HC Deb 24 March 1950 vol 472 cc2319-62

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [17th March], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Question again proposed.

11.26 a.m.

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

When I began my remarks last Friday afternoon I was trying to point out to the House that one reason for the greatly increased demand for telephones was caused by the extremely bad postal service which is provided today. Postal delays are one of the main causes for the increased demand for such services. In his speech last Friday, the Postmaster-General praised the rural deliveries carried out under difficulties, but I am more concerned with urban deliveries which are badly carried out under quite reasonable conditions.

There are two main failings today in urban deliveries. First of all, the timing is at such inconvenient hours as to necessitate increased demands for the use of the telephone. In my own division, which is largely if not entirely a dormitory for Manchester, most people have to leave for work before the first morning delivery at their homes. Similarly, when they return in the evening the last collection has already been made. If a man working in Manchester wants on Monday to get in touch with his friend when he gets home on Monday evening, he writes a letter to him which is collected from the letter box on Tuesday morning, delivered to his friend on Wednesday morning after that friend has already left for work. When he gets back from work on Wednesday he writes out a reply which is not collected until Thursday and is delivered on Friday. Thus, the man who wishes to communicate with his friend on Monday does not, in fact, receive a reply until after he has returned from work on Friday night. Naturally he wants a telephone and applies for one, bearing in mind that it costs about half as much to make a telephone call as to write a letter.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us more precisely what are the times for the departure of his friends to business in the morning and the departure of the last collection in the evening? It is pretty nebulous.

Mr. Erroll

Full details would make my speech long, but I will give one instance of which I wrote to the Postmaster-General. In that particular case the timing of the first delivery was 9.45 a.m. whereas the man left for his work shortly before 9 o'clock. He returned between 6.30 and 6.45 p.m., the final collection from the letter box being at 6.15. That is a specific case, but typical of my area.

There are also practical difficulties in the case of a secretary of a football club, for example, who cannot make any last minute changes by letter. He must use the telephone. Before the war he was able to fix everything by quickly delivered postcard. Now he must use the telephone, and in many respects it might be an advantage for him to have the telephone. Hon. Members opposite should not attribute the increased demand for telephones to the present upsurge in economic activity, because it is due to the worsening postal deliveries in this country.

Apart from the bad timing, there are, of course, slack collections outside the advertised timing, and that is more serious. Again I can produce an example from my own constituency. I have here a letter which was published in the "Altrincham Guardian" from a constituent who is not afraid to put his name to the letter. It was written last Friday, the very day when the Postmaster-General was making his eulogistic remarks about the service. This constituent says: Can nothing be done to improve the postal service between Altrincham and Sale? On Friday last"— that is the Friday previous, 10th March— I posted a letter at Altrincham Head Post Office and saw it collected at 5 p.m. It was delivered in Sale on Monday afternoon. Sale is the other half of my division, and is only three miles away. About a month ago, I posted a letter in Sale on Sunday at 4 p.m."— the average collecting time on Sunday is 5 or 5.30— this reached an address in Timperley—a distance of less than two miles—on Wednesday. By comparison, I received an air mail letter from New York, which travelled 3,000 miles in less than three days. I do not wish to turn this Debate into a purely parochial affair, and I should like to quote from a letter received by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) about the extremely slow deliveries to London business houses, where they do not get their letters until between 11.45 and 12 noon on a Saturday morning. One of the reasons for the slow deliveries is the reluctance of Post Office workers to work on Saturdays. It is not always easy to get post office staff to turn out and do a job of work on Saturday morning.

The Postmaster-General (Mr. Ness Edwards)

Would the hon. Member be good enough to let me have the letter which was sent to his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), and I will have the matter investigated? I would also ask that general allegations should not be made. If there are particular cases I am only too pleased to look into them, but please do not make general allegations.

Mr. Erroll

I will make a general allegation only if it can be supported by specific examples. We are all aware of the practice of "trouble shooting," which is the name given to the shooting down of particular examples in order to show that there is no general trouble behind them. In this case there are any number of examples which well justify the complaints which I have sent to the right hon. Gentleman, particularly in regard to the service between London and Manchester. One of the main troubles is that Post Office staffs are not prepared to do work on Saturday morning.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am sorry to press the hon. Gentleman to give me an answer to the request I made that he would let me have the letter from Kingston-upon-Thames.

Mr. Erroll

I am sorry. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames to whom the letter was sent had indicated assent from behind me. Now let me turn to the capital expenditure involved in the delivery of letters.

Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)

I thank the hon. Member for giving way to me for a moment. I should like him to produce the evidence for his statement that Post Office staffs will not work on Saturday morning and that letters are delayed because they will not do their work.

Mr. Erroll

I did not say that they will not do so but that they are often reluctant, and in many cases do not turn up. The hon. Member knows that perfectly well.

I want to go on to refer to the somewhat careless use that is made of Post Office equipment, showing some of the slack methods employed. Why is it that Post Office vans are nearly always in a bad state of external appearance? Why are they nearly always scratched along the sides, showing how carelessly they have been parked or driven in and out of garages? The majority of Post Office delivery vans, except the newest of all, are in a bad state of external appearance. One has only to go to the head sorting office in Manchester to see the deplorable way in which Post Office vans are handled. There is also a public garage in London adjacent to where some of these delivery vans are kept and which I have had occasion to use myself, and I have had an opportunity of seeing the way in which these vehicles are driven, a way that would not he tolerated by a private firm.

I now turn to the reason why there is such a grossly inflated demand for telephone service and to some of the great frustrations that people are experiencing in getting an adequate telephone service. The delay in providing sufficient equipment in exasperating. In the Sale area many subscribers have been waiting months, and in some cases years, for the installation of a telephone. I brought forward individual cases to the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman or his junior colleague, and I have had the benefit of full and courteous replies, which have been some consolation to my constituents.

Nevertheless, there are some very hard cases. There is one about which I have just written to him. It concerns a businessman who has to spend a great part of his working day in a public call box making his telephone calls. That is no real substitute for having a telephone of his own, for the good reason that he cannot receive any incoming calls in the call box. I am surprised that the Postmaster-General made so much point in his speech about the installation of public call boxes. They are a very poor substitute, particularly in the rural areas. After the telephone has been taken out of a sub-postmaster's shop and placed on the village green, it means that nobody can get hold of the sub-postmaster by ringing his number as they did formerly when the telephone was in his shop.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Hobson)

Would not the hon. Member agree that when a telephone is placed outside a shop, it is available for 24 hours and not simply during the hours of duty of the shopkeeper?

Mr. Erroll

Yes, but only one way, and I do not think that it is wholly an advantage. It means that there can be no incoming calls. In a small village community informal arrangements are often possible. The advantage of having the telephone in the village sub-postmaster's shop or house was that he could accept a few incoming calls and perhaps pass them on to his neighbour as a purely informal arrangement. That should not be forgotten before a decision is taken to rip out a telephone from a shop and put it 100 yards away on the village green. It is sometimes stated that in a residential area such as Sale, telephones are largely a social convenience and amenity and not a necessity, but today it is more than ever an urgent necessity to have a telephone in one's own house. That is particularly true in a moderately well-to-do area. Those are the areas which are most liable to armed attack and robbery. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly, by the very nature of the property.

Mr. Dames (East Ham, North)

I thought we were going to the dogs.

Mr. Erroll

Those are the areas where the telephone is an urgent necessity for the purpose of calling the police, or in other emergencies. It is particularly significant that in such areas where there is a shortage of telephones and far too few public call offices, there are also no police alarms and fire alarms. I would urge the Postmaster-General to remember the importance of installing telephones to provide sufficient coverage for emergencies. It is no use telling a woman who has been "coshed" by an intruder that she can go to the public telephone box and ring for assistance. There have been no cases in Sale, but the way things are going, it looks as though there might be; and not only in Sale but other parts of the country as well.

In the case of Sale in particular, will the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether it is not possible to arrange for some temporary overlap of the exchanges? Is there not spare equipment in Altrincham or at the neighbouring Ringway exchange which can be used to relieve the overload at Sale? In some of the replies which the Minister has been good enough to send me from time to time it is stated that the underground cables are full in a particular section or street. Very often there is a bottleneck of only a few yards. Houses further down the road are receiving telephones while houses up the road are not.

