HC Deb 11 June 1937 vol 324 cc2153-70

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient—

  1. (i) to authorise the payment out of the Consolidated Fund of such sums, not exceeding in the whole the sum of thirty-five million pounds, as may be required for the purpose of the development of the postal., telegraphic, and telephonic systems, or for repaying to the Post Office Fund any moneys which may have been applied thereout for that purpose;
  2. (ii) to authorise the Treasury to borrow, by means of terminable annuities or by the issue of Exchequer Bonds, for the purpose of providing money for sums so authorised to be issued or of repaying to the Consolidated Fund all or any part of the sums so issued;
  3. 2154
  4. (iii) to provide for the payment of such terminable annuities, or of the principal of and the interest on any such Exchequer Bonds, out of moneys provided by Parliament for the service of the Post Office or, if those moneys are insufficient, out of the Consolidated Fund."—(King's Recommendation signified.)—[Major Tryon.]

1.40 p.m.

The Postmaster-General (Major Tryon)

The purpose of this Resolution and of the Bill which will be founded on it is to enable the Post Office to borrow the necessary capital for the development of its telephonic, telegraphic and postal services. The details of the financial proposals are set out in the White Paper, from which it will be seen that, of the total of £35,000,000 which we are borrowing, no less than £32,000,000 will, we expect, be used for the telephone service. Hon. Members may have noticed that there is a departure from the usual wording at the end of paragraph (i), where the words occur: or for repaying to the Post Office Fund any moneys which may have been applied there-out for that purpose. It will be realised that the Post Office Fund, which was established under the Finance Act, 1933, receives into it the surplus of each year after the fixed amount of £10,750,000 has been paid over to the Treasury, and we are already authorised to use out of that Fund money for capital development. It may be that we shall wish to do so, but at present there is no arrangement for repaying to that Fund any moneys which we may have used for capital development, and it is the object of this addition to the usual form of the Resolution to effect such an arrangement. I ought to point out that the Post Office Fund is intended to be a reservoir, as it were, to enable us to maintain our annual payments to the Treasury even in times when things are not going too well, and if at any time we see a prospect of a considerable surplus ahead for the coming year, we endeavour to distribute that surplus in the form of improvements and concessions to the advantage of all concerned. Consequently, the sum actually in the Post Office Fund represents what we consider to be a normal and adequate sum as a reserve, and, therefore, it is necessary, should we use any of it for capital purposes, that there should be power to replace anything which has been taken out of it, so that we may have enough money available against a "rainy day" to keep up our payments to the Treasury.

It is just two years ago since my predecessor brought in a corresponding Resolution. I ought to say here that there is a misprint in the White Paper; the proper dates in the first paragraph are 1935. What has happened is that the borrowing then authorised has only lasted for a little over two years, owing really to the development and prosperity of our undertaking. My predecessor, when he introduced the Resolution a little more than two years ago, said: We confidently anticipate that during the next few years there will be a considerable telephone advance in this country, but if our present anticipations are exceeded—although we are prepared for a good advance—there will be no hesitation in coming to Parliament to ask sanction for further expenditure which I think is generally regarded as useful and remunerative."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1937; col. 2253, Vol. 297.] I am glad to be able to tell the Committee that the result has been that we have to come to Parliament at the end of a little more than two years to ask for power to incur more capital expenditure. That is satisfactory, because it is due to development and progress. The main fact is that telephone development since that time has exceeded all expectations. It is true that part of that development is due to the general increase in the prosperity of the country, but when I am sometimes told that the Post Office is a barometer which indicates the general prosperity of the country, I always rather object to that analogy, because I think we are something more than a barometer. A barometer has no effect on the weather, whereas we feel that we are making some contribution towards an improvement in the state of the country. For that reason I would like to give some particulars of what we have been doing, particularly in regard to telephones.

