HC Deb 22 February 1967 vol 741 cc1849-901

Amendment proposed: In page 1, line 12, to leave out '£1,750' and insert '£1,500'.—[Mr. Webster.]

Question again proposed, That '£1,750' stand part of the Clause.

9.42 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

when the morning session of Wednesday, 15th February came to an end I was on my feet, in full flight as it were, complaining of the delay of the repairs service in the telephone service. The Committee was debating an Amendment to reduce the borrowing powers of the Post Office from the range of £1,750 million to £2,200 million to the range of £1,500 million to £1,900 million. These Amendments are a Parliamentary device, first for ascertaining from a Minister to what purpose he proposes to devote the extra money which he wishes his Department to borrow and, secondly, a device for drawing attention to grievances concerning the service given by the existing system.

I was drawing attention to the delays in telephone service repairs. I trust that it will not be a matter of tedious repetition but will rather give continuity to the debate if I quote the last few lines of what I said as reported in HANSARD at column 572 for 15th February, 1967. I said: One also has to put up with delays in getting repairs carried out. Some little time ago my telephone went out of order, and it took 10 days to repair it. The repairers then came and put a strange wire all round my house in the course of repairing the telephone. I had never had that wire there before, and, following the re-connection of the telephone, during the last few days each time I have had a call on my telephone there has been sound of a lifted receiver somewhere else, and deep breathing. I asked: Am I being tapped? I want to know about this. I want to know why the repairs took so long—". Then there was the rubric as reported in HANSARD: It being half-past Twelve o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1967; Vol. 741, c. 573.] I suppose Independent Television might call that a natural break. There certainly was an unnatural break in my telephone service. Or, as the schoolboy magazines might have described it, with the heroine roped to the railway lines and the express train rapidly approaching, this was a case of "Do not miss the exciting and thrilling instalment in next week's issue".

9.45 p.m.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

We are all agog.

Mr. Page

As my hon. Friend says, we are all agog, and I propose to continue with the exciting instalment which fully confirms my allegation of inefficiency in the telephone repair service. The serial is that every time I endeavour to telephone my home number, 3579, from my office, a neighbour of mine, whose number is 9079, answers the phone. After several endeavours of this sort I had the bright idea last week of dialling my neighbour's number, 9079, and sure enough I got through to my own home, 3579. There is a simple explanation. In the course of the repairs the two telephones were joined to the wrong wires, so for several days my neighbour and I told each other's callers to ring the other one's telephone number.

The strange wire around my house was about 3 feet above the ground. It was gleaming white, with a junction box also at about the same height, all of it in full view of anyone who stood at the garden gate, and rather a temptation to anyone who might have been inclined to break into the house to disconnect it.

Again the explanation was fairly simple. When the Post Office Engineers' Department sent someone to repair my phone, it sent a non-ladder man, instead of a ladder man. I understand that the repair service is divided between these two categories. I do not know the priority of employment between these two, whether the ladder man is higher up the ladder than the non-ladder man in the case of employment, but after waiting 10 days for repairs I got a non-ladder man, and, being a non-ladder man, he put the wire at only three feet from the ground and the junction box at the same height, so of course there was the junction box and the wire for anybody to cut. In case any burglars happen to read HANSARD, I hasten to say that after a few more days of pestering the Post Office Engineers' Department, and receiving a call from two inspectors of that Department, the installation is no longer in that tempting position. On the next occasion a ladder man was sent to do the job.

I must point out that throughout this incident I had the utmost courtesy and co-operation from the Post Office employees so far as the rules of their employment laid down for them allowed. This experience has confirmed what I said in the course of the earlier part of my speech a week ago, namely, that the public is not getting the service from the loyalty of the Post Office employees which it ought to get. There is bad management, and nothing wrong with the employees themselves. I said on the last occasion, referring to Post Office employees: They are a very good crowd, and very loyal to the service, and the public are not getting the benefit of that loyalty because of the management of the Post Office as it exists at the moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1967; Vol. 471, c. 572.] I now wish to refer to another part of the Post Office service. In my constituency, the parcel post is very important because there are firms there like Little-woods Mail Order Stores, a printer of race cards who sends out bundles of these each day—in which case, time is of the essence—and a public library contractor who tries to get books to public libraries through the parcel post. I have many other constituents of that type.

I receive frequent complaints of delays in the parcel post. I have, of course, taken this up with the local head postmaster and the explanation which I receive almost every time is that the parcels leave the hands of Post Office employees and become the charge of British Railways—that, for a certain part of their journey, they are no longer controlled by the Post Office but by British Railways. I am told that this is where the delay occurs.

Surely it would be possible for Post Office employees to handle Post Office packets and parcels throughout their whole journey and for the Post Office not to rely on the ordinary loaders and un-loaders of British Railways. This seems to be where very serious delays frequently occur.

I apologise to the Committee if I am making too much of a constituency speech, but I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members have had complaints from their constituencies about many cases of inefficiency of postal deliveries and collections. The efficiency of the delivery system seems to be in inverse proportion to the number of different stamp designs produced. I do not think that the public are concerned so much with the design of stamps on their letters as with whether their letters are delivered and collected from the boxes punctually.

During the last year, I have received many complaints from constituents that morning deliveries are an hour or so later than they used to be, and that the last evening collections arc an hour or so earlier. The most annoying alteration of all is the closing of post offices at lunchtime. Local authorities in my constituency have complained of this to the Postmaster-General. It causes great inconvenience for those with fixed times of work, who can get away to a post office only at lunchtime.

If there were any real economy in this, if it were a matter of applying work study and organisation and method to the Post Office, if there were any real reduction in cost and increase in efficiency from this, I would not complain——

Mr. R. F. H. Dobson (Bristol, North-East)

is the hon. Member not aware that this is one of the outstanding features of organisation and methods study, which recommended earlier closing to get greater efficiency?

Mr. Page

I do not know who recommended it—whether it was organisation and method employees of the Post Office or a separate outside firm—but, on the figures for the Liverpool area, it seems as though their advice is a failure.

The figures are as follows. There are 27 post offices in the Liverpool area which are now closed at lunchtime. I asked the Assistant Postmaster-General for the amount of saving in this case. I was told that there was a saving of about £6,500 a year as a result of closing 27 post offices during lunchtime. This gives an average of about £240 per year for each post office. If my mathematics are correct, since there are 307 working days in the year, that represents a saving each working day by closing a post office of the enormous sum of 16s. 2½d. That is the amount being saved per day as a result of closing an important and well-patronised post office in my constituency. This paltry saving is wholly disproportionate to the inconvenience caused to the public, particularly to shop, office and other workers with fixed times of employment.

Hon. Members talked earlier about the great developments of science that are being applied to the Post Office services —satellites in space, great improvements in the commercial services, the giro system and so on. The position might be likened to that old joke about the medical profession; that medical science has greatly advanced in cardiac operations, cancer research, kidney grafting, dealing with blue babies and so on, but it cannot cure the common cold. That joke has a ring of truth when applied to some aspects of the Post Office. I suggest that the Post Office should get down to becoming efficient in the simple things which affect people every day, such as the mail and telephone services.

Something which affects my constituents every day is local radio, and I conclude by asking the Postmaster-General whether he is ready to announce that there will be a local radio station on Merseyside.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

We are discussing a considerable sum of money—a new borrowing levy to be increased by £430 million, with provision to increase it by £450 million by an Order of this House. This is no mean sum at a time of general restraint, although we are glad to hear that in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) the post office is making a daily saving of 16s. 2½d.

The Government must face the fact that criticism of the Post Office is running at a high level indeed. I cannot remember a time in the 25 years I have been in Parliament when I have received more complaints from my constituents about the various postal services. I am not attempting to apportion blame for this, but when I pass on these complaints I receive polite letters from the Department, which do not convince my constituents who find that their mail arrives later and later.

A considerable amount of information about the postal services generally is provided in Cmnd. 2931, which sets out many of the things the Post Office is trying to do, although I appreciate that some of these will take time to put into effect. We read about a mysterious 8 per cent. target and I hope that we will be told tonight exactly what it means. We are also told that immediate action is being taken, but when we read on we see that this means only an increase in postal charges, another matter about which I receive many complaints from my constituents. Having been informed that a detailed study has been carried out by Mackenzie & Co., I am glad to note that there is to be a profit-improving programme throughout the country. We certainly hope that it will produce a result before very long. We also have this rather strange Irish phrase that refers to the "more permanent use of part-time staff." That seems a rather odd way of putting it, although I think I can see what the Post Office is driving at.

10.0 p.m.

These criticisms are serious, and I hope that the Postmaster-General, who is looking rather sceptical, will take them seriously, particularly the complaint of delays in postal deliveries. I know from my own experience that letters between London and my constituency take longer than they used to do, and my constituents write giving me endless examples. There always seems to be a good excuse given for this. Everyone knows the difficulties of getting adequate sorting staff, but this is a grievance of the public, particularly at a time when the charges have gone up so much. There is a special resentment about the increase in postal and telegraphic charges.

I have a particular cause of complaint in my constituency. In the village of Walditch, on the outskirts of Bridport, there was a sub-post office for 38 years. Because of difficulties relating to planning permission, there was a short lapse, and the Postmaster-General took the opportunity to close the office altogether. When I went there I found very great resentment, particularly among the large number of old-age pensioners there who are now obliged to walk a mile each way to the nearest post office.

The Postmaster-General may think that this is quite all right, but I can assure him that it is a very great hardship for some of these pensioners, who find it very difficult to walk such a distance. Of course, in an area like that, bus services do not exist. When I went to the place where the new office will be in the rebuilt village shop I was met by about 40 constituents. If the Postmaster-General could have heard what they had to say, I am sure that his ears would have been burning.

I do not regard the right hon. Gentleman as a harsh man normally and I beg him to look at this matter again, and send some Post Office official to see what the position really is. The situation arose only because the old Post Office had to close before planning permission came through for the rebuilding, and there was a lapse of 12 months or so. The Postmaster-General was then able to close the sub-office in Walditch, a growing village which had got used to these facilities. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the alternative facilities are not easy.

