§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Post Office Act 1969.The Post Office has a monopoly, protected by law, for the collection and delivery of all letters in the United Kingdom. That monopoly does not extend to parcels or newspapers. They can be, and are, collected by other agencies, individuals and charities.
The Bill which I seek to introduce would repeal Sections 3 and 4 of the Post Office Act 1953 and Section 23 of the Post Office Act 1959. Those sections give to the Corporation its exclusive monopoly and provide the penalty of a fine of £5 for every letter delivered in violation of the monopoly.
The Second Report of the Select Commitee on Nationalised Industries, which was published yesterday, records that during the past 10 yearsthe tariff for first-class letters had quadrupled, the quality of the service had deteriorated and the traffic had declined.The Report continues:Against a background of increasing deficit, declining letter traffic, inflation, labour intensive operations and growing commitments, it is clear that urgent and radical action is required in respect of Post Office activities in general, and of the letter post in particular.I do not want to be guilty of selective quotation, and honesty compels me to admit that the Select Committee also recommended that the Post Office's monopoly of letter post services should continue to be protected.
§ Mr. Gow
It is precisely that recommendation that I wish to challenge. We are deeply suspicious of monopolies in general and of State monopolies in particular.
It is true that there is growing public dissatisfaction with both the cost and the reliability of the letter post service. There were two increases in postal charges in 1975, one in April and one in October. The Post Office estimates that during the 1210 current year, as a direct result of those two increases, there will be a loss of business to the extent of 834 million fewer letters. Despite official denials to the contrary, it is likely that the cost of first-class mail will increase again within the next few months from 8½p to 10½p. If that further increase should take place, the cost of the first-class post in England will be higher than in any other country in Western Europe with the sole exception of Norway.
It is the spiralling cost of the letter post which has given added impetus to the growing demand to end this State monopoly. Such a monopoly is unresponsive to the needs of the public whom it is supposed to serve. That is why my hon. Friend believes that the fresh breezes of free enterprise and free competition should be allowed to blow through the Post Office, with advantage both to the Corporation and to the public.
Business mail represents 80 per cent. of the letters that are posted. More and more businesses are seeking ways of getting round this statutory monopoly. Last June the Bristol Law Society—we know how much the Law Society commends itself to the Labour Party—started a mail collection and distribution service by installing 100 post office-style boxes in the Commercial Rooms in Bristol. Members of the scheme included insurance companies, building societies, the Avon County Council and employment agencies. The service is confined to dealing with mail sent between those organisations within the city. Members of the scheme pay £25 initially to purchase a box and an annual subscription of £7 thereafter. A member organisation sends someone to the Commercial Rooms to post mail for each of the other members and to collect the mail for his own firm. Members of the scheme estimate that their savings in postal charges are between £1 and £2 a week. The Post Office has followed the lead which has been given by free enterprise by adopting a similar private scheme of its own.
In the United States there is no monopoly for second, third and fourth-class mail. Even the remaining first-class mail monopoly in the United States is under increasing attack. Only last month the President's Council on Wage and Price Stability recommended that the monopoly should be brought to an end.
1211 The Post Office monopoly is not only damaging to our commercial life but deals hammer-blows to charities. Last October the vicar of St. Peter's Church, Elworth, Cheshire, put the following notice in his church magazine:Many people send local Christmas cards … I suggest a system by which members of the church might offer a delivery service in the Sandbach area. Cards could be left at the back of the church in a box to be delivered in the next week.In the next edition of the church magazine the vicar wrote:Towards the end of last week I had a visit from the Sandbach Postmaster"—some latter-day Gauleiter.The purpose of his visit was to inform me that our proposed St. Peter's post scheme"—a scheme that I am sure is dear to you, Mr. Speaker—which had some publicity recently, would be infringing the Post Office monopoly, and would therefore be breaking the law.A Mrs. Pinder-White, who lives in Kent and who is a champion of the lonely senior citizen, planned to organise a Christmas card delivery service for old-age pensioners in Broadstairs. She received a letter from the Minister of State, Department of Industry informing her that the Post Office could not allow her scheme to go ahead. It is surprising that the Minister, who is normally so courteous and genial in the House, saw fit to write:I know I must sound like Scrooge and it would be much easier for the Post Office and myself to say 'yes'. But the general financial health and effectiveness of the Post Office must be my first concern.That is the trouble. The Minister and the Government are much more concerned with the Post Office than with the public whom they are supposed to serve.
The Bill is in no way critical of postmen. They are loyal, popular and hardworking members of our community. The Bill is critical of an inefficient, costly, unresponsive and loss-making State monopoly. The Government have refused to allow the Post Office Review Committee to include in its terms of reference whether the statutory monopoly should be broken. The Bill seeks to put that right.
Competition and the disciplines of the market economy, feared and detested by 1212 bureaucrats and monopolies of every kind, are the truest friends and the surest protectors of the people. The Bill asserts the supremacy of the public interest over an increasingly discredited and inadequate bureaucracy.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I declare my interest as assistant secretary of the Post Office Engineering Union, but I speak for the interests of all those who have a national postal service at heart.
Yesterday the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries reported after receiving evidence from a wide variety of sources, including the Post Office Users National Council, that the monopoly should in no way be infringed. I repeat that the Post Office Users National Council gave evidence to that effect. The reason why it did so was quite obvious. It reprsents all users of the postal service. It is not solely representative of commercial companies in the City of London or Bristol.
