HL Deb 19 March 1935 vol 96 cc156-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Departmental Bill dealing particularly with expenses in connection with the extension and improvement of the telephone service. Your Lordships are probably aware that capital for development of the postal, telegraph, and telephone services is provided under the authority of periodical Money Acts which empower the Treasury to issue money from the Consolidated Fund up to specified limits and to borrow the money required. The amount authorised under the last Act, passed in June, 1931, was £32,000,000, and it is estimated that this amount will be exhausted by about June next. The present Bill will authorise the issue of £34,000,000, of which it is estimated that £30,000,000 will be required for the telephone service and £4,000,000 for the postal and telegraph services. I may inform your Lordships in passing that the total estimated expenditure for 1935–36 is £10,520,000 of which £9,467,000 is for telephones and £1,053,000 for posts and telegraphs. How long this amount will suffice, of course, depends on the future rate of development. Under present conditions it is expected that fresh borrowing powers will be needed in about three and a half years time—that is, in the autumn of 1938. The actual expenditure and the works to be carried out in each year are subject to the approval of the Treasury. The Bill is a certified Money Bill under the Parliament Act. It is only a short Bill about which I need not, say any more, and I now beg to move that it be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Templemore.)


My Lords, before we pass from this stage of the Bill I should like to raise a certain matter—I submit to your Lordships a matter of grave importance. This Bill authorises an expenditure of £34,000,000 on telegraphs and telephones and the improvement of postal communications, and, if I may say so on behalf of my noble friends, we entirely welcome this development. But I have grave fears about the amount of work and the burden put upon the present excellent Postmaster-General. I say "excellent" because had the pleasure of sitting in another place with Sir Kingsley Wood for some time, and I always felt that his preferment came rather belatedly from his Party. I look upon him as a very able Postmaster-General—indeed he is a welcome exception in the present Cabinet. There seems to be a tendency to put too much work on the willing horse.

May I draw your Lordships' attention to the official duties of the Postmaster-General, which have grown enormously? He is responsible for telegraphs, cables, wireless, telephones, including of course our communications to the uttermost ends of the earth, or very nearly so; he has just been speaking to a Japanese Minister in Tokyo. Then he has responsibility for the air mail, which is of vital importance to the trade and commerce and communications of the Empire. He has a sort of over-riding authority for the British Broadcasting Company with its new development of television. He has lastly, but by no means least, the whole of the Post Office work and its ancillary services, paying out pensions, cash on delivery, parcel post, licences, and so on. I believe he is the biggest single employer of labour in the whole country, and many of his services are of vital importance to the nation, not only to commerce but to national defence. He is recognised as a whole-time official, and paid accordingly.

Now I see in the public Press that he has been appointed chairman of a committee to engage in political propaganda on behalf of the present Government. If any one is going to set out to make the present Government popular that is not only a whole-time job by itself, it is more than a whole-time job; and I think it is asking too much of the Postmaster-General to place on him such a duty. I took the precaution of writing a note to the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill telling him that I intended to raise this matter, and I also undertook the courtesy of writing to Lord Hutchison of Montrose, who is also mentioned as a member of this committee of propaganda. I have no question to raise about the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison of Montrose, because as far as I know he holds no official paid position and is not a member of the Government. I see there is also a junior Minister, who is not a member of the Cabinet, mentioned as being on this committee. But to put this burden on the Postmaster-General is, I submit to your Lordships, a most questionable proceeding. I should have thought that his work as a Cabinet Minister, apart from his heavy administrative duties, would have been sufficient.

We are told that the burden on members of the Cabinet is great and increasing and is bearing down even the strongest shoulders. To put this extra work of propaganda on Sir Kingsley Wood and try to make him a sort of British Dr. Goebbels, in addition to his highly important duties affecting the whole of the public, is most questionable—in fact I go further and say it is most objectionable. I should be sorry indeed to see Sir Kingsley Wood breaking down under the strain. I know he will not neglect his duties as Postmaster-General—he is too conscientious a Minister to do that—but his scanty leisure will be devoted to trying to popularise the present Government among His Majesty's lieges. You are putting an impossible task on a hard-working Minister in his spare time which neither he nor anyone else can accomplish. I think that this Bill with its heavy expenditure of £34,000,000 is a very fitting opportunity to lodge a protest against what is happening.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.