HC Deb 02 July 1952 vol 503 cc457-76

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)

This Clause was really the main subject matter of the Second Reading debate. The purpose of the Bill is contained in this Clause, and in discussing it I hope that we shall be able to get from the Assistant Postmaster-General an answer to the questions that were asked in the previous debate. Since those questions related to this Clause, I assume that it will be in order to discuss them now on the Question that the Clause stand part.

The Chairman

That is not quite the case. At this stage the Committee may only discuss what is in the Clause.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I agree, and I do not intend to discuss anything that is not in the Clause. What I am anxious about is that we should have some answers to the questions which were put about the Clause—the reasons for the Clause and the matters for which the Clause provides. We asked those question on the Second Reading and did not get an answer. When the Assistant Postmaster-General dealt with the matter in the first place he did so as the Assistant Postmaster-General, but when he replied with the permission of the House he dealt with it as an irresponsible back bencher. I hope that today he will apply himself, as Assistant Postmaster-General, to the questions that have been put.

The first thing we have to do is to try to convince him of the logic of our case so that he will not ride off on some Aunt Sallies that he puts up and then make extravagant charges about hon. Members on this side of the Committee. What he says in defence of this Clause is this: Without this Clause—which, after all, is the effective part of the Bill—he would have a Post Office deficit. That is his reason for it, and that is the argument that he has already put forward. The fact is that he does not need this Clause. Before getting the Clause he had already provided for a commercial surplus of £6,950,000 this year, and by the other provisions which he has obtained from the House he has got in a full year £11 million as a commercial surplus.

Therefore, his arguments that he submitted in favour of this Clause on Second Reading were quite untrue. He must have known that they were untrue. He must know that without this Clause he has got the commercial surplus that he really wants. I repeat that point to him. He has got a commercial surplus of £6,950,000 for this year. He estimated that without the provisions that have been made he would have had a deficit of roughly £2 million, but that the provisions which have been passed have enabled him to get this surplus. Now he asks in this year, by the terms of this Clause, for an additional surplus of £1,050,000 and in a full year under this Clause £1,350,000. This is an additional surplus.

I hope that when he comes to reply the hon. Gentleman will remember that he argued against my hon. Friends and myself on the basis that he had a deficit in the commercial account. That is the point that we want him to meet. The position is that he will have a surplus of £6,950,000 this year and £11 million in a full year without this Clause. He said that if he did not get his Clause he would not have the money with which to meet the wage increases. Really, that sort of argument cannot be classed as an honest argument. It is erroneous, and if the hon. Gentleman knows his brief it is a dishonest one.

Let me go one step further. The hon. Gentleman went further in this policy of misrepresentation, and I hope he is not going to repeat it today. He attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams) who could not be here. He knew that my hon. Friend could not be here, yet he attacked him on the basis that he did not have a commercial surplus of £6,950,000 and that by refusing to support this Clause my hon. Friend was really voting against the wage increases. That sort of thing ought not to be done.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will apply his mind to this argument. Nothing that has been said or done from this Box could, by any stretch of the imagination, be twisted to mean that we were against the commercial surplus. He knows that. The commercial surplus has already been provided. Let us assume, however, that this additional surplus provided for in this Clause, amounting to £1,350,000, is justifiable as an addition to the £6,950,000 that he has already got.

I am not prepared to say that it is justifiable, but let us assume it. Let us give him that part of the case, and let us suppose that the Treasury ought to have £8 million this year out of the Post Office and about £12 million next year. Is this the way in which the additional surplus ought to be raised? That is the matter to which he must apply his mind. Is he really entitled to raise the amount of money that is provided for in this Clause?

It has been said that the postal order service is the poor man's cheque service. I think that is so, and I do not think we ought to place on that service a burden which would price it out of the market, or cast an additional burden upon a particular section of the community. The hon. Gentleman well knows that there are other Post Office services which are making a loss, which are serving the rich organisations and are capable of bearing a burden greater than the one that he has imposed on the postal order service. He knows that, and if he had been frank with the House he would have told us so. What are the services on which a loss is made, and what are the sections of the community that they are serving? That is where this charge ought to have been imposed.

