Crucial talks aimed at heading off this week's national strikes by postal workers will resume today.
Leaders of the Communication Workers Union spent 12 hours locked in negotiations with Royal Mail managers at a secret location in central London yesterday.
Union sources said the fact that talks lasted so long was a positive sign while the Royal Mail spokesman said it was working hard to reach an agreement with the union to avert the planned strikes.
Time is running out on reaching a deal to avert planned walkouts on Thursday and Friday in the deadlocked row over pay, jobs and working conditions.
Yesterday the Government said it shared the view of the Business Select Committee that the Post Office should work towards a greater provision of banking services at post office branches across the UK.
But MPs complained that ministers had not set out in detail how they intended to pursue the objective and asked Lord Mandelson's Business Department (BIS) to expand in writing.
George Thomson, general secretary of the National Federation of SubPostmasters, said: "Sub-postmasters across the country will be bitterly disappointed by the Government's inadequate response to the select committee's proposals which represents a missed opportunity to revitalise our post office network.
"In setting out their reply on how to safeguard the future of the network, ministers have failed to commit to measures which will help achieve this."
The Communication Workers Union has confirmed it is considering legal action against Royal Mail's plan to take on 30,000 temporary staff.
The company said it was hiring twice as many temporary workers as normal to deal with the effects of the strike as well as the usual Christmas rush.
Up to 120,000 union members will strike on Thursday and Friday, threatening massive disruption to mail deliveries just weeks from Christmas.
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth warned the strike could mean troops serving on the frontline in Afghanistan will miss out on Christmas presents.
Royal Mail insisted its plans were lawful and said it was willing to attend talks at the conciliation service Acas - but only if the strikes were called off.
Meanwhile 98 MPs have now signed a Commons motion supporting the union's call for peace talks to resolve the bitter dispute.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown was said to be "very concerned" about the impact of a strike - particularly for Royal Mail customers.
Mr Brown's spokesman said if Royal Mail continued to lose business, it would be "extremely difficult" to get back.
"The Prime Minister is monitoring the situation very closely," the spokesman added.
"The sooner the two sides get together and sort it out, the better."
MPs from seven different political parties, including Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, have signed the Early Day Motion, which also calls on the Government to do all in its power to ensure that Royal Mail "responds positively" to the union's proposal of third-party mediation.
Mr Hayes said: "We think it is absolutely right that politicians put pressure on the Government and Royal Mail to find a quick and reasonable settlement to this dispute.
"Despite recent revelations which call into question Royal Mail's intentions, the CWU remains available for talks.
"We would welcome a move to Acas, but Royal Mail has so far not committed to this without pre-conditions. Any third-party involvement needs to be on an entirely transparent basis with a joint intention of reaching an agreement."
The Early Day Motion reads: "This House welcomes the proposals put forward by the Communication Workers Union seeking to find a resolution to the current postal dispute, in particular their offer to explore the possibility of third-party mediation, and calls on the Government to do all in its power to ensure that Royal Mail responds positively to the union's proposal."
An HM Revenue and Customs spokeswoman said the October 31 deadline for filing tax returns remained unchanged but paper returns delayed by the strike were unlikely to incur the usual £100 fine.
She said: "The deadline is a statutory one and remains unchanged. Having a paper return delayed because of a prolonged postal strike counts as a reasonable excuse under the guidelines."Reuse content