Orders of the Day — Post Office

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd July 1947.

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3.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Grimston Mr Robert Grimston , Westbury

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.

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

The Postmaster-General (Mr. Wilfred Paling) indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Robert Grimston Mr Robert Grimston , Westbury

There is no use the Postmaster-General shaking his head. We really want to know where we are. He must tell us whether he is right or whether the Assistant Postmaster-General is right. Further information on this question has reached me from Glasgow. I am told that temporary men over 50 in Glasgow are being dismissed, and the reason given is that they are required for productive industry. I understand that most of these men, owing to their age, are not likely to be fit for the requirements of essential industries, and the outcome of the whole thing is that this has not helped the manpower problem at all but has merely aggravated the unemployment situation in Glasgow. There is a great deal in this restriction of services coupled with the excuse about the manpower problem which requires explanation, and I hope we shall get it.

I pass to another aspect of the postal services, and would inquire from the Postmaster-General what plans he has for the future. During any war—and the late war was no exception—means of transport in all directions are very much improved. Today we have faster aeroplanes, helicopters and other improvements which extend over different directions. Those things have their part to play in the carriage of mails, and although I am not suggesting that we should use helicopters exclusively to hasten the postal services, in many respects they can be used, as can fast aeroplanes. I want to Know whether there are any means of bringing all these new sources of speed to the aid of the Post Office in order to maintain and develop the postal services of this country. The ideal at which we should aim is to be able to post as late as possible in the evening with certainty of delivery in any part of the United Kingdom on the first post the following morning, using every means at our disposal to achieve a speedy, regular and cheap postal service. I shall be glad to know from the Postmaster-General what are his plans in that direction.

I turn now to what are called the telecommunications services. I do not know what may have been the experience of other hon. Members and their friends. I do not refer here to the experience of telephones in this House because, as I expect every one knows, a Member of Parliament who goes to a telephone kiosk in the Central Lobby for a trunk call receives priority. My experience other than that, and the experience of my friends, has been of an extraordinary variation in the telephone service. Perhaps I can best make that clear by quoting one or two instances. I myself have sometimes found it quite impossible to get hold of Trunks in the early morning or during the cheap call period, and very often if one tries to get them by dialing "O" that is equally impossible. At other times, however, one gets through very quickly. A friend of mine had what I consider to be an odd experience the other evening, in that he was able to make a trunk call quite easily between five and six, but after trying to get through to Toll for 35 minutes had to abandon the attempt. I find it difficult to understand this variation between the service which is rendered at certain times by the trunk and the toll exchanges.

Here I want to refer again to the number of telephonists employed. I believe that the Postmaster-General has been having difficulty in staffing the telephone exchanges, and, if that is so, he must look at the conditions of work which obtain there. He said today that one of his troubles has been a rapid turnover. I am sorry to hear that, because one rather hopes that people who go into the Post Office will eventually wish to make a career of it. According to the figures I have for 1945–46, the full-time and part-time telephonist staff and the technical staff employed in connection with the telephone service totalled 41,500. For 1946–47, the figure dropped to 36,000. Here let me say that the service in 1946–47 was certainly no worse than it is now. I see that the figure budgeted for in 1947–48 is 52,700, and I should very much like to hear from the Postmaster-General exactly what the staffing position is with regard to telephonists. I am not sure that that is entirely the trouble, but I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that {the Committee will be interested to learn, the reason for the great variations in the telephone service to which I have referred.

On top of all that, the cheap service— and here I am turning to the amenities of the service to the public—is still restricted to the hours between 6.30 and 9.30. I would remind the Committee that it was possible to keep the cheap service going for the extended hours right through the night until the latter years of the war. I believe that it was actually in the very last year of the war that this service. which is a great boon to the public, had to be restricted, and we can obtain no satisfaction from out inquiries as to when it is to be reintroduced. Another point is that before the war there was a service called night letter telegrams. This was not very largely used but it was a great convenience to many business men—and here again we touch upon our present difficulties. In the course of his business a man may be visiting a number of factories during the day in connection with progress, orders, or something of that kind, and when he comes' home in the evening and wishes to communicate with his head office or his works, it is a great help to him if he can sit down and dictate a long telegram at cheap rates which he knows will be delivered by the first post next morning. It should not be outside the bounds of possibility for the Post Office to restore this service which, although not greatly used, was extremely convenient.

The next point I wish to mention is one which is not so important but which does show the trend of Post Office administration. We have not yet had greetings telegrams restored; here again we kept them going as long as possible during the war, and I think it is not unreasonable to ask for them to be restored two years after the war. To sum up, I want to know if the Postmaster-General can tell us the reasons for the discrepancies in the telephone service which I have described, what he thinks are the prospects of a really decent service being reintroduced, what his difficulties are and how long he thinks it will be before we really have a Trunk and Toll service on demand which is, of course, what is wanted. I do not want to be unreasonable and I would not have expected that to be brought about at once, but we are further from it than we ought to be.

I now refer to another service which it was envisaged might have been introduced soon after the war. It is the ASK service, and perhaps I had better explain to the Committee what that means. The idea was that persons in the London area should dial ASK when they required information. It was not intended to be used by people who wanted to know the name of the play which was showing at a particular theatre, but was meant to be confined to Post Office and Government information. Anybody who wanted to know suddenly how soon they could send a cable to Kamchatka—which is rather a frivolous example—or who required any other information from a Government Department could obtain it by dialing ASK, whereupon they would be linked up with the particular Government Department which could deal with the inquiry. In fact, there would be a service—particularly valuable in these days of Government control, licences and regulations— whereby one could go to a telephone kiosk, dial, ASK and be switched through to whichever Department dealt with the type of inquiry one was making. It was felt that this would be of particular advantage to foreigners visiting this country. I should have thought that there were means by which an exchange could have been adapted to this service. It would have enhanced the prestige of the Post Office if it did nothing else. But it would have done something else as well, and I should like to know if the idea has been abandoned or in what stage of preparation or fulfilment it is.

Turning now to the question of costs, all the deterrent charges are still with us two years after the war. At the beginning of the war postage was increased, and at various stages during the war telegraph and telephone charges were raised with the one object of preventing people using the telegraph and telephone services in time of war when they were required for more important things. That reason has passed, and two years after the war we still have these enhanced charges which lead to very large Post Office surpluses, as I will show in a moment. We have already asked about the restoration of the commercial accounts of the Post Office which were abandoned for manpower reasons during the war, and I understand that they are to be produced for 1947–48. Meanwhile, the figures of Post Office profits for 1945–46 are as follows: the postal services, a surplus of £15,500,000; telegraph services, a slight deficit of £38,000 which, in relation to these astronomical figures, may be neglected; telephone services, a surplus of no less than £20,500,000. Thus there is a total profit of over £36 million for 1945–46.

In reply to a recent Question, the Assistant Postmaster-General informed us that to reduce postcards from 2d. to a 1d.—2d. is an outrageous charge for a postcard, but it was done because of the war when we used deterrent charges to stop people using services required for defence purposes—would cost only £1,250,000 a year. To reduce the postage on letters by ½d. to 2d. would cost £7,500,000 a year, according to figures given by the Postmaster-General. Together they would cost £8,800,000; and that is off a surplus of £15,500,000. Even if that concession were given to the British public—and it would be anti-inflationary—it would still leave the Post Office with a pretty handsome surplus according to the 1945–46 figures. I have no figures about the telephones but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us what it would cost to put the telephone and telegram charges back to where they were before the war; that is, to remove the surcharges imposed during the war. I do not know what the figure is, and I am not going to guess, but, at any rate, there is a surplus of £20,500,000 on telephone service for 1945–46, and it seems to me that the public and industry are well entitled to enjoy some reduction in the charges.

Perhaps the Postmaster-General can answer the question whether at the present moment the Post Office is regarded as a revenue producer, or as an institution which has to give the cheapest and best possible service to the industry of this country. That is a question we really must have answered. If there are to be no reductions in charges and we see this surplus of £36 million, we can only draw the conclusion that the present Government regard the Post Office as a vehicle of taxation. In our present condition the Post Office can render invaluable service to industry and should do so at the lowest possible charge. If that is in fact not the policy, it is a profound mistake and should be altered.

I believe that the Post Office Advisory Council has been set up again. It is a council composed of outside people with various experiences, both industrial and civil, to advise the Postmaster-General and the Post Office. I should very much like to hear what their work has been since they were set up, and how far any recommendations they may have made have been followed by the Postmaster-General.

There is another small matter to which I would like to refer. I must make some apology to the Committee for raising it, because it arises out of a case brought personally to me by a constituent of mine. I mention it because I understand that it is a matter which is causing concern to a wider circle. It is the mail service between this country and our troops at present serving in Burma. In this case an anxious parent has written to say that he has heard nothing from his son since last January and can get no reply to letters or cables. I took the matter up with the Assistant Postmaster-General, who has been most courteous in doing all he can to find out the cause of the trouble and in telegraphing to Burma. We have established the fact that the trouble is not at this end. In the last communication I had from the Assistant Postmaster-General he indicated that the Army Post Office in Burma had handed over to the local Burmese service, and it is really almost impossible, I understand, to get inquiries answered. If that is the case, he must do something about it, even to the extent of resuming the Army postal service. It is quite intolerable that parents of troops serving overseas should find that they have no communication for months and that the only thing the Post Office can do about it is to inquire from a new government, which I suppose is not running very well at the moment and seems incapable of replying or, at least, incapable of replying in a reasonable space of time. I raise the question because it is causing concern to a number of people who have relations serving in Burma.

I would also like to know if the "Post Office Magazine" has been started again. It was a very valuable medium for exchanging information among the staff of the Post Office. I attach great importance to anything that can be done to help the staff because, be it remembered, however good the technical apparatus and so on of the Post Office may be, the efficiency of the service comes down in the end to the attitude of the staff. "Can I help you?" was one of the best phrases ever coined, and it was acted up to well. The staff touch the public at all points—on the counters, in telephone exchanges, and also through the men coming to see to one's telephone in the office or the house. Anything which can help the staff to know one another and make the whole thing a happy family is good. I should like to hear if the "Post Office Magazine"—it is only one example of what can be done—has been restored. Other suggestions have been made, and I should like to know if any others have been put into operation.

I would remind the Committee that the Post Office is the oldest of our nationalised industries. The Opposition do not quarrel with the issue in this instance. There are many extraneous and historical reasons why we think the Post Office must remain a nationalised institution. In that connection I would remind the Committee that it was orginally Charles I who enjoined one Thomas Withering to organise a State service for the conveyance of private letters from London to Holyhead and thence to Ireland, and to bring back answers in six days. [Interruption.]An hon. Members behind me says, "Quicker than now." The title which has come down from those days,"Royal Mail,"is something which we on this side of the House would be sorry to lose.

The Government are today calling for increased production of industry in view of our present circumstances, but what do we see in this oldest of our nationalised industries which is vital to production? We see rather a falling off in the services. We do not see that improvement in the services which we ought to find. The figures I have quoted appear to show less work by more people. No Postmaster-General should be satisfied that that is the sort of lead to give, or to appear to give, to the rest of industry at this time. I very much hope that the Postmaster-General will be able to tell us something to show that that is not the lead—he has been a very short time in office—he intends to give.

Nobody who has had the honour to be in the Post Office, as I have had, can fail to have an affection for that institution and its staff, and I am perfectly certain —I say this most sincerely—that if they are put on their mettle, they will respond to any lead the right hon. Gentleman cares to give them. I remember the behaviour of the staff after air raids. I remember more than one occasion when, after a shattering air raid, the postman or telegraph boy was seen next morning delivering among the ruins. Although un-happly he might not be able to find the recipient, the mere gesture that that was being done by this great Government Department raised the morale of the place. We want to see something of that sort today, particularly when the Government are putting out appeals to industry to rescue the country from its difficulties. Yet we do not see that being done.

I wish to conclude with a reference to a publication issued shortly after the war. It is called "The Post Office Went to War," and on the back of the publication appears a facsimile copy of a letter written to the Postmaster-General by the Supreme Allied Commander which I will read to the Committee. It is dated 22nd June, 1944, from Supreme Headquarters, and reads as follows: The build-up of the necessary forces for-the current operations has involved the construction of a vast network of communications radiating from key centres of vital importance in the United Kingdom. The greater part of this work has been undertaken by the engineers and staff of the General Post Office. It is my great pleasure on behalf of the Allied Expeditionary Force to ask you to pass on to them my sincere appreciation for their contribution and for the long hours which they have worked and for the excellent co-operation they have given toward our success. The letter is signed "Sincerely, Dwight D. Eisenhower." I hope the present Postmaster-General is going so to direct the affairs of the Post Office that its contribution today and the lead it can give will not fall short of the tradition enshrined in that letter.

4.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

I shall be dealing with quite a number of things which the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) referred to, later in my speech, when I propose to give a general survey of some of the main items. The hon. Member raised one or two points with which I would like to deal now. Anything which I miss in this statement will be dealt with by the Assistant Postmaster-General. Some of the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman are questions of detail, and we will have to get the information in order to reply to them. In regard to the postmen, there seems to be a difference of opinion, although I do not think it is a contradiction, and I will try to explain it. It is a fact that in 1946 there were 82,150 postmen, and in 1947, 85,868. We did make an attempt to put into operation new services, and actually put them into operation, and our staff was increased because of that fact. Then came the fuel crisis and various other matters, includ- ing the need for men in productive industry. We decided to cut the services and to reduce the number of men accordingly. Immediately we made the decision to cut the services and to provide men for industry, we began to reduce the number, and the reduction will appear in next year's figures. The reduction is going on now, as hon. Members will have appreciated from answers to Questions they have put to the Department.

Photo of Mr Robert Grimston Mr Robert Grimston , Westbury

I have some monthly figures here. Would the right hon. Gentleman be able to give the latest figures in answer to a Question, or perhaps during the Debate, say, for 1st June this year?

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

I will try to do that. The hon. Gentleman made a point about the dismissal of men in Glasgow threatening a rise in the unemployment figures. It might well be that after we have dismissed these men, some weeks may elapse before all of them can find their places in industry. There may be a temporary period during which there will be a slight margin of unemployment. It will take some time to swallow all these men. I hope that in the present circumstances it will not be long before they all find employment. The hon. Gentleman also asked what would be the cost of going back to the preware telephone charges. I am told that the cost would be in the neighbourhood of £16 million.

Let me now give the general survey. The Post Office is asking for nearly £147 million. This is a big sum of money, and it reflects the huge business which the Post Office handles. The value of our dealings with the public in 1946 was £3,500 million. We handled nearly 7,000 million letters, nearly 239 million parcels, nearly 52 million telegrams, and more than 2,500 million telephone calls. We paid nearly 550 million pensions, services, and billeting allowances, and the number of our Savings Bank transactions was 123 million. In almost every way—telephones, telegraphs, savings bank, parcels and counter transactions—the business done is well above the prewar level. It is only in postal orders and letter packets that we are handling fewer than before the war, and these are steadily going up. This outstanding increase in business is a sign of the equally outstanding effort made by the Post Office since the end of the war, with diluted and often too little staff to recover as much as possible of prewar standards of service and efficiency. All sections of the Post Office made an ungrudging contribution to the war effort; this left us with a good deal of leeway to make up, and many causes, most of them beyond our own control, have since combined to hamper our recovery. None the less, the greater part of my tale is one of progress, progress made in the face of great difficulties.

The Post Office is such a vast organisation, and its occupations are so many and so different, that I do not find it easy to know where to begin my story. But of all our services the postal service is the senior, and I think that it would be appropriate to begin with that. During the war, the postal services were severely reduced. After the war we aimed at giving the following services: In London head districts five deliveries of letters and three of parcels, the first delivery to start at 7.15 a.m. and the final delivery at 7 p.m. In London sub districts four deliveries, the first commencing at 7 a.m., and the last at 7 p.m. The collections in London were to be more or less as prewar, except that the final collection, both in head and sub districts, was to be at 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. to midnight. The latest time of posting for first delivery throughout the United Kingdom was to be 6 to 6.30 p.m. Parcel deliveries were to be as prewar, three in head districts and two in sub districts. In towns adjacent to London there were to be three deliveries, the first starting at 7 a.m., and the last between 4 and 6 p.m.; two parcel deliveries were to be made as prewar. In other provincial areas there were to be three deliveries in the largest towns and twp in the smaller towns; the first delivery to start at 7 a.m. and the final delivery at about. 3 p. m.; the final collection to be at 8 to 8.30 p.m. and restricted to main thoroughfares. In rural areas the prewar service was to be provided generally, that is, two deliveries, one morning and one afternoon, and two collections, the last collection generally about 4 to 6 p.m.

