§ 7.40 p.m.
LORD ERROLL OF HALE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider their decision to appoint an American firm of industrial and management consultants to investigate the affairs of the British Post Office. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the course of a statement on postal services in another place on Thursday, March 25, the Postmaster General announced that he was going to appoint a firm of American consultants. Perhaps it may be useful to your Lordships if I quote from the Hansard concerned, column 745, where the Postmaster General said:
The first and most important task is, therefore, to improve the productivity and profitability of the postal services. I have accordingly commissioned a fundamental and far-reaching examination of the problem by Messrs. McKinsey—the eminent management consultants.
So on Thursday of last week I asked the Government a Question about what consultations had taken place and what consideration had been given to British firms. The noble Lord, Lord Hobson, was good enough, in the course of his reply, to make plain that in fact no British firm of consultants had been considered. This statement came to me as a complete surprise, and I am sure it did to your Lordships; and that explains the reason for my tabling the Question for answer to-day.
§ First of all, as I am sure your Lordships appreciate, there are many British firms which are eminently suitable to undertake work of this sort. One firm has no fewer than 400 qualified persons able to carry out work of this sort. Furthermore, British firms have carried out work for clients of international repute, of international status, who have affiliated companies in many parts of the world. They have carried out full and thorough-going surveys and reviews of manufacturing organisations, of commercial undertakings, banks and other such bodies, whose activities are every whit as complicated and involved as those of the British Post Office. Furthermore, one firm of British industrial consultants has been commissioned by the Swiss Post Office—itself a very efficient undertaking 371 —to carry out a review of its postal services, and has been rewarded by a statement made by the Swiss authorities that they were very pleased with the work. The Swiss Post Office said that the work had been most satisfactorily carried out.
§ Quite apart from the question of the suitability of British firms (which I believe to be clearly and absolutely established), there is the question of the damaging effect overseas. We are a great exporting nation of goods and services, and we are also, of course, a great importing nation. I am not one of those narrow-minded individuals who would urge Her Majesty's Government to pursue a policy of self-sufficiency: only to employ British and never to employ people from abroad; never to import what might be made, at higher cost, in this country. But here is a case where our firms have an international reputation in this field and are every whit as good as their American counterparts; firms which may, in many cases, be proved better, and certainly cheaper. Yet they were not even considered by a member of the new Labour Government when he was casting around for somebody to help him in his work. I should not have minded if British firms, having been considered, had been found to lack the necessary qualifications, in which case it would be only right to employ an American firm, a German firm or even, if appropriate, a Japanese firm. But in this case no consideration at all was given to the employment of British firms, thereby rather indicating that the British Government did not think that British firms were suitable or up to the job.
§ Your Lordships have only to consider for a moment what a damaging blow this is to British firms in attempting to negotiate overseas industrial consultancy work in competition with their American rivals. Not only the firm of McKinseys (who I am sure will play the game honourably) but other American firms, will be able to say, "Don't employ a British firm, because the British Government will not employ them. The British Post Office, that unique British institution, under a Labour Government had to go to America for assistance". So, far from aiding the export drive in 372 goods and services, the Postmaster General, by his action, has dealt a very real and damaging blow to the export of a very important and valuable British service.
§ During the period of question and answer last Thursday, there was a certain amount of question and answer regarding the method of selection. If I may paraphrase, briefly, what the noble Lord said in reply to several questions, the impression was given that it was "not the done thing" to go out to competitive tender, so to speak—that in a field such as this, a professional field, one asked a single individual concern, secured their consent, and went right ahead. Since last Thursday I have been making some inquiries, and I find that that is by no means the practice. In fact, a number of British local authorities (who I am glad to say are increasingly making use of this valuable and developing service of British management consultants) are going so much the opposite way that they are inviting as many as eight or ten firms to put in programmes of work for a single project. That, perhaps, is too many, and can lead to wasteful duplication of effort on the part of management consultants themselves. A better method might be to employ two or three in any given case.
§ The point I wish to make this evening is that it is certainly not within ethical practice (if one likes to say that of this particular profession) that they do not compete with each other in submitting outline programmes of work, detailed estimated costs of programmes, and so on. Therefore, it can be no defence on the part of Her Majesty's Government to say that it is not the correct practice to seek alternative programmes of work from other firms—certainly not in a case such as this, where it is American firms versus British firms. There is no doubt at all in my mind—and I hope in the minds of other noble Lords this evening—that in this case the Postmaster General should certainly have given full consideration to British firms and given them a full opportunity to submit programmes of work.
