HC Deb 04 November 1968 vol 772 cc558-624

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Barber (Altrincham and Sale)

I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add: but humbly regret that while the Queen's Speech proposes legislation to reorganise the Post Office it contains no plans to correct the chaos, muddle and confusion caused by the ill-prepared introduction of the two-tier postal system. Nobody who has had experience of being in charge of a Government Department can fail to think of the personal position of the Postmaster-General who, over the last few weeks, has suddenly found himself the target of sustained criticism from the general public. In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, I remind the House what he has already told us—that the planning for the new two-tier system started some three or four years ago, when the Postmaster-General was none other than the present Minister of Technology. That in itself, I should have thought, should have been enough to put the right hon. Gentleman on his guard.

For as long as any of us can remember, in the United Kingdom we have had a two-tier system, and it may well have been right to switch from the old system, in which the two rates were related to content, to a new system in which the two rates are related to service. But what nobody in his right senses can deny is that the way in which the new system has been introduced is a classic example of incompetence and of bungling, that the public were deceived by an advertising campaign which, as I shall show, was deliberately misleading, and that postmen throughout the country are furious that they have been let down by the stupidity of instructions issued by the right hon. Gentleman. I shall return to each of these points.

The right hon. Gentleman has consistently refused to make a statement to the House and to submit himself to cross-examination. As we have read, he has talked freely to the Press and he has issued statements outside the House. But for reasons which I think are now becoming obvious to all of us, he ignored the House of Commons altogether until he was forced to answer the Adjournment debate introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Gordon Campbell), and then the Postmaster-General told us that he was delighted by the progress that this system has made".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th Oct., 1968, Vol. 770, c. 737.] That was a remark which was as complacent as it was fatuous, and it indicates the sort of smug and unwarranted satisfaction which is infuriating more and more the long-suffering public who are actually experiencing the muddle and the confusion which has been created.

As far as the general public are concerned, the trouble started with a publicity campaign which was about as inept as anyone could conceive and which was bound to fail for one simple reason—because it was untrue. We now know that the advertising agency which has served the Post Office well for 14 years—which was summarily dismissed by the Postmaster-General—had its own proposals turned down by the right hon. Gentleman. But what I find quite incredible is that the right hon. Gentleman should seek to blame the advertising agency which, as I say, for 14 years had served the Post Office well, and should not accept the responsibility himself.

I say that because it is surely inconceivable that the Postmaster-General did not personally approve this campaign, which was, after all, one of the biggest advertising campaigns undertaken by a Government Department. The full cost of the campaign is not yet clear, but we do know that at least £320,000 has been spent on a public relations campaign, and for part of the expenses of a campaign to introduce the new system, and that the net result of all that expenditure has been to sour the relations between the Post Office and the public.

Why has that happened? Let me read the opening words of one half-page advertisement: For a 1d. extra your mail gets priority. It goes 'first-class' through all the stages of sorting and transportation, to arrive the day after posting almost anywhere in the United Kingdom". That is the service for 5d.—for a price increase of 25 per cent. But precisely the same description could have been applied, before this new system, to the old 4d. post. I will read it again. Surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it applied to the old 4d. post because that, too, went first class through all the stages of sorting and transportation to arrive the day after posting almost anywhere in the United Kingdom. The other day the right hon. Gentle-boasted that 94 per cent. of the 5d. mail, of the first-class mail, is now delivered the day after posting. But what the right hon. Gentleman does not disclose is that, even under this Administration, of the far greater volume of the old 4d. mail more than 90 per cent. was similarly delivered the day after posting. Indeed, if one looks at the Report of the Post Office for last year—the last year before the new system—one finds that the rate was 92 per cent., compared with 94 per cent. for the much smaller volume of mail now being delivered under the first-class system.

The whole publicity exercise turns out in reality to be a confidence trick, but a fraud on the public which was so naive that it was bound to be found out—and it was found out. Of course, with far fewer letters now going first-class, the proportion delivered on the first day after posting must be very slightly higher. It would be astonishing if it were otherwise. But the idea that the Post Office is providing some magnificent new service for a 25 per cent. increase in price is sheer deception, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to explain a statement in another of his advertisements: the New Letter Service isn't only two-speed and two-price. It's also two-way. You benefit. We benefit. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman intends to follow me in the debate. Perhaps he will answer this simple question. Will he tell the House just how those who continue to put 4d. stamps on their letters are to benefit from the new system? We should like to know. Remembering that on his own estimate he is planning for 20 million letters a day—that is, the majority of letters—to go by the 4d. post, we are entitled to an answer to this question: in respect of those 20 million letters every day bearing a 4d. stamp, how are the public to benefit in accordance with what was said in that advertisement? The truth is that they do not benefit at all. They used to get first-rate service and now they get second-rate service.

The issue can be simply stated in three factual propositions. First, before the change the rates for a letter were 3d. and 4d. and now they are 4d. and 5d. Secondly, the average period between posting and delivery is now longer and the overall postal service is now worse than before the change. Thirdly, the 25 per cent. increase in postal rates at a time when the Government purport to be concerned to keep prices down has nothing whatever to do with the new system. It is a straight rise in the price of a monopoly service, for which the Government are entirely responsible, and it flouts every criterion which is applied to private enterprise.

But if the public have been misled into thinking that they were getting a bargain, what of the preparations for the changeover to the new two-tier system? It is now obvious that the new system was introduced in circumstances which threw some of the sorting offices into chaos and confusion, and it did so because the simplest precautions had not been taken.

In the first place, there are now so many different designs of stamp that accurate sorting as between first-class and second-class mail is extremely difficult. The right hon. Gentleman told us that this change had been planned for three or four years. In those circumstances, even a child would have taken the elementary precaution of not increasing the multiplicity of designs. But that is precisely what the Government have done. Even in the case of standard designs, during these three or four years of preparation nobody apparently thought it necessary to design stamps with really obvious and distinctive contrast in appearance.

So there was, for instance, the ludicrous situation at Walsall where, because the sorters worked under fluorescent lighting, they found it difficult to distinguish between the 4d. stamps and the 5d. stamps. The Head Postmaster at Walsall said: The fact that both 4d. and 5d. letters are now sealed means that the sorters have to check every letter. It takes about 30 minutes longer than it need to sort first-class mail. Then there is a comment that 5d. stamps are blue and 4d. stamps are olive-brown sepia, and he suggests an early change of colour. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us why this difficulty about colour was not foreseen.

We are told that the automatic sorting machines, which, astonishingly enough, are apparently at only six offices in the whole country, distinguish between the new 4d. and 5d. stamp because the 5d. stamp has two phosphor bars in it. According to one report, if I put on a letter a 3d. stamp and a 1d. stamp there will be two phosphor bars, so, for 4d. I can get the 5d. service. This is a report which has appeared in a reputable newspaper. Apparently it has not been denied. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether there are circumstances in which, if a combination of stamps adding up to 4d. is put on a letter, the machines will categorise the letter as first-class mail.

What has infuriated the public more than anything else has been the deliberate holding back of letters when it was possible to deliver them. The right hon. Gentleman was asked by an hon. Member of the House whether he would publish the instructions which have been given by him and by his Department to the various post offices. He declined to do so. I think that now I begin to appreciate why, because one newspaper was able to get hold of part of the instructions which were operative in North-East England.

I should like to quote two paragraphs from these instructions which apply to second-class mail. I ask the House to bear in mind that the right hon. Gentleman time and again has told the country that there has been no deliberate holding back of letters when it was possible to deliver them. Yet these are quotations from confidential instructions: Second-class items for offices of delivery must NOT be dispatched on the day of posting. The memo goes on: Second-class items posted on Saturdays and Sundays for offices of delivery must NOT be dispatched, but held over for dispatch on Monday. Time and again the right hon. Gentleman has told the Press and others outside this House—he has not told us here—that there was no deliberate holding back of mail. But when he realised that people outside were beginning to appreciate that there was deliberate holding back of mail, he altered the instructions concerning local delivery. I will not dwell on the more ridiculous examples which have been reported in the Press, such as the quaint procedure in one village which, thank goodness, has been stopped, under which, apparently, the postman emptied the pillar box, sorted the mail, and put the 4d. letters back again.

What is now beginning to cause great concern is the general power which the Minister has taken to delay the delivery of second-class mail, a power which, in law, permits the Postmaster-General, and so his subordinates, to delay second-class mail indefinitely. This is the power which is contained in the new regulations. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) hopes to raise later this evening the matter of these new Inland Post Regulations, 1968. I will content myself with saying that just after we rose for the Summer Recess the Postmaster-General laid these new regulations, which came into force during that Recess.

I am not accusing him of deliberately arranging this during the Recess, but one consequence is that most right hon. and hon. Members in this House were not here at the time they were laid or at the time they came into force and, therefore, have only recently appreciated the significance of some of the regulations.

One of these regulations provides: Any second-class letter…may be withheld from dispatch or delivery until any subsequent dispatch or delivery. In other words, any one of the 20 million second-class letters posted every day can be held up indefinitely. That is now the law laid down by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, and it has been so since 16th September.

What is the criterion laid down by the right hon. Gentleman for the deliberate withholding of delivery of second-class mail? I will, once again, quote the right hon. Gentleman's own words. Referring to the withholding of delivery of second-class mail, he said: If it will delay the first-class post then it will be kept at the sorting office and then go out as soon as possible. This means, of course, that if for a week there is in any post office area an excep- tional abundance of first-class mail, then, day after day, the second-class mail can be held up. And it will be held up. This is the right hon. Gentleman's intention.

This is a very serious matter indeed, because we are talking of a power to delay which can affect any one of 20 million letters a day. Certainly, many businessmen are extremely concerned about what is happening on what they are now learning from their own first-hand experience. I beg the Postmaster-General to realise that this is no trivial matter.

I will quote one or two examples of the sort of experience which is sapping the confidence of businessmen in the new system. First, the experience of the Engineering Industries Association: Second-class mail, which is being used extensively by the Association's officers is appallingly bad. Delays of a week are common, and there are many complaints about the non-arrival of mail sent out to members of committees and firms. It seems as if there is a deliberate policy to drive all postal users into the first-class scheme. In addition, there was the experience of the C.B.I.—I will not quote it in full—part of which was referred to the other day by the right hon. Gentleman. The experience of the C.B.I., which appeared in the Press, was that four letters posted second-class, after more than a fortnight had still not arrived. This is not only intolerable; to my mind it is inexcusable.

I will give one more example from the Opinion Research Centre, a public con-opinion and market research organisation. The director says: We are only a comparatively small company. But we rely greatly on a fast and efficient postal service; we normally use first-class post. Since the much trumpeted new system began at least 10 important letters addressed either to us, or from us to interviewers, have simply vanished into the postal limberlost. There is a lot more in the letter, particularly about a package of completed questionnaires which arrived at the offices of this company in a Post Office bag which, when opened, contained only shredded paper. I have seen it. In the bag there was a buff form, with no apology, but there was this baffling information, "Parcel caught in machinery". That is all we know about it.

The right hon. Gentleman will realise now why people are getting so disillusioned about what he has been saying, and why one of the commonest jokes that one hears when one talks to people about the postal service is, "Post now for Christmas". That is the advice which I should certainly give anybody after studying this matter.

With any organisation as large as the Post Office, employing, I think I am right in saying, more than 400,000 people, and dealing direct with the whole of the adult population, there are bound to be many complaints, and many of these complaints will be justified. No large organisation is foolproof, and this applies in the private sector of industry with a large organisation just as it does with an organisation like the Post Office. But, generally, it is true to say that the postal services in the United Kingdom have hitherto had a good reputation, and it is, therefore, all the more sad that the way in which the new two-tier system has been introduced, and in particular the inept handling of the publicity, should have aroused the criticism of so many people

For the Postmaster-General to say that he is delighted with the progress of the new system evinces either a degree of arrogance of which I hope he is not capable, or it shows that, like so many of his colleagues, he simply has no idea what ordinary people are saying. There is, I think, still time to retrieve the situation. For the sake of the right hon. Gentleman, for the sake of the loyal servants of the Post Office, and, above all, for the sake of the public, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman succeeds.

7.22 p.m.

The Postmaster-General (Mr. John Stonehouse)

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) for the moderate way in which he introduced the Amendment, and particularly for his initial remarks. I am not one of those who object to the Opposition having chosen this subject for debate. I think that it is to the advantage of the whole House that we should have an opportunity of looking at the way the Post Office does its job, because the Post Office is absolutely essential to good communications in Britain. I, for one, make no apology for the way the Post Office is doing, and will do, its job in the interests of the economy.

The right hon. Gentleman has raised a number of questions about the two-tier system. In his speech he replied to many of the complaints that he made, and I am grateful to him for acknowledging that many of the mistakes which were made at the earlier stage in the development of the two-tier system were put right. He acknowledged that locally posted second-class mails can now be delivered in the first delivery. He acknowledged that the episode about the Crowle postman who reposted the second-class mails in the post box was put right, and put right not after weeks or even days, but after hours. I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman corrected some of the complaints he made.

