HC Deb 19 March 1931 vol 249 cc2165-234

I need offer no apology to the House for opening a discussion on a matter which affects directly and indirectly, every industry, every home, every man, and every woman in the country. I realise that my hon. Friend the Postmaster-General is new to his task. It seems to be our fate in this House to welcome new Postmasters-General, who sojourn in that capacity for a brief space in our midst. Those who have left us are in numbers as thick as leaves in Vallambrosa. They may have received promotion and in almost every case they have thoroughly deserved it. If they have improved their position, I venture to think that their sudden and quick departure from an office the details of which they have struggled to master has not been of benefit to that most remarkable Service over which they have had control. The Post Office is the largest employer of labour in the country. The numbers employed vary from thousands in the great cities, whether in the post offices, in the exchanges or in the telephone offices, to the lonely individual who perambulates daily in the silent places of the country- side, bringing his compact burden of joy or sorrow to the scattered inhabitants of those outposts.

On more than one occasion I have raised the question of the penny post, and I have not been alone in advocating the return to that exceedingly laudable and valuable institution. Postmaster-General after Postmaster-General has expressed a desire to see the penny post once again in force. It was abolished as a War measure, but the War has been over for 12 years and we seem daily to be receding from our desired object. Any Postmaster-General since the War could easily have returned to the penny post and have restored what every chamber of commerce, every business house and every man and woman in the country desires; but the Post Office has never been run as an ordinary business. The profits of the Post Office during the last 10 years have been enormous, and they are growing daily. I believe I am right in saying that at the present time from this great public service the profits are between £9,000,000 and £12,000,000 a year. If the Post Office were run as an ordinary business concern it would not be necessary to take any money out of those profits to restore the penny postage.

I put a question to a Postmaster-General who is no longer with us the late Mr. Vernon Hartshorn, and he told me that if we had at that time, in 1924, returned to the penny postage we should have had an increase of 300,000,000 letters per year bearing penny stamps. He was of the opinion then that that restoration, which was so much valued by the people in pre-War days, would have paid for itself. The Post Office ceased a long time ago to be run as a businesss concern. It is an appanage of the Treasury. The dead hand of that august overlord is ever upon it. It does not return into the business out of those gigantic profits as much as it did before the War. I will make a statement which I think will be assented to by every Member of this House who has any connection with rural constituencies. I make bold to say that the postal facilities to-day are worse than they were before the War, and with very much less justification.

I will take a typical case from my own constituency. Other hon. Members will have equally typical cases. I raised the other day the case of the remote village of Applecross. We are giving a very great subsidy to the MacBrayne Company to provide services just as good as they were before the War. That was part of the contract which this Government entered into with MacBrayne's. What are the facts? The services to this particular place are not as good as they were before the War. I could give many other instances. What reason is there why we should not have out of these enormous profits a universal daily service even in the remotest part of my constituency? We who represent rural constituencies have time and again brought hard cases of that kind before the Postmaster-General. The matter has been looked into and they have been sympathetic, but the invariable reply has been that the business done in those localities was not sufficient to justify the outlay. I see the present Postmaster-General and the late Postmaster-General present. I am certain that that reply was not their reply. They are widely sympathetic men who understand local difficulties and know the value of daily deliveries in remote districts. I can see the dead hand of the Treasury in each of those replies.

4.0 p.m.

The postal service is a national service and the richer districts ought to support the poorer districts. We had in Scotland a very fine system in the voluntary churches called the sustentation fund, a very sensible system, initiated by that wonderful divine and economist Dr. Chalmers, who maintained that whether Church or State combined in support of a great undertaking those who were the richer were in duty bound to support those who were poorer. The result was that for nearly a century those churches flourished. The State in these national services have the same duty. When the State makes enormous profits those profits should not go to extraneous services foreign to the general purposes of the State, but they ought to go to the same object as that from which the profits were made, for the support and general betterment of the national service in question. The Post Office, quite recently, embarked in a great many new undertakings, and I would like to ask one or two questions with regard to them. There is the new undertaking which is commonly called C.O.D.—cash-on-delivery. Again, as a Member for a rural constituency, I am very much interested in that. I did not, on the whole, approve of it, because, like mass production, it is one of those things which is destroying rural industries in the small villages. In the old days shoemakers, smiths and tailors had their small custom in their various small townships. They are now supplanted by mass production, and cash-on-delivery. They are no longer in existence. You can go to any village, whether in England, Scotland or Wales, and the old craftsmanship and the old workmanship have all vanished. I should like my right hon. Friend to tell me how the cash-on-delivery system is working now.

I should like, also, to ask the hon. Gentleman about the telegraph service. I understand, although we have not got recent figures, that the telegraph service is on the wane, that it is a dying service. That is to be expected, because the telephone has come in and displaced it. Where 100 people in the old days used the telegraph office, I do not believe to-day you will find five, because of the advent of the telephone. Not so long ago a very interesting and very powerful committee was appointed to consider the whole question of the telegraph service. I refer to the Lever Committee. On more than one occasion I asked Postmaster-General after Postmaster-General how the recommendations of that committee had been dealt with. Some of them—a good many, I regret to say, are trivial—have been put into force; others have not. I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether he proposes to put into force the remainder of those recommendations, which, if I remember aright, were unanimously accepted as being in the best interest of the service.

There is no doubt that at the present time what interests the public mind, as far as this service is concerned, is the extension and development of the telephone. There has scarcely ever been such a great romance as the romance of the telephone, when you consider that less than 50 years ago it was nothing more or less than a scientific toy, and now in this country we have as many as 2,000,000 telephones in active operation. I believe it is perfectly true that if you care to use the telephone in your house at your leisure, you can get into personal touch with no fewer than 26,000,000 subscribers on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a very marvellous achievement in science. But what do we find as far as this country is concerned? We are only tenth on the list in what is called comparative telephone density. I have been supplied by one of my hon. Friends with certain figures which, I believe, were used not so long ago, but which, I think, are worth giving again. These figures are the latest available, and the telephone density is taken per thousand.

We find that in the United States of America there are 169 telephones for every 1,000 persons; in Canada, 149; New Zealand, 108; Denmark, 94; Sweden, 83; Australia, 82; Norway, 66; Switzerland, 65; Germany, 60; Great Britain, 42. These figures clearly show that Great Britain takes the tenth place in comparative telephone density. That is surely a state of matters which is hardly tolerable in a country like this, and its lowly position is not accounted for by the notorious under-development of telephones in rural areas in this island. I will instance one or two comparisons not dealing with rural areas, where, notoriously, there is at present underdevelopment, although my right hon. Friend who has just left to become a leaf of Vallombrosa did yeoman service in attempting to develop, particularly in my part of the world, the rural telephone.

Take London, which has a population of about 7,500,000. Berlin, with a population 54 per cent. that of London, has 80 per cent. of the number of telephones in London. Oslo, which, in the old days, was Christiania, has as many telephones as Birmingham, although its population is only 23 per cent. that of Birmingham. Frankfort has as many telephones as Manchester, but only 44 per cent. of its population. Edinburgh, one of the best developed and most beautiful cities in the world, has 23,000 telephones, while Hanover, with about the same population, has 32,000 telephones. It is hardly necessary to elaborate the economic necessity to a nation of possessing an adequately developed telephone service. One has only to consider what would happen to-day if there were total or temporary dislocation of business and social life by a breakdown in the telephone service. It has become a real and a genuine part in the commercial, social, industrial and political life of this country. After all is said and done, it is like a good road or a good railway—it is the one means that humanity knows at the present time of transporting intelligence quickly over large areas from one firm to another, or from one person to another, and it is our duty, if we are to remain in the forefront as a commercial nation, to see to it that we take our rightful place in the world as a telephone-using nation.

In order to place ourselves in that position, there are three or four essentials which must be looked to. First of all, the controlling Department, namely, the Post Office, must guarantee four or five things. They must guarantee good service. They must guarantee reasonable prices. They must guarantee attractive conditions for obtaining service. They must guarantee quick connection for new subscribers. Last, and most important of all, they must have an intensive publicity campaign of good and effective advertising. This is the most important of all. Postmasters-General in the past—I do not accuse my right hon. Friend the new Minister of Education of saying it—have said that, as long as the Post Office caters for the demand, that is all that is expected of it. No other country in the world takes that view. It is not the industrial view; it is not the commercial view; it is not the view of any sane man who understands modern conditions. What happens in America, for instance? Ever since the telephone system was founded, Americans have gone upon one principle, which is the recognised principle in every advance business, namely, of going ahead of business.

What has the Post Office done since the last Debate on this subject to stimulate demand as far as the use of the telephone is concerned? I have already admitted that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education did a great deal. I can mention places on the west coast of Scotland—Gareloch, Ullapool and the Island of Skye—where I had, I think, the first long-distance call to London from those remote places. I have no doubt that in the course of time it will revolutionise those particularly beautiful and lonely districts. Let me tell the House what happened there. Take the case of Skye. No sooner was the telephone system started there with the minimum number of subscribers the Post Office insists upon getting, than 15 more people in a fortnight desired to have a telephone put in. If that happens in a conservative part of the world—I do not mean, of course politically, but conservative from the point of view of moving slowly—how much more would it happen in parts of the country much more advanced, not in education, but in general productive development.

I have no doubt that a great many of my friends will cavil at my using as a sort of Bible for everything connected with modern advance in industry—if not modern advance, at any rate, intelligent anticipation of what the country will consider to be the right thing in a short time—the new Yellow Book, on the cover of which I see, in large capitals, the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the name of a very distinguished Member of the other House, the Marquess of Lothian, and a name which is a household word in everything connected with industrial investigation—Mr. Seebohm Rowntree. What do they say on page 77? The passage is exceedingly short and very germane: How profitable an increase in the canvassing efforts of the telephone department would be is clearly shown by specimen results already achieved. The Postmaster-General informs us, in a very interesting memorandum, that special intensive canvasses were recently carried out in some 12 centres by the department. The number of canvassers employed varied from two to eight, and the length of time from two to six weeks. In all the equivalent of 47 men-months, or the work of four men for one year, was utilised. The yield in orders, as compared with the yield in corresponding previous periods in the same centres, was as follows:

Orders Received.
Direct lines. Extensions.
Special canvass 375 182
Ordinary period 166 73
Extra yield of orders from special canvass. 209 109

Thus, during the period of special canvass, the orders received for direct lines were 225 per cent. of those secured at ordinary times, and the orders for extensions 250 per cent. of the average rate.

Apart from canvassing, the only other publicity work that is done is the fixing of posters in post offices and telephone kiosks, and the distribution through the post of some millions of circulars."

These are very remarkable figures, official figures supplied by the Post Office, and they show conclusively what can be done by an attempt to go ahead of business. The moment people get accustomed to a certain thing they will use it; when they see it being worked they will desire to have it. No man desires to have a telephone if there is no one in the district to whom he can telephone, but once it is started they say "if you are going to have a telephone I am going to have one too." That is what is happening. In the North of Scotland and in Wales the progressive farming community have found that with a telephone it is not incumbent upon them to go every day to the market town to find out the price of things; it has been of enormous advantage to agriculture. If the present Government are to go ahead with their scheme of repeopling the countryside one of the most essential things is to have an extension of the telephone system. Instead of assisting the development of this wonderful piece of industrial machinery what has been happening recently? I hope the figures I am going to quote are accurate, they are the last available. The commercial accounts for the year ending the 31st March, 1930, were issued a few weeks ago and they show these extraordinary items; the net addition to plant during the year was £8,907,000. This compares with £10,878,000 in 1926, £9,557,000 in 1927, £9,236,000 in 1928 and £9,290,000 in 1929.

Apparently, as the unemployment problem has become more acute the Post Office has correspondingly cut down expenditure on works of this kind. That is a state of things which is not tolerable in view of the present state of unemployment and the evergrowing demand that the Post Office should take its courage in both hands and be ahead of business. It is not only upon evidence of that kind that I rely. Take those who are daily connected with the work of the Post Office, the employés inside and outside the Post Office; what do they say? There is dissatisfaction with the present system and you have for instance the Union of Post Office Workers sending a deputation to the Postmaster-General urging for more publicity because they know from their experience that the more you advertise the more you get, the more you extend work the more chance of employment there is for themselves. You have the National Federation of Postal Workers and Clerks. They gave evidence the other day before the Royal Commission on the Civil Service and they expressed the view that the rigidity of Treasury control hampers development; which is my point. I believe every Postmaster-General is anxious and desirous to do his level best, but as they say: The rigidity of Treasury control hampers the development of the Post Office and a more elastic system of administration, combined with financial autonomy of the Post Office, is desirable.

That is my case in a nutshell, and these are the people who understand the inner workings of the Post Office. Outside the Department you have resolution after resolution from Chambers of Commerce and business organisations all desirous that there should be not only elasticity but freedom from the overlordship of the Treasury and that the Postmaster-General should be more in touch with the feelings of the country through the representatives of the country in Parliament. No one wants him to do a job, but one does want him to be in a position to use money which the service produces in the shape of profits in the best interests of the country as a whole.

I should also like the Postmaster-General to give us some information as to the workings and popularity of the dial or automatic telephone. I have been wondering what effect the introduction of the dial will have upon the labour employed. When looking at my own dial machine, I thought that personally I did all the work and that there might be some dislocation of labour in the exchange offices. It is a serious problem, and I hope the Postmaster-General will deal with the point as to whether he is going to recruit more or whether the numbers at present used are sufficient; and what is the general effect upon labour in the various offices.