I must explain that the circulation' of mails in this country rests, and is likely for some time to come to rest, on the network of night travelling post offices. Prewar this system provided a very efficient service along the railway routes, but it was inevitable that certain towns, such as Birmingham, should benefit from their geographical position as compared, for example, with Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Aberdeen. There were also gaps in the cross-country services when they cut across the main railway routes. One main target which the Post Office set itself in the postwar period was to level up, so far as possible, this unevenness of service by using air services; long distance ones between London and Scotland and Ireland on the one hand; and on the other, shorter links between travelling post offices to close the cross-country gaps.

Our first task was, therefore, to restore the travelling post offices. Immediately the war in Europe ended we broached this with the railway companies. They expected great difficulty because of the state of their permanent way, but they very generously undertook to start the travelling post offices earlier than they themselves regarded as practicable. As a quid pro quo the Post Office was not to expect the same standard of time-keeping as prewar. I should like here to pay a tribute to the public spirited attitude of the railway companies in this respect. They also agreed, in spite of their serious operating difficulties, to re-schedule parcel mails to passenger trains much earlier than they had thought practicable. It was realised on both sides that labour difficulties, particularly at railway transfer points, would prevent us reaching prewar standards here also.

The Post Office also approached the Ministry of Civil Aviation about night flying services. The Committee will realise that, if an effective postal service is to be provided, the air service should operate with practically 100 per cent. regularity. For 100 per cent. regularity in night flying services, the air operators must have at their disposal all the most up-to-date night flying aids. Lack of this equipment has held us up so far, but we are being very persistent. I hope that, within the next 12 months, it will be possible to make a start with the long-distance inland night air services. The provision of airlines between travelling post offices is even more difficult. We need airfields practically next door or as near as possible to the railway stations, if we are not to lose the time we gain in the air by delay between the airport and the railway station. Possibly a solution of this difficulty will be found in the direction mentioned by the hon. Gentleman opposite. It may be that we shall have to wait until a helicopter service has been developed. At the moment the helicopter is in its infancy and there are only a few machines in this country. We are expecting to make experiments soon in collaboration with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and with dummy mails; but the helicopter has to make a lot of progress yet. In particular, it must be faster and, from our point of view, it must have a greater mail capacity than it has at present.

We actually made a start in October, 1945, with the restoration of the night travelling post offices by putting back the four main mail carrying trains, the Up and Down Specials, which run between London and Aberdeen, and the G.W.R. travelling post offices which run between London and Penzance. Seven more travelling post offices were put back in the spring of last year and the remainder, with one or two exceptions, in the autumn. As the travelling post offices were put back we were able to begin our work of introducing the post war services, and by the end of the year they had all been established in the provinces. London offered a more serious problem. The postwar services were not ready until the end of the year. To avoid confusion with Christmas work the new services were deferred until 20th January. They were then introduced under the most unfavourable conditions. The transport strike had left an accumulation of mails to be disposed of, and the severe weather had led to very heavy sick absences. All the same, the new services went in. They had only run for some three weeks when the fuel crisis and the amount of sick leave made it impossible for us to continue with the late delivery and collection.

At this point we were called on, along with other Departments, to make our contribution to releasing manpower for productive industry. The Post Office is a commercial concern, and its staff numbers are closely related to the services. The only way in which we could show a substantial manpower saving was by cutting services. This, though it went right against the grain, we had to do. We have tried our best to avoid inconveniences to the community as a whole and, in particular, to the commercial community. By retaining a first delivery starting about 7 a.m. and a final general collection from 5.30 to 6.30 p.m. —Head Office boxes are later, of course, and are generally not cleared before 8 o'clock—the Post Office offers the best service it can provide with the manpower available to it.

I am sorry to say that the new services are not even now working everywhere as they should. In the first place, the change in deliveries meant in many places a complete recast and reorganisation of the postmen's walks. Thus, for the moment, many postmen are entirely new to their duties. They will quickly become familiar with their new rounds, and as they do, the services will show a steady improvement. Secondly, the railway companies frequently find it impossible to maintain scheduled running times, and so mails sometimes miss connections. I have already described how the Post Office and the railway companies are working closely together to provide an efficient mail service, but so long as the present difficulties regarding manpower, rolling stock, coal and permanent way remain, the companies find it difficult to restore their services to the pre-war level. They have gone out of their way many times to retime trains to try to help us.

I can assure the Committee that nothing is being overlooked which will make for improvement in the mail services. As an earnest of this, I am glad to be able to say that I am arranging to restore the prewar late fee facility on mail trains. As from 7th July, the public will be able to post letters with an extra halfpenny stamp on mail trains to which sorting office carriages are attached. Let me freely admit that the services the Post Office is offering at present fall short of our own standard of an efficient postal service. My intention is, as soon as the manpower position lets us, to build up the postal service again to the level which was aimed at after the war.

Let me say a word about personnel. The Committee should realise that at the same time as the Post Office was reorganising its postal services after the war, it was also carrying out the most radical overhaul in its history of its postal personnel, of their grading and organisation with the sole aim of greater efficiency. I should also on this point say something about the conditions of work of the postal staff. There is a feeling that I and my predecessors have given too much weight to the claims of the staff when mapping out the shape of the services to the public. Before I do this, I must pay a tribute to the scores and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Post Office workers of all kinds—postal, telegraphs, telephone, engineering and clerical—who kept the services going, often in the worst possible conditions, throughout the war, and through the in some ways not less difficult times since the end of the war. The public is apt to take the efforts of these unassuming Post Office workers too much for granted. During the war they perhaps did not realise to what an extent the whole defence mechanism of the country depended on services constructed, manned and maintained by Post Office men and women.

They sometimes do not fully realise under what a strain these men and women have been working, both during the war and at times such as we experienced earlier this year when the climate did its worst for us. There is also a very special class of officer, the counter clerk, who stands particularly in the public eye, and who has to contend with a pressure and a variety of business very much greater than before the war, and to contend with it in conditions which are often not nearly as good as they ought to be. I have myself seen the number and the variety of transactions undertaken by some of these counter clerks, who must be nearly encyclopaedias in the width of their grasp. I think the Committee will agree that, taken by and large, these servants of the Post Office have done magnificent work during these last hard years.

As regards staffing conditions on the postal side, the Committee must realise that the efficient yet not extravagant postal service which we enjoyed prewar rested on staff conditions and attendances which, under present-day conditions, could not be defended. In London many postmen began work at 6 o'clock in the morning and did not finish until 10 o'clock at night. This "covering period" of 16 hours, with a break in the middle of the day, was only tolerable at all because most of the postmen concerned worked in the neighbourhood where they lived. Now, as a result of war damage in London, the position has been radically altered. Many postmen now have to travel a considerable distance to their work. I hope the Committee will agree with me that it is quite out of the question to ask any man to accept a working day covering 16 hours with the addition of a journey to and from his work, and we know in London how long these journeys can be. In the provinces, too, most postmen worked "split duties." and though the "covering period" was not as long as in London, "covering periods" of as much as 12, 13 or 14 hours were common. After the war, "split duties" were abolished entirely in London, and we were considering how to reduce them in the provinces when the manpower crisis supervened. When the services were reduced we took the chance of improving staff attendances, without additional calls on manpower and, in town areas, we have materially reduced the number of "split duties."

Now let me mention one or two aspects of the postal services which will be of particular interest. Today there are letter services to all parts of Europe and parcel services to all parts except the Dodecanese Islands. To the rest of the world, except the Far East, postal services continued during the war, but they were hampered by the lack of shipping. As the shipping position has improved, the postal services have also improved. Today there are letter services to all the world and parcel services to all the world except parts of the Far East. We keep a keen eye on shipping outlets and send mails by all suitable available ships. We have made some very solid if not spectacular progress since the war in connection with external air mails. The air services to Europe have now been restored on a surcharge basis and B.O.A.C. now carry the bulk of the mail. It is hoped that the outcome of the Universal Postal Union Congress at present sitting in Paris will be a reduction in operators' air transport charges to Europe. If this comes off, I hope as a result to be able within the next 12 months to restore the prewar non-surcharge system to Europe under which letters will be carried by air without surcharge whenever the use of air affords worth while acceleration.

We are keenly exploiting the Empire Air Mail Services, so tremendously important to us and the rest of the Commonwealth. Today the volume of air mail carried on the Empire route is roughly equivalent to what was carried in 1938–39 under the Empire Air Mail scheme. The Committee will not think I am satisfied with this. It is a matter of aircraft. Give us the cargo space and we will fill it with mails. The air service before the war to North America was in its infancy and mails were almost exclusively carried in American planes. Today the volume of mails totals some five tons a week and the great bulk of it is carried by B.O.A.C. In January, 1946, South American Airways Corporation started their service to South America and today they carry weekly one ton of mail as compared with the weekly figure of 200 lbs. before the war which was carried by French and German services.

The Committee will be interested to learn of the improvement which has been effected in transmission times. Whereas before the war the mail took 12 to 14 days to reach Australia, today it takes three. To New Zealand before the war it took 16 to 21 days, today it is five. To India it took five to seven days, today it is three to five. To South Africa it took five to six days, now it is three to four. To West Africa it was five days, now three. To South America it took three to four days, now two to three days. To Egypt two to two and a half days, now it is one.

Now let me say a few words about telecommunications, which the hon. Gentleman raised. Whatever the world may think about the telecommunications services, the progress has indeed been spectacular. The Post Office faced the peace with some five to six years of arrears of plant and a waiting list of 300,000. Added to this, the appetite for telephone service was just about double that of prewar. Some 16,000 out of 41,000 of our engineering staff had joined the Forces but, as demobilisation proceeded, we managed to recruit some first-class material from the Signal Services. We have now an engineering force of about 53,000 and, during last year, 1946, we succeeded in providing over 800,000 telephones as against the prewar record of 438,000. In spite of this great effort, of which the Post Office may well be proud, the waiting list has slowly but steadily increased until it now stands at just over 400,000.

In the last 12 months our great difficulty has been to obtain sufficient stores and equipment from the manufacturers and to get the necessary buildings. We have placed large orders, but we are competing with demands for housing and the export trade, and delivery of plant has not kept pace with our needs. To add to all our difficulties, we have now a shortage of raw materials, particularly cotton, steel, timber, and moulding powder for plastics. We are still managing to provide between 50,000 and 60,000 telephones a month. Before the war our pace was 35,000. However, we have been living on our fat, our margin of spare plant has steadily dwindled, and the provision of telephone service now means the construction of more new plant than it used to do. We still have to impose restrictions on the amount of plant and stores we can afford to use for the provision of service to a new subscriber; but we have specially in mind the needs of rural areas, and the farmers in particular. We feel justified in devoting to them a larger proportion of our resources than we would to subscribers in urban areas.

We are anxious too, to provide more telephone kiosks. Since the war we have provided 1,000 new kiosks and we are aiming at 1,700 a year for the future. We try to give special attention to those applicants who have, I am sorry to say, had to wait so long. Demand is still high, and there is plenty of room for further development. We shall not be happy until we see a telephone in every house. In the meantime we hope to go on providing 50,000 to 60,000 telephones steadily month by month so long as supplies of plant and buildings permit, and to continue our intensive research into the use of substitute materials. We have in mind also new methods of distribution to give us a greater exploitation of line plant, and we are studying carefully the possibilities of developing "snared" service under modern conditions. I should like to note here that a similar position exists in America. At the end of 1946 the Bell Telephone system had a waiting list of about 2,000,000, much the same proportion to existing lines as obtains in this country.

Another telephone problem to which we have been giving our attention is that of maintenance. Preventive maintenance work had to be dropped during the war and a good many weaknesses in the plant were caused by war damage. There is no doubt that the whole of the telephone plant requires a thorough overhaul, and this has now been put in hand. It is a job, of course, which will take several years to complete. The telephone system suffered widespread damage from the severe weather during the first three months of this year. About 200,000 subscribers' lines were put out of action, mainly by the floods. It is something of an achievement that service was temporarily restored within a month to nearly all these subscribers. Permanent repairs still remain to be done, and they will have to be completed before next winter, even if provision of new service has to suffer in consequence.

At the same time, while we have had this constantly increasing demand for more telephones, the use of the service by existing subscribers has been increasing. There are now nearly four and a half million telephones in this country, well over a million more than there were before the war. In fact, one out of every four telephones in use today has been provided since the war. The local calling rate has risen, and during the last year there were 2,300 million local calls. The increase in the use of the trunk service also has been astonishing. During the war many thousands of trunk circuits were handed over to the fighting Services, but these have now been returned to us. More cables have been laid; now we have some 13,500 trunk circuits in use. Last year the number of effective trunk calls rose to well over 200 million, just about double the prewar use.

The standard of service has been steadily improving, though it is still some way behind the prewar standard, and the latest observation results show that 75 per cent. of the calls were completed on demand. All these increases in traffic have meant a large increase in the operating force, about which the hon. Member asked. There are some 14,000 telephone operators in London alone, and we expect that as the staff gain more experience the standard of service will continue to improve. As I mentioned in answer to a Question today, we are faced with the added difficulty of a tremendous turnover of telephone staff each year, amounting, in some parts of London, to nearly 50 per cent. The Committee will imagine what a great effort has been required of the engineering staff, who have formed a spearhead of this very great expansion on the telephone side. I should like the Committee to know that they too at the same time have taken in their stride a not insignificant reorganisation—a reorganisation aimed like that on the postal side, at greater efficiency and flexibility.

These increases in staff mean an increase in training facilities. This indeed applies over the whole field covered by Post Office activities. The provision made for training in the Post Office is one of its most notable achievements. On a recent visit to Edinburgh I had the opportunity of going round one of the engineering schools, where young men, most of whom have been in the Services, were given an opportunity of acquiring new knowledge or, in some cases, brushing up their old knowledge. Perhaps equally important, a lot of the young ones, the boys coming into the service, had been sent to the training school to become acquainted with the new equipment in a much better way than they could by going straight into the service. Thus they get some elementary training, so that when they go into the service they will have some knowledge of it.

Now for a few words about the telegraph service. This service suffered severely from enemy action; the Central Telegraph Office—the largest telegraph office in the world—was destroyed in the heavy raid on London at the end of 1940, and other large telegraph offices such as Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, were severely damaged. It was thus necessary to introduce dispersal arrangements, and the service is still suffering from the fact that the average telegram has to undergo more handlings than in prewar days. As the trunk telephone service has improved, telegraph traffic has fallen, but it is still higher than it was before the war, in spite of the fact that we are not yet able to restore the "Greetings telegram." I agree with the hon. Member, I should like to do so at the earliest possible moment. Paper restrictions and printing difficulties are the main difficulties which stand in the way of our doing this.

We are steadily introducing switching methods to eliminate the retransmissions of telegrams. The present switching system is operated manually and we propose to replace this by automatic switch- ing. We hope to begin this work in 1949 and to complete it by about 1953. Meanwhile the standard of service, though still well below the prewar standard, is steadily improving. The average time from the handing in of a telegram to sending out for delivery was 30 minutes in 1939, and 140 minutes in 1945; today it is 45 minutes. Before leaving the subject of telephones and telegraphs, I would like to say a few words about the restoration of the overseas services. Before the war the public telephone service was available to every European country except Albania. A 24 hour service has now been restored to all European countries except Albania, Greece, Turkey and Poland, and negotiations are in hand for the restoration of services to these countries. The volume of traffic is about 84 per cent. of the prewar level.