The Postmaster-General admits, as can be seen from col. 837 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 20th January last, that the quality and reliability of the customer services can do with improvement. He is now asking for a very large sum of money, and the House is entitled to look very carefully into the whole matter. The right hon. Gentleman referred on Second Reading to the fact that the postal service would soon be conducted by a public corporation and said, indeed, that it might not be necessary for all this money to be used while the service is under its present administration.

If that is the case, it makes one wonder whether the rather modest reductions I have proposed are not worth while. We are living in a time of restraint. These reductions would only mean that the Postmaster-General would have to come back to the House a few months earlier to explain how far he had been successful in improving these services about which we are receiving complaints. I therefore have no hesitation in hoping that some of my hon. Friends will draw attention on this occasion—one of the few occasions we have for raising these matters—to the complaints of their constituents.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I welcome the Bill and the extension of the borrowing powers of the Post Office. In my experience of complaints from constituents, the services of the Post Office are those about which I receive the least number.

Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

That is because the hon. Gentleman never gets the letters.

Mr. Bence

I get plenty of letters, and I get complaints, though they do not come from the constituency as a whole. They come principally from the new town of Cumbernauld which is in my constituency. That new towns has developed rapidly and often ahead of Post Office planning. I receive complaints from constituents living there that the rapid construction of commercial premises and new houses has resulted in a waiting list for telephones and even a delay in establishing sub-post offices in the town. Those are the only complaints which I have had in the last 10 years about the Post Office.

Any complaints which I have had about late deliveries have been in relation to deliveries from London. On investigation, it has been found that the delays have occurred in the London area itself, and very often have been due to difficulties in recruiting a labour force in that area. One can understand that, with the number of service industries in the South and South-East, it must be increasingly difficult, as a result of the Conservative Government's policy on labour recruitment, for such services as the Post Office to recruit staff in competition with industry.

In every case which I have taken up concerning my constituency of East Dunbartonshire, on examination it has been found that the delay has arisen in the London area. In East Dunbartonshire itself, it is only in the new town of Cumbernauld that there is any complaint about the lack of postal facilities.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will use his extra borrowing power to concentrate on the rapidly developing new towns so that the Post Office facilities can keep pace with other development in those towns.

Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)

There is one aspect of Post Office expenditure which I wish to raise and that is the proposal to introduce the giro system. The Postmaster-General knows that I have been interested in that since before the Government decided to adopt such a system and announced it in the House. I want to find out more about the nature of the service which it is proposed to introduce, because the Government have stated that they will bring it in in the autumn of 1968, which is only about 18 months hence.

On Second Reading, I raised a number of points, and the Postmaster-General has been good enough to write to me about them. I wish to develop only one inquiry about it tonight, but it is an important one. It is the extent to which money can be transmitted by the service which the Government now propose.

The White Paper on a Giro System, which the Government produced in August, 1965, said that it was likely that initially the new service would prove most attractive to those firms and organisations which received a large number of remittances. I agree entirely. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it was one of the reasons which I advanced in advocating the adoption of a giro system.

Paragraph 17 of the White Paper went on to say: In addition a giro will provide for every-one cheap facilities for cash remittances of any amount through the Post Office at present available only to Government Departments. The words to which I draw attention particularly are "for any amount". When speaking from the Front Bench in the debate in which the announcement about the adoption of the giro sysem was made, the former Postmaster-General assured the House that, according to the calculations at that time, it could be easily operated economically. He made an optimistic forecast of the return on capital with what I would regard as a minimum number of accounts. I quote what the previous Postmaster-General said on 21st July, 1965: … on our basis of calculation at the moment it would be possible not just to break even, but to get an 8 per cent. return over the long run on a giro system with as few as 1¼ million giro account holders with an average balance of only £100 and £150."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1965; Vol. 716, c. 1635.] Subsequent to that, this blue book entitled "The National Giro" was produced to acquaint the public and firms with what was proposed. It says on page 7 regarding firms using the system: The firm will receive each day all the orders on giro in payment and transfer forms together with the daily statement as the accounting document. There will be no cheques and postal orders to bank". These statements give an indication that there would be a free and easy transfer of money, particularly in small amounts. This blue book entitled "The National Giro" also states that the minimum amount which could be transferred would be 5s. The blue book states that the giro account system would be particularly suitable for a mail order system. I agree that the giro system is particularly suitable for a mail order system.

This is the question which I must put to the Government. Does the minimum transfer of 5s. apply to all transactions such as a mail order system? If so, quite a number of orders cannot be covered. What about the packets of seeds which are advertised and which people want to buy at 6d. a packet? People do not necessarily want to buy 5s. worth with one order. The right hon. Gentleman may say that there may not be many of these, but once a postal order system is mixed up with the giro system it will not be complete and it will be consequently less efficient.

The system would be advantageous for paying bills, perhaps to an electricity board, perhaps to a large department store, the bills being paid by the month. However, some of the bills might well be less than 5s. Is it to be a rigid limit that no sums of less than 5s. will be payable under the giro system? I am not sure whether the point about the minimum transfer will cover all such operations. Will there be exceptions so that a large body such as an electrity board, with a large number of individual customers, will be able to use the system with no minimum limit so that sums of ls. 6d., 4s. 6d., and so on, can be transferred? This is what systems in other countries can do. I do not think there is any other country which has a limit of 5s. One or two countries have a limit but it is only about 6d.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Will my hon. Friend draw the Postmaster-General's attention to the fact that dividends of pools firms could be paid if the limit were to be lower than 5s.? Some of the third and fourth dividends in recent weeks have been well below 5s. I say that from personal experience.

Mr. Campbell

I congratulate my hon. Friend on winning. I am sorry that his win was not a good one. The pools were in my mind, but more, perhaps, from the point of view of people sending their stakes in. It may be that the Government particularly want to avoid the pools becoming involved in the giro system.

I ask the Government to explain whether the 5s. limit on transfers applies toevery transaction which will be carried out under the giro system. If so, it will be a great deal less efficient and useful to the country than giro systems in other countries with which some of us are acquainted.

In the debate on 21st July, 1965, the previous Postmaster-General spoke to the effect that the postal order system was completely out of date. He indicated that it would be replaced by the giro system. Will it? If under the giro system amounts of less than 5s. cannot be transferred, it seems that we shall still have the postal order system which I recollect the previous Postmaster-General referring to as something from the last century.

Perhaps the Minister of Technology ought to reply to this debate, because it was he who made the optimistic speech at that time. However, may we be told whether his indication that the postal order and money order system would be replaced no longer holds good? After looking into it, have the Government decided that it cannot be done? If so, this would be a considerable change.

10.15 p.m.

In his reply to me, the Postmaster-General said that there were two reasons for the minimum transfer of 5s. mentioned in the explanatory booklet. The first was economic, but that does not tie up with what was previously said about the calculated good return possible with what I regard as a rather small number of account holders. Second, the right hon. Gentleman said that there had been no indication yet of a demand for transferring smaller amounts. There are a good many people who have never heard of the giro system. I go so far as to say that there are many hon. and right hon. Members who, though they may have heard of it, have yet to discover what it is. Yet we are to have the system in this country in one and a half years time if the right hon. Gentleman carries his proposals through.

He cannot say that there will not be a demand just because he has not received many demands at this stage. I ask him to look at the systems operated abroad, see what amounts under the equivalent of 5s. are transferred in those systems, and then consider what is likely to be the situation in this country. Not enough people yet know about the system or what the position will be to write to him or tell him exactly how they want it to be run. It is our job in the House to look ahead and to advise the Government in order to produce the best possible service for the country in a system which is as yet unknown to it.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give a brief answer on whether the 5s. limit is to be a limit imposed on all transactions under the giro system. If he says that it has not yet been decided, I shall be pleased, because I want him to look at it further. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I welcome the prospect of a certain amount of competition which the new system will cause for the banks in a certain area. There will now be a choice for those people who might be considering opening a bank account. I believe that this is welcome and will give rise to a certain amount of healthy competition. Nevertheless, it would be quite wrong if the Government did anything to antagonise the banks. The banking system and the giro system should work together and be linked. Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure, in formulating the new scheme, that it is possible for the giro system and the banking system to work together by transfers between them so that transactions can be carried out as easily and as simply as possible? I hope that he will tell us something about that also tonight.

Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)

There have been several complaints from hon. Members opposite about Post Office services but I can tell the House that, on the whole, the service in Croydon is extremely good. In the 10 or 11 months during which I have been the Member for Croydon, South, I have, on the whole, received very few complaints of the kind one sometimes hears about delays in Post Office services and the rest. In my view, the service in Croydon is extremely good, and I think that I shall be supported in that by my two colleagues, the hon. Members for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill) and for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Frederic Harris) who sit on the benches opposite.

A week or so ago I visited the new head post office in Croydon. I believe that, when it is completely open, it will improve even the present efficiency of Post Office service in the borough. In Croydon, also, we are starting an experiment with the postal code. It has been said by the Post Office that this will improve the delivery system for letters and will create greater efficiency. Although there was a certain amount of controversy when the postal coding started, most people in Croydon now, I believe—certainly most people in my constituency—accept the code. I understand that the Postmaster-General may be able to tell us that, if the experiment works well in Croydon, it will be copied in other places.

I have, however, received one type of complaint which I have brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General concerning the minimum charges for public telephones. There has been a certain amount of criticism, perhaps justified, that there will no longer be the 3d. call and the minimum charge will be 6d. I know that people will have a greater amount of time for their 6d., but that does not alter the fact that there was a certain amount of concern that people will not be able to have the 3d. minimum. Perhaps that matter can be examined.

My final point concerns the allegations which have appeared in newspapers in the past few days about possible delay in overseas cables. We are told in some of the newspapers that the information in the cables is being passed on to the security authorities, and one reads that that custom has been going on for about 40 years. Some of us may be forgiven if we were not aware of the custom.