There is very strong feeling on this matter in Sale, where everybody is watching to see where the poles are going up and who is getting the lines into his house. Where the bottleneck is only a few yards or a few streets in extent, could not the right hon. Gentleman put temporary cables overhead to relieve it? There always seem to be so many good reasons for doing nothing. I see the Assistant Postmaster-General shaking his head, but I think it could possibly be done as a temporary measure. Some other amenity might be temporarily interfered with, but it would enable telephones to be installed. I now want to come to the general question of installing an increased amount of telephone equipment.

Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)


Mr. Erroll

I do not think I should give way.

Mr. Harrison

It is a point about Sale which I want to make.

Mr. Erroll

In his opening speech the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to point out very frankly that he was new to his job and that he had not acquired a full understanding of his Department. Might I offer a little advice to him and say, "Do not believe all the excuses you will be given in your Department. Do not believe all the difficulties about which you will be told." Many of the people who are called upon to advise the Postmaster-General have a gramophone record of excuses and they just turn on the gramophone record regardless of changing circumstances. A good example of that occurred last Friday when the right hon. Gentleman referred to the shortage of equipment and raw materials. He pointed to the need for exports. That is a good old excuse which we have been hearing for the last four and half years, and we are now getting tired of it, partly because it is not now quite so apt and partly because production capacity has undergone a good deal of change.

Let us turn first to the export of cables. Cables are certainly being exported, but are they going to the right countries? Is it really important to send such large quantities of telephone cable to Egypt only to have them paid for out of sterling balances? According to the 1949 figures we sent £250,000 worth of telephone cable alone to Egypt. We also sent nearly £1 million worth of rubber insulating cable to India, all paid for out of sterling balances. Is it really necessary? In the case of cables other than rubber insulating, £2,500,000 worth was sent to India in 1949 and nearly £300,000 worth to Norway. If this export is really a part of Government policy, is it not time that the Postmaster-General put his foot down and said, "Do not send any more of this stuff abroad to those countries. We need it in this country." The Postmaster-General should not put up with these excuses any longer but should insist on a fairer allocation for British telephone services.

Mr. Harrison

What about the markets?

Mr. Erroll

We could still keep the markets with a smaller export. That has been done very successfully in the field of textile marketing. In the case of telephone equipment, the annual return of the Trade and Navigation Accounts shows that we sent nearly £1 million worth of telephone equipment to India in 1949 and nearly £4 million to Australia. I agree that we ought to help Australia in the provision of telephone equipment, but we should remember how much smaller the population is in Australia than in Great Britain. Surely Australia is not entitled to nearly £4 million worth of telephone equipment at a time when we so desperately need some more for ourselves.

It is interesting that in all the figures given in the Trade and Navigation Accounts there is not a single sub-heading relating to a dollar country. Although there should be exports, it is questionable whether they are going to the countries which are most important to us. Very little telephone or cable equipment is going to America or Canada and it is not considered necessary to put it under a separate sub-heading in the Trade and Navigation Accounts. I submit that there is very little shortage of cable if only the Post Office would go ahead and buy it.

Mr. Ness Edwards


Mr. Erroll

The right hon. Gentleman must be very ignorant of the truth. Only two days ago we had the chairman of Aberdare Cables complaining that he had a large number of orders cancelled. I am not suggesting that one type of cable is strictly interchangeable with another, but they all use similar raw materials, and in many cases they start with bare copper wire, which is something the Post Office is always in need of. The right hon. Gentleman should have another look at the excuses given to him and see if they are really applicable any longer.

Another excuse of which he made a good deal was: What are we to have—homes or telephone exchanges? I know we have a limited building programme but we could quite easily get the extra floor which is required at the Sale telephone exchange if we lopped it off one of the unnecessary new Government offices being built in Manchester. Let us have fewer Government offices and more telephone exchanges. We could do with a little economy in Government building of a non-productive nature.

The Postmaster-General spoke appealingly about trunk telephone cables and said that when they were installed there were a number of spare lines but that they were now full. Of course they are They are now full of Government trunk lines.

Mr. Hobson


Mr. Erroll

I have the figures here. Only last July, when answering a Question I put to him, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor said that of about 19,000 telephone circuits over 25 miles in length now in use, no fewer than 2,500 were for the exclusive use of Government Departments. That is well over 10 per cent. just for Government Departments. It is a terrible state of affairs that one-tenth of the long distance telephone equipment of the country should be for the exclusive use of Government Departments. I do not know what the figures are for PBX boards and hand microphone installations, but I should think that it is even higher than 10 per cent. Let us try to cut down the unnecessary use which Government Departments are making of our telephone service. If we do that we should be able to improve the service to the public.

However, the real way to get over the difficulties—I know that there are difficulties in providing a full service; I appreciated many of the points made in the right hon. Gentleman's speech—is to try to get better value for the money we shall spend as a result of the Bill. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to look at the type of equipment which will be purchased. Let us see that it is really up-to-date and not shocking old stuff. The hand microphone was a good design when it was introduced, I think under a Conservative 'Government. 15 or 20 years ago, but there has been progress since then. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I knew that hon. Members would respond to that one. They are very much in need of a little encouragement these days. What about having a cheaper, more efficient and up-to-date hand microphone? They are installed in millions. Every penny we can save on the hand microphone will save huge sums of capital expenditure in the long run.

Look at the clumsy coin boxes which are installed in public call boxes. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley) apologised to the House on behalf of the Conservative Party for not having installed public telephone boxes before the telephone was invented. However, we made some progress before the war. We hope that there can be progress in the field of telephone engineering in the same way that there is progress in fields of engineering more open to private enterprise.

There have been plenty of technological developments in other fields during the last 15 years, but one field where there has been no progress at all is that of the clumsy old boxes with buttons labelled A and B. Cannot we have progress there? In other countries one sees far more modem, more efficient and cheaper installations, such as call boxes where there is no need for buttons A and B because the coin returns automatically if the call is not connected. Such boxes are smaller, thus economising in raw materials and labour. They are very efficient in operation, and they spare the user the necessity of having to resort to the initials A and B, which are always so difficult to get across on the sort of lines we have to use these days.

What about changing from porcelain insulators which crack in frosty weather and thereby cause delays to modern glass ones? The latter, I think, do not cost more and they are more efficient. And what about getting into the telephone exchanges themselves and seeing if we cannot economise in the amount of machinery required to operate each exchange? I am sure that there is room for great economy there, particularly in regard to the counting units used for recording local calls. Is it worth the trouble any longer, under post-war conditions, of laboriously logging up all the penny calls and charging them to separate subscribers?

When a person has decided to instal a telephone, does the right hon. Gentleman think it really matters much to him whether his penny calls come to 7s. 6d. or 6s. 6d. compared with the advantage it would be just to pay a flat rate? Particularly when one remembers that this would enable us to dispense with the installation of new counting units in the telephone exchanges, and that the labour and materials thus saved could be used for producing more of the selector mechanisms so urgently required. As my hon. Friend has suggested, it would also greatly simplify the accounting and many other processes which tend to make our service expensive.

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman looks at this as being quite an important contribution to an improved telephone service. Furthermore, it would make a great contribution to the attractiveness of a shared line. The tendency during the last four years has been to regard people who were not willing to share a line as selfish. It is not a question of selfishness. There is the material point, mentioned last Friday, that the rebate is not sufficient to attract a person into sharing a line. There is the even greater difficulty in present circumstances that if one shares a line, one has to share the local calls equally, and there is always the feeling that the other person will be totting up more calls on the counting unit. If we could abandon the system of individual counts for local calls, it would be much easier to make shared lines practicable.

I believe there is much to be said for shared lines and I was disappointed to observe from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that the great research station at Dollis Hill—whose activities are not to be reduced fortunately—has devoted so little of its time in the last four year towards perfecting a system of shared lines. In these days of technological progress in other fields surely it is not beyond the ability of the Post Office engineering staff to devise a system of shared lines without being overheard as a permanent feature of our telephone system? I do not think they ought to be regarded as stopgaps to overcome a temporary shortage.

When one considers the immense amount of capital equipment behind every number in the telephone directory, it is obviously of great importance to evolve a good system of sharing if we can provided the saving can be passed on to the subscriber. So I hope the right hon. Gentleman will issue an urgent directive to Dollis Hill to that effect. If we could be the first in that field we might develop an important and valuable new export trade, and it might be possible in the course of time to share three subscribers on one line or perhaps four, and that would be valuable in rural areas.

