HC Deb 14 July 1975 vol 895 cc1040-2
11. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will give a general direction to the Post Office Corporation not to increase its charges for the time being.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

No, Sir.

Mr. Goodhart

As the proposed new charges will hit the whole community, will the hon. Gentleman remember that some book and magazine publishers and mail order firms have been faced with an increase of 200 per cent. in some charges within the past 18 months? Will he also remember that old-age pensioners will be particularly hard hit by the increase? In view of the enormous change in the past few months in the size of the estimated deficit of the Post Office Corporation, will the Minister introduce an independent review before implementing these savage new charges?

Mr. Mackenzie

The latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question will be discusesd tomorrow in what I trust will be a very wide-ranging debate. No doubt it will be a hard-hitting debate, because we all recognise the difficulties of the Post Office. The question of book publishers has been discusesd frequently in the House in the past few months. I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have said to my hon. Friends who have raised this matter with me, that it is no part of the business of the Post Office to subsidise our industries. We all appreciate the serious problems of the elderly, particularly with regard to telephones. If the hon. Gentleman cares to peruse the submission which the Chairman of the Post Office Board and his colleagues have made to the Price Commission, he will see that they have in some measure taken account of that concern.

Mr. Golding

Will my hon. Friend tell the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries is at present inquiring into the letter service, but will he note that many Members on this side of the House will be very upset if taxation is used to pay further compensation to nationalised industries which are not providing a basic service?

Mr. Mackenzie

I am aware of the inquiry by the Select Committee, and I am told that it is doing useful work. We shall examine its recommendations with care, just as we shall be concerned to see the results of the examination being undertaken by the Post Office Users National Council.

The latter part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question relates to a matter which has been exercising the minds of many of us for a long time. In the past four or five years the Post Office has been subject to measures of price restraint and we must ask ourselves whether the consumer of the services should pay for the services rather than the taxpayer. The Government's judgment is that we should phase out the subsidies as soon as possible.