HC Deb 05 May 1969 vol 783 cc97-117

6.45 p.m.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 19, at end insert: (3) Any order made under this section shall be subject to confirmation by affirmative resolutions passed by both Houses of Parliament. I did not have the privilege and pleasure of being a member of the Standing Committee, in which similar Amendments gave rise to lengthy debate. Although I was thereby denied the opportunity of contributing on this question, I hope now to put the case for this central Amendment relatively briefly. However, I cannot refrain from observing, in intervening at this stage—this is the first intervention of substance that I have made on Report—that it was not for want of trying earlier that I failed to take part. The difficulty—nothing to do with you, Mr. Speaker—has been that practically every debate has been cut short by the Closure as soon as I have risen to my feet. This seems an absurd way to go about debating such a crucial matter—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will come to the Amendment. He can be assured, if assurance be necessary, that no Closure was ever levelled at any individual hon. Member.

Mr. Howell

I am greatly reassured, Mr. Speaker, to know that I have, as we all have, your protection in this matter.

The purpose of the Amendment is related to the purpose which my hon. Friends and I have argued all along in our opposition to the Bill; namely, to bring some measure of Parliamentary control over what is here proposed, the central question being the abolition of the office of Master of the Post Office. At first glance, it may seem that this is a symbolic and superficial change and that in seeking to make it subject to confirmation by affirmative Resolution of both Houses we are asking for only a small change. However, behind the symbolism and the proposal to abolish this ancient office there are fundamental considerations which recur again and again in our opposition to the Bill.

The first and most obvious point lying behind our desire for confirmation by affirmative Resolution is that the Amendment once again confronts all of us who oppose the Bill with the uncomfortable choice between fire and frying pan, a choice which so many of our Amendments and new Clauses have already raised. Behind our desire to exercise greater control over the decision to abolish, or not to abolish, the office of Master of the Posts lies the hope that in exercising such control we shall be able to make it decisive to the point of stopping the abolition. Behind that desire, again, lies the hope which many of us have expressed, that we can restrain the Postmaster-General from his headlong determination to bundle all the activities of the Post Office and telecommunications into the curious new creature to which he is so much wedded, which will dominate those two industries in the 1970s.

We have, therefore, the dilemma, which I admit to be awkward, between resisting the Postmaster-General's intentions, symbolised in his wish to abolish the office of Master of the Posts, and urging that things stay in their present far from satisfactory state. As I say, this choice between fire and frying pan is one which has often confronted us and confronts us once again on this Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The only dilemma which the hon. Gentleman may debate at the moment is whether to support this Amendment or not.

Mr. Howell

That is a dilemma to which I have given some thought, Mr. Speaker. In my own mind I have resolved it, but I am trying to set it out in terms so that I may the better urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to face it—and hon. Members opposite, too, few though there are here at this moment. I want to set out for their guidance the considerations which led my hon. Friends and me to put the Amendment down, showing how, symbolic and even superficial though the Amendment may appear, fundamental considerations about the organisation of the Post Office and telecommunications are here involved.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, the hon. Gentleman cannot argue the whole Bill on this Amendment, which seeks to control anything taking place under the Clause by making affirmative Resolutions of both Houses necessary.

Mr. Howell

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, of course. But I find it very hard not to set out those considerations in putting some of the arguments as to why we wish to have affirmative Resolutions rather than the normal negative Resolution, which would probably go through unless someone was quick to spot it and pray against it. We regard this as a matter of more than symbolism, and more than merely abolishing on ancient post.

Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)

At present there is not even a need for a negative Resolution. The Clause merely requires an Order in Council, which would not even need to go through on the nod.

Mr. Howell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because his intervention reinforces the contrast between what we should like to occur and what will happen should the Amendment not be made. The difference is one that we have seen exemplified and emphasised in other Amendments, it is the difference between the House having a say and not having a say in a change which, although apparently only abolishing a post, sets the whole pattern for the organisation of posts and telecommunications over the next 10 years.