There are one or two complaints which one usually hears. For example, in the telephone directory there is a miserable amount of space given to addresses. I happened to be looking up the address of a friend in Hampstead who I thought lived in Daleham Road, and there was only the letters "DLM." That seems to be most unfair and to be taking money by false pretences. The main thing, of course, is to get the telephone number, but for the purposes of identification you should have a sufficient number of letters which will identify the name of the street. It is a small thing, but it is one which might create a great deal of inconvenience and hardship to telephone users in cities. Again, what is the reason for splitting up the telephone book? I cannot understand it, nor have I seen any reason given for it. If it is an attempt at economy before the 31st of March there may be some justification for it, but it is an obvious hardship on telephone users. If you are going to have a telephone book for general purposes you should have a book with all the letters of the alphabet. It should not stop at L or M, because the very name you may be wanting is probably Y, which is not in the telephone book, and you have to go through all sorts of trouble to find out the number. Perhaps the Postmaster-General will explain to telephone users why he has dared to halve this well-known book.

I want to say a few words with regard to the British Broadcasting Corporation. I know that I am treading upon dangerous ground, but I do not propose to say anything about the grant for grand opera, as this obviously is an inappropriate occasion to discuss that matter. I was present when this Corporation was given its Charter and I realise to the full that the Postmaster-General in this matter is, to use a Post Office phrase, "merely a postman," and that he will carry a letter from this House to-day and hand it in at Savoy Hill, or wherever the British Broadcasting Corporation happens to be at the moment, and in a humble way explain to this Olympic body what exactly is the feeling of the House of Commons as representatives of the country in regard to its operations. The British Broadcasting Corporation is an independent body with complete freedom of action and decision, but we as the representatives of the people of this country are tremendously interested in it and in its operations. I know of no force so mighty for good or evil as the British Broadcasting Corporation. It is an instrument which can enrich and ennoble life, and it has extraordinary far-reaching effects particularly upon the young of this country.

Only the other day, I was talking to a distinguished divine who told me that when he was asked to broadcast a service in five minutes he addressed more people of all ages than John Wesley addressed during the whole course of his life. [An HON. MEMBER: "He thought he did!"] I will put it that way if the hon. Member desires, but I am perfectly certain that the name of this distinguished clergyman would make everybody listen to him. There is no doubt that with a big corporation of this kind you get varying opinions. Some people say that there is too much music, others that there is too much Socialism, and others that there is too much bias one way or the other. It is the old Latin saying, tot homines tot sententiae.

Personally, I think that the British Broadcasting Company do some things extraordinarily well. There is nothing to equal the running commentaries upon great football matches, whether association or rugby, and there are at times things which command the most profound respect and admiration of all those who listen because one feels that those in authority are genuinely trying to interpret the wishes of a very difficult clientele.

There has been a good deal of discussion with regard to the stopping, I will not say banning, of radio plays. It has been said that the British Broadcasting Corporation have no policy other than expediency. I understand that as far as this House is concerned the various parties have come to some arrangement with regard to the amount of lecturing which each party is allowed to have. But I am one of those who believe that the present mood of the people of this country is a controversial mood. I firmly believe that people wish to hear the two sides of a question, and that they very often wish to hear the great protagonists on the one side and the other. If it were at all possible I should like the Postmaster-General to tell the British Broadcasting Corporation that this House is very anxious that in certain matters where there is a great deal of public feeling aroused, expression should be given to that feeling by the great protagonists on the one side and the other. One must remember that this is a new and mighty force. Consequently one can appreciate the fact that those in authority have to be more or less conservative in the way in which they do their work.

I am glad that there has been a protest against biased propaganda. I should feel uncomfortable if there were propaganda that was biased towards my own party, for I think it would be unfair. What people want to hear is the truth, and they want to hear it without any diffidence. I for one pay this compliment to the British Broadcasting Corporation, that on the whole they are doing their work with great fearlessness and great fairness, and that they are attempting, in a very difficult position, to interpret what they regard as the genuine and the lasting phase of all that is best in this country. My hon. Friend the Postmaster-General might be able to tell the House whether there has been any increase in the number of wireless sets or any reduction in prices. The House is very anxious to hear about the great Broadcasting Corporation. I have said all that I want to say, and I hope that I have not been unduly long. I have attempted as best I can to traverse what I regard as points that are of interest to the public mind, and if I have done that successfully, I shall be glad, because it will enable my hon. Friend, whom we welcome in his new position as Postmaster-General, to give the House the information that it desires to have.


I know that the whole House would like to congratulate the Postmaster-General on the position that he now enjoys, which we all feel to be a recognition of the great service he has done to the country in connection with the Statutory Commission and in other Departments of the Government in which he has served. Incidentally we feel rather sorry for him on this side, because many of us feel that he has taken on an absolutely impossible job, which daily becomes an anachronism and an anomaly in our public life—an anachronism which many of us hope to remove if and when in the near future we are restored to the reins of office. I want to make only one reference to the concluding remarks of the last speaker regarding the British Broadcasting Corporation. I will put my point of view to the Postmaster-General in order to give him an opportunity of clearing the public mind on the subject. As I understand it, the British Broadcasting Corporation, in determining who are to be the spokesmen for the different parties or the different points of view, is guided by the official Whips of the different parties. I do not know definitely whether that is so or not, and the Postmaster-General will be able to tell me if I am wrong. But if I am right I suggest to him that that is taking a very narrow view of public controversy in this country.

I can see no earthly reason why broadcasting controversy should be placed within the comparatively narrow limits represented by the party Whips. I do not see why the hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) should not have an opportunity of blowing off steam if he so desires, or Sir Ernest Petter. Party opinions are not crystallised in the way in which they used to be crystallised. No one objects more profoundly to or disagrees more completely with the views of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) on the subject of India than I do, but I do not think that any good is done by precluding the expression of that kind of opinion through a great Corporation like this, and I think it is taking too narrow a view of their functions if the Corporation say that they are going to receive only statements made by persons who have been nominated by the party Whips. For Heaven's sake let us have as much freedom of expression of opinion within the parties as we can. The days are past when we were all mere nominees of the party Whips, and when we were satisfied to be nominated by the party Whips as representatives of the opinion of our party.

There was one part of the speech of the last speaker with which every one in the House and in the country will agree, and that was his statement that the service rendered by the Post Office to-day is far worse than before the War. It is slower; there are fewer deliveries; there is no Sunday delivery. There is no earthly reason, at a time when there are 2,500,000 unemployed and when we ought to take every step to expedite methods of communication and to facilitate business, why a great many of the facilities enjoyed before the War should not be enjoyed to-day. Take the two services, the telegraphs and the telephones. My view is that the telegraph system to-day is nothing more than a joke, a jest. It is a moribund service which feels the creeping paralysis of death approaching and is making no attempt whatever to shake itself out of its impending doom. The telegraph system has become an adjunct supplementary to the telephones, but it makes no attempt whatever to be complementary.

It is useless to run two competing systems. They ought to be made complementary and supplementary, and a drastic alteration ought to be made in the rates at which telegrams are sent. The rates should be modified in cases where they are competing with the telephones. There ought to be a variable rate, smaller for the short distances and higher for the longer distances. You would thus still get a competitive rate as against the telephone. But the telegraph service makes no attempt whatever to get business. Let me give two or three instances that have come within my own observations. Such instances can doubtless be supplemented by others. I wonder whether the Postmaster-General himself knows that there is no telephone office on the platform from which the cross-Channel steamers sail at Dover, and that one has to walk the best part of a quarter of a mile to find a telegraph office? That is absurd. It is almost incredible that any business organisation could have allowed such a thing to continue. One has to cross four platforms in order to find a telegraph office. There must be many people crossing the Channel who at the last moment desire to send a message, and yet no attempt is made to offer them facilities or to increase the telephone service in that way.

Then in regard to railway trains, one would imagine that if the telegraph system was attempting to get business some effort would be made to get it from people who are proceeding on the great main routes of this country. On some of the big main line stations, for instance at Leicester or Rugby or Crewe, there might be messenger boys to receive telegrams. If there were facilities of that kind the trade would come. People would get to know that there were facilities, and they would have their telegrams written out ready to be handed to the boys. This proposal is nothing startling. It is what private enterprise, what the great American telegraph and cable companies do. You cannot step on a train in the United States or board a boat at Liverpool without being badgered by the representatives of two or three competing companies with requests for your telegrams. There is no emergency service.

The Post Office does not seem to have realised that nowadays, with the development of the telephone, people will send telegrams only at times when it is impossible for them to telephone. Let me give an example of an occurrence in this House. The telegraph office here is open all night when there is an all-night sitting, but for what earthly reason I do not know, because one cannot send a telegram. Last Session there was an all-night sitting during which we debated the staggering figures of unemployment. I did my duty so assiduously that I was here at 6 o'clock in the morning. I had people coming to see me from a great industrial city, and they were leaving that city at 8.20 in the morning. I desired to put them off and wanted to send a telegram. In that city there were thousands out of work, but at 6 o'clock in the morn-it was impossible for me to hand in here a telegram which the Post Office would undertake to deliver at the other end before my visitors left at 8.20.

The telegraph service will disappear in complete desuetude unless something drastic is done with it. No one in the Post Office seems to think it his particular business to give any assistance. In these matters every member of the public has his own personal experience and growls upon these subjects. If the Postmaster-General would disguise those benevolent features which have made him so famous in the House, and would walk into any Post Office in London at mid-day and say, "I have here an express letter. I want to know whether that letter can be delivered in Reading this evening if I put six extra penny stamps upon it," I guarantee that in this neighbourhood no one would be able to tell him. It might be that if he rang up some number in the City and paid 2d. more, some person might be able to tell him of the probabilities, but no one will tell him whether an express letter would be delivered in Reading, only 30 miles away, if he put on the six extra stamps. The probability is that he would be handing over 6d. to the Post Office and getting nothing what-even in return, for it would be impossible to get the stamps off or to get the money back.

Let me say a few words about the telephone service. The last speaker gave some figures which I would supplement. In the United States there are 22,000,000 telephones, as against our 1,900,000. But I have some even more significant figures. Other countries have recognised that sterile State control leads nowhere, and that there must be a change if progress is to be made. Five years ago Spain handed over her telephones to concessionaires, and in those five years the number of subscribers has been doubled. Signor Mussolini came to the same conclusion in 1925. Italy was divided into four zones, and each zone was handed over to a public utility corporation. Since then the number of subscribers has been doubled.

What is the position as regards our own service? We are not increasing but slowing down. In 1925 the percentage development rate was 9.2; in 1926 it was 8.7; in 1927, 8.2; in 1928, 7.7; in 1929, 7.3 and, as one would expect under a Socialist Government, in 1930 it fell to 5.9. Those figures, under the present rigid system provide a horrible example of how things can be mismanaged in the iron grip of State control, without the wider methods of public utility corporations which are gaining adherents every day among both Socialists and capitalists. The telephone can be described as the greatest irritant in life. I believe it is responsible for more of the nervous disease's which afflict humanity than almost anything else. It is all very well for the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) to say that each telephone is an advertisement. Each telephone is an advertisement only if a good service is being given. If not, each telephone is a warning and, when the service is so shocking—as in the case of our rural districts—that people go round complaining about it, that has the effect of preventing people from having telephones. I recommend the Postmaster-General to ascertain the number of people who in the normal course might be expected to be telephone-users and who have had the telephone for a time and have then given it up. I know of a great many people who have given up the telephone simply because of the irritation which it causes and the defects of the service and the apparent impossibility of remedying those defects.

I am the unfortunate possesor of three telephones. I have one in the City, and it is not so bad. It has only been Gut of work about three days in the last year. It is true that I was made a little jealous the other day when an American lady told me that her telephone in New York had only been out of order for half-an-hour in three years, but, as things go in this country, three days in one year is not bad. I have also a telephone on the Gerrard Exchange, and, owing to the great courtesy and helpfulness of my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General, I have been able to get that telephone attended to. Previously I had communicated with the exchange in the ordinary way for weeks and weeks without any effect. There was what is called an "intermittent fault," and, of all the maddening things which can arise in connection with the telephone, an intermittent fault is the worst. You never know when your telephone will work and when it will not work. It will perhaps cease to work, and then when an official comes to look to it, it is working all right. It is difficult for ordinary subscribers to have things of that kind put right, unless they are in the specially favoured position, as I was, of being acquainted with the Assistant Postmaster-General.

There is a moral to be drawn from the case of my third telephone. It is in a country district and is on a party line. Last year it was out of order on at least 12 whole days, and certainly on 12 occasions. I did not start counting until after about the sixth occasion so I cannot give exact figures, but that telephone was completely out of commission on about 12 or 15 whole days in the year. The lines which lead to it go across a bare upland in the neighbourhood of the Cotswolds, and every time the wind rises above a whistle in those parts, down go the wires, and out come the gangmen, and off goes my service, and then I blaspheme. I am afraid I am not a good advertisement for the telephone in that district. Down below in the valley there is an ironworks which stopped working last year, and in that little village, only a mile away, there are dozens and scores of ironworkers who are unemployed and who could easily be turned on to the work of putting these wires underground and running them through iron pipes which they themselves could manufacture. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of every telephone providing new subscribers, but that would be a most effective method of providing new subscribers.