Had the hon. Gentleman said that by this Clause he was increasing the charge to make the service pay for itself and provide, say, a surplus of £100,000, there would have been some merit in that case. It is not one that would have aroused violent objection. But the hon. Gentleman does not do that. When he asks, not for £350,000 but for £1,350,000, he is discriminating against those people who use the postal order service—namely, the poorer people in the country. In effect he is putting a tax of £1 million on this section of the community. I say that the Post Office ought not to be the means of gathering taxes. There ought not to be any element of taxation in Post Office charges. I should like him to apply his mind to that consideration.

He used two arguments against us in regard to this matter. When he was dealing with the first part of our case he said: … I admit that we are raising by this taxation a larger sum than is necessary to wipe out that deficit. Under Clause 1 the hon. Gentleman admits to raising £1 million as a means of taxation. That is something which cannot be defended from any point of view. It is the sort of thing which the hon. Gentleman never defended when he sat on this side of the House. He dealt with the other part of our case when he was talking about the poundage on these postal orders. He said: A very convincing case can be made by suggesting that in putting this poundage of ½d. … on the value of the average postal order we are hitting the poorer sections of the population. He admits that, but in order to justify what he is doing he went on to ask: Have we reached the stage when the Revenue should subsidise people who invest in football pools?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1952; Vol. 502, c. 1911–2] If that is so, is the contrary the case?—that we must penalise people who invest in football pools in order to subsidise the Treasury?

If we are going to tax football pools, let us tax them honestly and straightforwardly. The hon. Gentleman says that 56 per cent. of all postal orders are issued for football pools purposes. The remainder of the people do not use them for those purposes, so that in order to catch 56 per cent. of the people, under Clause 1 the hon. Gentleman is going to penalise the 44 per cent. who never use a postal order for football pools. What sort of equity is that? What sort of a reasoned case is that? It might satisfy the groundlings on the benches behind him but it will not satisfy reasonably-minded men who have a sense of responsibility.

Let me sum up, so that the hon. Gentleman will know to what he has to reply. He has not to reply to the question whether or not there should be a commercial surplus. It would be dishonest of him to argue that today. He has already got his commercial surplus; he knows he has got it; and he ought to have told his hon. Friends that he had got it when he made that Conservative Central Office attack on some of my hon. Friends. It is not playing fair with the House or with his job of Assistant Postmaster-General.

What is the next point with which he has to deal? He has to justify his additional commercial surplus of £1,350,000 this year by this method. He has to justify the amount he is raising. He knows that under this Clause he ought to be raising only £330,000 in a full year, but he is raising £1 million more than is necessary.

The next thing about which he ought to be able to satisfy us is that nowhere else in the Post Office is there a service which ought to bear the charge which is contained in this Clause. He ought to satisfy us that there is not a more equitable way of raising the money he requires to give £8 million to the Treasury this year.

5.15 p.m.

That, shortly, is the case against this Clause. When he replies the hon. Gentleman must not attempt to ride it off by talking about a general commercial surplus or about my hon. Friend being against wage increases which I conceded when I was Postmaster-General. In other words, what we ask of the hon. Gentleman is that he should treat the Committee fairly. The House has a tremendous amount of good will for the Post Office. He ought not to sacrifice or to place in jeopardy that good will by silly attacks such as he made when he wound up on Second Reading.

We shall all co-operate with him to give the Post Office the best possible chance; but I must say that in future what he gives, that will he get back, and he will not be doing any service to the Post Office unless he gives a faithful account of what he does, and deals with the arguments upon their merits. That is the case against this Clause and I hope that when the hon. Gentleman replies he will seek to justify what has been provided for in this case.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

In order not to detain the Committee I want to make only one or two brief observations on this Clause. We were told during the Second Reading debate that this Clause will result in wiping out the deficit of £130,000 which arises in the operation of the postal order service. We were further told that this Clause will result in bringing in to the postal order section of the Post Office a revenue of £1,350,000 in excess of expenditure. Clause 1 states: The limit specified … on the poundage payable in respect of postal orders for an amount not exceeding twenty-one shillings shall be increased by one penny; and accordingly in the said proviso for the word 'two-pence' there shall be substituted the word threepence.' As I see it, the wording of that Clause deals specifically with one class of postal order, and yet there are to be increases to other denominations of postal orders.