I accept that this leads on to issues which are well outside the range of the Amendment and into questions we have raised again and again of the basic desire to thrust those two very different industries together. But it is from the jamming together in the next 10 to 20 years of two very different industries, which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) has called an elephant and a greyhound, that the Amendment and other Amendments spring. There are very severe worries about the post being abolished, and from them flows our desire that there should be affirmative Resolutions by both Houses before the office of Master of the Post Office ceases to exist.

In asking that some degree of additional accountability or control be exerted on the matter, we are reflecting a fairly consistent theme that my hon. Friends and I have urged in the Bill as a whole, that matters of such import, which will finalise the pattern of development of two very different industries for many years ahead, should be exposed to as much Parliamentary comment and debate as possible. We should have the maximum opportunity to try to bring home to the Postmaster-General the undesirability of abolishing the post and, behind that, the undesirability of jamming together in a Post Office Corporation two very different industries.

We wish to preserve the office not only for its ancient qualities and traditional links but because it means that we can, at least for the time being, preserve the posts in a separate Government Department before beginning to plan a more sensible and rational organisation of the industry.

Those are the thoughts behind what might seem a rather procedural Amendment, which we hope will be accepted.

Mr. Stonehouse

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. David Howell) for the way in which he moved the Amendment, and I appreciate the wish behind it. The hon. Gentleman wants more time to discuss some of the principles behind the Bill, but we have already had many debates on the Floor of the House and in Committee, and on Second Reading the principle of the Bill was accepted without a Division. I recognise the sentimentality behind the hon. Gentleman's remark about the office of Postmaster-General. As the 101st holder of the position, I naturally regret that it must be abolished on vesting day. But we have found no alternative.

I detected a certain inconsistency in what the hon. Gentleman said. He said that it was undesirable to abolish this post, but also questioned whether the two great industries concerned should be joined together. However, they have been joined together in this post, and if it were to continue and we did not have the Bill, they would continue to be run together. It is our intention that they should continue to be run under the one Post Office Corporation.

Mr. Howell

The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure inadvertently, is misconstruing my argument, which was limited by the rules of order. I think I said enough to indicate that we are not against a change in the pattern of control of the industry but simply think that the Postmaster-General is haring off in the wrong direction. In wanting to retain the post, we wish to give ourselves a breathing space to have a more rational pattern of reorganisation introduced by a less hard-pressed Government.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are drifting into the merits, first, of the Bill, and, second, of the Clause. We are, however, debating whether the Clause, which now exists in the Bill, shall be subject to the Amendment.

Mr. Stonehouse

I do not wish to be drawn on the wider subjects, as you have indicated that that would be out of order, Mr. Speaker.

The Amendment provides for Parliamentary debate on an affirmative Resolution before the Bill could be made effective. It is not usual for Orders in Council, which do no more than fix a vesting day, to be made the subject of a debate in the House.

Before he presses the Amendment to a Division, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the question of timing very seriously. It is hoped to have vesting day on 1st October this year. Depending on the date of Royal Assent, it might not be possible to have a debate on such an affirmative Resolution as the Amendment proposes before the Summer Recess. If that were not possible, it would be impossible to hold to the vesting day date of 1st October.

Therefore, I ask the House to reject the Amendment on two grounds. First, it is a most unusual proposal to have a debate on an Order in Council fixing a vesting day. Second, the time table for the vesting day would be seriously embarrassed if we accepted that procedure.

I believe that there has been sufficient debate in the House about the principles behind the Bill, and that further Parliamentary debate on an affirmative Resolution would not be required. Therefore, my advice to the House is to reject the Amendment if it is pressed to a Division.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Peyton

I have to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. David Howell) on the way in which he moved this apparently rather formal Amendment. It is one which deserves our attention because we are concerned here with the symbolic act of abolishing the office of Master of the Post Office. One of the complaints which has accompanied the Bill is that it is weakening Parliamentary control over the business of the Post Office, and this Clause is a further step.

We are asking here for a last opportunity, so that the Minister must come to us to get Parliament's approval. It would be Parliament's last opportunity to wave a friendly farewell to the Post Office. The alternative to a discussion immediately prior to the abolition of the office would be to wait for a debate on a report on Post Office affairs in the future. The experience of hon. Members who have taken an interest in such reports on nationalised industries is dismal. This is an attempt to grasp for Parliament a last opportunity to review what has happened between the passage of the Bill and the time that the Minister says it shall come into effect.

