HC Deb 07 February 1973 vol 850 cc437-9
5. Mr. Ewing

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will publish the report submitted to him by the Chairman of the Post Office Board regarding the delivery of Christmas mail.

7. Mrs. Castle

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will publish the report he has received from the Post Office Board on the delays in the delivery of Christmas mail.

8. Mr. Hunt

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will arrange for a copy of the report presented to him by the Chairman of the Post Office on the Christmas mail delays to be placed in the Library of the House of Commons.

Sir J. Eden

I have nothing to add to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris) on 29th January.—[Vol. 849, c. 296.]

Mr. Ewing

Will the Minister confirm that the staff employed by the Post Office are in no way to blame for the fiasco which occurred over Christmas? Is the Minister aware that an agreement was concluded between the Union of Post Office Workers and the Post Office Board that no Christmas Eve deliveries would be made, and that that agreement was concluded well in advance of Christmas and gave the chairman and the board ample opportunity to make the necessary arrangements to ensure that the mail deliveries took place in an even flow, without any obstacle being placed in their way? Would not the Minister agree that this was a gross case of bad mismanagement, and will he make a statement about it?

Sir J. Eden

I do not think that it would be helpful to add to the very full statement which was made by the Chairman of the Post Office Corporation, in which he accepted full responsibility.

Mrs. Castle

What has the right hon. Gentleman to hide in refusing to publish the report? Is he afraid that it will show that the administrative shambles at Christmas was the direct result of the economies which are being imposed on the Post Office and of the financial desperation it feels following the Government's policies towards nationalised industries of starving them of resources? When will the Minister be as big a man as Sir William Ryland and admit his share of responsibility for this mess? Will he give an assurance that the £60 million deficit in the Post Office which he has forecast for this year will be met by a Government grant and will not mean that we shall have a 5p stamp imposed on us as soon as the freeze ends?

Sir J. Eden

The right hon. Lady is both exaggerating and distorting the whole of this matter. She knows that on 5th January a very full statement was made by the Chairman of the Post Office Corporation, following an urgent examination of the reasons for the fiasco which took place with the Christmas mail. I do not think that it would be in anyone's interest at this stage to add to that, but I assure all hon. Members that the Post Office is determined to see that this situation is not repeated and that I am also keeping closely in touch with the Post Office to see that improvements are made in time for next year.

Mr. Hunt

Acknowledging Sir William Ryland's commendably full and frank apology for the Christmas delays, can my right hon. Friend think of any chairman of a private company who, having presided over such a shambles, would still be in his job today? If we cannot see the report, can we at least be given some indication of when the major administrative shake-up in the Post Office, which we have been promised, will be implemented?

Sir J. Eden

If there had been an attempt to try to belittle the difficulties which had clearly arisen it would have presented me with a different situation. But there is considerable value in having someone remaining in office who has so readily shown himself determined to avoid a repetition of these events. In order to assist him to do that he has initiated a number of studies within the Post Office organisation, which I am certain will yield benefit.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

Is the Minister aware that, while we appreciate the statement which was made by the Chairman of the Post Office Corporation, we are very concerned that this should not occur again? The Minister will concede that we all noticed that fewer vans were being hired by the Post Office, less casual labour, and fewer halls opened. This was conditioned by the fact that there was an over-zealousness, perhaps, on the part of some members of the management in order to economise. This desire for economy is conditioned by the fear of an overall deficit in the Post Office. Notwithstanding the Post Office Bill and the write-off of £196 million, will the right hon. Gentleman take on board the point I made on Second Reading of the Post Office (Borrowing) Bill about some kind of grant in order to cover this prospect in the future?

Sir J. Eden

The Chairman of the Post Office Corporation himself recognised that there was a very fine balance between the need for economy of operation and the need to maintain the best possible standard of service. But, as the hon. Gentleman has very fairly reminded the House, an Act has recently been passed which has written off a substantial amount of the Post Office's accumulated deficit.