Our research engineers have developed a submarine repeater, a very notable achievement, and this is likely to have a marked effect on the technique of submarine cables. We have already incorporated one in a new cable laid to Germany and expect to lay a new cable with repeater to Holland in the next few months, to be folowed some time later by one to Belgium. Radio telephone services have been restored and extended to most of the important countries outside Europe and to ships at sea and radiotelephone traffic is now about two-and-a-half times the prewar level. Similarly the telegraph services to Europe have been restored and the traffic is about 25 per cent. above the prewar level and ship-shore traffic is also well above the pre-war level.

Let me say a word about savings, which is also an important part of Post Office work. I refer to the work done by the Savings Department. Since the start, in November, 1939, of the War Savings Campaign, this has been continuously expanding. During the year ended 31st March last, the number of savings bank transactions amounted to 123 million with a turnover of £1,249 million. The 25 million active accounts at 31st March, 1947, had a balance of £1,981 million standing to their credit. Compare this with the figures at the end of 1938–39, when there were 11½ million active accounts with a balance of £523,700,000, and the number of transactions had, during the year, amounted to 47 million, of £264 million.

The foregoing figures include transactions in accounts opened for war gratuities and postwar credits due to members of the Armed and Civil Defence Forces. The work of issuing these credits involved the opening of a new office at Manchester. The degree of activity in these accounts generally is much higher than that in ordinary savings bank accounts, as the benefits were mainly intended to help the recipients in the difficult task of resettlement into civilian life. The work of issuing the bank books and maintaining the accounts requires a staff of nearly 1,800. In view of the abnormal activity of the accounts, work which can be classed as non-essential to the day-to-day upkeep of the accounts has had to be allowed to fall into arrear, and some 12 million payments on demand are awaiting posting to the accounts. Extra staff is required to clear off these arrears. The number of release benefits accounts opened to date is 6,400,000, with initial credits amounting to £362 million. In the last financial year, 3,100,000 accounts were opened.

The curtailment and abandonment of prewar safeguards and checks have led to a growth in the amount of losses by fraud, particularly since 1945. The recent large increase is attributed in the main to two factors—to the fact that forged identity cards are easily obtainable by determined offenders; and to the increase in criminal activity following demobilisation. All the same, the requirement that the National Registration identity card be produced, first when a new account was opened, and later when a withdrawal on demand was made, has been of valuable assistance in checking fraud. Further measures for preventing fraud have recently been introduced.

Photo of Sir Arthur Baxter Sir Arthur Baxter , Wood Green

Can we have some idea of the extent of the frauds? Were they very large?

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

Yes, they were large. If the hon. Member would like more detailed information, I will try to obtain it during the Debate so that my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General may give it when he replies.

Finally, we come to the work done by the bank in connection with national savings certificates. The total value of certificates issued during the financial year was in the neighbourhood of £208 million The number of holders is approximately 17 million and, at 31st March, they had to their credit £1,650 million, exclusive of accrued interest. At 31st March, 1939, the amount of principal remaining invested was £381 million. The present rate of issue of new holdings is about 40,000 per month. When the total amount invested by holders of national savings certificates is added to Post Office savings bank deposits and holdings of Government stock, we get the enormous sum of £4,868 million of national savings in the custody of the Post Office on 31st March last. It may well be imagined that for the staff involved in this vast extension of savings department business, life has not been a bed of roses; nor is it now. They have worked loyally and for long hours, many of them in what they consider to be exile from London. The older among them have had to help to train, and to carry while training, hundreds of newly-recruited staff. I think great credit is due to all concerned for keeping the machine going as they have done.

I hope that I have given some impression not only that the Post Office is going surely forward, in spite of all difficulties, but also of the tremendous size and scope of its activities. I should like to mention again, just for the sake of tasting the vast-ness of the figure, £3,500 million, the value of our annual dealings with the public. This is a vast figure, and some of my hon. Friends complain that it in turn leads to a vast surplus which I am doing nothing to disperse in a rational manner. I thought, therefore, that I might ask the Committee to join with me in an examination of this vast surplus. It is now about £22,500,000.

Photo of Mr William Brown Mr William Brown , Rugby

Is that for the year 1946–47?

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

This is the last figure we have.

Photo of Mr William Brown Mr William Brown , Rugby

I understood that the surplus of the Post Office as a whole was £36 million odd. I cannot quite reconcile that £36 million with this £22 million.

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

I will explain it. The figure mentioned by my hon. Friend in his speech was the 1945–46 figure. This is the 1946–47 figure which has not yet been made public on paper, though it has been mentioned in the House. Of this figure of £22,500,000, the postal services contribute some £10,500,000, and the telephone service £14 million. There is a deficit of rather over £2 million on telegraphs. The costs of providing all these service are much higher today than before the war.

The costs on the postal side are predominantly labour costs. I have described the large re-organisation of work and grading on this side. Staff conditions have been deliberately improved and provision has to be made to strengthen the pension fund. Those improvements, together with wage increases, mean that the labour bill, including pensions, on the postal side is 92 per cent. above the prewar bill. In addition, other expenses, such as the cost of conveyance of mails, have risen, so that total costs are now 85 per cent. above the pre-war level. Although services in connection with savings business and services for other Departments have, of course,' increased appreciably, postal traffic generally is below the prewar level, though it is steadily increasing. We cannot expect it to reach the prewar figures until paper rationing is eased. In these circumstances, I feel that it would be unwise to make any material alteration in postal rates for the present, quite apart from broader national financial considerations.

On the telephone side also wages have risen, but here plant costs are a major consideration. The cost of lead has risen from £16 to £90 per ton, an increase of 460 per cent. The cost of copper has risen from £48 to £137 per ton. Broadly speaking, new plant now costs rather more than double what it did before the war. The reason for the present large telephone surplus of £14 million is that we have been using up £200 million worth of pre-war plant. New plant has to be constructed at higher prices to meet the current telephone demand, and naturally this surplus will fall. Exceptionally heavy expenditure is also needed for the next few years to put the plan) into proper condition. The present surcharge on telephone rates is 50 per cent. on trunk service and 15 per cent. on local service, or about 27 per cent. over-all. In view of the rise in costs of new plant and the increase in the wages bill, it is clear that there can be no question of dropping this surcharge. I hope, however, that as a result of the intensive research which the Post Office and the telephone manufacturers are conducting, and of improved technique, we can avoid an increase in tariffs at least for some years to come.

On the telegraph side, there is a deficit, as there was before the war. The service is still suffering from the results of the war, but, as already stated, an automatic switching system is being planned, and this should lead to some economies. The traffic is falling and we are not yet able to visualise any reduction in rates I am afraid it is only too clear to me that this vast surplus is nothing more than a very temporary phenomenon. I do not think there is any businessman in this Committee who, if he were faced in his own business with this kind of position, with his bread and butter depending on it, would decide that now was the time to lower charges all round. I do not think that my duty as Postmaster-General, with my responsibility for public money, permits me to look at it in any other light. I hope the Committee will agree with me.

The hon. Member also raised the question of the Advisory Council, and I would like to say a word about that subject. I understand that he took a very great interest in this organisation when he was at the Post Office. This is one last detail of Post Office progress since the war—the re-forming of the Post Office Advisory Council. As most hon. Members already know, this is a kind of consumers' council. The members are appointed by the Postmaster-General and they are drawn from the major political parties and the spheres of commerce and learning. The members are also chosen in order to ensure that the point of view of each constituent of the United Kingdom is represented. Before the war, my predecessors had come to rely a good deal on the advice given by the Advisory Council. Meetings lapsed during the war but, as soon as the war was over, my predecessor lost no time in re-forming the Council. I myself, in the short time that I have been Postmaster-General, have been happy to preside over two meetings of the Council already, and I can personally testify to the value which the Post Office attaches to their views. I am glad to see here this afternoon on both sides of the Committee hon. Members who have been so kindly co-operative with the Post Office in this way.

I come now to the end of what I have to say. Already we have heard some, shall I say, criticism of the Post Office this afternoon, and I am afraid that we shall hear more before the day is done. I am not going to say that the Post Office cannot "take it." Of course, I do not complain about criticism. The Post Office was weaned on criticism. As that part of the Civil Service which comes most in touch with the public, it has to contend with a constant and never-ending stream of criticism. I do not want to say that some of the criticism is not deserved. But there is a moral in all this which I should like to draw. We are told that if one sheep out of 1oo goes astray and is then brought back to the fold, the angels rejoice. I think the public, and some hon. Members of this Committee, are like the angels in this way. If, out of a million letters, 999,999 go right, they rejoice over the one in the million that has gone wrong; if more than 800,000 demands for telephones have been met in the past year, they rejoice to find one or two persons whose demand has gone unfulfilled for over a year. If, finally, out of 25,000,000 savings accounts, some score cases are found where there has been delay, or even a mistake in a transaction, they rejoice to have found that score.

I must ask the Committee not to misunderstand me about this, or to think that I am complacent; that the millions of letter that do go right, the hundreds of thousands of telephones that are installed, the millions and millions of savings bank transactions that meet with no hitch, blind me to the troubles that still remain, the troubles that are mainly due to the difficult times through which the nation as a whole is passing and not to any innate cause within the Post Office itself. I am conscious that there is a great deal of hard work still to be done to get the Post Office straightened out after the hard war years and just as hard— perhaps—peace years. I propose to devote all my energies to doing this, and I shall know that I have the loyal support of all my staff, from the highest to the lowest and back again, criticised or not criticised. But I do want to make it plain that it is no good arguing from these sometimes unavoidable failures or defects of service that the Post Office, as a great national undertaking, is falling to pieces or on the road to decline. It is nothing of the kind. It is rather an uphill road for the Post Office at present, and if it sometimes stumbles, it is because the hill is at times pretty steep. But we shall get to the top all right.

5.12 p.m.

Photo of Sir Edward Keeling Sir Edward Keeling , Twickenham

I found the Postmaster-General's speech extremely interesting, and if he will allow me I should like to congratulate him on the grasp which he has obtained of his vast Department in the very few weeks during which he has been in charge of it. I should also like to thank him for two assurances which he gave. One was that there would be a reduction in air-mail charges, and the other, which came at the end of his speech, was that he was not complacent about the Post Office. At the same time, he did not answer, though, perhaps, the Assistant Postmaster-General will answer, the numerous criticisms which have been made during the last few weeks at Question Time by my hon. Friends, by the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) in his speech, and in the Debate less than a month ago. That Debate was very brief, but it aroused a good deal of attention in the Press, and in no paper more than in the "Economist," which cannot be accused of Tory bias. The "Economist" first of all, has its own grievance. It said: There is no room for doubt that the efficiency of the postal distribution of periodicals is disastrously lower at the present time than ever before. Then it went on to make it clear that this criticism was not confined to periodicals, but applied to the postal services generally, and I would like to read to the Committee a further extract from what the "Economist" said in its issue for the second Saturday in June: None of those who know why this deterioration in efficiency has occurred—not during the war. but two years after the war ended—seemed to be very anxious to give a candid explanation. At one time, the fuel crisis was the excuse;"— —and, by the way, we have never had an explanation of how the fuel crisis affected the Post Office— now it is the need to reduce the Civil Service, though enthusiasm in that cause is not very noticeable elsewhere. The truth is, as Mr. Burke should have been man enough to admit, that the Postmaster-General is beating a steady retreat before the demands of the Union of Post Office Workers, whose objectives are a 40- hour week and no night work if it can possibly be avoided. The Union, of course, is fully entitled to make such claims—that is its reason for existence. But it would be less hypocritical of the Assistant Postmaster-General if he abandoned the pretence that the public interest is being defended against these claims. In the present combination of trade union Government and full employment, the public interest is defenceless, and the Post Office is being run in the interests of its staff rather than for the service of the public. That will change later, when circumstances change; but that it is so at present hardly admits of doubt. These are grave words, and I think that we ought to have an answer to them this afternoon. In the Adjournment Debate a few weeks ago, attention was drawn primarily to the cuts in the postal services recently announced, and I would remind the Committee that not only the evening but the afternoon delivery has been abolished all over the country, except in a small area of Inner London; that the morning delivery, in many parts of the country, is so late that people have left for work before it comes; and that when they get home in the evening the last collection has gone. The result is that, even if the reduced collections and deliveries were functioning properly, which I shall explain in a moment is not at all the case, no letter posted in London after 6.30 p.m., except at half-a-dozen head post offices, will reach any part of the Provinces or even Greater London, for 38 hours, or. if posted on a Friday for 62 hours; and this is also true of letters coming to London from the Provinces and between many provincial towns, even if they are close together.

The Postmaster-General gave impressive figures about the speed of the airmail service, and, in doing so, really confirmed the statement which I made in the Adjournment Debate that it is quicker on some days to send a letter from London to New York or Johannesburg than it is send one from London to Twickenham. I suggest that this is a deplorable standard of efficiency, and I want to put these questions to the Postmaster-General: when last, in time of peace before 1939, was there no general collection of letters after 6.30 p.m. and when last was there no afternoon or evening delivery of letters anywhere in the country, except in Inner London?

This cancellation of collections and deliveries means that a very considerable part of the life of the country, industrial, commercial and social, is slowed down, and it is all the more serious because of the inefficiency of the telephone service and of the fact that so many people— the Postmaster-General said 400,000— cannot get telephones. The inefficiency of the postal service reacts on the telephone service and increases its congestion. I have had many complaints about the cancellation of collections and deliveries, and I am sure that other hon. Members have also had them. One of the most striking, I think, was a letter from the United Kingdom Commercial Travellers' Association, in which they say that, all over the country, a commercial traveller, returning to his hotel at the end of his day's work, is now unable to despatch to his firm the orders taken that day. What becomes of the Postmaster-General's suggestion just now that the new restrictions do not seriously affect commerce? That example could be multiplied in many directions, and clearly the effect on business is very considerable.

So much for the restrictions imposed by the Government a few weeks ago. I now have an even more serious complaint to make. I shall prove that even these miserably restricted services are not performed, and that the delays are much longer than has been announced. I have evidence that letters duly collected have been lying in post offices, either at the place of dispatch or the place of delivery—I do not know which—for a day and night on end. It seems that something approaching a breakdown of the service has taken place in some post offices. I will give a few specific instances. At Question Time today, the Postmaster-General referred to some covers which I had sent him, and which had been received by a Regent Street firm, which showed that it was the common practice, day after day, for letters, even many posted in London, to take two days to reach them. The Postmaster-General, when asked about it in my supplementary question today, could give no explanation of the cause.

I submit that there is only one explanation which fits the facts, and that is that bags of letters arrive one day and are not sorted until the next. The Postmaster-General assured me that he hoped, in the case of this firm, which collects its letters two or three times a day from the W.1 district office, that the difficulties had been overcome. But since this Debate opened, I have had further covers sent to me by the firm which prove that the difficulty has not been overcome. I believe that, in some of these places, the post office is slower today than it was in the reign of Charles I, to which my hon. Friend referred. By the by, I understand the reason why Charles I nationalised the post office was because he wanted to have a look at what his subjects were writing, and the six days which it took for a courier to get to Holyhead and back included time for censorship.

I will give two or three more facts to support my contention that, in some post offices, even the reduced services are not functioning. A large firm in the W.C.2 district has given me particulars of letters received each morning for the last five days. Last Friday, of 49 letters received, 11 were postmarked in England, some of them in London, at least two days earlier. Last Saturday, of 47 letters, five were similarly delayed. On Monday, of 56 letters, 14 were posted on Friday or earlier, and yesterday afternoon and this morning the Post Office touched low water mark because of 43 letters received, 20, or nearly half, had been delayed. Another even more remarkable experience is that of a firm in the W.1 district, which has sent me today over 300 covers received over the last four days—about one-fifth of its total mail—which were posted two days or more before delivery.

