HC Deb 04 May 1922 vol 153 cc1590-4

I come now to the proposal which I shall ask the Committee to approve for the allocation of the surplus. The first alteration I propose to make is that the collection of letters on Sundays should be restored, but not the delivery. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?" and "No, no!"] I am not leaving that point untouched. The collection of letters will commence on Sunday, 28th May. When I asked the Committee last year to approve of the suspension of the collection of letters I told them that this would undoubtedly cause some inconvenience. It has proved to be, not only inconvenient, but a serious interference with the rapidity of communication in many parts of the country. I am glad that I am now in a position to restore the collection and dispatch of letters at a cost, in a full year, of a quarter of a million, and in this year of £200,000. I do not propose to restore the delivery of letters on Sundays—for these reasons: I have received representations from the Associated Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of British Industries, the National Chamber of Trades, and all the organisations in this country in a position to speak for industry in all its branches. Everyone of them have asked me that the collection of letters should be restored, but in not one case have they asked for a restoration of the delivery of letters on Sundays. In these circumstances as the delivery would cost £400,000 I do not think I shall be justified in asking the Committee to approve of the proposal. After all, London, a great part of Scotland, and some parts of this country have managed to get along fairly well without any such delivery of letters.

My next proposal is to reduce the charge for letters not weighing more than 1 oz. from 2d. to 1½d. The remainder of the scale will remain untouched. Letters to all parts of the Empire and to the United States of America will be reduced from 2d. to 1½d. when not over 1 oz. in weight. The charge for each additional ounce will remain as at present. I look for an increase of 10 per cent, in the number of letters carried. This will cost £3,800,000 for this country and £150,000 for the Empire post.


What will be the charge of letters in this country over 1 oz.?


The scale will remain the same. From letters I come to postcards. It is proposed to reduce the postcard rate from 1½d. to 1d., allowing for an increase of 20 per cent. This will cost £600,000. A good deal has been said, some of it interesting, not much of it accurate, as to the devastating effect of the increase in the rates on picture postcards. Undoubtedly, as I told the Committee last year, the increase would have the effect of reducing the numbers sent, but the falling off has not been nearly as great as certain authorities ask the public to believe. I am very glad to be able to make the concession, which, I know, will be of great value to the picture postcard trade. This is a trade which we captured very largely from Germany. The production of picture postcards before the War was very largely in German hands. It is now very largely in British hands. For quality and cheapness it will compare with anything the Continent can produce. I am glad this concession which the trade have been asking for for some time will now be made. In the future the picture postcard will be able to go at the printed paper rate of a halfpenny where there are not more than five words of a conventional character written upon it.

The next reduction is a reduction in the printed paper rates. This comes down from 1d. to a ½d. for one ounce. The remainder of the scale remains untouched. Allowing for an increase of 20 per cent., this will cost £1,640,000. In regard to this post it is peculiarly a business post. It is used by us all very slightly in our private capacity. In it I am going back to the pre-War charge. I do not know any service or commodity, or very few, in this country where the pre-War charge has yet been re-introduced. In this respect I am going back to the pre-War charge in spite of the increase in cost. In doing so I think I am justified in these circumstances in asking the business community to some extent to meet me. I am going to ask them to meet me by posting early. In this matter I am acting on the recommendation of the Geddes Committee. What I am going to lay-down to the Committee for consideration is this, that printed papers posted before the prescribed hour—it will probably be 3.30 in London—shall be entitled to be dealt with that day at the halfpenny rate, but printed papers posted after the prescribed hour may, if necessary, be held over and dealt with the next morning.


Does that refer to a single paper?


I am glad that observation has been made. A printed paper in this matter is not a newspaper, but refers to invoices, bills, advices, circulars, and so on.

Lieut.-Colonel WHELER

London, 3.30 p.m. What about outside?


