HC Deb 21 May 1958 vol 588 cc1301-4
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Ernest Marples)

Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I would like to make a statement about charges for telephone calls.

As the House is aware, Post Office policy is to encourage greater use of existing telephones by making calls cheap, quick and easy. On 1st January, 1958, the area covered by the 3d. local call was greatly enlarged and some trunk charges were reduced. I now announce two further steps which will make many telephone calls cheaper. These are:

First, all users of telephones will have the cheap rate period extended. At present, it is from 6 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. As from 1st July it will be from 6 p.m. every weekday to 6 o'clock the following morning. On Sundays it will be from 2 p.m. until 6 o'clock on Monday morning. This is the first time that the cheap night rate has been given on Sunday afternoons.

Secondly, as already announced, some subscribers—at first those in Bristol—will soon be able to dial their own trunk calls. For these subscribers, and in the first instance for these subscribers only, the basis of charging for all calls will be radically changed. What I have to announce now is that they will be able to make telephone calls to anywhere in this country for 2d. The amount of time 2d. will buy will vary with the distance. Naturally, for the really long distance call the amount of time for 2d. will be small—in fact, 12 seconds.

On trunk calls, the new charges will have two advantages. Here are examples of those advantages for a call of over 125 miles. The first advantage is that the charge itself will be reduced. At present, a three minute call costs 3s. 6d. In future, it will cost only 2s. 6d., which is a reduction of nearly 30 per cent. The second advantage is the existing minimum of 3s. 6d. for three minutes will be abolished and subscribers will pay only for the time they use in multiples of 2d.

The new charges for a call over 125 miles will be: for 12 seconds 2d.; for one minute 10d.; for two minutes 1s. 8d.; and for three minutes 2s. 6d. At present, these calls cost a minimum of 3s. 6d. whether they last one, two or three minutes.

Now to local calls in those areas with Subscriber Trunk Dialling: these will be timed, because only by timing can the call charge be reduced. Instead of 3d. untimed they will be 2d. for three minutes in the ordinary period and 2d. for six minutes in the cheap rate period.

These new charges will start at Bristol on 1st December, 1958. They cannot be applied elsewhere until equipment is installed to enable subscribers to dial trunk calls. This will be done as quickly as possible but, of course, it will take a long time to cover the whole country.

A new coin box to allow trunk calls to be dialled from kiosks will be introduced later. Telephone time that costs 2d. from an ordinary telephone will cost 3d. from a coin box.

Full details are given in a White Paper which will be available in the Vote Office later this afternoon.

In addition, Members of this House and the other House will be able to see the equipment and how it works in the Upper Waiting Hall tomorrow from 12 noon.

Mr. C. R. Hobson

I am sure that the whole House will welcome the statement which has been made by the Minister. We on this side are particularly gratified that this is a nationalised industry. I am sure that the whole House wishes to pay tribute to the Post Office engineers who have made this development possible.

There are two questions I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman. First, arising from the statement, which, obviously, we shall need time to study, will he give an undertaking to make capital available to extend the trunk dialling system to larger cities, including the Metropolis? Also, when the new coin boxes are put in, making trunk dialling possible from kiosks, will he see that steps will be taken to include a timing device to show the length of the call?

Mr. Marples

There will be a device for timing in the box for both local and trunk calls. On the question of providing capital, it is expected that three-quarters of all trunk calls will be dialled in this country by 1970. We shall continue with a gradual process and an Appendix in the White Paper will show the towns which will get it by 1960 and 1961. I think that the House will see that there will be a gradual development, but that, at the same time, it will be fairly speedy.

Sir R. Grimston

Is my right hon. Friend aware that from this side of the House he will be congratulated on bringing such a climate of private enterprise to this nationalised industry? Can he tell us what the effect will be on the Post Office Commercial Accounts, which in 1956–57, I think, showed a loss of £3 million?

Mr. Marples

The Commercial Accounts this year will be showing a profit. These reductions are made available by increased mechanisation and will not result in an increased loss to the Post Office.

Mr. Randall

In conjunction with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. C. R. Hobson), may I also say to the Minister that there are many on this side of the House who wish to congratulate him on his speedy introduction of the first phase of through-trunk dialling and also on the expansion of cheap trunk calls during the evening?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the staff of the Post Office are most grateful to him for his generous approach to the problems which have been arising as a result of automation? Can he give an assurance that the whole of the redundancy that will arise will be absorbed and that, in addition, there will be no extension of part-time working?

Mr. Marples

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I have always been of the opinion that a humane and efficient approach to redundancy is the answer in mechanisation and is, indeed, more important than the technical side. I am grateful to the unions, with whom we have now complete agreement in tackling the problem.

I would ask the House to note three points. First, this introduction will be gradual over the country as a whole. Secondly, we have stopped the intake of operators. A large number of these attractive operators get married and I presume that the marriages will go on. The extended cheap rate period for which the unions asked is a practical way of the Post Office and myself showing our gratitude to them by enabling more hours of work to be available to union members to cushion redundancy.

The motto I have adopted is that I hope there will be no one in the Post Office who gets a raw deal as a result of mechanisation.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I thank my right hon. Friend for the splendid news that he has given to the citizens of Bristol this afternoon. Will he note that they will attribute this great advance to the new energy and methods which he has brought to this Department?

Mr. Ross

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether there are any snags here at all? Can he tell us whether subscribers will be able, in future, to check their accounts for trunk charges? Will they be able to separate the trunk charges from the ordinary local calls?

Mr. Marples

The savings that are now being made are possible for two reasons. The first is that the subscriber himself does the dialling instead of the operator, and the second is that he will have to accept a simplified bill based on a meter, just as for gas and electricity. That meter will be kept at the exchange and we shall invite any subscriber to look at that meter. We also hope to make facilities available for the subscriber to have a meter in his own premises, at a rental, if he so wishes.

Mr. J. Rodgers

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the new, welcome charges he has announced will apply to calls from kiosks as well as from private houses?

Mr. Marples

They will apply to kiosks both for local calls and trunk calls.

Mr. Popplewell

Did I understand the Postmaster-General to say that we shall be able to make a call to anywhere in the country at 2d. for 12 seconds? If so, can he say how much cheaper this is than the prevailing rate? At present, if one puts through a call one must pay 3s. 6d. for three minutes. Can he say how much cheaper the 2d. represents on that?

Mr. Marples

At present a trunk call for a distance over 125 miles from Bristol costs 3s. 6d. Under the proposed new methods it will cost 2s. 6d. for three minutes, 1s. 8d. for two minutes and 2d. for 12 seconds.