The burden of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was against the two-tier system as such, because he attacked the delay of second-class mails, but this is the whole essence of the two-tier system. The whole essence of it is that the customer shall have an opportunity to decide which mail should have priority, and which should not. Non-urgent mail will normally be delivered by two days after posting, and I hope that before we conclude the debate I shall have an opportunity of bringing before the House some of the facts, rather than suppositions, so that hon. Members can make their own assessment.

Mr. Barber

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that at the outset I said that I thought there may have been a case for changing the old system to this system, but I put the specific question which is troubling many people, and that is how he is able to say, as he has done on many occasions, that there was no deliberate delaying of the mail when it could have been delivered, and how that was consistent with the instructions I read and some of the examples I gave.

I hope that at long last the right hon. Gentleman will do the House the courtesy of making his points in this speech, so that my hon. Friend who speaks on these matters will have an opportunity of replying to the hon. Gentleman. We do not want the old—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interventions, even from the Front Bench, ought to be reasonably brief.

Mr. Stonehouse

I think it important at the outset that the House should recognise the reason behind the two-tier system. The right hon. Gentleman displayed a supreme ignorance of the two-tier system, and what it was aimed to do. I believe that the House should start with a description of the reasons for the two-tier system, and why we had to have tariff increases associated with its introduction.

For many years this country has considered the wisdom of a two-tier system. The present Government decided to introduce it because it makes logical and operational sense, and I believe that even the right hon. Gentleman recognises that it is much better for the customer to pay a postage cost according to the service given, rather than according to contents.

Furthermore, with the mechanisation of our postal administration being improved, it would have been a handicap to have a large part of the mail in open envelopes which would not have been dealt with so effectively by the machines now being installed. Incidentally, when the right hon. Gentleman complained that there were only six automatic machines already installed, I thought that that was "a right one" because it was his party, during all the years that hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power, which denied the Post Office the investment resources to enable it to mechanise in the way that we are now doing.

Let us look at the reasons for the price increase. I acknowledge the validity of the first two of the three points made by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not accept the third one, and I shall show why in a moment. First, I accept that there was a price increase. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that some mails are now subject to delay, to which they were not subject before. I accept that.

The reason for the first is that postal administration, like any other public authority, is expected to make a return on the investment which the taxpayers make in it. The Government have had the courage to expect the Post Office to meet its financial objectives.

The Opposition, when in power, allowed the Post Office to run into a loss, on the postal side, of over £30 million in their last three years in office. The present Government are determined that the Post Office administration shall make a surplus, and we have had the courage to increase the tariffs, although this would appear to have been an unpopular thing to do. Postal tariffs have risen, but nobody can suggest that because they have done so the postal service is inefficient. By all standards of comparison our postal administration is doing an extremely good job.

Let us look at the comparisons with other industries. Our rate of increase in tariffs has been very much less. During the last 25 years the price of a newspaper has increased from 1d. to 5d. The postage rate for first-class mail has risen from 2½ d. to 5d. That is a 100 per cent. increase in postal charges compared with a 400 per cent. increase in Press charges. Minimum bus fares have risen by 400 per cent. or 500 per cent. compared with the Post Office's 100 per cent.

But the most interesting comparison, and the most valid, is the comparison between British rates and those charged abroad. This comparison shows beyond any shadow of doubt that we have almost the lowest charges in Europe, even with the new rates. Only one country—Spain—charges a lower minimum postage rate than we do, and currently Spain is making a 29 per cent. loss on expenditure compared with our 1.5 per cent. or 2 per cent. surplus on expenditure.

Let us compare the various 4-oz. rates. The 4-oz. is our minimum, but in many countries a higher rate is charged. Our charge is exceptionally good in this respect. Whereas Britain charges 5d. or 4d., depending upon the speed of delivery, the Argentine charges 11½d., Australia, 1s. 6½d.; Austria, 11½d.; Belgium, 1s.; Canada, 1s. 1d.; France, 1s. 2d.; Germany, 1s. 0½d.; Greece, 2s. 4½d.; Italy, 1s. 4d.; Japan, 10d.; Holland, 8d.; New Zealand, 10d.; Pakistan, 2s. 4d.; Portugal, 1s. 5d.; Spain, 7d.; Sweden, 1s. 5½d.; Switzerland, 7d.; Turkey, 1s. 6½d., and the United States, 2s.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite do not like to hear these figures, because they demonstrate how good a postal service Britain has. Even at the new rates introduced on 16th September our charges are hundreds of per cent. less than in many other countries, despite the fact that they charge more and give a far worse service. We make a profit, and they make a loss—some of them a huge loss. On this comparison our postal administration is extremely efficient.

When we are talking about service let us remember that in terms of the proportion of the population we are delivering to more delivery points than is the case in any other country in the world. We have 18 million delivery points. In other countries the proportion of mail delivered to doors, to addresses, is much less than here. In Germany and Sweden, over one-third of the mail is collected by the addressee. Here it is less than 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. Our standard of service is excellent because we give a first delivery finishing before 9.30 a.m. in town and also provide a reliable next-day service for first-class mail which is the envy of the whole world.

It was this that the Post Office administration really wanted to protect by the introduction of the two-tier system, because as the quantity of mails coming into the sorting departments was so great after 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., leading to an enormous peak, something had to be done to iron that out and to put the less urgent nails on one side for sorting next day, otherwise the system would have broken down.

I have; figures which show that in office after office the proportion has risen from between 70 per cent. and 75 per cent. to over 80 per cent. in the last six or eight years. It was to protect a reliable next-day delivery of first-class mail—a 92 per cent. delivery under the old system—that the two-tier system was brought in.

Of course, this meant that many envelopes posted at second-class rates after the introduction of the two-tier system would be delivered more slowly than they were before. The right hon. Gentleman referred to that fact as though it were a great failing. It is a great success. It is exactly what the Post Office was aiming for. If hon. Members opposite had only read the documents I sent them on 19th July—I sent a whole bundle to each hon. Member—they would have seen that this was one of the objects of the exercise. [Laughter.]

I said at the outset that the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to understand what the two-tier system was about, and the fact that we now hear guffaws from the benches opposite when I make one of the key points of the whole issue shows that hon. Members opposite still do not understand.

Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)

It was because I read the right hon. Gentleman's document and had it with me in Scotland and read it shortly after the introduction of the two-tier post that I applied, within a week of the House resuming, for the Adjournment debate.

Mr. Stonehouse

I was delighted when the hon. Gentleman obtained the Adjournment debate because I never throw away an opportunity of justifying, in the House, the work of any Department for which I may be responsible.

The problem of overnight delivery besets every postal administration.

Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)


Mr. Stonehouse

The hon. Member must contain himself. He is shouting "China" at me. That has no relevance to the debate. I hope that he will make more sensible remarks when he speaks.

I have a report of the President's Commission on Postal Organisation which shows the importance which the United States attach to the reliability of a next-day service and how that country is moving towards the very two-tier system that we have adopted. The report says that overnight delivery for all first-class mail is a costly goal, and that the largest proportion of first-class mail is not urgent and does not require it. It goes on at great length to describe the advantage of a stratification scheme, which is another description of a two-tier system.

Just across the Channel, the French are thinking of introducing a two-tier system. It is because we are anxious to protect the first-class service that the two-tier system has been brought into operation, and it is on that basis that we have achieved a substantial success over the last seven weeks. If I have the fortune to catch Mr. Speaker's eye at the end of the debate I shall take the opportunity of replying to many of the points made in letters which I have received.

I now want to deal with the specific complaint about advertising. The right hon. Gentleman aimed at this complaint directly at me. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman here and now that I accept responsibility for the inadequate advertisement to which he referred. I committed an error in not calling for the details of the advertising campaign and asking to see the mock-ups of advertisements before they appeared. These advertisements had been prepared before I became Postmaster-General. They were prepared after consultations between advertising agencies and my officials and it was not normal for a Postmaster-General to see details of advertisements of this character before they appeared in the Press.

I now acknowledge that I committed an error in not calling for this advertisement and examining it before it appeared. When I saw it for the first time in the newspapers I agreed that it had some misleading aspects and I immediately gave instructions that it should be withdrawn. It was withdrawn as soon as possible, and a new series of advertisements was substituted in its place.

I do not believe that there has been any complaint about the new series of "ads," but I ask the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to recognise that that particular advertisement was only one in the whole series. In addition, there was a whole series of leaflets giving details at great length about the new two-tier system. It is a mistake to take one advertisement out of context and attack the whole postal administration's presentation of two-tier merely on that one advertisement.

I recognise that hon. Members have had a great many complaints about the operation of two-tier. I believe that there are full replies to all these and I hope that I will have an opportunity to speak later in the debate.

7.42 p.m.

Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)

The view of myself and my hon. and right hon. Friends on this bench is perfectly clear. We accept the two-tier system; we accept that it may be necessary and we accept even, as did the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber), that it may be desirable. But we do not accept the manner of its introduction. Nor do we accept, without further explanation, the immediate need for the further revenue which this exercise will produce immediately. Finally, we do not for a moment accept the Postmaster-General's arithmetic.

We accept that the system may be desirable. Perhaps it is proper, and it seems sensible that the differential should be based on the nature of the service rather than the contents of the envelope, but the right hon. Gentleman must also accept that people who have had a postal service or any service for a long time do not accept change very readily in this country. Indeed, I doubt whether they accept major changes very readily anywhere. The right hon. Gentleman said that the French are about to embark on an experiment like this. If they are about to make such a major change, I am sure that they will do it with much more preparation, much better public education and much better public relations than have been adopted here.

The Government should realise that much of their unpopularity at the moment is not due to public doubt about the wisdom of their policies—although some of it may be—but more to real fears about the Government's competence. The anxiety is not about the nature of the policy, but about how the thing is done. It makes it difficult for those who, perhaps, share the right hon. Gentleman's views on this system to explain its merits to people outside when the system has been introduced in this extraordinary way.

The first question which one must ask is, why must it be introduced now? My recollection—and it will be that of other hon. Members—is that the National Board for Prices and Incomes recommended that the new charges should come into operation in April, 1969. Very well, then why should the Postmaster-General jump the gun? If he is going to justify that—I do not know whether he is—why on earth do the thing like this, in the midst of a Parliamentary Recess? Surely it must have been absolutely obvious to everyone, that even people with the best will in the world would have objections. There are certain people who are not sorry to see the postal service disorganised, and there are some in this Chamber who are sometimes delighted to go whooping through the Lobbies because a nationalised industry is not working well, and there are people like that outside who would want to condemn the thing if they could. He has given them the best possible opportunity and great assistance by doing it in this way, in the midst of a Parliamentary Recess, when their anxieties, their grievances, whatever they may be, could not be aired in this Chamber.

Perhaps it is also a little regrettable that the Recess in which the right hon. Gentleman took this action was to be immediately followed by a Bill for Post Office reorganisation, which many people fear may result in the disappearance of the ability of this House to question the Postmaster-General on matters like this. I am not saying that sinister motives underly his actions. I am not saying that they do not, but I am not saying that they do. I am sure that it will be taken by people outside as evidence of the Postmaster-General's doubt and personal anxiety that what he was doing was indefensible, since he did it when he could not be called upon to defend it.

One would also like to hear a little more about the timing. The right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale put this point. Why on earth introduce this before the Post Office itself was ready to do it? We have heard much about instructions which were given, that the right hon. Gentleman hurried and gave different instructions the next day and that the man who was seen doing this or that was stopped. But this should never have started.

In an operation of this kind, it is surely elementary that all those concerned should be told and should understand what to do. If I worked in the Post Office, the first question which I would have wanted to ask, whatever my grade, when I read about this would have been, "What happens to the second-class mail? What are we supposed to do with it?" Some of the postmen would have a rather rude answer to give the right hon. Gentleman, I think. They want proper answers at the proper time, and the proper time is not after second thoughts, after we have seen that things are going wrong and public anxiety has been aggravated by muddle in very high places.

Why, also, was it necessary to introduce this before the new procedures in the Post Office which will make it worth while are actually in being? How many post offices at the moment have automatic, mechanical methods of sorting? How much mail at the moment is still hand-sorted? We must accept, so far as hand sorting is concerned, that any saving in terms of a two-tier service will be minimal. It may be a desirable and highly advantageous scheme, but it is designed for a new kind of working in the Post Office which we have not yet reached. Perhaps we have, but one would like to hear details of the way in which mechanical sorting methods are working.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the two kinds of stamps. What happens? Do a 1d. and a 3d. stamp have two phosphor bands or do they not? What about a 3d. and a 2d. stamp? Do letters bearing them go slow or do they not? There is the anxiety of people using old stamps which do not have phosphor bands at all. If they happen to go into one of the post offices which happen to be automated, their mail can be 5d., 6d., 7d. or 8d., and if they use old stamps with no phosphor bands, it will go as slowly as the Postmaster-General can possibly make it go.