I wonder whether the Postmaster-General wants to make a statement tonight. Perhaps we can be told whether there has been any new departure in that ruling. It is no secret in the House that all kinds of security probes take place in this country, as in all countries, but it was rather unfortunate to read about that matter in the newspapers in the past few days. Perhaps there was an element of exaggeration, but if my right hon. Friend wants to make a statement on the position tonight I am sure that the whole House will be interested.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

My particular concern is to know how much of the huge sum of money it is now proposed to borrow will be expended in Wales. There is plenty of room to improve the Post Office service there. For example, our telephone service lags far behind that of England and many other countries. When I asked the Postmaster-General how many homes per thousand were connected with telephones in Wales and in England, his answer was that the current estimates of residential telephone connections per thousand households is 256 in English post office regions, but only 150 in Wales and the border counties. A difference of that magnitude is very hard to explain away, and it shows that there is plenty of room for development in Wales. I am afraid that too often Wales is for the Post Office just a rather unimportant part of the periphery of England, part of the fringe, and it is not a country, it is not a national entity, and for some purposes, such as publishing a directory, it is not even a region. We have not got one directory for Wales, and there should be one. Even then it would he only a small fraction of the size of the London directory. In that directory we should find the Welsh language as well as the English language. It seems from certain demands that have been made from the Post Office that it has nothing but contempt for the Welsh language.

I want to draw the attention of the Post Office to the national awakening in Wales, part of which is the rediscovery of the value of our national heritage. The most important part of that is the national language, and a movement is gathering momentum in Wales towards the creation of a bilingual community there, a community in which there will be parity of status between the Welsh and English languages. What is the Post Office doing in response to that?

There are Departments of Government which are responding sympathetically, and which are now making considerably more use of the Welsh language. The Department of Education and Science, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and even the courts are increasingly using the Welsh language, but that is visible Welsh. The most recalcitrant Department of Government in this matter is the Post Office. It seems to be rigidly if not fiercely anti-Welsh in this respect, although it so happens that Post Office buildings and property display more language than any other Department.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)

If the Welsh language were used extensively for some technical terms and used extensively in addressing letters in Wales, the only result would be that the great mass of the population would not be able to follow the technicalities and that far more letters would be lost than at present.

Mr. Evans

I am not asking that technical jargon be placed on envelopes. I am asking only that the Welsh language be used simply and clearly in this way and in other ways which involve the Post Office. I am tempted to reply to the hon. Gentleman in Welsh but I should be ruled out of order if I did. But it is true to say that the Post Office shows no sympathy in this matter although it happens that it has more display space than any other Government Department.

Miss J. M. Quennell (Petersfield)

What would happen to my name if I went to live in Wales? Supposing my name appeared in a Welsh telephone directory, what would it be?

Mr. Evans

Place names should be used in their correct Welsh form. I do not ask for Welsh as the sole language. If, however, there is a corrupt English form of a Welsh name, as there often is, the proper form should be used. If the hon. Lady's name is corrupt in one sense, that form should be used as well as the Welsh form. I am afraid that she has not raised a serious point.

Mr. Dobson

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the Post Office would have to train to understand Welsh the staff of sorting offices and every delivery postman in the Principality?

Mr. Evans

That would be very desirable but it would be unnecessary. This is a simple point. I do not mean that the Welsh language should be solely used. We are a bilingual community and the Welsh language should be given parity of status. It should cause no confusion in sorting offices or any other office.

I can illustrate the sort of position which has arisen. My local postmaster has for some years had in his possession as a loyal and patriotic Welshman a board on which are painted, in large letters, Llythyrdy Llangadog. I hope I am in order if I translate. It means Llangadog post office. Llangadog is the name of the village. But he is forbidden to put the board outside his post office although this is a Welsh-speaking village where everyone speaks Welsh and the children are educated in Welsh. The Postmaster-General will not let him put the board up, just as he will not allow similar boards to be put up in other Welsh speaking villages. How can one seriously defend that kind of arrogance?

Who can defend a situation in which a Welshman may not put up words in Welsh outside his business premises if those premises happen to be a post office? I do not know if the House would think it fair if I said that it could be regarded as being typical of the arrogance of the English towards a subject people. I asked the Postmaster-General if he would use the Welsh language on some buildings belonging to the Post Office, and its vehicles. His response was depressingly. if not oppressively, negative.

10.30 p.m.

He said that there was no need to do this, because people in Wales understood English. This is typical of the attitude of a Government who show themselves in this, as in so many other ways, to be totally unsuited to be the Government of Wales. They show a lack of sympathy and entity which disqualifies them from the task of governing this small nation.

Of course people in Wales understand English; there are 750,000 bilingual Welshmen, and the English would be very fortunate if out of their scores of millions they had the same number who were bilingual. The Welsh people have that ability and the point is that the Welsh language is our national language.

Mr. Dobson

On a point of order. Is not the hon. Gentleman straying away from the Amendment?

The Chairman

I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Gentlemen's observations, and I was just about to point out that we cannot, on this Amendment, discuss the Welsh language to that extent. I think that the hon. Member has made his point with reference to the Post Office.

Mr. Evans

I am trying to make the point that some of this £2 million should be expended in this way.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but I must take up this point of the Llythyrdy Llanddarog. If this were to be the only sign outside the Post Office, the great mass of people who use it, English tourists, because I know the place well, sending their postcards away from there, would not know what the building was there for. The words "Post Office", on the other hand, are understandable to the English visitor and to other sections of the population.

Sir D. Glover

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts) the "shadow Minister", the "little Sir Echo", is talking absolute nonsense. All of his friends who go abroad to Europe manage to send their postcards home.

Mr. Evans

The House appreciates the feeling that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedfordshire, South has for poor benighted English tourists in Wales, but he is confusing two places. The place I referred to is 50 miles away from Llanddarog—it is my village of Llangadog.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Was not the hon. Member trying to tackle the Postmaster-General on the issue, that there should be a Welsh notice board and an English notice board side by side? He was not suggesting that it should be in the Welsh language only.

Mr. Evans

That is my contention. If people think that the notice board should be in Welsh it should be so. What right has this House to decide what we do? It is our country and we ought to be able to run it in our own way. If we want to put notice boards up in Welsh that is our business.

This is a situation which will be found in many parts of Wales and it shows a lack of sympathy for a great national tradition. Our language should have the dignity and status due to any great national language. The Post Office in Switzerland or Yugoslavia does not show this kind of intolerance towards minorities. Romansh is spoken by only about 40,000 people in Switzerland, but it has rights equal to those of other languages spoken in that country, and the Welsh language should have the same kind of status as these other languages have in their countries.

Post Office buildings, vehicles, and pillar boxes are the most commonly seen of all publicly-owned properties. Many people see them every day of their lives. In Wales these should carry signs in the Welsh language, as well as the English language of course. Stamps used in Wales should carry the Welsh language, and the Postmaster-General should take care to refrain from printing on stamps in Wales a phrase which is totally inaccurate, such as Wales and Monmouthshire, which seems to imply that Monmouthshire is not part of Wales.

We should have special issues of stamps. For instance, this year we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the translation of the New Testament into Welsh. This is a great thing, and the translation of the Bible into the Welsh language saved the Welsh language. Surely we could have had a stamp to commemorate that great occasion, but the right hon. Gentleman has refused to do even as little as that to meet our demands.

With regard to the franking of letters, I have asked the Postmaster-General to agree to the franking of letters in places which have two forms of name, a correct Welsh form and a different English or corrupt English form, with both forms, but he has refused. The right hon. Gentleman has no sympathy with these things.

I have asked the right hon. Gentleman to publish licence and other forms put out by the Post Office in both languages, but again he has refused. We do not ask these things of the Postmaster-General or of the Government as a condescending favour. We ask for these things as a matter of right. We are entitled to them. The Government here are the Government of Wales, unfortunately. They are responsible for the government of more than one nation. They are responsible for the government of the nation of Wales. They have a duty to succour the life of Wales, the language of Wales, the traditions of Wales, and the Post Office is doing none of these things. The right hon. Gentleman should not be deflected from his duty by the old imperial tradition which so often leads the Government to treat other national traditions with contempt.

Sir D. Glover

I have a lot of sympathy for a good deal of what the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) said in his interesting speech. For the life of me I cannot see why the Post Office in Wales cannot put up a sign in the Welsh language if the people in that part of the world want it.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

In many Welsh areas the names are in both Welsh and English. As far as I understand the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans), he wants them in Welsh only.

Sir D. Glover

With respect, I do not think that is what the hon. Member for Carmarthen said. He emphasised more than once that he would not mind in the slightest if it was in both languages.

I think that the hon. Gentleman carried his case too far. He thinks that there is a great dictatorial machine working against him. I am certain that if he saw the Postmaster-General about many of the matters which he raised the right hon. Gentleman would be able to meet him half way on a good deal of his objections. I do not suppose for a moment that the Postmaster-General has the faintest idea what the sign is outside the post office referred to by the hon. Gentleman.

On the other hand, I think that the hon. Gentleman has raised a very good point. There is no doubt that many more tourists would go to Wales if they thought it was a foreign country. They will not go to Wales while they think it is part of the United Kingdom, because everyone wants to go abroad for their holidays, and therefore the hon. Gentleman is probably on a very good wicket with this idea. But he went a little too far at the end of his speech.

The Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary fought an enjoyable campaign against me in 1959 and I am glad to see that he has gained preferment so early in his career. Perhaps it was because the last time he spoke he attacked the Post Office bitterly. Perhaps he was given this position under the impression that it would keep him quiet, but he has shown today how wrong that impression was——

The Postmaster-General (Mr. Edward Short)

In fairness to my hon. Friend, I ought to point out that he is standing in for his hon. Friend, who is in Wales on a very important enterprise.

Sir D. Glover

Now we know: he is in Wales altering the notices outside the post offices. I withdraw what I said; at least, the hon. Member is doing a very good job, although he is not as silent as an official person would be. I am not hostile to the Post Office. In many ways, it does a good job, but there is criticism of postal deliveries—and not just from London to the North. I have many complaints—the right hon. Gentleman has a considerable file on them—about deliveries from Yorkshire to Lancashire across the Pennines and elsewhere. He should keep a vigilant eye on this, because the deliveries are not improving.