I submit that these figures are conclusive proof that we can have no faith in the assurance given by the Assistant Postmaster-General less than a month ago, that if letters catch the evening collections they will be delivered the next morning. I am quite sure that many other hon. Members could confirm what I have said. It is not a question of the millionth letter, to which the Postmaster-General referred. Everybody knows that delay to single letters is understandable and inevitable in a system dependent on human beings; it would be unreasonable to expect anything else. But my evidence is that whole batches are being delayed. When a firm can prove that 20 or 100 letters duly posted to it on a single day are not delivered until the third day, there is something really wrong. In the past, everybody in this country, whether in business or in private life, used to rely on a letter which was posted one afternoon, or even in the evening, being delivered the next day. People arranged their business and their engagements on that basis. But all that seems to be a thing of the past. There can be no reliance on the Post Office today, and, in the words of the "Economist", The efficiency of postal distribution is disastrously lower than ever before. During the war, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), in addressing some words to the Civil Service, said: Not a day, not an hour must be lost. The Post Office today is causing the loss of two or three days on a nation-wide scale, and when we make complaints, all we get is an extremely polite letter or answer in the House that the Postmaster-General is sorry for the inconvenience caused. I suggest to the Government— not in any hostile spirit, but because I think that these delays must, in their own interests, receive attention, that these complaints are so widespread, so well authenticated, and so serious, that there ought to be an impartial inquiry into the whole matter.

I can summarise the points which ought to be inquired into under four heads. Firstly, is the small saving of manpower which the cuts in the service have made possible worth while, in view of the slowing down of business and the general dissatisfaction caused? Secondly, even if the present reduction of staff were maintained, could there be a reorganisation, either by mechanisation or some other method, which would prevent the serious delays which are occurring? Thirdly, to what extent, if at all—I do not desire to prejudice the matter in any way—is the breakdown of the present services due to the unreasonable behaviour of the staff? Is there any truth in the statement of the "Economist" that the Post Office is run in the interests of the staff? Fourthly, and lastly, have the postal staff any just grievances, and, if so, what is going to be done to redress them? Are there any difficulties in staffing, and, if so, what is going to be done to overcome them? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury that we all have an affection for the individual postman or postmen who deliver letters at our door. We do not deny for one moment the splendid service which the whole of the Post Office renders to us. But I suggest there is a powerful case for an inquiry into these evidences of inefficiency.

5.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harry Randall Mr Harry Randall , Clitheroe

Like the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), I am sure the Committee will want to congratulate my right hon. Friend very warmly on the very excellent statement he made to us this afternoon. We on this side of the Committee regard the subject of his statement as the shop window of nationalisation. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) said in his speech that they did not want to put the Post Office back into the hands of private enterprise; it was doing its job as a nationalised industry. I also say that it has done its job. We are well satisfied with many of the things which my right hon. Friend has said this afternoon. In particular, I am sure that the Post Office staff will applaud many of the things he has referred to in connection with them.

At the commencement of the war which has just finished, I was a postman. I went to Coventry on the morning after the blitz; I saw the postmen going out in that blitzed city, and I know what the people of Coventry said. It lifted their hearts and cheered their spirits to see those postmen going through the streets. I went to Exeter, Southampton, and quite a number of our great cities, and I know the valuable work which the postmen did. If I understood my right hon. Friend correctly, he said that the long covering periods will not be introduced again. I hope that is true, because the postmen, in particular, have a grievous complaint with regard to their attendances over many years, and hon. Members opposite must take the full responsibility for that state of affairs. This issue was raised again and again in the past. My right hon. Friend also referred to the work that was done before the war in connection with the abolition of split attendances in London. I must say, in fairness to the men, that many of the postmen in London made their own contribution to the abolition of the split attendances in London, because they agreed to, long-spread duties in order to abolish part-time labour. My hon. Friend the Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. H. Wallace) made his contribution.

I wish to refer to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) whose criticism of the Post Office, I thought, was very mild. He displayed an appreciation of the difficulties through which the Post Office is going. I thought the hon. Gentleman recognised that despite those difficulties, the Post Office has passed through a very good year. The criticism of the Post Office by hon. Members opposite is the same as it always was. Some habits die hard, especially so far as diehards are concerned. The criticism involves reduced charges; earlier, later and more collections and deliveries; and I almost expected to hear—but it did not come this time—the suggestion that private enterprise could do the job better. I think hon. Members opposite are satisfied that the Post Office is doing a very good job. I am not sure they would not reduce charges to the uneconomic, so far as the staff and their conditions are concerned. Hon. Members opposite were responsible for many of the uneconomic conditions of the staff, and I think today they would be prepared to reduce postal charges to an extent which would impose uneconomic conditions upon the staff. Let us remember that it was a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1930, Sir John Simon—[An HON. MEMBER: "He was a Liberal."] I am sorry; but, after all, National Liberals and Tories are bedfellows. I do not think there is a great deal of difference between them. It was Lord Simon who was responsible for increasing the postal charges, and he said it was done deliberately for revenue-producing purposes. It still is a question of taxation. Our opponents saw the wisdom of obtaining taxation by increasing the charges.

I now wish to deal with the question of earlier, later and more collections and deliveries. This depends upon cost in relation to benefit, and the suggestion might be more costly than is justified. We could have those deliveries and collections if manpower permitted but, what is still more important, is the effect upon the staff. Here I would warn the Committee that there have been violent changes with regard to the recruitment of staff. Conditions have changed completely, and any question of increasing the number of deliveries and collections must have an important bearing upon recruitment. In what I am going to say to my right hon. Friend I shall be critical, but in my criticism I want to spur on the Post Office to do an even better job than has been done during the last two years. I say to my right hon. Friend that unless he reorientates his ideas on staff conditions, hours, wages, etc., there is a danger of a breakdown in these services. That is a real danger unless these matters are attended to.

I am very glad that the hon. Member for Twickenham asked whether the staff had any grievances. The staff have some grievances which require attention. In the past, the State has been a very bad employer, and its only competitor was unemployment. Today the competitor with the Post Office is full employment, and the Post Office is facing a losing battle because of the conditions, hours and wages of the staff. Let us, for example, look at the question of recruitment. The Union of Post Office Workers have had an examination into the recruitment question. We have had three offices under review. At one office there was an intake of 540, and between August and December, 1946, 200 left in the same period of five months. In another office 208 left and in yet another there was an intake of 439 and 139 left in the same period. We had a review of 212 branches of our union. In one year among those 212 branches, 4,000 left the Post Office service and of those 4,000, 2,000 were established. They were so dissatisfied with the conditions of services, the wages and hours, that 2,000 were prepared to give up their establishment and everything that establishment means.

Therefore, before meeting the demand that there should be reduced charges, and earlier, later and more deliveries and collections, apart from the necessity for this demand being economically sound and justifiable in the light of cost, and within the scope of available manpower, there is also the important factor that there must be decent hours, wages and conditions for the staff. Further—and this applies particularly to the telephone exchanges—there must be the necessary buildings and equipment. Too few people appreciate the number of telephone exchanges which were hit during the war, and it takes a long tune to put them back into working order.

If we want improved postal services, we dare not ignore staff conditions. If we improve facilities at the moment, it can only mean the worsening of the already difficult hours of the staff, and the further filling up of the 24 hour day. I would remind hon. Members that when we see the postman coming along in the morning, we very often forget that he may have been on all night. 1 was on night duty permanently for three years in order that the public might have their mail in the morning. For a number of years I was also on duty at 5 o'clock in the morning, in order that the city merchants might have their mail in the morning. Because I could not get a house in the city of London I had to go out to the suburbs, and morning after morning I had to be up at 3 o'clock in order to see that the mail was available for the City merchants. I think that if such conditions are to he imposed, if such unsociable hours are to be called for from members of the Post Office staff, the Post Office ought to pay them, and pay them 'generously, in return. If we are to have good services, if we have increased deliveries, if we have more collections, they will mean further unsociable hours for the staff, and I think that the staff are entitled to have decent wages and decent conditions.

Photo of Sir Edward Keeling Sir Edward Keeling , Twickenham

May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman to ask him whether, if and when the manpower supply permits, he would object to the collections and deliveries being restored which were, in fact, in force in three weeks in January?

Photo of Mr Harry Randall Mr Harry Randall , Clitheroe

I must remind the hon. Gentleman that that must depend upon conditions. I cannot give a categorical answer unless I am satisfied about those. It is no good hon. Members opposite jeering on this question. One has to remember not only the Post Office servants themselves, one has got to remember their families. They are entitled to have their menfolk at home. Bairns are entitled to see their fathers. But for the unsociable hours and conditions in the Post Office at the present time—and if these services are increased—we should give the Post Office staff full compensation.

Let me give some figures to the Committee. A postman of 18 years of age is paid £2 15s. 6d. a week—at 18 years of age; an inner London postman. It will take him 12 years to reach his maximum of £5 15s. At 25 years of age, when, probably, he has a young family around him, he is paid £4 15s. a week. It is not good enough. The Postmaster-General, I think, ought to be able to give us something better. I could go on to mention the Class III postmen in the provinces, where the conditions are worse. £4 5s. at 25 years of age. Then there are the postal and telegraph officers, men comparable to bank clerks. It takes them 18 years to reach their maximum— 18 years, starting at 16; and when they reach the age of 34 they get £7 10s. a week. I believe the bank clerks' rate today is about £9 10s., and there is a difference, there is a considerable difference, between what is being paid to postal and telegraph officers in London and what is being paid to bank clerks. The postal and telegraph officers are not only responsible for stocks of many hundreds of pounds in the business they transact during the day, but they have to have an encyclopaedic knowledge to pass on to the public; and they get £7 10s. The telephonist takes 15 years to reach her maximum in London of £4 19s. Shorthand typists in London command £6 or £7 a week, and the telephonist at her maximum gets £4 19s.

I need not weary the Committee with more figures, but I would underline some of the things I have said. If there are to be improved collections and deliveries they will impose worse conditions upon the staff. In the view of the workers of the Post Office, we want to give the best possible service to the public; we recognise that we are public servants. But it seems to me that we do not want to have too much sentiment about it, and merely say how affectionate we are to the postmen, and how dear they are to us. We want something more than affection. If we have affection for the postmen, let us express it in pounds, shillings and pence in return for their services—I believe they are willing to give the best possible services within reason—and let us give them proper wages and conditions in return for those services.

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Randall) has drawn attention, very properly, to the long record of the Post Office as a nationalised industry. He appeared to derive considerable satisfaction from that; but I do not think he quite apprehended what a close connection there is between that fact and the facts to which he invited attention in the very forcible closing passage of his speech. The hon. Member gave us several examples of the apparent disparity between the rates of remuneration paid to to the Post Office staff—and I am perfectly certain that no hon. Member is better equipped to give that information than the hon. Member for Clitheroe—and the rates paid in private industry for similar services. Now, it is surely the most obvious thing in our economic system that the State pays badly when compared with private enterprise; and, therefore, I ask hon. Members, if they complacently contemplate the fact that the industry which we are discussing today is a nationalised one, to be honest with themselves, and to bear in mind that that fact, by itself, carries with it the inevitable consequence—to which, it appears, the hon. Member for Clitheroe has just drawn attention—that the staff's pay is worse than that which any decent private firm would contemplate paying.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

There is another factor to which I would invite the attention of the Committee— and here, I think I shall have the agreement of the Postmaster-General. It is, surely, highly desirable in the case of all nationalised industries that the House of Commons should have the opportunity of having just the sort of Debate that we are having today; which has given to the Postmaster-General the opportunity, of which, I must say, he has taken full and proper advantage, to describe to the Committee and the country the policy which he is pursuing in his Department, and has given to hon. Members the opportunity of voicing particular criticisms. I only wish that similar opportunities could be given by the Government to this Committee to discuss other nationalised industries in the same detail, and with the same valuable consequences.

I do not want, in the one or two detailed criticisms which I propose to advance, even to suggest that they are the personal responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman. Members of the Committee know that he has only recently assumed his present office. I should like in that connection to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) in saying, with due humility, that the right hon. Gentleman has evinced a remarkably rapid grasp in that short time of the problems of his Department. But it is right that his attention, and that of the Committee, should be drawn to certain respects in which the Post Office works badly. I was very sorry that the Postmaster-General seemed to think that any hon. Member could regard it as a matter of rejoicing that the millionth letter had gone astray. We do not. But we do regard it as our duty to our constituents and to the country, when anything is wrong with a public Department, to draw the attention of the responsible head of that Department to that fact.

The particular matter to which I invite the attention of the Committee and of the right hon. Gentleman is the telephone service in the London area. I think that the universal experience of everyone who puts through telephone calls from anywhere except the House of Commons is that the service in the London area has deteriorated very substantially since before the war. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pay particular attention to the working of that part of the system which is obtained through the London Toll Exchange. It has been my experience, it has been the experience of many of my constituents, it has been the experience of many hon. Members, that at certain hours of the day it is virtually impossible to attract the attention of the Toll Exchange in any period under half an hour. That does cause, not only a great deal of exasperation, but, in the aggregate, an immense amount of loss of working time for the population of this city and its immediate surroundings.

I put this suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. I appreciate his difficulties with staff, or rather lack of trained staff, and so on, but surely it is possible to arrange in the London Toll Exchange for somebody, not necessarily at all skilled, to be available to answer the telephone, to record the calls which are put in, and then to pass them on to the skilled operators who manipulate the machinery. What is required is simply somebody to record the fact that number so-and-so requires number so-and-so, rather than leaving some unfortunate person sitting with the instrument to his ear, feeling that he has been forgotten by the Postmaster-General and by all the world, in the hope that eventually he may be answered. Surely, it is possible to deal with this with quite unskilled labour, with almost any reasonable and sensible person simply to answer the telephone, to write down the number required, and to pass it on to the highly skilled operators at the switchboard? Because the amount of ill-feeling which is generated, and the amount of time which is wasted, by inability to get the London Toll Exchange is one of the largest factors, in London at any rate, of the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman's Department.

In connection with the London Toll Exchange, perhaps I might be permitted to illustrate a certain degree of the inconvenience occasioned by it by telling the Committee of my own experience as recently as last Friday. I attempted to put through a call from the Bayswater area to Seaford. This is the diary of what happened. At 2.30 the call was put through, and I was informed that I could be connected with Brighton, but no further. I asked to be called back as soon as the line was free. Nothing having happened by 2.45, I put through a further call, when I was told' that Brighton had ceased to be within possible reach, but I was given the gratuitous, and to my mind wholly irrelevant information, that there was interruption on the line to Southend. I expressed due sympathy with Southend, indicated my preference for Seaford, and asked to be connected with Seaford as soon as possible. Being of a patient nature, I waited until 4.30, when I put in another call and was informed by the London Toll Exchange that as my earlier call had been booked they, the. London Toll Exchange, had no further jurisdiction in the matter and could do nothing. Being in the state of exhausted patience, which is more generally associated with the late Corporal Schickelgruber, I got in touch with the supervisor and was immediately connected with my Seaford line. That is an example, for the benefit of the Postmaster-General, of what does happen to those citizens who, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, have to put in their own telephone calls without the assistance of skilled and courteous staffs of their own. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to do something about that.

The other matter, to which I should be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's attention, has already been referred to briefly at Question Time today, namely, the staffing and operation of the Elmbridge exchange. To those hon. Members who are not as closely informed on the geography of Surrey as the right hon. Gentleman and myself are, I would point out that the Elmbridge exchange is one of those, I might almost say, crypto exchanges on the outskirts of London which are obtained, or not obtained, by dialling the first three letters of the name of the exchange, and by then waiting, often for a prolonged period, for the exchange to answer and to get one the particular number. This matter has a certain history. Almost exactly a year ago, on 1st July, 1946, the Surbiton Borough Council and the Surbiton Chamber of Commerce both invited the attention of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor to the unsatisfactory working of this exchange. A little later in the year, in October, I also invited the attention of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor to this matter. We were informed, in almost identical phraseology, that, although the Elmbridge exchange had been causing difficulty through lack of recruits, it would be possible to post additional staff to the exchange in the near future; and the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, in a letter to me dated 6th November, indicated that he was doing his utmost to secure an improvement.

It has been the experience of my constituents and of the borough council concerned, that there has been no improvement since that undertaking was given; but that, on the contrary, there has been a deterioration, as the result of which last month the borough council again made representations, either to the right hon. Gentleman or, it may have been to his predecessor in his closing days in that office. They drew his attention to it in somewhat tragic circumstances. As I think the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the circumstances arose out of a bathing fatality in a local swimming pool when a boy was brought out of the water, unconscious but alive. When an attempt was made to telephone for an ambulance a period of three or four minutes elapsed before the Elmbridge exchange would answer. I do not know whether those three or four minutes would or would not, in the circumstances, have made any difference, but the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that to those closely concerned with that fatality those three or four minutes must, inevitably, loom large. I am perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman himself appreciates the vital importance of telephone exchanges answering quickly, because in one call in a thousand, or even one in ten thousand, the quickness of response may have an importance in a life or death matter.