It should have been clear that it was wrong to impede the progress of the lower tier unnecessarily—not merely to facilitate the upper tier but to impede the lower as an act of policy to encourage people to use the more expensive stamp. For a variety of reasons of this kind, it seems to me that the whole business has been muddled, and it looks as if it will be muddled even further. One wonders what will happen—it is not all that far off and may be nearer than the complete automation of the Post Office—when we have decimalisation of the currency. What are to be the prices then?

On 14th October this year, my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Richard Wainwright) asked the Postmaster-General: …what estimate he has made of the postage rate for the first-class letter service, weight under 4 oz., immediately after the decimalisation of the currency"? The right hon. Gentleman replied: None, as it would be impracticable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th October, 1968; Vol. 770, c. 54–5.] Surely the whole essence of the matter is to plan ahead in relation to the future conditions in which the Post Office will be operating.

The Postmaster-General will have an opportunity to correct or to contradict me, but I hear that Elliott-Automation have received an order worth £350,000 for decimal machines for postage stamps. The implication is that the bottom rate, now 4d., will be raised to two new pence, which is 4.8 pence, and that that decision has already been made; otherwise these machines could not have been ordered. That makes nonesense of the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my right hon. Friend, No, because it would be impracticable. It seems to me that certain steps are so practicable that they have already been taken.

Unless the Postmaster-General comes clean on matters of this kind, he will continue to get into a situation in which the public view his activities with suspicion. I understand the difficulties. It is not his fault that further changes will be needed with the decimalisation of the currency. But at least he could tell us what are his intentions. He could let us know here and now what the new rates are to be and what is his thinking in terms of new pence. Is this a prelude to a further increase in postal charges or—I can hardly believe it—are we to see a decrease in those charges when Decimal Day arrives?

Those are matters which I put to the right hon. Gentleman about the manner of the introduction of the service. I make one final point on that issue. If he is as certain as he declares that second-class mail is not being deliberately held up in the Post Office, why does he not have an open week in the post offices to enable members of the public to see what is happening to the post, first-class and second-class? If what he says is true—and we have no reason to contradict him—that would do a great deal to restore the confidence which has been impaired by the whole business.

May I say a few words about the charges? Even if one accepts the need for more money in the Post Office—as one does—one need not accept the Postmaster-General's arithmetic. The Post Office told the National Board for Prices and Incomes that an increase of ½d. on first-class rates would produce only £7 million in a year. It was on that figure that the Prices and Incomes Board accepted the proposed 4d. and 5d. charges. But it seems to me that the figure of £7 million is highly suspect. I hope that the Postmaster-General will spell out his calculations, based on the mail statistics given in this year's Post Office Report and Accounts.

From this year's Report I see that the calculation is for 10,000 million items of first and second class mail yearly. If every item now is to cost 1d. more—except for a very small number in the 2 oz. to 5 oz. range—the additional revenue to the Post Office will be 10 million times 1d., which is approximately £40 million, which is a very different matter. It seems to me that we ought to be told about the scale of the operation. It may be that my arithmetic is wrong.

The right hon. Gentleman, after all, has access to the facts and figures. Will he tell us how much he expects to raise? On my calculation it seems that the postal services will make a profit of £20 million this year, which is far more than its target of a 2 per cent. surplus on revenue. I want to hear the right hon. Gentleman's comments, in particular, on that.

I am also concerned about differentials. The 4d. letter service made a profit last year of £11 million, which was roughly a surplus of 10 per cent. on revenue. The recent White Paper, Cmnd. 3437, dealing with the financial obligations of the nationalised industries, stated that each service should pay its way, and it strongly condemned internal cross-subsidisation between services. It stated: The aim of pricing policy should be that the consumer should pay the true costs of providing the goods and services he consumes, in every case where these can be sensibly identified…to cross-subsidise loss-making services amounts to taxing remunerative services provided by the same undertaking and is as objectionable as subsidising from genera) taxation services which have no social justification". The now 5d. letter service was making a very handsome profit when the charge was 4d. and it will now make a quite unwarranted profit to subsidise loss makers such as newspapers—and there may well be other services which hon. Members wish to mention.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

I am following the argument with some sympathy, but another factor enters into the calculations and it is the requirement placed upon nationalised industries, including the Post Office, to generate an ever-increasing proportion of their own capital needs from revenue. This is a very serious aspect on which I hope the Minister will make some comment when he replies because I think it has already gone much too far.

Dr. Winstanley

I know that the hon. Member is particularly interested in the capitalisation of nationalised industries and that he will wish to take the matter further. But we are dealing with revenue, with income and expenditure, rather than with capital, and it would be better if I continued on that theme.

I should like to quote from a statement made by the Postmaster-General two Postmaster-Generals ago—which is not very long ago, bearing in mind the rate at which changes are made in that office. The present Secretary of State for Education and Science was then Postmaster-General. He said, on 15th March, 1967: …there will be no general tariff increase until I am absolutely satisfied that the Post Office machine is running as efficiently and as profitably as possibly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 433.] Can we say at the moment that the Post Office machine is running as efficiently or as profitably as possible? Have we no" seen all sorts of difficulties at every level—at the managerial level and at the fade union level, with restrictive practices of many kinds slowly, but only very slowly, being overcome?

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

I should like to know exactly which are the restrictive practices in the Post Office to which the hon. Member is referring.

Dr. Winstanley

I had not intended to do so but, as I have been tempted, I will mention one or two. We have the question of daily balancing at post office counters. The Post Office Report and Accounts announced that a substantial increase in productivity has been achieved at Crown Office counters by balancing tills weekly instead of daily". But it does not mention that union resistance meant that that change was delayed for seven years, as the National Board for Prices and Incomes acknowledged. Next is the matter of the size of gangs on telephone engineering work. Next is the matter of the employment of women. How many women engineers are there in the Post Office? There has been a certain amount of perhaps obstructive resistance—

Mr. Dobson

How does that affect the service?

Dr. Winstanley

We want to see the Post Office run as efficiently as possible and satisfying the criteria so wisely laid down by the Postmaster-General two Postmaster-Generals ago. I was suggesting that I felt that these criteria were not being satisfied either at managerial level—and I am prepared to spell those out, too—or at trade union level. I want to see much more being done along those lines before we are subjected to this enormous increase in prices, which to my mind is an entirely unnecessary increase at this time. I do not want to give detailed alternatives, but I suggest that an increase of ½d. on the cheap rate would raise £7 million a year, and I believe that that is about enough to be going on with.

I have said about enough to be going on with, surely enough to make it clear to the Postmaster-General into which Lobby I shall go. I want him to understand that I shall be going into that Lobby with sorrow for I want to see the Post Office working well. I do not wish it to work badly simply to enable me to say that the nationalised industries are a washout. I want to see the best possible functioning of the Post Office. But I honestly believe that this is not the way to make the Post Office function well and not the way to encourage people to regard nationalised industries in the way in which I know right hon. Gentlemen opposite want them to be regarded.

8.0 p.m.

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

I welcome this opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) and to repudiate some of his comments. His remarks about the Post Office, and particularly his complaints, were directed almost entirely against the staff of the Post Office, not just at local level but at managerial level and at headquarters. Some of his comments, which were greeted by titters from hon. Gentlemen opposite, were disgraceful when one considers that the Post Office has always given, and continues to give, an excellent service. The two-tier system has in no way interrupted this excellent standard of service.

At least, the hon. Member for Cheadle admitted that there was not much in his comments about alleged restrictive practices in the Post Office. What he said about there having been a seven-year delay was nonsense. What he said about other matters was equal nonsense, particularly in relation to the two-tier system. I do not know what all the fuss is about. It all goes to show how ignorant some members of the Liberal Party are on Post Office affairs. When challenged to give concrete examples, they merely make trumped-up allegations.

I regret that the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) is not in his place. He complained that postmen were furious. They are, but they are furious about the attacks that are being made on them when the attacks should be made on events which have nothing to do with them. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite know, for example, that there are accurate figures to show that meter postings have been deliberately pre-dated?

I could quote an example of a hundred and one different addresses being deliberately pre-dated, to different sources, before being handed in to the Post Office. On arrival at their destination, the first cry is, "The post has been delayed". If mail is pre-dated in this way there can be no redress at local offices. How can hon. Gentlemen opposite consider such an experiment as being anything but a deliberate stunt? The same could be said of both bulk posting and other schemes. The same considerations applied in 1963.

It is not the slightest good hon. Gentlemen opposite trumping up complaints of this sort in an effort to prove that the postal services are falling down on the job. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have short memories. The First Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries contained comments made by the then Postmaster-General. He said that the postal system was first-class compared with the Continent, that it was cheaper than the services on the Con- tinent and cheaper than the services in most other countries.

Some hon. Gentlemen opposite may try to make out that the two-tier system has been discredited, but that is nonsense. A C.B.I. authority posted 302 letters with 5d. stamps attached to each on 1st October, just under a month after the two-tier service was introduced. By first post the following day 292 of the letters arrived, well over 95 per cent. of the total. Ten were delivered the following day, the main reason being the physical impossibility of transferring mail from one point to another—another factor which is not taken into account by Post Office critics. Mr. John Davies, Director-General of the C.B.I., commented: The 5d. post is all that it is cracked up to be. That is a fair assessment of the system.

The 5d. post has taken the place of the 4d. that existed before the two-tier system came in. Nobody objects to the principle being described in that way. It has not decreased the urgency of postal deliveries and the percentage delivery on the day after posting still remains.

I am never sure, when I hear hon. Gentlemen opposite complaining, whether they believe that the 4d. post should have remained at that price, or whether all letters should have been increased to 5d. If the charge is made, as the hon. Member for Cheadle made it, that there should be no change until we have full mechanisation in the Post Office, then we will be a long time waiting for change.

Dr. Winstanley indicated dissent.

Mr. Dobson

If the hon. Gentleman did not say that, then other hon. Gentlemen opposite did.

Under-capitalisation over many years in the Post Office has kept this side of the Post Office business labour-intensive. About 76 per cent. of the charges on the postal side goes in wages and labour costs. Such a service cannot be changed simply by increasing the cost of the mail, since as soon as wages rise one must increase costs again, stamp prices go up—and as soon as there is difficulty in recruiting postmen, wages must be increased again, postal costs go up and before one knows what has happened, one must increase the prices of stamps again.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that after the Government have been in power for four years they could not have achieved more than six automatic machines in the Post Office? Is he saying that the Government are that inefficient?

Mr. Dobson

I believe that five of them were introduced during 13 years of Tory rule. The hon. Gentleman must know that the introduction of such machinery takes a long time. The under-capitalisation of the Post Office from 1950 onwards has resulted in this situation. In those years major efforts should have been made to put things right, but they were not.

The problems of the Post Office could not have been put right by charging 5d. for every letter. As I explained, this being a labour-intensive industry, costs would have continued to rise. It meant finding an alternative. The difficulty experienced in recruiting postmen has arisen not only because of the wages paid but because of the atrocious hours that must be worked. They are not only long hours, but hours worked over a difficult span.

The two-tier system will ease the load on the postal services. When 35 million items of mail are posted every day, most of them after 5 p.m., an unprecedented load is placed on sorting offices in the early part of the evening and through the night. This places a heavy burden on the Post Office if deliveries the following day are to be maintained. Thus, a method must be found to spread the load over the day, and the two-tier system provides the answer.

The two-tier system was not trumped up by the Postmaster-General. Indeed, it has been talked about for many years. Serious discussions started about three years ago. If hon. Gentlemen opposite think that this is the first they have heard of it, they should study the First Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, in which the alternatives were clearly set out. The Select Committee preferred the two-tier service to all other alternatives. The problem was to find an answer, and the two-tier service was considered the best one.

It might be wise for me to conclude with a quotation from the journal of the Union of Post Office Workers, which early next year will have had 50 years' experience of Post Office matters. For many years its first obligation of membership has been to give a first-class service to the public. This was part of its programme, its creed. Writing in the journal the present secretary of the postal side of the union, Mr. William Failes, says: Two-tier is an attempt to give an even better service to first class mail than is given at the moment. That is his first statement on 31st August. I claim that the figures which I have quoted from the Financial Times and from the C.B.I., show that this has been achieved.

Mr. Failes goes on: It is necessary to have such a system to prevent a gradual breakdown in postal services. Anyone who knows about the postal services will realise that this is what we were facing until my right hon. Friend decided to embark on this new venture. It has had its difficulties. It is the first real major change covering the thousands of offices throughout the country in over 100 years. Naturally, it had teething troubles, but it is now working extremely well, and will continue to work even better.

