HL Deb 27 April 1954 vol 187 cc4-7

2.41 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any proposals for the improvement of the "Personal Call" facilities given by the telephone service.]


My Lords, during the war, in order to save manpower, we had to reduce very considerably the facilities offered by the "Personal Call" service. This meant that, instead of making repeated attempts for the one "personal call" fee to obtain the wanted subscriber, we had to limit the number of such attempts to two. I am glad to tell your Lordships that it is now possible to remove the restrictions and to restore the full pre-war service, and, indeed, to go a little further than that. Operators will make as many attempts as are necessary to establish a "personal call" on the day that it is booked. Either the original caller or the people on the called number will be able to suggest further numbers at which the person called may be found and times at which he or she may be available. But, in addition, we propose also to offer an entirely new facility, not provided before the war. This is that if the wanted person cannot be found a message will be left inviting him on his return to ring the "personal call" operator at the originating exchange, without charge, so that she may set up the call forthwith. The new arrangements will come into force on May 1, and I hope that subscribers will find this service really useful to them.

May I add that the more telephone-minded subscribers become, the more we can help them with this type of service. By this I mean that one of the factors that make the "personal call" service so good in certain other countries is the habit of subscribers, when they go out, of leaving behind them their telephone numbers, or at least word as to where they are likely to be. If our operators are answered by someone who says he has no idea where the wanted individual is, it is not easy for us to be able to give the "personal call" Service that we should like to be able to give. I would therefore appeal to the public who are interested in this type of service to cooperate with us in making it really first-class.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Earl for his reply, and say how glad everyone will be at the extension of facilities. Might I also suggest to him that, in order to make the new facilities as widely known as possible, he should make use of the covers of the telephone directories, instead of having the commercial advertisements which have recently appeared on the outside covers. I suggest to him that the Post Office notices should occupy that position.


My Lords, while agreeing that this represents a big step forward—or one hopes that it will—may I ask whether an extra charge will be made for this service and how it will affect the finances of the Post Office?


My Lords, with regard to the first question of the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, I will consider it. He would not wish me to say more now. With regard to the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, we are not changing the "personal call" fee: it will still be 1s. 6d. during the day, and 9d. during the cheap period for trunk calls in the evening. We hope to complete more calls under the new procedure and thus to break even on increased costs and revenue.


My Lords, my noble friend the Postmaster General has made clear the importance of leaving one's address where one is likely to be found either at the office or at home. Could he explain more clearly? Supposing Mr. So-and-So is rung up at his London office and the reply given to the operator is that he has left by air for his Glasgow office, would the operator try to find him at his office in Glasgow?


I think the reply is, Yes. Of course, it would have to be dependent on the caller being prepared to pay the normal trunk fee, which might be more than that of the original call.


My Lords, may I ask how the wanted person who happens to be out will get in touch with the "personal call" operator when he returns to his office?


I think thin will depend on the form of the message left. In some cases he would be asked to ring, say, the Bournemouth "personal call" operator. In other cases he would be asked to ring, say, Bristol operator No. 128. The second system which I give is one which I should like to see eventually in general application. We shall as quickly as possible take steps to see that the operator number system is brought into operation.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Earl for that reply, in view of the importance of the question, may I ask him a further supplementary question. Although the service in Britain is admittedly much better than the service in any of the Dominions, it is still inferior to that in North America, which, of course, includes Canada. Would it not be possible to have the same system here as they have in North America, whereby you put in a "personal call" and if the person is not obtainable you pay nothing; but if he is subsequently obtainable, as everyone knows, you pay a higher rate than you would pay otherwise—that is, you pay for a person-to- person call, rather than for a station-to-station call.


My Lords, I know that the noble Lord and the House would not expect me to follow the noble Lord in making comparisons between our system and that of another country. In answer to his particular question I should say, No—and for this reason. Whilst it is extremely desirable to give as much extra service as possible to subscribers who want it, I think it is only right that when they have an extra service they should pay for it. Otherwise, if they do not pay for it, it inevitably means that that extra charge is put on to the normal service, so that, in the long run, the ordinary user of the telephone who does not want these extra services has to contribute to their cost.