The Minister says that it is an odd form of procedure to require an affirmative Resolution upon an order in Council. I agree, and, if he likes to change the procedure and the drafting of the Clause, I shall be quite happy with that. He can bring the Bill into effect in any way he cares. What matters to me is not so much the Order in Council as the opportunity to debate the principle of bringing the Bill into operation at the earliest moment before it is a fact.

The Government have an overwhelming majority and would be able to carry such a resolution. However, with the passage of time and in the very strange political climate of today, things could be different. As an opponent of the right hon. Gentleman's scheme, I am entitled to erect every legal obstacle that I can to prevent it from coming into operation. This is simply a delaying mechanism. I regard it not as a wrecking mechanism but as something which will give the House of Commons a further opportunity for second thoughts about a hotch-potch of a proposal which does not command my support. The right hon. Gentleman said that the two industries are now together, and I concede that. The House has some chance to criticise the Minister responsible, but we are losing that. In addition, wide powers are being taken over an industry to which they are singularly inapplicable.

I stand before the House as the eternal optimist. It may not be thought that I have very good grounds for doing so, but I stand here believing the best of Her Majesty's Government, believing that there must be some good in them. With the beneficent operation of Providence, some common sense may begin to burgeon between now and October.

The Minister has told us that he expects that vesting date will be 1st October. It is one thing for the Government to expect vesting date to be on a certain day, but it is quite another thing for it actually to happen. It may well be that the Postmaster-General's hopes, like other hopes cherished by his colleagues, will not fructify. In that event, he can return to Parliament in the new Session—whatever party may be in office. It is not too much to ask, that if Parliament happens not to be sitting when the right hon. Gentleman finds it convenient to cut the apron strings of Parliament which shackle this industry to Parliament, he should postpone the date and for once have regard to the convenience of Parliament rather than the Post Office.

The right hon. Gentleman leapt to his feet to answer the debate without showing any willingness to listen to the argument. I can only imagine that he wants to get this into operation as quickly as he can and, above all, to hear as little as possible from Parliament. The Secretary of State for Education and Science said that one of the purposes of the Bill was to cut the Post Office from the apron strings of Parliament—a singularly bureaucratic phrase, which I should not have expected from that right hon. Gentleman. It is an adequate description of the Government's attitude to Parliament. The less they hear of this tiresome assembly which every now and then makes them look the idiots they are, the better they will be pleased. I feel resentful. It is an ill-considered hotchpotch of a Bill, and I want to see its coming into operation postponed until the last possible moment.

The Amendment seeks to give Parliament another chance; we cannot pray against the Order. My modest proposal might take only half a day. If the Minister says that it is unusual or improper to have an affirmative Resolution following an Order in Council, the Government should redraft the Bill so that they have the duty to require an affirmative Resolution from both Houses of Parliament before bringing the scheme into operation. I have no desire to be offensive to the Minister. He is personally respected, but he represents an Administration which is totally discredited. It is, therefore, the function of Parliament to try to hold up schemes in which it feels no confidence at a time when the country feels no confidence in the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman is in no danger of misunderstanding where I stand. I hope that he will take seriously the point that Parliament as a whole should have the chance of pronouncing again on the Bill, even if only by way of sad obsequies of farewell. We have lost no opportunity of warning the Government of what we believe will be the harmful consequences to the nation of the scheme upon which the Government are apparently bent.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

I support any Motion that calls for an affirmative Resolution rather than a negative Resolution. While I and my colleagues on both sides have had the privilege of considering the Bill in great detail in Committee, my hon. Friends who have spoken on the Amendment have been able to speak only on Report. They are concerned that they have not had enough time to discuss all that is involved in abolishing the office of the Master of Posts and everything that goes with it. I am sorry that this ancient office is being abolished. The right hon. Gentleman said in Committee that to retain the name would have difficult legal complications—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I gather from what the hon. Gentleman said that he has discussed the Bill in detail in Committee. He cannot discuss the abolition in detail on this Amendment.