The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) and I agreed that closing post offices in the lunch time is causing hardship. He said that it was a question of saving manpower and increasing efficiency. I have had a great deal of experience of distribution and know that if the Post Office were run on an O and M basis, post offices would be open half an hour a day and save a fortune, but the service which the public have a right to expect would not be much good. A case can be made for closing at lunch time and at 5.30, but it increases hardship.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), particularly about lunch time closing. Whether the right hon. Gentleman realises it or not, there is still a good deal of spontaneous buying, even in the Post Office. A person who thinks at lunch time of writing to his Aunt Jemima also thinks of buying a stamp, but cannot do so because the post office is closed. The Post Office's turnover goes down if the offices are not open. This means that such purchases are not just delayed but never take place——

Mr. Dobson

Is it not possible that a person might write a letter and then buy the stamp?

Sir D. Glover

I accept that that happens sometimes, but a saving of 16s. 2½d. is not worth the drop in turnover and inconvenience to the public caused by lunch time closing.

A matter which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will get on to—and about which I will be writing to him—is the question of recorded deliveries. I know of a very disturbing case in my constituency. One of my constituents was fined by a court and sent off the fine the next day by recorded delivery. Two months later, a policeman came up his garden path with a warrant for his arrest for non-payment of the fine. [Laughter.] The hon. Member may laugh, but I am sure that no hon. Member would like a policeman to call on him. British people reckon that this lowers their status in the community; everyone says, "I wonder what he has been up to"—they have always been a bit suspicious that he would get into trouble before long, and now it has happened. This is the attitude people take when they see a policeman going up to the door.

10.45 p.m.

This constituent of mine went to the Post Office to find out what had happened to his recorded delivery and—this is the bitterest pill of all—the Post Office then said "for sixpence we will make a search." I want the right hon. Gentleman to look into this. I am really serious about it. When one goes along and gets a recorded delivery from the Post Office, and the Post Office fails to carry out its obligations and does not deliver the letter and one finds out that the letter has not been delivered and goes to the Post Office to find out what has happened, the Post Office then has the nerve to demand sixpence to make a search.

The Post Office ought to give the person half a crown for having to go to the Post Office. I hope that this is not the general system——

Mr. Robert Cooke

Could my hon. Friend make it clear how long this process took? I am getting very worried, because I sent off a fine quite recently to a court by recorded delivery. Could my hon. Friend tell me when the policeman is going to arrive?

Sir D. Glover

I do not know whether I am in a position in this debate to advise my hon. Friend, but in my constituent's case it was about two months later. Therefore, if it is not about two months in my hon. Friend's case he had better check with the Post Office that the letter has been delivered, but he will have to pay sixpence.

This case I have mentioned must have lost the Post Office an enormous amount of goodwill, not only with my constituent and his family but also with all his acquaintances. What in the world is the use of a recorded delivery system if there is no record of the letter after the Post Office receives it? I ask the right hon. Gentleman—and I will send him all the particulars—to look into this. I do not want it looked into only from the isolated point of view of my constituent, but generally so as to make quite certain that this cannot happen to anybody else, and that when one has sent a letter by recorded delivery one does not get the Post Office charging for proving that the letter has not yet been delivered.

I was about to bring my remarks to a close, but there is one further point I should like to raise with the right hon. Gentleman, and again I am trying to be helpful. The Post Office have for years lost on their parcel traffic, and I believe the reason they lose on this traffic is that there is no advantage for the bulk people —and I do not mean Littlewoods but people much smaller than that, the semi-bulk people—to send their goods by Post Office parcel delivery. The reason is that they pay the same price as I would if I took one parcel and put it over the counter.

Let me take as an example the field in which I spent my life—the clothing industry. Buyers go into warehouses, they go into small factories in the East End of London and all over the country, and perhaps their initial purchase is only one box, but that firm is sending off perhaps 100 boxes that night. Why cannot they weigh the whole lot in bulk and pay the Post Office for 100 lb. or 500 lb. or whatever it is, at a lower rate, and do their own stamping, so that all that has to be done when they take their goods to the Post Office is to check by pulling out one parcel and weighing it? This would cut down an enormous amount of the cost of administration. In my experience, most of those firms have greater confidence in the integrity of delivery of Post Office parcels than they have in the efficiency of British Railways, and they would not require a great deal of persuasion to put an enormous amount of traffic in the way of the Post Office. If the right hon. Gentleman went into the matter, I am sure he could find some way of reducing the losses on the parcel service.

I hope, as a result of that, that the Post Office will make more profit, and that we in the Tory Party will be able to have the benefit of it.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

When we began this debate a week ago, the Postmaster-General has been castigating the television manufacturers for what he described as their sloth, because they had not brought down the price of colour television sets when they had a great new market open to them.

The Post Office itself has had a vast increase in its market in the past few years. Its turnover has gone up, and its custom in all sections has tended to increase. In spite of that, the Postmaster-General has put up prices very steeply, in clear opposition to the Government's present policy. On top of the increased charges, he now comes to the House for these additional borrowing powers.

However, I do not wish to attack the right hon. Gentleman about the increased charges. Instead, I wish to ask him one or two specific questions, and I should be grateful if he could either answer them later this evening or let me have replies in writing before too long.

We have been told that the Post Office proposes to introduce preferred sizes of stationery in the near future, and I wonder what steps of compensation, if any, will be offered to those firms which manufacture non-Post Office preferred sizes—or will they have to conform, willy-nilly?

Mr. Edward Short

They will have two years' warning.

Mr. Wells

There will be two years' warning, and then they will have to conform—[Interruption.] It is to the benefit of the Post Office, and no one else. Perhaps the Postmaster-General will answer from a standing position in due course.

My second point has to do with the deplorable old telephone equipment in certain growing towns in and around the London area, such as my constituency of Maidstone. There are still manual telephone exchanges in villages not far from Maidstone, including a very antiquated system in the village where the Patronage Secretary lives. It is unfortunate to see him present. I cannot imagine why he is here.

The hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) made a valid point in the earlier part of the debate about the lack of telephone kiosks in certain parts of his constituency, which could prove serious in emergencies. In addition to the hon. Gentleman's specific point relating to his constituency, I want to ask the Postmaster-General about the emergency telephone facilities provided on new stretches of motorway, which are lamentably lacking. I hope that he will look into that.

The extra telephone connection charge is another matter which is causing concern. Many people move house and want to move their telephones with them, but find that they are expected to pay a year's rental in advance. I have seen the circular letter sent out from the right hon. Gentleman's Department in which the Post Office has the neck to liken this to a hire-purchase rental. This is rubbish. A subscriber has a telephone. He moves house. He is then told that he is likened to a hire-purchase renter. I have never heard a more rubbishy Ministerial reply. If this nonsense is to continue, I hope that the Minister will send out a more courteous circular in future. Better than that, the extra rental demand should be reduced.

We have heard in the last few days, as an outcome, perhaps, of the great Russian non-event, that there is to be a new "hot" line to Moscow. This is to cost a very large sum of money to maintain. Will that large sum come out of the moneys covered by this borrowing power? If so, will the line be available to ordinary businessmen? If it must be tested every half-hour, will businessmen be able to teleprint to Moscow when the Prime Minister is not having a cosy chat? If the right hon. Gentleman wants to have a cosy chat, he can interrupt the businessman on the line. It would be absurd to pay out this very large sum of money unless the line is to be put to some ordinary commercial or even diplomatic use.

We are told in paragraph 7 of the White Paper on a Post Office Giro, Command 2751, that the giro system is to be complementary to the clearing banks. Will the giro system be prepared to clear cheques for small but reputable banks which are not in the clearing house? A half-century ago, there was great competition among the bigger banks, apart from the "Big Five", which were not in the clearing house, to buy up old banks which happened to be in the clearing house.

We are told in the same White Paper that the giro will be equivalent to a banking system without an overdraft. This is all very well, but clearance is to be on the 24-hour basis. What is to stop a rogue getting in a Bentley or even a speeded-up Mini and driving round to large post offices and defrauding the public? May we be told how fraud is to be stopped?

Paragraph 13 deals with fees and charges. For payments on demand to account holders the fee will be 9d. That compares favourably with the cost of clearing a cheque. For payments other than to an account holder, it will be 9d. up to £50 and 2s. over £50. If the Postmaster-General owes me £51 and sends me a transfer through his own system, will I be docked 2s. because he likes to pay me in that way, or will he be expected to send me a ticket or whatever it is for £51 2s. to cover my expenses? Will people who get payments have their 2s. added or will the 2s. be deducted from the account of the giro account holder?

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

I had not intended to take part in the debate, but I have been provoked or stimulated to do so by the contribution of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans). With a great deal of what he said I agree, though I dissociate myself from the extreme way in which he put some of his points. I should have thought that, at the least, the English had some complaints against the Welsh; for it was the Tudors who were an entirely Welsh family that largely caused the situation of which the hon. Gentleman complains, by their excessive centralisation.

What surprised me was the reaction of the House to the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. Not only the Government but the Opposition, too, have in debates in the House accepted the principle of the equal validity of the Welsh language in Wales. There has never been any doubt about it. There was not even a Division when the principle was stated and accepted. It is only fair to say that I receive forms from the Ministry of Agriculture and local authorities and other Ministries that are bilingual. The Post Office is in some danger of falling behind, of allowing an aggravating sore to run, which really is entirely unnecessary.

11.0 p.m.

I suggest that the Postmaster-General investigates with the Canadian High Commissioner the bilingual forms that apparently are readily available in all the post offices of Quebec or Ontario or the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. Similarly, such bilingual forms are available in the post offices of Switzerland and many other countries. The cost of the additional printing on exactly the same size of form is relatively very small.