For instance, the 2d. and 3d. increase, which is an increase of 50 per cent., will be on the range of postal orders between 6s. and 21s. As we all know, there are postal orders of denominations between 6d. and 1s., and 1s. 6d. and 5s., and we were told, on Second Reading, that the poundage on these respective categories was to be increased from 1d. to 1½d. and from 1½d. to 2d. This Clause specifically relates to subsection (2) of the 1935 Post Office (Amendment) Act. I have taken the trouble to look up this Act and find that: Proviso (a) to subsection (1) of the said section twenty-four shall cease to have effect and the amounts for which postal orders may be issued and the poundage to be payable in respect of them shall be such as may be prescribed by Post Office Regulations. I take it that arising from the passage of this Clause Regulations will have to be made governing the lower denominations of postal orders. That is the position as I see it. I should be glad if the Assistant Postmaster-General will say so when he replies.

That brings me to the next point. As my right hon. Friend has said, the alterations will bring an increased revenue of £1,300,000. Obviously this Clause in itself will not do that, because we shall not get such a profit on the postal order service merely by altering the denomination from 6s. to 21s. That is obvious from the numbers issued. What we want to know is this: will Regulations be made under this Clause in order to cover the lower denominations of postal orders?

Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)

I shall not detain the Committee for more than a few minutes, and I should not have intervened but for the fact that, for some reason or another, hon. Members on both sides are getting very interested in the hon. Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams). My attention has been drawn to a reference made to the hon. Member for Droylsden by the Assistant Postmaster-General, and I am rather surprised that he made that reference in the form in which he did. In the first place, I thought he would have known, after having been specifically told about it, that I was attending another meeting. I thought my absence from the Chamber at that moment was well understood by the Assistant Postmaster-General. Yet he went out of his way to make what I regard as a rather unkind and unfriendly reference.

Mr. Ness Edwards

And a very dishonest one.

Mr. Williams

I would not go as far as to say it was dishonest, but I think it was unfriendly and unfair. The suggestion is that the whole amount of this money will be regarded as to the credit side for the wages of Post Office workers, but that is not so. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech, made it quite clear that, while part of this would go towards increased requirements for the Post Office, he expected that some part of it would be regarded as indirect taxation going to the Treasury.

Why, therefore, should the Assistant Postmaster-General suggest that if I had been here, I would inevitably have been bound not to vote against the Bill because such a vote would be tantamount to saying that I did not think the Post Office workers should have had the increases which they have had in the last year or two? Incidentally, for the benefit of both Front Benches, in most cases they had to fight very hard for those increases and in some cases they had to go to arbitration in order to get them. They were not all voluntary concessions.

I want to place it on record that, despite what the Assistant Postmaster-General has done, nobody on the Floor of the House knows better than I do how much more Post Office workers are entitled to by way of emoluments for the services they are rendering to the country. In my opinion, what they have had in recent years is nothing like what they should have had. But perhaps I can assume the converse of what the Assistant Postmaster-General said on the last occasion—that if we give him this Bill, it will be quite reasonable for him to expect a further claim from Post Office servants for additional wages. I know that in some grades they are very dissatisfied with their present wages, and I know that claims are pending for two or three grades, if not more. Can I assume that the Assistant Postmaster-General's anxiety about these wages will result in a concession—an urgent, early and full concession—to the claims which will be made to him?

I think the hon. Gentleman unfortunately had a brief prepared for him on the assumption that I would take part in the debate. As I did not take part in it, the brief was not much good in the form in which it had been prepared and he had to make himself look rather silly in the House in trying to apply an out-of-date brief to the situation.

As far as I am concerned, all I want him to remember is this. I shall never oppose the Post Office getting sufficient into their commercial account to carry out their responsibilities to the people of this country and to the workers of their own industry, but I repeat what I have said on many occasions in the House—in my opinion it is not the basic fundamental purpose of the Post Office to be a sort of tax collector for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In my opinion the Chancellor and the Post Office must face the fact that it is not the purpose of the Post Office to collect indirect taxes. Its purpose is to render service to this nation, the best service, the most efficient service, the most speedy service, and at the same time to pay the people who do this service a reasonable standard of wages.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. David Gammans)

May I first deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams)? I have too great a regard for him to expect him to think that when I referred to his absence on Second Reading I meant anything derogatory. If I may refer to my own words, I said that I had no doubt that there was a very good reason why he had not taken part in the debate.

