HC Deb 06 July 1960 vol 626 cc458-64
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Reginald Bevins)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement on Post Office charges.

I want to encourage the use of residential telephones, especially during off-peak periods when existing plant is not fully used.

I am pleased to inform the House that I have decided:

  1. 1. To reduce to2½d. the local call charge for residential subscribers. The charge of 2d. for local call units payable by people in areas with subscriber Trunk Dialling will continue unchanged.
  2. 2. To reduce from 2s. 6d. to 2s. the charge for 3 minutes in the cheap rate period for trunk calls of more than 125 miles, connected by an operator.
  3. 3. To reduce from 1s. to 9d. the charge for 3 minutes in the cheap rate period for timed trunk calls of less than 35 miles, connected by an operator.
  4. 4. To apply the cheap rate period throughout the whole of Sundays.
I have also decided to reduce by from 12½ per cent. to 25 per cent. the rentals for certain sizes of private automatic branch exchanges.

The extension of the cheap rate period on Sundays will apply as from 10th July. In general, the other reductions will take effect as from 1st September.

I also intend to restore quarterly accounts to all telephone subscribers. This will require a phased programme over the next four years. I believe that the public will welcome a return to quarterly telephone accounts.

As from 1st September the charge per word for the Radio Telegraph Service with ships at sea at the standard rate will be 1s 8d instead of 1s. 6d.

I have also come to the conclusion that the inland registered service does not satisfactorily meet public requirements, and I have decided to provide a cheaper alternative to it for articles, such as documents, where it is more important to be able to prove delivery than to secure compensation in case of loss. This new service—the Recorded Delivery service—will require a supplementary fee of 6d. only, as opposed to 1s. for registration. It will provide both for a receipt on posting and on delivery. Compensation will be limited to £2.

At the same time, the minimum fee for both the inland and overseas registration services will be increased from 1s. to 1s. 6d. These changes will take effect at about the turn of the year and should make these services generally economic.

I have no intention at present of increasing the charges for inland telegrams.

Full details of these and some other minor changes will be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I wish to associate myself with the House in congratulating the Postmaster-General on reversing the policy of his predecessor. I think that the cheap telephone service throughout Sunday will be very welcome, that it is fairly obvious that the quarterly accounts will be very welcome, and that there will be less quibbling about the charges which have been made for calls which people cannot remember.

I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is satisfied that these concessions are really bold enough to win back the 300,000 subscribers which his predecessor lost. Is he not aware that it has always been our view that the maximum use of the telephone at a lower rate of profit is far better than the minimum use of the telephone with a high rate of profit? We hope that he will proceed on that policy of giving more and more concessions in respect of telephone charges so that we can get a much more general use of the telephone and a better return for the huge quantities of capital investment in the equipment.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is to be the cost to the Post Office of the concessions on the telephone rates? Secondly, will he let us know what is going to be the cost of the Recorded Delivery service? Thirdly, in the list that is to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT, can he indicate how many cases there are of increased rather than decreased charges? In general, we welcome the right hon. Gentleman's approach to the general problem of revising charges for the telephone service. We only wish that he had not been quite so timid.

Mr. Bevins

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for what he said, except that what I have announced to the House this afternoon is in no sense a reversal of policies pursued by my predecessor. If, in due course, my successor takes as favourable a view of my endeavours as I take of the endeavours of my predecessor, I shall be very happy.

In reply to the detailed questions of the right hon. Member, the purpose of these changes in telephone tariffs is to encourage the use of the telephone rather than to build up an excessive demand for new telephones. That is the design. As to the cost of these concessions, all told, over the total field, the gross cost will amount to about £2¼ million to £2½ million in the next financial year.

Mr. Ness Edwards

How many cases of increased charges are involved in the statement which is to be circulated?

Mr. Bevins

There are one or two very minor ones, but, on the whole, the net effect is, of course, in favour of the public.

Sir T. Moore

As the Opposition will undoubtedly say that this statement is a prelude to a General Election, can we have an assurance that there is no truth in that suggestion?

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask the Postmaster-General whether he knows of any private industry in the United Kingdom which has reduced its charges as has this nationalised industry?

Mr. Bevins

Yes. There have been a considerable number of cases in which private enterprise has brought down prices during the last twelve months.

Hon. Members

Name them.

Mr. Mackie

While appreciating the right hon. Gentleman's decreases of telephone service costs, I wonder whether he would increase something to do with it, that is, the height of the bolt that holds the spring which closes the door of a telephone kiosk? It is exactly 6 ft. 2 ins. I have broken skin off my head twice and so far I have refrained from suing him, but if this happens a third time I shall have seriously to consider the matter.

Present Charges New Charges
Local calls from Residence telephone, without coin box, except those in areas with Subscriber Trunk Dialling. 3d. On accounts due after 1st September, 1960: 2½d.
Timed Trunk calls connected by an operator in the Cheap Rate Period:—
over 125 miles 2s. 6d. for 3 minutes (2s. 9d. from a call office) From 1st September, 1960; 2s. for 3 minutes (2s. 3d. from a call office)
up to 35 miles 1s. for 3 minutes (1s. 3d. from a call office) From 1st September, 1960: 9d. for 3 minutes (1s. from a call office
Mr. Watkins

Did the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to revising the charges for rentals in exchanges for subscribers over three miles and, if so, what decision did he come to? What was his finding?

Mr. Bevins

I have considered that matter on a very recent occasion. The fact is that charges for people in country districts are already very low in comparison with other countries and to make them lower still would increase demands and add to the claims on our limited capital resources.

Sir M. Galpern

Could the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to the complaint, which I am sure many hon. Members have received, to the effect that subscribers are unable to calculate the accuracy of the accounts rendered to them? A number of people have complained to me, as I am sure they have complained to other hon. Members, that they are alarmed to find that they have used a telephone to such an extent as is suggested by the account.

Would it be impossible for the Postmaster-General to indicate, as is the normal practice for anyone incurring an account, the details as to how that account has been arrived at and to show the actual number of calls incurred by subscribers so that they may be satisfied about the accuracy of the Department?

Mr. Bevins

It is open to any subscriber to challenge the accuracy of his telephone account, but the number of mistakes that are made is, in fact, very few. We are transferring to the new system of Subscriber Trunk Dialling, and as that comes into force the liability for error in accounting will progressively diminish.

Present Charges New Charges
Cheap Rate Period on Sundays 2 p.m. to 6 a.m. From 10th July, 1960 From 6 p.m. Saturdays until 6 a.m. Mondays
Private Automatic Branch Exchanges:—
Type No. 1:—
up to 15 automatic extensions £200 a year From 1st September 1960: £160 a year
25 to 35 automatic extensions £280 a year From 1st September, 1960: £240 a year
Type No. 2:—
up to 15 automatic extensions £240 a year From 1st September, 1960: £200 a year
25 to 35 automatic extensions £320 a year From 1st September, 1960: £280 a year
Type No. 3 (privately installed):—
For every 50 extensions £120 a year From 1st September, 1960: £90 a year
For each switchboard position £60 a year From 1st September, 1960: £50 a year
Experimental Radiophone service in South Lancashire:—
Calls in Service area 2s. 6d. for 3 minutes From 1st September, 1960: 1s. 3d. for 3 minutes
Calls to or from places outside Service area Trunk charge plus radio fee of 2s. for 3 minutes From 1st September, 1960: Trunk charge plus radio fee of 1s. for 3 minutes