Mr. Mawby

I apologise if I am out of order. Although I have had the benefit of discussing the Bill in detail, many of my hon. Friends have not. If this is the last opportunity, I will say goodbye to the Master of Posts and wish the Corporation the best of luck in the future.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

I am grateful for the opportunity to support the arguments of my hon. Friends on this matter of constitutional importance. The Minister seemed to be arguing that once the Bill had passed the House with the Clause as it stands, that was a fait accompli, and we could not come back and have another go as my hon. Friends wanted.

Vesting day is a most important day when the legal position will change, and the creature that was once the Post Office will become quite another creature with distinct legal rights. The Minister has said that he wishes vesting day to be 1st October. That will fall in the Parliamentary Recess, when hon. Members have the smallest influence on events. If on 1st October there were to be in power a dying Government, one of whose last steps was, without Parliamentary interference, to bring this Act into operation, the country may have forced down its throat something which it does not want, which it cannot stop and which Members of Parliament cannot stop because they are not here and have no power to do so. For those reasons I support the arguments of my hon. Friend.

Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

I wish to associate myself with all three of my hon. Friends who have spoken, but my point is a new one. It will not be beyond your recollection, Mr. Speaker, that less than a week ago Clause 13, on which we had spent some time in Committee, disappeared quite mysteriously with its throat cut. I have in mind that the right hon. Gentleman may find himself, if we send the Bill to another place, in the position of destroying other Clauses. I have noticed that the right hon. Gentleman, like a chameleon, takes colour from his background, and his views on the Bill are more influenced by views which are not overtly but covertly expressed behind him than by those put forward by the Opposition. I feel that there is a danger—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will come to the Amendment soon, I hope.

Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

My argument is that it is important that the House should have a chance to look at the Bill in its final form. One knows that Amendments are made in another place, and in turn in this House. One also knows that Governments in their wisdom sometimes bring in Lords Amendments in the dark of night to the House of Commons at a time when there is a shortage of Members to discuss them. This is a further reason for commending the Amendment.

An even more valid point is that we were promised the Bill in legislation a year ago. For one reason or another—and I do not purport to understand the reason for it—it was delayed for a year. The Postmaster-General cannot put before the House the argument that the acceptance of this Amendment would postpone his action by a month. He has already postponed his action by a year. These seem to me to be two good and valid reasons for supporting the Amendment.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

I shall be brief, but I wish to point out to the Postmaster-General that this is a fundamental Amendment. It is no slight matter. Built into it is the thinking which will follow through the whole of this Bill from this side of the House.

We are asking simply that a measure of Parliamentary control should exist. The people of this country, whether in regard to the Post Office Bill or anything else, are concerned that there is insufficient control. We ask that the Postmaster-General shall allow this final discipline to be taken in this House and elsewhere.

We are saying goodbye to the Master of Posts. That may be a sad occasion, but I cannot believe that it requires us to say goodbye to him five months before he goes away. It is sensible, in view of the unsettled political situation which now exists, to leave that decision a little nearer to the time when he will take his leave of absence.

We are very concerned about preempting the future. We are all in some fear, on this Clause and on others, about the fact that a body is to be set up which lacks any effective control by Members of the House. I ask the Minister to look at the matter once again. He has constantly been referred to in debates on the Bill as a reasonable man. I am sure that he is. Therefore, I would ask him please to be reasonable on this Amendment.

The Amendment is not complicated. It will not throw the Bill out of gear. But I ask the Minister to accept a measure of control in order to give us a chance to put away the Master of Posts in a tidy, orderly manner. Since the appointed day is not until 1st October, it will seem most odd to the House and to the general public that we should say goodbye to him now, in May.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I wish to support the Amendment for many of the reasons which have already been put. I apologise to the Minister for presuming to speak on this Clause at all for, like many other hon. Members of the House, I have had little opportunity, for various reasons, to take part in the debates on the Bill. I am sure that the Postmaster-General will understand that many of us who wish to participate in debates are not always able to do so because of other inevitable and unavoidable commitments.

