HC Deb 12 May 1969 vol 783 cc1123-39

Amendments made: No. 183, in page 229, line 36, at end insert:

31 & 32 Vict. c. cxxviii. The Portsmouth Camber Quays Act 1868. In section 23, the words from 'nor of any ship' to 'Postmaster General'.

No. 184, in line 38, at end insert—

32 & 33 Vict. c. lxv. The Cricksea Bridge Act 1869. In section 32, the words from 'or for any horse or carriage' to 'guarding the same'.
33 & 34 Vict. c. lxv. The Cawood Bridge Act 1870. In section 53, the words from 'or for any horse or carriage' to 'guarding the same'.

No. 185, in line 40, at end insert—

34 & 35 Vict. c. xxxii. The Clayhithe Bridge Act 1871. In section 42, the words from 'or for any horse or carriage' to 'guarding the same'.
36 & 37 Vict. c. xii. The Shrewsbury (Kingsland) Bridge Act 1873. In section 31, the words from 'or for any horse, beast' to 'guarding the same'.

No. 186, in page 245, line 18, leave out 'order' and insert 'scheme'.

No. 187, in line 40, leave out 'order' and insert 'scheme'.

No. 188, in page 246, line 2, leave out 'order' and insert 'scheme'.—[Mr. Joseph Slater.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

10.53 p.m.

Mr. Stonehouse

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am sure that the House would not wish me to delay it long at this stage because we have had many Sittings on this Bill. We have had debates on the general principles involved, and we have also had many opportunities to discuss various Amendments. But the House would not want to lose this opportunity of saying again that we regard this as a very important Bill indeed, setting up a new public authority which will be running the traditional Post Office services that have been the responsibility heretofore of a Department of State.

The first Postmaster-General was appointed in 1660 by Charles II, some 306 years ago. Since that time there has been a progressive development of the postal services of Britain, and perhaps the most dramatic improvement in the last century were the Rowland Hill reforms of 1840. The postal service has developed still further since then, and is now recognised as being, if not the best, one of the best in the whole world.

There has also been development of other services of the Post Office since the passing of the Telegraph Act, 1869. There has been frequent reference in our debates to the extension of the services of the Post Office following the passing of that Act.

The Post Office today has a huge investment programme. A total of £2,000 million is to be spent in the five years from 1968 to 1973. This is a dramatic programme, which will involve the expansion of the telephone service by about 50 per cent. in five years, and will provide for the provision of new postal buildings and the development of new systems such as post codes. It also involves the improvement of buildings so that our staff can have better conditions in which to work.

In addition to the traditional services of the Post Office, we have the development of the Giro service, which was established last October and is growing fairly well. It now has over 100,000 accounts, and, apart from social security payments, is achieving about 400,000 transactions a week.

We also have the national data processing service, which provides valuable services for the Post Office and, in competition with other providers of similar services, is spreading its wings to provide services for firms outside the G.P.O.

All these services will provide the new Post Office corporation with very big responsibilities, and I believe that on this Third Reading the House would want to extend to all Post Office staff, in whatever grade they may be employed, best wishes as they go into the new situation.

This morning I attended the conference of the Union of Post Office Workers in Bournemouth. I had the opportunity of speaking about the opportunities the new Corporation will provide to the rank and file staff, and the trade union representatives responded very well. Doubts have been expressed about some of the provisions, which are now subject to detailed negotiations between the staff representatives and myself. I believe that the staff as a whole, individually and collectively, recognise that as a separate commercial body the Post Office will provide increasing opportunities to the staff, both management and rank and file, to respond to the needs of the customer, to live up to the public service monopoly responsibilities it has, and to develop and expand, with the advantage of the new technologies, a wider communications system in Britain which will be of immense advantage to our economy.

I believe that the Bill is welcomed by both sides of the House.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

All of us on this side of the House would want to join in the good wishes the Postmaster-General expressed for the future of all those who work in the Post Office and who will be moving into the new Corporation.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the felicitous way in which he has piloted the Bill through the House. He has done so with invariable politeness and courtesy, but also with a certain amount of obtuseness. We applaud his manner, if not always his matter.