What I was seeking to imply, and perhaps he would take it as such, was a compliment to him, because his knowledge of the Post Office working and its functions is so great that I think he, above all others, would have recognised the very intimate connection between Post Office charges to the public and Post Office costs, including wages; and I think he would have seen very quickly that in condemning these additional charges, one was running the risk, to put it mildly, of condemning the increases in wages which have made those charges inevitable. I had such regard for him that I thought he very wisely would not take part in the debate, even were he able physically to do so.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman is making the position infinitely worse. I do not mind him apologising; I accept his apology unreservedly. But he knew why I was not here, and all he need have said was this, "I regret that the hon. Member for Droylsden is not in his place; I know that he is at another meeting; I feel quite sure he would have liked to have been here." Instead of that he said, simply, that no doubt there was some other reason for my absence; and now, at the end of his statement, he seems to imply that he does not blame me for not being present.

Mr. Gammans

It is a small point, and I do not wish in any way to make any imputations against the hon. Gentleman.

Most of the points which have been raised by the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) and the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) were raised by them, quite rightly, on Second Reading, and I am sorry that the explanation which I then gave did not entirely satisfy them. Strictly speaking, they are not Committee points, but as this Clause is, in fact, the Bill, I am grateful to you, Sir Charles, for having permitted them to be raised. I should not like the right hon. Gentleman, above all, to be under any misapprehension.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me some questions. First of all, what is the reason for the Post Office deficit this year on the commercial account, or to put it another way, why would there have been a commercial deficit had it not been for the increased charges, of which this poundage charge on postal orders is one?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I must say I could not have made myself plain. I thought I summed up the points for the hon. Gentleman. First of all, will he admit that we have never been opposed to a commercial surplus and that we have never argued against a commercial surplus? What I asked him to deal with particularly was this. Would he admit that it is true that there is a commercial surplus of over £6 million. I then asked him to explain why it was necessary to raise this additional surplus on this service, and to explain if he could why he raised a surplus of £1 million more than was necessary to get the ordinary surplus.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Gammans

The right hon. Gentleman does not want to know what is the reason for the Post Office deficit? Then I shall not bore the Committee by telling him.

The right hon. Gentleman raises a point about the commercial surplus. It is not questioned that there must be a commercial surplus, and I am very glad that it is not, because we have had some very peculiar expressions used at various stages of the debate on this matter about the commercial surplus. The word "filched" was used. It was suggested that money was being filched by me on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Let us realise what this surplus is, because some hon. Members have been talking as though this surplus were reparations which we were to pay to a foreign power. Whatever surplus there is in the Post Office goes into the Treasury, and, to that extent, it is for the benefit of the taxpayers and the community as a whole. That, I think, is generally agreed.

Therefore, all that we are arguing about is, what is the size of the surplus? I need not tell—certainly not the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite—the history of this. Some years ago the Post Office protested—I think, quite rightly—about the surplus that is made always being paid into the Treasury automatically. It was no inducement for the Post Office to be economical, and it was no inducement to the Post Office to plough back any surplus it might make for the benefit of the taxpayer. So this notional sum of about £10 million was accepted as what should be normal. There was no particular reason, but I think successive Governments have accepted that as being reasonable. I do think that that, to a large extent, answers the right hon. Gentleman's point.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether it was a fact that this additional poundage on postal orders would produce an estimated surplus of about £8 million. The answer is yes, it would—or, perhaps, I should say, I wish it would, because, as I told the House on Second Reading, the estimated surplus of £8 million on the current year is already out of date because of various increased charges of different sorts that have arisen since then. So let us—and I am sorry to have to say it—no longer talk about a surplus of £8 million on the current year. We shall not reach it. How much we shall have I cannot say.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Do not be too pessimistic.

Mr. Gammans

I am not being pessimistic. I am being realistic. Let us take the figure of £6.9 million. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks this is not enough or too much.

Mr. Ness Edwards

A question has been asked, and the hon. Gentleman shall have an answer. I do not think it is, but the hon. Gentleman is not entitled to argue that, if we vote against this additional surplus on the poundage, we are against the wage increases, as he did so argue against my hon. Friend. That is the answer.

Mr. Gammans

The right hon. Gentleman wants to go back to the wage increases. He is going back to what he denied having asked, and that is, the reason for the deficit—or the reason for the increased charges. The reason for the increased charges is that costs in the Post Office have gone up—costs which are overwhelmingly due to wages. I do not want to argue about those increased wages. One increase took place under the right hon. Gentleman's Administration and one took place under the present Administration.

