make it clear that what I have said does not apply to the Civil Service generally. In particular, nothing I have said in any way invalidates the undertakings given in 1951 to the staff side of the Civil Service National Whitley Council that the findings of the Terrington Committee would not result in any change being made in the system in operation for general service classes.
I have tried to give a complete picture of the main recognition disputes in the Post Office. It would, however, be unwise to lay down any hard-and-fast rules for the future, and my noble Friend will continue to consider any future claims on their merits.
§ Mr. Hobson
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the acceptance by Her Majesty's Government of the Terrington Report, welcome as it is, is a corroboration of the statesmanlike policy which was accepted by the Labour Government when in power? Will the hon. Gentleman see that the statement in question 1545 is brought to the notice of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury?
§ Mr. Gammans
While I agree that the statesmanlike policy now being accepted by the Government is the same as under the last Government, I would remind the hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friends on this side of the House divided the House because they were not satisfied that full and impartial consideration had been given to this claim.
§ Sir R. Grimston
With regard to E.O.(T.)A., is my hon. Friend aware that there is on the Order Paper a Motion containing 47 names of Members on this side of the House expressing a contrary view to the one which he has enunciated, having regard to the past history of this organisation? Does his statement mean that in the future the door is bolted and barred to any further consideration of E.O.(T.)A.'s claim in all circumstances?
§ Mr. Gammans
With regard to the first point raised by my hon. Friend, I would remind him that we are to have an Adjournment debate on this subject tomorrow. In regard to the other point which he raised, my noble Friend, as I said in the statement, has said that he 1546 will consider any future claims on their merits, and he has now made a decision in this particular case on the facts as they are at this moment.
§ Mr. Wallace
May I ask the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he and his noble Friend are quite satisfied that consideration was full and impartial in this case? Is he aware that on this side there are many more than 47 Members who welcome his declaration this afternoon?
§ Mr. Gammans
Yes, and I am glad of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I would remind him that since there was a debate in this House there have been two impartial inquiries, of which the House did not have the benefit at the time we last voted.
§ Several Hon. Members rose——