I am anxious that the door should be kept open to discussion, even if it is kept open only a little, so that those of us who have not previously had an opportunity will eventually be given one. This point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) in his customarily generous fashion, recognising that his colleagues had not yet had his good fortune on this Bill.

I also wish to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). As always I agreed with everything he said, with one solitary exception. He said that at present the Government have a majority and can achieve the Bill without difficulty, but that at some future stage the situation may change. I am bound to put it to him that he cannot be so confident that the Government would be able in all circumstances to obtain their legislation, for there is great disagreement on the benches opposite, which also could apply to this particular Measure.

The Postmaster-General in his intervention in the debate—I hope that it was not his final reply—made three objections to the Amendment. He said first that it was sentimental to want to keep the post of Postmaster-General.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that I called the Postmaster-General to order for seeking to discuss the merits of the Bill on this Clause.

Mr. Griffiths

I was seeking to reply to the points he made, possibly a little wide of order, and I gather that I shall be wide in replying to them.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will, however, remember that I did call the Postmaster-General to order.

Mr. Griffiths

I simply would record that my hon. Friend's Amendment would allow hon. Members, at such future time as the Order came to be discussed on an affirmative Resolution, to contest the suggestion that sentiment has no place in this matter. I welcome the Amendment which would allow us in that particular debate, which would otherwise be denied to us, to deploy the case which I am not now, alas, able to deploy.

Secondly, and well within the terms of order, the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General said that it would be unusual to require that an Order in Council should be subject to affirmative Resolution. That was his case. I cannot think that that is right. It ought to be subject to affirmative Resolution in this House when a post of the undoubted public standing of the Master of Posts is abolished and when the accountability to Parliament of this great office is removed from us.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he was the 101st Postmaster-General. I wish that there could be many more Postmasters-General. But I am sure that if he is indeed to be the last, there ought to be opportunity for this House on affirmative Resolution to discuss his final obsequies, as one of my hon. Friends described them. I am quite sure that it was wrong for the Postmaster-General to urge the argument that it is unusual to have an affirmative Resolution. It is very unusual to abolish the post of Postmaster-General. Therefore, the argument that it is unusual simply will not stand.

There was then his further argument, again I understood within the terms of order, that it would upset the timetable if there were to be an affirmative Resolution occasioning a debate in the House. I cannot accept that the upsetting of the timetable of the Post Office is good enough reason to snatch away from the House of Commons any further opportunity to debate the matter at all. There have been many vesting dates set by Government Departments—under all Governments—which were very convenient to them. But what matters is what is convenient to the House, and whether the Measure being brought into effect is seen to have been thoroughly ventilated in the House of Commons. What is important is that something is not taken away from the British people, the customers of the Post Office, without there having been for every Member of the House, so far as possible, opportunity to express the views of his constituents.

I fear that the House will go into the Summer Recess and that we shall return to find that, for all practical purposes, the Postmaster-General has disappeared. But I suspect that during the months that lie ahead many of our constituents, who are not able to pay as much attention to the details of the Bill as we pay in this House, will begin to rise up and appreciate what they are about to lose. As a result they will bring pressure to bear upon us in the summer months in the hope that, when we come back after the Recess, we shall be able to have a debate on an affirmative Resolution in which once again we can express to the Government the feelings and desires of our constituents, the customers of the Post Office, that this office be not removed from their midst and above all from their access by way of this House.

7.30 p.m.

Those are the reasons which the Postmaster-General advanced against my hon. Friend's arguments. But it seems to me that there are some positive arguments which can be adduced from this side of the House to support his Amendment. The first is that an affirmative Resolution places the burden of proof where it belongs, upon the Government. The Government would have to come to the House with their affirmative Resolution and the Minister would have to explain in some detail what he proposed to do. There is a great deal of difference between an Order in Council, which most hon. Members probably do not even see, and the opportunity which we should be afforded by the Minister having to accept the burden of proof for what he proposes to do. Under the affirmative procedure, we should have that opportunity. As it is, we are to be denied it.