I think this Committee is being slightly dishonest with itself if it objects to rising prices to the community when those charges come from increased wages. If we object to the inevitable consequences of an act we are by implication objecting to the act itself. We have had to make these increased charges in the Post Office—not only the poundage on postal orders, but telephone charges, which it would be quite out of order for me to discuss now, overwhelmingly because of the increased wages. What I was suggesting to the Committee was, that we should be honest with ourselves, and say that, if we approved of those wage increases, equally we must approve of the inevitable increase in charges that follows from them.

Let us come to the surplus of £6.9 million. I am not quite sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was arguing that that is not enough, or that it is too much, or that it is just the right sum. If he says that it is just the right sum, then what happens to the £10 million, which is regarded, and for many years past has been regarded, as a reasonable amount for the surplus that the Post Office should have? As I reminded the right hon. Gentleman on Second Reading, if £6.9 million is to be the surplus the Post Office should have, why did he sanction a surplus of £12 million, and then one of £16 million, and finally one of £20 million? [Interruption.] At any rate, it was during his administration.

There was a surplus of £12 million. The right hon. Gentleman sanctioned it. I think he would be on much stronger grounds today if at that time he had gone for his Chancellor of the Exchequer with the same vigour as he has exhorted me to go for the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and if he had got some of that money back again. But I think he is on very weak grounds when he represents £6.9 million as too much.

The next point he made was that the extra poundage would price postal orders out of the market. Well, even from this distance I could see his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when he was trying to put that one across. For he realised, as he reminded the House on Second Reading, that 56 per cent. of the postal orders go on football pools—and we are asked to believe that another ½d. on the poundage will price the whole business out of the market. Really, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have put up a better case than that.

He also argued about the poor man's cheque. He said that the postal order is the poor man's cheque—that men sent remittances to their wives if they were working at some other place. That is true, but I would suggest that if a man sends money to his wife he is much more likely to use a money order than he is likely to use a postal order. And it was the right hon. Gentleman who put up the poundage on money orders last year. So I would leave that argument alone, too.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The hon. Gentleman must be fair.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

He is doing well. He is rubbing it in.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The trouble is that the hon. Gentleman assumes people have said things and rubs in assumptions. He did not say from what he was quoting me—where I said that a man sends his wife money by means of postal orders. What is he talking about? That is the trouble. He cannot forget he was an irresponsible Conservative back bencher and remember that he is now the Assistant Postmaster-General. He ought now to treat the matter seriously.

Mr. Gammans

We heard the right hon. Gentleman's sob-stuff story, which almost brought tears to my eyes, about men sending money to their wives. It was a perfectly lovely story. It is true, but it is done not with postal orders; it is done with money orders. We have had a bit more of it today—about this hitting the poor man in time of emergency. As I had to remind the House on Second Reading, if anyone has hit the poor man at a time of emergency it is the right hon. Gentleman, who put up the charges for call boxes from 2d. to 3d.—for the call box is the poor man's telephone. It was the right hon. Gentleman who raised telegrams from 1s. to 1s. 6d.—and it is a telegram that the poor man uses at a time of great stress and emergency in his family. I am quite prepared to be judged as the man who put ½d. on postal orders, which the right hon. Gentleman agrees are mostly used for football pools, if the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept the odium for having put up call box charges from 2d. to 3d. and the poor man's telegram from 1s. to 1s. 6d.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The hon. Gentleman is making this point, so let us treat it quite seriously. I put up the charges on the call box telephones, for the first time in 25 years, and even on that service I did not seek to get £1 million in taxation, which was hidden for the Treasury, as the hon. Gentleman has done with the postal order poundage. With regard to the telegrams, the hon. Gentleman knows the answer. The telegram service is still losing £4 million; it is still subsidised; it is still the poor man's means of communication, and he knows that what I did was commercially sound and morally right. What he is doing is commercially unsound and immoral.

Mr. Gammans

I think we had better leave the poor man out of it when it comes to that. The right hon. Gentleman says it was the first time the telephone charges had been raised for 25 years. I think that this is the first time that the poundage has been raised since 1796.

Mr. Ness Edwards

That is quite wrong.