§ The Postmaster General, whom we know to be a very tender flower, had he not felt like approaching individual firms, could, I am quite certain, have obtained 373 full assistance from the Management Consultants' Association, which is the Association of the leading British firms in this field, who could have given him help and advice as to whom he should approach, or whether possibly some joint effort by two or three of the leading British firms might not have been practicable. Then it would be no defence for the Government to say that British firms were so full up with work that they could not have embarked upon this important assignment without delay. I have been checking up on this aspect and while I am glad to say that British consultant firms are active and busy in this particular field, they have, nevertheless, if I may use an industrial expression, spare capacity available; and, in any case, in such an important assignment as this they would immediately have made available all the resources necessary to carry out this important work.
The next point I wish to make is this. I am rather disturbed at the secret way in which the decision of the Postmaster General was arrived at. One would expect that within the Department there would have been full consultation, but I have been informed that a crucial meeting was held between the Postmaster General and the representative of McKinsey's at which no officials at all were present. I think that in a matter of this sort the Postmaster General was very ill-advised to hold a meeting of this sort, and I should like to know what took place at this meeting and why he chose to see this individual privately. It is interesting to note that the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, when he was answering one of the Questions dealing with this matter said:
one has to assume … that the factors … which led up to the Postmaster General making the decision were borne in mind not only by him but also, of course, by the experts within the Department who would presumably be present to advise him when the decision was made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 265 (No. 63), col. 176, April 8, 1965.]
I know from my own experience in answering supplementary questions that it is very easy to let slip a word, an adverb or an adjective, which does not quite convey the sense of what one intended to say, but I am very struck by that word "presumably". Were the experts within the Department present when the crucial decision was made, or were they not? That is a point on
which I am sure noble Lords would be glad to be enlightened.
§ On a matter of this sort, when so many members of Her Majesty's Government have expressed the need for Britain to cut down on imports and not buy abroad what we can make or do for ourselves, I should be very interested to know whether this decision was made by the Minister alone or whether the matter went to the Cabinet. Was it a decision of the Government as a whole, sitting as a Cabinet, or just a quickly-thought-up decision by the Minister designed to get something flashy out in time for his unpalatable announcement about the raising of the postal charges? It would be interesting to know whether any Cabinet Minister knew about this step until he read it in Hansard.
§ Then, since we are all having to watch dollar expenditure—indeed, all expenture across the exchanges—it is relevant to bear in mind the cost of employing American consultants. It is well known that American consultants' charges are very much higher than those of British firms. I should be grateful if the noble Lord would tell me how much, in total, this assignment is going to cost, and whether it is an open-ended commitment or for a limited and definite sum in return for a definite amount of work carried out. I ask this because it is notorious that some American firms (and here I am not making any allegation against McKinseys), when they have once got their foot in the door, go on, year after year, piling up charges deemed to be necessary as a result of investigations. It is said that American firms start invoicing you as soon as you make the first telephone call. I think it is deplorable that the British taxpayer should be liable for this very heavy expenditure across the exchanges when cheaper and equally good, if not better, services could have been made available by British firms if they had been given an opportunity to make proposals.
§ I now want to put to your Lordships reasons why, quite apart from what I have said already, I think that a decision to employ any American firm for this particular work was an unsuitable choice. First of all, one must remember that American citizens—and, of course, McKinseys will be employing Americans specially brought over for the purpose, since they have only a very small staff 375 in this country—are accustomed to, and accept, a very inefficient postal service. I am talking of the postal service, which is the subject of investigation, not the telephone service which is not the subject of the investigation. They are accustomed to a very inefficient service and one that is quite different from ours.
§ First of all, they accept delays in transmission and delivery of mail which would not be tolerated in this country. It is not unusual for a letter to take five days to cross New York, whereas we take it for granted that a letter posted in the late afternoon or evening one day will be delivered first post anywhere in Great Britain the next day. I was particularly delighted to notice a day or two ago that when I posted a package in Kensington at mid-day on Friday to Cheshire I received by the first post on Monday a letter of appreciation of the package. That shows the high standard we are accustomed to in this country. This particular movement of the package sent North, and the reply sent South, occurred almost entirely over the week-end when most people enjoy the benefits of a five-day week. This is a sort of service unthinkable in the United States and not used.
