HC Deb 16 December 1959 vol 615 cc1425-6
14. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Postmaster General what percentage of letter sorting and date stamping is still carried out manually in General Post Office establishments; what mechanisation of these processes is taking place; to what extent mechanisation of sorting and date stamping would be hastened by standardisation of envelopes; what steps he is initiating in that regard; and, in view of the desirability of reducing postal charges, whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Bevins

I am sure that my hon. Friend will not mind if I reply to these Questions seriatim and succinctly.

One: about 99.5 per cent. Two: about 1 per cent. Three: a good start has been made with the mechanisation of sorting. Four: standardisation of envelopes would help to some extent. Five: under examination. Six: in good time.

I am circulating a more intelligible Answer in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Nabarro

I hope that you will not mind, Mr. Speaker, if I ask my supplementary question succinctly but not seriatim.

Mr. Chetwynd

Send the Minister a letter.

Mr. Nabarro

Most important of all, may I put it to my right hon. Friend that as 70 per cent. of the charges for dealing with letters are accounted for by labour, all these processes of mechanisation must lead to economies in cost? Should not those economies in costs be passed on to the harassed consumer and to the community as a whole, instead of being pocketed by the Treasury as additional taxation?

Mr. Bevins

I realise the importance of mechanisation in the Post Office as much as any hon. Member and I have not the slightest doubt that mechanisation is a good thing for many reasons, but I do not believe that mechanisation in itself will give the Post Office the necessary savings to enable us to reduce postal rates. I think there are other and more fruitful approaches.

Following is the information: Some 99.5 per cent. of letter sorting and 1.2 per cent. of date stamping is carried out manually. Stamp cancelling machines are in use in all but the smallest offices. Seventeen letter-sorting machines of a type which has been developed only in the last few years are already in use in certain offices throughout the country. New techniques are being developed which may enable us to sort much more correspondence automatically. These developments could well be facilitated by some standardisation of envelope sizes and characteristics and the subject is currently being studied both in the British Post Office and by a committee of the Universal Postal Union on which we are represented. Commercial interests in this country are well aware of what is being done. Important though they are, it is unlikely that the savings arising from mechanisation of those parts of the postal service which lend themselves to the process will be such as to allow us to reduce postage rates.
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