Mr. Gammans

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) mentioned the machinery for putting these increases into operation. I hope I made it clear to him on Second Reading that the authority, as I think he knows, is Section 24 of the Post Office Act, 1908, which was amended as he correctly pointed out, by the Post Office Act, 1935. This gives the Postmaster-General authority to issue postal orders without any limit as to their amount and poundage. The 2d. to which this Bill refers deals only with postal orders under 21s. in value. The next stage is that, under Section 1 (2) of the Post Office Act, 1935, Post Office Regulations have to be presented. The actual figures were given by the Chancellor at the time in page 23 of the Financial Statement.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)

Will that affect postal orders up to £2? Will they be increased? Are we to assume that the increase will be from 4d. to 6d.?

Mr. Gammans

That is quite right. Perhaps I had better read it again. From 6d. to 1s. it is ½d. increase, that is to 11d.; from 1s. 6d. to 5s., which covers the bulk of the football pool clientele, it is from 1½d. to 2d.; from 6s. to 21s. it is from 2d. to 3d., and at 40s. it is from 4d. to 6d. I trust that I have dealt with the points raised by the Committee, and that I have given sufficient explanation.

Mr. Hobson

Will the Regulations which have to be laid before the House be subjected to the negative Resolution procedure, or will they merely be laid? If my memory serves me aright, I believe that they have merely to be laid.

Mr. Gammans

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. They merely have to be laid.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. Butcher.]

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards

On a point of order. As I understand it, the Third Reading is not provided for on the Order Paper. I understood that we were merely taking the Committee stage today. Perhaps we could have the assistance of the Whip who moved the Third Reading as to whether or not he gave notice that the Third Reading was to be taken. I should like to ask for your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether the Third Reading can be taken without due notice having been given.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

It has been moved and it is in order.

Mr. Ness Edwards

But notice has not been given. It is not on the Order Paper, and if it is not down in the Government Orders of the Day, how can it be moved?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That, I understand, is a matter of courtesy. I really know nothing about it. I only know that happens on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Ness Edwards

If I may say so, with all due deference, you are here to protect the interests of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and the fact is that neither side of the House has had notice that the Third Reading is to be taken. Hon. Members on neither side knew about it until the Whip apparently made a mistake and moved the Third Reading. The Orders of the Day are what matter, not the Whip. If it is not on the Order Paper for today, how can it be taken?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Certainly the Order Paper does not mention the subsequent stages, but I do not know what happens outside all I am concerned about is what happens on the Floor of the House. This Third Reading has been moved quite regularly, and I therefore put the Question.

Mr. Herbert Butcher (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)

I wonder whether can help the right hon. Gentleman. May I first say that if we have been guilty of any discourtesy, I at once apologise. I understood that we were conforming entirely to the normal practice of the House and that it was agreed, after consultation through the usual channels, that the Third Reading should be taken today. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that is correct. If not, I tender him my most sincere apologies.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I quite accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation; I am sure there was no intention to deceive the House or to mislead us in any way. As for the usual channels, our private notice was to the effect that the Third Reading was not to be taken.

Mr. Nabarro

Then the Opposition Whip was wrong.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Whether the Whip was wrong or not, what governs us is what is on the Order Paper, and on the Order Paper there is no provision to take this business now. If we are to be chivied about, we must insist upon our rights, and I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to protect the rights of hon. Members.

Mr. Butcher

With the leave of the House, may I again say to the right hon.

Gentleman that we had no intention of being discourteous. On the other hand, he will appreciate that if we were to anticipate the conclusion of the Committee stage and the reporting of the Bill to the House, we should be trespassing upon the prerogative of the House. Therefore, it is not possible for the Motion for the Third Reading to appear on the Order Paper until after the Committee and Report stages have been concluded.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The Government Whip may be a good Whip, but I should not regard him with the same confidence as an authority upon constitutional matters as I should regard yourself, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I should like to have your guidance upon this point.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I know nothing about discussions through the usual channels. That is not within my province. The Third Reading was moved on the Floor of the House, but that Motion does not appear on the Order Paper because that stage has not been reached and it would have been impossible to put the Motion for the Third Reading upon the Order Paper. Nevertheless, it is quite regular, and I have now put the Question. The Third Reading having been moved, it is perfectly in order.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I should have thought that the official notice would at least have said, "and remaining stages." I should have thought that could have been done on the Order Paper. However, I accept your Ruling; I do not challenge it, and we are prepared to take the Third Reading now.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

The Opposition were told last Thursday.

