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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I understand it, he will cause considerable embarrassment, not least to the Nigerian Government, and I imagine that that embarrassment will extend to others. Noble Lords may also like to know that Mr Mugabe has not been invited.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the fact is that when one does what is right, there are very often what the noble Lord has described as unfortunate consequences. That is what we have to face. With regard to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, we are not merely wringing our hands, as the noble Lord puts it. We have not invited Mr Mugabe. We have discussed this matter with the Nigerians and shall continue to rally as much support as possible for the position which has been adopted by Her Majesty's Government. We believe that we have a strong moral argument which is supported by many, many people in the Commonwealth. Perhaps, if I may say so, the noble Lord's injunction should also be addressed to some of the others in the Commonwealth who also need to be encouraged on this point. I see the noble Lord nodding at that remark, and I hope that he and his party will do so.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of any action that the French Government might have taken to emphasise their solidarity with European Community decision-making in the light of the vote of the French parliamentary representatives, which showed a remarkable lack of solidarity?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have had ourhow shall I put it?differences of opinion with some of our friends in France over the travel ban. Your Lordships may recall an interesting interlude in the operation of the travel ban earlier this year in relation to a meeting held in Paris. However, under the EU common position, there is the possibility of a country issuing a visa for Zimbabweans to travel when such travel would accommodate a meeting under a treaty obligation. I refer, of course, to the meeting in Rome from 9th to 18th October at which the EU ACP arrangements were discussed. That was an obligation under a treaty, so the travel ban did not apply. That is a rather different European position from the one to which I believe my noble friend Lord Tomlinson was referring.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, no one will benefit from industrial action by postal workers in London. It will disrupt services to consumers and businesses that rely on Royal Mail services. Resolution of disputes is a matter for the management of Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union. The Government continue to encourage them to sit down together and reach a settlement on all outstanding issues.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, the first part of which I agree with. Would he agree that, whereas a 24-hour stoppage is tolerable, to suspend postal deliveries for a full week, as has happened in the greater part of London, causes immense hardshipsnot only financial hardships to individuals and businesses but emotional distress as well? One thinks of lonely elderly people waiting in vain for the three or four birthday cards that they can normally look forward to getting, or the recently bereaved widow waiting for letters of condolence and support.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I agree that the disruption is most unwelcome. In fact, the 24-hour disruptions to which the noble Lord made reference were also most unwelcome and made difficulties for people. I recognise the points made about the elderly. We are doing everything in our power to ensure that all benefit claimants receive their payments over this difficult period.
Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, I deplore all that is happening and share the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. What is the number of itemsletters and parcelsthat have been delayed? When the situation is resolved, how long will it take to return to
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am not able to give a figure for the number of items that are held in the post. That is an ever-changing figure, as the noble Lord will recognise. In addition, this is unofficial action and, therefore, we have not been able to predict the effects on the postal services. The noble Lord is right that the Post Office will expect to put maximal effort into restoring its services to normal as rapidly as possible when the disputes are settled. The first issue is, of course, to get the disputes settled.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, will my noble friend join with me in wishing the talks well this afternoon? We are in a situation in which 20,000 low-paid workers have withdrawn their labour, 11 major mail centres are shut, every London delivery office is closed for delivery and there is already a prospect of the dispute spreading to Southend, East Anglia, Oxford and other places. That is a matter of concern for the Government.
Would my noble friend agree it is not good to hide behind the idea that management must manage, when the Government appointed the current management structure, which is carrying out a vengeful and spiteful attack on those people who had an official day's action? When they returned to work, old agreements that had been properly negotiated were torn up and thrown in their faces. Can my noble friend spare the time this afternoon to sit down with me so that I can tell him about some of the incidents that have taken place in the name of the management that our Government, this side of the House, agreed toalthough not with my permission or approval? When the Postal Services Act 2000 went through this House, I warned noble Lords what would happen. Get those spiteful, vengeful dogs off the back of these decent postal workers!
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House will recognise how knowledgeable my noble friend is about these issues. I can only benefit by sitting down with him later this afternoon and discussing the issues further. What I am not prepared to do is to debate the merits of the dispute over the Dispatch Box when, as he will recognise, there is much complexity involved. It is absolutely essential, as he has said, that the two sides get together and address the issues properly.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, as noble Lords know, the strike, although spreading, is unofficial, and is taking place notwithstanding the valiant efforts of the Minister's noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Sawyerwho is not present today. Nevertheless, would the Minister agree that the dispute demonstrates the need for the Government to encourage moves towards compulsory arbitration in disputes involving essential public services?
The noble Lord will recognise that, when we are dealing with unofficial disputes, the only way of resolving them is by the two sides getting together. They met yesterday and did not resolve the issues, but the talks are continuing, and it would be quite inappropriate for outside agencies to act at this stage.
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