HC Deb 25 April 1968 vol 763 cc455-7
6. Mrs. Butler

asked the Postmaster-General if he will meet the full cost of anti-bandit screens erected in sub-post offices in crime-prone areas.

12. Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

asked the Postmaster-General what steps he is taking to give sub-postmasters protection against attack by robbers.

28. Mr. Berry

asked the Postmaster-General if he will accept responsibility for the repair of anti-bandit screens in sub-post offices damaged by criminal action.

55. Mr. Weatherill

asked the Postmaster-General if, in view of the increasing number of attacks on sub-post offices, he will ensure that protective screens are made available free of charge to sub-postmasters with offices in officially designated crime prone areas.

Mr. Mason

I am keen that sub-postmasters should equip their offices with anti-bandit screens. The National Federation of Sub-Postmasters has accepted our offer which is to pay £50 towards the cost of the screen at up to 10,000 offices and to provide interest free loans to meet the balance of the cost at these offices. This I consider to be a fair and reasonable arrangement. As regards repair, once an anti-bandit screen is installed in a sub-post office it becomes the sole property of the sub-postmaster. As such it could be covered by his insurance of furniture and fittings and I think it reasonable that he should meet the cost of repairs.

Mrs. Butler

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the strength of public feeling that sub-postmasters should not be out of pocket in providing protective devices of modern types to protect the public's money? If my right hon. Friend will not meet the full cost, will he look again at the contracts and salaries of sub-postmasters with a view to ensuring that this matter is taken into account when they are engaged?

Mr. Mason

To answer the latter part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I remind her that her Question was put earlier to the Assistant Postmaster-General. To answer the first part, I remind her that the Joint Committee looked into this matter and that the anti-bandit screen idea emanated from that Committee. The National Federation of Sub-Postmasters has sought more and I recognise that there is democratic, legitimate pressure from a faction in London. Nevertheless, I assure my hon. Friend that we are going out of our way to assist these people.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the danger of attack has been greatly increased because of the increased amount of cash and stock which postmasters are now obliged to hold under the present Government's policies, particularly S.E.T.? As the Government have changed the conditions of these people, surely the Government should make good in full any additional cost that is thrown on them. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this additional cost is not only the £100 but also the cost of installation?

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in the first part of his question. In the past two years there has been no noticable increase in attacks on sub-post offices. To answer the remainder of his question, I remind him that it will already be costing us £500,000 to aid sub-postmasters in the erection of anti-bandit screens and that we are already spending another £500,000 on other security measures, including burglar alarms, the anchoring of safes and so on. We are also spending about £80,000 a year on their maintenance.

Mr. Berry

In connection with attacks of this kind, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not right to pass the cost on to the insurance companies but that sub-postmasters should be protected and helped by the Government in their endeavour to protect Government and public money?

Mr. Mason

Initially, as I have made it clear, we are already spending a lot of money, particularly in crime-prone areas. I suggest that we carry on with this and see how it works out.

Mr. Bryan

Will not the right hon. Gentleman look at this whole matter again? Would he agree that bandits rob post offices for Post Office property and money? That being so, should not the Post Office pay the full price for defending that property?

Mr. Mason

As I said, I suggest that we proceed as I have outlined and see how things work out. We are erecting 10,000 anti-bandit screens and are helping sub-postmasters a great deal. This being so, we should proceed and see how this works out.