Mr. Ness Edwards

We have accepted the Whip's statement in a good spirit, and I do not see any reason why we should now have this hostility.

The Third Reading of this Bill gives us an opportunity of saying again one or two things about the Bill. What the Assistant Postmaster-General has failed to do is to answer this charge: Why it is that under this Bill he is raising £1 million more than is necessary to provide the ordinary commercial surplus on this particular service? That is a matter which the hon. Gentleman has evaded all through these discussions. He evaded it on the Second Reading, he evaded it in Committee, and now that he has another opportunity, I hope that he will address his mind to that point.

The Bill provides for an increase in the commercial surplus of £1,350,000 in a full year. All that the hon. Gentleman ought to ask for on this service to maintain the customary commercial surpluns is £300,000. What he is really doing is to get out of this service £1 million, which he admits is taxation. On the Second Reading he admitted that it was taxation. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) frowns in his usual way and says, "Nonsense." The hon. Gentleman should look at the facts. I am sure that the Assistant Postmaster-General will agree that these are the facts. I am quite prepared to give way for him to deny that.

Mr. Nabarro

The right hon. Gentleman must not accuse me of saying, "Nonsense."

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that much of this is in order.

Mr. Nabarro

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have said that this is not in order, and I cannot have a discussion continuing something which is clearly out of order.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I will put the point very shortly to the Assistant Postmaster-General. Will he explain what are his reasons and what is the justification for raising under this Bill £1 million more than is customarily necessary to provide for a commercial surplus on this service? It is a very simple point, and I hope that when he replies he will deal with it. We shall naturally not divide on the Third Reading.

5.55 p.m.

Mr. Gammans

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) has asked me why it is that, on the assumption that the House accepts these additional charges, we shall be raising about £1 million more than the deficit which now exists on this particular service. He has pointed out quite rightly that that is a surplus on the Post Office revenue as a whole and a surplus on this particular item as well.

What he is suggesting is that each service provided by the Post Office should really balance itself. He would like to see that, and so would I. It is a desirable thing, but some services make a loss. The worst, of course, is the telegraph service, which makes a loss all over the world and which, I am afraid, is a loss which will steadily increase. As the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well, there is a limit beyond which one cannot raise postal or telegraph charges because the law of diminishing returns then starts to operate.

So we start off with one particular service having a deficit which has to be made up by a surplus on another, unless the Post Office generally is to be run at a loss. We make a surplus on telephones and on the postal side, and we are hoping to do so on the postal orders as well. I quite appreciate that it does seem, at first sight, as if the increased charges which are being made produce a surplus for this particular service which is out of all proportion to the deficit, but the answer is that we have to regard the Post Office as a whole, and not only make it pay but also produce a reasonable commercial surplus, which every Postmaster-General wants to make and every Chancellor of the Exchequer insists on having.

It is for that reason that this particular service has been chosen. By an increase of a halfpenny we raise in the aggregate a pretty large sum of money. I do not think that anyone will argue that this is a service which cannot stand another halfpenny poundage, and that we are not justified in selecting this particular service for this additional charge. I hope that I have satisfied the right hon. Gentleman and the House that not only was this increase in poundage inevitable, but that it has been levied in a way which cannot by the greatest stretch of imagination be regarded as a hardship to anyone.

Mr. Hobson

Will the hon. Gentleman say when it is proposed to bring this into operation and how he proposes to collect the extra poundage?

Mr. Gammans

We had hoped to bring it in by 1st July, but 1st July has come and gone, and I cannot say when the Bill will receive the Royal Assent. I can make a promise that the increased poundage will be imposed in time for the football season, which is 1st September.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom

The end of August.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The Assistant Postmaster-General is a week behind time.

Mr. Gammans

As to how it will be actually imposed, the most effective way would be by new postal orders, but we have to use up existing postal orders first, and I must confess to the House that we have allowed the stocks of existing postal orders to run down. We have quite enough to carry on with, but we have not now the normal stocks of existing postal orders which we generally have, and so in anticipation of this Bill we shall be able to come on to the postal orders of higher poundage rather more quickly than we normally should have done.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.