During the two financial years which have elapsed, we have added no fewer than 439,000 telephones. This has been largely due to the reduced charges for telephone extensions and certain reductions which we made to business users, but the most remarkable and sudden development of all has come from the appeal which was made to thousands of people by the free calls which I introduced last October. The grant of 50 free penny calls a quarter seems to have struck the public imagination. It is an advantage to the small user. The man who was not quite sure what he might let himself in for if he had a telephone knows that if he does not exceed his 50 free calls £4 a year will cover his liability. That has led to an extraordinary development of the telephone since 1st October last year. Since that date the number of telephones has increased by 170,000 up to a total of 2,850,000 on 30th April last—a very remarkable figure—and we are making provision for a further increase of 250,000 in the current financial year.

I come to the question of trunk calls. In March, 1936, there were about 295,000 calls made every working day. We then introduced a maximum charge of half-a-crown for calls by day to the furthest part of this island. It was the daytime equivalent of the maximum charge for a call by night of a shilling. These simple sums, which are easily remembered, seem to have greatly added to the number of calls. Sometimes people who know it is only half-a-crown gladly take up their instruments and have 5s. worth in no time. At all events last year, owing to the simplicity of this half-a-crown maximum the number of trunk calls has increased to 339,000 every working day. That is a very remarkable development.

There is another development, or, perhaps, I ought to call it a revival, and that is in connection with the telegraph service. Just before I came to the Post Office my predecessor had introduced the sixpenny telegram.

Sir Frank Sanderson

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be aware that since the dialling system was introduced for several reasons, partly perhaps due to the operator, it does not always function correctly, and there is a large percentage of wrong calls. As far as I am aware, the only way of not having to pay for those calls is by advising the telephone operator that a wrong number has been given. I was wondering whether my right hon. and gallant Friend can state approximately the percentage of wrong calls, and whether it will be possible to introduce some more simple method of receiving a rebate for calls which have been incorrectly put through.

Major Tryon

I will gladly go into that and see what can be done, but, of course, in the case of an automatic call it is the sender who usually makes the mistake. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not always!"] If you get on to the operator he will put the matter right, but it is normally a mistake made by the sender himself.

I was dealing with the question of telegrams and the fact that the telegraph service had entered into state of decline, which was depressing and financially unsatisfactory. In 15 years telegraph traffic had fallen by as much as 57 per cent. In the first month after the introduction of the 6d. telegram traffic went up by 20 per cent., in the first full year by 35 per cent., and in the second year by approximately 45 per cent., and is still showing an upward tendency. That shows that the reduction to 6d. was justified. It has not meant a profit, but it has meant that the telegraph service is more frequently used, that it is no longer declining and that there is more employment given. These increases in the telephone service, telegraph service and postal service are what bring us here to ask authority for this very large capital expenditure. Not only is it necessary to provide for new subscribers, new trunk and junction lines but for the replacement of exchange equipment and local lines. It is also needed for other purposes. We require more telegraph instruments, we want repeater stations and we want a great number of other items for the complex system of communications; capital has to be found for Post Office buildings of all kinds. I attach the utmost importance to having good buildings for people to go into, and good accommodation for the staff. Then we have great engineering works in connection with all this, heating, lighting, and so on.

Perhaps I ought to give some details of how this capital expenditure will be divided. Post Office expenditure, which was in 1934–35 £7,500,000, in the next year £10,500,000, and in 1936–37 £13,500,000, is expected in the current financial year to reach a total of just under £19,500,000, divided as follows: New telephone exchanges and extensions of existing exchanges, £3,949,000; local cables for subscriber lines and junctions, £2,536,000; subscribers' telephones, including house wiring and connections to the cable system, £3,299,000; trunk lines, including repeater stations and submarine cables, £6,443,000; telegraph works, wireless works, postal and general service and miscellaneous works, £506,000; sites and buildings, £2,650,000, making a total of £19,383,000. An interesting point is that this programme will give employment to approximately 47,000 people for the whole year. Compared with 1936 it represents in direct and indirect labour both within the Post Office and in contractors works, an increase in personnel of about 15,000 persons.