There is not the smallest reason why the rate of underground construction of telephone communications should not be trebled in this country. That is a suggestion which I would make to the Postmaster-General, who will probably be the last occupant of that office in its present form at any rate. I hope that in the order of nature the hon. Gentleman will survive this Parliament holding his present office, but I also hope that, when our party take office again, they will take their courage in both hands and abolish the present State control of the telephone and telegraph services. [HON. MEMBERS: "Optimist!"] Perhaps I am not so much of an optimist as hon. Members think. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has always got his ear well to the ground and has the keenest political perception of any man in England at the present time. He has put that proposal in his programme and in his policy. I do not always follow the right hon. Gentleman, but I believe him to be right in that matter. You would have the support of public opinion from one end of the country to the other if you went all out for turning over these services to the control of a public utility corporation.

I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in his road programme, because, for every road you build you place a burden upon the rates and the taxes to sustain that road, but for every mile of telephonic or telegraphic wires laid underground you effect a saving of expenditure and you increase the goodwill of your telephone service, if you look upon it as a business, because you have more satisfied subscribers. I have ventured to point out two or three respects in which I think the telegraphic service might be improved, and I have ventured to give some reasons why the telephonic service is so unpopular. If, as I sincerely hope, the hon. Gentleman is to be the last to hold the office of Postmaster-General in its present form, I suggest that he should spend the remainder of his tenure of that office in working out programmes for the handing over of these great services to a more rational, more flexible, and more business-like form of control.


I join with the two previous speakers in congratulating my hon. Friend upon his appointment as Postmaster-General, and I express the hope that he will have a long and successful career. I do not share the views of the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor), whose speech leads me to believe that his study of the Post Office has been very short and incomplete; otherwise, he would not have committed himself so clearly to some of the statements which he has made. In the deputation room at the General Post Office there is a very interesting display of photographs of past Postmasters-General. Reference has already been made to the rapidity of the changes in that office, and I share in the disappointment that has been expressed at the fact that as soon as the staff have trained a Postmaster-General he is moved off to some other office. It may interest the House, and particularly the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham, to know that there are 16 vacant panels in that deputation room awaiting the photographs of 16 future Postmasters-General.


During this Government?


No. That is the reason why I have wished my hon. Friend the present Postmaster-General a very long and a successful career. I was very interested in the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson). Although my position in some respects is somewhat difficult, at the same time, after an association of 40 years with the Post Office, I think I can presume to say that I know a little about it, and I was interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, and also in the speech which followed it, because both referred to the Post Office as a very important service. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty described it as a remarkable service and mentioned that the Postmaster-General was the largest employer of labour, but his views were rather contradicted by the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham, who denounced the Post Office service very severely. I venture to suggest that, with all the shortcomings which the hon. and learned Gentleman was at some pains to show, there is no service in the country which can show anything like the success of the Post Office. There is no service, there is no industry, which can show anything like its successful organisation. No one knows its defects more than I do, and perhaps I shall refer to some of them this afternoon, but, with all those defects, its success is undoubted.

I share the view expressed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty as to Post Office development, but I doubt whether he is on sound ground in suggesting an immediate return to penny postage. I wonder if he has considered that in any return to penny postage now the public would be receiving much more value than they were receiving in the pre-War penny postage, owing to the difference of prices. I, personally, would not stand in the way of penny postage provided that other liabilities were taken into account. It is also true that there are many difficulties surrounding the position of the Postmaster-General in relation to the Treasury and the rigid control which the Treasury exercises over his Department. We have long advocated that that rigid control should be relaxed, but. I doubt if it would be sound policy, or in the interests of the community, that the control of the Post Office should be taken from this House. It is a service which touches the public very closely. Every item, every movement in our industrial and social life, has some attachment to the Post Office, and such a service should be under the control of this House. I suggest, however, that the office of Postmaster-General should be increased in status and that the occupant should be encouraged to stay there much longer than he generally does under present conditions. The office of Postmaster-General in my judgment is worthy of a much higher status than has been accorded to it up to the present.

5.0 p.m.

I think it is generally agreed that the Post Office service should be developed, and I join with those who urge that the development should take place as quickly as possible. I was much interested to note that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty suggests that the Postmaster-General should take his courage in both hands in reference to the development of these services, while the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham suggests that somebody else should take the service in hand in order to secure the right type of development. If, for example, there is difficulty with over-head wires, it may be suggested that all those wires should be placed underground, but I would like my hon. Friend to consider the fact that the Post Office has had this service since 1911 and has laid miles and miles of cable underground already and proposes to do more. But, taking the country all over, there is a very wide area to be covered, and it will take many years to do that work. The hon. and learned Member therefore will see that his proposal is not one that can be immediately put into operation. But I should not discourage him in the belief that it is the right thing to do, nor would I discourage anyone in the suggestion that rural districts should have a complete telephone service.

There is one point on which I must make my position plain. The public will not be entitled to receive this extended telephone service by the employment of cheap labour. Unfortunately, that is the underlying proposition of a good many of the suggestions put forward. It is true my right hon. Friend did not make that suggestion. He was gracious enough to suggest that the Post Office should spend money, that there was a huge surplus which the Post Office could absorb, and that the richer districts ought to pay for the poorer ones. That has been the policy of the Post Office ever since I have known it. The richer districts do pay for the poorer ones. If hon. Members take the district represented by my right hon. and learned Friend, they will see that many parts of that district cannot be economic- ally paying from the Post Office point of view and, therefore, somebody or other has to pay for the Post Office services in that district.

I feel very strongly that too much is made of the alleged lack of telephone development in this country as compared with other countries. You can express a good many things in figures, but figures do not get down to the real basic fact that the British public is not a telephone-using public, not necessarily because it has not been encouraged to use the telephone. If it has not been encouraged, then the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) has some responsibility, because it is only of late that we have seen publicity in regard to telephones. I remember, not so very long ago, when the Noble Lord was in office, taking a deputation to him and to his right hon. Friend suggesting wider publicity for the telephone service. But nothing was done at that time. There are indications, however, from recent developments that we can now look forward to some more publicity in that direction.

Viscount WOLMER

We have had less telephone development under this Government than under any other.


The Noble Lord knows perfectly well that the expenditure quoted does not give a flair representation of the development that has taken place. Last year a large amount of money was spent in laying down cables. That work has been overtaken year by year, but to compare the expenditure of last year with this year, or the expenditure of this year with the previous two years, is not a true indication of the development that has taken place. The Noble Lord also knows that the automatic telephone service has been very considerably extended, and that year by year more automatic telephone exchanges are coming into operation. But if the Post Office is to be a public service, if the Post Office is to have regard to the public demand, it must be recognised that the call for such a service cannot be in keeping with the call for what has been described as national economy. You cannot save money and, at the same time, call for expenditure on uneconomical proposals which will take years to become paying propositions. It will take years before the rural telephone service can be made to pay, but I would join with my right hon. Friend in agreeing that the Department ought to develop rural telephones to the greatest extent, because the Post Office, as a public service, should be available for everything that the public may demand.

I go further, and I suggest that the density of telephone users must depend on how far the use of the telephone can be inculcated as a national habit. It is very difficult to cultivate the telephone habit in this country. How many Members of this House, I wonder, are fond of going to the telephone? It is something to which the British public is not yet educated. My hon. Friend said that he had three telephones and that he had difficulty with every one of them. I would ask him; does he really consider himself to be a good subscriber? Is he the right type of man to be at the other end of the wire. There are some difficulties of that kind experienced by the staff, as I know well. When complaints are made about the staffing, let us admit things all round. There are mechanical difficulties as well as human difficulties. The staff is not always perfect, but it would be very difficult for any Member of this House to find any staff in any country anything like so perfect. It is true that many subscribers make the mistake of believing, if something goes wrong with them at breakfast time, that it is the telephone operator who should be responsible.


Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that something going wrong at breakfast time causes my wires to come down?


No, nor can I be responsible for the wind on the Cotswold Hills. That wind, at times, will blow down the wires, however, many you may put up. I was going to suggest some criticism of the Post Office from a constructive point of view. My first point is that the Post Office buildings are nothing like what they could be made. Post Office buildings themselves, the sorting offices, the telegraph offices, and some telephone exchanges, are not a credit to the British public. Not only would I criticise the Postmasters-General on this side, but I would criticise the Postmasters-Genera] on the other side for their share of responsibility. We have pleaded for many years for improved Post Office buildings, but we have only been able to get them at a very slow rate.

This brings me to the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty that the Office of Works has something to do with this matter. We know that many of the Post Offices throughout the country are in a seriously dilapidated condition. They are very much out of date, and they are really an obstruction and a handicap to organisation. I suggest that the Postmaster-General should make this one of his early studies. We do not see why the amount spent on Post Office buildings, which appears to be very little when considered in relation to the size of the Department and the volume of work, should not be increased. I find that last year for new accommodation, alterations and additions, a sum of only £36,000 was provided. Surely expenditure very much in excess of that sum is required. It was stated by the ex-Postmaster-General some time ago in an interview that it was his desire to find occupation for the unemployed. Here his successor has a big scope, and there is an opportunity for the Office of Works and the Post Office to improve these offices.

The standard of most of the Post Office buildings is very low. Many of them are badly equipped and the staff conditions are often bad. Many new offices are urgently necessary, and these public works should, I suggest, be accelerated in order to increase employment. The building programme that I suggest in this connection is a business proposal because the expenditure could be recovered by increased efficiency due to better organisation and working conditions. It does not pay in the Post Office to wait many years before getting new offices. There is real ground for complaint that the Postmaster-General must find himself hindered when he has to deal with both the Treasury and the Office of Works in the provision of buildings of this kind. I understand that there are four general grounds on which the Treasury will consent to new buildings: (1), That there is not security of tenure for the old buildings; (2), that there is some danger to the health of the staff; (3), that telephone requirements needed in a combined postal and telegraph building shall be taken into account; and (4), that there is increasing traffic. I further understand that these four requirements must necessarily be fulfilled before a new building can be put up. I suggest that other conditions as well must be fulfilled, and I hope the Postmaster-General will give consideration to this matter.

I would ask the Postmaster-General whether he could give us any information on the suggestion made by the late Postmaster-General some 18 months ago, when he said that he had in hand a large-scale programme for brightening post offices with the twofold object of improving the offices themselves and finding work for the unemployed. He made reference to the repainting of offices inside and outside, to the provision of more windows, to the replacement of out-of-date furniture, to the provision of better carpets on the floors, and so on. Can the Postmaster-General give us a full statement of what has been done, and what has been proposed?

I come now to another subject to which I should like to refer, and, speaking in general terms, I am bound to repeat what I said a little earlier in remarking upon the readiness with which hon. Members opposite are ready to spend money on the Post Office. I agree, provided the money is properly expended, that it is not wasted and is paid out in the right way. It is said that the Post Office is a bad business concern. I have already defended that to the best of my ability, but I would illustrate what I mean by giving some of the profits of the Post Office. After deducting the loss on telegraphs and the loss on telephones in some years, the net surplus paid to the Treasury since 1912 has been over £83,500,000. In this connection and referring to the loss on telegrams and the criticism made that there has been no co-ordination between telegraphs and telephones, may I say that the committee referred to has had its report very fully examined for the last year or more by a joint committee of the Post Office and representatives of the staff so far as questions relating to staffs are concerned, and there has been taken into account plans for a complete reorganisation of the telegraph service, even to the introduction of completely new instruments which would give the telegraphs a more expeditious service. In that connection, I do not regard the telegraph service as so open to attack as my hon. Friend has suggested. You want your business people to send telegrams, other- wise the telegraph service will not be able to pay. I agree that there should be more and more publicity and canvassing for work both for the telegraph and telephone services.

The Post Office surplus for 1929–30, after charging interest on capital, was a record; it was £9,372,000. In spite of the decline in the telegraph traffic largely owing to telephone development, the telegraph deficit is only half the amount at which it stood eight years ago; it is only a quarter of the loss of 1920 and 1921. The telephone since 1922–23 has made a regular, although not very large, surplus, which was about £513,000 in 1929–30. For the year 1929–30 there is a total surplus of £14,428,000, which allows £5,000,000 odd for interest on capital, plus £9,000,000 for the net surplus. These figures represent over 10 per cent. on the capital in the Post Office, which is £140,000,000. That percentage has been averaged for eight years. It may not be easy to find a close comparison with industry in general, but the "Economist" index of industrial profits shows that in 1929 the return on all capital, including debenture capital, which roughly corresponds with the Post Office interest charges, was less than 1½ per cent, say 9½ per cent. It may be said therefore that the Post Office returns will bear comparison with private industry in respect, of its financial results.

Here I come to the worst part of my case from the Post Office point of view. I have already suggested that the development of the service should not be at the expense of cheap labour, but all this surplus has been at the expense of cheap labour in the past. I would like to ask the Postmaster-General at the beginning of his career to give his consideration to this question from a new viewpoint, and to look at the development of the service in relation to the staff. I have already shown the amount of money which the Post Office can bring to the Treasury, and I want my hon. Friend to look at his responsibility to his staff, and find out whether he cannot agree with us that it is time that this question was examined from a different point of view from that of the past. In the past we have been accustomed, when making claims for improved conditions for the staff, to be met with persistent and invariable opposition. We have been to industrial courts and so on, but still we find that there is a very low wage level. There is more work in relation to the size of the staff to-day than there has been for years. The Post Office staff in 1914, excluding South Ireland, was 219,600, which was almost the same as in 1924–25, when it was 220,049.

