HC Deb 23 July 1979 vol 971 cc9-10
7. Mr. William Clark

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he is satisfied with the present structure of the Post Office.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am aware of the need to remove uncertainties. We intend to resolve them before long.

Mr. Clark

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that from the economic point of view, and also from the business sense point of view, it would be as well to separate the telecommunications side of the Post Office from the postal side? Does he not further agree that if the State could have some sort of partnership with private enterprise it would lead to efficiency and further would give an opportunity for the workers in that nationalised industry to participate, because there is an anomaly in that someone working for the private sector has the opportunity to engage in share option schemes whereas that is not available to people working in nationalised industries?

Sir K. Joseph

I find compelling the arguments in the Carter report for splitting the Post Office. We are moving towards a conclusion on the issue. We are not contemplating a sale of the Post Office such as my hon. Friend seems to have in mind.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Carter report did not suggest that the telecommunications side should be hived off to private enterprise? It could be argued that there should be two public enterprises. Would he consider the fact that as the postal side is high in labour content and low in profitability, while telecomunications is low in labour content and high in technology and profitability, it would be good, in the interests of business, if they were kept in the same enterprise?

Sir K. Joseph

That is the issue. I find the arguments in the Carter report compelling.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

As an alternative to my hon. Friend's suggestion, does my right hon. Friend remember how well the Post Office worked in the old days when a Postmaster-General was sitting on the Treasury Bench? If for ideological reasons on the Opposition Benches it is impossible to do what my hon. Friend suggests, would my right hon. Friend at least revert to the old system by which we could deal with, and question, the day-to-day management of this important business?

Sir K. Joseph

I would need a lot of convincing that day-to-day questioning of day-to-day management would improve the service to the consumer.

Mr. Les Huckfield

Will the Secretary of State disregard some of the carping from his own Benches? Will he accept from the Opposition side of the House that, by any international yardstick or comparison, the Post Office is efficient and competitive? Will he accept that, while it may be a small crumb of comfort that he is not intending to sell some parts of the Post Office, there is a great fear that on the equipment side he intends to introduce more foreign competition?

Sir K. Joseph

I thought that it was widespread common ground that, while the Post Office may or may not be more efficient and competitive than other similar services abroad, it is less than adequate for consumers in this country. There is a difference over what should be done about this situation, but I thought that the common ground was clear.