HC Deb 01 March 1935 vol 298 cc1526-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,270,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1935, for the Salaries of Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones.

2.50 p.m.

The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Sir Kingsley Wood)

We are asking for a sum of £576,000 for increased salaries, wages, and pensions due mainly to the restoration of half the emergency reductions, combined with the consolidation of the cost-of-living bonus on the lines recommended by the Royal Commission. In addition we are asking for £150,000 for expenditure during the current year on certain improvements in the remuneration of some of the lower paid sections of the Post Office, particularly the new entry ex-Service men, particulars of which I have already announced in the House. We are asking for £150,000 this year, and in a future year it will be £500,000 and will tend to rise. There is also a, sum of £343,000, provision for additional staff as a result of the increase in business at the Post Office, and I am glad to think that there will be an addition to the staff generally on the permanent establishment. The sum which I am asking for to-day means the equivalent of a full year's employment for rather more than 2,000 extra people, which, I am sure, will be satisfactory to everybody. I am glad to say that an increase of staff is taking place in the postal service, telephone service, and savings bank.

There is also a sum of £290,000, together with £30,000 out of the £100,000 under sub-head I. 1, which makes altogether £320,000 in respect of additional expenditure on engineering work. When the first Estimate was made, it was an under-estimate of the amount of work which we could do in the period under review, and I am glad to think there will be additional expenditure of that considerable sum in connection with the engineering department. There is a further sum of £93,000, remittance to the British Broadcasting Corporation of half the contribution which was made by the corporation out of its share of licence revenue to assist the Exchequer in services which we all know. This remission does not raise any question about the British Broadcasting Corporation or matters of that sort, but they made the contribution agreed upon between the Exchequer, myself, and the corporation, and when the restoration of half the cuts was made, this remittance was made also to the corporation. There are also sums of £48,000 and £47,000 in respect of certain savings of a minor character.

2.52 p.m.


I note that a considerable amount of extra money is required for the development of the automatic telephones throughout the country, and this may mean, I suppose, the necessity for reducing the staff in certain cases. I should like to know from my right hon. Friend if those who will be thrown out of work by the development of these automatic telephones will receive priority in service before any fresh men are taken on by the Department.

2.53 p.m.


I do not think that difficulty arises as a matter of fact, because when these exchanges are converted from manual to automatic, we are generally able at the Post Office, owing to the increase of telephone business generally and the very big organisation concerned, to make arrangements so far as the staff is concerned; but if there is any particular case which my hon. Friend has in mind, I will gladly look into it.

2.54 p.m.


This very large sum includes an amount of £93,000 in respect of some arrangements relating to broadcasting licences, and there are two matters on which I should like to ask for information. In the City of Nottingham there are 94,000 licence holders, and I understand that some time ago the station was transferred from Nottingham to Birmingham. There is a general desire in the City of Nottingham that these broadcasting arrangements for the district should be retransferred to Nottingham, or, rather, that a station shuold be provided. Therefore, I want to ask my right hon. Friend, when he is dealing with matters relating to broadcasting licences, to bear in mind this desire of the city of Nottingham so that he can raise the matter in the right quarter, as he is allowed to do under the Charter. It would not be in order or convenient to deal with matters arising out of the Charter—


It would 'not be in order to do that.


I was saying that it would not be in order to deal with the Charter, but I think it would be in order to press my right hon. Friend that, as these arrangements are coming up for reconsideration, due preparation should be made for them. I think that that would be in order, since we are asked to grant £93,000 in respect of this service.


I am afraid that I should have to rule any discussion of that subject also out of order.


May I say with great respect that the difficulties experienced in this House in raising this matter are causing disquiet outside and are a matter of comment. This service reaches practically every house in the Kingdom; there are 9,000,000 licence holders, and yet we have difficulty in raising these matters in the House. I only want to press my right hon. Friend to undertake the consideration of the new arrangements which have to be contemplated so as to ensure that this service is conducted on the best lines.

2.56 p.m.


With regard to the question of telephones, it is customary in cities for many businesses to have separate working centres, and, if those centres can all be on one telephone exchange, it is a great convenience because the transference of calls between exchange and exchange is a matter of some technical difficulty. On the other hand, the rental of premises is often determined by their site, and firms have difficulty in choosing cheaper sites for extensions if such extensions are not easily linked up with the head office. May I ask whether it is the practice and policy of the Department to make the exchange areas as large as possible in London and other cities.

With regard to this £93,000 which we are voting for or remitting to the British Broadcasting Corporation, I take it that I would be in order in commenting on the extreme generosity of the Postmaster-General, since he has submitted to Parliament an annual report which tells us that that Corporation has gross receipts of £3,369,000. To add £93,000 this afternoon to those gross receipts is a great act of generosity which ought to be commented upon in these still hard times.

The report which the Postmaster-General has presented to Parliament, Cmd. Paper 4813, is apparently unsigned. Therefore, the contents, I suppose, are of no particular validity or interest to this Committee. Within this unsigned annual report is It general report bearing certain eminent gentlemen's names, but this anonymous paper does not carry us very far in helping us to discuss this Vote. If the point might be discussed under this heading, I would call attention to page 8 of the report, from which we are to understand that services in Welsh are broadcast on two Sunday mornings a month. The Education Vote in England is a tremendously expensive Vote, and a large amount is spent in the ancient universities in teaching Latin. Why Welsh has the special prerogative of a foreign language used in broadcasting religious services I cannot say.


That question cannot be referred to on this Vote.

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