Mr. Failes went on to say: The critics of the two-tier service are cither unaware of these facts, or they are deliberately distorting them to suit their political ends. I believe that to be the fact. If they do not know, they are certainly guilty of doing it for political ends. Mr. Failes ends by saying that he did not think that they would succeed in destroying the two-tier service.

I hope that they will not succeed in doing so, because it is something we ought to have not only for the benefit of the postal workers, but for everyone who wants a first-class mail service at the right cost, which is remarkably low. They will get this service if we persevere.

8.11 p.m.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) was rather upset. I hope that he does not really believe what he began by saying, that there are many people who are trying to blame the postal staff. There is no intention to do so. Our aim is to try to show that this has happened regardless of the sense of service which Post Office staff have always had, and which is recognised by all. There will always be two types of mail, the printed paper and circular category and the higher rate.

Most people accept that this is a right and proper way to operate the Post Office. We all know of the difficulty of people posting letters all at once at the end of the day, swamping sorting offices. The use of two types of postage under the previous system was of some assistance. At least there were no general complaints of delay, even with printed paper, circulars, birthday cards or anything else.

There were no general complaints. Obviously, there were cards which got caught in the bag, or the frame, or a letter which was found some time afterwards. But there were no general complaints of delay within the system. This is basically because the Post Office staff have always been held in high regard and they were doing their job properly. This new system is said to give us the privilege of sealing our printed paper matter—and paying 33 per cent. more. As a result of this system there have been widespread complaints that letters are being seriously delayed.

We are not now talking, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman when he was speaking about second-class mail taking a little longer, about mail arriving on the second day; we are talking about serious delays. This is matter not of an odd letter, but of delays of a large volume of the 4d. mail. This is terribly important.

Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what proportion of the letters he alleges have been seriously delayed have been deliberately pre-dated? This is necessary to form a proper estimate.

Mr. Mawby

I listened with interest to what has been said about this point. I have never heard the suggestion before that there was deliberate pre-dating on mail which went through the meter. This is something of which I know nothing. Almost all of the complaints that have come to me—and they have been sent from all parts of the country—are letters with the normal stamp and frank upon them. I do not think there is any metered mail. Normally metered mail is not posted into the box, but handed to a post office official. If the practice of entering pre-dated mail is widespread, and it is being handed to a post office official, then all I can say is that the service is worse than I had thought.

This system was introduced during the Recess. During that time I received many complaints from constituents. I was interviewed on radio, and following that received complaints from all over the country. Incidentally, this shows that the Post Office can never lose, because it had an increased income through all the complaining letters sent to me. In the case of those letters, it was obvious that there had been instructions deliberately to hold up the 4d. post. I heard the right hon. Gentleman on television when he said that there was no intention to hold up the 4d. mail. He said that the whole point of the two-tier system was to speed the 5d. mail. Being very naive, I believed the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

You did not!

Mr. Mawby

My hon. Friend will perhaps forgive me for being a bit naive. This was the impression I got. I believed it. From the letters I have received, this is shown to be untrue.

I have a letter from someone at Reading, who says: During the first two weeks of its operation I was chatting to one of the older postmen, who appears to have had some pride in the service. He told me that the collection was taken into the office, and first-class letters taken to the sorting department at once. Second-class letters were then immediately put on one side, and could not be dealt with until the following morning. Consequently, some of the morning deliveries were unusually light, leaving"— I cannot read all of the writing here— the labour to the men doing the second delivery. Here was an allegation that there had been a deliberate hold-up of the 4d. mail entering the office and it had to be held overnight. It was not because the first-class mail was so large, but that the first send-off from that sorting office was still very light indeed.

Mr. Dobson

The hon. Member started by saying that there had always been two different types of mail. Could he explain how this is different from the previous system? Would he agree that it is exactly the same as the previous system?

Mr. Mawby

No, it is not exactly the same. If it were exactly the same, there would not be this tremendous delay, which is general, of all 4d. mail.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is not one of the differences that under the previous system there were criminal sanctions against any servant of the Post Office who deliberately held up the mail and those criminal sanctions were withdrawn, after the House rose for the Summer Recess, in the Order which the Postmaster-General put before the House?

Mr. Mawby

There has always been the law that no one could hold up Her Majesty's mails. That is laid down clearly, and every servant of the Post Office knew it. Every postmaster and sub-postmaster could use his initiative, but under the new circumstances they are not allowed to do so. Under the new Regulations—against which we can only pray—servants of the Post Office are allowed deliberately to hold up Her Majesty's mail in contravention of what was the law of the land.

In my rural constituency there are many small towns and villages, and any change in the system or in the instructions can have tremendous effects there. A constituent wrote to me saying: Certain letters were posted to me…on Friday 20th with 4d. stamps affixed. They were not delivered with the Saturday morning post (and there is no second post anyway on Saturday) and I decided to collect them from the post office before it closed for the weekend. That is a normal practice. He said: I was astounded to find that it is not permitted to passover any mail which has not qualified for the transit time paid for. This means that a fourpenny stamped letter must remain in transit (or stay where it is) and remain undelivered for at least 48 hours whatever the circumstances. I understood that mail would not be withheld but this is a direct contravention if such is the case. This is a complete contravention of everything the right hon. Gentleman said, particularly in his television interview, when he said that the 4d. mail would not be unnecessarily held up. In the past this man has been able to go to his local post office and obtain letters which arrived too late for the postman to deliver. He could not receive them, as the local postmaster now has definite instructions that those; letters must not be handed over and they must remain in transit for that period.

Further evidence has been obtained from rural postmen. They often have a very large area to cover. I have been told by these rural postmen that they have been given definite instructions that on their first delivery they must not take any 4d. mail, even though there is room in the van and it would not make the sack heavier. Often the postman has to go out on the second occasion delivering letters which he could have delivered on his first round.

I received a letter from Plymouth, which said: on Friday 27th September I received two letters (4d. mail) both of which were posted in Penzance and franked 24th September. One of those was additionally franked, Liverpool 12.15 a.m., 26th September. Both arrived at the same address by second post. The Post Office must have thrown away its maps if now the 4d. post goes from Penzance to Plymouth via Liverpool.

I received a letter from someone in Rustington, Sussex, saying: I have just learned from the late delivery postman here that the man on the adjoining 'walk', which covers the local Ministry of Social Security, was fresh on the job today. He had a 'mountain' of post for the Social Security office and noticed some fourpennies among them. He was told to sort through the 400 or 500 letters he had and take out and deliver the fivepennies and leave the four-pennies 'til a later round. How farcical! He could have delivered the lot at the first call and let the Ministry get on with what were probably sickness claims. Instead of which he had to waste time unnecessarily sorting this load and delaying the delivery, which obviously will delay the claims for sick pay". I suppose the Postmaster-General would say that this matter had to be dealt with in this way if we are to ensure that the 5d. post is dealt with expeditiously. I cannot see why the mail should have to be sorted in that way because in the time taken to sort it the postman could have delivered that post.

Greetings cards are a great problem. I shall take my right hon. Friend's advice and post my Christmas cards tomorrow to make certain that they arrive in time. Children's birthdays are now a nightmare. What is a parent to do when he wants to send his child a birthday card?

Mr. Dobson

Put a 5d. stamp on.

Mr. Mawby

If that is so, why was not the Postmaster-General completely honest about this service? Why did he not say, "We want your money. We want to ensure that you all pay, not an additional 1d. for your cards, but an additional 2d., unless you want to make certain that they do not arrive on the right day"? This might be justified if the 5d. post was now more reliable than it was, but it is not. The percentage of first-class mail delivered on the day following posting is very little different from the percentage of the old 4d. post so delivered.

This is a confidence trick. It is a way of trying to convince the public that an increase of 25 per cent. in one status and of 33⅓ per cent. in another status is not an increase in price but is giving a better service.

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman is normally very fair in his assessments. Does he agree that birthday cards have always been a nightmare for parents who have been waiting for a birthday card to be delivered to their child when it has been inexplicably delayed? Birthday cards carrying a 3d. stamp and unsealed often arrived a day late. This was difficult to understand because, even though they were posted almost next door to the point of delivery, they would arrive late. That system broke down from time to time. The hon. Gentleman knows that a card can get caught in the machine, or in a postbag, or be delayed in some way which does not justify condemnation of Post Office officials.

Mr. Mawby

I was not seeking to exaggerate or to prove that under the old system all birthday cards were delivered on time but that very few are now delivered on time. There were mistakes in the past, but I did not have the type of complaints in the past that I am getting at the moment.

Despite all the money which was spent to tell us what a friendly postman we have, this system is giving the public the wrong impression of post office staff. It would have been much more honest to have given the basic reasons for increasing the charges and not to try to get away with this jiggery-pokery. The one nightmare I have under the new system is that the Postmaster-General may tender his resignation and the letter will never reach No. 10.

8.32 p.m.

Mr. Dennis Hobden (Brighton, Kemptown)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby), because I was still a serving member of the Post Office when he was Assistant Postmaster-General. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman insisted that he was not attacking Post Office staff, although as a rule people who say that immediately go on to criticise the service and, indirectly, to criticise Post Office staff, because in the end it comes back to the man who faces the letters on the sorting office floor, to the man who sorts the letters, and to the man who delivers them. This is an implied criticism of Post Office staff.

Mr. Mawby

Not so.

Mr. Hobden

It is no good the hon. Gentleman denying it. This is another example of the field days we have here when the Opposition choose the nationalised industries as their political punch-bag and have another go at one of them.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

Is my hon. Friend really describing the sparsely-filled benches as "a field day"?

Mr. Hobden

I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend has drawn that to my attention. I intended to say later that we are subjected to this synthetic indignation about the new two-tier system, but there are few hon. Members on the benches opposite to make these protests. This is typical of the Opposition. They have these periodic field days—whether they are well attended is neither here nor there—as a means of attacking the nationalised industries.

When the hon. Member for Totnes says that there were no general complaints under the old system, what he really means is that when he and his right hon. and hon. Friends were in office there was no tendency to initiate debates about the nationalised industries and they were kept out of the way. Only when in opposition do right hon. and hon. Members opposite bring out all their synthetic indignation against the Post Office.

As I say, all this argument and complaint comes down in the end to the Post Office staff. As one who was employed in the Post Office all his working life until coming here in 1964, I must tell the House that Post Office staffs throughout the country sometimes get a bit fed up at being in the middle of the political crossfire of these debates. I thought it uncharacteristic of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley)—I say that quite sincerely—to speak as he did about restrictive practices in the Post Office.

Dr. Winstanley

The hon. Gentleman must be fair. I enumerated a number of restrictive practices because I was pressed to do so by one of his hon. Friends. I said that I could have enumerated just as many managerial defects in the Post Office as well.

Mr. Hobden

I propose to be fair. I have been a member of the Union of Post Office Workers since I left school. It is a fine union, with one of the best sets of forward-looking officers that one could find in any British trade union. If the hon. Member for Cheadle had gone to the union, and asked for information, he would have found that there were not these restrictive practices and that his criticisms were not valid. The truth is that a good many hon. Members opposite would not know a restrictive practice if they saw one. There are in the Post Office, probably, fewer restrictive practices—I cannot think of any—than in any other branch of trade and industry in this country.

The hon. Member for Totnes went on about the standard of service now, saying that it was even worse than he thought it was and nothing like the previous system. He accused the Government of deliberately holding up the cheaper rate mail, although my right hon. Friend had told him that this principle is implied in the two-tier system and it was basic to the Report from the Prices and Incomes Board. Although the hon. Gentleman was Assistant Postmaster-General, he could not have known much about the Post Office. The cheap matter has always been delayed. There is no change on that score. If he had worked in the Post Office, the hon. Gentleman would have known that.

I applaud the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Cheadle that there should be an "open week". I had it in mind to suggest much the same. I am thinking not so much of the general public—they could come later—but I am sure that this would be a good time, during the next few weeks, for hon. Members to see the working of our post offices. Do not wait till the Christmas rush. So many Members of Parliament seem to think of the Post Office only at Christmas.

I suggest that they should go in the near future to see all the operations which Post Office workers have to perform. They would see the work coming in from the collector's vans and going on to the facing table. It is all very well to sneer and say that there are only six facing machines in the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson), put the blame where it really lies, that is, on the previous Conservative Government for their failure to invest, a failure to invest not only in our postal services but in the telephone service as well, which hon. Members have the cheek to criticise for its alleged inefficiencies.

I was relieved to hear the hon. Member for Totnes say that Post Office staffs are highly thought of. That was not the impression which they had in 1963, when he was Assistant Postmaster-General, and the then Postmaster-General, the former Member for Liverpool, Toxeth, Mr. Reginald Bevins, refused a justified wage increase to postal staffs and brought about the first strike which the Post Office had ever known.

Mr. Mawby

Would the hon Gentleman tell the House the climax of that occasion, when there was an inquiry, as a result of which there was an increase?