If the hon. Member is right in saying that there is a village post office in his part of the world where the postmaster has drawn up a sign saying "Llythyrdy Llangadog" and is not allowed to put it up, that is a disgraceful and stupid state of affairs. If I know the Postmaster-General aright, he would entirely agree with that description of whatever form of bureaucracy prevents this sign being put up.

The principle of equal validity is accepted simply to create the atmosphere —in which the Government as well as the Conservative Opposition and my own party are concerned—to preserve and nurture the Welsh language. That is the avowed policy of the Government and that should be the purpose of accepting the principle of equal validity within the Post Office and other Government services. The Post Office could go at a little faster rate than it has, so far in this respect, and a more co-operative attitude is needed in some areas. I am sure that if he is really apprised of the situation the Postmaster-General will stimulate a little more action in the Principality on this matter.

I also have a word of praise for the Post Office in Wales. In my constituency a Post Office minibus service has recently been started, running from the town of Llanidloes, where I live, to the village of Llangurig five miles away, where incidentally the Postmaster is always known as "Jones y post" and not "Jones y Llythyrdy". This service is an interesting experiment for Wales and other areas where it has been found that it does not pay commercial bus companies to run buses. But it is important that there should be adequate communications between the villages and towns. I hope that the Postmaster-General will take care that the buses run at times convenient for the villagers. They must also be convenient for the Post Office, but a considerable degree of co-operation is necessary. If the experiment is a success it may presage the solution of the great problems of communications in the rural areas.

Having given a word of praise to the Post Office, I now have a word of criticism. I think that in my part of Wales it sometimes tries to impose too much uniformity. Centralised sorting and so on may save labour and be more convenient. But in my own town Saturday is market day and traditionally the post office has always been open until 6 p.m. or 6.30. It is now closing considerably earlier, which sometimes causes inconvenience, particularly to country people and to tradesmen. Although statistics can show that at some times of the year the post office is not used a great deal in the later hours on Saturday, at other times it is used a good deal. Surely the purpose of the Post Office is to provide a service? I should like to see a little more latitude allowed to local postmasters in the matter, and hope that they be encouraged by the Postmaster-General not to try to impose a uniform system everywhere.

Miss Quennell

I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) will forgive me if I do not pursue his very narrow geographical area of discussion, but I am quite fascinated by the mail bus which he mentioned. I cannot make out whether it carries post or is a bus for gentlemen only.

I think the Postmaster-General is a very lucky man. He is the first Departmental Minister to have his chance of having his request for further money scrutinised by the House since the publication of the Estimates last week. Those figures came as a shock to the whole country.

This Bill contains about £450 million, which is an awful lot of money for the House to vote a Department without very close scrutiny of what that Department proposes to do with the cash. When doing it, I am afraid, as every speaker has said, we are voting the money in an atmosphere of collapsing public confidence in the services the Post Office is offering to the public. Every hon. Member has a file of complaints from constituents about the service they are getting, about lost letters, lost packages, or about telephones or some other aspect of communications which the Department controls.

Mr. Dobson

May I place on record that I have not got a file?

Miss Quennell

The hon. Member has not been in the House very long. When he has been here a bit longer, he will have. One complaint I have is from a constituent in business with a considerable export trade: We are a business house and find it virtually impossible to make normal telephone calls. The comparatively newly installed dialling system gives practically no results and we are informed by an engineer (who has tried unsuccessfully to give us service) that there are not enough lines in this area to cope with the number of telephones. If we dial 100, 191 or 9191 we get no reply at all! This wastes endless time here and frankly, we consider that letters or an Olympic runner would be far more efficacious. In that connection I quite agree. It has, in my experience, taken five days for letters to come to this House when posted to me in Petersfield town, some 57 miles away. At that progress, an Olympic runner would cover the distance a good deal more quickly.

I have endless complaints of lost correspondence, and having frequently taken up complaints of constituents, I have had from the Postmaster-General's predecessor over and over again letters containing his apologies and saying: I am afraid I cannot explain what has happened to his letters". This does not engender public confidence, whether he accepts this criticism or not. Letters posted quite adequately, which should have arrived within 24 hours quite a short distance away have arrived four or five days later, and on Post Office service, one letter I had from a constituent read: Last week I had to queue for 12 minutes to hand in for a receipt a pre-stamped recorded delivery packet, and today, December 5th, I tacked on to the end of a queue at the outside door of the Post Office at 12.12 p.m. and eventually reached the counter at 12.24 p.m. to hand over and obtain a receipt for a similar pre-stamped recorded delivery packet. That queue of people who wanted to get to that counter were having to queue out in the Market Square in December for 12 minutes before they reached the counter. This is hardly the sort of service the public expects, considering the amount of money the Post Office requires, and the way charges have gone up so much. This rise in charges has over and over again compelled constituents to write to say, for example, I would be very interested to know how this relates to the Government's prices and wages policy and why there has been no publicity attached to this move. One can understand why there has been no publicity for it. The fact is that while the Government have pursued a policy of restraining private industry in every respect, too many Government Departments have gone on increasing their charges to the unfortunate British public, who are getting fed up with the service they are getting.

The unfortunate aspect of this is that the individual G.P.O. employee is doing his best and trying his hardest, and I am satisfied that local postmasters are doing —I think the phrase is— "their nut" to provide a good service to the public. The fault is neither theirs nor that of the individual employee. But, my goodness, they have difficulties to overcome, and I sometimes wonder why the Post Office uses such curious methods in distributing letters.

I live, for example, in a cottage on a rather remote, narrow, sharp and steep hilly lane in my constituency. One would have thought that a bicycle was the very last form of transport to use in this day and age for the unfortunate postman who delivers my letters and those for the village above me, yet there goes the poor man pedalling up the lane until he gets to the hill, when he has to get off and push. The Post Office could have taken a hint from the police and provided Vespa scooters at the very least. Surely, a small motorised vehicle of that kind would be a much more suitable method of transport for the postal services.

I conclude by quoting a letter from a constituent who has hit the nail on the head, because she writes: The efficiency of our internal communications is of vital importance to our country's business and is a non-party issue. 'The breakdown occurs elsewhere' would seem to be the crux of the matter—a failure of co-operation between the various postal departments and, presumably, British Railways? One frequently gets the impression that the failure occurs somewhere in the higher structure of the Post Office and not at the ground level, where the men are doing their best to make the service work. Therefore, if we are to give the Postmaster-General this large access to fresh funds, that same Postmaster-General must justify it to the House of Commons tonight.

Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I wish to follow up one or two of the points I made on Second Reading. First, I should like to recall the comments of the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) when he expressed the hope that the Postmaster-General would re-examine the question of the minimum price of 3d. for calls from telephone kiosks. I support that plea.

I have found, however, in going into some of the telephone boxes in my constituency, that a bar has already been placed across the 3d. slot and that coins can no longer be inserted in it. Instead of using a bar across the slot, thereby helping to make the 3d. piece of much less use as a coin, why could it not have been adapted to take two 3d. bits? Perhaps, however, this would be too costly an engineering process. I wish that the Postmaster-General would reconsider the abolition of the 3d. call. The doubling of the price from 3d. to 6d. for a minimum call is a monstrous increase, even if it does give double time, which a lot of people will not want.

I wish also to refer to a report, which appeared in the Press about a week ago when this debate began, that there might soon be an increase in telephone rentals. I hope that the Postmaster-General will be able to deny this and that there will be no increase in rentals for a long time, because there have been increases of a severe nature in other postal charges. I am sure that the business world, apart from residential subscribers, would take badly to any increase in telephone rentals at the present time.

11.15 p.m.

On Second Reading, I referred to several matters which the Assistant Postmaster-General has answered in three letters to me. But one point which has not been answered is that there is a great deal of bureaucracy in the acquiring of premises for post offices. I do not mean new buildings, about which it is understandable that there should be a great deal of consultation. I am referring to the case, for example, where a postmaster wants to acquire a shop, perhaps for the Christmas rush or possibly even permanently.

I understand that a whole committee of the Ministry of Public Building and Works has to inspect the premises before a decision can be made. That results in some private enterprise buyer getting in first, with power to make a decision, and the Post Office finds itself shut out. Could not the Postmaster-General make representations to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works to get this procedure simplified? It is ridiculous that a person holding the position of postmaster of a considerable district—I cite this because my constituency is in the Harrow and Wembley district—should not be able to come to a decision within certain limits that he can spend money on such premises without having to refer it to a committee of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. That is a piece of bureaucracy handicapping the Post Office and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take up the matter.

It was stated in the Press last week that the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, which apparently is the world's largest telephone company, made a profit in 1966 of no less than £706 million, which is about 22,000 million dollars. How is it that an American private enterprise company can make a profit like that, whereas our Post Office cannot? This is something that should be looked into.

In the earlier debate, I mentioned a constituent's problem and the Assistant Postmaster-General has written to me about it. My constituent's telephone account for the second quarter of s.t.d. showed double the number of units compared with both the first quarter and the third quarter. The hon. Gentleman's letter was soothing but does not solve the problem. Apparently it is a custom that, when a change-over is made to s.t.d., the second quarter is rather greedy in terms of units charged. My constituent is not satisfied with the hon. Gentleman's reply and only hopes that at some time in the future meter for his calls will go on strike, because that is the best way to get a reduction. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will deal with some of the points which were not covered in the Assistant Postmaster-General's very courteous letters.

Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)

It is difficult to resist the temptation to join in on this amiable occasion. Mindful of Oscar Wilde's view that the only way to rid oneself of temptation is to submit to it, I will contribute. The mysteries of our rules of procedure allow us to range rather widely on this subject—to Switzerland, to the motoring fine on the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) and other matters. Indeed, we appear to be allowed a degree of licence only equalled normally by Her Majesty's coroners. I shall endeavour to keep specifically to three matters on which I should be grateful for an answer.

