§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to end the exclusive privilege of the Post Office with respect to the conveyance etc. of letters.You may well recall, Mr. Speaker, that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) endeavoured to introduce a similar Bill three and a half years ago. It was on 4 February 1976, the very first day on which you presided over our affairs.
Support on that occasion was given not only by half the present Government Front Bench but by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party and, I believe, all Members of the Liberal Party who voted on that occasion, and also by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Scottish National Party. Coming, as he does, from the Western Isles, I should have thought that that would deal with any suggestion that there is satisfaction with the postal system at present in the remotest parts of Britain.
If we consider what has happened since the House last debated this matter three years ago, we see that the performance of the Post Office has continued to decline. The system has deteriorated, so that the same number of postmen as before now deliver billions fewer letters, and those take longer than ever to arrive.
The Carter report on the Post Office in 1977 pointed out that productivity had declined, despite the Post Office reducing its targets of service and despite mechanisation. At the same time, the Carter report referred to substantial increases in administrative costs. The service has got worse, and is now worse than it was 40 or 50 years ago, despite modern technology.
Apologists for the Post Office refer to the increasing spread of towns and the resulting additional distance, but that factor applied also between the wars, when productivity in the Post Office increased instead of declining.
On four occasions this year the Post Office has begged customers not to use its services. On one occasion five ladies at the same time refused to issue the bulk stock of stamps. That would certainly 352 seem to be one way of preventing the Post Office being bothered by letters.
It is surely ironic that one Post Office department actually issued printed letters asking its customers to be co-operative by keeping correspondence to it down to a minimum. Someone, somewhere, may indeed have been hoping for a letter, but it certainly was not the Post Office.
I base my arguments not so much on the recent highlighting of the postal services as on the unprecedented criticisms made of it by its watchdog, the Post Office Users National Council. Research has shown that every day over 1 million first-class letters arrive late and 1 million second-class letters cannot even reach their destination by the third day. One first-class letter in 10 is now late. With overseas mail there can be delays of weeks.
The combined result of the withdrawal of Sunday collections, and the extension of second-class mail from second- to third-day delivery, means that a second-class letter posted on Saturday afternoon or Sunday is not expected to reach its destination before the following Thursday, if all goes well—as it often does not. Naturally, the rural areas particularly suffer because of this deterioration in service. It is no wonder that the Post Office ignores the weekend when computing its official figures.
The Post Office wishes to reintroduce a second-day delivery for second-class mail and Sunday collections, worked by voluntary labour, but both have been prevented because of the attitude of the unions. In a recent report, the Post Office Users National Council chairman referred tothe appalling and unacceptable quality of the postal service … and the apparent lack of initiative and effect by the management to secure staff agreement to changes that would benefit the customer and be in the long-term interest of the business.The report is quite damning in its criticisms. It refers to the continuing decline in productivity and goes on:customers are entitled to expect value for money and what they want most of all is a reliable service. It cannot be said that they are getting either … even against the Post Office's reduced standards, there has been a serious deterioration … in the reliability and delivery performance has fallen lamentably short of targets.353 The managing director has said that service has declined to an unacceptable level:It is the disastrous failure of working relationships between management and staff which has led to the unacceptable deterioration in the postal service. The customer is expected to pay more for less and to pick up the tab for the consequences of problems which it is the job of management and unions to resolve.Those are very strident criticisms indeed from any watchdog body.
I remind the House that this is the industry into which the last Government saw fit to introduce an attempt at industrial democracy with worker directors. So much for the success of that experiment. The individual postman rightly remains as popular and well respected as ever. The public appreciate that the fault lies not with the postman but with the monolithic system. The Post Office and the unions between them have failed the postman as much as they have failed the customer. The Post Office chairman has admitted that he has been unable to convince union membership to accept change in return for the opportunity to get more pay. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) pointed out on 2 July that it would be possible to serve the public better, at lower cost and with better conditions for the postmen if there were cooperation to improve productivity. I believe that quite simple steps could lead to dramatic improvements.
The Post Office Users National Council is against breaking the Post Office monopoly but it must admit that its strident criticisms have proved quite ineffective in securing improvement. Of course, a monopoly has made sense in the past, but now we must doubt whether it remains in the public interest for the Post Office to have a monopoly. It was put in this way at page 71 of the Carter report:If the service became much worse than the public expects it would become impossible to defend the monopoly against those who might offer a better service.That is the crux of the matter, and I believe that we have now reached that situation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East said, with regard to the Post Office, that it is unacceptable 354 for a nationalised industry to use its monopoly to cloak inefficiency. That is a view with which I entirely agree, and so, I believe, do the public—the customer. No discipline could be more satisfactory than that of competition. If the House supports the Bill this afternoon, I believe that such an expression of opinion could, of itself, provide the stimulus to improve working relationships within the Post Office. It could, indeed, in a short time lead to a dramatic improvement in service.