Both the Member for that Division and the local authority have been very patient in this matter. We have had assurances. We have been making representations for a year. I am sure the Postmaster-General will agree that complaints of this concentrated nature, and by a responsible local authority, are not made on sheer gossip or on temporary irritation. They are made as the result of longstanding faults. Without wishing to impose too far on the right hon. Gentleman, I would be grateful if he would give his personal attention to this matter and secure that this exchange, which serves a highly-populated area, shall be properly manned and properly operated in future. I would hasten to say, that I cast no reflection—and I should like to put this on record—upon the personal willingness of the staff concerned. So far as I know, they are doing their best with a wholly inefficient system. It is the system, and very possibly the equipment—although on that I am not competent to speak—which is at fault, and which does require to be remedied by the right hon. Gentleman. I and a good many thousands of people in the area concerned would be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman if an early improvement could be effected in the operating of this exchange.

There is only one other matter which I feel bound to mention, by reason of something which the right hon. Gentleman said. He seemed to treat it as exceptional—that was the implication of his speech—for an application for telephone installation to be outstanding for more than a year. He referred to such cases as exceptional. I have beside me at this moment two cases in which appli- cations were outstanding for three years and for four years respectively before they were remedied, and then only as the result of contact by the Member for the Division with the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman. I believe those examples could be multiplied in the experiences of most hon. Members. If the Postmaster-General is really proceeding on the basis that applications outstanding for more than a year are highly exceptional, I hope he will go into the facts again, because I believe he will find that they are very different.

I am sure the Postmaster-General appreciates that the criticisms which I and some of my hon. Friends have made of the working of his Department are intended to be constructive and helpful. The right hon. Gentleman has an immense responsibility and immense difficulties. No one would dispute either of those facts, but they, call for an attitude of willingness to listen to criticism, and a willingness to make improvements. From my own knowledge, I have no doubt that he has these qualities. When this Debate has taken place and these criticisms have been made, I and my hon. Friends will await, in a mood of hopeful anticipation, to see whether anything results. I do not wish to utter any threats, but if these criticisms have not been met when next year comes around, the. Debate which takes place then may be of a less amicable character than today's Debate.

6.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harry Wallace Mr Harry Wallace , Walthamstow East

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) will hardly expect me to follow him in his remarks, because they were based on personal experience and can best be answered by the administration. For myself, I should like to see a service in which there are no complaints, which is the view shared by the Post Office staff; I should also like to see a service in which the staff have no complaints. I am glad to see that the Postmaster-General is sitting in this Chamber. I never liked the arrangement whereby the Postmaster-General sat in another place, and I hope that it will not be repeated. I am pleased that the Postmaster-General is here where the people of the country are represented by Members on this side—I leave hon. Members opposite to draw their own conclusion from that. Not only do I want to see the Postmaster-General's report presented in this Chamber, so that we may have an opportunity to discuss it, but I should welcome an extension of this principle to other nationalised industries. Circumstances are changing, and the structure of our industry and commercial organisation is changing, and this is the place where these industries must come under public examination and criticism. I hope that the Government will initiate suitable changes in due course, although I do not expect them to do everything in one day.

Reference was made to the commercial accounts. I understand that they are to be introduced shortly, an4 I am glad to hear it. I am not sure whether the details of establishment have yet been reintroduced, but I hope that they will be. On publicity the Post Office has much to do, and I appreciate the difficulties under which they 'are labouring. For example, I should like to see a return of the publication known as "The Green Book." I know that the public are anxious to get information about these services. If they knew what was being done at the Post Office counter by way of social services, pensions and the giving of advice and guidance, there would be less talk about this inefficient service. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) has left the Chamber, because his indictment against the Post Office was that of inefficiency, in spite of the information which has been given on the advances made. I should like to see the Post Office making a greater use of the films, in schools and elsewhere. I have seen some examples of their work in that field, and they were very good.

In past Debates, research has been discussed, and the Assistant Postmaster-General has told us that he hoped to see the development of large-scale research, particularly in regard to the work done at Dollis Hill. I hope that he will tell us that there has been an advance in this direction since last he spoke. I have seen information on the scale of research work being done in the United States. While I have been impressed with what we have been doing, I must say that in comparison with the research in that country, we have a lot of leeway to make up. I should like to see Dollis Hill given its head, with the necessary money provided. The Chancellor of the Exchequer often tells us that profits should be ploughed back into industry. I wish that some of the £22 million profits of the Post Office could be ploughed back into the Post Office. I hope that the Postmaster-General will be insistent that these surpluses of the Post Office shall be used for the development of the Post Office. Hon. Members opposite will agree that the Post Office should not be used as a means of raising revenue. That is a vicious policy which has been followed for a good many years.

Reference has been made to part-time labour, and it has been thought that there was something funny about it. In case the facts are not known, I will state them. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames seemed to come to the conclusion that if conditions were found to be bad in a nationalised service, it should be handed over to private enterprise.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I did not advance that conclusion, but if the hon. Member finds it logically inescapable, I will not, of course, dispute it.

Photo of Mr Harry Wallace Mr Harry Wallace , Walthamstow East

The implication of the hon. Member's statement was certainly to that effect. That being so, what would he do if conditions or pay were found to be bad in the Army or Navy? Hon. Members opposite will remember that whenever the Post Office has found itself in the arbitration court, they have not got justice, after pleading that men were starving on Post Office wages, because they were told that the rates had been fixed by comparison with outside industries, the railways being a notorious example.

Take the case of a part-time officer. He used to rise at four in the morning to be on duty at 5.30. He returned home at 10 o'clock, after finishing his delivery, and then went out again for the 8 o'clock delivery in the evening, which he finished at 10 o'clock. I do not think hon. Members opposite would wish to see those conditions return. I say to the British public that they also have a duty to perform, in seeing that these unsociable conditions are abolished. This would not be denied in the case of the mines or cotton mills, and yet, even in this nationalised industry, we have the remnants of a very bad and vicious past. I know, from personal experience, of a man going home to his wife, telling her that for the first time in 20 years he had earned a full week's wage. Those conditions were no laughing matter to that family. We are glad that that state of affairs has gone, and that the Minister has said that he has no intention of bringing them back. I do not believe that the public of London want the late delivery. I talk with some experience of London opinion, and I believe that if it were tested, through borough councils, we should find that they did not want it. The idea that a man dashes home from work, sits down, has his tea, and then starts on his correspondence is not the British public returning home from work in London, or anywhere else.

I welcome the progress which has been made in the telephone service, but it is not enough. I would like to see the Post Office introduce 1,000,000 telephones a year, not 800,000. After all, as Members opposite have said, the service is tested by what happens to the individual. I will not give details of complaints which have been made to me in Walthamstow, but some people there have been waiting a long time for a telephone. That is their test. On the other hand, new cables have been put down, and the exchange is to be extended as soon as possible, but we are up against the building difficulty. The Minister may know that after the first world war there were the same building difficulties. The arrears following this last war have been added to them, to make things still worse. There are bad buildings, ventilation, lighting, and layout, which cause fatigue, boredom and waste of manpower. Some day, there will have to be a revolutionary programme in the erection of new Post Office buildings.

I would like to remind the Minister that after the first world war it took so long to get a new telephone exchange that by the time it was erected it was out of date. My right hon. Friend must see that there is ample margin left for development. In those days by the time the buildings branch of the Post Office had put forward their case to the Office of Works—now the Ministry of Works—and to the Treasury, and it had circled round those three Departments, the opportunity of putting a building on an appropriate site had been lost. Millions of pounds were lost because of what happened then. Personally, I would like to see the Post Office buildings branch given more freedom. There is no institution in the country which gets better information, and it that branch could move quickly things could be done. I will not develop that case, but the Minister should consider whether the time has not come to give up the silly notion that Post Office sites cannot be used for revenue raising purposes, for instance, by having flats on them. I do not see why that should not be done, or that the Post Office would be endangered in any way.

There has been an advance in welfare in the Post Office, but it has not been enough. Lighting and cleanliness could be improved, because I do not think anyone would dispute the importance of welfare conditions in getting the appropriate response from the staff. Industry has discovered that if a man or woman who has to work for four or five hours at a stretch is given a break of 10 to 15 minutes after the first two hours nothing is lost. I have always held the view, and held it strongly, that a man who comes on duty at 5 p.m. 5.30 p.m. or 6. 0 p.m.—and I ask the Committee to realise what occurred last winter —to prepare and go out on a delivery, and who does not reach home until 10 o'clock, should have a cup of tea and a little something to eat during that time. I ask the Minister to agree to this being done, bcause if he will not allow the staff to do it one way, they will do it the other. When I was a postman we used to watch the supervisor, and dart into the kitchen for an unauthorised cup when his back was turned. Some wise supervisors used to turn their backs, but if a man was caught he was given Form 18, and asked to explain why he had left the bench to get the cup of tea. Now there has been an improvement. Subject to the exigencies of the job a man may have a cup of tea, but there is still friction between supervisors and staffs over this question. Why not get rid of it? Let the staff have it on the first delivery. I do not think anything will be lost by it.

In connection with services, it is as well to remember that the Post Office is dependent to a large extent on the railway companies. The Post Office has not complete control of the transport they need. I hope to see a greater development of the Post Office motor services, whose record and costs stand up quite well by comparison with those in industry outside. I welcome the Ministers intimation that more use will be made of transport. This question of the working period, the covering period, attendance and wages is very important. It is significant that 2,000 established civil servants are leaving the Post Office. The Post Office service is no longer attractive. Men will not look at it, but now my right hon. Friend has an opportunity to put an end to the vicious system whereby a man has to wait for 10, 12 or 14 years before he gets his maximum pay. The man has full responsibility at 21; indeed, he has it at 18. In my day it took 30 years to get the maximum.

As the average service was 21 years, a man stood a darned good chance of being in Heaven, or somewhere else, before he got his maximum. Although that period has been reduced it is still too long. Men and women should have the chance of getting their maximum within five years, as is the case in industry outside. A Post Office worker has little opportunity of being with his family in the evening and in addition, he is often working on Sundays and public holidays, cut off from his friends at a time when they and the rest of the community are enjoying themselves. These things must be altered. I ask the Minister to shorten the scale. I think that this is one of the first things that we ought to do. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Advisory Council. I say nothing against the Advisory Council, but I do not think that in the selection of its members the Advisory Council has a wide enough field. I will not suggest how the field should be widened, but I think it should be done. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not tell us something about the agenda of the Advisory Council. What does the council discuss, how are the discussions carried on, what does the council advise, and what notice is taken of its advice? There is much to be said for the Advisory Council. I much regret that the right hon. Gentleman said nothing at all about the Whitley Council.

Hon. Members will perhaps agree with me that the adaptation of the Whitley Council principle to the Civil Service and the Post Office has produced excellent results. He referred to the report on training. I hope that hon. Members will not think that I am boastful, but I am certain that if they saw the report produced on training by the Whitley Committee they would recognise it as a first- class document. There is a long record of successful joint working on the Whitley Committee, but I think that its agenda should be widened. If we are to ask the worker to take responsibility, the sooner we bring him into our counsels and let him know what the facts are, the sooner he will take responsibility; but he has to be convinced of what is necessary, and I think that the best way of convincing him is to let him be in at the discussions. I hope that when my right hon. Friend has had time to settle down and look round he will find it possible to widen the agenda of the Whitley Council. Whether there could be some connection between the Whitley Council and the Advisory Council I do not know. The word "consultation," which we hear so much of, is all right as a word, but I believe that the need of the hour is to apply it in a practical fashion. It has come into the mines, and it will come into other industries that we nationalise. I believe it to be one of the greatest problems and, if rightly settled, could be one of the greatest contributions in the call to the worker for increased output.

I hold the view that the Postmaster-General should have more freedom and more power, and, even though the control of the Treasury may have been relaxed. I feel that it still plays too large a part. It ought not to be in a position to stop reforms and improvements being initiated by the Postmaster-General. If he finds that there are restrictions on his desire to initiate improvements, I hope that he will come to the House and let us settle the matter here. I welcome this report and the presence of the Postmaster-General in this Chamber. I look forward to next year, and I hope that his report will record greater improvements, not only for the public, but for members of the staff who have waited very patiently for many improvements long since realised in outside industries.

6.26 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr District of Burghs

I think that the Committee is very fortunate in having two such well-informed and knowledgeable speakers as the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Randall) and the hon. Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. H. Wallace) to give us so much intimate information about the Post Office. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side should remember, however, that there are two sides to the Post Office counter. There is the side behind which the Post Office officials serve, and the side which the public approach, and I am, therefore, going to deal with the matter from the public point of view—the frustrated queue-tired war-worn, poor British public, including the housewives. I was fascinated by the exciting recital which the Postmaster-General gave us of the worldwide ramifications of the postal service. Possibly, we missed a little warmth and colour in that exciting story and would have liked a little more time to savour it, but he had a great tale to tell, and I hope that next year he will tell it with the same vivacity and intelligence as he has shown today.

I now come to my criticisms. I asked a Question some three months ago as to what were the profits of the Post Office for the previous year. I was shocked at the answer of £36 million. I thought that when the charges for stamps and telegrams and telephones were put up, it was for the purpose of restricting their use at the beginning of the war and, therefore, to save manpower, which was very natural and very necessary during the war. I naturally assumed that when this had been achieved, the charges would be lowered, and the public would get the benefit of having done their job during the war years, so I asked the Assistant Postmaster-General to what extent now, in view of this very handsome and substantial profit, would charges be reduced. He, for some obscure reason which he did not go into at any great length, intimated that no reductions would be made. I asked why had the Post Office suddenly entered into competition with private individuals in regard to this despised profit motive, and whether they had to make profits and double profits. I waited for the answer of the right hon. Gentleman himself, in which he tells us that for the past year the profits have been £22 million. That does not make sense to me, because not only does the taxpayer pay the very expensive charges for maintaining the services of the Post Office, telephones and so on, but he is also mulcted again in these increased charges which were originally only to be for the purpose of saving manpower. It is all very odd. I am not protesting against the Post Office being nationalised. I think that it is one of those services, like the Army and the Navy, that must be nationalised, but I would hold that it must be like Caesar's wife, above reproach, and it must offer an example to a very troubled community of what a nationalised service is and should be.

According to what some of our Ministers say, in the next nationalised services it will only be the trade union member with his ticket who will get a seat on the railways or a spot of electricity, since the large majority of the people of the country do not matter, to use the classical phrase, "two hoots," and they are an "impertinent lot of hussies." I would like to see the Post Office taking advantage of its nationalised position to give efficient service. It is all very well to say that they are doing their best, but there is something wrong with the system, something wrong with the machine, and something wrong with the counter service in London. When I refer to the counter service, I mean the man behind the counter in the post office as well as the young lady behind the telephone exchange. In the country and in the small towns it is different. There you get the public and the staff knowing each other as they are drawn from the same community. There is more kind liness, courtesy and good humour. In London, except perhaps in this House, there is a great deal to be desired, and I should like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman when he has finished reading his letter—[Interruption]. I happen to have the Floor through the goodwill of the Chairman, and I will stay on my feet and make my speech exactly as I choose, without any assistance from hon. Members opposite.

The other day I was in a North-Western Post Office. I am bringing this case to the notice of the Postmaster-General because I believe he would like to know about it and would like to send out directives to this office and to others where the same offence is committed, because this is not by any means the only one. I was standing in a queue—as we know now, the national method of attending to our business—and an elderly woman was in front of me waiting to despatch a registered parcel. We waited for 10 minutes to be attended to, and while we were still waiting the male assistant behind the counter was fiddling about attending to his own affairs. The elderly lady asked him to get rid of her registered parcel as she wanted to go to the grocer's shop and get the household rations. The assistant behind the counter barked at her, "If you don't like the service you get here you can go somewhere else." That is not the type of service we expect from a nationalised industry, and if we are expecting millions of visitors this summer to help us out of our economic mess and to give us much needed dollars, then, surely, an industry, of which the Government is in control, should do its very best to make the welcome warm, courteous and efficient. I suggest those as the guiding watchwords of the Service.

