HC Deb 13 June 1968 vol 766 cc407-11
14. Mr. Tilney

asked the Postmaster-General why the London telephone directory is to be split into 40 small directories; and whether he will place a map in the Library showing the areas each separate directory will cover.

16. Mr. Hunt

asked the Postmaster-General on what grounds it has been decided to discontinue the issue of the four London telephone directories and to restrict each subscriber to a single local directory.

27. Mr. Berry

asked the Postmaster-General what consultations he had with professional and business people before deciding to split London telephone directories into separate district directories.

30. Mr. Worsley

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will reconsider the decision only to issue to subscribers telephone directories covering their immediate neighbourhoods.

32. Mr. Wall

asked the Postmaster-General if he will make a statement on his proposals for new editions of the London telephone directory.

35. Sir J. Langford-Holt

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will make a statement on the proposed changes in the London telephone directory.

36. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Postmaster-General what are his proposals for London telephone directories; and whether he will give an assurance that subscribers in the London telephone area will continue to receive directories for the area as a whole.

39. Mr. Fisher

asked the Postmaster-General whether, in view of the inconvenience to subscribers and the cost of the additional use of the directory enquiries service, he will reconsider his decision to issue telephone directories only covering limited nearby areas.

Mr. Mason

I have nothing further to add to my answer to Questions on 30th May.—[Vol. 765, c. 2123–5.]

Mr. Tilney

Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that in each directory there are maps to show the boroughs as well as the postal areas, and which boroughs are outside the area of the directory?

Mr. Mason

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has received a briefing from officials of my Department and from myself about this. I am aware of his view and I assure him that his suggestion will be considered.

Mr. Hunt

Is it not a fact that the Mason master plan for London directories was revealed to the public only by accident? Is this not a serious reflection on the public relations of the Post Office?

Mr. Mason

Adamantly, no, Sir. In 1965 and again in 1966 the Post Office annual reports made reference to the change. The Press who regard themselves as news hounds failed to get on the right scent, except the Guardian which, in November 1966, published a feature article on the subject and in December of that year published facts about it in its miscellany column.

Mr. Berry

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the inclusion of the 5,000 popular names and businesses in each book will not lead to confusion and jealousy between those who are in and those who are out? Will he take care in deciding who should be in or out?

Mr. Mason

I agree that we will have to be careful, particularly on the commercial plane, to ensure that no jealousies develop.

Mr. Worsley

Before finally making up his mind about this, will the right hon. Gentleman see that a careful study is made of other metropolitan areas, particularly New York, and about the thickness and type of paper to be used?

Mr. Mason

There are five, not one, directories covering New York. Those directories contain abbreviated addresses and not the full postal addresses as is our practice. This enables them to have four columns per page instead of three. However, they have a similar problem to that facing us and the problem which confronts them will be greater in future.

Mr. Wall

While congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the steps he has taken to repair the gaff made by his Department, may I ask him to make sure that in any similar circumstances in future the general public is consulted before such radical changes are made?

Mr. Mason

Consulting the general public is a loose term which is easily used. We consulted the London Boroughs' Association, the G.L.C., the London Chamber of Commerce and the Post Office Users' Council. To discuss these matters with the general public before the general public has seen the alternative new borough directory would be difficult. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that that type of consultation will take place when the new pilot directory is out.

Mr. Fisher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the activities of businesses and others in our constituencies in Greater London are not confined to one narrow geographical area? Will he take that convenience more into account and rescind this lunatic scheme altogether?

Mr. Mason

I have no intention of rescinding the scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: " Oh."] Business men in London recently received, for the first time, a London businesses' directory. This has been received with great acclaim. It was the first step in the gradual evolution of the plan.

Mr. Driberg

When my right hon. Friend says that he has no intention of rescinding the scheme, does he recall that he said recently that no final decision had yet been taken and that there would be further consultation? Will he look at Question No. 49, which is not included in the series of questions being answered, about public telephone kiosks? How is he going to pack them all in?

Mr. Mason

I meant by my reference to not rescinding the scheme that I would not halt it at the moment. We will have to go on and produce the pilot directory, first for the Borough of Hillingdon, and then see how the telephone user, the customer—especially the residential subscriber—reacts to it. We think that it will be welcomed once the change has been seen.

To answer my hon. Friend's question about the kiosk problem—I would not be in order in going too far because it is not included in this series of Questions— kiosks will be provided with a directory of the surrounding area in each case— in addition, of course, to the 5,000 popular names allied with it—a West End and City directory and the London businesses' directory. Users of kiosks will, therefore, probably have all the directories that they require. In kiosks at hotels and railway termini, directories will also, of course, be provided and the full set will be available in them.

Mr. Brooks

Has my right hon. Friend made a serious calculation of the extra cost involved in supplying additional directories to those who apply for them? Will he clarify the position from the point of view of, for example, Merseyside, and would he agree that such a parochial approach should not be attempted there?

Mr. Mason

If the scheme is successful in London, then we will have to consider schemes for the greater conurbations in the rest of the country; and I would have thought that this was a sensible step to take.

Mr. Bryan

While appreciating the efforts of the Postmaster-General and his officials to explain the system to hon. Members last Tuesday, is he aware that many of us are sincerely still convinced that not enough use has been made of American experience in this matter?

Mr. Mason

I would have hoped, from the presentations we have made in documents—including the presentations we made in Committee Rooms upstairs on two occasions—that hon. Members would have seen that my officials purposely had talks with the Americans and made contrasts between what we are doing here and the problems confronting the Americans. There is, however, the difference to which I referred; that our telephone users expect a full postal address system in directories.