I therefore ask that leave be given for me to bring in this Bill in the best interests of the Post Office, its staff and, above all, its customers—the public.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) gave me notice that he wished to oppose this application.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)
In opposing the Bill, it is my duty to declare an interest as a former member of the national executive of the Union of Post Office Workers. I listened very carefully to the speech made by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter). At the outset, I would say that I do not seek to defend the deterioration that has taken place in Post Office services in recent months. That is a matter of concern for my union, the Post Office management and myself.
The role of this House is not merely to identify a problem but at times to understand the problem. We cannot have an efficient Post Office service when there are vacancies which at present are touching 10,000. The Post Office is short of 7,000 postmen and 3,000 postmen higher grade. In contemporary Britain there is not a queue of people who want to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to be at the Post Office sorting offices to sort out the mail and deliver it in all weathers. Given any sort of choice, people do not opt for that task.
As so many other people have done, the hon. Member for Tynemouth referred to the Mount Pleasant sorting office. It has been said that it is the largest postal sorting office in the world, which, indeed, it is. At present the staff establishment at that office is 3,500. Currently there are 900 vacancies. Because of the antisocial hours of attendance, great difficulty 355 is caused in recruiting staff to fill vacancies in the Post Office. This Bill, by breaching the monopoly, will not solve that problem.
I have rarely listened to such a superficial speech as that which we have just heard. Quite frankly, breaching the monopoly will do a number of things. It will allow the postal pirates to cream off the profitable areas of postal deliveries and leave the rural areas, the geographically isolated and unprofitable areas, to the Post Office. Those areas have already lost rail transport, are now losing buses, and would find that their postal services were at risk if this Bill were to go through.
Another consequence would be that postal rates would rocket and we would see a further deterioration in postal services. That is not fear or speculation. We need go back only to 1971 to see what happened when the Post Office monopoly was breached. I have here a copy of the London Evening News for 17 February 1971. Hon. Members will be able to see the headline from where they are sitting. It reads:London Storm as Pirate Post goes Haywire".Under the heading it reads:Ex-public schoolboy Tim Randall admitted today that his pirate postal service had gone 'haywire.' Hundreds of complaints have poured into his Chelsea headquarters since he began his delivery service five weeks ago. Urgent letters posted to central London at the beginning of the month have still not arrived.If anybody wants to know what happened when we introduced alternative mail services and breached the monopoly, he needs only to refer to the Daily Tele
graph of 12 March 1971. It was indicated there that private mail, at 15p a time, was unloaded back on to the Post Office. The report said:
About 5,000 letters were dumped at Luton Post Office, Beds, yesterday by a man driving an unmarked van. Each carried the name Randall's Mail Service, Chelsea'.
When I said that the cost of the post would rocket, the charges then were from 15p to 75p. That would be the consequence of supporting this Bill.
§ Supporters of the Bill remind me of the Bourbons. They remember nothing and learn nothing. It amazes me that the hon. Gentleman had the temerity to quote from the reports of the Carter committee and the Post Office Users National Council. He did not point out that both had gone on record as opposing the break-up of the Post Office monopoly. He did not say that in 1967 the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries was equally firmly opposed to the break-up of the monopoly. Not only is POUNC opposed to the breaking of the monopoly, but so is the Post Office Board and the Council of Post Office Unions. The hon. Gentleman and those who support the Bill can delude themselves, but frankly they are not entitled to delude this great public service and the country. I totally oppose the Bill, and invite the House to oppose it.
§ Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—
§ The House divided:— Ayes 187, Noes 210.359
|Division No. 77]||AYES||[13.51 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Bruce-Gardyne, John||Dodsworth, Geoffrey|
|Alexander, Richard||Bryan, Sir Paul||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Ancram, Michael||Budgen, Nick||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Butcher, John||Dover, Denshore|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston North)||Cadbury, Jocelyn||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)|
|Atkinson, David (B'mouth East)||Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Durant, Tony|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)|
|Banks, Robert||Chalker, Mrs. Lynda||Eggar, Timothy|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Chapman, Sydney||Elliott, Sir William|
|Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)||Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Emery, Peter|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Clark, William (Croydon South)||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Best, Keith||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Fairgrieve, Russell|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Cockeram, Eric||Faith, Mrs. Sheila|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Colvin, Michael||Farr, John|
|Blackburn, John||Cope, John||Fell, Anthony|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Cormack, Patrick||Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Corrie, John||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Costain, A. P.||Forman, Nigel|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Cranborne, Viscount||Fraser, Peter (South Angus)|
|Bright, Graham||Crouch, David||Fry, Peter|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)||Dean, Paul (North Somerset)||Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Mackay, John (Argyll)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)||Silvester, Fred|
|Goodhew, Victor||McQuarrie, Albert||Sims, Roger|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Major, John||Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)|
|Gow, Ian||Marland, Paul||Speller, Tony|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Marlow, Antony||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Marten, Neil (Banbury)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)|
|Greenway, Harry||Mather, Carol||Sproat, Iain|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Maude, Rt Hon Angus||Squire, Robin|
|Grist, Ian||Mawby, Ray||Stainton, Keith|
|Grylls, Michael||Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Stevens, Martin|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)|
|Hampson, Dr. Keith||Mills, Peter (West Devon)||Stokes, John|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Molyneaux, James||Stradling Thomas J.|
|Heddle, John||Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)||Thompson, Donald|
|Hicks, Robert||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Myles, David||Thornton, George|
|Hill, James||Neale, Gerrard||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)||Needham, Richard||Trippier, David|
|Holland, Philip (Carlton)||Nelson, Anthony||Trotter, Neville|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Newton, Tony||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Normanton, Tom||Viggers, Peter|
|Jessel, Toby||Osborn, John||Waddington, David|
|Jopling, Rt Hon. Michael||Page, John (Harrow, West)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Parris, Matthew||Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)|
|Kimball, Marcus||Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Wall, Patrick|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Patten, John (Oxford)||Waller, Gary|
|Kitson, Sir Timothy||Pawsey, James||Ward, John|
|Knight, Mrs Jill||Pollock, Alexander||Watson, John|
|Lang, Ian||Porter, George||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)||Wells, P. Bowen (Hert'fd&Stev'nage)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Wheeler, John|
|Lee, John||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Proctor, K. Harvey||Whitney, Raymond|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Rathbone, Tim||Wilkinson, John|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)||Rhodes James, Robert||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|McAdden, Sir Stephen||Robinson, Peter (Belfast East)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|McCrindle, Robert||Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)||Mr. George Gardiner and|
|Macfarlane, Neil||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman||Mr. Christopher Murphy.|
|MacGregor, John||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Abse, Leo||Cryer, Bob||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)|
|Adams, Allen||Cunliffe, Lawrence||George, Bruce|
|Alton, David||Cunningham, George (Islington S)||Golding, John|
|Anderson, Donald||Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)||Gourlay, Harry|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Dalyell, Tam||Graham, Ted|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Davidson, Arthur||Grant, George (Morpeth)|
|Ashton, Joe||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Davies, E. Hudson (Caerphilly)||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)||Hattersley, Rt. Hon Roy|
|Beith, A. J.||Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||Haynes, David|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Dempsey, James||Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dixon, Donald||Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Dobson, Frank||Home Robertson, John|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Dormand, J. D.||Homewood, William|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)||Dubs, Alfred||Hooley, Frank|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Duffy, A. E. P.||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)||Huckfield, Les|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Eadie, Alex||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)||Eastham, Ken||Janner, Hon G[...]eville|
|Buchan, Norman||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)||John, Brynmor|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Cant, R. B.||English, Michael||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Ennals, Rt Hon David||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Evans, John (Newton)||Kerr, Russell|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Faulds, Andrew||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Cohen, Stanley||Field, Frank||Kinnock, Neil|
|Coleman, Donald||Flannery, Martin||Lambie, David|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Lamborn, Harry|
|Conlan, Bernard||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Lamond, James|
|Cook, Robin F.||Forrester, John||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Cowans, Harry||Foulkes, George||Leighton, Ronald|
|Cox, Tom (Wandsworth, Tooting)||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)||Freud, Clement||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Crowther, J. S.||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J Dickson||Park, George||Straw, Jack|
|McCartney, Hugh||Parry, Robert||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Penhaligon, David||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)|
|McElhone, Frank||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Prescott, John||Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Maclennan, Robert||Race, Reg||Tilley, John|
|McMahon, Andrew||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)||Tinn, James|
|McNally, Thomas||Richardson, Miss Jo||Torney, Tom|
|McNamara, Kevin||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)||Urwin, Rt Hon Tom|
|Marks, Kenneth||Robertson, George||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Marshall, David (Gl'sgow,Shettles'n)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Rooker, J. w.||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)||Weetch, Ken|
|Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'n)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Rowlands, Ted||Welsh, Michael|
|Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Sever, John||White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Sheerman, Barry||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Miller, Dr M S (East Kilbride)||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)||Whitlock, William|
|Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W>|
|Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)||Silverman, Julius||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)||Skinner, Dennis||Winnick, David|
|Morton, George||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)||Woodall, Alec|
|Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Newens, Stanley||Snape, Peter||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Oakes, Gordon||Soley, Clive||Wright, Miss Sheila|
|Ogden, Eric||Spriggs, Leslie||Young, David (Bolton East)|
|O'Halloran, Michael||Stallard, A. W.|
|O'Neill, Martin||Steel, Rt Hon David||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Stoddart, David||Mr. Harry Ewing and|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Strang, Gavin||Mr. Roger Stott.|