Mr. Hobden

There was an increase, after the Post Office staffs were forced into the first strike in their history.

The hon. Gentleman raised two other issues. He said that one cannot pick up mail at the Post Office now as one used to be able to do. But one can do so. I advise him to write to my right hon. Friend and ensure that the person who wrote to him is enabled to do that

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about a letter going from Penzance to Plymouth via Liverpool. What has that to do with the two-tier system? As an ex-Assistant Postmaster-General, the hon. Gentleman should know that Post Office staffs are as human as anybody else. That was obviously a mis-sort; the letter was mis-sorted to Liverpool. Such complaints cannot be dealt with here. They should go through the normal procedure to my right hon. Friend or the local head postmaster. Sometimes there are very good reasons why such things happen.

Mr. Dunn

There was mention of a letter going from Penzance to Plymouth via Liverpool, but I recall that the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) said that it arrived the same day, so the postal services at Liverpool are excellent. They send letters over double the journey in less time.

Mr. Hobden

My hon. Friend should declare an interest there.

The debate shows that the Opposition have an odd sense of priorities. I have tried to defend the Post Office and its staffs against some of their weirder attacks from hon. Members opposite. Basically, there has been a failure of public relations which nobody could deny, least of all my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, who has been quite honest this evening in admitting certain mistakes as the administrative head of the Department. I am sure that he would also say that no blame attaches to the ordinary members of the Post Office staff. Probably all that has happened is that there have been some growing pains in the introduction of the new service, which have probably been solved. I believe that it has been shown that a higher percentage of letters is getting through more quickly than under the old system, and that the new two-tier system has more than justified its introduction.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemp-town (Mr. Hobden) is a union member, and therefore it is interesting to hear his views on the subject. It is a pity that he does not speak more often in Post Office debates, particularly if he is going to make remarks about attendance at our debates.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Opposition used the issue out of synthetic indignation and as a political punchbag, and the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) made the same allegation. They must know that it is utter nonsense. The Opposition have behaved with remarkable restraint on the matter. Our Front Bench spokesman on Post Office affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan), let a whole month go by before pronouncing on the subject. The matter has arisen entirely as a result of public disquiet and agitation. The Opposition have followed that public agitation; they have not created it.

Until this afternoon, most people had a good deal of sympathy for the Postmaster-General, because they realised that he had not created the present mess. But this evening he has gone a long way towards forfeiting that sympathy in three ways. The first is the appalling complacency which he showed. He read out a long list to show how cheap and how good the postal service still was. That is quite true, but he should realise that not even the present Government could wreck the postal service in four years. Therefore, to say that it is still cheaper than any other is not very much when its charges have risen by 40 per cent. since his party came to power.

The right hon. Gentleman has forfeited our sympathy in a second way in that he has not made a prepared speech at the beginning of the debate but has waited until the end to make a serious speech. He should have answered the criticisms at the beginning of the debate, and then perhaps one of his predecessors—the Minister of Technology or the Minister of Power—could have wound up. That would have been a far better and fairer way of organising the debate.

The third way in which the right hon. Gentleman has forfeited our sympathy is that he has made virtually no attempt to meet the two charges made against him, the charge of deception and the charge or incompetence over the introduction of the new system. It is true that he repudiated the worst advertisement, but it is not sufficient just to say that the advertisements were inadequate. In the summer I asked him about some of the other advertising and said that I hoped that in future it would be better. So he had every reason to be wary about the advertising that was going out. He has now repudiated the advertising firm, though as far as we know, it was not to blame at all. It is hardly a very noble action to shuffle off responsibility on to the wrong shoulders.

Mr. Stonehouse

The hon. Gentleman would, no doubt, like to know that some of the advertisements that the advertising agents put forward in their original plan were deplorable and rightly rejected by my advisers.

Mr. Gilmour

That does not meet the point whether the advertising agents advised the right hon. Gentleman and the Post Office generally to come clean at the inception of the scheme. If the Postmaster-General wishes to deny that, that would be a rather more significant intervention than he has just made. Also, it is not just the deception about the advertisements. There has also been deception about the service itself since it began.

On the advertising point, it is a little odd that the Labour Party, so we read, has set up a working party to inquire into advertising that is put out by private industry. Apparently it intends to set up a watch-dog over private industry advertising. It is hardly in a position to do that when the advertising that a Government Department puts out is far worse than anything any private firm has put out for years.

The second charge made against the right hon. Gentleman—he has utterly failed to answer it—is about the ill-preparation and the incompetence with which the scheme was organised. It was meant to spread the load, but we learn that the amount of overtime worked increased after the two-tier system came in, instead of going down.

I have already talked about the price going up. The right hon. Gentleman says that this shows his and the Government's courage in meeting their obligations. All that has happened is that the Government have contracted out of their prices and incomes policy while imposing it on industry.

The right hon. Gentleman told us proudly that a very high percentage of people now use the 5d. service. That is not a matter for pride. It is simply and solely the result of the 4d. service being so unreliable that people feel compelled to use the 5d. service. The same result could have been achieved by burning or throwing away all the 4d. mail.

It is significant that it was not until 22nd October, five weeks after the introduction of the two-tier system, that the right hon. Gentleman issued firm instructions to postmen to collect 4d. and 5d. letters from pillar boxes at the same time. Some would say that in delaying for that time the Postmaster-General had been a little lazy or negligent. I do not make that charge. The right hon. Gentleman has said what a great success the new system is. But only if the 4d. post could be delayed could people be persuaded to use the 5d. post.

While this was happening, we were treated to more deliberate deception by the Post Office. We were told that letters were not being delayed but merely being deferred, or that they were not being deferred but merely delayed—I forget which. However, it does not seem to make much difference. Then we were told that when they were deferred, it was not bad treatment of the 4d. post, but good treatment of the 5d. post. That was equally 1984 Newspeak.

So far, the whole system has had a deleterious effect upon business efficiency, because it results in far smaller proportions of post arriving in the morning. Most businesses are geared to deal with post in the mornings, so that it is got out of the way. With respect to the Postmaster-General, I have considerable scepticism about some of his figures, but, on his own admission, the proportion of letters delivered in London by the first post has come down from 75 per cent. to 55 per cent. and, in most people's experience, a good deal more than that. Obviously the failure to deliver in the early morning has a disruptive and slowing-down effect on British business. It is deplorable that the right hon. Gentleman did not deal with this point in the early part of his speech.

The scheme has been a deception not only in its advertising, but in the way in which it has been defended and explained since coming into operation. It has been characterised by monumental ineptitude wholly typical of this Government's conduct of affairs.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. William Price (Rugby)

I hope that I will be forgiven for not following the points made by the last four hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from the benches opposite. My reason is the best possible. I have yet to hear anything worth following. We have had the usual mixture of prejudice and misrepresentation from those warriors. It has been the sort of prejudice and misrepresentation that we hear whenever the public services are debated. The attitude of the Tories to people in the nationalised industries and the Civil Service has always fascinated me. They have not a good word to say for them between General Elections, but they will be back, just as they have been in the past, grovelling for their votes when the time comes.

There are those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for whom the Post Office could in no circumstances do right. If my right hon. Friend promised that their letters would be delivered the day before they were written, they would still complain. It is in their nature. That is how they operate. It is the basis of their philosophy, and due regard should be paid to that.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

The only surprise is that the Postmaster-General has not promised us that. It would be in no way out of character.

Mr. Price

I doubt very much whether anyone writes to the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), but, assuming that he receives one or two letters, it is to be hoped that they will arrive on the day before they are written.

What is the cardinal sin that the Post Office has committed? As I understand, rightly or wrongly, it has followed the principles of private enterprise, which have always dictated that one pays a higher price for a superior product. If hon. Members opposite are saying that there should be one product at one price fixed by the Government and strictly controlled at the lowest level, I would welcome the proposal with open arms. If that is the basis of their argument, I will join them in the Lobby tonight.

However, they have no intention of extending their deep moral arguments beyond the public services. When faced with private enterprise, they become transformed. Their interest in their constituents is overtaken by an overriding interest for their shareholders.

I want now to deal with the allegation made in some quarters that the Post Office has deliberately misled the public. The National Board for Prices and Incomes made the position perfectly clear on page 82 of its Report: …it has been estimated that all local traffic (which represents 30 per cent. of the total) will be sent second-class because it is the Post Office's intention normally to deliver local mail the day after posting. It will, however, retain the right to defer such traffic where necessary… A subsequent paragraph said: Under the new proposals the average volume of first-class mail to be cleared at the evening peak may be reduced by half. The balance of mail will merely be faced and stamped and then placed on one side for subsequent sorting. Whether the new system is justified, the position was made perfectly clear as long ago as March of this year and at least the Postmaster-General can plead not guilty to charges of deceit by himself or his predecessors.

It is not my argument that the system is working perfectly. If, by perfection, we mean that every single item is delivered at exactly the time expected, we have never had perfection and never will. The very size of the task—there has been mention of 55 million items a day—the nature of the work, the difficulties of finding and keeping trained staff, the comparatively low wages, all help to create serious problems for the Post Office. But it is my case that the Post Office, as the Postmaster-General rightly said, is one of the cheapest and most efficient in the world, that the two-tier system has been subjected to a great deal of unfair abuse, much of it politically motivated, and that a great deal of the shouting has come from industry.

I recently received a complaint from a firm in my constituency which is bitterly opposed to the 5d. mail. It had received a letter which had been delayed for 24 hours, a very serious matter. It is significant that shortly after the beginning of the year I wrote to this firm on a minor straightforward matter, and it took it three and a half weeks to reply. Hon. Members may take it from me that that matter was brought to its attention in no certain terms.

The Financial Times quoted a firm saying that the new service is worse than second rate, a complete shambles, as frustrating as a dock strike". A journalist may have thought that up. As, even in the early stages, 94 per cent. of the first-class mail was getting through on time, one might be forgiven for suggesting that that was a rather harsh judgment.

I come to the next matter touched on by the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Sir Ian Gilmour) who, like his hon. Friends, is no longer with us. The same article quoted a London Chamber of Commerce spokesman, who came out with this gem: Frankly, most companies are not geared to dealing with incoming mail after lunch. What are they geared up to do? What do they do after lunch? Yet these are the people who expect the Post Office to sort and deliver 35 million items after tea. I hope that the House will forgive me for smiling at the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber). I would be delighted to know what these people do after lunch.

As was to be expected, The Times, as is its wont, got on its hind legs in an editorial and said: Under this system the Post Office is making its special contribution to depressing the standards of British business efficiency. That takes some beating for high-minded drivel. Is business efficient when, apparently, it cannot answer a letter after lunch? If The Times could induce its business friends to answer their letters one-fifth as fast as the Post Office delivers them, the country would not be in the mess it is in.

I could produce many such quotations, most of them outrageous, some as comical as we have heard from the benches opposite, and most of them deliberately designed to create the worst possible image of the Post Office. The National Board for Prices and Incomes was right when it pointed out that many people have strong views on Post Office services and that individual stories about posts or telephones—usually about their alleged shortcomings—are as common as Londoners' bomb stories in war time.

Instead, I rely on an interesting article in the Sunday Times of 20th October, headed: The 5d. Mail: sabotage by franking machine, postmen claim. It began with this interesting paragraph: Post Office workers, bitter about the way they have been blamed by the public for delays in the new two-tier letter service, yesterday accused some firms of sabotage by deliberately putting old dates on letters going through franking machines. On top of this are firms which are habitually careless about changing the dates on machines. The result, say the postmen, is to give a false picture of the 5d. post's effect.… In one case. investigated by the G.P.O., a customer handed in to a sorting office 2,000 letters which were franked with a date four days earlier. The final quotation is most interesting, and I am prepared to have as many copies run off as maybe if hon. Gentlemen opposite will only ask The Post Office says its investigators have also checked a number of cases not involving franking machines and found that office management lapses are often to blame. A boss dictates his letters and does not get round to signing them for a day or two, or secretaries forget to post them. On arrival, the envelope is destroyed and the date on the letter is the only evidence. I ask the Postmaster-General what study is being made into these alleged practices and what action can be taken against firms which, either through incompetence or malice, are doing the Post Office a great deal of harm?

I should also like to ask my right hon. Friend about incorrect addressing of letters and parcels. Anyone who has been round a post office at Christmas time, as most of us have, knows the extent of the problem. I understand that in Rugby hundreds of letters every week have to be scrapped—no doubt many bearing a 5d. stamp—because it is impossible to decipher the address. How many letters nationally are torn up every week and who gets the blame? The good old postman!

There must be thousands of people who are criticising the Post Office this week for letters which never arrive and over which it has no control. I wonder how many of the less reputable firms and individuals will be blaming the Post Office for losing letters that were never written! I am told that this is one of the oldest tricks amongst some of our business colleagues. I am not saying colleagues in this House, but I know of firms which have done this and I can produce the evidence to anyone who wants it.