I have no hesitation in asking the House to pass this Resolution, and I hope that I have shown that these extensive borrowing powers are needed now because development is going forward more rapidly than was originally expected. It is largely due to the friendly relations existing between the Post Office and the public, to the very helpful advice that we have had from our Advisory Committees, and, above all, to the energy and efficiency of the staff of the Post Office, with whom I am very proud to be working. It is a story of increased national development and employment and better trade, and I commend it to the Committee as a story of commendable progress.

1.54 p.m.

Mr. Viant

I think the Committee will have been interested and pleased with the right hon. Gentleman's statement in respect of the telephone service. He appears to be exceedingly pleased with himself in being able to give this report, and he has good reason for being so. But, while listening to him, it occurred to me to put this question to myself. I wonder how many within his own party share his joy at being able to make such an admirable report on what we call a nationalised or socialised service. Very few people in this country—I am sure very few who grace the benches opposite—ever pause to think of, or give any consideration whatever to, the services that are rendered by the Post Office. They use the telephone, the postal service, drop a letter into the box, give or receive a telephone message, but they never pay any heed to the principles upon which the whole service is being worked. The small consideration that is given to this Department is evidenced by the fact that this subject is relegated to the third position on the Order Paper to-day, whereas from the point of view of the service rendered and the importance of the Department, it should have received a day to itself.

I take a delight in this Department because I am an avowed Socialist. In spite of the mental attitude of this House being anti-socialist, the Department grows and develops and exceeds all expectations. When the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman go into the Department, they cannot help but feel inspired by the spirit that animates the whole of the staff, and, indeed, every employé. All take pride in their work. This goes to prove that, in spite of all the opposition that is put up by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to Socialist principles, when those principles are applied they undoubtedly lead to success, because they are fundamentally sound.

The Deputy-Chairman (Captain Bourne)

I do not think that we can discuss this matter on this particular Resolution. If the hon. Gentleman desires to raise that point, is must he upon the Post Office Vote.

Mr. Viant

I am sorry if I have digressed, but I was so delighted with the success of the telephone Department that I could not help transgressing by bestowing my congratulations upon the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman, and the members of the Department. It is an undoubted success, and the fact that he is having to come to this Committee and ask for another £35,000,000 for the purposes of capital development is alone a testimony to the success of the Department. The error in the White Paper caused me no end of searching. The insertion of the year 1935 instead of 1936 caused me to look for the wrong records. However, I soon discovered that an error had been committed, and I am pleased that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has explained the matter to the Committee. The Committee, if they appreciate the departure which is being made in the White Paper of allocating the Fund in such a way that it can be drawn upon readily, possibly entailing less book-keeping, will agree that it will be an undoubted advantage to the Department, and will be pleased to note this new departure. When the amount of £34,000,000 was granted on the last occasion in 1935 it was anticipated that that sum would take the Department up to the Autumn of 1938, and, therefore, the advance on the anticipated date is considerable. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that that is largely due, possibly, to improved trade, and I think that the services rendered by the Department have, to a certain degree, probably facilitated the improvement in trade. It acts and re-acts in that regard.

In spite of the development having exceeded all expectations, it will be necessary for me to put a few questions. Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman given any consideration to the possibility of the Fund being depleted rather sooner than anticipated by virtue of an increase in prices? I rather expect that prices for telephone equipment will have increased, as prices have gone up in respect of almost everything else. That fact, in itself, would account in some degree, I hope not in a very great degree, for the sum being depleted rather earlier than expected. If that has been the case, I should like to know to what extent. The Department has been able to reduce rentals, but if the prices of equipment are rising, it will mean that the Department will incur considerably more capital cost. That, in itself, would necessitate the reviewing of the rental charge, and would undoubtedly react upon the development of the Department. The Committee should give some consideration to that aspect of the business, and I hope that at least the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his Department have already given considerable attention to it. In any case, it is a point worthy of consideration, and one that I hope will be considered, if it has not already been considered, by the Department. The capital cost—I am speaking as an outsider—must, of necessity, be increased. The cost of building must be up at least 10 per cent. There is ample evidence of that, if one takes the case of building materials. There have been slight advances in wages in connection with the building trade.