The first relates to the giro, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell). It concerns the minimum figure of 5s. The right hon. Gentleman has answered many of the other points we put to him in the previous debate in correspondence, for which I am most grateful, but I am not yet completely satisfied with the answer given about this minimum. If the answer is as it would appear to be, namely, that there is no real demand under the giro system for figures of less than 5s., then I would say that we should wait and see. If there are no technical difficulties, why not let us try to find out what is the demand? I am informed—I have no first-hand knowledge of this—that the other countries which have adopted the giro have also not adopted a minimum figure, speaking in the strictest sense. In one case I think the figure is 4d., and in another, ls. ld., and although I quote from memory, I do not think that I am far from the mark. It is possible to operate without a minimum in the sense that the amounts are so small as not really to constitute a minimum at all. Why not try it here and see if there is any demand?

I should like to refer briefly to telephone kiosks and vandalism. I am appreciative of the efforts which have been made to construct "indestructible" kiosks, and I sympathise with the diffi- culties involved for those who are trying to do something, all the more because I recently suffered the experience of trying to make a call where every kiosk—and I hasten to say that it was not in my own constituency—had been destroyed. It prompted me to put this point once again, and I wondered if it would help if the Postmaster-General extended the system of having public telephones in shops or other premises so that they could be under supervision and not so likely to be subject to assault from time to time. I suggest that we could go some way in this direction by following the French pattern where telephones are more readily available in shops.

It has occurred to me that some of the vandalism is not vandalism for its own sake, but results from attempts to get at the money; and if the telephones were in shops, then we should have done away with part of the temptation.

My other point is about Post Office hours and facilities generally. Hon. Members seem to have been vying with one another about the size of their postbags on this topic. Hon. Members on this side appear to have large postbags of complaints, while those opposite boast of the smallness of theirs. It may be that I sit where I do, but my own would come about half way between those two, and the complaints which I receive are not so much of quality as of quantity—the lack of a post office, and so on. In my own constituency there has been extensive growth, an almost explosive population growth, and new areas have arisen without adequate Post Office facilities. I am aware that this is a problem in all growing areas, but often in such areas there is no corresponding growth in the postal services.

Sir D. Glover

Does the hon. Member also find that the Post Office is only too inclined to expand the one main office instead of building a couple of smaller ones elsewhere?

Dr. Winstanley

Yes, but I have not thought that the expansions have been all that noticeable. It may be that it is impossible to provide as many Post Offices as one would want, but I agree that possibly the temptation is to enlarge the central office rather than to build elsewhere. I think that there are other things which we could do. Of course, the number of sub-post offices is another matter, and rather cautiously I raise the question of vending machines.

In my constituency it is quite possible to got to a post office to find that it has closed and to find that there is no vending machines outside. Before the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) pulls a face about this suggestion, I should be glad if he would listen to what I propose rather than judge it before I have spoken. I accept that it has been found necessary, for various reasons which have been given from time to time, to reduce hours. In these cases a substitute service can be provided up to a point by a machine with a wider range, and by a wider provision of such machines. I do not want to see vending machines as a substitute for post offices, and I am not advocating that, but an increasing use of vending machines can do much to militate against the difficulties of early closing. One may go to a post office and find that one is in time for the mail collection, but unfortunately not in time to buy a stamp. There are still sub-post offices which do not have vending machines outside, and one has to tour the district to find a post office which has vending machines.

I listened with interest to the arguments of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover). He suggested that a powerful reason for keeping post offices open longer was that the Postmaster-General might lose revenue when people were unable to buy stamps and to make other purchases from post offices. I did not think that this was a very strong argument. What the Postmaster-General loses on the swings he undoubtedly gains on the roundabouts. When the Post Office is closed, people may make telephone calls, so that in the end the right hon. Gentleman gets even more revenue. But I agree with the point which the hon. Member for Ormskirk was trying to prove—that people are being put to certain difficulties. Without going into all the details of different ways in which it could be done, I am simply trying to draw the Postmaster-General's attention to the fact that more could be done to provide substitute services. I should like him to answer some of the brief points which I have put to him as possible methods of providing a substitute service.

Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)

We started this debate a week ago in a morning sitting. It was my first experience of a morning sitting and it was an eye opener. It had been suggested that the Opposition were out to kill morning sittings by devaluing them, but the picture that morning was a complete contradiction of that suggestion. The benches on the Opposition side were well populated with lively and keen speakers, but those on the Government side were sparsely populated.

The Postmaster-General attended early to make a statement and then arranged his morning in such a way that he could not attend again. I do not say that he was lazy and I do not accuse him of going off to read a James Bond novel. No doubt he had Press conferences and other matters to attend to. But he relegated it to a second-class sitting—although it was a sitting seeking authorisation for £450 million to be spent in his Department.

I spoke on Second Reading when the Postmaster-General gave a good deal of information. In the four or five hours of debate since, he has been asked for much more. I am not stopping the debate, but I should like to finish for the Opposition by stressing one question to which we should like a straight answer tonight. It is the question of higher telephone rentals. The Daily Telegraph reported, Mr. Short, the Postmaster-General, is considering raising the £14 annual rental for telephones. So far no proposal has been put to the Cabinet, which might not agree to an increase during the present period of price restraint. Post office telecommunications as a whole made a profit of nearly £40 million last year but the present telephone rental of about 5s. 6d. a week does not cover replacements etc…". First, is this true? Secondly, true or not, how did it get into the papers? It is not just one paper, for the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) quoted a similar story from the Daily Express.

11.30 p.m.

May we hear from the Postmaster-General whether or not this is true? Secondly, why was it in the papers first? If it is true, why was it not announced through the House? We on this side of the House are somewhat touchy on this subject, after our experience of 20th July when £20 million or more in extra Post Office charges were slipped into the Exchequer by budgetary means. We do not want this to happen again. If charges are to go up—we hope that they are not—but if they are, we do not want to see them in the Budget for the first time; we want them brought down to the House and discussed in a proper way.

Secondly we suspect that the Post Office has tried, and tries, to insulate itself from the squeeze. If we are to have rises in any part of the service, we want to know what will compensate for them. Undoubtedly charges are, to a certain extent, unbalanced. On the one side, kiosks and telegrams and local calls lose money, but trunk calls make a profit, and there might be a case for balancing out. But if anything goes up we should certainly know what will come down.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) made an interesting comment on the 8 per cent. profit which the Post Office is meant to make. It was in the days of a Conservative Government that the criterion was settled, but I do not think that any of us know how it was arrived at. If we are to have a much longer period of freeze it makes one wonder whether 8 per cent. is the right figure. It might be said that, if we do not pay that amount, capital will run down, but this is exactly what is happening to private industry. There is a lesser investment in private enterprise, going down to perhaps 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. next year. Although it is desirable to make these profits, we cannot take it for granted that the Post Office will be able to insulate itself from what the whole of industry is suffering.

In a way the Post Office is in a strong position since it has a complete monopoly, and it can make what it wants, whereas industry has to make money in order to attract capital.

Mr. Edward Short

We have had a very good debate which has lasted for something like four hours, and I am grateful to hon. Members for the constructive speeches that they have made. I should like to reply to a number of points put to me, and then to make one or two general observations.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) received a great deal of Press publicity, but I fear that the facts will not receive so much. The hon. Gentleman complained of a delay of 10 days in getting his phone put right. The records, which I scrutinised, show that he reported a fault on Monday, 16th January. It was immediately investigated, and the fault was found to be in the outside cable. It was cleared the same day. There proved to be another fault, traced to the wiring inside the house, but the engineers could not get into the house.

When they did get in, on Thursday, 19th January they restored the service at once and finally cleared the fault the following day by renewing part of the lead-in of the outside cable, in a new grey cable. In other words the service was restored in three days after the fault was reported, not 10 days, and the fault was completely cleared in four days. Those are the facts.

Mr. Graham Page

This is wholly untrue. It was my telephone, I used it, and I know that it was off for that period.

Mr. Short

What the hon. Gentleman is saying is completely untrue. I have given the facts. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Completely untrue. I have scrutinised this, and given the facts.

Mr. Page

The right hon. Gentleman is accusing me of telling an untruth. He is taking his information from some records which he has seen. I am taking my information from my personal knowledge of my own telephone and ringing my own telephone. Whether or not the telephone was joined up again after it was repaired I do not know. Probably it was not.

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman said that his telephone was out of use for 10 days.

Mr. Page

It was.

Mr. Short

It was out of use for three days. Those are the facts.

Mr. Page

Those are not the facts.

Mr. Short

Those are the facts. The hon. Gentleman is accusing me of telling an untruth.

Mr. Page


Mr. Short

I withdraw nothing. I have nothing to withdraw. The hon. Gentleman is the one who ought to withd raw.

Mr. Page

Whose telephone was it?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) talked about Cumbernauld new town.

Sir D. Glover

On a point of order. I am sorry to create dissension in this debate, but when an hon. Member speaks from his own experience—and the Minister can only be speaking from advice given to him—I think he has a right to have his word taken.

Mr. Short

I have checked, and counter-checked it. If the hon. Gentleman cares to withdraw, he can do so. I have nothing to withdraw. I have given the facts to the House. As the responsible Minister I have given the facts to the House.

As I was saying, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East raised the question of Cumbernauld. It is true that there is a great labour shortage there. This is one of the difficulties. An interesting thing about the new town is that we are costing the distribution network system, and we hope to carry out a full trial in a new town in the near future. But costing is being done there, and we hope to complete this during the next few weeks.

The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) raised a number of very interesting points and made what I believe was one of the most valuable suggestions in the whole debate. I shall look into the question immediately of some reduction for the bulk supply of parcels. I think that this is a most useful suggestion. If the hon. Gentleman will send me particulars of the recorded delivery one, I shall look into that.

With regard to early closing, I realise that this is making difficulties in some places. It is purely a question of saving money and making the job in the Post Office for the post and telegraph officers more attractive. These are the reasons for it.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) raised the question of the Welsh language. I realise that this is a very evocative theme, but he can tell his postmaster that he can put his sign up in Welsh. I have no objection to this, provided that he also puts it up in English.