While we offer the right hon. Gentleman our congratulations, that does not mean that we agree with all that he has done in the Bill, or that we agree with all that is in it at the end.

It was a fairly marginal decision, I imagine, not to oppose this Bill on Second Reading, and I am afraid that our doubts then have been increased by what has happened in Committee. Our doubts were that this Bill was just the same old model, setting up the same old nationalised monopoly without any innovations at all. It was still the 1945 model, or possibly even the 1933 model of London Transport.

We do not believe that that is the right way to organise industry in this present day, and we thoroughly regret that such a vast, monstrous, amorphous monopoly should have been set up, and that the Postmaster-General should have been so adamant, so dogmatic and so doctrinaire in resisting all our well-meaning efforts to improve the Bill and to improve the Corporation by tidying up the monopoly here and there and introducing elements of competition.

There is one point which perhaps the right hon. Gentleman, or the Assistant Postmaster-General would deal with. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) asked towards the end of our debate in Standing Committee Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the P.I.B. report is likely to be ready? Is he aware that by the time the Bill reaches Third Reading the Committee will expect him to be in a position to make a statement on the subject? The right hon. Gentleman replied: I hope that the report will be out by the end of the month. I will, of course, consider what can be said on Third Reading" [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 18th March, 1969; c. 1170.] I hope that this important point on salaries for the new Corporation will be dealt with before we say goodbye to this Bill.

There is a great deal in the Bill with which we agree, and a great deal with which we do not agree, but we certainly give the Corporation all good wishes for the future.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

I know that one or two of my colleagues on this side of the House are spending a week at Bournemouth, where they seem to have had a pleasant start to their annual conference, judging by the reports which have appeared of yesterday's meeting.

I should like to compliment my right hon. Friend and the Assistant Postmaster-General upon the way in which they have dealt with some of the critics on their own side of the House. I think they have been extremely helpful and that this is a better Bill than it was when it went into Committee, certainly so far as the powers given to the Corporation for manufacturing are concerned. This is a triumph for common sense at top level, and I am delighted to be able to say that.

I am only sorry that more of my colleagues on this side do not appreciate the significance of the decision that has been made, but perhaps that is inevitable because this has not been too controversial a Bill. We know there are one or two matters outstanding—superannuation for example—which are the subject of negotiations by the staff organisations, but I think it would be wrong to let the Bill go through on Third Reading without issuing a challenge to the new Corporation.

I welcome the setting up of the Corporation, but it can be welcomed provided only that top level management realises what we have done for them here in retaining the monopoly powers and giving them the opportunity to be commercial in the best sense of the word—in the sense of being able to go out and look for and take advantage of opportunities to extend the field of public ownership. I think this is the significance of the Bill.

It is interesting to note that we have extracted one or two serious commitments from hon. Members opposite as to what horrible fate would befall this important public enterprise if this country should ever be unfortunate enough to have a Conservative Government. I think there is also a challenge to the new Corporation in the field of industrial relations. It has the remarkable opportunity, in an industry free from any major strike over many years, to set up a pattern for industrial relations in private enterprise. We are a bit weak on the consumer side. But this is an argument which should take place on the benches opposite. There is something in the argument of hon. Members opposite that perhaps this is an outdated form of public enterprise simply because we have been so engaged on other things that we have not applied the constructive minds which we undoubtedly possess to some of these important problems, such as what we should put in the place of Parliamentary control.

With these reservations, and while issuing a challenge to the Corporation and the labour and trade union movement, I welcome the setting up of the Corporation and wish it every success.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Hay

The Postmaster-General told us that the first Postmaster-General was appointed by King Charles II. Possibly in the history of his office no more obdurate man has occupied the post than the right hon. Gentleman. Throughout the Committee and Report proceedings, virtually no concession has been made by the right hon. Gentleman on any matter of substance. I understand that it is normal, because we try to have civilised habits in the House, to pay compliments to the Minister on having got such a massive Bill as this through all its stages in the House of Commons. However, I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had been a little more forthcoming on some of the genuine points which we made.

