HC Deb 08 December 1971 vol 827 cc1278-9
14. Mr. Charles R. Morris

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications whether he will make a statement on the progress of mechanisation of the postal services.

Mr. Chataway

This is primarily a matter for the Post Office which is, I understand, currently reviewing its programme.

Mr. Morris

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the next few weeks millions of people will be searching frantically for the correct postal code in order to address their Christmas cards properly? Is he further aware that during 16 years only seven postal centres have been capable of sorting by automated processes the letters which are posted in their respective areas? If we proceed at this rate the machinery will be outdated by the time it is installed.

Mr. Chataway

I do not accept that that would be the case. The British Post Office, like the majority of post offices in other countries, believes that post coding can yield substantial benefits, and the investment on postal capital requirements is, in fact, rising.

Mr. Warren

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have some doubt about his last few words? is he further aware that I should like the whole of the post code system to be scrapped, because it is impossible to understand and most people do not know how to use it?

Mr. Chataway

The benefits are bound to be longer-term. There are economies in sorting. This is the basic advantage and it is the reason why, not just in this country but in every country which is in a similar stage of development, postal codes have been introduced. It is not a particular vagary of the British Post Office. I accept that however it is introduced, there are bound to be difficulties and customer resistance in the early years.

Mr. Fernyhough

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that the economies which will inevitably lead to a reduction in manpower will not entail the Government in having to spend more than they save in providing work for those who are displaced by the new system?

Mr. Cltataway

I do not think there are any serious dangers of any employees being displaced by these developments. As I understand it, the union concerned is pressing for the faster introduction of postal coding.

Sir R. Cary

May I express the hope that in further mechanisation by the Post Office we shall not all be compelled to use exactly the same size of envelope?

Mr. Chataway

I am sure the Post Office will bear my hon. Friend's views in mind.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

No matter what one may feel about postal coding, is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the current circumstances it does not work because there needs to be a great speed-up in the mechanisation programme, and the sort of thing that we are currently planning will be obsolete before it gets off the ground?

May I suggest that the Minister should ask the Post Office to introduce a much simpler postal code system? I have seen such a system in other parts of the world and I am sure that it could be employed to great advantage here.

Mr. Chataway

Although some of them are, I think, ill-founded, I am sure that the Post Office will pay careful attention to the hon. Gentleman's views.