Another argument in favour of the affirmative procedure is that it gives exposure by way of the Press and by way of such programmes as "Today in Parliament", so that it is made known to the people what the House of Commons is doing. If we are to be confronted with an Order in Council, some hole-in-the-wall, unseen little creature, in all likelihood the people who ought to be made aware of it will not know until it is too late. I submit that the affirmative procedure placing the burden upon the Government and giving full exposure to what they are doing is a far more sensible and just proceedure and more in keeping with the traditions and good sense of this House.

Thirdly, the affirmative procedure, above all, establishes the principle of accountability to Parliament. The Order in Council that is proposed would not be subject to debate, in all probability would never be noticed, or noticed only if someone outside this House happened to raise the matter, whereas the affirmative procedure places accountability clearly upon the Government and allows all hon. Members to consider the case that they make.

Lastly, perhaps I might put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. His Government have brought in many policies which, in the event, will be a near run thing. He has put it to us that he hopes that vesting day will be in October and that it would be extremely inconvenient if anything happened between now and October to get in his way. Many things could happen. We could have another financial crisis. We could have a change of Government. The important fact remains that we have too many dates lying ahead of us. The date of withdrawal from the Persian Gulf and the date for getting out of Singapore are only—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are doing very well so far, but not the Persian Gulf.

Mr. Griffiths

Mr. Speaker, I retreat at once from the Gulf. My point is one of principle, and I seek merely to illustrate it by saying that this, too, could become a near run thing. The Postmaster-General should not place us in a position where, five months in advance, we have to abandon any possibility of debate by the Affirmative procedure when October comes.

The right hon. Gentleman has very little to lose by accepting the Amendment, except, as he said, a bit of convenience. The convenience of the Post Office is as nothing compared with the principles of accountability of exposure and of the burden of proof resting upon the Government. Those matters are more important than the administrative convenience of the Post Office.

I am glad to support my hon. Friend's Amendment and, with the concurrence of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour), I hope that it will be pressed to a Division.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

My hon. Friends have put forward a variety of reasons why we should support the Amendment. Most hon. Members will agree that nearly all of them have been extremely cogent.

The Postmaster-General said that we have had many debates on this matter, but I would remind him that the principal debate on it took place right at the beginning of our deliberations before we knew what was to happen in the rest of the Bill and before we knew the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman and the Assistant Postmaster-General would adopt. As we said often in Committee, they were invariably courteous, polite and pleasant. However, very often they showed a considerable degree of obduracy towards our well-intentioned and helpful Amendments which inevitably altered our attitude to the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) said, we had the rather disturbing experience the other night when Clause 13 was removed from the Bill. This seems to be a most important reason for supporting this Amendment, because what has happened once may happen again, and the pressure from the benches behind him to which the right hon. Gentleman gave in so cravenly may be repeated in another place.

While we have an opportunity to consider the Amendments of another place, we do not have an opportunity to consider the Bill as a whole when those Amendments come from the other place. The fact that something may happen in the other place to which we have a strong dislike must be a compelling reason why we should want second thoughts. However, there are other reasons why we should want second thoughts, though, in deference to your earlier Rulings, Mr. Speaker, I will not go into them in detail.

The office of Postmaster-General is an ancient and honourable one. It has been somewhat devalued by the present Government, not by the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman, I hasten to add, but by the very quick turnover in Postmasters-General. Someone once said that the Ministry of Health was like Didcot Junction: people only went there on their way to somewhere else. Regrettably, the same has been true of the office of Postmaster-General under this Government—

Mr. Speaker

Order. On this Amend-merit, we are not discussing the Postmaster-General or the multiplicity of Postmasters-General or other Ministers on their way through Didcot Junction.

Mr. Gilmour

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. On the other hand, I think it is relevant to point out that one of the reasons why we are anxious to have second thoughts about the Bill is that we are appreciative of the post of Postmaster-General and are reluctant to see it abolished unless the reasons are compelling.

The third reason why we want second thoughts and why we are in favour of the Amendment raises the subject of Parliamentary accountability, on which many of my hon. Friends have dilated with considerable cogency. In Committee, the right hon. Gentleman's attitude to Parliamentary accountability was slightly ambivalent. Whereas the Bill is designed to do away with Parliamentary accountability, when we moved Amendments designed to improve the efficiency of various parts of the Bill we were faced with the argument, "This would reduce Parliamentary accountability." On the other hand, when the Postmaster-General was doing something that he wanted to do, Parliamentary accountability was likely to go by the board.