We have learnt a lot about the Post Office during the Report stage. We have learnt a lot about the Bill. We have learnt some remarkable things about the draftsman's mind. We have learnt that he is almost genitive mad. We have had the opportunity of plumbing the depths of "a subsidiary of its". We have discussed what is meant by in the event of a dispute's arising". I ask the right hon. Gentleman and his Department to look again at some of the points of plain bad English which do not belong to the expertise of drafting. I made a plea earlier on an entirely different matter, and I will not go over that ground again, but I make an earnest plea to the right hon. Gentleman, as a non-technician and a non-lawyer but as a person who obviously understands and appreciates the English language, to have another look at some of these drafting points.

We have learnt that the Post Office Savings Bank has most of the attributes of a bucket shop. We have obtained a remarkable amount of information about the way in which the Post Office Savings Bank is run and the very limited powers of discretion of those in charge of it. When we move to the benches opposite, we shall have to consider the powers and duties of the bank because there are millions of people who have the erroneous impression that it is a good thing and is safe. That is wrong. We know from our debates on the Post Office Savings Bank that that is a wrong impression—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members below the Gangway who are making noises were not present for those debates. I recommend that they read in HANSARD what was said and the very frail arguments put forward from the Government Front Bench against our Amendments.

I come to the main point. Today the Postmaster-General has said that there is a clear division of opinion, or, as he put, of philosophy, between the two sides of the House. He has stood at the Dispatch Box as a sort of latter-day St. George in shining armour to defend the great monopoly of the Post Office from the dragon of private enterprise. We do not regard it as a dragon. The monopoly which is not only being transferred by the Bill to the new Corporation, but widely extended—and, whatever the right hon. Gentleman says, the fact is that there is a substantial extension of the monopoly in the Bill—is not in the public interest.

I have this evening asked myself the same question time and again as I listened to the Postmaster-General defending the monopoly: would he say the same things if this were a privately-owned monopoly? The answer, of course, is that he would not. It is simply that he thinks that there is some intrinsic virtue in the fact that this is a publicly-owned monopoly, but all the wrong things that a monoply can do, whether publicly or privately owned, are there. The same injustices can be wreaked upon individuals; the same blindness to grievances can be there.

None of the things that the Postmaster-General has told us in the course of these debates has satisfied me that the new Corporation will be any better than the present Post Office, or any better than any of the other nationalised industries. It will continue to be underwritten with public money. It will not be able to take full advantage of the benefits of private competition which could have come about if the Government had not been so insistent upon preserving the monopoly free of any taint of private participation and of allowing any reasonable competition from private sources.

An action has been fought, successfully of course with the temporary majority on the Government side, by the Postmaster-General to ensure that the monopoly should remain unchallenged, but it is something which the Opposition, when we have the opportunity, and it may not be too long ahead, will have once more to look at. I hope that this great monopoly will then be made much more susceptible to public opinion, because I do not believe that public opinion today is satisfied with the services given by the Post Office in all its branches and would prefer some opportunity to be given for an alternative type of many of those services.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

If the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) had ploughed his way through the Committee stage of the Bill, as some of his colleagues did, he would not have made that speech. His colleagues became fully aware that my right hon. Friend and his colleague were treating the Opposition's proposals seriously, that my right hon. Friend was giving every consideration to their points of view and answering them in great detail. The general nature of the hon. Member's argument would have been somewhat modified if he had spent that time on detail in Committee. Some of his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench are shaking their heads, but there is not much enthusiasm in their shakes.

My enthusiasm for the Bill is somewhat qualified. I have never disguised the fact that I am not enthusiastic about public corporations. I still favour direct control by a Government Department and I have made it clear throughout that I regret that the Government are departing from that principle. However, some measures have been introduced, which we hope will work out in practice, to retain an element of the public accountability which is so necessary in a corporation of this size.