There is yet one other important way in which the Post Office could economise in capital expenditure on telephone services, namely, to encourage the use of V.H.F. radio communication. The Post Office is zealous in its monopoly of communication over the surface of this island and does not like interlopers, and it has been quite easy hitherto, with land line communication, to insist on the monopoly because of the difficulty of running lines. Now, we have the new factor of V.H.F. communication made possible by technological advances, and the Post Office does not like it because this new method threatens its monopoly. So people who would like to instal V.H.F. radio communication between, say, two offices situated 20 miles apart, are having difficulty in getting Post Office licences, because the Post Office wants all such communication to go through its own monopoly network.

I have a case before me of a firm of shipping owners who wish to arrange for ship to shore communication to connect with the trunk telephone system of this country. The Post Office will only allow it, provided it has complete control and ownership of the land and of the installation. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he could get much capital expenditure carried out by private enterprise if he would allow private enterprise to do it. Thus we would get an even better system of tele-communication within this country without the need for expending so much money as is proposed in this Bill.

I appreciated very much the approach of the right hon. Gentleman to television. I thought his statement marked a big step forward, and I hope we shall get the television transmitters erected as quickly as he announced last Friday. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has been impressed by the case put up to his predecessor and we on this side are grateful for the enlightened and bold programme of television construction which he outlined last week.

11.46 a.m.

Sir George Harvie-Watt (Richmond, Surrey)

A great deal of ground was covered in the Debate last Friday, as has been the case today, and many of the points I had hoped to deal with have been ticked off on my notes. First, may I congratulate the Postmaster-General on his enthusiasm in introducing this Bill? I hope that that almost lyrical enthusiasm will sustain him during the months he is in office and that much progress will be made in solving the problems in his Department. There are many problems for him to solve which will give his many headaches.

My two main points are on the transmission of letters and the telephone ser- vice, bath of which are far from satisfactory. I know it is easy to take a few difficult cases from one's own constituency and try to prove from them that the entire system is at fault, but I will not take such cases and I hope that the Postmaster-General will give further earnest consideration to the question of earlier collections and deliveries in the London and near London areas, because, undoubtedly, there is great delay there.

Last week, I was rather perturbed to get the impression that the 2½d. stamp was likely to be permanent; indeed, that if the cost of living went up, there might even be a rise in the cost of postage. I hope that was a wrong impression, because postage is very expensive already. I speak feelingly on the subject, and I expect I shall have the support of every hon. Member, because I have been dealing in the last few weeks with my letters of thanks as a result. of the Election. I find that some hon. Members have written 200 or 300 letters. One told me that he had written nearly 3,000. I wrote over 1,000 and that cost me well over £10. Of course, in the bad old days of the penny post it would have cost me only just over £4. We call that progress. I hope that is not the kind of stability we shall get from this Postmaster-General.

The expenditure on telephone service envisaged by the Bill will, I hope, help to remove much of the delay in the creation of telephone facilities. In my constituency I get almost as many letters complaining about the shortage of telephone facilities as I do about the shortage of housing accommodation; delays, which seem to have stretched from months into years, continue. I must say that when I took up cases of hardship with the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman, he was very good about them, and many were settled in a comparatively short time. That is true mainly of the shared line principle.

I do not altogether agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) in hoping for a tremendous extension of shared lines facilities. I do not believe it is a popular arrangement with any telephone subscriber. Everyone want his own telephone, and I hope that this arrangement will be only a temporary expedient. I do not mean temporary in the same sense as "temporary" rank in the Army, which can go on for years. I hope that shared lines will be really a temporary measure and not be continued for a very long time.

I should like to put one or two questions to the Postmaster-General. First, what amount has a new subscriber to put down by way of deposit for a new installation, and what is the cost of the deposit when that installation is shared by other people? I was very interested in the Debate last week, and to learn the divergent views of hon. Members on the shortage of materials. We were told by the right hon. Gentleman that there was a shortage of copper, tin and cables. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), however, said that there was no shortage and that these raw materials were in plentiful supply. I do not know the real answer, but I suspect that the supply of these materials to the Post Office is short because of the export drive, which has included even telephone instruments.

Can the Postmaster-General tell us the proportion of raw materials which is exported which would otherwise come to his Department, and the proportion of telephone equipment which is exported in comparison with that which is used at home? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can also give us some idea as to how long the existing delay in the supply of telephones will continue. There is still an ever-growing waiting list, and I think that we should have some idea of when this demand is likely to be met.

Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman give the figures of new telephone installations and shared lines for each of the last four years? The answers to these questions would be very helpful, and I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will be able to give them in his reply. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bend his energies and enthusiasm to making this service, which I believe to be a good service, even better by a more capable and competent administration.

12.3 p.m.

Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his first speech as Postmaster-General and also to say that I have always found his predecessors most helpful and agreeable in dealing with personal cases. I do not doubt that the new Postmaster-General will follow their good example.

I want, very briefly, to made one or two observations about telephones and television. From the two admirable speeches to which I have just listened from my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir H. Watt) there appears to be some confusion about party, or shared, lines. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale wants the shared line to become a permanent feature and to be greatly developed technically, while my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey, hopes that that will not happen because of the disadvantages of this system.

I want to make a particular plea and to ask a particular question about shared lines. The present disadvantage of this system is that the shared line is not available for both parties all the time; one partner cannot use it when it is being used by the other. There is also the suspicion that a person's private business may be overheard. I think that that fear is greatly exaggerated, however, and I often persuade my constituents that shared lines are better than none.

Technically, however, there is no reason whatever why there should be any overhearing, nor is there any reason why five or ten people should not be able to use the same line at the same time. It is all a question of whether the cost of the line is so great that it pays to provide high frequency apparatus, in each of the subscribers' homes, to separate the several circuits. There could be five or ten people talking on the same line at the same time without any of them overhearing the others or interfering in any way.

I should like to know whether experiments in the economy of lines by the use of high frequency circuits are being made at Dollis Hill or elsewhere. If not, I should like an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that experiments of this kind will be made. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale that a considerable advance can be made in this direction, perhaps to the permanent advantage of our telephone system. Indeed, the waiting list figure of 500,000 people is so extraordinarily high that something must be done along these or other lines, otherwise it will be years before a reasonable provision of telephones is made to meet the existing enormous demand.

I am told that 7,000 farmers are awaiting the installation of telephones. I cannot help thinking that that number must be very much greater. I should have thought there were 7,000 in my constituency alone. [Laughter.] That is, perhaps, an exaggeration, but there are certainly very many farmers who are awaiting telephones.

In this connection, I want to make a suggestion about the system of using a number of circuits over a single line. There is no reason why the electricity wires which are now being provided for more farms and which, we hope, will soon go to every farm, should not at the same time also carry a telephone circuit and a radio circuit. If it is the long distances over which the wires and the poles have to be installed which is the main factor, then all three of these services could be transmitted over the same installation. It is really a question of the balance of the cost of lines as against that of the apparatus. I should like the Postmaster-General to say whether any inquiry or research is being made in this direction.

I wish to say a word of praise of the B.B.C. and of the radio trade for their contribution to television. I join with the right hon. Gentleman in praising his Department, but let us not forget that the B.B.C. and the trade have played a very great part in bringing television to its present state. We were the first country to have a public television service. But for the setback of the war years, I do not doubt that we would now have been leading the world and would have a tremendous export trade. We must do our best, however, to overcome the difficulties which were imposed upon us by the war.

There are one or two questions, technical and otherwise, which I should like to ask about television. First, can the Assistant Postmaster-General assure us that the fullest possible consideration has been given to the definition which it used in television? The definition used in American television is higher than ours. By this I mean that the number of lines per inch is higher in the American system and gives better definition. A similar comparison might be made with printed pictures where one screen will give a better picture than another because, technically, it is a finer job. It may be that we were forced to continue with our system, which is inferior in this respect to the American system; on the other hand, ours may have its advantages. I do not know of them, but I should like to know.

Even now there are only some 250,000 television viewers in this country. If television is to be really successful, we must get 2½ million or 5 million viewers. Before we extend our development by 10 or 20 times, however, we ought to be assured that, looking ahead over, say, ten years, the technical standards which are in use are really the best. Enormous capital expenditure will be involved in half a million, a million or five million television sets. One day they will have to be scrapped and perhaps the best thing is to wait until colour is really available and then contemplate scrapping the lot. I would like to know whether the Postmaster-General has given this matter some consideration.