Almost every kind of work has increased over the pre-War period, except telegrams and one or two other small items. There has been an increase in letters to the extent of 7½ per cent., parcels 5 per cent., registered items 83 per cent., telephone trunk calls 106 per cent., local telephone calls 14 per cent., and some small reductions in telegrams, money orders, postal orders and express deliveries. There have been big increases in Savings Bank transactions, Government stock accounts, old age, widows' and orphans' pensions, and insurance stamps sold. There have also teen a big addition of new kinds of business since 1914, such as War pensions, savings certificates, postal drafts, War Loan dividends, entertainment stamps, licences, and the C.O.D. service. Since 1924–25, the staff has grown by only 10,000, which is equal to 4.8 per cent. It is now 230,675. The total volume of Post Office traffic, measured by gross revenue, has increased between 1924–25 and 1929–30 by 21 per cent.; that is, from £58,579,000 to £71,189,000. During those years letters have increased by nearly 10 per cent., telephone trunk calls by 53 per cent. and local telephone calls by 42 per cent.

In the question of pay to the staff, we cannot see the same satisfactory results. In December, 1930, there were 44,600 full-time adults receiving under 60s. a week including bonus, 18,000 under 50s. a week, and a number below that figure. My hon. Friend will be aware of the very serious discontent which prevails in the service as the result of the recent bonus cut; he will also be aware that of a very large number of people who suffer, a considerable number are well below what we call the poverty level. If there be any doubt about what may be regarded as the poverty level, the simple facts of the case can be put. Seven thousand sub-postmasters receive under £50 a year, and 5,000 receive under £100 but more than £50. It is that class of people who will be called upon to work the rural telephone services if they are developed. After the bonus drop on 1st March, the average remuneration of sub-postmasters will be £115 a year, out of which they have to pay for the post office staff. A bonus drop of 10 points means to them an average loss of £6 a year. On the engineering side, which consists of the men who maintain the telephones, a reduction of 10 points means a loss of 6 per cent. of the total pay of those earning from 50s. to 70s. a week. There are thousands of people on the traffic side who are in receipt of less than £2 10s. a week, while many of them receive less than £3 a week.

I suggest to my hon. Friend, therefore, that he should consider whether some change cannot be made, and whether the time has not gone for the Postmaster-General to say to his staff, "You are a good and efficient staff, and on occasions, when any public demonstration is necessary, I praise your work in the House of Commons." They appreciate that, but they would more appreciate a proposition from the Postmaster-General to reconsider the whole wage rates. I know that the Postmaster-General can say that they have their industrial court, and that they can argue it out with them. We know we can, but on the last occasion when we did so, the Post Office representative proposed a reduction, so that we are in a difficult position. We, therefore, suggest that the Postmaster-General should come to us and say, "For the first time in the life of the Post Office, we are showing some real concern for the staff. We are not philanthropic, and we are going to be businesslike. We admit that the total Post Office staff has increased less than the total volume of work; that since 1925 the staff has increased by 3.16 and the annual income by 16 per cent.; that the increased output on this basis is about 12 per cent. per head of the staff; that the Post Office revenue in 1929–30 is £9,500,000 more than in 1925–26; that the percentage of revenue expended on the staff has declined from 50 per cent. in 1925 to 46 per cent. in 1929–30." I suggest that these are points which my hon. Friend can consider.

The Post Office workers, like other civil servants, have suffered because of cost-of-living reductions of considerable severity. They appear to be unjustified by any reference to the volume of Post Office work or the revenue, or by reference to the wealth of the country. Except for some not considerable or general upward revisions in 1927, the Post Office manipulative grades have not advanced their basic rates since 1920. Low pay reacts on efficiency, and for this reason we suggest that the State should become a model employer, and that low pay in a service like this is likely to bring State enterprise into disrepute. I am not moved by the suggestion that if the Post Office were transferred to a public utility concern the staff would benefit or by the suggestion that the staff would derive benefit if the Postmaster-General And the telephones were taken away from the Post Office. I would remind hon. Members that the telephone service was brought to the Post Office because of the efficiency of the Post Office under a nationally controlled service after private enterprise had failed completely and miserably. The Post Office has not yet had sufficient time, or sufficient allowance for the War period, or for the high rises in prices. Nobody knows better than the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) what that means.

The suggestion cannot be made that a Socialist Government has been responsible for any decline in efficiency. I blame every previous Postmaster-General for the condition of affairs in which we find ourselves, but I would give them credit for the wonderful organisation that the Post Office is. I would like at the same time to suggest that there are many serious things to be cleared up before it can be regarded as a satisfactory service. The public undoubtedly receive from the Post Office staff, both established and unestablished, a vast volume of work and service which is not properly paid for. The Treasury are not entitled therefore to receive huge surpluses from the Post Office until they have first met their commitments to the people who have to make those surpluses.

I would like to refer to a special case of which my hon. Friend has some knowledge. It is a remarkable story of a great injustice, and I am sorry that the Minister responsible is not present. The Minister who should be here to hear this is the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but as it reflects itself on the Post Office, the Postmaster-General has to be responsible. The story concerns certain appointments to the clerical grade of the Civil Service of certain Post Office clerks. There are ex-service men who have been temporaries in the Civil Service and who secured appointments to the permanent establishment. Nothing I am going to say must be regarded as in any way disparaging to the service of the ex-service men who came in first of all as temporaries. Those men pressed very considerably years ago for opportunities to come on to the permanent establishment, and those opportunities were given to them. Side by side with that, there were certain Post Office clerks, themselves ex-service men, who sat in examinations in the Post Office for transfer to the same clerical grade in the Civil Service. In the early post-War years there was a big demand for such men, because of the necessity of clearing up the heavy work which had fallen on the Department. Of the men who sat in the 1923 clerical examination all who qualified were absorbed. The ex-service men pressed further, and successfully, for permanent posts. Some of them were not kept on, others were kept on, and their agitation led to the setting up of the Southborough Committee. That Committee made provision for the absorption of a number of these ex-service temporaries, and for securing such treatment m would have no suggestion of unfairness in the light of special arrangements made for the ex-service temporary men, keeping clearly in mind the claims also of the men who were in the Post Office at that time. Post Office men who were back on their normal recruitment, claimed another chance, because ex-service men had been given another chance under the Southborough Committee report, and this was secured to them, but to a very limited extent. An examination for men over 30 was agreed to. It gave them opportunities for competing for 25 posts only. The examination duly took place, 1,216 competed and 370 qualified. This was to be the last chance, because it was a quid pro quo for what the ex-service men were having under the Southborough Committee's report, but, to our surprise, we found that the Government of the day admitted further ex-service men—and we have no complaint about those men—but did not agree to admit any further Post Office men. These Post Office men claim therefore, that the bargain was not kept all round, and say that surely Post Office men had some claim. There can be no question about the quality of these Post Office men, because they are exceedingly good. They claim, indeed, that in their examinations they had to secure 60 per cent. of the marks to qualify, as against 50 per cent. in the case of their ex-service colleagues, and they say that they established themselves as men of good quality who could give good service.

We are not asking that these men should receive consideration at the expense of other ex-service men, but as against the open competitions. Since 1920, under various decisions, 17,000 to 18,000 ex-service temporaries have been given clerical appointments, and we are not making any complaint, but Post Office men, the majority of them ex-service men themselves, who went through the War and came back to the Post Office, have been transferred only to the extent of 550. Some of these ex-service men were promoted to the clerical grade without examination at all. We made an appeal to my right hon. Friend who was the Postmaster-General up to recent times, and he was very sympathetic, and did consult the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, with the result that the Financial Secretary was able to give these men 50 more posts, in addition to the 25 originally given. We want to express our appreciation of that award, but when the announcement was made it was accompanied by the statement that there was a clear understanding that this was to be regarded as a final settlement. We ask whose understanding that was, because, while we do not wish to appear to be ungenerous, we say that the Financial Secretary, in giving us those 50 extra posts, clearly recognised the justice of the claim, and what we ask now is that he should go a little further.

The Postmaster-General said he was not without sympathy with the disappointed competitors. We want that sympathy to be a little more pracical. We want the Post Office men to have a further opportunity, and I would ask the Postmaster- General to make further representations to the Financial Secretary, or to the Treasury itself, to see that they get it. There are about 250 cases still outstanding and in our submission the number is so small that the Treasury could very easily consent to the transfer of these men. We should be transferring qualified men, and they would be only a relatively small number as compared with the ex-service temporaries who came in in addition to those dealt with by the Southborough Commission. We regard this as an overwhelmingly strong case. The men concerned have communicated with a good many Members of the House, and I trust that after this appeal some further steps will be taken to ensure that they are given justice at last.


I am sure the House has listened with interest to the well-informed speech of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen), and that the House will agree, further, that on an occasion when most of the time is devoted to complaints against the working of the service, it is as well that someone who knows the position, as the hon. Member does, should put the case of the people without whom the service could not be carried on. I would like to join in offering my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on his new office, and if my congratulations are coupled with a few criticisms I am certain he will understand that it is only because I am anxious to get certain matters put right. From what we have heard to-day, it is obvious that we in this country are sadly behind other countries in the matter of telephone development. An hon. Gentleman said that we are not a telephone-using people. In the light of early telephone developments, I think that in the beginning, at any rate, we did show some signs of being a telephone-using people, and in any case it is important to make this country into a telephone-using country. We are the most highly-industrialised nation in the world, and if there is one thing more necessary than another in view of modern competition it is efficiency. If we are not a telephone-using people, I cannot help feeling that we are not making the best use of one instrument that adds to efficiency. Not only do we show up poorly in this matter by comparison with other industrial countries, but we stand badly as compared with countries which are in the main agricultural countries.

I wish to offer one or two observations on the development of telephones in rural areas. I think that the Post Office is working on the wrong principle in the rural districts. As far as I can make out, it insists that the demand should exist before the telephone is put in. That is putting the cart before the horse. The Post Office should create the demand. At the present time rural areas have to guarantee at least eight subscribers before they can get the telephone installed, and then the guarantee as to calls is far too high. In a rural district it is not always easy to get eight people to take the risk of a large guarantee. It is a serious matter not to have proper telephone development in the rural areas. It is not a concern of the Post Office only, but should concern also the Ministry of Health, because only those who have lived in country districts can realise what it means to have a doctor six or seven miles away even when one does have the telephone; and when, as sometimes happens, one has to go six miles to get to a telephone, there may be serious results. Within my own personal knowledge there have been cases where illnesses have been seriously aggravated and sometimes death itself has occurred. There is ample evidence that the situation in regard to telephone development is in a seriously backward state throughout the whole of the rural districts. Every assistance ought to be given to doctors and to nurses in rural districts to get the telephone as cheaply as possible. I believe the Minister of Health has a fund which is devoted to assisting nurses and doctors to get the telephone, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that the existence of that fund is made known.

On the question of the material advantages of an extension of the telephone service in the rural areas, I would remind the House of the Agricultural Marketing Bill which is under discussion in Committee upstairs. Personally, I think that Measure will do a great deal to assist agriculture, but it will not be half so effective if it is not linked up with an intense development of the telephone service. At the present time a farmer who lives a long way from market has no idea of the state of the market unless he goes to learn for himself. He may go several miles to a market, taking his beasts with him, and when he gets there he may find prices are not so good as he thought they would be. The alternatives before him are to sell the beasts at the lower price or to take them home. These journeys do not improve the condition of the animals. If telephones were installed in connection with these marketing schemes the farmer could more easily find out the state of the market, and he would be saved a great deal of trouble. Better terms must he offered, however, to rural telephone users.

The party line system is in use in this country, but not nearly to the extent which it ought to be. It is not advertised enough in the rural districts, where it is so much more expensive to instal private lines. In other parts of the world people use party lines, and I do not see why our people should not. They are used considerably in Denmark, and in certain parts of Canada there are districts where a majority of the lines are party lines. It is essential to let the people know how to get these party lines. May I give an instance from my own constituency to show how unfair the system is? They make the post office of a particular district the centre of a circle with a radius of two miles. Everyone within that circle is charged at the rate of £1 7s. 6d. per quarter. Outside that circle subscribers must pay 5s. extra per quarter per furlong. A man who is outside the two miles circle will have to pay three times as much for his telephone as the man inside. That seems to be unfair. If I post a letter to anyone in London the charge is only 1½d., and for the same charge I can send a letter to John o'Groats or even to Canada or the other dominions. A man who uses the post for London purposes only is not getting as much out of it as a man who is sending a letter a long distance; but we have levelled the cost of postage all round, and I do not see why the charges for the telephone should not be levelled a little more.

The circle system is unfair in another respect. I have in my constituency several coastal towns where the circle has its centre in the Post Office. In many cases the Post Office is close to the sea shore, and therefore sometimes half of that circle is in the sea. As I understand the principle of the area enclosed, the Post Office have come to the conclusion that certain charges will meet maintenance renewals and capital charges. They take an area with a diameter of four miles, but when very nearly two of those four miles are in the sea, would it not be possible for the Post Office to extend the circle a little inland? I think it is a little unfair on coastal towns where the whole area cannot possibly be used by the Post Office not to extend the area a little on the land side.

Now I want to say a word or two about the telephone service. I can begin by saying that the telephone service, especially between the larger towns, in my opinion is good. Last Saturday I listened to a relay from South America of a broadcast of the speech of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales opening the exhibition in Buenos Aires, and I was amazed at the way it came through. But that amazement gave way to the recollection of how, not very long ago, I tried to get a trunk call through from one small town to another about 100 miles away. I waited the usual time, and I was then told that I was through. I was asked to speak up and I did so, but I could not hear. It was not the case that the line was bad, but I could not hear a sound of any description. When, after the lapse of a considerable time, the operator cut in and said, "You will have to speak up. I can hardly hear them." I said, "I cannot hear them at all." I then spoke to an operator further along the line and I said, "I am not wanting to hold a conversation. It is only a case of sending a message; will you pass the message through and get the reply?" She tried to do so, but told me afterwards, "I am very sorry but I cannot hear." The distance was only about 100 miles. That may be an isolated case, but it is not an isolated experience.