With regard to using the Welsh language, the two factors here are again costs—I have to run a big business and make it pay—and simplicity. These are the reasons why we do not use the Welsh language more widely. We try to provide a Welsh speaking employee at each counter in Welsh speaking areas. This is not always possible, but we try to do it as far as we can.

With regard to the finances of the Welsh region of the Post Office, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that it is heavily subsidised by the English regions, as is the Scottish region.

The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) raised the question of the Post Office preferred envelopes. I should have thought that giving two years' notice was adequate for any manufacturer to adopt his machinery to the new sizes.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of kiosks in country areas. This is a great problem, and we lose money on these. We do the best we can, but we have to hold the balance between the Post Office as a public service running unremunerative services—of which we do a fair amount, I think more than we ought to do—and the Post Office as a business. We try to hold a fair balance, but it is a problem.

We are developing a new kind of telephone which can be placed on a counter in a shop. I hope that this will be sold hard in the near future when it really comes into production. It can make a great contribution to the provision of telephones in villages, and elsewhere, too. A shopkeeper can make quite a lot of money out of it, provided it is used. It is a small thing which stands on the counter.

With regard to the "hot line" to Moscow——

Mr. John Wells

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider my specific point about kiosks on motorways?

Mr. Short

Certainly: I forgot to mention that.

The "hot line" to Moscow is paid for in exactly the same way as any other Government line. The appropriate Department pays the Post Office for the service which we give it. On the giro, it is the payer who pays the fee——

Mr. John Wells

My other two points related to the giro's complementing the banks—whether it clears cheques and the question of overdrafts.

Mr. Short

Co-operation depends on achieving compatibility between the two systems. I cannot say, offhand, whether it could be achieved with every bank, but, as we say in the booklet, we hope for a high degree of co-operation.

On security, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to give details of the proposed precautions against fraud in the giro system, but we are mindful of the need for adequate safeguards, which are being arranged. On payment, if a giro account holder makes a payment to someone who is not an account holder, it is the payer who will pay.

I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) that the minibus service is an important experiment. We are hoping to start another in Devon or Cornwall in the near future and another four a short time after. The difficulty is that we must select a route on which no public service buses run and where postal requirements coincide with the time that people want to travel. We are finding great difficulty in finding a suitable experimental route in Cornwall, but we have worked on it this week and hope to have six experiments going in the near future. This is an important development, which may make a great contribution to rural transport.

The hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell), raised the question of the time taken in acquiring buildings. He has raised this before and we are doing what we can to deal with it.

Vandalism, mentioned by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley), is very worrying and is worse in some areas than in others. We have introduced a number of devices which are making an impact on this and there has been a great improvement, for example in Birmingham. We hope that our new kiosk design will greatly reduce vandalism. When the new table phone which I mentioned comes into use, vandalism will not be possible because it will be in a shop.

Sir D. Glover

I have a suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman might appreciate. Have Post Office engineers considered whether someone wanting to make a local call could enter the box by inserting his coin outside rather than inside?

Mr. Short

This is one of many ideas which are being considered. It is very worrying and it is difficult to know just how to deal with it. We get a good deal of co-operation from the public, although we could do with more. We have installed a number of devices in the worst areas.

The main question in Post Office facilities is to holding the balance between the unremunerative services which we run as a public service and running the Post Office as a business. We are faced with this conflict all the time, of course.

There has been some misunderstanding about the scope of the Bill. The Post Office Borrowing Powers Act, 1964, authorised the Postmaster-General to borrow up to a limit of £1,320 million, subject to a Resolution, which was taken on 4th March last year. About £1,200 million has already been borrowed and I expect the limit to be reached this summer. The present Bill proposes that the amounts already authorised should be increased to provide for needs up to 1971.

11.45 p.m.

I have been reminded by hon. Members that it is the Government's intention that the Post Office should become a public Corporation. This is true. It is a vast and complicated operation which has never been done before, and I shall be presenting a White Paper to the House before Easter, and the Bill before Christmas. I really cannot tell the House now that there is no need to look more than two years ahead because Parliament will by then have passed legislation that it has not yet seen.

If the change is approved in due course, the provisions in the present Bill will be superseded by whatever arrangements are made in connection with the establishment of the Corporation. Meantime, the Bill follows common form in looking four years ahead. The Bill amends Section 10(2) of the Post Office Act, 1961, which limits the amounts which the Postmaster-General may borrow. But Section 9 of that Act limits the purposes to which the money may be put to meeting any expenditure which is properly chargeable to capital account and for working capital.

Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)

One is very much concerned about the Post Office understanding the developments that take place in the areas where there is a considerable explosion in population. Will the effect of this money being made available have some speeding-up effect in those areas where there are a large number of people who are unable to get telephonic help?

Mr. Short

Certainly—of course. And this is where the black spots are, in telecommunications in towns like Croydon where there has been tremendous growth.

Last week hon. Gentlemen asked me whether any of the money to be borrowed would be made available to the B.B.C. for the purposes of colour television, how much of it would be spent on the development of local radio, and how much would be contributed to the work of various international organisations. The answer is none. Expenditure on these matters is not chargeable to the capital account of the Post Office. The money I am asking for is intended for the commercial business of the Post Office, that is posts, telecommunications and remittances. The Post Office is not in the broadcasting business, and there is no intention that it should be. I do not own a broadcasting station, and I have no intention of owning one. As the Committee knows there are many Post Office radio stations up and down the country, some communicating with foreign countries and some with ships at sea, but none of them broadcasts programmes for reception by the general public. This is not Post Office business at all.

I was also asked whether the cost of the giro would mean that it would not be running profitably. The White Paper on giro which my right hon. Friend, my predecessor, presented in August, 1965, made it clear that we expected the giro to yield an acceptable return on capital. The widespread interest already being shown in the service confirms us in this expectation.

With regard to the 5s. minimum which a number of hon. Gentlemen have mentioned, my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General dealt with this on the Second Reading of the Bill, in column 889. The simple point is that market research has shown that there is no real demand for anything less than the 5s. minimum. But the book makes it clear that these are the conditions we intend to have when we start. When the postal order system finally fades out we may have to look at this again. In the meantime, I think postal orders are adequate for any amounts less than 5s.

Hon. Members asked last week about the return which the Post Office gets on its capital. The information is readily available. It is given every year in the Post Office's Annual Report and Accounts. The return on net assets—and if hon. Members want a definition of "return" they will find it set out quite clearly in the White Paper on Post Office Prospects 1966–67, published in March, 1966—in 1963–64 was 7.8 per cent.; in 1964–65 it was 6.9 per cent.; in 1965–66, 8.1 per cent. Separate figures are available for posts and telecommunications and they are to be found in the accounts. This year, we expect the return to be a little under 8 per cent.

The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) pointed out quite rightly that our target is an average return of 8 per cent. over the five years of which I have quoted the first three. He said that that was a low figure compared with what private enterprise would expect to achieve, and he is quite right. It is a low figure. His own Government fixed the figure in the knowledge that the Post Office has many duties which would not be acceptable to an enterprise which had no motive but profit. As I have pointed out, we undertake very many unremunerative services. There are telephone kiosks all over the country which do not pay. Many post offices do not pay. The parcel post does not pay, and we lose an enormous amount on telegrams. There are many unremunerative services, especially in rural areas. That factor is taken into account in fixing the financial target of the Post Office.

A good deal of play was made last week and again tonight about increased charges. I was accused of introducing the increased charged surreptitiously. The hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) did not use that word, but something rather like it tonight. They were announced on 20th July last by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. They were given a good deal of publicity, both then and since. As my right hon. Friend said on 20th July, they were expected to yield £20 million in a full year. Of that, £13 million comes from the inland postal services, and £7 million from the overseas postal service.

The changes in telecommunications charges do not figure in that at all, because the increases were balanced by reductions, and the overall effect was neutral. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said what he did, because this was the beginning of rationalising telecommunications charges, and there is a good deal more to be done.

There was some criticism in the Committee of the recent increase from 3d. to 6d. in the minimum charge from public call offices where S.T.D. dialling is available. The fact is that there has been a very big loss on public call offices for many years. Last year, it was £4 million, and I do not think that the other services of the Post Office ought to carry a loss of that kind; because that is what it boils down to. If hon. Gentlemen want other services to carry the loss, they ought to tell me which services they think should carry it.

The Committee will notice that trunk calls are now cheaper. I hope that those hon. Gentlemen who demand that we should make a bigger return on capital will agree that it was right to bring kiosk income nearer cost. I hope, too, that they will not ask me to raise trunk calls to their old level again.

Several references have been made both tonight and last week to a recent Press report that telephone rentals are to be increased. How it got into the Press, I have no idea. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that these things happen, and one can investigate them until one is blue in the face but never find out how they happen.

I have since answered a Question about this, and I pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that telephone rentals have been unchanged since 1961. I said in reply to him that we could not expect to hold them at this level for ever, and that is true. At the moment, the rental charge of £14 is commercial nonsense. When a subscriber has the phone in, he is in fact hiring a piece of complicated and expensive equipment which costs the Post Office about £120. It is not just the instrument which stands in his house. It is the cable and part of the very complicated equipment in the exchange which is for his exclusive use. We have to borrow that £120, and maintain the apparatus indefinitely. The present £14 per annum rental does not nearly cover the payment of capital, interest and maintenance, let alone the 8 per cent. which we are required to earn on our capital. Having said that, let me add that I have no immediate plan to raise the rental.

Throughout our activities, we pay the greatest attention to productivity. We make a constant and unrelenting effort to get the most out of our assets, to make the best use of manpower, and contain staff costs to the utmost. The management is fully alive to the importance of this, the staff is fully alive to it, and so are the unions. I think that tribute should be paid to the unions for the advances which have been made in recent years.

That being so, I may be asked once again why the Report and Accounts for 1965–66 reported on page 14, para. 30, that there had been some deterioration in quality of the automatic services. It is a great pity that hon. Gentlemen did not quote the preceding sentence. That says that there had been a rapid increase in traffic, and that call failures due to congestion increased, despite the provision of a great deal more plant. Although this was held against us, it underlines the need for the present Bill.