I should like to know, and I think the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to inform the Committee, what, increased expenditure has been incurred in connection with plant. When we speak of telephone plant we visualise the enormous amount of plant installed in a modern telephone exchange, which must necessitate a great amount of capital expenditure. It will be interesting to know whether the Department has been buying raw materials on a large scale. The right hon. Gentleman has been in a position to be informed by his colleagues in the Cabinet in respect of their rearmament policy, and such like. If he has been so informed he ought to have been able to buy a considerable amount of the material that is used in engineering works of his own Department—what one might term raw material. If that had been done, it would have been of great advantage to his Department, and would have avoided what, I fear, must be a rise in rentals, perhaps not in the near future but before any great space of time has elapsed.

If it were possible for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to adopt safeguards whereby telephone users and others using services rendered by his Departmen would avoid the rigging of the market and causing a general increase in the price of raw materials, it would be a very great advantage. I am sure that the Committee would be pleased to know if anything could be done in that direction. That is a subject which is troubling the minds of many people at the present time, and as a business man responsible for a large Department it ought to be agitating the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's mind somewhat, seeing that he has the interests of his Department at heart. I am informed that considerable delay is being experienced by his Department in obtaining raw materials. I believe there is considerable delay in the installation of telephones. The reason given—I will not say the excuse offered—by his Department is that the Department is confronted with considerable difficulty in obtaining the equipment necessary for the installation. I put a question to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman as to whether he could give the House the reasons for the time which had to elapse before an installation could be effected, compared with 12 months ago. The reply on that occasion was fairly satisfactory, and if a change has taken place in that regard owing to the inability of the Department to obtain equipment more readily, the Committee would welcome the information.

I pass now to another rather important subject, that of storms. A considerable amount of expenditure is incurred annually through storms. Fortunately, we are not subjected to great storms every year, but periodically we are confronted with considerable storms. Last year a great deal of plant throughout the country was broken down as the result of storms. When I was in the Department we had a huge storm—at that time we used to have huge storms in this House—and a considerable amount of plant was broken down, more especially in the Peak district. It occurred to me that, seeing the Department was continually incurring an enormous amount of expenditure for replacements in the Peak area, it would be worth while to consider the advisability of putting more and more of their plant underground. When I left the Department the whole subject was being considered. It may be that the expenditure would be too great, but it would be interesting if the right hon. Gentleman would make a survey and find out what expenditure has been involved in replacements in that area during the last 10 years. Perhaps that information might persuade him that it would be to the advantage of the Department and everyone concerned to adopt the policy that I have suggested. It is a practical proposition and a question of economics. I am certain that it would wipe out a considerable amount of the delay that is experienced at a time when most people are keenly anxious to use the services, and at a time when the services are more required than on ordinary occasions.

It has come to my notice that there is not only a considerable amount of delay, but a considerable amount of expense involved in installing the telephone system in the large blocks of flats that are being erected in London and the large cities. Has the Department considered the advisability of having a conference with members of the Institute of British Architects for the purpose of placing before them the advantage and advisability of their being prepared, when arranging for the construction of buildings, to see that ducts, troughs or channels are put into the buildings. That would make it so much easier to put in the telephone wires where a large number of telephones are being installed. The suggestion is worthy of consideration. The subject has been pursued in America, and in one or two Continental countries, and if it has not already been considered by the Department, I offer it as a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. It would help to reduce the cost of installation.