We have not yet determined the times in the country, but I think the rule will be within two hours of final posting for the last despatch. There will be three alternatives open to those concerned. First, however, I should say there will be a good deal of matter going out as printed paper which is as important and should be treated in the same way as letters, so that it may be delivered even if posted after 3.30! In that case it can be so treated if 1d. stamp is used instead of a halfpenny stamp. The three alternatives open to a business house are: they may have the halfpenny rate for their circulars if they post before 3.30, and such will be treated as the ordinary night mail. If a penny stamp is put on it will be treated in the same way as an ordinary letter, and will be collected in the ordinary way. If the post is after 3.30 p.m.—or whatever the prescribed time may be—with a halfpenny stamp they may be held over and dealt with the next morning. There is more importance in this point than the Committee perhaps at first sight realise. The great difficulty in Post Office work—and it applies to all postal administration—is that you have two peaks, a high peak In the morning and a high peak in the evening, with a comparatively quiet period in between. The object of the administration has always been to try and get the load spread fairly evenly over the whole period. The practice of posting late has grown to an alarming extent since the War. In the London area, out of 40,000,000 articles posted weekly over 25,000,000 are posted for the night mail collection at 5.30 or later. The time available for dealing with that large mass of correspondence is limited to three or four hours if it has to go by the mail train out of London. This means the employment of a postal staff not fully occupied in the earlier hours of the day.


It was the same before the War


Yes, and the difficulty existed before the War. But in times like this when every means of effecting economies should be resorted to, here is a practical way, without causing serious inconvenience, for the commercial community to have a pre-War rate for its business communications by helping; here is a practical way by which a substantial economy can be effected.

Before I leave this question of business communications I should like to make reference to a practice which has aroused a great deal of irritation in this country. That is the practice of posting circulars abroad for delivery in Great Britain. The loss of revenue last year due to this practice was £15,000 out of a total revenue from printed papers posted in this country of £5,000,000. I hope that as a result of the return to the halfpenny rate this practice will entirely cease. I am, however, by no means sanguine. So long as it is possible to get these circulars posted in Hungary, Austria, or Germany at one-sixth or one-twelfth of a penny, there are some people who will take advantage of that fact. But we are not the only country which has suffered in this way. We have, indeed, suffered less than any other European country whose currencies are depreciated. Holland, Switzerland, Denmark and this country find a certain proportion of their business men sending their circulars to Austria, Hungary, or Germany to be posted. In my opinion it is exceedingly bad for business—and it is also unpatriotic—and that is the real reason why the vast majority of business houses in this country have refused to adopt the practice.

The average Englishman does not like to have circulars from British firms with a foreign stamp upon them. He has a rough-and-ready way of letting these firms know, whoever they may be, that he does not approve of that practice. In leaving what I have to say in regard to postal reductions, I should like to make this observation. I hope it will not be made in a boasting spirit, though I confess I am not entirely without satisfaction in the matter. The British postal service is the only great postal service in the world which is paying its way. Not only that, but it is also reducing its costs. I have here a very interesting document recently issued, the Report of the Postmaster-General of the United States of America. It has very recently been issued. It was issued at the beginning of this year for the last fiscal year, and this is what he says: The audited expenses of the fiscal year were in excess of the revenue by the sum of $157,000,000. The gross expenditure above reported, however, included extraordinary payments authorised by Congress. These extraordinary payments should not be reckoned as part of the deficiency for 1921, and it is possible, from the audited result, that the deficiency for the fiscal year will be reduced to $81,000,000. Therefore, when I am asked to look at the United States and be wise, I do not think that comparison with this country is a bad one.

Commander BELLAIRS

The Americans have exactly the same postal rates as before the War.


I should like my hon. Friend to read a copy of this document, which would clear his mind as to some of the errors into which he appears to have fallen. The rates I have mentioned come into operation on the same date as the re-institution of the collection of letters on Sundays, and I think the date is 29th May. There is no reduction in regard to parcels or newspapers.