Charles II has come into the debate a good deal. It was Charles himself who said that he was an unconscionable time adying, and it may be that my right hon. Friend, when he can disengage himself from his Parliamentary Private Secretary, will realise that he has been an unconscionable time a-dying, but that, until now, he has been doing it in a gracious manner, as Charles II managed to do. I congratulate him on the manner in which he has conducted the obsequies on this part of the life of the Post Office. I join with others in wishing the Post Office a full new life. I hope that it will take advantage of the opportunities which will be placed before it and that it will never lose sight of the strong traditions of public service which have always been characteristic of the Post Office but that it will carry them over into its new life.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Ridley

I should add a word in recognition of what the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General have done to contribute to our debates at all stages. They showed great courtesy and patience, and although I do not agree with everything they said, their personal conduct of the Bill has helped to get it through in what must be a record time for a Measure so fat in paper and meat. It is a Socialist Bill and a nationalisation Bill and I do not want to argue the principal merit which it will find in the eyes of hon. Members opposite. It was, however, a little tactless of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) to claim more concessions than this side. I have a nasty feeling that he may be right. It would have been a more formal and pleasant action if he had just omitted to say that on Third Reading. Even with the fact that this is a nationalisation Statute, it is depressing how little progress has been made since the 1945 corporations in setting up a nationalised industry. Although the Postmaster-General made some small progress towards identifying costs and reimbursing them when uncommercial loads were put on the Corporation, he did not carry his conversion as far as I would have liked.

We are creating one of the largest concerns in this country which is beyond shareholder and market control and is a monopoly.

I go some way with the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) in wondering, if we did not have Parliamentary control and responsibility, who would control this new industrial giant. I would have preferred it broken up into small component parts—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

On Third Reading we can discuss only what is in the Bill and not what one would like to see.

Mr. Ridley

I have only a few words more to say and I promise I shall not stray. I feel that in the Bill we have not sufficiently strict audit rules and rules for the general conduct of the business from top to bottom. Much more thought is necessary in future to amend these Corporations if they are to go on in our lives, which I hope they will not.

Having said that, I join other hon. Members in good wishes. I was going to say "God bless all who sail in her", but that might be the wrong phrase. I think, however, that the Postmaster-General might break a bottle of champagne. To those who work in the Post Office I wish the best of good fortune and luck in the difficult years to come.

11.20 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Slater

I have been with this Bill from the start. It was introduced when I went into the Post Office in 1964. As I said on Second Reading, it takes us back to 1931 when Mr. Clem Attlee introduced the idea and it became Labour Party policy. It has taken at least 38 years to bring this about, and I am delighted that we have at last reached this stage.

I should like to pass on my thanks and appreciation to hon. Members on both sides for the way that they have dealt with the Bill, not only on Second Reading but in Committee. As the Minister responsible for the Bill my right hon. Friend has carried it through in a manner which anyone would find difficult to equal. I wish the Bill God speed.

11.21 p.m.

Captain Orr

I am glad to have the opportunity of following the Assistant Postmaster-General, because it allows me to pay tribute to him. As he said, he was interested in this Bill long before it was published. His work in the Post Office is well known. He has brought a great deal of knowledge to it. During the Committee stage he became ill and we were extremely pleased to see how quickly he recovered. We hope that his good health continues for many years.

I join with my hon. Friends who have complimented the Postmaster-General. He has been extremely courteous throughout. He has given the impression of listening intently to what was said, and if nothing terribly positive came out we were forced to accept it in good part because of the pleasant smile with which he turned us down. Throughout our discussions we had occasion to express our suspicions of what the new Corporation might do under its new powers. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will convey to the devoted public servants who form the staff of the Post Office that nothing said was meant to be a reflection upon them.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

Then why say it?

Captain Orr

If the hon. Gentleman had listened, for even a brief moment, he would understand that it is one thing to object to monopoly and arbitrary powers being given to a group of people for all time, and quite another to attack the character and the ability of the people occupying positions in that monopoly. Even the meanest intelligence should be able to see that. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make it plain that we regard the public servants in the Post Office as being among the highest and best in our public service. They do a good job, and we wish them well in their move to the new Corporation.

We ought to put on record that we think that this is a bad Bill, which has not been fundamentally improved in Committee. If anything it has deteriorated. I do not think that the general public realise what an historic and sad occasion this is. We are now saying goodbye to a Bill which deprives our constituents of the right to ask Parliamentary Questions through us. No longer can they come to their Member of Parliament and ask why a telephone kiosk is not supplied at a certain crossroads. No longer can they come to their Member of Parliament and ask him to write to the Postmaster-General about why there has been an unconscionable delay with the telephone. No longer can they come with their problems concerning the Post Office or the telephone service and expect their Member of Parliament to ask the Minister about it.

