§ 2.45 p.m.
§ LORD SHERWOOD
My Lords, I wish to ask the Postmaster-General a question of which I have given him previous notice—namely, to ask His Majesty's Government why the public is still inconvenienced by long delay in the fulfilment of orders for telephones, and whether they are taking the vital needs of trade and reconstruction into account in the allocation of new connexions.
§ THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL)
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for putting this question to the Government. I regret that in view of the continuing shortage of plant and labour it is, in many cases, not yet possible to meet orders for telephones without serious delay. During the war it was necessary to restrict the provision of service in the main to cases essential to the war effort, with the result that a large number of applications had to be set aside for fulfilment after the war had ended. Since last May many fresh applications have been received, and the accumulation of orders 577 is so great that the Post Office engineering staff, of whom over 15,000 are still serving with the Forces, are compelled to ration new connexions according to the need of the applicant and the contribution which he is in a position to make to the welfare of the community. The criterion on which preference is based is now furtherance of economic reconstruction and social betterment, including the building of houses, the production of necessities such as coal and food, and the revival of our export trade. Preference is accordingly given to applications for telephone service in these cases, and also to people engaged in public administration, public health and safety, and in utility organizations providing transport, power or water supply. Some degree of priority is also given to applications from those who have strong claims for compassionate treatment, for example, where a war-disabled person is starting a small business, or in cases of severe illness.
Apart from these priority and preference categories, applications are dealt with in order of elate so far as this is compatible with the orderly planning and utilization of the labour and equipment available at the present time in different parts of the country. The position will gradually improve as more skilled labour is recruited through the release from the Forces of men with pre-war experience of the telephone service, and as additional plant and buildings can be provided. Meanwhile, we are doing our utmost to red ice delay, in spite of the limited resources at our disposal; and we have arranged, as an emergency measure, for the employment of men lent by the Army from the Royal Corps of Signals upon installation work. It will be some time, however, before we can meet the accumulated demand, swollen by war arrears and still growing, without considerable delay; and, while this shortage of telephone facilities continues, we cannot dispense with a system based on the priority treatment of urgent or essential cases. The present shortage of telephone installations is just as much an after-effect of the war as the shortage of food or clothing and I must ask those who are experiencing inconvenience or real hardship to bear it with fortitude as part of the price that we are still paying for victory.
§ LORD SHERWOOD
My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for his reply, I should like to ask him whether he can let me know how many applications are now pending. I am not, of course, asking for an immediate answer.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I will certainly find out from my Department the number of cases still not dealt with, and will let the noble Lord have the information at the earliest possible moment.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, arising out of the noble Earl's answer, I should like to ask whether he can inform me as to what in his experience is the average length of time which a working journalist, who happens to move from one address to another in the same telephone area, should be required to wait, even though he has made application in every respect regularly before he left his first address in order that he might maintain contact with his own newspaper office when he went to his new address.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I will obtain that information and let the noble Viscount have it at the earliest possible moment. I can tell him now that the correspondents of our important daily and weekly newspapers are regarded as people doing essential service, and therefore they do obtain preferential treatment.