§ 2.37 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, in moving that this Bill be now read a second time. I do not think I need occupy your Lordships' attention for very long. It is less than two weeks since November 9 when we had a full and, if I may say so, very constructive discussion of the Post Office financial arrangements, and this included the plans and proposals for the development of its services. To-day we are concerned with the first and an essential part of the machinery to enable 681 these plans to be carried out—that is to say, the provision of capital for development. I do not suppose your Lordships would wish me to go again and so soon over the wider field we have already covered in debate, and I think I may say that it has been shown that this money is to be well and justifiably spent.
In the way that is now customary, the Bill provides for the requirements of the next two years, roughly speaking, and the technical provisions of Clause 1, which lay down the manner in which advances and repayments are to be treated in the national accounts, are exactly the same as in the last Money Act of 1953. Only the amount is different—£175 million this time, compared with £125 million before. The increase, it is true, does to some extent reflect an increase in prices, but by far the biggest part is due to the expanding programme of development described in the White Paper. Your Lordships will recall that the previous debate showed that the majority of this is to be devoted to the telephone service.
On the question of capital development there is one point I should like to make clear, as it could possibly give rise to some confusion. The relevant paragraph of the White Paper, paragraph 21, refers to a total outlay of £300 million over the next three years. It might appear at first sight, therefore, that the £175 million for which we are asking in the Bill, and which is to last for a little over two years, is rather less than might have been expected. I can assure your Lordships however, that it is sufficient, because the Bill is concerned only with providing capital for expansion of the system. The £300 million, on the other hand, covers not only this expansion, but also includes renewals and extensions, the two together comprising what is technically known as investment.
Clause 2, however, does concern a new, though rather minor, departure. There has been diversity in the procedures for crediting the proceeds of sales of Post Office property no longer in use, and we need statutory authorisation to allow such proceeds to be put to capital where they properly belong. It seems only common sense that, for instance, where old 682 premises are sold and new ones built, the money should be used for the new construction. It is not a great matter. It has involved only about £25,000 a year during the last five years, but it is an obvious improvement in accounting methods. I hope that I have said sufficient to commend this Bill to your Lordships and to show that it is founded on precedent. It raises no important new question of principle and it is a necessary, if rather mechanical, measure to enable the Post Office to pursue the progressive policies we have already discussed. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill he now read 2a.— (Lord Chesham.)
§ EARL JOWITT
My Lords, this is another case of Standing Order No. 41 being suspended with a view to our taking this Bill through all its stages to-day. I should like to emphasise that in this case, as in the last, and also in the next, all this is being done with the consent of the Opposition. I should like to point out to your Lordships that if Standing Order No. 41 were used ruthlessly, in face of Opposition protest, all debate in this House could, of course, be precluded, and we should have an immense engine of oppression which would prevent the Opposition from saying anything at all. Ever since the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has been Leader of the House, and while my noble friend the late Lord Addison was Leader of the House before him, the Order never has been used oppressively, and I sincerely hope that it never will be. It always has been used with the full approval of the Opposition and in this case we gladly and readily give that approval. As the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has said, we had a full discussion of this matter not long ago. 'The noble Lord must not assume, from the approval vie give now, that, when the Orders come up involving the increased charges we shall not have a good deal to say then, but at the present lime I think that the best thing to do is to pass this Bill through all its stages.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a:Committee negatived.
§ Then Standing Order No. 41 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution), Bill read 3a, and passed.