The Amendment gives the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to shake off that ambivalence to Parliamentary control and accountability by showing that he has respect for the wishes of Parliament and also for the view that the public takes and should take, about the House of Commons. Parliamentary control is often denigrated—wrongly, in my view—by the public and by the Press, and that attitude is helped by the kind of speech that the Postmaster-General made on the Amendment. He lost an easy and good opportunity for asserting the principles of Parliamentary control, for asserting to people outside this House that the Government believe in Parliamentary control, and that the momentary convenience of the Post Office is unimportant compared with the assertion of Parliamentary accountability.

The right hon. Gentleman's oddest argument was when he said that we should not have an affirmative Resolution in October because such a thing was unusual. Throughout the proceedings on the Bill we have often tried to make the Postmaster-General do something unusual, something different from other nationalisation Bills. With his invariable and no doubt admirable conservatism, he has always resisted our suggestions, as he has today. But it is no argument to a new suggestion to say that it has not been done before and it would be unusual. We appreciate that it would be unusual, but we think it would be all the better for being unusual.

Finally, I turn to the question of date. As was pointed out my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, the Bill has already been delayed for well over a year for one reason or another. This is certainly no fault of the Opposition. Therefore, for the vesting date to be delayed a further month is not a matter which anybody could conceivably worry about.

For all those reasons, we do not feel that the Postmaster-General has given an adequate answer to the Amendment. Therefore, I hope my hon. Friends will support it in the Division Lobby.

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

The Amendment, as I see it, seeks to prevent the Postmaster-General making any orders he likes without an affirmative Resolution both in the House of Commons and in the other place. It appears to me that under the existing machinery the Postmaster-General has the powers of a dictator. That would be all right if it were a prosperous industry, but it is not. It is no good the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) laughing like a hyena. He may think it laughable, but my constituents do not. They pay more and more and are worse and worse off.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and gallant Member must seek some other opportunity to debate the imperfections of the Post Office.

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

I will not labour the point. I will leave the subject, as the man said when he fell from the building.

Mr. Peyton

May I remind my hon. and gallant Friend that the whole point of the Amendment is to secure a further opportunity, before it is too late, for

Parliament to discuss the imperfections of the Post Office?

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

Yes. My hon. Friend has almost made my speech for me.

I do not wish to incur your displeasure, Mr. Speaker. We are nervous because under this Clause the right hon. Gentleman has power to make a bad decision which we in this House cannot prevent. I hesitate to put my last three points in case I am ruled out of order, but the result of the moronic decisions issued by the right hon. Gentleman's Department will be bigger losses, increased costs and a worse service.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 152, Noes 217.