It is true that substantial payments have been made to the Post Office by the taxpayer over the last two or three years, due to the policy of the last Tory Administration in deciding that postal charges should be pegged below an economic level.
Were the proposals contained in the Bill to become law—which they will not—an immediate consequence would be the creaming-off to private companies of the profitable business of the postal service, leaving the unprofitable business to the State. Whereas some private commercial concerns would get their service perhaps marginally cheaper, the unprofitable, uneconomic provision of postal services to the ordinary citizen—especially to those who live in the country—would be much more costly. The level of service could also be subject to cuts.
The issue, therefore, is very clear. It is whether harm is to be done to the ordinary user of the postal service because of the greed of the business community. It is my belief that we have to maintain a national postal monopoly in the interests of the small private user. That is not only the view of the Post Office and the Post Office unions, who want to give the best service possible, but 1213 is also the view of the Post Office Users National Council. It is a view with which I concur.
§ Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring1214
§ in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—
§ The House divided: Ayes 155, Noes 166.1215
|Division No. 50.]||AYES||[4.10 p.m|
|A[...]tken, Jonathan||Grieve, Percy||Nott, John|
|Arnold, Tom||Grist, Ian||Onslow, Cranley|
|Banks, Robert||Hall, Sir John||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally|
|Bell, Ronald||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Benyon, W.||Hampson, Dr Keith||Pattle, Geoffrey|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hannam, John||Penhaligon, David|
|Blaker, Peter||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hawkins, Paul||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hayhoe, Barney||Rathbone, Tim|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Henderson, Douglas||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Holland, Philip||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Brittan, Leon||Hooson, Emlyn||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, C.||Hordern, Peter||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Brotherton, Michael||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Jessel, Toby||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Budgen, Nick||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Burden, F. A.||Kershaw, Anthony||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Kimball, Marcus||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Channon, Paul||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Knight, Mrs Jill||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Lament, Norman||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Cope, John||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Silvester, Fred|
|Cordle, John H.||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Sims, Roger|
|Corrie, John||Lawrence, Ivan||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Costain, A. P.||Lawson, Nigel||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Crouch, David||Le Marchant, Spencer||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Dean,Paul (N Somerset)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Sproat, Iain|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Lloyd, Ian||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Luce, Richard||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Stonehouse, Rt Hon John|
|Durant, Tony||Macfarlane, Neil||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Mather, Carol||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Elliott, Sir William||Maxwell-Hys[...]op, Robin||Tebbit, Norman|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Mayhew, Patrick||Thompson, George|
|Eyre, Reginald||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Mills, Peter||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Fell, Anthony||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Walters, Dennis|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Moate Roger||Watt, Hamish|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Monro, Hector||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Montgomery, Fergus||Welsh, Andrew|
|Freud, Clement||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Morgan, Geraint||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Goodhart, Philip||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Younger, Hon George|
|Goodhew, Victor||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Mudd, David|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Neubert, Michael||Mr. Nicholas Ridley and|
|Gray, Hamish||Newton, Tony||Mr. Ian Gow.|
|Archer, Peter||Carson, John||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Carter-Jones, Lewis||Deakins, Eric|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Cartwright, John||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Clemitson, Ivor||Dempsey, James|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Dormand, J. D.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Cohen, Stanley||Douglas-Mann, Bruce|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Dunlop, John|
|Booth, Albert||Conlan, Bernard||Dunn, James A.|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Eadie, Alex|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Corbett, Robin||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)|
|Buchan, Norman||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||English, Michael|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Crawshaw, Richard||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Cryer, Bob||Faulds, Andrew|
|Canavan, Dennis||Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Fernyhough, Rt Hn E.|
|Cant, R. B.||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiten)||Flannery, Martin|
|Carmichael, Nell||Davidson, Arthur||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||MacCormick, Iain||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Forrester, John||McEIhone, Frank||Snape, Peter|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Freeson, Reginald||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Stallard, A. W.|
|George, Bruce||Mackenzie, Gregor||Stoddart, David|
|Ginsburg, David||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Strang, Gavin|
|Gould, Bryan||McNamara, Kevin||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Graham, Ted||Madden, Max||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Mahon, Simon||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Marks, Kenneth||Tierney, Sydney|
|Hardy, Peter||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Tinn, James|
|Harper, Joseph||Maynard, Miss Joan||Tomlinson, John|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Torney, Tom|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Mendelson, John||Tuck, Raphael|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Huckfield, Les||Moonman, Eric||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Hunter, Adam||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Newens, Stanley||Ward, Michael|
|Janner, Greville||Noble, Mike||Watkins, David|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||O'Halloran, Michael||Watkinson, John|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Orbach, Maurice||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Ovenden, John||Whitlock, William|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Park, George||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Pavitt, Laurie||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Kelley, Richard||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Kerr, Russell||Pendry, Tom||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Perry, Ernest||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Lamborn, Harry||Richardson, Miss Jo||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Lamond, James||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Woodall, Alec|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Woof, Robert|
|Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Rooker, J. W.||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Lipton, Marcus||Sedgemore, Brian||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Litterick, Tom||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Loyden, Eddie||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Luard, Evan||Silverman, Julius||Mr. John Golding and|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Skinner, Dennis||Mr. Roger Stott.|
|Mabon, Dr J. Dickson||Small, William|
§ Question accordingly negatived.