I should now like to say a word on trunk and local calls. I mentioned this on the last occasion when I was speaking as the Assistant Postmaster-General will well remember. He said then that the telephone service was worn out and that the internal machinery by which the messages were received and transmitted was in a bad state. That is a couple of years ago, and honestly I cannot now see very much difference. One dials "Tol" or "Tru" and then in desperation dials "O" and the result is just the same. Either you get the carefree voices of the young people discussing affairs of the heart—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Oh, yes, it is true. If we do not get that, we get silence. Again I would say that if the Government are apparently paying £200,000 to the Travel Association in the form of assistance to attract visitors to this country, then we should see that they get a courteous and efficient welcome. We want to see it in our telephone system and in our Post Office and encourage these visitors not only to come here but when they come, to stay.

These are a few of the suggestions I should like to make and I would have it understood that I am not making a general charge against the Post Office staff, because it would be unjust and untrue. I think the technical staff is first-rate, while the higher grades of the supervisory staff are men and women of great capacity and of great integrity. However, there is something lacking and whether it is in the counter staff or whether it is in the machine I do not know, but we need to infuse humanity and warmth into the service, and the right hon. Gentleman is the man to do it because we have had examples of his courtesy and kindness when he occupied a previous job as Minister of Pensions. I should like to see him carry that into his new job, where it matters almost as much. In regard to this question of staff, I am entirely in agreement with the hon. Member for East Walthamstow. I believe the Service would be better if they were paid better and there were more inducements. A lot can be done in those directions. There must be some inducements. Everyone lives on inducement if it is only the reward of virtue. We must have something to encourage these people to go forward to do better. As things are at the moment, the Post Office official can be inefficient, discourteous and still go home at 5 o'clock without thinking whether some member of the public is waiting to be served. His salary still goes on, as do his pension rights, but there must be some further encouragement in better wages or pension rights or something to give these officials more than the average interest in their job.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Lichfield

I am interested in the hon. and gallant Member's reference to some added inducement to Post Office officials for working at their job after 5 or 5.30 o'clock, but I would ask him what inducement ought to be provided for those members of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's party other than the 28 who were not here for the Division at 11 o'clock last night?

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr District of Burghs

I think the Committee will agree that that is a very cheap and irrelevant interjection. I will not take any notice of it because, as the hon. and gallant Member himself knows, it does not deserve any notice. That was the final remark that I wanted to make in regard to the staff. I believe there are great possibilities before the right hon. Gentleman. This is the time for him to take any action he can because there is no room for waiting. We are at the end of our resources, and we want to offer, in the public service, inducements which will lead to a happier feeling amongst the staff and a better service to the public and the community as a whole.

6.37 p.m.

Photo of General Sir George Jeffreys General Sir George Jeffreys , Petersfield

I was glad to hear the Postmaster-General say that he aimed at improving the postal services, because it has appeared in the case of some of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee as though they thought that the only thing that mattered was the question of the conditions of service of Post Office employees. Everybody here will admit that the matter of conditions of service is very important, but it is certainly not the only thing and not the first thing that matters. The first thing that matters is the provision for the public of an efficient postal service, and I believe that almost every thinking person will admit that the present service is very far from being efficient and satisfactory. It is not too much to say as regard letters and telegrams that the service is not only less satisfactory than it was before the war, but it is less satisfactory than it was in 1914.

As to telephones, I do not think we nave ever had a good service in this country so that there is no question of getting back to what we never had. In 1914 there was a penny post for letters all over the Empire and to the United States, while a postcard was a halfpenny. A telegram was 6d. for 12 words and delivery was prompt, accurate and quick. Finally there was a Sunday delivery of letters. We all know that at the present time letters cost 2½d. and postcards 2d., that telegrams at 9d. for 12 words are not promptly delivered and are frequently not accurate, and that generally there is a very much less efficient service than there was in those far off days of 1914. Again, rightly or wrongly, there is now no Sunday delivery.

It cannot be said that a better service cannot be afforded. I agree that many hon. Members, and certainly some on this side of the Committee, think that it might be possible to revert at any rate to cheaper postal rates than those from which we suffer at the present moment. Whether this is so or not we do claim most strongly that the very first object of the Post Office should be efficiency, and that the public interest should be considered above all. If it is the case that we cannot afford to reduce postal rates then it is quite certain that we can afford to increase efficiency—so far as "affording" applies—because, as we know, there is a large profit on the Post Office which goes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It is only quite recently that second posts have been restored in the country generally, and very often the delivery times are inconvenient and result in undue time being taken for the delivery of letters from, for instance, the North of England and Scotland. Deliveries of letters in general have, in fact, been irregular and very often delayed. I venture to give one or two examples which have occurred to me within the last three weeks. In the first case I addressed a letter from London to the chairman of a local authority in Hampshire and it was not delivered until 48 hours after posting. The chairman in question informed me that he had been told that the reason why he had not received the letter in time for a certain meeting, as I had hoped that he would, was that the postman who delivered letters in that particular district was ill and that nobody was available to take his place. While no one can help a postman being ill, it does seem to me that it should be possible for him to be replaced and that a case of that kind should not arise. The fact remains that more than 48 hours was taken to deliver a letter from London to an address about 50 miles away.

The next case was that of a circular from another local authority containing a report by their medical officer of health which should have reached every member of the authority, of whom I was one, before a meeting which was to be held. To reach my address the circular had actually to come exactly seven miles, but it had not been delivered by about one o'clock the next day, and was thus too late for the meeting in question. The third case was one which was nearer home, in this honourable House. My copy of the Parliamentary Proceedings posted here in the House at two p.m. on 28th June, which was Saturday last, should have reached me on Monday morning before I left to come here for the resumption of the House. They were actually delivered at my house in the country—again not much farther than 50 miles from London—by the first post on 1st July. I admit that Sunday came in between, but can there be any kind of real excuse, for the. non-delivery of a letter posted in this House at 2 p.m. on Saturday, 28th June, before the first post on 1st July? It seems to me to be a very long time, and if I thought it was an isolated incident—as it is in fact in this particular connection—I would not say much about it, but these unduly long times which are taken for the delivery of letters have been all too frequent of late weeks and months, not only in my particular area, but all over the country.

I come back now to telephones. I began my remarks by saying that—as I think even hon. Members opposite will agree—we have never had a good telephone service in this country. There are too many delays and breakdowns now and—a statement which I make after certain remarks which have been made concerning other ladies—a very large number of girl operators are extremely inefficient indeed. They gabble their replies so that they cannot be heard, they frequently do not take sufficient trouble to obtain the right number, they often give wrong numbers and make mistakes, and, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) there are long delays in obtaining an answer in the case of trunk calls.

As the right hon. Gentleman has in fact said, it is also true that there are very long, and as some of us consider, undue delays in getting telephones installed for people who want them. Another point—small compared with the others—concerns telephone accounts. These are sent out in a form in which it is quite impossible to check them in any way—a form which I think any business house would reject as very unbusinesslike and undesirable. It is very often hard to make out what in the world a telephone account means, what is to be carried forward at the end of one page, and to what the dates and so forth relate.

I think that there has always been a great reluctance to change anything that has been Post Office policy or practice so far as the telephone is concerned. This was extraordinarily noticeable in wartime, certainly in my county where I was at that time chairman of the local civil defence organisation. For instance, because they said it was the right policy in peacetime, it was most difficult to persuade the authorities that it was the wrong policy in war to have their main exchanges in the principal enemy targets of Portsmouth and Southampton. The result was that there were constant breakdowns and it was only after a visit which I paid to the General Post Office here that we were able to persuade them to put some lateral lines that were clear of Portsmouth and Southampton and not likely to be knocked out by an early bomb in the event of a raid. I am by no means convinced that it is sound policy, even in peacetime, to concentrate all our lines in one or two large places like Portsmouth or Southampton.

I come now to telegrams, and I realise that, as the Postmaster-General has said, the service suffered from war damage. There is a charge nowadays of 9d. for 12 words, and whatever is thought about the remainder of Post Office charges I do not hesitate to say that that is an overcharge because there is no telegram service worth mentioning. It is, in fact, very bad indeed. The Postmaster-General said that it was steadily improving, but it has to improve a very long way before it is efficient in any sort of sense. What is the object of sending a telegram? Is it not to transmit a message accurately and rapidly to a certain address? What is the present system? In the country, at any rate, the message is presumably telegraphed—I am not sure that it is not telephoned even from the beginning—to some big office. In my case it is to an office 20 miles from my home. Thence it is telephoned to another sub-office, and possibly directly to the addressee, if he happens to be on the telephone, with frequent inaccuracies, due to gabbling and indistinct pronunciation, usually by women operators. A confirmatory copy of the telegram is sent by post, after 24, or 36, or even 48 hours in some cases, when there is a slight apology. If the addressee is not on the telephone, as quite a number of people are not, the only copy that he gets is sent by post. In effect, it is not the delivery of a telegram at all. In fact, it is hardly too much to say that in a great many parts of the country there is no real telegraph service, in the sense that messages are accurately sent in a reasonable time.

Surely, it is time that all our postal services were very greatly improved. Delivery of letters and of parcels should approximate to the rapidity, the regularity and the frequency of 1914. Our telephone service should be made to compare favourably even with the telephone service in the United States. Telegrams should once more be accurately transmitted and rapidly delivered. They really are not worth 9d. for 12 words, or anything like that price. Lastly, the interest and the convenience of the public should be the first consideration of the Post Office, even before a reduction of charges, whenever that should be possible, and in advance of improved conditions for those who are employed in the Post Office. I believe that the first consideration ought to be, now and always, the convenience of the public.

I have little more to say. I hold here the wrapper, if the Postmaster-General would like to see it, of the letter to which I referred, delivery of which took from 28th June to 1st July. I hope that some of the points which I have mentioned will receive the attention of the Postmaster-General and that he will strongly adhere to his expressed intention greatly to improve our postal services.

6.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Mulvey Mr Anthony Mulvey , Fermanagh and Tyrone

I intervene in this Debate in order to complain about the administration of the postal service in Northern Ireland. As the Committee are aware, the service is operated in Northern Ireland under the jurisdiction of the authorities there. I am sorry to say that, for a long time past and actually up to the present, a system of postal censorship is being carried on in that area, and it is, in the main, directed against the opponents of the present administration in Northern Ireland. In fact, it is directed against the opponents of the Tory Party. When I say that, I am saying something which, in effect, means that the service is being utilised in some respects in the interests of the Tory Party. In regard to correspondence addressed to myself, I know that postal packets frequently have the corners torn away and the contents exposed. The complaint is continual, on the part of Nationalists and some Labour Members in Northern Ireland, that—

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I am in some doubt whether this matter of postal censorship can properly be raised upon the Post Office Vote. I do not think the Postmaster-General is responsible. In the matter of censorship, the Home Office and not the Post Office would appear to be the Department concerned. Has the hon. Gentleman satisfied himself that censorship is a Post Office responsibility?

Photo of Mr Anthony Mulvey Mr Anthony Mulvey , Fermanagh and Tyrone

I understand that the Post Office in Northern Ireland is in the hands of the Postmaster-General.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Does the Postmaster-General accept responsibility on his Vote?

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

I have no knowledge of a censorship of this kind.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

Does that answer mean that the Postmaster-General does not take responsibility for the censorship in Ireland, even though it involves interference with postal rules and regulations regarding delivery of postal communications in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

I said that I was taking no responsibility because I know nothing about it.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The right hon. Gentleman is responsible for postal matters in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

Yes, Major Milner, we are responsible for postal matters in Northern Ireland. The important point is that I am not responsible for the censorship which has been talked about.

Photo of Mr Barnett Janner Mr Barnett Janner , Leicester West

May I, on that point of Order, respectfully point out that unless my right hon. Friend denies that censorship takes place or can give some reason for the censorship taking place, he cannot divest himself of responsibility for what takes place in that respect? Therefore I suggest that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Mulvey) is in Order.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will proceed with his argument and we shall see.

Photo of Mr Anthony Mulvey Mr Anthony Mulvey , Fermanagh and Tyrone

The complaint is made by Nationalists and by some Labour Members that their telephone messages have been tapped, as well as their letters having been censored. I put a Question to the Home Secretary recently—

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

If it is a matter for the Home Office, then it should properly be raised on the Home Office Vote and not on the Post Office Vote. It appears that the hon. Gentleman took that view when he put down his Question.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Lichfield

Inasmuch as the letters of the hon. Gentleman are in the sole custody of the Postmaster-General, does it not follow that whatever happens to them between the time when they are posted and the time when they are delivered to the hon. Gentleman, must be within the responsibility of the Postmaster-General in some way or other?

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

Do I understand from your Ruling, Major Milner, that when a Government Department, such as the Post Office, is responsible to the House for the carrying out of certain duties, another Department which interferes with the carrying out of those duties can escape criticism?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I did not say that at all. I was in doubt as to which Government Department is responsible for what is complained of by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Mulvey).

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

Perhaps I may seek to help the Committee. I am clear that there is no responsibility here upon the Postmaster-General. Obviously security matters arise from time to time upon which action may have to be taken, but that action would not rest with the Postmaster-General. In so far as the Post Office is involved, it would not be involved in any decision. The decision would come from another Department. I submit that the Postmaster-General, as such, has no responsibility in this matter.

Photo of Mr Anthony Mulvey Mr Anthony Mulvey , Fermanagh and Tyrone

I should like to explain, Major Milner, that when I raised the question with the Home Secretary, his reply was that the censorship regulations were no longer in force and that censorship had been discontinued. That answer was given to me on 2nd May. Since then censorship has been carried on in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

That may be so, but it is clear that in the past the hon. Member has accepted the position that if this be the responsibility of any Government Department, the Minister responsible to the House is the Home Secretary and the Vote that of the Home Office. That being the case, I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to proceed.

Photo of Mr Barnett Janner Mr Barnett Janner , Leicester West

While I appreciate that the ultimate responsibility may be that of the Home Office, if the instrument for carrying out the decision of the Home Office happens to be the Postmaster-General or some other Department, surely that other Department is answerable to hon. Members for what is being done.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

With respect, Major Milner, I submit not. At the very most, the Postmaster-General can only be brought in as an agent acting under the direction of another Minister. The Postmaster-General has no option. All the responsibility in this matter, in so far as it exists, rests clearly on the Secretary of State for the Home Department and not on the Postmaster-General; but the hon. Member is quoting an instance in which the Home Office denies that the censorship exists. I cannot, however, argue that matter.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Lichfield

The Leader of the House has now put the Committee in an extremely difficult position in this matter.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham East

I am trying to put the Committee right.

Photo of Mr Cecil Poole Mr Cecil Poole , Lichfield

The right hon. Gentleman may think that he is putting us right, but some may think that he has put us very much wrong. For the reason that the Home Office has denied that there is any form of censorship on correspondence in Northern Ireland, there may be nothing carried on the Vote of the Home Office in respect of the censorship of letters in Northern Ireland. With all respect, Major Milner, it would, therefore, be quite impossible to raise this question on a Home Office Vote because that Vote is nonexistent.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The hon. and gallant Member is quite wrong. I rule that the matter as at present disclosed is clearly one which comes under the Home Office Vote and not the Post Office Vote. If the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Mulvey) has any observations on strictly Post Office practice, he may continue.

Photo of Mr Anthony Mulvey Mr Anthony Mulvey , Fermanagh and Tyrone

Is there no remedy? Must this censorship continue until I get an opportunity to raise it on the Home Office Vote?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Not at all. The hon. Member will find many opportunities to raise questions of that sort. He may raise the question on the Adjournment of the House, on the Home Office Vote, or by a Motion on the Order Paper.

7.4 p.m.