When I was in the Department I put a question on one occasion as to what the Department considered to be the approximate capital outlay of installing a telephone in an average house. I am quoting from memory, and my memory may have failed me, but I think the sum was about £100 of capital expenditure. It is not merely a question of the instrument and the wires from the street into the house, such as one gets when an electric supply is installed, but it means that a pair of wires has always to be available for that telephone installation. If the capital expenditure amounted to that in 1930, it would be interesting to know just what the capital expenditure is now. The average telephone-user seldom attaches any importance to the enormous capital cost involved in installing telephones. If the facts I have asked for could be given, I feel sure that the telephone subscriber would appreciate more how much capital the State is putting into the telephone system. I would like to ask whether the Department has any new scheme in mind for the purpose of increasing the use of the telephone in rural areas—

The Deputy-Chairman

That subject would be more appropriately raised on the Estimates, than on this Resolution. We are not now discussing the General Post Office Estimates.

Mr. Viant

I have raised these points because they involve capital expenditure. They are not questions as to hours of labour or working conditions, but they involve definite capital expenditure, and this really is the only occasion that we have for discussing capital expenditure in that regard.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member has been travelling rather wider than the Resolution which is under discussion.

Mr. Viant

I have referred to telephones in the rural areas because I am aware of the enormous capital expenditure involved in the development of this service. I have raised the matter in order to elicit information as to the proportion of capital expenditure used for the purpose of rural development as against urban development. At the present time a large number of people in the rural areas feel that they are not getting their due share of capital expenditure from the Department. If we could have an assurance on the matter, the Committee, and more especially those who represent rural areas, would appreciate it.

I would ask a question on another subject. Has anything been done to implement the recommendations of the committee that was set up in 1928 when the Holborn explosion took place. It will be remembered that gas had accumulated in the tunnels under Holborn, and caused a serious explosion for which an attempt was made to hold the Post Office responsible. But it was an escape of gas over which the Post Office had no control, and the Post Office could not he saddled with the whole responsibility for the disaster. About a fortnight ago I read in the press a report in which it was stated that two manhole covers on Wimbledon Broadway had blown up and only by luck missed injuring two pedestrians. Was that explosion in any way due to an accumulation of gas?

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member really must not pursue that subject on this Resolution.

Mr. Viant

It involves the instaliation of an automatic fan in those tunnels or ducts.

The Deputy-Chairman

That is purely a matter of administration, and it must be raised on the Post Office Vote.

Mr. Viant

I, of course, obey your ruling, but as the matter involves capital expenditure I thought I was in order in raising it. I see from the Resolution that £3,000,000 is to be used for the postal and telegraph services. I gather that in the main it will be used for the telegraph service. It would not go very far with the postal services. I would like a little enlightenment on the subject. If the greater part of this sum is to be used for the telegraph service, can the right hon. Gentleman say for what development that sum is to be used? The Committee has been happy to hear that the telegraph service has somewhat improved since the inauguration of the 6d. telegram. I think the 6d. telegram was a good idea and that it has come to stay. More and more people seem to be availing themselves of the special greeting telegrams and the telgrams at the cheaper rate. I presume that the teleprinter is helping in the development. These points are, I hope, of sufficient importance to call for some useful information from the right hon. Gentleman. I offer my congratulations to the Department on the admirable manner and spirit in which they have pushed forward the telephone business, as they push forward to the utmost of their ability all other departments of business.

2.18 p.m.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Sir Waiter Womersley)

May I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant), who occupied the position that I now hold, for the very important questions that he has put before us. I would thank him because we get so little opportunity of discussing this great Department of State, the Post Office. I would remind him that after all that is the fault of his own leaders, because, as he knows, the Opposition has the power to select the subject for discussion on Supply Days. I can assure him that both the Postmaster-General and myself have been hoping and longing that the Opposition Leader would decide to have a whole day's Debate on the postal service. I rather think that that has not been possible because the Opposition realised that there is so little to criticise. An Opposition is supposed to criticise, and hon. Members opposite say "What is the good of having this Department before us when there is nothing to criticise" If I dared I would like to enter into a little discussion of what the hon. Member was pleased to call a nationalised service. This has been a monopoly since the days of Charles I. It is a complete monopoly, with no foreign competitors, and it has not to compete in the export markets of the world. May I remind the hon. Member also of the fact that at the present moment—

The Deputy-Chairman

I think the hon. Member is a little out of Order now. We had better leave this matter to be considered on the Estimates.