In this respect I agree with the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins). He has always been against the Bill root and branch, and so have I. It is a pity that the hon. Member and I cannot be Tellers in the Division on Third Reading, but I do not think there would be much future in that. Anyway, I still think that it is a bad Bill.

There is another reason why it is a bad Bill. After considerable inquiry into the Post Office, it was plain to everybody that something was wrong with the Post Office. That is why we have the Bill. It is a tragedy that what we are doing is consolidating a monopoly, and consolidating it in terms so precise and extensive that it will require major legislation to undo it. It is a retrograde Bill in that respect.

If ever there was a time when one should have attacked monopoly, it was on this great occasion. Unfortunately, we have not succeeded in our arguments in Committee. If anything, the Postmaster-General has, as it were, come clean on the question. He has stated plainly that his intentions are that this monopoly should be carried by the new Corporation, not subject to Parliamentary questioning from day to day, but carried in its full arbitrary tyranny by the new Corporation. That is his intention as Minister.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be the new Minister of Communications because, if he were, he would undoubtedly encourage the Corporation in that course. It would be more appropriate if he became chairman of the new Corporation. Perhaps he will. I wish him well. I will enjoy coming to see him with my constituents' grievances. I am not sure that they will get much out of it, but at least we will have a pleasant time.

I compliment the right hon. Gentleman and his assistants once more on their courtesy. I cannot wish the Bill well, but I wish the members of the Corporation well. If in future we seek to curb their monopoly, it will still be no reflection on their character or their good faith.

11.28 p.m.

Mr. Molloy

The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) rightly said that in many respects there was a great deal of agreement about the Bill and also a great deal of disagreement on certain aspects. The Opposition did not feel that they could carry their philosophy to the ultimate end and completely denationalise the Post Office, and I can understand why.

In Committee, a number of hard-hitting things were said, but they were said in good mood and it was understood by both sides that hon. Members sincerely believed in the features of the philosophy that they were advocating. Therefore, I found it somewhat distasteful when the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) made his remarks, which I thought were somewhat vulgar, concerning the Post Office Savings Bank and, by inference, the people who work there. He was endorsed in this by his hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills).

I would say to those hon. Members frankly that within the Civil Service it is very well known that quite a number of hon. Members opposite have a sort of pathological hatred for civil servants, and they are not slow in indicating it when the occasion arises. We have had two such occasions here this evening. What was said by the hon. Member for Henley cannot in any way enhance either his status or that of his party. What is more, it could do harm to one of our valuable institutions.

I think that that ought to be said and ought to be on the record, because we have had passed here today remarks which could upset many members of the staff of the Post Office who will be fundamental to making the Corporation a success. I really believe that quite a number of hon. Members opposite, particularly on the Front Bench, though they may not agree with the philosophy of Socialism and with what we would call a move towards Socialism, do want the Corporation to get off to a successful start. I hope that the members of the Post Office staff will disregard some of the remarks made here today, because the majority of this House believe they give of their best.

In conclusion, I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Assistant Postmaster-General on the manner in which they have conducted this Bill through its various stages, and I hope that their efforts will result in a first-class Corporation which will be the pride of this country of ours.

11.31 p.m.

Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie (Ross and Cromarty)

Having now come to the final stage of the Bill, I think it will be generally agreed that we have had very interesting and useful debates on it. I think the Bill has been considerably improved on Report, and that was done because, contrary to what the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) said, the Postmaster-General did listen to some of the suggestions made by the Opposition in Committee. I should like to compliment him and the Assistant Postmaster-General on the very able manner in which they have piloted this Bill through its various stages.

This is a case of one monopoly taking over from another, and many people are asking what benefits will accrue to the general public as a result of the changeover. Having listened to most of the debates on Report I must confess that I find it rather difficult to give a straight answer to that question. However, I hope that benefits will accrue.

In this service, the Post Office staff have a very important rôle to play, and at this stage it is fitting that tribute should be paid to the excellent service we receive both from the staffs in the post offices and from the postmen on their rounds. In my part of the country the postmen have very wide rounds to cover, and we greatly admire the efforts they make, even in inclement weather, to deliver the mails.