I recently had a classic example of a mail order firm—a paragon of virtue! One of my constituents sent money and did not get the product. So I wrote and asked why. The firm assured me that it had written three times to my constituent, a lady, and that each time the Post Office had lost the letter. That was interesting enough. Even more fascinating was that it said that on three occasions it had also sent the product, and that British Railways had lost it on each occasion. I hope that I may be forgiven for telling the House that I wrote and called the firm a barefaced liar—and I never got a reply.

I wonder, too—and I would be interested to know whether the Postmaster-General has any evidence—how many firms will this week mix up franked 4d. letters with the 5d. post. I understand that the Post Office frequently discovers first-class letters in second-class bundles.

I do not say that all is well. We know that the Post Office is facing severe problems, but what I find grossly unfair about the attitude of the Opposition is their refusal to acknowledge the real difficulties in maintaining the service and building upon it.

What is the alternative to a 5d. and 4d. two-tier system? There can be only one answer, and hon. Gentlemen opposite know it. It can only be 5d. for everybody. If the Postmaster-General had adopted that approach, there would have been far less criticism than that to which he has been subjected. Here was a genuine attempt to rationalise the system, and at the same time to keep prices within reason. We know what a neurotic reception it got, particularly from the newspapers, yet these are the people—I worked for them for a time—who happily put up prices by 25 per cent. every so often without batting an eyelid. These are the people, aided by their friends on the benches opposite, who have caused most of the trouble.

My major criticism of the Post Office lies in the way that it has handled its public relations. This has been mentioned by other hon. Members, and, I think, quite rightly. It is said—and I accept this as a valid criticism—that the Post Office tried to con the public into thinking that they were getting something for nothing. But why the bitter attack on the Post Office alone? The whole basis of advertising is that one cons people into buying something that they do not want. That is what advertising is all about. The only difference between those firms which have their representatives on the benches opposite, and the Post Office, is that the Post Office got caught.

I could go on for a long time, but I conclude by saying that the Postmaster-General will soon be on his way to greener pastures. He has a major task on his hands. We look forward to improvements in the system. We expect to see the two-tier system operating efficiently, and we hope that industry will follow the lead; but we shall not expect a kind word from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, for that would be alien to the narrow political doctrine which dominates their attitude to the Post Office, just as it dominates their attitude to all the other nationalised industries.

I would not exchange all the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite for my village postwoman. They are nothing more, and nothing less, than a bunch of 5d. "phoneys", and they ought to be treated as such.

9.8 p.m.

Mr. Tom Boardman (Leicester, South-west)

I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) with his irrelevancies. I have been shocked by the complacency and evasiveness of the Postmaster-General. By his complacency he has shown unmistakably his attitude that the man in Whitehall knows best. The right hon. Gentleman does not understand what makes business tick. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not realise that this delay in the post means that transactions, requests for quotations, orders, and so on, which used to be completed in five days, now take 14, thus slowing down the whole tempo of business.

This delay in the mails results in the building up of stocks, and is highly inflationary because of the amount of credit which results from people taking longer to pay their accounts. It may be said that they should use the 5d. post, pay 25 per cent. more. As the Postmaster-General knows, from many of the letters which I have sent to him, the results are extremely unsatisfactory. I remind him that in one instance 26 letters out of 50 that arrived at one firm—they were all 5d. letters—took 48 hours or more to arrive.

What is the amount of additional overtime being worked by postal staff? Is it correct that counter and writing staff in many post offices have been, and are, spending Sundays to catch up with arrears of work? Secondly, is it correct that instructions have been given to omit time stamps from letters which previously were franked with time stamps when they were posted? Is it also correct that many letters do not bear the franking stamp of the post office until long after they have been posted, they are held up unfranked?

Is it correct that now only about 25 per cent. of the letters posted on one day are delivered the next day? The Postmaster-General has said that about 30 per cent. of the post goes as first-class mail today, of which 94 per cent. is delivered the next day. On my arithmetic that means that about 25 per cent. of all the post is delivered in 24 hours and the remaining 75 per cent. much later, after at least 48 hours after posting.

What has angered people above all is the deceptive way in which the Postmaster-General has tried to kid us by his advertisement, saying that we are all better off. To our queries we have been given quotations of postal rates in other countries. but we are told how we are better off under the new system as compared with the old. The hallmark of the Government is that their postal system is more costly and more inefficient—and its introduction has been more dishonestly presented—than we normally expect even from them.

9.11 p.m.

Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)

This has been a notable debate, first, because the Postmaster-General has made not one but two appearances at the Dispatch Box. He did no: come as a volunteer; nor did we expect him to do so. But we did expect him to come slightly more as a penitent than he has. He was so satisfied about the way in which things were going that we began to wonder whether he yet realises the gravity of what has been going on in the last seven weeks in our postal services.

Not long ago he told us that this was the biggest change in the Post Office for 100 years. Does he know that it has also been the biggest mess for 100 years? He told us, when chaos was at its highest, that he was delighted. He told us, when he and we were swamped with letters, that it was going better than he expected, and this very evening he has told us that the whole thing is a great success. During the debate we have had ample evidence—to put it moderately—that the first seven weeks of the two-tier system have gone very badly. The public confirm this; Members of Parliament confirm it, and so does every member of the Post Office staff that I have met.

I want the House to consider why the system has gone badly, and to what degree we can account the Postmaster-General and his predecessors as responsible—owing to their lack of foresight and lack of preparation—for the breakdown that we have had to suffer. No one has emphasised the fact that the root cause of all these troubles—the thing that made them absolutely inevitable—was the decision to combine the introduction of the two-tier system with a rise in charges. Once that decision was taken, a calamity was bound to occur. I cannot think why this was not foreseen. The Post Office Users' Council warned the Government about this. Dr. Kamm, its Chairman, said: We warned them, most emphatically, that it should not be put into operation at the same time as a price increase". The Minister may say that Dr. Kamm is hardly an expert or a professional in these matters. But we also have the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries foreseeing this trouble. We therefore have a right to ask why the Government courted it.

There is only one answer, despite the fine words of the Postmaster-General. This was done to camouflage the price rise that was going to come into effect with the introduction of the two-tier system. It happened because they were frightened of the odium of a price rise, not because they acted with courage. If they had faced the mistake, they would not have been so unhappy now. If they had put prices up—if that was what they had to do—and three months later had brought in this two-tier system, it would have been acceptable, understandable and almost welcome, had it been better done. Better still, however, it would have been honest and creditable. People would have believed that it was possible to get a cheaper service if it was shown that it would be a worse service.

But this is exactly the opposite of the sort of "sell" they got. I challenge the Postmaster-General to tell us that, if he had to live the last eight weeks again, he would still introduce the two-tier system simultaneously with the rise in prices. If he does, he is going against the advice of Mr. Wolstencroft, the managing director of "Today", whose evidence I have here. It is unbelievable that anyone even slightly informed on this would have acted in such a way.

Then, having courted the trouble, there was the superimposition upon this of a good will campaign. Added to the top of this confusion there was that mass of advertising which took us from calamity to farce—these incongruous "You lucky people" type of advertisements coinciding exactly with the height of the chaos. The chaos of the first week was inevitable and was the straight result of this slick and futile combination of the price rise and the two-tier system.

In the first week, what was bound to happen was that all the direct mail advertising firms would take advantage of the last few days of the old system to swamp the market with cheaper letters, and that is what happened. Also, September is always a busy month for the second-tier type of postage. Added to this is the fact that the bigger weights in the new charges meant that some other things came in cheaper; so, on the following Monday, a fresh flood came in on top.

But added to this was the most important thing of all, the new and complete segregation of the second post, which had never happened before, whatever has been said. This turned the second-class stream into an uncontrolled deluge in those first days. The sum of all these factors made a result entirely predictable. Nothing else could have happened. Therefore, in spite of the advertisements which talked about two reliable systems, they could have been better employed several weeks ahead preparing advertisements saying, "We are sorry, the services are bound to be bad for the next month". This would have been a good deal more believable. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to deal with this at some length and say, with his hand on his heart, that he believes this to have been right, even now.

My next complaint is that, the trouble having started and having disrupted business completely and social life a good deal as well, nothing was done about it for so long. In other words, why was the reaction at such a snail's pace? In an Answer to a Question of mine, the right hon. Gentleman told me that, whereas, in the past, 75 per cent. of all London mail was delivered by first post, the present figure was 55 per cent. Surely, with his knowledge of business he must know what this means—whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite say—for the slowing-down of the flow of industry. If we go on like this, the Post Office will vie with the situation on our roads as the greatest invisible restriction on commerce.

First, would he tell me whether it is still a fact that the total of all letters delivered by first London post is now still only 55 per cent., compared with the previous figure of 75 per cent.? I should like to ask why this is so, because that has not been made clear so far in the debate.

The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) put a Question to the Postmaster-General in which he asked whether he would "state the changes in organisation, mechanisation and personnel caused in his Department by the two-tier postage system".

The reply was: The main change has been the increase in the amount of mail which can be deferred so as to reduce our peak working problems. This is a matter of degree; there is no fundamental change in the system of operation, the machinery used or the conditions of employment of the staff."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th October, 1968; Vol. 770, c. 161.] That is quite untrue. There is an enormous and a fundamental change. In the first two weeks of the new two-tier system, the break in the total was working up to 30 per cent. first-class mail and 70 per cent. second-class mail, but it was completely segregated at that moment, whatever changes have been made since. The first-class mail was only 30 per cent. Before the two-tier system, 60 per cent. went by first-class mail but, so flexible was the old system, 60 per cent. of the second-class mail in those days had first-class treatment.

If any hon. Member wishes to check that, he will find the information in the Report of the Select Committee. About 80 per cent. of the total was going through the first-class mail service. The second-class mail did not have a guarantee or an assurance of that treatment but, because of the flexibility of the system, that was the result. Although the Postmaster-General tells us that the new system will introduce more flexibility, in fact it introduces exactly the opposite.

We have been promised that under the new system the second-tier mail will go through a day later than the first-tier mail, but in many places it is going through not one day later but one day and one post later. Instead of going through on the first post in the morning, it is being left to a huge second post. Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of man to put that right.

Bearing in mind the Postmaster-General's statement that there has been no fundamental change, may I ask whether he has visited a few post offices and seen the physical changes which they have had to make in the set-up of their offices to cope with the differences in proportion in each of the mails. The system is totally different in every respect—fundamentally different.

In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Kenneth Baker), the Postmaster-General wrote, I should also explain that for many years we have deferred postcards and 3d. printed papers whenever this has been necessary to ensure the prompt handling of letters sent at the fully paid rate. This was exactly true of the old system. They dealt with the second-tier system as long as they could and until it interfered with the reliability of the first-tier mail. In many post offices the mail was not segregated at all until 4 p.m. and then they started segregating to safeguard the first-tier system. That flexibility has been lost, and that is why we have a far smaller proportion of the mail in the first-class post.

If any hon. Member still doubts that that is true, I suggest that he should read the directive which the Postmaster-General sent out on 25th October to post offices stating that locally posted second-class mail could be included in the first-class delivery on the following day. That proves exactly what has occurred. But it took six weeks for him to react to the situation and to realise that the first post was only a fraction of what could be handled effectively. This was done at long last, and it was the right thing to do but of course it put paid to all the statements by the Postmaster-General, about which we have heard so often today, that it was deferred only when necessary to enable the prompt handling of the first-class post to take place. This infuriates the public. [Interruption.] The public are being proved right and the Postmaster-General wrong. This is happening time and again.

The right hon. Gentleman has done himself great harm. While he kept on saying that certain things were happening, the public knew that they were not. People know their local postman. He is part of the community, not some strange official who comes into their midst. The postman said, "We are keeping letters back in a way we never did before." People believe their local postman. When they complained, the same old record was played about there being no unnecessary delay. They could not believe the right hon. Gentleman because what he was saying was untrue in relation to what they could see happening all around them.

Then we came to the next stage, when the right hon. Gentleman said, "This does not happen and there is no delay—of course, mistakes will occur sometimes in a big organisation—unless the staff disobey orders." The staff, of course, were carrying out the system that the right hon. Gentleman had set up—an entirely rigid system which involved delay. They obeyed the right hon. Gentleman, and that is why we got a ridiculous situation throughout the country. People were doing things they knew to be mad, but they were acting on his instructions. Then came the right hon. Gentleman's letter.

We are speaking of a system which might have been applicable to some big towns, but which was too rigid for most of the countryside. The accompanying publicity all along was utterly out of tune with what was occurring. One piece of publicity said: This new letter service will allow greater flexibility in handling the mail. Flexibility was the one thing that it lacked.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have complained about the use of the word "blackmail", but we must consider why such words have been used. People are finding that if they use the 4d. post, their letters arrive later every day; and the whole thing becomes less believable. So they move into the 5d. post, and nobody is surprised when the number of people using the dearer post gets larger daily.