§ I always think that one reason why their telephone service has to be so good is because the postal services are so bad. Yet these are people who will come along and presume to tell us how the British Post Office should be run. They are bound to suggest as one economy a very much lower standard, the standard of the United States, a standard which they will say is quite good enough for the great industrial country of the United States and therefore ought to be good enough for us. The sort of suggestion I can almost hear them making will be, "One delivery is quite enough, and not on Saturday"; and "Do you mean to say that you send postal vans all the way up country roads to deliver letters to isolated farmsteads? Make them come down to the main road and have a mailbox on the mainroad, as we do". We are going to have to pay hard-earned dollars for this sort of advice.
Then I noticed, in the course of the debate in another place on the postal services an interesting indication of the sort of problems which McKinseys are
to be employed to solve. In the course of his speech the Postmaster General posed some questions which I should like to read to your Lordships as illustrating the sort of problems which he has in mind. He said:
What for instance, is the real cost of a first-class letter as compared with a printed paper package? What is the real cost of a postcard which goes cheaper but gets first-class treatment? In fact, there is very little cost indeed. Does weight really matter as compared with the size of the envelope and speed with which it is required to move?
And here is an interesting point:
How many people really want a fast service, and how many people would be happy to pay a little less for something which was a little slower? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons) Vol. 709 (No. 88), col. 1422, March 30, 1965.]
Do we really need a lot of Americans to come and ask this sort of question? We are perfectly able to find out these answers for ourselves.
The Minister went on to say:
I tell the House frankly that we do not yet know the answers to these questions, but we mean to find out. This is the reason why we have commissioned Messrs. McKinsey to undertake the Survey for us".
If ever there was a set of questions which could be answered by British firms these are the very questions. We certainly do not need an American firm, however eminent, to do work which is essentially British in character and which we ought to carry out for ourselves. Moverover, Americans are accustomed to different methods within the American Post Office from those to which we are accustomed. They accept a degree of political interference in the affairs of the Post Office at local levels. Staffing matters, and so on, are handled very often by politicians in the states, and in the counties and in the townships. They take that for granted. They have to unlearn all they have grown up with before they can begin to study what is our practice and why we do it our way.
§ Furthermore, when they come to look at our postal service, if they do, they will be in complete ignorance of the many services in connection with the Welfare State provided by the Post Office—for example, payment of pensions; payment of sickness benefit; payment of family allowances and the like—because these things are unknown in the United States. 377 They will have to learn it all. I daresay they will learn exactly how we do it. But they will have to learn all this at the expense of the British taxpayer before they can begin to start constructive work on the problems which they unearth.
§ I have already mentioned that I believe that the employment of an American firm will be costly compared with using the services which any one of a number of reputable and highly experienced British firms could have rendered. As I come to the close of my remarks, I would say that Her Majesty's Government are not afraid of cancellation charges. They have shouldered an immense and unnecessary burden of cancellation charges over the TSR 2. If a definite commitment has been entered into—1 should be grateful to learn from the noble Lord if a definite commitment has been entered into—then I would urge Her Majesty's Government to cancel it and to pay the cancellation charges, if any are payable; to award the investigation to a British firm, or to a consortium of British firms, and thus live up to what they are always preaching—namely, that we should employ British brains and British resources whenever we can, as undoubtedly, in this case, we not only can, but should.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ LORD MORRIS OF KENWOOD
My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Lord opposite has raised this Question, since I myself had intended to table exactly the same Question. He has rather stolen my thunder and what I had to say, but he has, I think, expressed well the feeling of dissatisfaction which must be felt on both sides of this House over what seems to me to be a most arbitrary decision. This decision seems to me to be quite contrary to the basic principles of selection. As is the case with the noble Lord opposite, I also have had conversations with the Management Consultants Association. The noble Lord quite rightly says that none of the major consultants, or even minor consultants for that matter, were even considered at all when this matter arose. I have spoken to one particular consultant, and he has expressed righteous anger that the Postmaster General should have made this decision and indeed have gone to an American firm. He knows this firm well, 378 and in his opinion—which may not have been altogether unbiased, but I believe it to have been so—McKinseys are not in any way suited for this particular job.