I would point out to the Postmaster-General that some concern is felt by members of the staff about changes in their pension rates and about retirement proposals. If reference was made to this during Report, I did not hear it, and I should be grateful if we could have some information on this point.

There are, relating to the social side of the Post Office work, a number of questions which are of great concern to scattered rural communities in Scotland. I refer in particular to the telephone kiosks and to television reception. Applications for kiosks in remote areas are often turned down because of the cost. The same applies to television. Many people have installed expensive television sets but are disappointed at being unable to receive the programmes.

It has been stated that the Post Office loses more than £10 million a year through the non-payment of radio and television licence fees. This is a serious state of affairs. I can assure the Postmaster-General that this is not happening in the Highlands of Scotland. The people there are honest and they pay the licence fees even if the reception is not satisfactory. That £10 million would go a long way towards providing the services needed in the outlying areas, and I hope that the Corporation will deal more effectively with the people who do not pay for licences.

The Post Office Users' Councils will have a big job to see that people living in remote areas get the benefit of television. We are trying by every means to persuade people to remain in the remote areas of Scotland and, while they have most other social amenities, television is one which they still lack and for which they are prepared to pay a substantial sum. I hope that the Post Office Users' Council for Scotland will pay particular attention to this. I do not know if the Postmaster-General will have a say in the setting up of the Council, but if he does I hope that he will appoint a Gaelic-speaking member to safeguard the interests of the language.

I am not pessimistic about the changeover, as are some hon. Members, and, even if they are right in their pessimism, I hope that the Bill will be for the good of Post Office users in general.

11.38 p.m.

Mr. Stonehouse

I seek the permission of the House to intervene briefly in the debate for a second time. One or two new points have been raised on which I should like to comment.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) asked about the N.B.P.I. report. Since the debates in Committee the report of the N.B.P.I. on salaries for the chairmen and directors of authorities has been received, and I believe that the House is aware of this. I am not yet in a position to make a statement about the appointments to the Post Office Board and the rates that will be paid, but I hope to do so within the next few weeks.

The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) asked about the pension scheme for the employees of the new authority. This is a matter of detailed negotiation with the staff associations. The Corporation scheme originally envisaged a retirement age of 65 for new staff recruited, although existing staff would have the option of retiring at 60. I have since made a concession in allowing new staff as well as existing staff to take an option, if they so desire, of retiring at 60 on Civil Service terms. I do not wish to debate this at length because these are questions which are currently under examination by the staff associations and on which I am in negotiation with them.

The hon. Member also raised the matter of the Post Office Users' Council for Scotland and suggested that there should be a Gaelic-speaking member. I will, of course, seriously consider this request.

Before we close our proceedings, I should like to pay warm tribute to all the hon. Members who played a part in the Standing Committee proceedings upstairs. There were valuable contributions from both sides of the Committee, and I greatly respect the expertise as well as the sincerity which were brought to those proceedings. We have also had a number of speakers in the general debate on Report stage who have brought to our proceedings a great deal of experience and sincerity, and I should like to express appreciation to them.

I particularly wish to thank the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central for his remarks, which I greatly appreciate. We regret the absence of the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan), who is abroad, but we appreciate the able way in which he spoke on behalf of the Opposition during the various stages of the Bill.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, North East (Mr. Dobson) and Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Hobden) regret that they could not be with us tonight at this stage of the proceedings as they are attending their union's conference in Bournemouth.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman for Down, South (Captain Orr) referred to the officials, and I should like to thank him warmly for what he said. It was sincerely meant, and I am sure that it will be received with pleasure by the officials in the G.P.O. I would add my thanks to the officials in the reorganisation department of the Post Office who have played a wonderful part in preparing and helping to guide the Bill through all its stages.

Finally, I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General who has been with this Bill since October, 1964, when he was first appointed to the position which he now holds. He has worked with three of my predecessors, all of whom have played a very valuable part in preparing the Bill. I pay special tribute to the Assistant Postmaster-General for the sterling job he has done throughout these past five years and thank him for his most loyal support. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.