I advise the right hon. Gentleman not to appear to get too much comfort from the figures which, in good faith, he puts to us because this is the biggest crisis of confidence the Post Office has had with the public. Rightly in my view, wrongly in his, people feel deceived. It is doubly important that the right hon. Gentleman should not over-use figures which are out of keeping with people's experience.

I put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman the other day and I did not believe the Answer he gave me, not because he is a dishonest man but because it could not be true. I asked him: …what percentage of mail dispatched by second-class letter service achieved the planned time of delivery in the weeks ended 21st September, 28th September, 5th October and 12th October, respectively…". The right hon. Gentleman replied: Our service observations are designed to give statistically reliable results for periods of a month; for the four week period in question 93 per cent. of second-class letters and 94 per cent. of first-class letters were delivered as planned".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1968; Vol. 770, c. 311.] Anybody who went to a post office in the first dreadful week of the new system knows that 30 per cent. were not delivered to plan. Things were slightly better in the second week and better still in the third. I showed the right hon. Gentleman's reply, in a puzzled state, to Post Office workers. They commented, "There must be some mistake". Obviously there is. It is simply untrue.

Such phrases as, "We have the best postal service in the world" should not be used. That might have been true a few weeks ago, but it has not been true for the last seven weeks. This makes people disbelieve everything that is said by the right hon. Gentleman and their only comment is, "God help the Ethiopians".

Whatever the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the latest figures tell him, there is still a lot wrong. I received some figures today from the C.B.I., one set relating to Worcester. They absolutely reject the right hon. Gentleman's figures. Another lot from Manchester were utterly wrong. They showed that 50 per cent. of the first class mail, on a very big sample, were a day late and on the second class, another 50 per cent. more than a day late. Whatever else can be said, this is fantastically patchy.

Whatever the situation is now, clearly there are some bad patches. Rather than purr away over the doubtful general figures, I urge the Postmaster-General to get out into the country and see what is happening in the really bad areas. I do not want to make a nasty political point out of this, but for the good name of the Post Office, we have to get this business of the advertising firm right. Here we have a bad advertising campaign with the whole country against it, and halfway through it a company which has been advising the Post Office for 14 years was ostentatiously and abruptly sacked. That can only apparently point to one thing. We want it very carefully cleared up, for the sake of the good name of the Post Office.

We shall be debating the Post Office Corporation Bill. The parables of the London telephone directories and the two-tier system will certainly increase our wariness on the whole question of monopoly. These two events showed up two of the most serious faults of monopoly. One is the lack of sensitivity to public feeling, and the other the slowness of reactions. It should be realised that the out standing difference in a person's attitude to the two-tier system as opposed to the former system is that now he or she minds about the system. Who cared whether one's bills got there in time or whether an advertisement reached one in time? One did not even look to see how long it had taken.

Now each time one is taking a conscious decision and deciding whether a person is a 4d. or a 5d. friend. This is a very different thing. One minds very much if it takes five days instead of two. Therefore, these complaints from people need to be taken very seriously because people are very sincerely upset about it. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to recognise that fact in his attitude to the public and to Parliament. People are serious about this, and feel let down. It is because of that that a lot of intelligent people still believe that this system cannot possibly work.

I do not believe that. I believe that it can work if it is adjusted, and if we react to the sort of things about which I have been talking. In addressing people he must realise that. If he does not accept this, I advise him to get out into the country, spend a few hours with a lot of head postmasters and he will come back a much humbler man.

9.33 p.m.

Mr. Stonehouse

When I heard that the Opposition had chosen the whole of today's debate on the Gracious Speech to debate the Post Office I expected that firework right would be transferred from 5th November to 4th November. What we have had today has been a damp squib. The debate has petered out. The Opposition points are completely inadequate.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

On a point of order. When I came into the House two hours ago I heard the right hon. Gentleman making a speech. I did not hear him ask permission to make a speech now.

Mr. Speaker

I should have asked the right hon. Gentleman. He must ask permission of the House.

Mr. Stonehouse

I apologise. I did indicate at the close of my original speech—

Mr. Speaker

That is not the issue. The right hon. Gentleman speaks only with the leave of the House.

Mr. Stonehouse

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for inadvertently failing to ask permission of the House to speak again. May I please have the permission of the House to speak again?

The hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) has just referred to the Select Committee Report, but I believe that he failed to read that, because he will recall what the Committee said. It was that the proposal for a two-tier system was advisable because it was not based on the possibility of earning more revenue but on the more rational and attractive choice it would give to customers.

It went on to say, in paragraph 74: 75 per cent. of both business and residential users, interviewed as part of the survey of attitudes of postal users commissioned by the Post Office, approved in principle the 'two-tier' service. It said, in paragraph 75: Your Committee also believe that a 'two-tier' system would also introduce a welcome flexibility into the postal tariff structure. Furthermore, whereas the hon. Member said that he thought that a two-tier system could not be associated with tariff increases, the Select Committee said, in paragraph 76: Your Committee welcome the study the Post Office has made of the two-tier tariff structure for letters. They regret that the opportunity was not taken to incorporate the system into the 1966 Tariff Revision. The Government took note of this point and took the opportunity when a tariff increase was required to bring in the two-tier system.

Mr. Bryan

I quote the present Managing Director of Postal Services, in Appendix 27: The bulk of the opposition to a two-tier service came from those who felt it was equivalent to a choice of either paying more for the present level of service or receiving a slower service. (This would be so if a two-tier service were introduced without the lower tier being priced initially cheaper than the present letter mail, and this opposition could then be expected to swell.) This it has done.

Mr. Stonehouse

I was referring to the Report of the Select Committee, which heard a great deal of evidence. I quoted its considered view after the Committee had heard all the representations made to it.

We had an interesting contribution from the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley). He quite rightly asked why the instructions were changed during the six or seven weeks of the two-tier system. I explained before the two-tier system came into operation that we would have to keep its operation under continuous review. It was quite obvious that this dramatic change in the way in which the Post Office had done its business would have to be subject to review and we could not get the operation absolutely right at the beginning. That is why certain instructions have had to be changed as we went along.

The hon. Member also asked about an order for equipment related to requirements in 1970–71 onwards. The particular equipment to which he referred is for a machine which will work on new 5d. pieces. It is not determined what will be the value of stamps supplied for those new 5d. pieces; that decision has not yet been made. The hon. Member and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Hobden) suggested that we should have "open weeks". That is a very sensible idea. I shall have it considered by my advisers and see when we can implement the proposals.

We have had a very interesting debate about the effects of the two-tier system. I recognise from my mailbag of the last seven or eight weeks that there have been a considerable number of complaints about the operation of the system. There is no shadow of doubt about that. I should like to analyse why there have been so many complaints. In my opening speech this afternoon I acknowledged that the presentation by the Post Office of the new two-tier system was less than perfect. We made a mistake in a particular advertisement and I have fully acknowledged my personal responsibility for that. Something was done about this and done about it quickly, as the House well knows.

The second reason why there have been a number of complaints is that the Post Office scheduling of the first and second-class mails, particularly the second-class mails, was not perfect at the beginning of the scheme. I follow the very valid point which was made by the hon. Member for Cheadle, but I suggest that not only was this to be expected but that I acknowledged that this would be the position even before two-tier came into operation. It was impossible to say exactly what split there would be between the first and second-class mails and the instructions could not be perfectly right for a given split before it was known what the split was.

Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is now proving that this was a complete failure of rehearsal on his part with the staffs concerned in this operation?

Mr. Stonehouse

This was a very complicated operation. We have always acknowledged that it would not be possible to get the two-tier system right in terms of scheduling, particularly in terms of first and second-class mail, at the very beginning, but it was absolutely essential that we gave what we promised the customers they would have, namely, priority for first-class mail. That is the promise we gave at the outset. We have adjusted the schedules from time to time since 16th September, maintaining the priority of the first-class mails, but delivering, as I promised would be done, second-class mails as soon as possible after the priority had been given to first-class mails.

The third reason why there have been a certain number of complaints is that people have been scrutinising their mail more closely than they ever were before. With the large volume of mail that we have to deal with, it is only to be expected, even with a 1 per cent. failure rate, that the volume of complaints can be extremely large. As my hon. Friends the Members for Kemptown and Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) said, we are dealing with 35 million envelopes a day. A 1 per cent. failure rate would amount to 350,000 complaints a day, or 100 million complaints in a year. It is quite obvious that if there is a great deal of publicity about the way the Post Office is doing its business a large number of complaints which are justified can be stimulated as a result of that.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West) rose

Mr. Stonehouse

Is there another industry—

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Speaker

It is for the right hon. Gentleman to decide whether he gives way. Mr. Stonehouse.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is there another industry in Britain which can claim a mere 1 per cent. failure rate? Can it be claimed that new cars are 99 per cent. perfect, that newspapers are 99 per cent. accurate, that building projects are completed 99 per cent. fault free, that trains and aircraft arrive 99 per cent. on time? I mention these examples not to engage in the current knocking game of the Opposition, denigrating everything that we in Britain can achieve, but to get the situation that the Post Office is in into perspective. The 1 per cent. failure rate, which we acknowledge, is a very low percentage of failure indeed.

Another reason people complain is that some of their mail is arriving later than it did before because the poster is using second-class mail and is putting a lower priority on it than the addressee would like. The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) touched a little on this point. This complaint should be addressed to the poster and not to the Post Office.

The fourth reason for a large number of complaints—I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East for referring to this—is that a very large number of business firms are meter-posting their mail with mis-dates on it.

I have a number of examples here: for instance, 12,000 items between 10th and 20th October, from leading firms in the City, with a whole number of irregularities, mail sometimes being posted with the date on the envelope six or seven days before the actual date of posting. There are these irregularities, and the failure rate on the part of some of these business firms in posting their mail is far greater than the 1 per cent. failure rate for which the Post Office itself may be responsible.

I have here a whole bundle of irregularities committed by business firms which then complain because their mail appears to be delivered late. Last Friday, for example, in Central London, 2,700 items were handed in with Thursday's date, 31st October, on the envelopes. I could cite many other examples.

In the past, so as not to hold up this mail, the Post Office has sent it through on its way. When it arrived at the other end, the addressee, looking at the date put on the envelope by the meter poster, would blame the Post Office for the delay, whereas it was not the fault of the G.P.O. at all. I shall now have to consider what action we must take in dealing with these irregularities to which I have referred and the misleading dates which are put on a lot of mail by meter posters.

Mr. Barber rose

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The debate has proceeded quietly so far. It should end in the same way.

Mr. Barber

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be blaming the public for a lot of what has gone wrong. Will he answer this question? He is planning for 20 million letters a day to go by the 4d. post, most of which had 4d. on them before. Will these 20 million letters have a better or a worse service than before?

Mr. Stonehouse

Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman has not considered what the two-tier system was all about. I have recognised that two-tier was associated with a price increase. We do not pretend that the 4d. envelope is receiving the same service as it had before two-tier came in. What we say is that we shall give reliable next-day delivery to 5d. mail. But the 4d. mail will be subject to second-class treatment so that the 5d. mail may be given the priority for which the customer is willing to pay an extra Id. It is obvious that the 20 million envelopes of second-class mail which we receive every day will not have the same treatment as the first-class mail will receive.

Mr. John Page rose

Mr. Stonehouse

We should judge the performance of the Post Office not against the other industries to which I have referred which have a much higher failure rate than the Post Office; nor should we judge the Post Office against the performance of other postal administrations, although, as I showed earlier in the debate, other postal administrations charge more than the Post Office, give a worse service than the Post Office, but still make a loss, sometimes a huge loss, whereas we make a profit. The comparison of the operations and success of two-tier must be made against the objectives which the Post Office set out, the target which we established long before two-tier came into operation.

The first objective was to reduce the load for fully-paid mails from 60 per cent. of all mail to about 32 per cent. Second, to achieve a 95 per cent. delivery of first-class mails by day B, the day after posting. This is, in effect, a 100 per cent. target, as 5 per cent. of all mails cannot physically be delivered the next day. Third, to achieve a 90 per cent. delivery of second-class mails by day C, two days after posting. Fourth, to complete first deliveries in town by 9.30 a.m., and maintain two deliveries in towns.

Those were the essential objectives of the two-tier system. What has been our performance? First, despite the boycott campaign and "Make a ghost of the first-class post", we have now achieved the split in mails between first- and second-class that we planned for. Beginning in the first week at 25 per cent. first-class, the percentage in week six, the week ending 27th October, was 32 per cent. Therefore, we have achieved that objective.

Second, we have achieved a 94 per cent. delivery next day of first-class mails with a 5d. stamp within six or seven weeks of the beginning of two-tier, a really remarkable achievement. We have almost reached the target we set.

I do not ask the House to accept merely the Post Office report on this—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is very difficult for a right hon. Member to address the House against a background of sustained conversation.

