§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, this is another Departmental Bill which was introduced in another place by my right honourable friend the Postmaster-General to effect a certain number of useful extensions and improvements in some of the services of the Post Office, as well as to make certain minor amendments which experience has shown to be necessary in the interests of the Post Office and the public. I think I need only call your Lordships' attention to certain of the most important clauses in the Bill. Your Lordships will see that Clause 1 gives the Postmaster-General wider power in respect of the issue of postal orders than he enjoys at present. Under the existing law the Postmaster-General can only issue postal orders up to the value of 21s. This clause removes that limit. It authorises the Postmaster-General to prescribe the form of postal orders without the necessity of making statutory regulations for the purpose. It also empowers him to extend the time during which postal orders may be presented for payment without deduction of additional commission. This is of some importance in connection with a proposal to issue books of the lower denominations of postal orders. The present period of validity of a postal order is three months from the last day of the month of issue when further commission becomes payable, and clearly this period must be extended if the proposed books are to be a real convenience; for some of the orders in the book may be out of date by the time they are wanted for use.
Clause 2 proposes to repeal certain of the provisions of the Post Office Act, 1908, which have become obsolete by reason of the provisions of subsequent Postal Union Conventions. It also embodies a valuable concession to the blind. At present the law permits special rates to be fixed for books and papers already impressed for the use of the blind, and the Bill implements a promise that the special paper used for braille should also pass at the reduced rates. 163 The Bill also extends this concession to cover any articles specially adapted for the use of the blind, for instance, gramophone records. This clause also authorises regulations being made for the posting of packets without prepayment of postage, in order that credit may be given on suitable terms. Clause 3 is required to give the Customs authority to examine letter packets containing dutiable articles and so permit of the introduction of a new service known as the Green Label service. It enables dutiable articles to be sent by letter post. The sender attaches a green label containing a description of the goods and details of their weight and value, and this label embodies the sender's authorisation to the Post Office to open the letter for Customs' examination. The result of its introduction would be that dutiable articles could be sent to this country by letter post, and that letters which are sent to this country from abroad and are thought to contain dutiable articles could be examined and delivered much more rapidly. At present letters containing dutiable articles can be sent from this country to a number of foreign countries. The next important clause, I think, is Clause 6 which gives the Postmaster-General power to deal with postal packets in cases in which the addressee is dead, thus obviating the possibility of delay and inconvenience to the public. It also provides for the amount of written matter which can be put on the cover of a postal packet.
I come now to what is probably the most important clause of the whole Bill, Clause 10. Subsection (1) of that clause extends the penalties imposed by Section 67 of the Post Office Act, 1908, for obstructing officers of the Post Office to other forms of molestation and is designed to give the Post Office staff protection in cases where, for example, people have indulged in improper or obscene language over the telephone to female telephonists. During the debate on the Second Reading in the House of Commons it was suggested that the public should also be protected and subsection (2) has been designed accordingly. In its three paragraphs protection is afforded not only against the improper use of the telephone but also the telegram. Cases have occurred where members of the public have received over the telephone messages of an indecent 164 character, and even of a menacing character. There have also been instances where telegrams have been sent to persons intimating that somebody is seriously ill and when inquiries have been made by anxious friends or relatives the message has been found to be a complete hoax. There have also been cases of annoyance caused by persons who persistently use the telephone to make calls without reasonable cause—usually late at night. This subsection will give the Postmaster-General the necessary power to protect the public.
As I have said, this is a Departmental measure which my right honourable friend hopes may be of use to the public in further improving postal services. I do not think there is any necessity to deal further with the Bill, but I need hardly say that if any noble Lord wishes to ask a question on any particular clause which I have not mentioned I shall be pleased to try to answer him. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Templemore.)
§ LORD SANDERSON
My Lords, I wish to say a very few words upon Clause 2 of this Bill only. I am sure that the blind will be very grateful to the Government for the concession made with regard to cheaper rates of postage on braille paper. The braille paper is very heavy and rather expensive to send by post. That is a burden on the people who are good enough to emboss books for us—there are many volunteers who do that—and also on blind people who write braille themselves. This concession will relieve them of a considerable burden. We also, of course, welcome the reduction of the rate on gramophone records which I hope will be available soon. As your Lordships probably know, considerable progress has been made with the idea of reading braille by means of records. I have not, myself, seen the process, but I believe it is going to be possible for books to be put on records which will then be put on a gramophone and the gramophone will read aloud. That, I think, will be a great boon to the blind, and to have these records sent at cheap rates of postage will naturally be a great advantage.
It seems perhaps a little ungracious at this time to ask for more, but I should 165 have been glad if the Government could have seen their way to make postage free, at any rate for braille books, because at present it is rather a heavy burden on poor people. Some of them, it is true, get the postage paid by local authorities and other bodies, but that causes a great deal of trouble to the libraries. They have to collect the money to pay the postage, and that means a lot of difficult account keeping, while a good deal of labour is involved in stamping books when hundreds are sent off every week from the libraries. If postage could be made free it would save the libraries a good deal of both money and trouble, and it would not involve any very serious expense to the Post Office. If the Government did that they would only be doing what is done now in the United States of America and I believe in most of our Dominions—certainly in Australia and Canada, and I think in New Zealand and South Africa too. In another place an Amendment was put down providing that postage on braille books should be free, but it was rejected by the Government when the Bill was in Committee. I do not propose to put down a similar Amendment in the Committee stage here, because my noble friends and I do not as a. rule move Amendments in this House which have been rejected in another place; but it is a point which I hope the Government will be willing to consider and one on which I hope the Postmaster-General will be able to take action in the very near future.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord who has just spoken it is true that an Amendment was moved in Committee in another place for the purpose which he has mentioned. It was opposed by the Postmaster-General and I do not think it was generally supported by the noble. Lord's own colleagues. I think I am right in saying that. However, I need hardly say that the remarks which he has made to-day will be brought to the notice of my right honourable friend. I beg to thank him and the House for the way in which the Bill has been received.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.