I explained the reasons at great length on Second Reading on 20th January. I now emphasise them again, in view of the objections which some hon. Members have now raised. There has been an unprecedented growth in trunk traffic. Since S.T.D. was introduced in Bristol in 1958, trunk traffic has trebled. The number of telephone connections has risen from 4½ million to almost 7 million, again since 1958. During 1966–67, inland trunk traffic will have increased by about 10 per cent., and overseas traffic by over 15 per cent.

Because of this growth, a shortage of trunk circuits has developed, partly because manufacturers are not fully geared to produce all the equipment we need. The trunk network is being expanded at a rate which will, over the next five years, add as many trunk circuits to the system as the number now in use.

Full advantage is being taken of new techniques such as pulse coded modulation and microwave radio. In my view, pulse coded modulation and a new device, which hon. Members may not know about called TASI—time assignment and speech interpolation—which is used on cables to other countries, are two of the most hopeful developments in telecommunications because they enable valuble capital equipment to be used much more intensively. If hon. Members are interested, I should be very happy to arrange for them to go to Dollis Hill to see some of the experiments with pulse coded modulation, or, if they are interested to see TASI, I should be happy for them to go to the international telephone exchange in London to see some of the machines working. They are very impressive.

Efforts to expand the trunk network are parallel to those being made to meet the demand for new telephones. Last year, over 800,000 new subscribers were connected, and we expect to connect almost the same number this year. We are pushing ahead with a programme to convert virtually all exchanges to automatic service and S.T.D. by 1970, and we are increasing the rate of replacement of old equipment. We are developing electronic exchanges. The future is with the electronic exchange, of course. I opened the first one at Ambergate in Derbyshire in December last year.

In the expansion of the telecommunications system, we are very much in the hands of the industry. Its performance so far in the quality of equipment is as good as anything in the world, but on delivery dates it does not yet begin to match the need. However, I believe that most firms, though not all, now feel a sense of urgency in this matter and they are doing a good deal to improve delivery dates.

On the postal side, where the labour content is very much higher than on the telecommunications side, we are striving to reduce costs by increasing mechanisation and by the provision of up-to-date buildings. A start has already been made on introducing the coded address system to which my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) referred. This permits letters to be sorted automatically. Over the next 10 years, we are to spend £45 million on sorting office machinery of one kind and another. As I said at Question time last week, it is estimated that by the mid-1970s this equipment will be earning a 25 per cent. return on capital. If hon. Members want a fuller picture of developments in Post Office services over the next few years, they should read the OFFICIAL REPORT for 20th January, when I dealt with them at greater length.

Irrespective of short-term fluctuations of growth due to the present state of the economy, a tremendous expansion is taking place in telecommunications which is likely to continue for many years ahead. Post Office expenditure on telephone equipment is expected to be about £65 million this year, which is almost half as much again as in 1965–66. Next year, it will be approaching twice as much again as in 1965–66, and in 1968–69 it is likely to be nearly three times as much.

We need the amounts proposed in the Bill if we are to meet the needs of the community and make our contribution to the future well being of the country. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. They cannot criticise the Post Office for failing in this or that respect to provide a good service and then seek to deny the Post Office the money which it needs to meet the demands on its services. Do hon. Members who put down the Amendments consider that the services the Post Office provides are so good that they cannot be improved? I do not think so. Many of them can be improved considerably. Do they think that people who want telephones should be denied them? I do not think so. As one of my hon. Friends has said, everybody should have a telephone ultimately. Do they think that every effort should not be made to the postal service where mechanisation is possible? Those are the things we need.

Mr. Digbyrose——

Mr. Short

It is very late, and I have not stopped any hon. Member speaking.

The mistake the Conservative Government made was to have lack of confidence in the future, resulting in under-capitalisation of the Post Office. We do not intend to repeat that mistake. We intend to modernise all the services for which the Post Office is responsible and the Post Office organisation. The biggest re-organisation ever undertaken is now under way in the Post Office.

We intend to go ahead with electronic exchanges as fast as research and development and the capacity of the industry permit, to play our part in the development of satellite communications and to improve the efficiency of the postal service by mechanisation. We do not intend in the 1970s to find ourselves again suffering as we are now from under-capitalisation.

It is the Government's considered view that the amounts proposed in the Bill are fully justified, and I recommend the Committee to reject the Amendment.

Mr. Graham Page

The right hon. Gentleman has accused me of giving the Committee untrue facts. I have told him and the Committee that those facts were of my personal knowledge. His accusation, therefore, is that I have told a lie to the Committee. My telephone was out of order for ten days, and I am speaking from personal knowledge. The right hon. Gentleman is speaking from records, which he contends show that the telephone was repaired within three days. Some of those repairs were to cables some distance from my house, I understand from what he said. We may both be right.

The repairs may have been done in three days. All I know is that the telephone was not joined up for ten days. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that at a later date it was discovered that my telephone was joined up to another number and that that other number was joined up to my telephone? Does he deny that my wife and I had many telephone conversations with his engineer's department explaining that? Does he deny that the department admitted the fault and telephoned me and my wife to say that the wrong junc- tion had been discovered and was being repaired? It telephoned me eventually and said, "It has now been joined up correctly and your telephone is correct".

On those facts, I have not been telling any untruth. My telephone was out of order and it was later discovered that it was joined up to a wrong junction. Will the right hon. Gentleman now withdraw his allegation against me?

Mr. Edward Short

I withdraw nothing. I did not say that the hon. Gentleman's telephone was not out of order for ten days. I said that it was repaired within three days of its being reported.

Mr. Page

Is a telephone really repaired if it is joined to the wrong number? The wire may be repaired, but the telephone is not repaired by being joined to the wrong number. I ask the right hon. Gentleman again to have the decency to withdraw his accusation.

Mr. Short

I ask the hon. Gentleman to have the decency to withdraw the accusation for which he got a great headline in the Press. His telephone was repaired and in use within three days of the fault being reported.

Mr. Page

I am sorry. It was not in use within three days and I still ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw his statement that I told the Committee untrue facts. When he knows that I was speaking from personal knowledge that must be an accusation of a lie, which is an unparliamentary accusation.

Mr. Short

That is exactly the accusation that the hon. Gentleman makes against me. I withdraw nothing. His telephone was repaired within three days of his reporting it.

Mr. G. Campbell

In that case, does the right hon. Gentleman consider that if a telephone is not on the number it is supposed to be, but is on a quite different number, it is in order?

Mr. Short

Let me repeat that the hon. Gentleman's telephone was working and in order three days after he reported it.

Mr. John Wells

On what number?

The Chairman

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 12——

Mr. Page

This is a Parliamentary matter, Sir Eric, which cannot be left as it is. The right hon. Gentleman is making an accusation which can only be an accusation of a lie, and I have asked him to withdraw it. The right hon. Gentleman still insists that I am telling the Committee an untrue fact about something which, as I say, is within my personal knowledge. He seems to be accusing me of something more than an accidental untruth, but rather a deliberate untruth.

As I understand the decencies and courtesies of this Committee, it is that one hon. Member does not accuse another hon. Member of lying in the Committee and this is what I ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw. I am not asking him to withdraw what he has told the Committee from records he has received, but I am asking him to accept my personal statement of what occurred, that my telephone was joined up to some other number and not repaired in that time.

Mr. Bryan

Would it not be easier and more proper, and for the benefit of the Committee, if the Postmaster-General would undertake to go into this again without anybody committing himself?

Mr. Edward Short

I have been into it with a small toothcomb this week. I have got my facts right. I am not accusing the hon. Member of anything, but I am merely giving the facts to the House.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Ridsdale

I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, at end insert: Provided that no part of the Exchequer advances made to the Postmaster-General under this section and under the Post Office Act 1961. as amended by the Post Office (Borrowing Powers) Act 1964. shall be used to establish a monopoly in local sound radio stations. I do not wish to keep the Committee at this late hour for a long time——

Mr. Edward Short

On a point of order, Sir Eric, I do not want to inhibit the hon. Member, but none of this money is required for broadcasting. I went to great pains to point this out. Supposing it was said that there should be an Amendment "except that none of it shall be used to subsidise margarine," would that be in order? It would be just as relevant.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Further to that point of order. You have called this Amendment, Sir Eric, so presumably it is bound to be in order.

The Chairman

The Amendment is in order. I have selected the Amendment and the hon. Member is entitled to move it. On the other hand, having regard to the observation of the Postmaster-General just now in reply to the previous Amendment, he may well think it unnecessary to press this Amendment, because to some extent it was dealt with. I leave that to the hon. Member.

Mr. Ridsdale

I heard what the Postmaster-General said. The only point I wish to make is that if none of the money in this Bill is for broadcasting, where is money to come from for the local sound radio stations which the Government propose to set up? I do not believe that money for the proposals the Postmaster-General has put forward to establish local sound radio broadcasting will be available from local resources, because local resources, particularly in the outlying fringe areas of the country, are under heavy pressure from higher taxes, Selective Employment Tax and higher rates. It is because I do not believe it will be possible to find the money in this way that I ask the Postmaster-General where he will find the money. I do not think that outlying areas like North-East Essex will have the kind of service which he says is possible. I put the Amendment down to elucidate information from the Postmaster-General on this point.

Mr. Digby

I hope that this point can be elucidated. I think that the Postmaster-General can do it. But I cannot accept that it is for right hon. and hon. Members to decide which Amendments are selected.

The Postmaster-General told the House a few days ago that this would not be a direct charge on the rates; it would be a charge on the rates only where it was for a specific service. He went on to say that he did not think it right that the burden of an increased licence fee should fall on rural areas which would not get the benefit of the new service. Perhaps, therefore, the Postmaster-General will clear up the point quickly for the benefit of the House.

Mr. Edward Short

I am sure that I would be out of order to follow the point. The only point in the Amendment is whether any part of this money should be used for broadcasting. That is all that the Amendment is about. The answer is, "None of it, not one penny of it."

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.