HC Deb 02 April 1973 vol 854 cc30-2

Mr. Jessel (by Private Notice)asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will make a statement on the robbery over the weekend at Twickenham main post office.

The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (Sir John Eden)

This is a matter for the Post Office itself, which tells me that the approximate amount stolen was £440,000, including £80,000 in cash. The police and Post Office officials are investigating. The precise extent of the amount will not be known until the audit is completed.

Mr. Jessel

This seems to be the biggest raid on the Post Office since the great train robbery. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Home Secretary to make as many police available as may be necessary to give the best chance of bringing the criminals to justice? Will he ask the Post Office authorities to take a look at the quantity of stocks of postal orders and cash and stamps held in post offices and at the security measures in operation at post offices?

Sir J. Eden

I am sure that there will be no withholding of any necessary reinforcements that the Post Office may require in order to ensure that those responsible for this burglary are brought to book. I am certain that if there are special security lessons to be learnt from the experience, the Post Office will not hesitate to apply them.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

Allowing for the nature and scale of the raid, we are relieved that at least there was no loss to life or limb by employees of the Post Office. But is it not incredible that an amount of this kind should be left in a post office overnight unattended? What conversations will the right hon. Gentleman have with the Chairman of the Post Office Corporation about security precautions?

Sir J. Eden

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first comment. The money was, of course, held in readiness for disbursal to post offices during the course of today. I should reiterate that if there are any particular lessons to be learnt from what has happened in this case, I am sure the Post Office will not hesitate to review its arrangements. That applies equally to security measures. I will, of course, ask the Chairman to give me a full account of his findings as soon as he is able to do so.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

I refer back to the first part of my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that this is just a matter for the Post Office, since a very large sum of money is involved and the taxpayers at the end of the day have to pay for any deficit of the Post Office? Is he satisfied that the Post Office has sufficient safeguards for postal orders? Is it not extraordinary that something has not been done to ensure that when postal orders in large numbers are stolen they are not exchangeable outside for cash?

Sir J. Eden

I stressed that this was a matter for the Post Office, not because I do not recognise the importance and magnitude of what has taken place but because, as Minister, I am not directly answerable for detailed aspects of Post Office security and therefore cannot be expected to have full information about every post office or sub-post office robbery which takes place.

It is a fact that stolen postal orders are cashable only if they bear a post office franking mark, but I gather that in the past when postal orders have been stolen it has proved fairly difficult to track them down. I hope that that will not be so in this case.

Mr. Lipton

Is it either usual or necessary for a post office such as that at Twickenham to hold such a large amount of cash on the premises? If the money were to have been distributed today, why could it not have been delivered to Twickenham today instead of being kept overnight there?

Sir J. Eden

This is one of the most important aspects which I am certain the Post Office will take fully into account when considering the findings of its own study.

Mr. Fowler

As the Post Office is such an obvious target for criminals and as there have been a number of serious losses over the past 10 years, would the Minister consider going further and setting up a team of inquiry, including at least one senior policeman, to examine the whole subject of Post Office security?

Sir J. Eden

I emphasise again that this is primarily a matter for the Chairman of the Post Office It is for him to decide how to arrange for security matters to be handled. However, I will certainly take note of my hon. Friend's suggestion, and I am sure that the chairman will.

Mr. Mackie

As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, there was almost as big a raid in my constituency not many months ago. As it is plain that it is known when a post office carries this amount of money over the weekend, will he not arrange for post offices not to hold such large amounts overnight and over weekends?

Sir J. Eden

I am certain that any knowledge of the amount of money held in the post office overnight would be among the factors that the security investigators would look into most closely.