I would like to contrast that case with my experience on the Continent last year. I was 600 miles from London in a very small village, not on the main line by any manner of means. I was anxious to speak to London, and I rather timidly asked whether it would be possible to do so. I was told, "Certainly; what number do you want?" I gave the number, and within half-an-hour I was through, and I never in my life anywhere heard a line like it. There seemed to be no outside interference, and it seemed perfectly clear the whole way through. My experience of trunk calls in this country from one small country town to another has been that it is quite an event to get a clear line. We see announcements in the papers occasionally that the telephone is now available to Sydney, and next day it may be that it is available to Honolulu and to various other far away places, but I wish the Post Office would look a little nearer home as regards trunk calls. I have great admiration for the work done in establishing these marvellous long-distance telephones, but I wish a little of that energy were devoted to trunk calls not so much between the larger towns, but between different places in the rural areas. It is largely, I believe, a question of equipment. We all remember our experiences during the War. When the equipment was new it was not bad, but after a few breaks through shell fire had caused damage, one began to get noises very similar to those which we get on the telephone to-day.

Just before Christmas the Postmaster-General boasted that he had a surplus of £9,000,000, but considering that there are 2,500,000 people out of employment, I do not think that is anything of which to be proud. We all know the number of years it has taken to develop our telephone system, but surely at a time when you have so many people out of employment, that is an appropriate time to speed-up the work of the Post Office. So far from that work having been speeded-up, it has actually gone back. I am not complaining particularly of the action of the right hon. Gentleman, but I think the best way to proceed would be for the telephone system to look after its own affairs and raise its own money, and that could be raised on the security of a very substantial revenue every year. Last year there was a surplus of £9,000,000. In these matters you cannot rely on what the Treasury is going to do, although we know what the country really ought to have. I believe that if the Postmaster-General could have his way, he is rather in favour of developing the telephone system a good deal more rapidly. I make this appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. If he could only develop this country, and have an ambition to raise it from the position of number 10 to the position of number one, as compared with other countries, he would be doing something not only to increase the efficiency of this country but he would be doing a great deal towards solving the problem of unemployment.

6.0 p.m.


I would humbly add my congratulations to those which have already been offered to the Postmaster-General though these appeared to be somewhat in the nature of a hand-shake murder. It seemed to me that the congratulations were accompanied by a shot. I propose, to some slight extent, to follow the example which has been set me. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen), who put before the House, with much force and ability, the point of view of the Post Office employés. From this point of view there are two matters to which I desire to refer. One is the case of the part-time sorter. This system may be necessary, but one does see heart-rending cases of part-time sorters with no other employment, and sometimes these poor fellows have gone wrong under the temptation to which they are subjected, and have had to be sentenced to terms of imprisonment, either at the Central Criminal Court or at the Assizes. It is impossible to see these cases without a feeling of very great regret and discomfort that men should be put in the position of temptation in which these men have been put. The other case is that of the temporary postman who has not become a permanent or regular postman, but who has been employed on his round for a long period. I am thinking of a particular case in my own constituency—that of a man who throughout his whole working life had been the recognised postman of his town, and was known to everyone. When he came to an age at which it was clear that he would have to retire, instead of his getting the terms of a, man who had been a regular postman throughout, he got terms which were very far short of that, as he had not had his position substantiated, although throughout his whole life he had been doing the work which a regular postman would have done. He got, I agree, something in the nature of an emolument when he went out, but it was not on the same scale, as I understand it, that he would have got if he had been in a permanent position the whole time.

As to the service as a whole, looked at from the point of view, not of the Post Office employé, but of the general public, the anxiety which one has is that it seems to be becoming more of a Government monopoly than a public service—that, with increasing profits, you get a decreasing service to the public. The idea of making a large profit directly out of the Post Office service has always seemed to me to be wrong. The Post Office can undoubtedly provide vast sums for the revenue of this country, but it can produce them by improving its systerm, and thereby improving trade, which will then, as a result of taxation, produce profits greatly in excess of those which can be secured directly from the Post Office service. I know that a profit of £10,000,000 has been budgeted for from the Post Office this year, and there have been complaints in this House as to the lack of development in the telephone service in this country. I think that those complaints are justified to a considerable extent, but how much more are they justified in Northern Ireland, where I come from, than in Great Britain?

In Northern Ireland, the telephone service is far behind what it is here. I can assure hon. Members who have suffered over here that, if they would visit us in Northern Ireland, they would suffer far more. I would like them to visit us, not because I want them to suffer, but because I should like them to appreciate the difficulties in which we find ourselves. I was told the other day that the number of public telephones at rural post offices and railway stations in Northern Ireland that had been installed in the last year was greater in proportion to the population than in England, and I was very glad to hear it; but the Postmaster-General was prudent enough not to give me any precise figure, and I can only suppose that the proportion by which we exceed the numbers here is but a very small one. Moreover, there is so much more to be done, because, while only 27 per cent. of these places in Great Britain have not public telephones, there are 51 per cent. in Northern Ireland, or more than half, that are in that position. I look upon a public telephone as an essential part of the health services. In sparsely populated areas, some eventuality of accident or illness may make it essential to have a telephone which can be readily got at and used.

Again, there is the way in which the lines are run. An actual conversation is seldom good except between the large towns, and it appears to be the practice that nearly every telephone conversation has to go through Belfast. I would like to ask the Assistant Postmaster-General if he can give me any idea as to how far telephone communication has been developed in Northern Ireland so as to make the system independent of Belfast, because, from the telephone point of view, Belfast is singularly ill adapted to be a centre. Being right away on the extreme east of the area, it naturally means a most uncomfortably long journey for the voice from one end of the line to the other. As regards material, I have a suspicion, which has increased in force recently, that the Post Office slyly sends over into Northern Ireland material which people in this country will not have. A man who had recently become a subscriber, largely as the result of my urging upon him that it was a patriotic thing to do, was supplied with a telephone the like of which I had not seen for about 10 years. It was one of those interesting contrivances in the case of which you have to hold a sort of spring tight with your left hand, and, after a conversation of some little length, you almost inevitably develop cramp. I have not seen one of these instruments outside a museum in this country for some time, and I would like to ask whether it is a fact that instruments which have been condemned, and which the much more impatient English, Scottish and Welsh people refuse to handle at all, are given to us as a notoriously patient people, and we have to make the best of them?

I pass to the question of mails, and perhaps mails are, if anything, the more important subject, because we do enjoy—if I may use such an expression in connection with the postal service—an extraordinarily bad mail service. It is not frightfully good to Belfast, but it is perfectly fearful further away. It seems to have been arranged, with no little ingenuity, that the boats just miss the trains and the trains just miss the boats, and when a post does arrive at a town, generally there is not a delivery. Derry City, which is the principal town in my constituency, has a glorious record. The first postal delivery of mail from England has advanced, as compared with pre-War days, to this extent, that it is now an hour later, so that business men can have another hour in bed before they go to their offices. I do not think that that is a wholly satisfactory arrangement. Then there is the case of Coleraine, which is the second largest town in my constituency. I know that the Postmaster-General is at present inquiring into the conditions there, but I would assure him that there is a very considerable body of dissatisfaction throughout the whole county as to its mail arrangements. In Coleraine, the first local mail arrives unsorted at 8.20, and is not sent out till 9.15, so that it is not actually received till between 10 and 11 o'clock; and when the English mail comes in at 11 o'clock, no one thinks of dealing with it for two hours. It sits in the Post Office till one o'clock, and People who are eagerly awaiting their letters from this side of the Channel just have to wait for them. Moreover, instead of the usual four deliveries that we had before the War, we now have three.

I submit that this is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. If a man is engaged in business, and particularly if he is engaged in business a long way from his market, which is generally England—and occasionally he may be a buyer, buying from England—he wants to be able to have several hours in which he can deal with his post, and, the further off he is, the more important it is that he should have a good mail service. The converse, however, appears to be the view of the Post Office, because, the further you get from London, the worse your Post Office service is, and the further you get even from Belfast the worse the service is, so that when you get to Derry City, where the post only gets in at a quarter to 12 and outward letters have to be posted before 4 p.m., it is clear that the unfortunate business man in Derry City has an extremely short time in which to deal with his business, and often finds it very difficult to do so.

I do not think it would be very hard to make this service very much better. The railway service and the boat service—and there are numerous services from England—might be made so to fit in as to give a far earlier delivery of English mails. The delivery of the English mail is a matter of very great importance to us, but under the present arrangement the boat from Heysham comes in at half-past six in the morning, and exactly at the same time the first train for Derry leaves the station. It is most ingenious. If the train had waited a little longer, the mails might catch the connection, but the mail train leaves the station just as the ship reaches the quay-side, except on Sundays, when there is no train, and then the boat manages to get there a quarter of an hour earlier—an interval which might suffice to make the connection possible on week-days. I suggest that that is a matter which could be seen to, because an improvement of 20 minutes in the time of the boat, or a delay of the train for 20 minutes, or 10 minutes for the one and 10 minutes for the other, would make a difference of about two hours at the other end; but whenever one raises these points as regards comparatively small and out-of-the-way districts, one is met by a sort of complacent inertia. The Post Office assure us that the system is the best imaginable, although it is very much worse than it was before the War, and that it is not necessary to make these changes, although they do not seem to be so very difficult.

I assure the Postmaster-General that this question of the mails is exciting a considerable degree of dissatisfaction in the country that they serve, and I would ask that there should be a really thorough-going inquiry into the whole question of the mails from England to Northern Ireland, especially as regards the Western areas, and that the Post Office experts and the railway and steamship authorities should consult together and see if they cannot evolve something which is at least up to the standard of 1914. I think that, if they paid some attention to the matter, they could discover something a good deal better than that, because it seems to me to be a travesty of a properly conducted public service that more and more profits should be milked out of the service every year while the service which the public gets at the other end becomes worse and worse, and is actually demonstrably and obviously far worse than it was before the War.


In the short time for which I intend to occupy the attention of the House, I desire to deal with one definite aspect of the Post Office. From the standpoint of a Socialist Government, the Post Office is of paramount importance. Apart from the armed forces and the National Debt, the Post Office is the one thing which is collectively owned, and from that point of view it is important that we Members on this side of the House should at all times view the attitude of the Government towards the Post Office from the standpoint of the ever-growing anti-Socialist argument that the State cannot run anything successfully. The alleged criticisms of the Post Office have been mainly on the lines of a monopoly wail in regard to defects in the telephone system. It was certainly a relief when one heard the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) break into the realm of criticism of the mails.

In regard to the Post Office, I, as a member of the Independent Labour Party, wish to emphasise the need for an extensive consideration on behalf of the workers in that industry. The hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen) stated that £83,500,000 had been made by the Post Office since 1912, while last year was a record year, with a profit of £9,372,000, after providing interest on capital to the extent of over £5,000,000. I want to suggest that the first duty of a Governmental Department, especially when the Government is supposed to be controlled by a Socialist party, is to the workers in that industry, and that they should have the first call upon the results of the industry in respect of their wages and conditions of labour. I want to emphasise also our point of view with regard to the Post Office buildings, but, as affecting the question of wages, when one sees what amounts the employés are expected to take home to their wives week by week in the way of wages, one feels somewhat ashamed of this institution.

The hon. Member for Crewe intimated that the last reduction which took place was equivalent to 6 per cent. of the wages of the employés; in other words, that the loss on a 50s. wage was equivalent to 3s. per week, and the loss on a 67s. wage was 3s. 7d. per week. When we remember that there are men taking home 48s. per week, and that in some instances they are expected to find 22s. 6d. for rent for the house in which they live, their condition in life cannot by any stretch of imagination be said to be satisfactory, so far as a Labour and Socialist Government is concerned. The Opposition, the Conservatives in particular, are desirous of taking over this State-controlled institution for the purpose of running it under private enterprise. I know it is a difficult matter for them to pass over when they know that a matter of £82,500,000 is the result of the labours of the Post Office covering the period since 1912. But I want to appeal to the new Postmaster-General to consider the matter from the point of view, first, as to whether the workers in the industry are getting all that they have a right to expect and, in the second place, may I make an appeal in the direction of better buildings?

I know that in 1908 privileges were given to local authorities to make appeals to their electorate to take an interest in the erection of Post Office buildings. I know the powers that were given to those civic bodies of not only suggesting sites, but also of contributing financial help. I am well aware that they have powers to borrow money for the purpose of helping in the development of satisfactory buildings, and I would appeal for greater consideration and greater zeal on behalf of the electorates in the direction of a co-operative effort to get this better type of buildings, more attractive to the eye than many that we have to-day. Most of our post offices are to be found in back streets. I do not know why. When you get inside them, you find them very unattractive. I feel that they should not only be pleasant to the eye, but should make the civic population feel prouder of their association with the Post Office in the sense of ownership and control. Many improvements could be made in this direction. When I think of banks and the sites that they occupy, I am certainly not very proud of my citizenship. We have had Postmasters-General not many years ago who did not believe in a State-owned Post Office, but we have had the experience that the Post Office, as an industry, has gone from success to success and, with the exception of 1926, for the past eight years each year has beaten the previous one so far as profits are concerned.