Another point affects my constituency and the whole of the North-West of England. I am not satisfied that the plans that have been projected will really give television to the very substantial number of people who live in Workington, Whitehaven, Blackpool, Ulverston, Morecambe and Heysham, Kendal, Lancaster and Preston, to mention a few of the principal towns on the western side of the Pennine Range. I do not know exactly where Holme Moss is, but if it is really on the top of the Pennines, there may be a clear sight from the top of the television masts to a town like Morcambe, 55 miles away. But, if it is to the east of the Pennines, as I suspect it to be, and at a lower level than the highest point of the Pennine Range, the waves will not jump over the mountains. They cannot go over the top of mountains; they are like the beams of a motor car's headlights.

It is not enough for the Postmaster-General to say that we should wait until Holme Moss is working, in 1951 or 1952, and see how we get on. It is already possible, technically, to have re- lay stations which can pick up television signals and transmit them at reasonable cost over small areas. We in the North-West would like to be assured of at least a relay service being given us. I ask the Postmaster-General, or the Assistant Postmaster-General, to give us that assurance.

The right hon. Gentleman may say he cannot afford to guarantee, at this stage, that the whole of the population, or even the large and important number living in the North-West, shall have television, which brings me to the question of financing television. At one time I was connected with the B.B.C., for 10 years or thereabouts, and I was in a position to share with others in the study and thought about television in its early stages as it was developed. We always said among ourselves that the technical problems were not really problems which would make the advance of television slow in Britain—the technicians would get over those difficulties, but that finance was the real problem. None of us could see how television could be paid for.

In Britain we have succeeded in paying for radio out of licences so that we do not have to bring advertisements to the aid of the financing of radio. They are a commonplace in America, in Canada, to a large extent, in Australia and are beginning in South Africa. Some of us wondered whether radio could be paid for on a proper level by licences alone. We have succeeded in doing that in Britain, and I am very proud of that. I would not like to see our Home Service using advertisements. But there is a balance here, let it be understood. If we get another £5 million or £10 million into sound radio at home we could get considerable improvement in the programmes, but, of course, at a cost of reference to advertisements, which would, no doubt, offend the susceptibilities of many people.

I am one who wants home radio to remain advertisement free. But I am not so sure about television. About 12 million listeners pay £1 per year and the R.B.C. gets nearly all that money, after some deductions by the Post Office for collection, and so on. In addition, the Government have to make a grant of £4 million or £5 million for the overseas services, which are recognised to be services not so much for the home listener but for the Colonies and Empire and in their general interest. Out of those 12 million licences sound broadcasting and television broadcasting have to be paid for. The present situation is that the 12 million sound listeners are really paying for the quarter of a million television viewers. Perhaps that is necessary in the early stages, and not unfair, because television will one day become available to all. But even if we got a million television viewers, or five million television viewers, we would only get an extra £1 million, or, perhaps, an extra £5 million of revenue, and the cost of television is many times the cost of sound broadcasting. The cost of a quarter of an hour's programme in sound broadcasting may be one-tenth of the cost of television.

I cannot see how an adequate television service can be financed in this country unless we allow sponsoring in the television field. What are the real Objections to sponsoring? Perhaps the artist—I do not necessarily mean the particular singer, or person of that kind. but the person with artistic sensibility—does not feel he would like a serious programme, a play or operatic programme, constantly interrupted by cheap advertising. The case has always been presented in this country in that form, that one can only have sponsoring if one allows cheap advertising; but that is not true.

It is possible for sponsoring to be done in a dignified manner. The reference to the firm paying for the programme may be made at the beginning, or at the end of the programme. It may be, "This play comes to you by the courtesy of Nuffield Motors Limited." That is all one is obliged to hear and it does not offend all through the programme. It may be better to do without it, but I cannot see how we can do without it in television.

We want many millions to do this job properly not merely for our own entertainment, but in order that what we do shall be of advantage to the world, affecting our prestige and affecting our sales of equipment to other parts of the world. At least two, and possibly more, important public inquiries in the last 20 years, on which the newspapers were represented, while maintaining that sound broadcasting should o operate without advertisements, have recommended that sponsoring should be allowed in the case of television. I ask the Government not to close their minds to this matter because I do not believe a television service, taking full advantage of modern technological advances, can be paid for in this country unless advertisements are brought in to help.

There is also a case for allowing advertising to make a contribution to some pants of the burden of our overseas programmes. We are paying £4 million a year to subsidise the B.B.C. overseas programmes. I dare say that some of them have Foreign Office implications. Others go out to our Colonies and Dominions, and there is no reason of which I can think why British products, British motor-cars, for example, should not be advertised on those programmes. Indeed, there is every reason why they should be. It is monstrous that the listener in Sydney or Johannesburg should tune into the United States and be advised to buy a Ford or a Chrysler, but that when he tunes into Britain he should not even hear the name of any British motor-car. It is unfair to our trade and is quite an unnecessary artistic piece of snobbery to put this ban upon advertising in our overseas programmes.

I should like, therefore, to ask the Postmaster-General carefully to consider the introduction of sponsoring both in our overseas and television programmes. As one who has for so long cherished and fought for the integrity of our home programme I affirm that I should not regard such a development of sponsoring as being the thin edge of the wedge, which would necessarily or even be likely to break down the integrity of our home programme. I conclude as I began, by congratulating the Postmaster-General on his speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, the first speech in his term of office, and by wishing him good luck in his period of office.

12.22 p.m.

Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), and with the exception of his last point, about introducing sponsoring to the television programmes, I found myself largely in agreement. I would resist the idea that overseas programmes should be sponsored. Indeed, I should have thought that it was in those very broadcasts that we ought to maintain the dignity which has been achieved in our home broadcasts.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) is no longer in his place. I hope that the length of his speech has not unduly exhausted him. Some of the points he made ought to be answered from this side of the House. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will not lend too ready an ear to some of the points he made. For example, I thought that the hon. Member was suggesting that we should not export to those countries in whose debt we are, in respect of sterling balances, commodities such as telephone equipment, of which we stand badly in need at home. This is just another variation of the Conservative theme that we should repudiate the sterling balances.

The phrase that those of us who have worked overseas became very familiar with in the past, that "an Englishman's word is his bond" is something of which many of us on both sides of the House have been very proud. I cannot help feeling that the sort of speech made by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale will be misconstrued in other countries where we do considerable trade. If we are to get the reputation of going back on the promises we made during the war by saying now that we shall not export to those countries in whose debt we are, those goods which they badly need, we shall be doing a great disservice to the traders and manufacturers of this country, quite apart from the question of our national integrity.

The hon. Member, speaking about telephone cables, referred to the fact that approximately 10 per cent. of such cables in this country were for official use. I wonder if the Postmaster-General or the Assistant Postmaster-General, in replying to the Debate, can tell us what portion of that 10 per cent. is in the hands of the Services? I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist any pressure to reduce the number of cables in the hands of the Services. I for one should not like this country to go back to the state of un-preparedness in which it was at the outbreak of war, when the telephone communications of this country were in such a bad state, from the strategic aspect, that our defences were in a serious condition for a long time until that matter was put right.

Mr. R. V. Grimston (Westbury)


Mr. Snow

The hon. Member says "Nonsense," but I wish that some of the brigadier's fifth column on the Opposition side of the House were present today—

Mr. Charles Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

I was privileged to show some Americans round our fighter defence system in the early years of the war, and they were staggered by the wonderful telephone communications we had. Radar stations in the North of Scotland were connected to Fighter Command, and it would be most unfair to say that telephone communications were not good.

Mr. Snow

That is interesting, and I am sure that the hon. Member knows what he is talking about in relation to the subject he has mentioned. I am talking about anti-aircraft defences in East Anglia, and the state of telephone communications in that respect was deplorable. I am not blaming anyone for that. I am merely saying that we should not go back to the state of affairs which prevailed in 1941, and should learn a lesson from the past.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale made a general accusation of slackness and reluctance to work against postal workers. That is characteristic of the attack on the workers which we are learning to expect from the other side of the House. His experiences are at variance with my own experiences and impressions in the country. Many of these postal workers work difficult hours and have most difficult jobs to perform. If the hon. Member is saying that we should go back to the conditions of work which prevailed before the war I would say to him that when there is full employment, as is virtually the case in this country, it will be a difficult proposition to convince postal workers that they should go back to what I must describe as having been, in many cases, very bad conditions of work before the war.

We must not try to get things on the cheap. If we want to improve the service the nation must be prepared to pay for it.

Mr. Erroll

I am only anxious that we should get the service for which we are paying and which we are entitled to receive.

