HC Deb 31 July 1957 vol 574 cc1232-8
4. Mr. Lewis

asked the Postmaster-General on what basis it is estimated that the increased postal charges will only increase the retail price index by one-tenth of one per cent.; and to what extent in these calculations the direct and indirect effects of such increases on local authorities, nationalised boards, Government Departments, and private business, in addition to the effects on private individuals have been included.

Mr. Marples

The figure I gave was a rough estimate of the effect on the retail price index in so far as Post Office charges enter directly into the calculation of that index. Indirect effects through the prices of other components of the index could only be guessed, but would be quite small.

Mr. Lewis

If the Postmaster-General does not know, how can he guess whether it is larger or smaller? Can we be assured that his action in again increasing these prices is but another step in the implementation of his promise to reduce the cost of living, "mend the hole in your purse". and make the £ worth something?

ESTIMATES FOR MAIN ACCOUNTS, 1956–57 TO 1958–59 (After tariff changes)
(£ million)
Postal Telephone Telegraph Total Cumulative Total
Income 174.2 163.5 18.3 356.0
Expenditure 177.5 164.5 20.3 362.3
Surplus - 3.3 - 1.0 - 2.0 - 6.3 - 6.3
(£ million)
Postal Telephone Telegraph Total Cumulative Total
Income 190.3 183.5 18.9 392.7
Expenditure 190.9 178.5 22.2 391.6
Surplus - 0.6 + 5.0 - 3.3 + 1.1 - 5.2
Mr. Marples

The increases in charges was made to correct the wages of Post Office workers and to bring them into line for the first time with those of outside industry. If the hon. Member does not want that he should oppose the wage increases.

12 and 13. Mr. Winterbottom

asked the Postmaster-General (1)the extra sums he estimates that he will receive for each item of the recent increased charges this year, and in a full year;

(2)which of the Post Office services will be making a profit and which a loss, and what is the amount in each case, consequent upon the changes proposed in the recent White Paper on Post Office Finances.

24. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Postmaster-General the estimated profit or loss on the telephone and postal accounts. respectively, for 1956–57, 1957–58, and 1958–59 after allowing for the proposed new charges.

Mr. Marples

As the Answer involves two lengthy tables, I will circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following are the tables:

1958–59 (£ million)
Postal Telephone Telegraph Total Cumulative Total
Income 204.2 193.7 19.0 416.9
Expenditure 199.8 184.4 22.5 406.7
Surplus +4.4 +9.3 -3.5 +10.2 +5.0
Cumulative Total +0.5 +13.3 -8.8 +5.0
Yield from tariff changes Profit/Loss
£m. £m.
Letters 6.1 +10.2
Postcards 0.25 -0.05
Printed papers, samples, newspapers 1.35 -1.05
Parcels 0.75 -4.25
Registration -1.9
Miscellaneous 0.15 -0.05
Surface and "all-up" letters and postcards 0.65 +0.25
Surcharged air mails -0.2
Printed papers and samples 0.75 -3.05
Parcels 0.45 -0.25
Registration and insurance 0.1 -0.3
Miscellaneous 0.05 +0.05
Postal orders 0.8 +0.7
Money orders -0.8
11.4 -0.6
Ordinary inland telegrams -3.7
Inland private wires +1.2
Inland telex +0.1
Other inland services -1.1
Overseas services 0.1 +0.2
0.1 -3.3
Rentals, connection and removal charges 7.8 -5.1
Subscribers' local calls 2.3 +1.0
Subscribers' inland trunk calls 0.1 +9.7
Call Offices 0.1 -3.1
Inland private wires +1.5
Other inland services -0.3
Overseas services +1.3
10.3 +5.0
TOTAL 21.8 +1.1
The yield from the tariff changes in a full year will be double that for 1957–58 except in the case of (a)Subscribers' local calls and (b)Subscribers' inland trunk calls and call offices, for which the full year yield will be £2.0m. and nil respectively.
14. Mr. Watkins

asked the Postmaster-General whether he has considered abolishing the extra charges asked of telephone subscribers who live three miles or over from a telephone exchange or to increase the radius from three to five miles or more.

Mr. Marples

Yes, Sir; but these lines are very costly to provide and it would be unreasonable to ask all other subscribers to share the whole burden. I understand that in most other countries an extra charge is made for lines much shorter than three miles.

Mr. Watkins

Would the Postmaster-General look at this matter again in view of the fact that it is one of the factors which retards the re-population of the countryside? It is rather important. It has been on the Statute Book, at least by regulation, for a very long time.

Mr. Marples

A survey was made in 1955 and it showed that the annual charges for maintenance, interest on capital, and depreciation totalled £16 to £29 per mile. The present charge is £12 per mile—£6 for a shared telephone—and the new charge still does not always meet the actual cost.

21. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Postmaster-General what rearrangements or economies in the postal service he is considering that may enable him subsequently to modify the prospective increase in postal charges; and how far economy is possible through the institution of certain deliveries of letters at lower postal rates outside peak delivery hours.

Mr. Marples

We shall continue to look for all practicable economies, but I see no prospect of modifying the increases in charges which I announced recently. Schemes of the kind the hon. Member mentions in the second part of his Question have been gone into very thoroughly on many occasions in the past; they have always been judged to be impracticable and uneconomic but we are going to look into the possibilities again.

Mr. Gower

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the large number of Questions on the Order Paper on this matter indicates a fairly widespread concern in the community that the services administered by his Department, particularly the telephone service, should not increase in cost in future years or at an early foreseeable date? Would he agree that, despite the increases in wages to which he has referred, the general prosperity of the country since the war has enabled the Post Office, and the monopoly services administered by his Department, to acquire a great number of new customers, and should not that be taken into account?

30. Mr. Lipton

asked the Postmaster-General why he has increased the postal charges to provide an estimated surplus of £5 million by March 1958.

Mr. Marples

The hon. Member is mistaken. The prospect of a £5 million surplus does not arise before 1959.

Mr. Lipton

Will the Postmaster-General nevertheless explain why the poor old British public has to be soaked to the extent of £5 million more than is necessary to maintain the present postal services? What is the right hon. Gentleman going to use this £5 million for?

Mr. Marples

As the turnover of the Post Office is £400 million a year, the surplus of £5 million is not excessive. When the Labour Party was in office the Post Office had a surplus of 8 per cent. of its turnover. If we had budgeted for that surplus we should have been budgeting for a surplus of round about £80 million.

Mr. Woodburn

Would the surplus be increased very much if less transparent envelopes were supplied at the post office to hon. Members? We could almost have a system of letter tapping as well as of telephone tapping, the envelopes being so transparent that anybody might read the letters.

Mr. Lipton

In view of the complete failure of the Postmaster-General to answer this Question satisfactorily, I hope to raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.