I am not a supporter of profit making by the Post Office. I do not believe in profits as the outcome of Post Office facilities. I want to call for a proper standard of conditions and proper suitable buildings and wages to the work-people and, as a consequence of that, I think the civic interest must inevitably grow in the mentality of the citizens. In Lancashire, in particular, we have found that sites that ought to be occupied by post offices have been taken by organisations which have for their object the making of profit under what is termed "private enterprise." Those sites have grown in value year after year and, if they had been monopolised by the Government, the financial results would have been even greater than they have been. I would appeal to citizens all over the country to take a deeper interest in the erection of these buildings and in the work of the Post Office, and by that means give us a satisfactory state of affairs, which, heretofore, the country has not experienced.


The hon. Member has reflected, very justifiably, on the success of this piece of State administration, but I do not know any State, however individualistic, which has not a monopoly of the postal services. In so far as that is an argument for Socialism, it is one that is adopted by every State in the world. If this was a private concern, with a State concession, and was able to produce year after year an enormous surplus, and was at the same time subjected to such persistent and well-founded complaints of grave defects in vital services, the concession would swiftly be taken away until those services were placed upon a very much more effective basis. In many respects the country has reason to be proud of the service, but certain complaints have been emphasised as to which I should like to say a word or two. I should like, in the first place, to join in the good wishes of the House to the new Minister and, at the same time, to voice, what I am certain is the feeling of the House, appreciation of the work of the Assistant Postmaster-General in his courteous and never failing assiduity in reply to the perfect torrent of letters which must fall on him every day from Members in different parts of the House.

I want to concentrate my criticism on the telephone service. With all the improvement that has taken place, it is clear that, as to the extent of its user, as to the deficiency in its user, we occupy an unreasonably low place in the list of the nations of the world. I ally myself in particular to the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) and the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson). The point that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke in particular made was one of great public value. There is no subject on which there is wider general agreement, and greater difference in particular, than in connection with agriculture, but, at any rate, we are all agreed that one of the most useful developments of the State service in connection with agriculture would be telephone facilities. On the business side and on the domestic side, any way you take it, emphasis is constantly laid upon the deficiencies of the State service as regards the telephone in connection with agriculture. Clearly one of the methods by which we can assist agriculture is by increasing, at the national cost, communication between where the products of agriculture are produced and the market where they are sold. There is no more useful communication between the seller and the buyer in that case than the telephone. There is no more ineffective service provided anywhere than in the rural service of agriculture as far as telephones are concerned.

Here we have two things. First of all we have, in this amazingly successful concern, with a surplus, even in these most difficult times financially and commercially, of little short of £10,000,000, these complaints constantly made to every Government that occupies those benches, and still—I will not say nothing done, but a quite inadequate response to the general demand from the whole House of Commons. The whole idea of the postal service is that it shall not always have dominant regard to whether a particular service pays or not, as long as the common good is assisted by the develop- ment in any particular area. That is the principle upon which it should move. There is none of us here representing agricultural constituencies or constituencies which are partly rural and partly urban who has not constantly been met by the reasonable demand for facilities of this kind. Over and over again the official reply, very courteous but none the less very disappointing, has been that unless it can be shown that there will be a certain adequate return from their point of view in a particular area, the service cannot be afforded. That is not the way the great surplus of this year has been built up. That surplus has been built up by the application of the great principle that the more general, more effective and cheaper you make your service, the more certain you are of a successful financial return. I wish we could get the telephone department of the Post Office, or the Postmaster-General, really to seize the present opportunity. The Postmaster-General is new in his office and uncommitted, and has a real chance of making a most effective new departure in connection with this matter. He has the money, though he might turn round and say, "The Chancellor of the Exchequer is after it, and I shall have to make a certain return to him."

There is one thing upon which, I think, the House and the public generally are agreed. It is that in the present state of unemployment, public expenditure on productive services is one of the very best investments that can be made. Here is a fine investment in a productive service which will bring an instant return. I do not say that it will pay its way for a year or two, but it will certainly pay its way very soon, of that, there can be no doubt. Most of us have an interest in our own constituencies in regard to this matter, and I will give an instance of what I mean. The constituency which I have the honour to represent has a very extensive sea coast, and it is rather difficult to deal with the constituency. Any person who has a boarding house there and uses it for only three months, has to pay not only £5 10s., but the additional 30s. business rate for the telephone for the whole of the year. That sort of thing is destructive of initiative in the development of the telephone service. I pressed this point upon the predecessor in the office of the hon. Gentleman, not because it was a particular instance, but because it was one of the examples of the shortness of view in regard to the possibilities of business.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take that matter into consideration. It is ridiculous to charge a three months' business user of the telephone with the 12 months rate. There are many instances in these scattered rural areas where there are small populations shut off from the rest of the world, and when the telephone service is obtained most stringent, and, I think, most unjust, conditions are imposed. They might be just as if one took the short and narrow view of the particular area, but if one takes the view which this Department ought to take—the national view—they are quite unjustifiable. While I speak with admiration and sincere appreciation of the great services which this Department renders to the State as a whole, I hope that in regard to the matter of the telephone service the Department will make a fresh start and apply the same principle, within reason, of course, which has made the Post Office such a success in other departments. If that principle were applied to the telephone service, you would have national satisfaction and a successful financial return.


I rise to support the appeal which has been made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) for better postal facilities. He and I share at least one responsibility in that we represent very large constituencies. I represent a constituency of 750 square miles, and anyone who has been into the rural areas knows perfectly well that the one outstanding need in those areas to-day is better postal facilities and better telephone services. Nearly every speaker in the Debate has emphasised the great importance of the telephone in the matter of agriculture, and I agree with every word of it. I agree particularly with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) as to the absolute need of the telephone for medical purposes. I am not in a position to say whether or not the postal service is worse to-day than it was before the War, but I would appeal most seriously to my hon. Friend the Postmaster-General to look into the question of postal facilities in the matter of deliveries of letters in rural areas. I have submitted to his Department no less than a dozen cases where in very large districts, though not very well populated, the postal deliveries consist of three per week. I need not remind the House of the very great inconvenience three postal deliveries a week cause to people who live in the country. I make this strong appeal to him to go into this question, because I have been told on the very best authority that if a little care were exercised and some reorganisation were made, a, daily delivery could be given in every one of those districts, costing not one penny more.

I also wish to add my appeal on behalf of the sub-postmasters. I know of one case where the sub-postmaster and his wife work the whole of the day, have the telephone service at night, and have to pay one clerk, all on £200 a year. That sub-postmaster in a very important district does all the work of the post office, pays out old age pensions, looks after the letters, sells stamps and so on, all for less than £4 a week. It is in respect of the county of Carmarthen that I would ask my hon. Friend to endeavour to improve the telephone service. I have before me a list of the towns, villages and hamlets in Carmarthenshire where they already have telephones. The Post Office in this matter have been very kind to the county and the people appreciate the kindness, but in 1925 the axe fell on the development of the telephone service, and since then very few telephones have been installed in country places which have been on the list for some five or six years. We argue, for instance, on the question of the nationalisation of mines, that we can take over the whole of the mines, and that the mines that pay can be made to make up for the less paying mines. Precisely the same argument can be used here.

It is said that the offices, the postal services and the postal facilities in the rural areas do not pay for themselves. They cannot pay for themselves, but the profits which are made in the towns can quite easily and quite properly be spread over the rural areas. I will give a single instance which will serve as an example for practically every hamlet throughout the whole of my Division. I have applied about half a dozen times for a telephone to be placed at Abergorlech. The county councillor has been working for the last six years in order to get the telephone there. This lady has worked week in and week out in order to get the facility for this village, which consists of a population of something like 200 people, is the centre of a most important farming district, and the nearest telephone which these people are able to use is three or four miles away. Here is a place where there ought to be a telephone for the use of the people. It is no good asking these poor people to put down any considerable deposit. The telephone ought to be put there as a matter of social service, so that the people may use it if in any need. I, therefore, respectfully suggest that the hon. Gentleman should carry out the very excellent suggestion which has been made of appointing a canvasser. If we had a canvasser in Carmarthenshire, I think that the number of telephones installed in the county would be doubled or trebled within a year, and that the services of such a man would, be paid for three or four times over.

My second suggestion is that we should have better instruments in the rural areas. I agree with every word that was said about the old instruments, which are, apparently, in use in North Belfast. The same condition applies in rural areas. The whole system of telephones in country districts needs serious overhauling. On one occasion I wanted to telephone to a place that was about four miles distant. In order to get the connection, I was given a line that went at least 40 miles, simply because the Post Office will not put down a new exchange which is so badly needed in that area. You have to go at least through three large towns in order to establish communication between one village and another. The ideal for country districts is, that every farmhouse should have its telephone, and at a very low rate. I think that the cost would be almost negligible. We are going to waste according to the local authority in Carmarthen, £40,000 on a road which is wanted by nobody. If the county were given this £40,000, it would be possible to revolutionise the whole of the postal facilities of the county. For that reason I feel that West Wales, particularly in post office matters, has seriously been neglected. It is no use sending down an official from Cardiff, because he does not understand any of the rural problems. He has not the understanding eye. To all these many points which I have put before the Post Office I get a very polite but very firm answer that things cannot be done. They cannot be done because the wrong officials are sent down. I am sure that if there was a man on the spot, and he saw that these things ought to be done because they were necessary, it would be possible to get them done.


I hope that the hon. Member who has been so deservedly promoted to the position of Postmaster-General will not allow this occasion to pass without giving us a serious explanation how it is that our telephone service is so deficient. It is deficient in every particular, not only as regards the number of telephones but as regards the courtesy and rapidity of the service. If his Department were paid to engage on a propaganda to discourage the telephone service, they could not do it more successfully than they do at the present time. We have Debate after Debate on the question of unemployment. That grave problem has become a question for experts. We are treated to discourses on the fiscal system, on currency matters, and on the gold standard, and we are told that the problem is connected with foreign relations; but we never get down to the real facts. Here, in the Post Office, is a question which is practical. The Postmaster-General has it within his power to give work to thousands upon thousands of men. It is not a theoretical question but a question of reality, and I hope that he is not going to ride away to-day with the commonplace justification of his Department to which we are always treated on these occasions.

Whenever we discuss the Navy Estimates we are told that we must maintain a one-Power standard with America. We have not anything like a, one-Power standard with America in the telephone service. We are tenth on the list. If that were the position in regard to our naval defence, there would be grave disaffection in the country, and great pressure would be brought upon the Admiralty to increase the efficiency of our armaments. The Postmaster - General could well maintain a one-Power standard where the telephones are concerned. We are not even on a par with Switzerland. We are not on a par with New Zealand.

It is time we knew from the Postmaster-General's Department what is the explanation for this position of affairs. There is a demand for the telephone service, but everything is done to stop people getting telephones. Whenever I have moved into a flat, or an office, or a house, the butcher, the baker and the cabinet maker have come round at once to ask me whether they could do anything for me. They all tumble over one another pressing me to take the particular commodity which they have to sell. Does the Postmaster - General's Department send an emissary to me to explain how I shall benefit by a telephone? On the contrary, I have to make a request for a telephone, and I have to repeat the request. Unfortunately, I have not the powers of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue; otherwise, I would summon the hon. Member's Department to appear and show cause why a telephone is not put in. If I break a, mouthpiece, as I did a short while ago, I cannot get it repaired. I have watched the unemployed walking down the street, with no work to do, and vet I cannot get a mouthpiece repaired.

I can never get any normal request attended to, except by writing to the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant). Then the matter is attended to at once. He is a model of courtesy, and so is the whole Department if you approach them at headquarters. But the ordinary citizens have not that facility. They do not know the hon. Member for West Willesden like I do. They cannot write him an affectionate letter. I know that he has a connection with my constituency which perhaps makes him particularly favourable to any requests which I put before him. In the ordinary way one cannot get any attention. The telephone breaks down. That does not matter. If it were a question of private enterprise, and some service for which an ordinary business man were responsible, any request that one might make would be attended to with promptitude.

The Postmaster-General has just entered into this most inefficient of all the inefficient Government Departments. There is not a good word that can be said about his Department by anybody except the Postmaster-General. I hope that out of his inexperience he is not going to take the brief that has been prepared for him, and that would be prepared impartially for any Postmaster-General, to whatever Government he belonged, and to read it to the House. I hope that he is going to say, "I am grateful for the opportunity that has been given to me. I realise that there are about 40 trades, British trades, that I can stimulate. There is every kind of raw material which can be ordered by my Department, copper, wood, coal, wire, etc., and I do not intend, like my predecessors, to read out the brief that has been prepared."

In doing that, he will take a risk. His predecessor at the Post Office in the Conservative Government made a common sense speech about this matter. He went into the country and said, "I realise that I am presiding, not over a business Department, but over a cemetery, and so long as it remains a Government Department nothing will ever be done. It ought to be handed over to a Commission, like the Electricity Commissioners." That is what the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) said, and the whole country said, "A Daniel come to judgment!" But the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) did not agree with that, and publicly repudiated him. This is the risk that the Postmaster-General will run if he really means to get something done, but I hope that he will take the risk. He has had a very laudable and praiseworthy career, and he has now reached a position of great responsibility affecting the livelihood of a large number of people and the nervous system of still more.