Photo of Sir Neill Cooper-Key Sir Neill Cooper-Key , Hastings

There was one question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) to which the Minister did not give an adequate answer. It was in regard to the transfer of the surplus of the Post Office to the Treasury. The Committee will remember that the Bridgeman Committee was originally charged with the task of finding a compromise in the old conflict between two principles within the Post Office—its duty to the public against subordination to the Treasury. The recommendations of that Committee laid down that a fixed charge should be paid to the Treasury of £11,500,000 a year and that the balance of the profits should be halved, one half going to an improvement fund for Post Office services. The present practice of transferring Post Office surpluses to the Exchequer is a reversion to the situation in which instead of being a self-balancing service, it is a milch cow of the Treasury. Today every letter that is sent is taxed, and every stamp that is bought is a compulsory contribution to the public expenditure. On top of that, for their 2½d. today the public are getting curtailed services and very much less value than they received before the war for 1½d. The point is whether, as the State infiltrates more and more into the economic industry of the country, those industries will be run at cost or carry extra charges to the public, which will in fact be masked taxation. I hope that the Minister will give an answer to that question when he replies.

The Postmaster-General referred to the curtailment of the postal services in reply to Questions last week. He said that the postal services throughout the country had been modified in order to save manpower and to release staff for production. Modifying means changing the form. There is no question of modification in the curtailment of the services we are now experiencing. It is an essential ancillary to business houses and to production that we should have an efficient postal service. This curtailment is having, or will have, a very serious repercussion on the country's business life.

As to the question of manpower, the Postmaster in my constituency of Hastings had a circular from the Department, in consequence of which many men employed in the post office there were put off work and sent out to join the great production drive. In Hastings there is very little opportunity to produce, and there is no possible means of finding em- ployment for those men. In fact they walked round the streets for some days and could not find employment, and I now understand that two of them have opened shops. The point arises whether the problem is one of the shortage of manpower or of how that manpower is being used. I agree that there are bad conditions in industry, but the use of manpower and the working conditions in the Post Office are very much worse than in other industries. In 1939 the staff of the Post Office was 205,000. The Post Office now has at its disposal 262,000, an increase of approximately 25 per cent. On the other hand, the volume of letters has fallen from 7,000 million odd in 1939 to 4,700 million in 1946. There is an increase in staff and a decrease in the volume of the mail.

Photo of Sir Neill Cooper-Key Sir Neill Cooper-Key , Hastings

The Assistant Postmaster-General says, "No," but I have the figures here. There has been a decrease in the volume of letters and the service to the public has steadily deteriorated. The Minister knows perfectly well—certainly the Assistant Postmaster-General does—that the fundamental problem of economic output is related to the two peak loads experienced by the Post Office system—the peak loads at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.—and the hours about midday when there is comparative inactivity. If he tried to avoid that by staggering labour and output, he would arrive at an economical improvement of the postal services. I put up two months ago a scheme whereby those peak loads and the comparatively inactive periods would be levelled out, and there would be a constant flow of postage and production throughout the postal services. I will repeat what I said then, because I would like to see whether the Minister will not change his mind. I suggested that in order to achieve that object he should accept a scheme for midday letters, to institute penny postage on letters posted before 1 p.m. for second delivery—late delivery—next day, which would be for non-urgent letters, and to put the rate for ordinary letters posted any time within the 24 hours at 1½d., urgent letters with speedier delivery.

There you have a distinction, as in telegrams and in telephoning, between the urgency and non-urgency of the matter to be sent. Now, the practicability of that proposition has been challenged but, on the other hand, to every single one of the points brought up by the Assistant Postmaster-General in April last, in that, Adjournment Debate, there is an answer. It is generally recognised that this is the only system by which you can get back to an efficient postal service. The Minister said it would be difficult to administer this. I say that the postal services are in danger of collapse. There will be a crisis very shortly, when the Post Office workers make further demands on the Department. There is bound to be a crisis. If he went to his Civil Service and said, "I want this scheme carried out," he would find that while the Post Office service is quite the most obstructive of all services when a new proposition is put up to it yet, once the Minister has laid down that a plan shall be adopted, there is no service which is more efficient or which will more expeditiously bring a plan into being and make it a success.

Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Heston and Isleworth

Before the hon. Member resumes his seat, would he give the Committee some evidence of what he has just said, because to some of us it is so contrary to the true situation that I am in doubt whether the hon. Member's information is correct? It may be that he would like to give us examples of the charges he has made against the Post Office service?

Photo of Sir Neill Cooper-Key Sir Neill Cooper-Key , Hastings

In the first place, I said I would speak for 10 minutes, and secondly, I am not certain what the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. W. R. Williams) means by the charges I have made.

Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Heston and Isleworth

If I may remind the hon. Member, he said that no Department is more obstructive to new ideas than the Post Office. I asked the hon. Member to give us some examples of what he has in mind.

Photo of Sir Neill Cooper-Key Sir Neill Cooper-Key , Hastings

I would say that there can be no band of men who, if they wish to be obstructive, can be so successfully obstructive as the Civil Service, particularly the Post Office service—

Photo of Sir Neill Cooper-Key Sir Neill Cooper-Key , Hastings

If they want to, but if they get instructions from the Minister, they will loyally carry out those instructions and make the plan work. I would remind the Minister that it took great efforts to get the present system adopted. The revolution we had in 1840 in the Post Office services was much greater than I am suggesting today, and it was that there should be a charge on despatch, rather than a charge on delivery. If they could make that tremendous revolution in 1840, surely it would be elementary to do this small adjustment now. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will take up the matter and examine it with the Advisory Council he mentioned in his speech.

7.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Shipley

It is natural that a Debate of this kind should have a critical tone about it, but I hope that the various criticisms that have been made—I am afraid I shall be no exception to the general rule—do not dim our eyes to the fact that the Post Office has done a remarkable job of work and is still doing a remarkable job of work. I do not agree with the prophets of gloom who say that we are on the verge of complete catastrophe, but at the same time I am sure my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, if his past record is anything to judge by, will listen to the various criticisms made.

There is no doubt that at present there is a good deal of dissatisfaction with certain changes that have taken place. I shall not weary, the Committee with instances which have been brought to my notice; I will send them on to my right hon. Friend at a later date; but I know that the Minister will give his careful attention to these grievances because they are genuine, and I feel certain that with good will on both sides—the staff side and the Post Office side—these things can be put right. At the same time, I sometimes think, when I am travelling on parts of our railway system, that if they had been under the jurisdiction of the Postmaster-General there would have been many more questions and criticisms of all kinds. I think the Post Office can compare very favourably with a large number of private enterprises of comparable character and size.

I wish to speak for a few moments about one point of general interest to hon. Members who represent rural constituencies, that is the provision of telephone kiosks in small villages and hamlets. It is true that, where there is a post office, for the most part a telephone kiosk will be provided without any charge being made upon the local authority, even though such a telephone kiosk may be run at a loss, and, broadly speaking, we find the Postmaster-General rather more forthcoming at running his business at a loss in rural areas than, say, the owners of bus companies, who are rather less willing to do so. At the same time there are many hamlets and small villages without post offices which have a considerable number of people living in them, but which at the moment have no public telephone within a considerable distance. I imagine this applies even more to Scotland and Wales than it does to England. The policy which has been adopted by the Post Office in the past has been simply to say, "If we are convinced that this box will provide a reasonable return within a short space of time, we will provide it."

Alternatively, they say that if the local parish council is willing to guarantee a sum of £4 for a period of five years, they will get some sort of priority. I ask my hon. Friend what is the basis upon which those applications, coupled with a guarantee of £4 for five years are treated? Is it that the Post Office in each year allocates its resources between urban applications and rural applications and then, within that rural allocation, gives preference to those parish councils who are willing to put up the £4, putting back to the end of the rural list those parish councils which, for some reason, do not put up the £4or, when such an application, coupled with this guarantee, is made, does that divert resources from the urban areas? Quite clearly, if the first is the case, and every parish council puts up £4 a year, the rural areas would be in precisely the same position, and my right hon. Friend would be better off to the tune of £4 multiplied by the number of parish councils. I think the system works a little unfairly, but I am prepared to admit that at present there must be some form of priority, and I cannot think of any other ready means of assessing that priority other than readiness to pay. At the same time the cost of these installations is comparatively small, compared with the total number in the country as a whole, though obviously the expenditure on the line as distinct from the instrument and the box is very much greater.

The fact remains that there are many concentrations of population, amounting, perhaps, in some cases to 100 or 200 people, living a mile, two miles or perhaps three miles from a post office, with no public telephone to which they can go in times of emergency. I hope that in the next few weeks my right hon. Friend will make a survey in each of his regions of the number of applications which have been made, and will do his utmost to see that these very necessary installations are made at the earliest possible date, even at the risk of delaying to some extent applications from urban areas. We are all dependent for our food supplies upon the people who live in isolated areas. I do not think it would be unfair to say that people who live in towns should delay their telephone installations for some time, in order that those people who live in isolated districts may have made accessible to them means by which a doctor, nurse, or ambulance can be summoned at very short notice.

7.23 p.m.

Photo of Major Sir Basil Neven-Spence Major Sir Basil Neven-Spence , Orkney and Shetland

I am glad that the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Asterley Jones) introduced the topic of rural telephones. I will come back to that subject later. I had not intended to refer to the telegram service, but the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) on that subject reminded me of what I think is a classic example of delay. It happened on a fine summer day when I was at home in Shetland painting a boat down on the beach. The local steamer was passing, and she altered course and blew a signal, and I went out in a boat. I found a horse dangling at the end of a derrick. The horse was lowered into the sea. I secured the halter, and got it ashore. I went to my home, and then I received a telegram sent off two days before to say the horse had been despatched to me. That was not the worst of it, because, owing to the iniquitous system which prevails, I had to pay half-a-crown to have that telegram delivered. I think the Postmaster-General might go into the question of the charges still existing for rural deliveries of telegrams. They are a perfect nuisance to everyone concerned. The cost could quite well be spread over the whole service.

I listened with great interest to the Postmaster-General giving his account of his Department's work in the past year. I thought he had been a little dazzled by the brief which had been put up to him, but he saved himself in the last sentence by saying that he did not pretend to be complacent. I was glad to hear him say that, because that is the last thing he should be, and, as he is a new broom, I hope he will shake up the Post Office in several respects. Several hon. Members have mentioned that the Post Office is a nationalised service. I prefer to call it a State monopoly. It is a very difficult thing to criticise it because we have no yardstick by which to judge its commercial efficiency and standard of service. But there is not lacking evidence that in some respects that if the Post Office were run as an up-to-date, modern, commercial undertaking the service would be better, cheaper, and quicker, and I am not sure that the Post Office staff would not be better treated. I hold no brief for State monopolies in any shape or form, but if we are committed to one in the case of the Post Office—and I do not think anyone wishes to disturb the present set-up, certainly no one on this side of the Committee—it is absolutely essential that we should endeavour to spread the whole of the benefits of the service as evenly as possible. I do not think that is done at present. The Postmaster-General referred, with some pride, to two deliveries of mail and two collections of mail in the rural areas. Does he realise that in my constituency there are people who do not have two deliveries or two collections, they do not even have one delivery or collection but have a delivery three days a week, and a pretty slow one as it is often not being sent out until the day after the steamer has arrived.

I am not criticising the officials of the Post Office in any way, nor indeed the technical competence of the people in the telecommunications department, but I say the Post Office is terribly slow in improving its service. My Post Office file is packed with things with which I have been dealing for years past. It is very difficult to get the Post Office to pull up its socks and to improve its services. For 12 years now we have had an air service to the Islands of Shetland provided by private enterprise, and run with clockwork regularity. It took me two years of continuous pressure in this House to get the Post Office to take advantage of that service. They did eventually—

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

Is the hon. Member now referring to the period between 1930 and 1938, and not to the period during the war, or is he comparing the situation with that which exists now?

Photo of Major Sir Basil Neven-Spence Major Sir Basil Neven-Spence , Orkney and Shetland

What I was trying to say was that in 1936 the air service started, and it was not until 1938 that the Post Office made use of it. It took another 10 years to get the Post Office to distribute this daily air mail throughout the mainland of Shetland every day. That was only undertaken this summer. I think that is an example of how appallingly slow the Post Office is in giving benefits to the people as a whole. But that is not the end of the story. One quarter of my constituents live on the Islands of Yell, Unst, Fetlar and Whalsey. There is a public service daily either by steamer or by the overland route to Yell and Unst, but still we cannot get the benefit of that daily delivery spread to these islands. I want the Postmastef-General to look into this matter. I have letters from his Department about this, but I do not agree with a word they say to the effect that nothing can be done. It is not as though the Post Office had to provide the transport, although I see no reason why they should not provide some of the vans.

These are big islands, with up to 1,500 people on them; there is fishing, agriculture, etc., and there are many merchants and others there who have to send away knitted goods. These people ought at this time to have the benefit of a daily service. It is perfectly practicable, and it is merely a question of spreading the benefit of these services over the whole of the people. I wish to say a word about the telephone service. Here again the Post Office is being very slow indeed. It is astonishing to contrast the telephone service in the Faroes and that in Shetland. The Faroes are very like Shetland; they are populated by the same people, who came from Norway originally and settled down in the islands there. The populations are very much the same. The Faroes have not the backing that Shetland has, as a part of the United Kingdom, but in spite of that fact there is a most excellent telephone service in those islands. It is not State-owned, which may be the explanation, I do not know, but there it is. Every island is connected up, and everyone is within easy reach of the telephone. I want to explain to the Committee the sort of thing with which my constituents have to put up. At the present moment on my island the very fine wife of a very fine shepherd is giving birth to what I hope will be a very fine baby. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) will appreciate this point: The doctor attending her lives on another island six miles across the sea. There is no telephone to my island. I made inquiries some years ago about getting one. I was told that if I chose to pay £300, and four subscriptions, which I suppose would mean £32 a year, they might consider putting one in. There was a rider that I might have to pay the costs of the cable ship coming up if there was a breakdown.

What has happened in this case is that the doctor has had to leave a large island of 2,000 people and reside on a smaller one for about 48 hours until this birth takes place. That is unreasonable. I think that the telephone service might be extended to link up all these islands. I put down a Question about this quite recently. I asked how many demands there were from Orkney and Shetland for public call offices. The answer I got was 88. I think the number should be 89. Those are 89 communities with anything up to 20 or more families in them, living perhaps nine or 10 miles away from a doctor or nurse, and often with no motor car. The day has passed when people should be deprived of these modern conveniences such as the telephone service. There is no Supply without redress of grievances. I have put one or two grievances tonight, and I would like to put one or two more. I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will convey what I have said to the Postmaster-General, because there is enormous room in the Post Office for spreading the benefits of these services amongst the whole people.

7.34 P.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Harris Mr Henry Harris , Cambridge University

The two hon. Members who have just spoken have dealt particularly with the work of the Post Office in rural areas. They have spoken especially of the telephone service. I would like, in pass- ing, to pay a very warm tribute to the ordinary postal deliveries in rural areas and to the work done by the postmen, who tramp long distances in all weathers to remote cottages to deliver perhaps nothing but a postcard or an envelope with a circular inside. It is a great thing that people in all parts of this island can be kept closely in touch with the general life of the nation, daily receiving their letters and daily papers and, even more important, their weekly reviews, at the appointed time, owing to the faithful service of those men who bring their letters to their door every day. I would refer also to the difficulties of many of these rural post offices in providing messengers for telegrams which may come in at any moment, and which may have to be carried considerable distances. We owe very much to the local postmistresses and postmasters who make this possible.

Reference has been made more than once today to the fact that it is just over 100 years since the penny post was introduced in this country. In some respects, we are getting a service less satisfactory than we were getting then. That is true in one respect which has already been emphassied—the cost of the carriage of letters. It is really outrageous that we should be paying 2½d. for our letters today and handing £36 million a year to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Some weeks ago I put a Question as to the average cost of sending a postal package in this country. I forget the precise figure, but it was a very small fraction over a penny.

