HL Deb 22 June 1954 vol 188 cc26-30

3.53 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and anyone else who has ever been concerned with the Post Office will agree with me in saying that the only possible criticism of this Bill is that it has not been brought forward before. The Western District Office was condemned as inadequate for existing traffic in 1937, and since then traffic, both in letters and in parcels, has increased until it is about half as much again. The scheme that we are proposing to carry through will not only make it possible to improve the postal service in the Western District but will also make a considerable contribution towards solving the transport problem behind Oxford Street. I have referred to the question of postal traffic in the Western District. Quite honestly, I think that any of us who has been round the Western District Office, which is actually four disconnected offices, would agree that each one is not only inadequate but unsuitable; and one wonders how the service in the West End is as good as it is at the present moment. I should like to take this opportunity of paying a very warm tribute to the staff there for the way in which they have been carrying on in these surroundings. Under this Bill we shall have a five-storey building, and the ground floor will be devoted entirely to our vans. Therefore any of your Lordships who lives in that district will be glad to learn that our vans will no longer clutter up these very narrow side streets.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, interested himself at one moment in this Bill. He was good enough to put certain questions to me, one of which was: why not have this building in Oxford Street itself? As this building is not really for the direct service of the public, but for the purpose of dealing with the mail—it is, in fact, a sorting office—that would have been a wasteful use of a valuable shopping frontage. The total area of the site with which we are concerned is two and a half acres, of which one and a half acres are to be developed immediately and the rest within ten or fifteen years. The total cost of the scheme will be £7 million, but on the first stage of the scheme we shall have to spend up to pound;4 million. Of course, the expense of the scheme is greatly increased by the fact that we have to alter the direction and the placing of the Post Office underground railway.

Again, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, raised that point with me. He asked, since the railway already runs under the site where we are to have the new building, why have we to alter it? Naturally, that was the first point that occurred to me. I am afraid that, in order to get efficient working of the railway, it just has to be altered. Incidentally, I have been asked: Why do we need a Bill at all in relation to this scheme? The answer to that question is that we are changing the position and direction of the railway, and when it is proposed to burrow underground, under other people's property, it is necessary to have legislation. Most of this area has been cleared for us already by bombs, but there are still a number of shops and a few residences. We shall not need the bulk of the occupied area for some time, but, if it would help existing tenants or occupiers, we are quite prepared to purchase that land, which we do not need now, and to allow existing occupiers or tenants to stay on. That is a matter that we should be prepared to discuss if it would help the existing occupiers.

There is one further point. Some questions in regard to the nature of the building were raised on Second Reading in another place. I should like to give this definite undertaking in regard to this building, which is in a very important part of London. It is to be a large building, comprising, as I have said, five storeys. I shall keep in the closest touch with the Minister of Works in order to see that we have erected there a building that is worthy of the district and of the site. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Earl for his explanation of this Bill. I think that any of your Lordships who have tried to pass round Wimpole Street will have noticed considerable congestion there. If I understood the noble Earl aright, however, the object of this Bill and of this scheme, which is a very expensive one, is not to relieve the traffic situation in London, but to provide the district post office with the facilities that it needs if it is to operate efficiently. If the traffic congestion in that part of the West End is relieved, it will be merely a by-product of the scheme. In the proceedings in another place one figure given struck me as rather puzzling. The Assistant Postmaster General said, that the cost in cash of these inadequate buildings amounts to something like £80,000 a year. One would like to know how accurate that figure is—how it is possible to assess the extra cost of an inefficient building of that sort.

The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has explained one thing that was not clear, at a glance, in the plan upstairs—namely, why, since the railway runs underneath the new site, it needs to be re-aliened and reconstructed over several hundred yards of its length. I should like to ask how the capital expenditure required for this scheme is to be found, and whether the effect of heavy capital expenditure in one district in London is likely to prejudice in any way the provision of capital for other schemes in other parts of the country, or for other services, such as telephone exchanges and other urgent work. No doubt the London postal services are an extremely important part of the work of the Post Office, and it is therefore essential that the district offices should all be able to work at full efficiency; but I think we should like to know whether there will be any repercussions on other capital schemes. Subject to that, we have nothing but praise for this Bill.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl very much for the way in which he has received this Bill. He has asked me two questions, one about the extra cost—the figure of £80,000. We make very careful assessments of the efficiency of our staff, and that is the best assessment that we can make of the extra staff and transport costs that we have to incur as a result of the inefficiency of our present arrangements. It includes little for extra rentals. The other point is: will this scheme reduce our expenditure on telephone development and so on? We do have limited capital expenditure, which every year we agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and if we spend money on one thing we cannot spend it on another; but I can say that the £4 million will be spent over a considerable period, and therefore will not make a big hole in any one year's Estimates. I have been able to persuade my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the urgent need for more money for general postal and telephone developments. He has allowed me a good many millions more for next year and he has been good enough to agree with me a considerably increased figure even for the following year, which helps us to plan.