Division No. 190.] AYES [7.45 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Gurden, Harold Osborn, John (Hallam)
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Balniel, Lord Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Page, Graham (Crosby)
Batsford, Brian Harvie Anderson, Miss Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Hay, John Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Bell, Ronald Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Peyton, John
Berry, Hn. Anthony Higgins, Terence L. Pike, Miss Mervyn
Bessell, Peter Hiley, Joseph Pink, R. Bonner
Biggs-Davison, John Hirst, Geoffrey Pounder, Rafton
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Holland, Philip Prior, J. M. L.
Black, Sir Cyril Hunt, John Pym, Francis
Blaker, Peter Hutchison, Michael Clark Quennell, Miss J. M.
Body, Richard Iremonger, T. L. Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Brinton, Sir Tatton Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Jopling, Michael Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Kershaw, Anthony Ridsdale, Julian
Bruce-Gardyne, J. King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Kitson, Timothy Russell, Sir Ronald
Bullus, Sir Eric Knight, Mrs. Jill Scott, Nicholas
Burden, F. A. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Scott-Hopkins, James
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Lane, David Sharples, Richard
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Carlisle, Mark Longden, Gilbert Silvester, Frederick
Chichester-Clark, R. MacArthur, Ian Smith, John (London & W'Minster)
Clegg, Walter Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty) Speed, Keith
Cooke, Robert Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Stainton, Keith
Cordle, John Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Costain, A. P. McMaster, Stanley Summers, Sir Spencer
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Tapseil, Peter
Crouch, David McNair-Wilson, Michael Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Currie, G. B. H. McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest) Temple, John M.
Dalkeith, Earl of Marten, Neil Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Maude, Angus van Straubenzee, W. R.
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Mawby, Ray Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Waddington, David
Doughty, Charles Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Drayson, G. B. Mills, Peter (Torrington) Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Eden, Sir John Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Ward, Dame Irene
Eyre, Reginald Miscampbell, Norman Wells, John (Maidstone)
Farr, John Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Fisher, Nigel Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Wiggin, A. W.
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Glover, Sir Douglas Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Woodnutt, Mark
Goodhew, Victor Murton, Oscar Worsley, Marcus
Gower, Raymond Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Grant, Anthony Neave, Airey TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grant-Ferris, R. Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Mr. R. W. Elliott and
Grieve, Percy Onslow, Cranley Mr. Bernard Weatherill.
Albu, Austen Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Orme, Stanley
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Oswald, Thomas
Anderson, Donald Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Archer, Peter Hamling, William Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Ashley, Jack Harper, Joseph Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Paget, R. T.
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Haseldine, Norman Palmer, Arthur
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Hazell, Bert Park, Trevor
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Henig, Stanley Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Barnett, Joel Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Beaney, Alan Hobden, Dennis Pentland, Norman
Bence, Cyril Horner, John Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Bidwell, Sydney Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Binns, John Howie, W. Price, William (Rugby)
Bishop, E. S. Hoy, James Probert, Arthur
Blackburn, F. Huckfield, Leslie Rankin, John
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Rees, Merlyn
Booth, Albert Hughes, Roy (Newport) Richard, Ivor
Boston, Terence Hunter, Adam Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Boyden, James Hynd, John Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Bradley, Tom Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.) Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)
Brooks, Edwin Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Rose, Paul
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Buchan, Norman Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Rowlands, E.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Ryan, John
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Judd, Frank Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Kenyon, Clifford Sheldon, Robert
Coe, Denis Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Coleman, Donald Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Conlan, Bernard Leadbitter, Ted Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Silverman, Julius
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Lee, John (Reading) Slater, Joseph
Crawshaw, Richard Lestor, Miss Joan Spriggs, Leslie
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Storehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Lomas, Kenneth Symonds, J. B.
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Loughlin, Charles Taverne, Dick
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Luard, Evan Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Thornton, Ernest
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Tinn, James
Delargy, Hugh McCann, John Tomney, Frank
Dell, Edmund MacDermot, Niall Tuck, Raphael
Dempsey, James Macdonald, A. H. Urwin, T. W.
Dewar, Donald McGuire, Michael Variey, Eric G.
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John McKay, Mrs. Margaret Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Driberg, Tom Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Dunn, James A. Mackie, John Wallace, George
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyenth (Exeter) Mackintosh, John P. Watkins, David (Consett)
Dunwoorly, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Maclcnnan, Robert Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Ellis, John Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Weitzman, David
English, Michael Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Wellbeloved, James
Ennals, David Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Ensor, David Manuef, Archie Whitaker, Ben
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Marks, Kenneth White, Mrs. Eirene
Evans, Ioan L. Birm'h'm, Yardley) Marquand, David Wilkins, W. A.
Fernyhough, E. Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Willey, Rt. Hn. Froderick
Finch, Harold Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir Eric (Islington, E.) Mendelson, John Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mikardo, Ian Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Millan, Bruce Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Ford, Ben Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'ton, Test) Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Forrester, John Molloy, William Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Fowler, Gerry Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Winnick, David
Freeson, Reginald Morris, John (Aberavon) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Ginsburg, David Moyle, Roland Woof, Robert
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Neal, Harold Wyatt, Woodrow
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Newens, Stan
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Ogden, Eric TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) O'Malley, Brian Mr. Charles Grey and
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Oram, Albert E. Mr. Walter Harrison.
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Orbach, Maurice
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