Sir W. Womersley

My hon. Friend raised the question of increased costs. I think he is rather inclined to the opinion that we are paying largely increased costs for plant and equipment, because he fears the increases in the cost of raw materials and labour, and also there is at the back of his mind the idea that firms are now making armaments for the Government who would otherwise be engaged in working for the Post Office. I am sure he will be pleased to know that as far as automatic exchanges are concerned, on which we are spending a lot of money, the costs are actually down by 2½ per cent., and when we come to internal plant, the general price level shows a drop of 2 per cent. As regards external plant there we are up by 18 per cent., but I do not think this can be considered a very big rise if you consider what is happening in the world as regards the price of raw materials. I have gone into this matter carefully because it interests me, and I find that this 18 per cent. increase is almost entirely due to the increased price of copper and lead, that is, a world price increase. We are suffering along with the rest of the world.

Mr. Viant

And you use a lot of it?

Sir W. Womersley

Indeed, we do. We are watching the markets very carefully, and I think it will be found that our percentage increase is less than that of any other business in the country. The hon. Member also asked a question about the cost of buildings and said that it was bound to increase. The cost has, in the last five years, gone up by 15 per cent., due to an increase in wages and the cost of materials. He also asked what we were doing to anticipate increased costs in the future—had we done anything in the way of buying in advance? I can tell him that it is not the policy of the Department—I am sure he knows it, because the policy was just the same when he was at the Post Office—not to go in for speculative or indiscriminate buying, but we are watching the markets carefully, and are covering ourselves as far as it is possible to do so. We have safeguards which, I think, could well be copied by other Departments. I have gone into this matter, because I was fearful that we might have to pay, so to speak, through the nose. Our safeguards are, to my mind, without doubt the best that any Department could have. I would not like to disclose them, because they might be copied, and it may be that those with whom we are doing business might get to know too much, but I can assure the hon. Member that our safeguards are really good.

The hon. Member also raised the question of communications between North and South, and mentioned that, owing to the existence of overhead lines, there was a disturbance of communications owing to storms and damage. We are doing what we can to put more cables underground. At the present moment between London and Scotland there are 94 circuits, and, in addition, 30 are in the course of being provided. We try to put as many as possible underground. In fact, 90 per cent. of the total Post Office wire mileage is underground, so that the hon. Member will realise that a great advance has been made in the last year or two on the conditions which prevailed when he was at the Post Office. This proportion is larger than that of any other country in the world. We lead the world in underground cables.

I should like to pay a tribute to our engineering staff for the way in which they deal with storm damage, which is considerable at times. During last year £116,000 has had to be spent on repairs caused by storm damage, and our engineering staff endeavour to put anything which has been disturbed by storms right as quickly as possible. That is a tribute which, I think, should be paid to them for their good work. The hon. Member asked whether we were also in touch with architects in the case of large new buildings to be erected, and whether we have any arrangements for the installation of our services without having to do a lot of alterations afterwards. We are constantly in touch with the architects of any large buildings in the matter of providing telephone facilities, and there is a half page notice on the subject in the London Telephone Directory. I should like to send him our official book on the subject, which I am sure, he will accept, in which he will get all the information.

He mentioned something about the average cost of the installation of a telephone, and stated that the figure was somewhere about £100 in 1931. I am glad to tell him that, owing to the increase in business and the better contracts we have been able to place for equipment, the cost is now about £70—a little less. I think that figure will be considered a good one. I agree that it is a wise thing that the public should know how much capital expenditure is involved in installing a telephone. There is included in this Resolution a considerable sum for rural telephones, the supply of kiosks and automatic exchanges, to give rural areas equal facilities with urban districts. It is rather interesting to notice how people in rural areas have appreciated the various concessions which have been made. What was known as the Jubilee Kiosk Scheme was inaugurated in 1935, and 840 of these have been erected up to April this year, and we have 150 remaining to be paid for out of this capital expenditure.