Mr. Snow

That is another way of saying that the workers are slacking and not giving of their best. It is a gibe which we hear from the Conservatives time after time. The trouble is that the Conservative Party goes to the country and makes a lot of glib promises to attract the workers and then comes to this House and insults the workers, presumably basing itself on the fairly safe assumption that the sort of speech which the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale made this morning will not be reported in the servile Tory Press.

The subject of conditions of work leads me to my final point. I have in mind a postman in the little Essex village where I live. He is, I believe, an auxiliary postman, though he may be in the classification known as allowance deliverer. According to my calculation he cycles between 12 and 16 miles daily and one can set one's watch by the time he turns up at the post box on his round. He is over 60 years of age and he does a magnificent job. I wonder whether we should continue to depend upon men of that age cycling in all weathers on that sort of round, and whether we should not provide them with more modern equipment to do their job?

There are on the market excellent small horse-power motor cycles equipped with large panniers capable of taking quite a reasonable quantity of letters and parcels. Why could not the Post Office consider providing rural postmen with that sort of equipment. I do not think that the capital expenditure would be exorbitant. It would provide a means of.giving efficiency of service and would not, I say frankly, mean continuing to exploit the devotion of these rural postmen. Lastly, I wish to dissociate myself from the repeated accusations of slackness and reluctance of the workers which we are getting a little tired of hearing from the other side of the House.

12.29 p.m.

Mr. Charles Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

We have heard some interesting observations not only from this side of the House but from the 'hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), but I do not think that anyone has drawn attention to the fact that this is yet another Supplementary Estimate. In February, 1948, the Postmaster-General asked for another £75 million which was to last until the end of this year. We find that in practice it will only last until July, 1950. Are we, in spite of the capital cuts, to have this repeated coming back to the House for increases in the amount which the Post Office requires?

Mr. Hobson

The hon. Member should appreciate that we have now to pay more for our materials.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I can only hope that now that we have dismissed bulk buying and returned to competitive methods, we shall be able to get our raw materials at a more economic rate. I was surprised and delighted at the reference by the right hon. Gentleman to television. I had studied the Bill most carefully and had not been able to see that television was in it. It is very perplexing to a newcomer to this House to find just where the responsibility lies. I read in the OFFICIAL REPORT in July that the Assistant Postmaster-General, speaking in a Debate, said: So far as the actual development of television is concerned, it is the responsibility of the B.B.C. as to whether they develop their stations, and that is very important"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1949; Vol. 467, c. 2962.] At that time of course public indignation was at a high pitch and the Assistant Postmaster-General was under fire from hon. Members on this side of the House. Now that the Press and others have kicked the people responsible into a little greater activity and we see that the Postmaster-General is claiming responsibility for the development of stations, I am delighted, but I do find it perplexing. On Friday last the Postmaster-General said: It is an appropriate occasion, therefore, for me to announce that its provision should enable us to ensure that in a little more than two years time television should be made available to about 70 per cent. of the population."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1465.] Then he explained the programme. That does not seem to be in keeping with the previous statement. Perhaps we may have it made quite clear, for the benefit of humble back benchers such as myself, where the responsibility lies. It reminds me of the song: Yes, sir, that's my baby; No, sir, that's as may be, Yes, sir, that's my baby girl. The Postmaster-General claims no responsibility when the child is unpopular but now rushes to claim paternity. I understand he is unquestionably responsible for the centimetre links and I should like a little more information on these. I understand he has had to be a little conservative—if I may be excused using that word—about the links on the first occasion, between London and Birmingham; he has put them every 17 miles. I believe, in the light of operational experience, that distance could be increased, particularly as we could site them on the hills, like the Pennine Range, in the North of England.

We have had no reference to the capital cost of the television cable being laid between London and Birmingham. I am mindful of the fact that this cable will also carry the multi-channel telephone circuit; but are we to continue that cable, not only to Birmingham, but right up to Scotland, because it must be an enormous capital expenditure? One inch tube is to be used and wisely used in view of the very high definitions and the possibility of colour in 20 years' time. But it is very expensive and we should like to know what it will cost; and what rental the B.B.C. will be charged for that cable on a yearly basis. Because if the Scotsmen have to pay an economic rent for their cable they will feel the draught.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayrshire, South)

Is the hon. Member suggesting that Scotland should not get the benefit, although they are paying taxes?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

No, I am not suggesting that, but I should like to know what the cost is to be, because it must be quite a high proportion of the total grant. Perhaps the Minister would also say if he is proposing to proceed with the centimetre link to the Continent. He may consider that to be a far cry, but it is in keeping with the thought of the cultural ties of Western Union, that we should have links in this country with continental countries.

I was also delighted to note the reference by the right hon. Gentleman last Friday to television licences, and his encouragement to people to take them out. Being associated with the industry I keep a fairly careful check, and it does appear that one in three people are extremely forgetful. We have in fact sold 370,000 television sets and installed them in homes and so far there are only 285,000 licences.

Mr. Ness Edwards indicated dissent.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I have made allowance for 50,000 sets in the shops.

We have had a reference to the commercial television and I should like to reinforce the view expressed by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). Please do not shut the door to the possibility of the commercial television programme. I had some responsibility for televising the Derby in 1938 and 1939, and there must be many people in this country who saw the recent announcement in the newspapers that yet again the Derby would not be televised. They must have wondered when we shall get these big sporting events into the home. We have missed all the big boxing matches and the Derby. Originally they were, in form, sponsored, because they were projected into seven cinemas, and those cinemas each paid £500, making a total of £3,500. Now the B.B.C. are not in a position to offer this sum of money for this event; and I cannot see the vicious chain being broken unless we do open the door to sponsored programmes.

All of us must have been impressed by the enthusiasm displayed by the right hon. Gentleman for his new task, and I hope that he will not be restrictive in stopping commercial radio links from operation. Years ago this House invested in the Postmaster-General, through the Wireless Telegraphy Act, the control of our frequencies. That was very necessary in those days, because there was so much interference. Now that we have gone down into the ultra-short waves the interference is much less acute and far more channels are available. Therefore we should allow commercial interests who wish to operate a radio link from A to B, or wish to operate a television link from C to D, to do so, provided they are not interfering with other interests. Surely they should be allowed to do so because we are thereby further developing the radio industry and acquiring additional know-how which in the long run will pay enormous dividends in world prestige and in exports; and also probably in the strategic field. If we do not continue to develop these V.H.F. links we shall have to put out big development contracts to the companies for Service equipment. If we can encourage them, then we shall have the designs, prototypes and probably the machinery in the factories; and the equipment would be ready so that if we were in need we could immediately make use of it. I would appreciate an answer from the Minister to those points.

12.38 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayrshire, South)

I would not have intervened in this Debate but for the reference to Scotland by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. Orr-Ewing). I regret very much that the hon. Member, with his associations with Scotland, should make the suggestion that in some way Scotland should not have the benefits which are to come to England as a result—

Mr. C. Orr-Ewing

I did not make that suggestion. I wish to make it quite clear I did not suggest that Scotland should not have the benefit. I merely wanted to know what would be the cost of the centimetre link extension to Scotland and the co-axial cable extension to Scotland.

Mr. Hughes

I suggest that the hon. Member has unwittingly tried to prevent Scotland from benefiting. He has raised a very sinister question, as to what would be the cost. By directing that trend of thought into the mind of the Postmaster-General or into the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I can hardly think that the hon. Member is performing a very useful service to Scotland. Does the hon. Gentleman think that Scots are not interested in the television of the Derby and the boxing matches which he arranged?

I should like to express gratitude to the Postmaster-General for giving the assurance that next year Scotland will have the opportunity of seeing television programmes. It was in the last Parlia- ment that a Scottish Member of the Opposition was fortunate enough to be able to put the case of television for Scotland on an Adjournment Debate. The former Member for Central Glasgow would be horrified at the kind of argument which has been advanced by the Conservatives in this Debate.

Mr. C. Orr-Ewing

We have not put forward the argument which the hon. Gentleman suggests. We are well mindful that John Logie Baird was a Scot. My great-grandfather and one of his sons both sat for a Scottish Division in Dunbartonshire and I would hate to have it thought that I was in any way suggesting that Scotland did not want television. We on this side of the House had an Adjournment Debate on that subject and we showed our support for television.