We have research in this country into the question of industrial fatigue. We try to save the workmen every superfluous movement, and we realise that we must give them mental contentment and physical efficiency. My hon. Friend's Department exasperates people. It makes them ill, and, when they get ill and want a doctor, they cannot get the right number on the telephone. The Post Office really ought to be handed over to the Ministry of Health. It causes trouble, strife, anxiety and misery. I hope that soy hon. Friend is going to put things right and that he is going to signalise his appearance in office by handing over his Department to a Commission, like the Electricity Commission, so that he can be advised by business men and trade unions, who know how much is at stake; not to a Commission like the British Broadcasting Corporation, for which he also speaks in this House. The British Broadcasting Corporation is a Board of Commissioners who are appointed precisely because they do not know anything about it. I doubt if they meet very frequently. The cranks and the faddists have it all their own way. That is why they are giving a grant to Grand Opera. They are an inefficient Commission. They are a palsied and frightened Commission. They are frightened of the hon. Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley), which is more than anybody else is.


There is no one here to speak for the British Broadcasting Corporation.


I realise that there is no one here to speak for them, and perhaps no one would desire to speak for them, because their record is so bad. I support the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) who, in a very brilliant and effective speech, asked the Postmaster-General to convey to the British Broadcasting Corporation the view that controversy is the breath of life. We in the Liberal party think a great deal about controversy. We know its value. It is very important that all points of view should be expressed, and that the community should be instructed on all the questions of the hour. Therefore, I hope that the Postmaster-General will convey that message to the British Broadcasting Corporation. I conclude by wishing him the best of luck in his new Department and expressing the hope that he will hand it over to some body that will really get on with the job.

Viscount WOLMER

I should like to add my voice to the congratulations and the welcome to my hon. Friend the Postmaster-General on his first appearance in this House in connection with the Post Office Vote. I can assure him that this is a very typical Post Office Vote discussion. He will find, if he is so unfortunate as to have to attend many more of these discussions, that there are more complaints than bouquets thrown at his head. He must steel his heart and brace his courage for a repetition of the ordeal he has been through to-night.

I wish to deal with the subjects that were dealt with so ably by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) and other speakers. This is not a party question. I look at the Post Office from the viewpoint that it is one of the greatest businesses and industries in this country. The carrying of mails, the sending of telegrams and telephone messages has no more to do with party politics than has the question of London traffic, or of the underground railways of London. I should like to remind the Postmaster-General, although I am well aware that I cannot dwell on the subject, of the step his colleague the Minister of Transport has taken in dealing with London traffic. In order to bring about a scheme of unification and nationalisation, he has not attempted to bring it within the ambit of his Department, and he has not even attempted to put it under any Government Department, but he proposes to put it under a Statutory authority completely divorced from the Civil Service and from politicians. I believe that is the organisation which the Post Office requires.

7.0 p.m.

The figures given by the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty are unchallenged and unchallengable. The right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir D. Maclean) pathetically asked: "Why cannot these matters be put right." I am convinced that the fundamental reason why they cannot be put right is that this great industry is not run and controlled as an industry, but as a Government Department. It is controlled by machinery which is utterly unsuitable for the purpose, and the result is reflected in high cost, which consequently means high charges, inefficient service, and general public discontent. I have given figures in the House which were never challenged by the right hon. Member the President of the Board of Education when he was Postmaster-General. I will not trouble the House with many of them this evening, but I would like to mention one or two. For instance, when my right hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson) went to the Post Office, he found that the cost of laying a light country telephone wire was £88 a mile over an easy route. If it had to be of more substantial construction the cost was £126 per mile. He inquired what the relative costs were in other countries, and, as that information was not available, he sent commissions to Sweden, America, and other places. In practically every case it was found that the costs were very much less in other countries than they were in this country.

These are the important figures for the House to bear in mind. In Sweden, which is one of the most fully developed countries in the world telephonically, the plant investment cost of each telephone works out in the neighbourhood of £37. The plant investment cost in America, where the wages of the men are more than double the wages of Post Office employés here—I see the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen) shakes his head, but I can give him figures in support of that statement—in spite of the high wages of America the plant investment cost per instrument is £47. In England it is £77. That is the fundamental reason why the telephone costs more in England than in any other country, and why there is not the same telephone development here as there is abroad.

The hon. Member for Crewe tried to make out there was some inherent vice in the mentality or habits or constitution of the British people which made them averse to using the telephone. If you point to the enormously greater development in America, a country with great cities and wide tracts of land over which cables have to be passed, the protagonists of the present system say conditions are not the same in England. If you point to Sweden, Denmark, or Germany you are met with the same answer. If you point to New Zealand or Canada, you are met again with the objection that conditions are different. I find it impossible to believe that this country of all the countries in the world is the one where telephones cannot be economically erected and run and developed on a wide scale. I would suggest to the new Postmaster-General what I suggested to his predecessor, that he should inquire into the history of the islands of Jersey and Guernsey. It is a small example, but a very instructive one. One island had an independent telephone system and the other had its telephones run by the Post Office. The one with the independent system had more than twice as many telephones per head of the population as that which was controlled by the Post Office. I was never able to find in the Department any explanation of a difference of mentality between the people of Jersey or Guernsey, or in their economic, racial, or geographic circumstances which in any way accounted for such a great difference.

The root cause of our telephone inferiority and of the decline in our telegraph system is the fact that the Post Office is not run for business and has not the constitution of a great business, but is run as a Government Department. It has the same organisation and the same fundamental constitution now as it had in the middle of the last century, when the postal business was about one-seventh of what it is now and when there was no parcel post, no savings bank, no telegraphs and no telephone. It was about the size of other Government Departments, and fundamentally retains the same organisation to-day. It is presided over by a politician who always comes to the business knowing absolutely nothing of its technique. Generally speaking, by the time he has made himself acquainted with the very intricate matters with which he has to deal and has had time to get to know the important men serving under him, and more important still the able men coming on behind them, he finds that he has very little tenure of office left.

Under the politician there are civil servants, many of them men of great ability, who work extremely hard and whom no politician is entitled to hold responsible for any defect in the system. But there are none of these men who have had any commercial experience before. They have risen from the ranks of their own department, and they are paid at a rate so much below the value of commercial brains that it is impossible for the Post Office to bring in any men from outside to any important technical or administrative post in the department. That is the fundamental reason why the Post Office does not go ahead in the way that we should all like to see. If the Post Office were run like the American telephone or telegraph companies, it would make the business. It is terrible to see the hon. Member for Crewe sitting down under the idea that telegraphs must decline.


I am sure the Noble Lord does not want to do me an injustice. He cannot recall my ever having admitted that telegraphs must decline. In his time of office I endeavoured to prove that they could revive.

Viscount WOLMER

The action I want to take is to remove the Post Office altogether out of the hands of politicians and the Civil Service, and to put it in the hands of a statutory authority—as the Minister of Transport proposes to put the London traffic—controlled by the ablest business brains we can find, in a position to raise its own capital, to employ the greatest technical experts, no matter what country they come from, and to run this great concern as a business. Then I believe my hon. Friend would find that telegraphs would not continue to decline. In America the telegraphs have held their own and are making profits of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 a year in face of the enormously superior competition of the telephones there. They are independent companies controlled and run on business principles by business methods.


The Noble Lord will remember that in America the telegraph service is very largely run by long-distance communications the like of which we cannot have in this country.

Viscount WOLMER

There I think the hon. Member is mistaken. It is perfectly true that England is a small island, but our communications are not confined within the limits of this island. Why cannot our telegraphs to the Continent be developed in the same way as the American long-distance telegraphs? It is because they have to pass through a network of Government Departments. The same facilities are not open to Englishmen to telegraph to Germany, Sweden, France and different parts of Europe as are open to the American to telegraph from New York to San Francisco. I think the position of the hon. Member for Crewe is a very pathetic one. Every time we have a Post Office Debate he has to admit that the staff is discontented. If he did not, he would soon get into trouble with his constituents. Yet he devotes the whole of his energies and abilities to perpetuating the system responsible for their discontent. He points to the great profits that the Post Office has made. Who could not make a profit with a Government monopoly? The £10,000,000 a year that the Post Office is making now is not a profit in the ordinary sense of the term; it is taxation, and a pernicious form of taxation, because it is drawn from a particular industry—a tax on every telephone message, on every telegram or transaction in the savings bank, on every letter posted. That is a form of taxation which I suggest is contrary to all the sound canons of political economy.

There is this point I would like to put to my hon. Friend. Nothing impressed me more when I was at the Post Office than the amount of wasted ability that is to be found among the rank and file of postal servants. More than 1,200 postal servants who are for the most part sorters or postmen gained commissions in the War, rising from the ranks. The great majority of these men are still sorters or postmen.


Will the Noble Lord say what his Administration did for these men?

Viscount WOLMER

I will tell my hon. Friend. When one was faced with a fact like that in the Post Office, one was up against two difficulties. The first was that there were a number of men who never had a chance of going to the War and who were just as able as those who did. Therefore, the fact that a man had the opportunity of distinguishing himself at the War was not necessarily proof that he was more able than a man who had not such an opportunity. But, apart from that, one was up against the whole system of promotion in the Civil Service. The Post Office is governed by Civil Service conditions, and it is extraordinarily difficult to go out of the ordinary routine method by which civil servants are promoted. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon became Postmaster-General he found that there were five men who had risen to the rank of major and 15 who had risen to the rank of captain during the War, who were still performing the duties of sorters or postmen. It was a very great waste of their ability. For a man who had proved his fitness in the field to command a company and to carry out the administrative work of a major or captain there was more useful work in the Post Office than carrying letters from door to door. I am glad to say that every one of those men was given a more important position and a chance of getting a foothold on the ladder of promotion. That is an example of the talent there is in the Post Office.

The point which I want to put to the hon. Member for Crewe is this: Is it fair to these men that we should maintain a system of Post Office administration which experience has shown has led to the comparative stagnation of telephones and to the actual decline of telegraphs, when these services are going ahead by leaps and bounds in other countries? We complain on behalf of our constituents of the injury that is done to trade by the inefficiency of the telephone and telegraph systems, but I ask the House also to remember the cruel injustice done to men who are kept in a moribund service where the avenues of promotion are blocked. Thirty years ago, when the telegraph was an expanding service, men entered the service with prospects of promotion which they now know are a vanished dream, and no one knows that better than the hon. Member for Crewe. It is up to him and to the leaders of his union, having tried a service which has given these unsatisfactory results, to try other methods and see whether we cannot get an extension of our telephones on a far vaster scale and a stopping of the contraction of the telegraph service, which will not only be of enormous benefit to British trade in general, but will give employment to thousands of men in about 40 other ancillary trades and also prospects of advancement and promotion to the staff themselves which at the present time is denied them.


Before replying to the various points raised in the Debate, I should like to acknowledge the very kind references that have been made to my elevation to my present office by hon. Members in all parts of the House. I can only say that I will try to deserve them. I am told that this Debate is very characteristic of Post Office Debates. I think it is very characteristic of our British way of doing things, because we have had put in the forefront to-day every possible criticism of one of our own services. With the exception of one or two hon. Members there has been little appreciation of the greatness and efficiency of the service, and in this I include hon. Members below the Gangway, making an exception, however, of the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) who did do some justice to its achievements. Of course, this Debate does afford a congenial opportunity for raising a very large number of grievances. The Post Office is a great business, and I can imagine what the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) might find to say by way of criticism on any other large business which had to stand the fire of criticism in this House. If, for instance, he were speaking on behalf of one of our great public undertakings such as the railway companies end I rose to speak of things which happen in my daily goings to and fro on the railways, I think I could frame criticisms of point and force.

I do not claim that the Post Office is perfect or that more cannot be done. Indeed, I welcome every suggestion for extending and increasing the efficiency of the Post Office. At the same time, I am not going to stand in a white sheet and accept the position that the British Post Office is manifestly inferior to every other Post Office in the world, as has been rather suggested by some hon. Members. It is not true. Let me deal with a few facts concerning the Post Office. The right hon. Member for Aldershot who was five years in the Post Office has an extraordinary aptitude for getting hold of half-truths, which have been dealt with by Lord Tennyson in a well-known poem in language which it would be unparliamentary to repeat. Let me mention one or two. Take the amount of money that is going to be spent. Comparisons have been made with the amount of money spent in past years, but no reference was made to the change in the value of money that has taken place during the last five years. If a million pounds is to be spent to-day in goods and services it means a great deal more than that same sum meant five or six years ago. It is easy to say, as the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Aldershot said, "You cannot answer my figures," The figures may be right, but, unfortunately, the deduction is entirely wrong.

The Noble Lord's chief criticism, however, was that the whole organisation of the Department is wrong and that it should be put in some different form, handed over to some company or a corporation. I am very new to the Post Office, but I am resolved to look into every side of the organisation, and I can say this, that if I find that the Post Office cannot be run under its present organisation and that it requires an entirely different system, and if it is for the benefit of the public that it should be carried on other than as a public Department, I shall not remain five years in the Post Office.

Let me deal with one or two specicfic points that have been mentioned. The right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty rather veered between two criticisms. One was the demand for extra services in out of the way parts of the country. That point, of course, has also been put by hon. Members from Northern Ireland, from Western Wales and from Cornwall, who all ask for special facilities for their parts of the country, and yet—and this is curious—at the same time ask that the Post Office telephones and telegraphs should be run on strictly business lines. It is not strictly business to supply these services, and no business company would think of doing so.


The railways do it.