The Ter-centenary concession will mean the provision of 10,000 kiosks. The general tariff reduction, including an allowance of 50 free calls, was given to rural subscribers as well as to the others, and the abolition of the extra mileage, charge for subscribers within a radius of three miles of an exchange, benefited rural users to a remarkable degree. I will give hon. Members the latest figures I have to show the growth and the necessity for more capital expenditure. In 1933, there were 165,989 subscribers in rural areas, whereas in 1936, there were 221,466. If one takes the actual number of telephones, since in some cases there is more than one telephone in a house, the figures are more remarkable still. In 1933, there were 209,948 telephones, and in 1936 there were 281,651. The rate of increase in the rural areas has even been greater than that in the urban areas. I think the hon. Member for West Willesden will agree that we are not by any means neglecting the rural areas.

The hon. Member wanted to know how the £3,000,000 required for the Postal and Telegraph services would be distributed, and said that he thought most of it would be spent on the telegraph side. The figures are as follow: £400,000 goes to the telegraph side, and £2,600,000 goes to the postal side. It is clear that the postal side will not be neglected. We are not neglecting any side of this business. My right hon. Friend does not hesitate to ask for sanction for money to be spent on improvements, because he is keen to see the service improved. The hon. Member for West Willesden asked about the Holborn fire—

The Deputy-Chairman

That is a matter which must be dealt with on the Estimates.

Sir W. Womersley

I will communicate with the hon. Member on that point. My right hon. Friend informs me that we are to have a day for the Post Office Esti- mates this year, and I assure the hon. Member that there will be adequate replies to all his questions on that occasion. I hope hon. Members are satisfied that we are asking for a reasonable sum. We are asking for a sum which will be expended in investments on behalf of our shareholders, the general public. Due to the general improvement in trade throughout the country, brought about by good, sound Government policy, due to the better terms and conditions offered by the Post Office to its customers and to the splendid work of the officials in the Department and the staff generally, the service has become so popular that we have to go on spending money on capital matters. Those are the reasons we have to ask for this money, and I think they are good and sufficient ones.

The hon. Member for West Willesden asked whether the Government's rearmament programme was making any substantial difference to the Department in the matter of purchases, and whether any large portion of the money for which we are asking will have to go in payment of increased charges on that count. Our experience so far has proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the effects of the rearmament programme on our purchases is very small. We think that by careful watching and by using our best business acumen we can avoid having to pay anything in the way of excessive prices, and I am satisfied that the Committee, in voting this money, may rest assured that those who are in charge of the Department and those who are working in it will see that the Government gets value for this money.

2.40 p.m.

Mr. T. Henderson

I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether a small part of the money which is to be voted may be used to remove a very serious grievance of the traders on the southern side of the City of Glasgow. Twenty years ago the traders there wrote to the Department asking that the Saturday delivery should be assured to them before the business premises closed at 12 o'clock.

The Deputy-Chairman

That is not a matter of capital expenditure, but one of administration, and the hon. Member must raise it on the Post Office Estimates.

Mr. Henderson

I am trying to show that it is not due to excessive expendi- ture that this is denied to the traders in that particular part of Glasgow. Twenty years ago the reply given to the traders there was that the deliveries could not be better because it would cost £3,000.

The Deputy-Chairman

That is not a question of capital expenditure. We are not now dealing with the administration of the Post Office. The hon. Gentleman will have ample opportunities of raising that matter on the Post Office Estimates.

Mr. Henderson

I know that I shall have an opportunity then, but so many questions have been raised which seemed to me to be entirely out of order, that I thought I could raise this question also.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to he reported upon Monday next.