Mr. Hughes

I am sure that I have done a service by eliciting that explanation from the hon. Gentleman. I shudder to think of the feelings of the former Member for Central Glasgow if it had been thought that on the Benches opposite there was opposition to television for Scotland. The right hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Kirkwood), who unfortunately is not with us today, has previously made the point that in the Scotland, which gave the inventor of television to the world, there was less facility for seeing television programmes than there was in New York. The Postmaster-General is entitled to a hearty vote of thanks from Scottish Members for the way in which he has responded to the request made in that Debate. I am sure that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) endorses what I have said. We are anxious to have the television service developed because we realise the benefit it will bring to the more remote parts of Caithness and Sutherland.

I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that we should have had the television service in operation this week, because in Wick there has occurred an incident which should be broadcast and televised to the world. A resident in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, Private Hugh McPhee has been awarded the Military Medal. If we had had a television programme it would have done a twofold service. It would have given this private who has operated in Malaya the opportunity of appearing in a television programme, and it would also have enabled it to be made public that this private has just announced that his housing conditions in Wick are worse than they were in the jungle in Malaya. There are great opportunities in television programmes for the development of features including comments on events of the week.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) is not here, because last Friday, when an eloquent appeal for the broadcast of the proceedings of this House was made, he put up a concrete and definite argument why it should not be done. I fail to see why an experiment with television should not be made in the other place. I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames would have endorsed my comment that there should be television of the proceedings of the other place. If we did that, I am sure that it would finish the argument as far as Scotland is concerned.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. W. Robson-Brown (Esher)

I, too, would like to say how refreshing I found the speech of the Postmaster-General. I have some hope that in the not too distant future the postal services of Great Britain will be as efficient as they were just before the war. I should also like to pay tribute to the postal workers of every grade and class for the work they have done, not only as part of the national service in war but in the difficult days they have had to face since the end of the war. At the same time. I join issue with the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), who said that my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Errol) made an attack upon the postal workers. Far from it. He made a justifiable comment that in all industry and in all branches of service today, there is a minimum percentage of people who do not pull their weight. I think that that was the import of his remarks.

On the subject of postal operations generally, I should like to ask the Postmaster-General whether he is completely satisfied—and I do not suggest that there is anything wrong—that the maximum use is being made of the British firms who have pioneered and specialised in the operation and construction of automatic telephone exchanges. I should like to be satisfied that there is a complete interlinking between these firms and the manufacturing side of the postal service, which itself is of no small dimensions. I should also like to ask the Postmaster-General to make a careful investigation of the interlocking of research done by private firms and the postal service's own very high standard of research which, I think, enjoys a world wide reputation.

Coming down to the mundane, I sense that there is dissatisfaction among the general public with the telephone bills which they receive and which do not seem to coincide with their own recollection and, very often, careful calculation of the number of calls they have made. I can only assume that it is the inaccuracy of the apparatus—which one hon. Member suggested could be dispensed with in favour of a standard flat charge for all calls—which is responsible. My other point is one on which I may be stopped by you, Mr. Speaker. I should like to refer to relief for old age pensioners by permitting them to enjoy free wireless licences.

Mr. Speaker

That is out of Order on this Debate.

Mr. Robson-Brown

I am sorry, Sir. I am sure that what I had in mind is clear to the Postmaster-General. In lighter mood, I would comment that in the forthcoming General Election many more votes might be secured by the party in office if they took care to see that the service on local toll calls from telephone booths was made much more efficient. The delay in these calls cause a great deal of frustration and irritation. Sometimes when I look at the telephone booths I am not a bit surprised at the way in which they are scratched and torn about. I have experienced delays of 10 minutes in trying to get through on a toll call.

One last word about a new type of user of the telephone—people of modest means and working class folk. I should like to follow up what has been said by other speakers about shared lines. If the Postmaster-General could do something in the way of a positive reduction in the charges for shared lines, he would be conferring a great benefit both on the people who use them and on the postal service itself, and particularly on those of small income, who would be able to avail- themselves of this service with greater satisfaction to themselves and advantage to the revenues of the telephone service.

12.51 p.m.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

I want to raise only one very short point and ask a question. When can something be done about the interference caused by the Daventry commercial broadcasting station? This station interferes with television reception in Northampton and district, and there is something which is referred to locally as the "Daventry pattern," which appears on the television screen and makes it almost impossible for viewers to follow what is going on. While that interference continues, television viewers in Northampton are really being defrauded and are not getting value for their money. We in Northampton would be very grateful indeed to have some assurance from the Postmaster-General that this Daventry interference will be dealt with and that the "Daventry pattern" will be removed from our television screens.

12.52 p.m.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Hobson)

We have had a very interesting and long Debate, and the criticism which has been expressed has been very fair. This criticism can be divided into two parts—criticism of the delay in supplying telephones, and, secondly, criticism of the postal services. I think the House generally has appreciated the many difficulties with which the Post Office is confronted, but I propose just to reiterate those difficulties and make a few general observations before I deal seriatim with the points raised in the Debate.

The chief difficulty, of course, is the fact that we have to face the control of investment. There is only a certain allocation of capital investment available to the Post Office, and this has to be so. Without the priorities that we have for capital investment, there would undoubtedly be widespread unemployment in this country today. The Government have allocated this year the sum of £44 million for the Post Office. Let me hasten to assure the House that, because there is the greatest need for the development of the telephone service, the bulk of that £44 million will be spent on that service. What are the causes of the shortages? They are, firstly, the fact that many of the cables are full, the shortage of exchange equipment and the fact that no less than one-fifth of the buildings of our telephone exchanges are already full. The reason why a person is not able to get a telephone may be a combination of any of these three reasons.

Further, we are faced with the fact of a growing demand. People are becoming more telephone conscious, and men and women returning from the Forces, who were accustomed to using the telephone repeatedly during their service, feel when they come home that they want a telephone installed for themselves. This is also an outward and visible sign of a buoyant economy. Let there be no doubt about that. Faced with this situation, what has the Post Office done? I am going to submit to the House that, although the criticism has been fair, it has not produced any practical alternative which the Post Office is not already employing.

For instance, one in three of the telephones in this country have been provided since 1945. That is no mean accomplishment, having regard to the shortage of raw materials. Something like 1,400,000 telephones have been provided in the last two years, and even then there are still 500,000 people waiting for the telephone today. The question which hon. Members will require answered on this point is what the Post Office has done about it. Firstly, we evolved a scheme of priorities, which was laid before the House two years ago during the discussion on the Post Office and Telegraph (Money) Bill, 1948. There was no criticism of it.

These priorities are, firstly, for public utilities, industrial premises, doctors, midwives and farmers, and the residential subscriber comes last. I think that is fair in the circumstances, and let me hasten to assure the House—since this point has been referred to quite frequently—that the disabled ex-Service man and the ex-prisoner of war receives preference, and quite rightly so. After the priorities, we then introduced—

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

Could the hon. Gentleman answer the question which I raised last week on the subject of priorities for ministers of religion?

Mr. Hobson

Yes, I am going to answer it. I have made a note of the hon. Gentleman's question.

The second thing which the Post Office did was to introduce shared service. In view of all the criticism which has been made of this service, it is a fact that it is becoming more popular. The number of people who now use a shared service is 200,000. I think there is quite a genuine misconception amonst people when they are asked to share a telephone that it is going to be a great inconvenience to them. I want to say this about sharing. First of all, the person has a separate number, and, in many cases, there is a separate account. With regard to trunk charges, if they have trunk calls, the charges are always put down on a separate account.

It is perfectly true that, with a shared line, if one person happens to want to use the telephone at the same time as the other person is speaking, that person may be overheard. It is also true that that defect could be obviated, but it can only be obviated at great expense, and, therefore, we do not propose to do it. There is nothing new about this shared service, because in many States of the United States there are up to 36 people using one pair of lines. I hope that in those residential areas where there is no immediate hope of separate telephones, the introduction of a shared service will help a great many people to have the telephone.

Next, we have proceeded apace with the installation of telephone kiosks, and, in the last two years, nearly 5,500 have been installed, over 2,000 of them in the rural areas. I think it would be relevant to say that we have had a lot of criticism in the House with regard to the rural areas and the contribution that was exacted from the local authority of £4 for five years. This has now been done away with, and the allocation of telephone kiosks in the rural areas is now done in conjunction with the Rural District Councils' Association.

Having given that as an introduction in order to point out the difficulties and show what the Post Office has done in order to face up to the situation, I will now proceed to answer the various points which have been raised in the Debate. The hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. R. V. Grimston) who made a very fair speech, asked me many questions which I will endeavour to answer. His first question was in regard to the number of applications dealt with for farmers' lines. In the year 1948–49, 12,000 applications were dealt with. He then asked what was the capital cost per application. That is very difficult indeed to assess, because obviously the cost of installing the telephone in a rural area as compared with in an urban area is infinitely greater, and if the figure were arrived at, it would not give a fair picture. I hope to give him some information when I come to the point raised with regard to the expenditure of £300 million of capital in order to liquidate the number of people on the waiting list.

