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the Post Office touches industry and the general life of the nation at many points, and no discussion of the Post Office could ignore the background of our present economic situation, and more particularly the background of the grave statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made on Monday. While there are several good reasons for putting down the Post Office Vote on this Supply day, I think it is all the more urgent because of the Chancellor's statement. What we want to do is to draw from the Postmaster General some indication of how the Post Office is going to contribute to the production drive, both by the example it can give and the services it can render. It is platitudinous to say that good communications are essential and bad communications a hindrance to industry, but they can also, whether good or bad, have a moral effect as well. I was struck during the war by a statement of Field-Marshal Wavell, when he said that the rapid carriage of mails between the United Kingdom and the troops serving abroad is priority No. 1 even over machine guns. At one point in the war that was the important place in which he put the carriage of mails to the troops.
I regret to say that today, two years after the war, there are signs not of improvement but of some running down in the Post Office service in more than one direction. The wartime restrictions and charges are apparently becoming a permanent feature of the Post Office service. I will take the different services seriatim, and I take, first, the postal services. It will be within the recollection of the Committee that last year an improvement was announced in the collections and deliveries in the London and other areas. That improvement was introduced in the early part of this year, but was as rapidly taken off, and these services were reduced. The first reason given was the fuel crisis, and the second was the manpower situation. I want to probe into certain contradictory statements made by the Postmaster-General—and incidentally one was made today at Question Time—on the manpower aspect of the postal services.
Let us look at the first. I would remind the House of the Debate which took place on the Adjournment on 6th June. On that occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) raised the question of the restricted services in London, and I wish to quote some of the remarks made then by the Assistant Postmaster-General:
It is perfectly true that these restricted services are for one reason, and one reason only: because the Government, in reviewing the claims of the Civil Service—and hon. Members opposite have repeatedly called attention to the growth of the Civil Service— on the manpower of the country, asked various Government Departments, including the Post Office, to cut down their manpower, in favour of turning manpower over to production rather than the processes of distribution. That is the reason."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 6th June, 1947; Vol. 438, c. 683.]
It was made clear in that statement that the reason for the reduced services was the need to reduce manpower.
Let us look at some of the figures of manpower in the Post Office. I do not want to weary the Committee with a lot of detailed figures, so I will give round figures for the sake of simplification. According to various official publications, on 1st January, 1945, the staff of the Post Office, not including the industrial staff and counting two part-timers as one full-timer, was 219,000. By 1st April, 1946, that had risen to 239,600, and by 1st April, 1947, it had risen to 258,400. If my mathematics are correct that shows that over a year there was an overall increase of 19,000. Let us look for a moment at the number of postmen. On 1st October, 1946, 82,150 postmen were employed, and on 1st April, 1947, 85,868 postmen were employed, an increase over the year of over 3,000 postmen—during the very time the improved postal services were put on and taken off again, the reason for the latter being that manpower must be saved. However, in that period we had an increase of no fewer than 3,000.
I come now to the Question which was answered today by the Postmaster-General. Question No 14, which was asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison), was this:
To ask the Postmaster-General, why a large number of men between the ages of 60 and 66 years have recently been discharged from the postal service in Edinburgh so that they may take up work in industry, when in fact no industrial employment exists in the city for men of that age; and why he does not retain these older men in the service and release the younger men and women who would be more readily absorbed in employment of an industrial nature.
What was the answer to that? It really was a most astonishing answer in the circumstances. The Postmaster-General replied that these men were being discharged because they were redundant following the restrictions of the postal services. That has turned the whole thing upside down. The Assistant Postmaster-General had said that the services were being reduced because of manpower difficulties, and the Postmaster-General a few weeks later, in answer to a question, says exactly the opposite.