One point that the noble Lord did not mention was the fact that on two occasions the Post Office has used the services of British consultants and has found these services to be most satisfactory. In the light of that, I think it is even more extraordinary that the Postmaster General should have made this decision. Our management consultants bring valuable and much needed currency from abroad. I, too, shudder to think what must be the feelings of firms, particularly in America, when they consider the requirements of management consultants, if the British Government cannot, or does not, see fit to employ their own firms when they need work of this nature to be carried out. I earnestly hope that Her Majesty's Government will reconsider their decision in this matter.
§ 8.6 p.m.
My Lords, I think that the Question which my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale has asked this evening is most pertinent and is going to take a great deal of answering, even with the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Hobson. I would say at the outset that I have no objection whatever to the Postmaster General's deciding to engage some efficiency experts to try to make the Post Office more efficient and more economic to run. One of the advantages or (shall we say?) one of the consequences of a change in Government is that we have fresh people with fresh ideas, and we tend to get a few "new brooms" who wish to make themselves active. I feel that this is in fact all to the good, and I would not deny for one moment the Postmaster General's desire to make the Post Office more efficient. But if he wishes to do this, why does he choose an American firm?
I hope that the noble Lord opposite will be much more specific than he was the other day when he answered the Starred Question of my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale, I believe last Thursday, because vague generalities such as, "They were considered to be the most suitable for the job" really are not in the slightest convincing. There must have been some prime reason why 379 this firm, of all British and American firms, were chosen to perform this task, when no other firm was even consulted. Clearly, there was some good reason for this, and I hope that the noble Lord will say precisely what it is. If the firm of McKinseys are so special, what are the peculiarities that distinguish them from all the others? Are they cheaper? Indeed, we do not really know this, because apparently no other firm was asked to tender. Are they more able? If so, on what basis are they judged? As my noble friend said, a British firm were considered sufficiently able to advise the Swiss Post Office, which after all is one of the most efficient in Europe. Why, then, are their qualities apparently so insufficient as to make them unsuitable for advising the British Post Office? These, I believe, are questions which require an answer.
Many British consultants export their services to other countries. Some even give up to 20 per cent. of their effort to assisting firms abroad and to exporting their services, and it is not altogether difficult to imagine the damage done to their efforts when Her Majesty's Government deliberately insinuate that their services are not sufficiently good for them to be enlisted in advising a British Government Department. This is the more particularly unfair when in fact they were never given the opportunity or invited to tender. I do not, of course, say that a British firm should be employed in all cases; but I do feel that it is quite inexcusable for a British firm not even to be given the chance of being considered. Unless the noble Lord comes out with some most astonishing and unexpected reasons, one can only come to the conclusion that Her Majesty's Government have once again fallen victim to the high-pressure sales technique of American firms.
I cannot help thinking that it is tragic to see contract after contract, whether it is for the reorganisation of the Post Office or for the purchasing of aircraft, going abroad to other countries—these contracts not being given by private industry but given by the British Government. I wonder, indeed, when Her Majesty's Government will realise that one of the prime qualities of the American business man is his high-pressure sales technique. 380 This contract seems to me to smell strongly of high-pressure salesmanship.
I therefore hope that the noble Lord will answer one or two specific questions which I should like to ask him. At what date was agreement given to McKinseys for their services to be used in the Post Office? What is the cost to Her Majesty's Government of their services? How long will their employment last? Was this agreement given as a result of a lunch to which the Postmaster General was invited and at which none of his officials were present? If so, I can only say that it would certainly justify the McKinsey's expense account. And what are the unique qualities possessed by McKinsey for this work which are absent from British firms? Precisely what are the reasons which determined the Postmaster General not even to give consideration to a British firm? Finally, I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, whether he will give an undertaking that his right honourable friend will consider again this decision to eliminate from tendering—that is the point, not the giving of the contract to the Americans—a British firm, which was clearly a grave error of judgment and of prudence.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I have listened with the greatest interest to the three speeches, and all I would say is this. The United States of America abounds in admirable institutions of all kinds, but when it comes to Post Office efficiency I should have thought that in that matter Her Majesty's Government could have said to their American friends:Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ LORD HOBSON
My Lords, may I say, first of all, that the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, was quite right to raise this matter. I am very pleased to face him in order to answer his Question. We met many years ago, and I suppose that neither of us thought that we should ever meet again, first in the other place, and now in the House of Lords. The noble Lord complained, or rather made certain minor criticisms, about my replies last week. I thought that the replies which I gave last Thursday to the Question were rather long. I was 381 brought up in the school which was taught that the Answer to a Parliamentary Question should be brief and to the point, and should add nothing to the information already known! If your Lordships read the replies which I gave, you will see that I have fallen into the pleasant habit of your Lordships' House whereby we almost debate Questions. I thought that I was most forthcoming on this matter.
