HL Deb 30 May 1960 vol 224 cc1-3

My Lords, I beg leave 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 are aware that the Cable and Wireless Cable Company are now refusing to accept cablegrams other than at full rates, either inwards or outwards; that the cancellation of the letter-telegram service is a serious matter for commercial users in this country and the public generally; and whether it is true that there is a dispute existing between the operatives of the Cable Company and the Postmaster-General, and, if so, what is the nature of the dispute, and when it is likely to be resolved.]


My Lords, my right honourable friend greatly regrets the inconvenience caused by the present restrictions on overseas telegraph services. These services are operated by the Post Office and Cable and Wireless Limited are not concerned. The present difficulties have arisen because a substantial proportion of the staff at Electra House, the main operating centre of the Post Office Cable and Wireless services in London, imposed a ban on overtime working. There was already a shortage of staff, and these two things taken together made it impossible for my right honourable friend to maintain the full range of overseas telegraph services.

It was clearly necessary to keep the full rate and urgent rate traffic moving, and my right honourable friend had no alternative but to suspend the letter telegram service. He will restore this as soon as a satisfactory service can be offered, but is very sorry that he cannot yet say when he will be able to do so.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that full reply, may I say that our cable service is not only a domestic concern, but is an international service, and our reputation is involved here. We in this country have always been proud of our cable service—users and cable staff alike—and I would ask the noble Lord whether nothing can be done by way of a special inquiry into the existing dispute between the staff and the Postmaster General in order to achieve an early settlement.


My Lords, I am well aware of the international importance of this matter, and, indeed, it emphasises the necessity for maintaining the full rate and the urgent rate, because the letter telegram rate is, of course, a concessionary service at a concessionary rate. The full rate and the urgent rate are obligatory under international agreement and must be kept up at all costs. So far as the solution of this unfortunate occurrence is concerned, I can assure the noble Lord that nothing is being spared to bring it to an early end and to restore the service.


My Lords, overtime has not been banned by the men for nothing. Cannot the noble Lord say something, of the nature of the dispute, how long it has been going on and what is being actively done to end it?


My Lords, this overtime ban was imposed as the result of a dispute involving the recognition of a new and additional staff association. The overtime ban is not at the moment operative. The backlog of work as a result of that ban is being dealt with, and negotiations, into which the noble Lord will not expect me to go, are going on, which we hope will prove successful and mean that the trouble will soon end.

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