Mr. Stonehouse

I do not ask the House to accept the Post Office figures, but to look at the Sunday Times of 21st October, which said: An independent check of the customers on the percentage of next day delivery of first-class mail came up with a 94 per cent. success rate. This is the same as the percentage given by the Postmaster General to the Commons on Thursday. The Economist, quoting the C.B.I. survey, said that the survey showed a first-class delivery by next day of 97 per cent. All the figures of these independent surveys confirm that the Post Office is nearly achieving, if not exceeding, its objective on first-class deliveries the next day.

Third, according to the Post Office survey, we have achieved a 93 per cent. second-class delivery by day C, which is two days after posting. The Sunday Times said: Our check of 4d. mail showed a 95 per cent. rate for delivery within 48 hours, higher than the 93 per cent. given by the P.M.G. on Thursday. The Economist/C.B.I. Report showed 94 per cent.

Fourth, we are maintaining delivery by the time of 9.30 that we said, and we are maintaining two deliveries a day.

The essential point is what our main customers, the general rank and file customers, think of our service [Laughter.] I have already acknowledged that because of the large volume of mail with which we deal a very low percentage rate can give rise to a large volume of complaints. But what are our customers saying about the Post Office? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Gentlemen had read the Sunday Times of 21st October they would have seen that five companies were quoted. It said: The biggest customers of the Post Office are happy. Ford, for example, who post nearly 3 million envelopes a week, have had very few complaints about delays.

An Hon. Member

Read the News of the World.

Mr. Stonehouse

The report continues: Barclays Bank say that they have had only isolated complaints. Carreras think the service is improving. Shell and B.P., who send all their mail by first-class service, think it is operating reasonably well, and I.C.I. have no grumbles. That is an illustration of what some leading companies are saying about two-tier.

Even the smaller companies, when they are asked for objective reports, are giving two-tier a good report. Take the Harrow Observer of 18th October. It said: Local firms and offices are reporting little or no delays caused by the new two-tier postal system.

Mr. John Page rose—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. John Page. A point of order.

Mr. Page

Mr. Speaker, I was unable to hear what the Postmaster-General said about the Harrow Observer. I wonder whether he could repeat it.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman was not helping himself to hear.

Mr. Stonehouse

Before the two-tier system came in I said that I would keep the operation under continuous review—

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Postmaster-General's speech just now was inaudible in this part of the House. I should be grateful if he could repeat the last part.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is a truism to say that if the House is quiet it has a better chance to hear.

Mr. Stonehouse

The Harrow Observer. on 18th October, said: Local firms and offices are reporting little or no delays caused by the new two-tier postal system.

Mr. John Page rose

Mr. Stonehouse

Before the two-tier system came in I said that I would keep the operation under continuous review. I also said that I would take action to prevent restrictive practices creeping into the way we do our business. I report now to the House on what I have done in these weeks.

At the beginning we gave full priority to first-class mail. The locally posted second-class mail was not then included in first deliveries for next day. I have now given instructions that first deliveries can be filled up with second-class mail when this can be done without prejudice to first-class mail or the time of completion. I am very glad to say that I have had the full co-operation of the union in working out this change.

On the second point, following discussions with the union, which have been completed only today, I am glad to be able to tell the House that commencing next week second-class matter will be included in first deliveries in London sub-districts provided that deliveries are not so loaded with second-class matter that the scheduled finishing times would be jeopardised and the priority of first-class mails affected. This does away with a 20-years-old rule that could have embarrassed the operation of the two-tier system.

From the new year I shall be introducing a new colour for the 4d. stamp.

[HON. MEMBERS: "What colour?"] I am sure that the House will be glad to know that the colour will be red.

I was very impressed with the points on the Gracious Speech made last week by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder), who asked about the delivery of second-class mails to and from Ulster. I am sure that he will be glad to know that, although these mails have been subject to delay because of the sea journey, I have decided now that some second-class mails will be included on air routes. Although this will cost an extra £70,000 a year, I think that it is worth doing because it will give the customers in Northern Ireland the sort of service—that is, 90 per cent. delivery by day C—that they should have.

I am asking one of the postal regional directors to conduct a full survey into the operation of the two-tier system and to report in six months' time, and I will arrange for the report to be made public in view of the public interest in it.

We have heard, in the terms of the Amendment, that the two-tier system has caused chaos, muddle and confusion. There has been ample demonstration that there was no chaos, no muddle and no confusion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I ask the Opposition, if they want not to make the Post Office a political football, to take the opportunity now of withdrawing their ill-conceived Amendment.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 242, Noes 302.

Division No. 2.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Bossom, Sir Clive Clegg, Walter
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Cooke, Robert
Astor, John Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Cooper-Key, Sir Neill
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Brewis, John Cordle, John
Awdry, Daniel Brinton, Sir Tatton Corfield, F. V.
Baker, Kenneth (Aoton) Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Costain, A. P.
Bainiel, Lord Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Bruce-Gardyne, J. Crouch, David
Batsford, Brian Bryan, Paul Crowder, F. P.
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M) Cunningham, Sir Knox
Bell, Ronald Buck, Anthony (Colchester) Currie, G. B. H.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Bullus, Sir Eric Dalkeith, Earl of
Berry, Hn. Anthony Burden, F. A. Dance, James
Bessell, Peter Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Biffen, John Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)
Biggs-Davison, John Carlisle, Mark Digby, Simon Wingfield
Black, Sir Cyril Cary, Sir Robert Dodds-Parker, Douglas
Blaker, Peter Channon, H. P. G. Doughty, Charles
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Chichester-Clark, R. Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Body, Richard Clark, Henry Drayson, C. B.
Eden, Sir John Kerby, Capt. Henry Pym, Francis
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Kershaw, Anthony Quennell, Miss J. M.
Emery, Peter Kimball, Marcus Ramsden, Rt. Hn, James
Errington, Sir Eric King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Eyre, Reginald Kirk, Peter Rees-Davies, W. R.
Farr, John Kitson, Timothy Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Fisher, Nigel Knight, Mrs. Jill Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Lancaster, Col. C. G. Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Fortescue, Tim Lane, David Ridsdale, Julian
Foster, Sir John Langford-Holt, Sir John Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Calbraith, Hn. T. G. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Gibson-Watt, David Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield) Royle, Anthony
Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Russell, Sir Ronald
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Longden, Gilbert St. John-Stevas, Norman
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Loveys, W. H. Scott, Nicholas
Glover, Sir Douglas McAdden, Sir Stephen Scott-Hopkins, James
Glyn, Sir Richard MacArthur, Ian Sharples, Richard
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & ' Whitby)
Goodhart, Philip Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain Silvester, Frederick
Cower, Raymond McMaster, Malcolm (Western Isles) Sinclair, Sir George
Grant, Anthony Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Grant-Ferris, R. Maddan, Martin Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Gresham Cooke, R. Maginnis, John E. Speed, Keith
Grieve, Percy Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Stainton, Keith
Grimond, Rt- Hn. J. Marten, Neil Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Gurden, Harold Maude, Angus Stoddart, Anthony
Hall, John (Wycombe) Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mawby, Ray Summers, Sir Spencer
Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Tapsell, Peter
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Miscampbell, Norman Teeling, Sir William
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Temple, John M.
Harvie Anderson, Miss Monro, Hector Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Hastings, Stephen Montgomery, Fergus Tilney, John
Hawkins, Paul Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Hay, John Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Vickers, Dame Joan
Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Waddington, David
Heseltine, Michael Nabarro, Sir Gerald Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Higgins, Terence L. Neave, Airey Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Hiley, Joseph Nicholls, Sir Harmar Wall, Patrick
Hill, J. E. B. Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Walters, Dennis
Hirst, Geoffrey Nott, John Ward, Dame Irene
Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Weatherill, Bernard
Holland, Philip Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian Webster, David
Hooson, Emlyn Osborn, John (Hallam) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Hordern, Peter Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Hornby, Richard Page, Graham (Crosby) Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Howell, David (Guildford) Page, John (Harrow, W.) Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Hunt, John Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Hutchison, Michael Clark Peel, John Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Iremonger, T. L. Percival, Ian Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Peyton, John Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Pike, Miss Mervyn Worsley, Marcus
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Pink, R. Bonner Wylie, N. R.
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Pounder, Rafton
Jopling, Michael Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Price, David (Eastleigh) Mr. R. W. Elliott and
Kaberry, Sir Donald Prior, J. M. L. Mr. Jasper More.
Abse, Leo Blackburn, F. Carmichael, Neil
Alldritt, Walter Blenkinsop, Arthur Carter-Jones, Lewis
Allen, Scholefield Boardman, H. (Leigh) Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara
Anderson, Donald Booth, Albert Chapman, Donald
Archer, Peter Boston, Terence Coe, Denis
Armstrong, Ernest Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Coleman, Donald
Ashley, Jack Boyden, James Concannon, J. D.
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Corbet, Mrs. Freda
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Bradley, Tom Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Bray, Dr. Jeremy Crawshaw, Richard
Barnes, Michael Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Cronin, John
Barnett, Joel Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony
Baxter, William Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard
Beaney, Alan Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Cullen, Mrs. Alice
Bence, Cyril Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Dalyell, Tam
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Buchan, Norman Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)
Bidwell, Sydney Buchanan, Richard (Ggow, Sp'burn) Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)
Binns, John Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Davies, G. Eifed (Rhondda, E.)
Bishop, E. S. Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Jeger, George (Goole) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Pentland, Norman
Delargy, Hugh Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Perry, Ernest C. (Battersea, S.)
Dell, Edmund Jones, Dan (Burnley) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Dempsey, James Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Dewar, Donald Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Price, Christpher (Perry Barr)
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Dickens, James Judd, Frank Price, William (Rugby)
Dobson, Ray Kelley, Richard Probert, Arthur
Doig, Peter Kenyon, Clifford Pursey, Cmdr. Harry
Dunn, James A. Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Randall, Harry
Dunnett, Jack Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Rankin, John
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Rees, Merlyn
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Lawson, George Reynolds, Rt. Hn. G. W.
Eadie, Alec Leadbitter, Ted Rhodes, Geoffrey
Edelman, Maurice Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Richard, Ivor
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lee, John (Reading) Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Ellis, John Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Robertson, John (Paisley)
English, Michael Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)
Ennals, David Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Roebuck, Roy
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Lomas, Kenneth Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Faulds, Andrew Loughlin, Charles Rose, Paul
Finch, Harold Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Rowlands, E.
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Ryan, John
Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir Eric (Islington, E.) MacColl, James Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) MacDermot, Niall Sheldon, Robert
Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich) Macdonald, A. H. Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Forrester, John McGuire, Michael Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Fowler, Gerry McKay, Mrs. Margaret Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Fraser, John (Norwood) Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton. N. E.)
Freeson, Reginald Mackie, John Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Galpern, Sir Myer Mackintosh, John P. Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Gardner, Tony McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Silverman, Julius
Garrett, W. E. McNamara, J. Kevin Skeffington, Arthur
Ginsburg, David Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Small, William
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Snow, Julian
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Spriggs, Leslie
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Gregory, Arnold Manuel, Archie Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Grey, Charles (Durham) Mapp, Charles Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Marks, Kenneth Summerskil, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Marquand, David Swain, Thomas
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Swingler, Stephen
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Taverne, Dick
Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J. Maxwell, Robert Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mayhew, Christopher Thornton, Ernest
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Tinn, James
Hamling, William Mendelson, John Tomney, Frank
Hannan, William Mikardo, Ian Urwin, T. W.
Harper, Joseph Milkan, Bruce Varley, Eric G.
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Miller, Dr. M. S. Wainwright, Edwin (Deame Valley)
Hart, RT. Hn. Judith Milne, Edward (Blyth) Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Haseldine, Norman Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Hattersley, Roy Molloy, William Wallace, George
Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Moonman, Eric Watkins, David (Consett)
Heffer, Eric S. Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Weitzman, David
Hilton, W. S. Morris, John (Aberavon) Wellbeloved, James
Hobden, Dennis Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Wells, William (Walsalf, N.)
Hooley, Frank Murray, Albert Whitaker, Ben
Horner, John Neal, Harold Whitlock, William
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Newens Stan Wilkins, W. A.
Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Noel-Barker, Francis (Swindon) Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Norwood, Christopher Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Oakes, Cordon Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Howie, W. Ogden, Eric Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Hoy, James O'Malley, Brian Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Huckfield, Leslie Orbach, Maurice Wiliams, W. T. (Warrington)
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Oswald, Thomas Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Owen, Will (Morpeth) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Padley, Walter Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Winnick, David
Hunter, Adam Paget, R. T. Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Hynd, John Palmer, Arthur Woof, Robert
Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Wyatt, Woodrow
Jackson, Colin (B'h'se &) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Jackson, Peter M. (High Pack) Parkin, Ben (Paddington, N.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Janner, Sir Barnett Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Mr. Neil McBride and
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Pavitt, Laurence Mr. Charles R. Morris.

Main Question again proposed.

Several Hon. Members rose

It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.

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