The point I want to deal with (and there is a point of principle involved) is that here we are discussing a nationalised industry—to my mind the only complete nationalised industry, in so far as complete public accountability is concerned. We are raising a question of an intimate contract between a firm of consultants and the Post Office. We can even raise the question of a postman being 6d. short in his pay—that would be perfectly in order; whereas we know that, so far as the other nationalised industries are concerned, we are limited as to the occasions and the extent to which matters can be raised and debated. It is of great importance that we should take advantage of the fact that the Post Office, which is the oldest nationalised undertaking, is in a position to answer questions of detail. The matters raised this evening are questions of detail, particularly when they are thought of in the context of the £1 million contracts which the Post Office is engaged in every year.
I want to make one or two points perfectly clear. The Postmaster General, in arriving at this decision, has certainly not gone outside his legal power. He was perfectly entitled, as one who holds an office under the Crown to make this decision. It was an administrative action. There was absolutely no need to get any law passed to enable him to do it. He did not have to come to Parliament, by way of regulation, and ask for permission to do it. This was day-to-day management, in the full sense of the term, and he arrived at the decision.
Before I come to answer specific questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I want to say straight away that my right honourable friend is not prepared to appoint another firm in place of McKinseys. That is his decision. The 382 firm has already begun work. The selection of this firm implies no criticism of British firms of consultants. Over the last ten years the Post Office has used British consultants. Five at the present time are undertaking assignments. However, in this case my right honourable friend felt there was a need for an entirely fresh and fundamental look, the size and complexity of the Post Office being what it is. McKinseys is a firm of international repute and experience and with the resources capable of grappling with an organisation of the magnitude and complexity of the Post Office. Their operations are world-wide. They have offices in six countries, their London office being their second largest. Some of their partners are United Kingdom citizens, and most of the personnel in their London office are also United Kingdom citizens. For the Post Office assignment they will be using a combination of United Kingdom staff and staff imported from their other offices.
Over the last six years they have carried out studies of the overall organisation and management methods of many large British firms. I do not propose to gave the names of those firms. I am quite prepared to put it in the form of a letter, but I do not think that on an occasion of this sort I should be called upon to advertise McKinseys by giving the list of firms for which they have carried out management consultancy. Nevertheless, they are important firms which can be classed under the generic term of "blue chip" organisations. There can be no doubt that McKinseys already enjoy a very strong reputation in the field of management. My right honourable friend was not content to be guided by reputation alone. He has discussed the assignment with two of the principals of the company, who have also had many talks with top officials of the Post Office. These meetings not only enabled McKinseys to form a very good picture of the nature of the task they were undertaking but also confirmed the appropriateness of their selection.
There have been suggestions that the Post Office should have gone out to tender for this contract. I need hardly say that it is not possible to draw up specifications for this type of work except in the broadest terms. The specification emerges from detailed discussion between 383 client and consultant. As I have said, the assessment of how far the consultants will be able satisfactorily to conclude their study must be the decision of my right honourable friend, based on his own judgment supported by that of his officials. In short, I would assure your Lordships that my right honourable friend chose this firm because he considered that they were particularly suitable for the task. The Post Office is always eager to use the talents of the home industry. In the last ten years the Post Office has given several assignments to firms in the United Kingdom, and their services will undoubtedly be required in the future. That, briefly, is the statement for the defence on behalf of my right honourable friend the Postmaster General.
