HC Deb 17 March 1911 vol 22 cc2608-11

Resolution reported, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st day of March, 1911, for the Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


This is a very small Vote, but it raises an important question of principle. Since the original Vote was sanctioned by the House it has inevitably become necessary to buy a site in London, in Threadneedle Street, for which £183,000 has been paid. I do not doubt that that is justified by the exigencies of the Post Service service, but in order to find £183,000 for this service the Post Office has had to reduce its outlay upon other services by £182,990, so that the technical increase is only a £10 note. I want the Postmaster-General to explain how he arrives at a saving of £182,990 in order to justify an expenditure of £183,000 on another branch of the service. I am not complaining about the site in Threadneedle Street, but, after all, the services included in the £182,000, were not only sanctioned but were ordered by Parliament last summer. The Estimates were laid before the House and were agreed to, and, assuming that they were properly drawn up, it was the duty of the Post Office to spend that money if it was for the public service that the outlay should be made. But how does it come about that the saving is just £10 less than the cost of the new site. There is a suspicious approximation between the two sums which seems to indicate that the Treasury has directed that it will refuse its sanction to the outlay upon the Threadneedle Street site unless an equivalent reduction is made in other Post Office Votes. The outlay was no doubt necessary, but it is more incumbent on the right hon. Gentleman to explain and justify the economy than to explain and justify the expenditure, and I should be glad if he will tell us of what items the smaller sum of £182,990 consists, how far he is justified in reducing the outlay to that extent which was sanctioned and ordered by the House, and whether, in short, the one branch of the public service is not suffering in order to carry out another branch which may be necessary.


I should like to ask if the new premises will give further and better accommodation than is available at present. I have heard very grave complaints made with regard to the post office. It is greatly overcrowded and it is impossible to carry the business out efficiently. I suppose this sum represents the purchase of the freehold? Does it comprise anything additional, so that the site can be made larger than that which is now leased by the post office so that better accommodation can be provided than at present?

The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Herbert Samuel)

I am not surprised that the Noble Lord has drawn attention to the fact that the estimated savings mentioned in this Supplementary Estimate are within £10 of the precise figure that is required for the additional expenditure. But it must not be supposed that the whole of the estimated savings of the year are included in this Supplementary Estimate as a setoff against the cost of the site of the Threadneedle Street office. It is not so. The total estimated savings for the year are, I am happy to say, over £300,000, and the estimated cost of the Threadneedle Street site less £10 has been stated in this Estimate because that is the ordinary form in which what is called a token Estimate is put before the House of Commons. We draw upon our estimated savings precisely for the sum needed for this Estimate less £10 in order that Parlia- ment should be asked to vote £10 as a token so that the matter may be brought to the cognisance of the House and that the Treasury should not be spending money allocated for other purposes behind the back of the House of Commons. The Noble Lord has asked how it is that these savings which amounted to over £300,000, and not to £180,000, have come to arise, and he says we ought to spend money which is voted by the House of Commons.


No, I did not say that. I said you have no business to get the House of Commons to vote money unless you really know it is necessary to spend it.


That As, strictly speaking, not so. The House of Commons every year votes for the service of the Post Office the sum which is required, plus what is called a small margin for safety. There is, every year, I am happy to say, a saving upon Post Office expenditure, the reason being that very many of our requirements cannot be precisely estimated beforehand. It depends upon the growth of work during the year, and Post Office work is continually expanding. It has doubled within the last fifteen years. Every year it shows a considerable increase of work, and it cannot be estimated to the last sixpence how far the work will grow during the coming year, what new engineering stores will be needed, and what precise growth of the staff will be required. Post Office expenditure is spread over a very large number of votes and subheads for different departments and different sub-departments of the Post Office, and for each of these there has to be a small margin for safety, and if the expenditure does not show any exceptional increase these margins are realised and a certain sum of money each year is saved. That, of course, is carried as a rule to the Old Sinking Fund. This year the savings as usual are spread over a large number of subheads chiefly with reference to the number of staff employed. There are also some rather exceptional savings relating to the packet service agreement which was expected to be arrived at in the course of the year as to the cross-channel mails with the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company. The argeement has not been concluded owing to a disagreement as to the amount of money to be paid, and that is to be resolved by a reference of the matter to the Railway and Canal Commissioners. Consequently the sum which was expected to be paid has to be carried to another year. There are other small exceptional savings this year which bring the total up to the amount stated.


Does the right hon. Gentleman regard the sum which has not been paid to the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company as a saving? Surely it will have to be paid next year.

1.0 P.M.


It is a saving of money voted in the year. It cannot be carried over to next year because our financial practice does not permit of that being done. Of course, there will be a corresponding expenditure next year. Similarly, if I did not take money this year as a Supplementary Estimate for the Post Office in Threadneedle Street it would have to be Voted by Parliament the year after, so that the matter is as long as it is short in that case. The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) asked whether the site for the new building would be larger than the present site. The site is not larger, but the accommodation will be greatly improved. I have myself visited the office, which is an old office which was taken over from the Submarine Telegraph Company. I think it was purchased forty years ago. It is an old building full of narrow staircases, which waste space, and there is a large area in the middle which in those days was thought necessary for light, but which in these days can be dispensed with, as light can be obtained in other ways. We can also build higher on the same site, and consequently the accommodation will be greatly improved. Increased accommodation was not only necessary for persons connected with the Stock Exchange and others who use the Post Office, but also for the staff employed, their accommodation at present being very deficient.

Question put, and agreed to.