The hon. Member then asked about the reduction in postal rates. That is a fair question and one in which we are all interested. The hon. Gentleman knows, because he has had far greater experience in the House of Commons than I have, that the postal rates are always reviewed in connection with the financial position of the country. Let me hasten to assure him of this fact—that if the postage rate was reduced by ½d. from 2½d. to 2d. it would practically wipe out the surplus on the postal service.

He then asked some technical questions—and I know that he is very interested in the technical developments of the Post Office—with regard to the automatic dialling of trunk calls. I cannot hold out any hope for many years that a subscriber will be able to use his own telephone and dial another subscriber in another city without the intervention of an intermediary operator. I can tell him, however, that equipment is about to be ordered for London which will enable the operator to dial direct to a distant subscriber without the assistance of an intermediary operator. With regard to telegraph development, we are already installing a switch system whereby a teleprinter operator can dial another teleprinter office and then signal the message direct. That should reduce mistakes, effect economy in manpower and be a considerable saving in time.

He also asked a question about the submarine cable repeater. I know that he is interested in this matter because I think that it was during his term of office as Assistant Postmaster-General that the first was installed. It was installed in 1943 to the North of Ireland. In 1946, we installed one in the Borkum cable for the Control Commission, the longest submarine telephone cable in the world, and I am happy to say that we have had no failures. In 1950, we are to instal four submarine repeaters in the two old Dutch cables, which will increase the number of circuits from 18 to 120. We hope to construct valves which will last for 20 years, and, in some period of 1951, to introduce into the deep sea cable from Portugal to South America, which goes down to 2,500 fathoms, another submarine repeater. I think that the hon. Member can rest assured that real practical development is taking place in the submarine repeater.

Mr. Erroll

Will the repeater be at that level.

Mr. Hobson

I did not say that it would be at that depth, but it must be remembered that in going across the South Atlantic a cable is bound to go through great depth of water. It is a tremendous achievement and one which the British Post Office as the pioneer of it can be proud.

A question was asked about the helicopter. The present experiment is about to come to an end. We have had experience of the use of the helicopter in carrying mail, and at the present moment it is far from economical. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the present-day speed of the helicopter and its lifting power mitigate against it being a practical proposition for the carrying of mails generally.

As to the greetings telegram, that has been under review several times. It is a form of social service which appeals to anyone who happens to hold the position of Postmaster-General. I must say, after the most careful examination, that far from reducing the deficit on the telegram service it would actually increase it. The reason is that the cost would increase in proportion to the traffic. The main factor is the tremendous increase in the cost of delivery. There are now no boy messengers, but junior postmen, and, therefore, it is very doubtful indeed whether by the reintroduction of the greeting telegram we should be able to reduce the deficit on telegrams.

The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) and the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. H. Wallace), raised the question of the condition of postal buildings. It is true that many of them are out of date; they are a legacy of the past. We need not inquire into the reason, but certainly it was not the responsibility of the present Government. What has been done? One-sixth of the total building expenditure of the Post Office is to be spent on new postal buildings, and in the next two years we hope to spend £1½ million. Extensions are already taking place, and new offices are being erected in Battersea, Exeter and Hull.

With regard to welfare, that is always receiving the attention of my right hon. Friend and the officials in conjunction with the Union of Post Office Workers, and it will be our earnest endeavour in the light of the capital available to go on continuously improving the welfare of the postmen. The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams)—I regret that he is not in his place—thoroughly enjoyed himself. He made one or two very amusing observations, one of which, of course, was an account of his adventures whilst dialling and endeavouring to get a telephone number. This so-called difficulty has been raised by many other hon. Members opposite. The fact is that there is today far greater efficiency in the automatic telephone service than there was before the war.

As to equipment, I can say that it is being continuously overhauled and all the back log of work arising from years of war is almost completed. He then went on to criticise the methods of accounting in the Post Office. There is nothing new about it. It is a method adopted by previous Governments. I submit that as we are carrying out work for other Government Departments we should make a charge for the work carried out. All private business firms, would do the same, and we are quite right in doing likewise.

One other point which must be answered which was raised by several Members. That was about rental payment by the Government. One hon. Member quoted the figure of £.6,789,000 notionally paid by Government Departments, and he assumed that thereby almost one-quarter of the telephones were in Government hands. What the hon. Gentleman did not take cognisance of was the fact that the bulk of the Government Departments use private lines, including the Army, Navy and Air Force, for which they pay a total of £5½ million per annum. For local lines the Government Departments pay £1,274,221 or one-twentieth of the rental paid by private people.

Reference has been continually made to the transference of a telephone to a person taking over a house in which an instrument is already installed. The position is that if there is equipment available and no shortage in the area, the person automatically gets the telephone. But if a person coming from another area buys a house in which there is a telephone, it will be taken out if there is a waiting list, and quite rightly so, because it is manifestly unfair that a person coming from one district to another should get a telephone when there is a waiting list. There is a perfectly fair analogy in the case of housing. A person coming from one district to another does not jump from the bottom of the housing list to the top.

The question of sub-post offices and payment to sub-postmasters has also been raised. Let me hasten to assure the House that the remuneration to sub-postmasters is always on the scale agreed with their Federation.

We come now to the question of how we arrive at the £300 million required to cancel out the telephone waiting lists. This represents nearly an eight-year programme, involving an expenditure in the order of £40 million a year. It involves not only the clearance of the waiting lists, but also improvements to the trunk network. Trunk calls at the present time are going up by 5 per cent. per annum, and there has been a 100 per cent. increase in trunk calls since 1938. Therefore, trunk lines are bound continually to be installed. It involves also a tremendous expenditure on buildings. Already one-fifth of them are full. There is also the question of equipment and the ducting and laying of the cables. Therefore, to the best of my right hon. Friend's knowledge, the sum of £300 million will be required to wipe out the waiting lists, and at the same time to keep pace with the demands on the trunk services, as well as all the work that goes on in chang- ing telephones from one house to another where there is a change in occupation.

Mr. R. V. Grimston

Does that include the fresh applications that will come along during that period?

Mr. Hobson

Yes, Sir, together with the work that is going on.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) raised a number of questions. He asked how much telephone equipment was being exported. At the present time 50 per cent. of our telephone equipment is being exported. Some of it goes to the dollar area, but most of it to the sterling area. It is by virtue of the fact that we are supplying this telephone equipment that we are maintaining the market and indirectly saving dollar expenditure.

The hon. Member thought that the farmers were being neglected. I think that the farmers have been exceptionally well looked after. We are installing lines for the farmers at the rate of 1,000 a month, and 25,000 farmers have had a telephone in the last two years. That is a tremendous achievement of which we are rightly proud. He then went on to raise the question of the decentralisation of the telephone headquarters at Aberdeen. I gather that he does not like Aberdeen. I do not know why that is, because I find it a very beautiful city and the people exceedingly generous. I do not know why he has suddenly got this Aberdeen phobia.

Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)

I did not say anything derogatory to the great city of Aberdeen, of which I am very proud, as is every Scotsman. What I said, with the greatest possible clarity, was that it was absurd to take one-third to one-half of Scotland and make it one telephone area, when there are four areas for the remainder of Scotland and 44 areas for England. Does the hon. Member realise that Aberdeen is 320 miles from Wick and nearly 400 miles from Cape Wrath, and even further from Orkney? Does he want any more information than that to realise that the position is absurd?

Mr. Hobson

Let me assure the hon. Member that my affection for Scotland and the north of Scotland is second only to my affection for my native county. If he will contain himself for a moment, I am coming to this question. Two-thirds of the telephone staff are stationed in Aberdeen, and the remaining third are in Elgin, Wick and Inverness, and are quite sufficient to carry out what is necessary in those areas. The hon. Member cannot be suggesting that the headquarters should go out into some of the remote villages and crofter areas. The hon. Member tried to conjure up the picture that because of this great centralisation in Aberdeen, people in the north, could not get an adequate service. We have had singularly few complaints in the north in regard to our services. I appreciate his interest in his new constituency, to which I am sure he will bring the same zeal and energy as he did to his Streatham division in the previous Parliament.

The speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) was very complimentary to the Post Office. Apparently, the requirements of Northern Ireland are now entirely satisfied. He made a complaint about the parcel post. Let me hasten to assure him that we have had very few complaints, except when there was the strike in the cross-channel steamers a few weeks ago.

I now come to the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), which I do not think was up to his usual standard. It was more a question of quantity than of quality. He was particularly anxious 10 see that he did not sit down before 4 p.m. Nevertheless, he did raise one or two pertinent questions.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

And I did sit down before 4 o'clock.

Mr. Hobson

He asked whether the Union of Post Office Workers were preventing later collections.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I did not use the word "preventing." I was very careful in what I said. I asked whether it was done on the representations of the union.

Mr. Hobson

I gather the implication was that the Union of Post Office Workers were preventing a later collection. I can assure him that this is not the case. We know there is a tremendous amount of criticism because there is not a later collection, but my right hon. Friend is examining the position with a view to considering what improvements can be made in the light of present circumstances. As the hon. Member knows, we are governed by a manpower ceiling. It is a matter that is being actively considered. The hon. Member also dealt with the shared service and referred to clergymen. Where possible, we give clergymen a private telephone. There may be cases, due to shortage of equipment, where clergymen have had to be put on the shared service, but it is only done in these circumstances.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Will the hon Member direct a few arguments to the point I raise in connection with the case where two applicants have been waiting nine years for the installation of a telephone?

Mr. Hobson

My right hon. Friend is writing to the hon. Member about these cases. Let me hasten to assure the hon. Gentleman that they are exceptional and the reasons will be given. I ought to digress a moment to say that when hon. Gentlemen write to my right hon. Friend about a shortage of telephones and we give the reasons why that should be, it is open to any hon. Member to go and check those reasons for himself. We give specific causes why telephones cannot be supplied.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) criticised postal deliveries. There was a time when the service between Manchester and London was subject to delay, and representations were made. We have had no recent criticisms about the service between these two cities. It would be far better if the hon. Gentleman would give us specific information immediately so that we can check up and rectify a matter such as that of which he complained. It is not good enough to come to the House of Commons and display an envelope which has been subject to delay, and assume that every letter posted in Britain is misdelivered or delayed. When we recognise that 8,000 million letters are annually sent through the British Post Office the amount of delay is very small indeed, in fact, almost infinitesimal. We will look into cases of mis-sorting or of delay. Let us have the information and we will deal with it. I have sufficient confidence in the British postal service to say that we shall be able to overcome the delays to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

I do not think the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale really meant the drastic criticisms he made of the postal workers and slackness. I did not like it. There is one thing very significant about the British postal worker, and it is common to all those workers who are in public utilities. They do not say that they are going to work but that they are going on duty, and the use of that word "duty" rather than "work" is very significant indeed. It pre-supposes a loyalty to the community and a desire to serve. I do not think the hon. Gentleman's strictures were quite fair.

He then went on to criticise the telephone service and he referred to the number of applicants outstanding in Altrincham and Sale. I have the figures here. In those two centres 1,138 applicants are waiting for a service. An extension is planned for that area but, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is a residential area, and, if we are going to choose the telephone exchanges we are going to extend, we should obviously select Old Trafford before Altrincham and Sale because of its industries.

Sir H. Williams

Why not both?

Mr. Hobson

We cannot do both for the reasons which have been given both by my hon. Friend and myself during this Debate, and it is a pity that the hon. Member was not in his place to hear those reasons given.

The question of the shared service was also raised by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale. The position is being continuously reviewed. We are always seeing in what way we can improve it, and I thought he made a practical suggestion which will receive the consideration of my right hon. Friend and the Department. We then had an interesting speech by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). It is impossible for my right hon. Friend or I ever to be able to say what area is actually going to be covered by television. It is safe to say that around the television station an area up to 50 miles radius can be covered, but beyond that we are not prepared to go. It is impossible for me to say that the Holme Moss station will cover Morecambe or Heysham, and I cannot give any undertaking when the television service will be available to these places.

Sir I. Fraser

I did not ask the hon. Gentleman for an undertaking that his present plans would cover those areas, but for an undertaking that he would look into that question and see whether there could be a relay.

Mr. Hobson

Certainly I will look into-it, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it was laid down by my right hon. Friend's predecessor that there were to be five high powered stations and five low-powered stations for television purposes. When the five high-powered stations are complete, it will not be possible for television to be received in that part. of Lancashire as far as we are advised. It is a very difficult part of the country to cover. I can give an assurance that the matter will be looked into. On the question of sponsoring television programmes, I am not prepared in this Debate to enter into a controversy on those programmes. For one thing, it is not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, but there is nothing to prevent the interested parties submitting evidence and ideas to the Beveridge Committee, which is sitting at the present time to inquire into the B.B.C. I think we had better leave it at that.

Sir I. Fraser

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by saying it has nothing to do with his right hon. Friend? Surely the Postmaster-General is the Minister who has the last word?

Mr. Hobson

No, the question is not quite as simple as that. If the hon. Gentleman cares to study the licence to the B.B.C. from the Postmaster-General he will see that my right hon. Friend's powers are very small. In any case, it is a question for the Government and not solely for my right hon. Friend. I am, trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. and I am saying that those people who are interested in sponsored programmes should give their evidence to the Beveridge Committee, which is sitting at the present time.

We had a very interesting contribution from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. Orr-Ewing). He wanted guidance as to what were the powers of my right hon. Friend. I cannot tell him the number of the Command Paper in which those powers are laid down, but if he looks up the Debate on 16th December, 1949, he will see a reference to the powers which my right hon. Friend possesses. The hon. Gentleman also asked a question about the coaxial cable. It is perfectly true that the co-axial cable is exceedingly expensive. We have one installed between London and Birmingham and one between Birmingham and Manchester. The covering of these islands for television will be done by radio link, and only in very few cases by co-axial cable.

I cannot give a reply to the hon. Gentleman on the question of relaying programmes to the Continent. That depends on the people on the Continent, and it is a matter on which I can give no assurance whatsoever, nor can I give him any estimate of what the cost of the rental of the co-axial cable by the B.B.C. will be. His contribution was very interesting, and when we have time to study it we shall consider the very constructive proposals which he made to the House.

The last point is in regard to television for Scotland. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is not in his place, because my right hon. Friend said that he hoped they would have television in Scotland. That is a considerable advance upon the last few months. The point was raised about interference by the Daventry broadcasting station with the people of Northampton. There is a Question on the Order Paper on the subject. It is a real difficulty and we are looking into it. We hope to obviate it.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman say that there will be a satisfactory answer to that Question?

Mr. Hobson

I cannot say. It is not a simple matter, and no one knows that better than the hon. and learned Member, who took a very active part in discussion of the Wireless Telegraphy Act and its regulations. It is unfair when we are dealing with a technical problem such as radio interference with television screens to suggest that we could stop it immediately. If we could have done so it would have been stopped already. All that can be done will be to reduce unnecessary interference.

I would re-echo the words of nay right hon. Friend and pay tribute to the splendid work that is being done by the Joint Production Committee of the Post Office. We get greater co-operation among all classes of the staff, and the relations between the trade unions and my right hon. Friend is excellent. It will be the earnest endeavour of my right hon. Friend and of all in the Department to make the British Post Office in all its branches the most efficient of all Post Offices in the world.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Popplewell.]



Considered in Committee of the whole House under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—[King's Recommendation signified.]

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for raising further money for the development of the postal, telegraphic and telephonic systems and the repayment to the Post Office Fund of money applied thereout for such development, it is expedient—

  1. (i) to authorise the payment out of the Consolidated Fund of such sums, not exceeding in the whole seventy-five million pounds, as may be required for the purposes of such development or of such repayment;
  2. (ii) to authorise the Treasury to borrow, by means of terminable annuities, for the purpose of providing money for sums so authorised to be issued, or for repaying to the Consolidated Fund all or any part of the sums so issued, and to authorise payment into the Exchequer of any sums so borrowed;
  3. (iii) to provide for the payment of such terminable annuities out of moneys provided by Parliament for the service of the Post Office, or, if those moneys are insufficient, out of the Consolidated Fund."—[Mr. Ness Edwards.]

1.34 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

We had a very interesting speech from the Assistant Postmaster-General, but he did not say that when he is spending all this money he will look into the question of the delivery of letters. I have sent him an interesting example in which it took five days for a letter to travel 20 miles. I hope that when he gets his £75 million he will do something about it.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.