HC Deb 22 February 1977 vol 926 cc1226-9

Mr. Spearing (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will make a statement concerning the continued delay to postal services in East London.

The Minister of State, Department of Industry (Mr. Gerald Kaufman)

The Post Office tells me that the mail posted in the Eastern District for other destinations is going out normally. First-class mail for the Eastern District is now subject to only slight delay and the Post Office expects that by the end of the week there will be no delay. Second-class mail is still subject to delay and it may take another week to clear the backlog fully.

Mr. Spearing

Is my hon. Friend aware that the seven days' backlog may not be delivered until 5th March and that this delay is causing acute problems to people in East London, particularly to those receiving pensions and where money is in the post? Is he aware that the Post Office has made no public statement concerning these delays, either to the people of East London or to the nation generally, so that proper account can be taken of the problems? The people of East London are angry because they believe that if these delays had occurred elsewhere in London the Post Office would have made a statement. Why does there have to be a Private Notice Question for a statement to be made on this issue?

Mr. Kaufman

We recognise that the aftermath of the industrial dispute has caused considerable inconvenience to those who live in the area. The Post Office is doing everything possible to clear the backlog and the postmen are working hard to get rid of it. I hope that my hon. Friend is not implying that the Post Office would distinguish against the type of area that he represents and distinguish in favour of more fortunate areas, because there are areas represented by Opposition hon. Members that are affected by other disputes as well.

Mr. Tebbit

Is the Minister aware that I raised this matter 14 days ago in a Private Notice Question? Is he aware that large quantities of mail that were posted weeks ago are still not being delivered, although mail that is currently being posted is being dealt with? Is this not a clear breach of the Post Office Act in that it is a selective delaying of the mails? Among the letters I have received on this issue is one from a firm in my constituency that is facing severe financial difficulties because of the dispute. Will the Minister confirm that part of the so-called settlement was that disciplinary proceedings be dropped against a postal union official in respect of occurrences that took place before the strike?

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Member sets himself up as a one-man enforcer of the law. The dispute has been settled by the normal, sensible process within the Post Office and an acceptable settlement has been reached. Most of the backlog has been reduced or eliminated altogether. The hon. Member is wrong in his implication that the Post Office is dealing first with letters that have been posted immediately and that it is leaving the backlog behind. The work is being done in rotation.

Mr. Biffen

Is the Minister aware that in several parts of the House there is grave disquiet over this incident, not least because of the rather casual reaction of the Department of Industry when the matter was raised in a Private Notice Question on 7th February? Will he use his best endeavours to ensure that the Post Office makes a statement that makes it clear in which rotation the mail is now being dispatched, since there is a widespread view that has been contradicted in his statement?

Mr. Kaufman

The Post Office will take full account of the exchanges in the House today. Naturally I made my own careful inquiries before coming to the House to answer the Question. I am satisfied that the information made available by the Post Office is accurate but naturally when the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) puts a question such as that to me I shall undertake to have the matter examined further.

Mr. Pardoe

I declare the same interest that I declared when the matter was raised last time. The Minister says that most of the backlog has been dealt with, but that conflicts with the statement made by his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) who said that it would not be cleared until 5th March. What is to stop the Post Office bringing in temporary labour? Is it union pressure or finance?

Mr. Kaufman

Almost all the first-class mail backlog has now been cleared. There is only a short delay in the delivery of first-class mail. But there is still a considerable backlog of second-class mail. The backlog that accumulated during the dispute is about half that which it was originally, but that still means that there is a considerable backlog to be cleared. According to my information the hon. Member's misgivings are misplaced. The industrial dispute was a vexed one, as unofficial disputes often are. The intricacies of personal relations within a particular postal district are not a proper subject for questions across the Floor of the House. The correct proceedings have been adopted. Everyone hopes that those who have the right to expect prompt delivery of letters will get that as soon as possible.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Is the Minister aware that there is rising anger all over East London, including my constituency, about the lengthening failures of delivery of mail which is exacerbated by the total silence of the Post Office and its refusal to make any statement about what is going on in the Eastern District? Is he aware that his own truculent self-righteousness is no substitute for a proper statement from the Post Office?

Mr. Kaufman

At least the letters are not having to be delivered in the dark. The hon. Member's own misrepresentation of the situation may be responsible for some of the anger in his constituency. I do not quarrel with any anger that is felt by his constituents because of the delays in the mail. The Post Office has now resolved the dispute, and it has been over for several days. The backlog is being reduced and the Post Office hopes that by the end of next week the backlog on second-class deliveries will be over. If the hon. Member wishes to stir matters up in this way, that is up to him. An industrial dispute that caused trouble has been resolved and we hope to get back to normal as soon as possible.