I have been asked some specific questions and I want to come straight to them, though some may have been answered by the statement. The main question which was asked was in relation to cost. My right honourable friend takes the view that he does not think it proper to disclose fees paid for professional services of this nature. We cannot state the cost at the present moment, but it would be perfectly appropriate for Parliament to know the final payment that will be made. How would Parliament be able to find out? Well, first of all there is the Comptroller and Auditor General; secondly, the Public Accounts Committee; and, thirdly, there is the Estimates Committee—and I have experience of this, having been Chairman in the past—in which I can imagine questions being put on these matters. The cost to the Post Office of this firm of McKinsey, can be ascertained after payment has been made. That is precisely because of the fundamental safeguards that exist, particularly in dealing with Government affairs and, in this case, with a nationalised industry.
There was the question of whether the Cabinet were consulted. Here, again, I do not propose to make a statement on Cabinet conclusions. The noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, has been a member of the Cabinet, has been a member of the Government, and I am a member of the Government. The fact of the matter is that we all know very well, without asking about Cabinet conclusions, that you cannot really make decisions without 384 being in a position to carry your colleagues with you. I should have thought that that was a reasonable and fair answer to the question that has been asked.
The other question is: How long will they take? I cannot give the answer about how long they will take; I have no experience of these people. It is true that I was at the Post Office for over five years. I had a very happy time, indeed, and we did not have quite so many squalls; we did not have to combat inflation such as we have to do at the present moment. We never had them in the time of my right honourable friend Wilfrid Paling and my right honourable friend Ness Edwards. How long the job will take, I do not know.
I enjoyed the flight of fancy of the noble Lord—and, of course, paradoxically, it was true—in regard to the comparison between the United States Post Office and our own. Far be it from me to do anything to jeopardise the Atlantic Alliance, but I know as well as he does that our Post Office compared to theirs is far more efficient. We all know that. But I should respectfully suggest that it is hardly on the sort of ideas that the noble Lord has in mind that McKinsey would be asked to inquire. This I should have thought was far more of an internal character than an outside one. I think I have answered the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale. I do not want to miss any. I made fairly copious notes, but if I have missed any I shall be only too happy, either by way of ordinary answer in your Lordships' House or by writing to the noble Lord or by speaking to him, to give him further information. I now come to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers—
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, if the noble Lord is moving on, may I ask this question on this matter of time and how long it will take? Surely some programme has been drawn up. Surely there is some interim operation which is going to take some agreed time. Surely some time factor has been decided upon.
§ LORD HOBSON
That is quite true; I am sure there is. But I was asked whether I know, and I do not know; I have not been able to find out. I have been perfectly honest and straightforward.
§ LORD HOBSON
If the noble Lord cares to put that question down, I shall be only too happy to answer. But I have been asked specifically to give a direct answer. There is no equivocation, no dubiety. As a matter of fact, I have been saved. The information has just come. It certainly was not available a little while ago when the noble Lord was speaking. But there, again, we have an example of the efficiency of a nationalised industry who, presumably, can use the nationalised telephones and even have a clerk standing by and able to get this information for your Lordships. The figure is nine to ten months. That, presumably, is the period of gestation, my Lords.
I now come to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He really did dot the i's and cross the t's of the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale. I was glad he did so, because I have always had a high opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale. Then—and I think he may regret having said it; I do not know what he based his statement on—he gave some account of a lunch. Reasonably the Postmaster General was present and there was a hint, a sous entendre—I suppose we have to get into the delicate meaning—that a representative of McKinsey was present. Let us make the full assumption that they were all there —the managing director, the chairman, the lot. No one is going to tell me that 386 my right honourable friend would succumb to that sort of thing—I have known him long enough—and I am sure that no member of Her Majesty's Government would. I feel that in the morning, when the noble Earl comes to read what he said, he will regret making that mistake. I am absolutely sure that my right honourable friend the Postmaster General arrived at this decision convinced that he had chosen the firm most suitable to perform the task, and I am sure that that was the only consideration he had in mind.
My Lords, I have endeavoured to answer the questions raised, and if the noble Lords opposite are dissatisfied, then that is life, that is the political fight, and, indeed, it is one of the joys of a democratic society. But, to finish more seriously, if there is any information that noble Lords would care to ask for, it will be my earnest endeavour as a servant of this House to give the information that is sought.