The railways are cutting it out. They are statutory undertakings, but I have no doubt that if the hon. Member was going to run a business line he would develop it in the most prosperous areas first. I do not think he would be a philanthropist and provide a service where it could not possibly pay. This, however, is not the line I take. Although this is a great national service I regard it as merely ancillary to the social and economic life of the country and hold that it is well worth while developing the telephone in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and in the wilds of Wales and in Cornwall, because these people are citizens of this country and we want to give them all the facilities we can. But we cannot at the same time run the Department on what are called business and commercial lines. I would remind the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir D. Maclean) that his idea would cost a great deal of money.

Hon. Members opposite point to the fact that the Post Office is making a great deal of profit and ask why the money should not be spent on the services. They say, "Why do you let the Chancellor of the Exchequer take it." If they propose that all the money coming into the Post Office must be used for the development of the services they must be prepared to pay the piper in the way of alternative taxation which they would be called upon to pay. I will not deal with that point further because I am not going to anticipate any of the speeches which may be made during the Budget Debates, and it would be out of order for me to discuss the question of the allocation of the surplus of the Post Office.

I turn to the question of telephones. I am in favour of a rapid and energetic development of our telephone service, but at the same time we must look at the facts in order to be quite sure where we are. The Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Aldershot said that the United States was going ahead. Let us see. In 1930 our increase in telephones was ten times as rapid as that of the United States.

Viscount WOLMER

Will the Postmaster-General give the number of new telephone instruments in the two countries?


I am giving the percentage increase.

Viscount WOLMER

The Postmaster-General knows what a deceptive thing a percentage increase is.


The actual increase in telephones in the United States, which has a much larger area and a much larger population, is scarcely more than the actual increase this year in the number of telephones in this country, and our percentage increase is actually more than double that of Germany. This is another of the half-truths of the Noble Lord. When you are talking of communication facilities it is not enough to say that the United States have far more telephones than we have in this country. You must compare the facilities provided. Our postal facilities are much more convenient than those of the United States. We can send a letter one day and get it delivered the next, but in these [...]arge countries it takes a much longer time than that, and that is one of the reasons why other methods of communication are developed more rapidly in these large countries. People who live in wide spaces and who are separated by long distances naturally use the telephone more than the post. I will not develop that point because anyone with any intelligence will see clearly that you must compare like with like. That does not mean that I do not wish to have more telephone development.

In regard to rural telephones, the growth of the telephone in these areas is even greater than that in urban areas. In the last 18 months, 4,200 call offices have been opened in rural areas and everyone will agree that this is something to be set against the complaints on the other side. It may be that we have a great deal of leeway to make up, but it at least shows that something is being done. The right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty raised several points with regard to telephone development. They were pretty sound points. But we have to consider what is practicable and what is reasonable, looking at things as they are. You cannot expect very heavy telephone development in a time of slump. It is inevitable that your rate of progress will not be so great. There will always be a certain number of people who will cut off a telephone as a luxury, and there will be a certain number of businesses failing. I think it is creditable that we have kept our average rate of increase throughout the slump, and even improved on it. The right hon. Gentleman asked, "Why do you not advertise more?" We have a big staff of canvassers at the present time—there are over 600—and they are visiting constantly. The staff has been heavily increased since my predecessor took office. I am prepared to increase it, but there is a limit to what can be done.

There was an instance mentioned of very intensive canvassing, from which remarkable results were obtained, but there has to be borne in mind the cost of the whole service. If it is going to cost you £7 per telephone secured, the total will run up to a great deal. I do not say that you cannot do it, but you have to consider how far you are justified in putting that amount into the effort. There is canvassing work and there is advertising work. I think more could be done by advertising, and I am going to look into the methods adopted. Sometimes methods are suggested which are not approved by the shrewd business men whom we have to advise us and who know something about advertising. The best way of advertising Bovril or chocolates is not necessarily the best way of advertising telephones.

The hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor), I know has suffered, and his speech was necessarily a little subjective. I sympathise with him. It is no answer to the person who is really aggrieved to say that there are 99 just persons who have no complaint. These mistakes will occur and we are making the utmost possible effort to get rid of them. As a matter of fact, this particular wire was knocked down by someone who cleans an exchange. I am looking very closely into the whole question as to what exactly happened when this failure occurred. I want to see whether it is possible to speed up the service at all. The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) raised some points which are to be looked into. I agree that one of the best ways of booming telephones is to give a good service. One of the worst is to make a speech like that of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). That speech was not a good advertisement, but it was a fine piece of invective. He hit out generally at everything he could see.


But not at you.


The hon. Member did not see me; I am too small. As a matter of fact, our national habit of self-depreciation does not do us much good when it comes to pushing telephones. I could wish that people would help rather more. If we are to get a good push on telephones, a good deal can be done by canvassing, something can be done by literature, but a good deal more by personal influence. From this point of view, the hon. Member's speech was unfortunate. Under any system there would be difficulties occurring, even if we adopted the method suggested by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot. The only difference then would be that we would have the difficulties but the Noble Lord would not be able to get up and make a speech about them in the House. The idea that we are sluggish about telephones is false. We are working hard with the direct calls. We have to get the apparatus, the sites and the buildings. I have gone very carefully into the matter and we are pushing things forward as fast as possible. I believe that results will be forthcoming in a very short time. Certainly, the direct call is one thing in which we are behind the United States.

A point was made by the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham and by the hon. Member for Devonport, with regard to the British Broadcasting Corporation. The House knows that I am not responsible for programmes. There is the difficult question of controversial matter. Neither of the hon. Members was at all sensitive about what is broadcast by the Corporation; neither hon. Member is thin skinned in the matter. But there are friends sitting around them who are extremely sensitive. I think the House should encourage experiment to a reasonable extent. To those who are sensitive on these things I say that their state is largely subjective. Some hon. Members say that there is too much of one thing, others that there is too much propaganda going on. I used to think so myself when in Opposition. Probably Members of the Opposition at the present time think there is too much Labour propaganda. When I was in Opposition I used to think I heard nothing but Lord Brentford—Jix, et praeterea nihil. In the matter of controversial broadcasts I think the Corporation is steering a very careful course. In any event it is not for me to defend the programmes. I was asked a specific question with regard to the licences. The licences at present number 3,590,000, and show an increase of 263,000 in the last three months.


The question I asked was whether the British Broadcasting Corporation accepts speakers only on the nomination of the party organisations.


They act generally on the advice of representatives of the party organisations. I cannot go into that matter in great detail. It was the late Government that extended to the Corporation the right of broadcasting controversial matter. Everyone will agree that that is a matter of very great delicacy. You have to see, first of all, that you are not going to get into trouble. There are difficult questions arising, above all when you touch foreign affairs. That point has to be considered. You have next to consider whether a charge might be brought against you of not holding the balance fairly. Thirdly, you have to consider not boring your audience and not overdoing the politics. At the present time the Corporation try to reach a reasonable allocation between the three parties, but if parties multiply and if all kinds of individuals are to be admitted as parties—people who perhaps are running one particular fad—and it you once begin to open the door very widely, the unfortunate listener hears nothing but the advocates of various causes. With the consultations that the Corporation have now I think that the system works well and fairly. It may be that in future a different arrangement will be necessary, but at present I think that the Corporation are carrying out a very difficult task with very great success.

Several points were raised in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen). He spoke of Post Office buildings. We have a very big building programme, and it has been increased this year again. When you look at this programme you have to compare year with year, and to consider the cost of these buildings not in terms of money only but having regard to the changes in money value. The programme has increased in money and still more in amount. We have a programme for building new Post Offices and reconditioning old ones, and, what is very valuable, brightening existing post offices. I am not going to give a string of figures. I have found time to go round and visit a few post offices. I would like hon. Members to see the sort of work that is going on in London. Even if they visit South Molton Street, they will find a very pleasant post office. There is no old-fashioned atmosphere about it, but it is quite a pleasant and bright place.


Will the Postmaster-General guarantee the pens?


The pens were hairless. And, not only the front counter, but the other parts of the office are bright. The hon. Member for Crewe asked certain questions regarding the wages of the staff and their conditions. He cannot expect me to answer him in detail beyond saying that I shall always be pleased to discuss such matters with him. I agree with his general statement that the Post Office must be a good employer and the best employer. With regard to the question of the limited clerical competition, the hon. Member has stated the case very fairly and I have much sympathy with him. The hon. Member knows that cases arose out of the War and out of various changes and appointments subsequent to the War. The late Postmaster-General gave 50 additional places to these men, but it is a matter of the utmost difficulty to do anything further. The whole question of age groups in the service is involved, and as he knows that this is a matter which concerns not only one Deparament, I can hold out little hope in this matter, but I will willingly discuss it with him again. He also knows the difficulty with regard to getting suitable age groups, and he knows that it is not easy to deal with all these matters in connection with the service. We have considered the matter very carefully, as I think the hon. Member recognises, and my right hon. Friend the late Postmaster-General did his utmost in order to help on these very difficult points. I do not think we can possibly hope to absorb all these men. I am prepared to discuss the subject further with the hon. Member, but I am afraid I cannot hold out much hope that we shall be able to do anything more in that direction. I do not think it is possible.

The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke raised the matter of rural telephones, and he particularly discussed the subject of party lines. Now the party line system, for some reason or other, does not "go down" in this country. There are certain people who find their chief joy in trying to "listen in" on a party line to what their neighbours are saying, and the people who are listened to do not like it. It is no use to say that we ought to educate our people in the use of those lines. The objection to the party line is one of those things which is in the nature of the people of this country. We may be asked why are we not like the Americans who have no objection to party lines, but the American does not mind having no hedge round his garden, whereas the Englishman insists on having a hedge round his garden. You cannot argue about these things. The fact is that we do advertise party lines, and that people do not take advantage of them, and do not like the system.

The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) brought forward a number of points with regard to postal services in Northern Ireland. I shall be very glad to go into those points in detail in order to see how far these are matters in which the Post Office is really responsible, and how far they are matters which concern the railway and steamship services in Northern Ireland. I can promise the hon. Member, however, that I shall look into these matters as far as I possibly can. I think I have already dealt with the point raised by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin), and if he can bring forward any specific case I shall look into it.

On the general subject, let me say that it is our resolve to push forward with the telephone programme, but I think we have to recognise clearly the limits of that programme. At present we have a considerable amount of stock in hand. That is to say we can have a very big increase without an increase of stock. It is absolutely uneconomic to pile up enormous stocks unless you have business to justify it, and we must have due regard to business principles in running a service of this kind. As a matter of fact I do not think you can come anywhere near realising the rather rosy vision of some hon. Members opposite as regards the amount of employment which would be provided out of these telephone proposals. You can do something but not a vast deal in regard to that aspect of the question. I think I have now dealt with most of the points raised in the course of this discussion. I have not gone at any great length into the rather broader issues raised by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot, but perhaps on some other occasion we shall have an opportunity of crossing swords on that question when I have been able to inform myself better on the details and when I shall be in a position to deal with the Noble Lord on more equal terms than I can do now, as a neophyte in office.


I intervene to call the attention of the Postmaster-General to a situation which is seriously handicapping trade in the Mersey area. Prior to 1925 the town of Birkenhead was self-contained as regards having a postmaster, and a sorting and distributing staff. Since 1925 there has been a rearrangement by which the sorting has been taken to Liverpool, and the postmastership has been abolished. Since that time serious disadvantage has arisen as regards the distribution and sorting of mails and the postal facilities in that area. Letters from all parts of the world to addresses in that district have to go to Liverpool to be stamped and sorted and sent back to Birkenhead again, and then distributed to the various addresses, and this has occasioned a great deal of dissatisfaction. The chambers of commerce, the big shipyards such as Messrs. Cammell Lairds, and other bodies, have expressed their disapproval of the change. In the case of the shipyards, on one occasion a very important tender missed a post, and was almost late, almost leading to a very serious situation.

As a simple illustration of what occurs I may mention that about a month ago two cards addressed to myself at Birkenhead were posted at the general post office in Birkenhead, were sent over to Liverpool to be stamped and sent back again to Birkenhead, and then distributed. That is what happens, and it is particularly serious, as the area outside Birkenhead is largely residential and is occupied by the captains of industry and merchant princes from Liverpool. They have very serious complaints to make, because letters arrive at their homes after they have left for their offices in the city, and these letters have then to be forwarded, entailing serious delay. There might have been some justification in 1925 for the change, but there is certainly no justification to-day, because in the intervening period great developments have taken place in that area. As most hon. Members know, a tunnel is now being made under the Mersey, and will, it is anticipated, be opened within the next 12 months, while grants have been made by this House for the electrification of the Wirral railway which will open up that district. Financial assistance is also being given towards the making of new docks at Birkenhead, and quite recently at Lord Leverhulme's works at Port Sunlight a big new dock was opened. Further, the town of Birkenhead has become the greatest milling centre in the country. The population is growing, urbanisation is spreading all over Wirral, and at present the county council is dividing up all the rural parishes. The population of Wirral is over 300,000. There are the county boroughs of Birkenhead and Wallasey, and two or three large urban districts like Ellesmere Port, Babington and Bromboro, Hoylake and West Kirby, and in addition the rural districts are all rapidly developing. I welcome the enthusiasm and the breadth of outlook which the Postmaster-General has shown and I congratulate him on his accession to his office, but I would ask him to give serious consideration to these complaints which have been going on for the last five years and are increasing in intensity. I appeal to him to take steps to see that in the near future Birkenhead is restored to its former position in this respect, and given responsibility in connection with the postal arrangements for the large and growing area around it.


It is obvious that the question raised by the hon. Member requires a considerable amount of consideration, but he may take it from me that the Postmaster-General will give it due consideration and will see what can be done to meet the hon. Member's case.