HL Deb 23 July 1974 vol 353 cc1557-60

3.3 p.m.


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 of the inefficiency and loss of time caused by the serious delays in the delivery of post; to what extent these delays are due to shortages of staff and what steps are being taken to reduce these shortages by the employment of women.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government share the Post Office's regret over recent delays in postal deliveries; these are primarily due to serious staff shortages in some areas averaging about 9 per cent.nationally and 14 per cent.in London. It is hoped that completion of current pay negotiations which Her Majesty's Government have authorised and the prospect of increased London weighting allowances will help alleviate the difficulties. I am also advised that the Post Office is seeking agreement with the Union of Post Office Workers on the recruitment of more women.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he give us information about the numbers of women at present employed in the categories in which there are shortages?


No, my Lords, not without notice. I quoted a figure for a particular post office when a Question was asked a week or two ago, but I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Baroness a breakdown. However, I will certainly send her such information as I can obtain.


My Lords, can the noble Lord assure us that the arrangements to which he referred and the possible increases in staff will not result in further requests for an increase in postal charges?


No. my Lords, I can give no such undertaking. The Post Office is of course working at a deficit, but I do not think that that is the Question which we are now discussing.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the under-payment of Post Office workers has been the cause of this very serious shortage, and that there is no hope of any improvement or of a reduction in the 80-hour week that many of them are working until something is done about it?


Yes, my Lords. There is no doubt, as I said in my Answer to the original Question, that pay has been a problem here. I must say that I am a little surprised that the noble Baroness should appear to correlate female labour with shortages which follow from inadequately paid employment.


My Lords, is it not a fact that women have never been encouraged to go into the Post Office service, and that that is the reason why they are not there? Would it not be a good idea to tell women that all sorting jobs will be women's jobs, and that the driving of the small vans which do so many deliveries to-day could be done by women?


My Lords, I have said that there are now discussions going on with the Union of Post Office Workers and it is hoped that, as a result of those discussions, there will be more women working. At the present time there are women workers, but it is not quite as simple as some people might suggest to employ labour and have only certain jobs available to them. The men, of course, are available for all work.


My Lords, though it is most pleasing to hear that the Post Office has been able to engage women into the service in such a manner as my noble friend has indicated, will he agree that the suggestion of my noble friend Lady Summerskill, that all sorting work should be assigned to female labour, would be the means of making trouble in the Post Office in regard to the engagement of women? Will my noble friend further agree that many people have the idea, when they see a postman on his beat, that he is engaged in a more or less menial task of labour, although I know, as one who was engaged within the Ministry covering this Department, of the many problems that face these men as they seek to carry out their duties?


My Lords, my noble friend has touched upon some of the difficulties of the situation. My own mail appears promptly every morning and, before it is delivered by a postman, he sorts it out. It is not easy to say that some people should do the sorting and others should do the delivering.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in some places there are no delays to deliveries of the post, but that there appear to be rather more deliveries and collections than are strictly necessary—at any rate, for the ordinary householder?


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I think we should bear in mind when we criticise that each day 35 million different letters are collected from 100,000 different points, and that 92 per cent.of those that are first-class mail are delivered the next working day which is something of which we can be proud.


My Lords, can the noble Lord give the House any idea of how the Post Office is coping with the present backlog in the West One postal area?


My Lords, I understand that that backlog is almost cleared up now.


My Lords, as I am the last one to advocate discrimination, is it not a fact—and this is why I make my suggestion—that in the past we have always been told that women were not strong enough to do postal work? That is why I am suggesting that they should do work which everybody agrees they are strong enough to undertake.


My Lords, to follow up what the noble Baroness has just said, may I ask whether the noble Lord realises that in the North of England we have for many years had postwomen, and that in the toughest conditions in the country they have carried out their work admirably?


My Lords, I think it is common knowledge that in the North of England they grow huskier men and women.

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