Photo of Mr Henry Harris Mr Henry Harris , Cambridge University

Yet we have to pay 2½d. for the carriage of an ordinary letter. We have listened to the eloquence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he comes here and lectures private firms on the duty of ploughing back their profits into the enterprise. When it comes to the Post Office there is no question of ploughing back profits, which could be done with great advantage to the public. If the Post Office retained its profits we could get all sorts of services which we now lack. It would be a great encouragement to the Post Office itself if it could use its profits for the development of its own plans and to give a better service to the public.

My memory does not go back to the days when the penny post was introduced, but it does go back to the early part of this century. I was then living in a provincial town, Plymouth, and we were getting an incomparably better service there than we are getting in London today. I think, perhaps, we were getting too good a service. We had five deliveries, the latest between 9 and 10 at night. We had a 7.30 p.m. collection—what we do not have in London—so that letters could be delivered in London and elsewhere by the first post on the following morning, and a midnight collection so that our letters could get all over Devon and Cornwall the next morning. I do not think the Postmaster-General realises the inconvenience imposed on the public by the withdrawal of the 6.30 p.m. collection. The Post Office does not exist entirely for business men, but also for personal correspondents. The average man does not get home in time to answer his letters before 6.30 p.m., and unless he does so they will not be delivered the next day.

Take communications between the Southern capital and the Northern capital, Edinburgh, which are carried on to the great advantage of the Northern capital, which gains immeasurably by its contacts with London. If we in London do not succeed in posting our letters by 6.30 p.m. Edinburgh has not the advantage of receiving them until the next day but one. That seems to me to be something which is indefensible and which ought to be remedied. We are told it is the result of lack of manpower. But let us consider the distribution of manpower. Why should that particular delivery, which is so important to an immense number of people in this Metropolis, be cut off? I do not know, but we do see some reasons advanced in the correspondence columns of "The Times," suggesting that the postal trade unions have a great deal to do with it. I quite understand that postmen do not want to work later, collecting letters, sorting them and transmitting them. But neither do miners like working late, nor for that matter do journalists or nurses and doctors. I suggest that the Post Office owes it to the public which it serves to restore this particular collection.

Having harked back to the introduction of the penny post in 1840, I would like to remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that even before 1840 we had something which we have not got now—a penny post in the London area. I wish to suggest to him very seriously that it would be entirely practicable, very desirable, and an immense convenience to the public to establish a penny post in the London area. Obviously, it would pay hands down. If the average cost of transmitting a letter anywhere is 1.4d., it must cost a great deal less to transmit it in the London area. I have no doubt that we shall be told that it will be administratively impossible. All I can say is that it has been done. It was done, I agree, under different circumstances, but clearly letters posted in a special box in London could be accepted with a penny stamp and delivered over a certain restricted area. The inner parts of London are full of such boxes already. The area could be increased gradually. I am sure that it could be done without any loss to the Post Office and, certainly, it would be of the greatest benefit to the public.

I think the Post Office is to be commiserated with a little on the many extraneous services which are thrust upon it and which really ought not to be in its charge. I do not know where one ought to go to get a dog licence, but I am quite sure that it should not be the Post Office. I should like to ask for information, if the information has not been given already, upon whether, after the National Insurance Act comes into force, the whole business of pensions and allowances which has thrown such an immense burden upon postal officials, is to be dealt with in some other form.

Finally, I wish to ask the Assistant Postmaster-General whether there is any Department in the Post Office which is studying the practices of other post offices all over the world. Many of them are rendering services to the public which are of great value and which we do not get in this country. Is there any investigation department"? Is there a suggestion department? Is imagination being brought to play on' this great service? I think that is what we want more than anything else. No service is in more intimate touch with the public. No service is better able to make life convenient and easy for the public than the Post Office.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General, if his Government lasts long enough, which is perhaps doubtful, will have a great opportunity to bring his own imagination to bear and to consider how he can make this service of benefit to the public. I hope he will use all the profits that he can legitimately make and find some way of avoiding handing any of them over to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Bridgeman Committee, in recommending that a certain basic payment should be made, in my view went too far. The Post Office, like any of the new national boards, should be self-supporting and should plough back its profits, giving the public the very best service it can as a result of the payments which the public is compelled to make to it.

7.44 p.m.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

This has been a most amusing discussion, because Parliamentary representatives who apparently have only a superficial knowledge of postal services have taken part. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) no doubt would be terribly angry if a postal employee attempted to tell him how to run his supposedly intellectual weekly on intellectual lines. Some of his, criticisms of the postal service were jejune. I am surprised that a university representative should consider such criticisms worthy of delivery in this Committee. Some of the points he raised have already been demolished in an earlier speech by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Randall). The hon. Gentleman and the hon. and gallant Member for Holder-ness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) can read that speech tomorrow. The hon. Member for Cambridge University will see that his case has already been completely answered.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I said "demolished." I know the hon. Member is very finicky. The hon. Member for Cambridge University suggested, for example, that in London the inauguration of a special penny post within a certain area would be a very valuable thing. That breaks across the whole principle of uniformity in the postal services of the country.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

Administratively it would be hopeless. It cannot be done.

Photo of Mr Henry Harris Mr Henry Harris , Cambridge University

Does the hon Member want every trunk call to be charged at the same rate whatever the distance?

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

There is a complete difference between a trunk call and a postal delivery. A postal delivery is one item, but a trunk telephone call, or a toll call, may last anything from one minute to an hour. The charge must vary according to the time taken on the instrument. The hon. Gentleman's argument is nonsensical. A well-known Socialist once said that the one thing a human being hates more than any thing else is thinking and hard thinking Apparently the Parliamentary representative of the university hates it more than anybody else. The moment- we started giving a penny postal service for London, what would Liverpool, Plymouth or Glasgow say?

Photo of Sir William Darling Sir William Darling , Edinburgh South

Would the hon. Gentleman allow me?

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I "finished" the hon. Gentleman before;—but if he wants "finishing" again, he can go ahead.

Photo of Sir William Darling Sir William Darling , Edinburgh South

If the hon. Gentleman will concede to the County of London an underground traffic service. is it not possible, then, to concede a penny postal service?

Photo of Sir Frederick Messer Sir Frederick Messer , Tottenham South

Is a penny postage stamp like a railway ticket?

Photo of Sir Edward Keeling Sir Edward Keeling , Twickenham

Is the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) aware that in some countries there is precisely that service for a limited area?

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

We are talcing about this country.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I would like to thank hon. Members for the compliment they are paying. Apparently, I am touching the heart of the problem because at least four Members have tried to ask me a question. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) has apparently not read the life history of Rowland Hill. If he would read that, he would find his case completely answered. We cannot go into every little detail of every little town and every city in the country and then ask what they do in foreign countries, and say whether it should be done here. The postal service of this country is equal to the best in the world. Even under Tory Governments it was the best in the world. I submit that there is not the slightest reliable evidence that the postal service deserves a fraction of the criticism which it has received today.

The junior Burgess for Cambridge University said that of all places in the world the Post Office was not the place in which, to get a dog licence. Of all the places where a legal opinion on a workman's compensation case should not be given, one is the doctor's surgery—and yet it is done. Human life cannot be put into little petty boxes here and there. One must take the whole problem and deal with it as a whole. Some hon. Members speak as though these questions have not been considered. The question of deliveries has been considered by a Government Committee, and the Bridgeman Report was published as long ago as 1932. The answers given then are unchallengeable. They cannot be answered. This is not something new; it is nearly 15 years old. Apparently, hon. Members have not read that Report. It says: Improvements in the scale of deliveries, are almost entirely a question of cost involved in relation to the benefit accorded. We find little evidence of any widespread and genuine desire on the part of the public for the restoration of the somewhat lavish scale of postal deliveries obtaining before the war, nor do we think it would be easy to find any general unanimity as to the form any widespread increase in the scale should take; indeed, it is possible that some existing deliveries might, on investigation, be found to involve more expense than is justified by their value. We believe that the Post Office are fully alive to the necessity of meeting the legitimate requirements of the public in specific cases, so far as considerations permit.

Photo of Flight Lieut Wavell Wakefield Flight Lieut Wavell Wakefield , St Marylebone

Why do they not reduce the price?

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I am making one particular point, and the hon. Member is trailing a red herring across my path about reduction in price. That is the sort of childish argument that had better be settled in a sportsmen's den somewhere; it ought not to be considered seriously in a representative Chamber. I want to tell the Committee what is stated in a report submitted by the Union of Post Office Workers. I asked a Question a long time ago, as the result of my own observations. I have been medical officer. to the Union of Post Office Workers for 25 years, and I know how the health of these men has been affected by their work—-split duties leading to gastric symptoms, and late night duties leading to cases of insomnia. I knew, of course, of the high physical standard demanded on recruitment by the Post Office, and I knew also of the good educational standard which was demanded. I knew that, the moment they got there, the Post Office would expect that they would give regular and efficient service, since the Post Office is not like a. private employer, who can dismiss his men when he likes. The Post Office give their men pensions. Because of that, I frequently had to fight on a wrong diagnosis by Post Office medical officers, who were general practitioners and who were trying to get these men out of the service. I have been doing it for a series of years, and that is why I am interested in the postal service. My job is to prevent injustice being done, on medical grounds, to Post Office workers.

I know something of the telephone service, so far as I have seen it, from a perfectly impartial point of view and in a professional way, and I know that the people there really render very fine service to the community as a whole. Of course, special instances can be quoted, and one man in one particular constituency may have a little difficulty. One hon. Member mentioned the service in the -Shetlands and another mentioned other islands as not having efficient postal services, and they were demanding special telephone services and so on. But who started taking the profits of the Post Office? Who started the policy of not ploughing back the profits into the business? Was the Labour Party ever responsible for that? Had it not been going on for many years previous to a Labour Government, and have any Conservative Members ever voted against the policy of their own Government in not ploughing back the Post Office profits?

Photo of Mr Henry Harris Mr Henry Harris , Cambridge University

Surely, this is not a question of party politics, but a question of the efficiency of the service for the benefit of the public?

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

The hon. Gentleman is as feeble as ever. I must say that I would not accept that from a sixth form school- boy. I am making a case that past Governments, usually of a certain character, have not adopted the policy of ploughing back into the business a proper proportion of Post Office profits, and the hon. Gentleman gets up, throws out his chest and tells me that this is not a question of party politics, but a question of administration. Of course, any party in power trying to provide a genuine, honest, decent administration would have adopted this policy of ploughing back the profits for the development of the business long before. The hon. Member, in his very well-known paper, which is so widely read and sometimes disparagingly discussed here, has said that this is a matter in which the profits should be ploughed back. We really have not had yet a Postmaster-General of wide imagination to give us efficient service, as a whole, from the point of view of telecommunications all over the world, but all these petty criticisms seem to me to be going against the whole dignity of Parliament and to be lowering the tone of the Debate. could go on discussing this Memorandum—

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I can only say that I have seen the Post Office from the inside, and I can say that all sections of the staff are quite willing and prepared, in consultation with the Post Office authorities, to give a good service, not in the interests of the staff, but in the interests of the public; but of course, there must be certain inducements—good conditions of work, good pay and good buildings. Have any hon. Members ever been inside some of the telephone exchanges in which these girls have to work, contending with noise and dust, and without ventilation? [Interruption.]The hon. Member for South Edinburgh says "Nonsense."

Photo of Sir William Darling Sir William Darling , Edinburgh South

I did not say "Nonsense." The hon. Gentleman asked if we had ever been in a telephone exchange where these young ladies work. I have not been there, because I would not be allowed.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

I did not realise that, even in Edinburgh, the charm of the hon. Gentleman would be so disarming that the postal authorities would see fit to guard the ladies in the Post Office against him. The hon. Gentleman is trying to get me away from what I am saying. The buildings are not modern, there is bad ventilation, and there are bad sanitary arrangements. These are the conditions under which these girls have to work night and day and when they sometimes get tuberculosis from somebody infecting the instruments, they have to fight hard for months or years to get compensation, because they do not come under the compensation Acts. The whole of the criticism of the Post Office in this Debate has shown a lack of understanding of Post Office conditions. There is a lack of manpower, a lack of modern buildings and modern equipment, but the staff is anxious and willing to give to the public a really decent service which is worthy of the country. Instead of any appreciation of that spirit, we have this pettifogging, trivial, superficial argument about the services provided. Private offices and private firms do not come under the Factories Act. Post offices, bad as they are, are far superior to anything in most of the private working institutions of this country.

Before resuming my seat, I want to pay my tribute to the excellent work done by the Post Office clerks under most difficult, and sometimes almost impossible, conditions, and for doing their work in a way which will cause satisfaction to anyone who takes a pride in work well done and service well rendered.

8.1 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

As the first Yorkshire Member to be called upon to speak in this Debate, and as a fellow member from the county of the broad acres may I begin by congratulating the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General upon his appointment to the important office which he now fills. I remember once playing in a cricket match at Castleford, which the right hon. Gentleman knows well. When I went in to bat, some boys standing round the gate said, "Give him a clap while you have the chance, as he will be out in a minute." I am giving the right hon. Gentleman some applause now, because I have to make some observations which are of a less complimentary nature.

I want to begin by reverting to a matter which I raised at Question Time today, about the recruitment of ex-Service men and their quota of employment by the Post Office. A young signalman, who served under my command during the war with great distinction and who was mentioned in dispatches, was very anxious to enter the Post Office on demobilisation. I did what I could to make the necessary arrangements for him. I found out that when recruiting opened a few months ago, a certain form had to be obtained from the Ministry of Labour, and that, after that, consideration was given to ex-Service applicants. I took the further precaution of letting the postmaster at Southend know that the young man was coming along, and was a suitable person for employment. In due course, the lad complied with this procedure and was accepted. Then, on 24th May, I heard from him that he had been dismissed. I will send the right hon. Gentleman full particulars of the case. That inspired my question. I should like to feel that the 50 per cent. quota of ex-Service men has not been altered by the manpower situation with which we are now confronted.

I will now turn to the question of the restored services which have since been removed from us. Long talks on this matter were concluded on 20th October. The new services came into operation on 20th January, only to be taken from us before they had hardly got into their stride. They were taken from us on two counts—firstly, the fuel crisis, and, secondly, the shortage of manpower. I am just as bemused as other people as to why a fuel crisis prevents people collecting and delivering letters, and I think that the manpower shortage is the much more likely reason. I think that the Post Office has been called upon for a run-down of their staff. If I am right, why are the skilled women sorters being dismissed as well? Surely, if there is a manpower shortage, and appeals by the Minister of Labour to women to return to industry, it hardly makes sense to discharge women sorters who have become skilled in their work.

I cannot help feeling that the bottleneck which is causing these late deliveries exists, to a certain extent, in the sorting offices. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever is going to reply, will tell us something about this, because it seems to me to be a mystery why these women should be dismissed. The real reason for the taking off of the services was completely explained to us by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Randall). A little later I am going to be able to agree cordially with something else which the hon. Gentleman said earlier in his speech. He made it quite clear that the chief reason for the union's objection to late deliveries was not the fuel crisis or the manpower shortage, but that the postman did not like working late. He said so in the plainest possible language.

Photo of Mr Harry Randall Mr Harry Randall , Clitheroe

Mr. Randall rose

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

I am afraid I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. He was not courteous enough to give way to me, and, as a Roland for his Oliver, he must now listen to what I have to say. He told us that the men ought to be at home with their wives, that they did not like working late, and so on. They are quite entitled to that opinion. But are we to assume from that, that when the railways are nationalised next year, there will be no trains after 6 p.m. because the drivers do not like working late, and want to be at home with their wives? Likewise, are we to assume that when the hospitals come under the Minister of Health, the nurses will not work after 6 o'clock at night, because that is what his argument really means, if it means anything at all.

Photo of Mr Harry Randall Mr Harry Randall , Clitheroe

Mr. Randall rose

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

Very well, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, although he would not give way to me.

Photo of Mr Harry Randall Mr Harry Randall , Clitheroe

I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his courtesy. But he really must not misquote me. What I said was that the staffs were willing to give a good service provided we compensated them with good wages and good conditions. I tried to say that, surely, the first charge was to see that they were properly compensated.

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

What the hon. Gentleman is now telling us is that it does not matter about them going home to their wives if they are paid a bit more. Before leaving that point, may I say—I hope with the approval of all sides of the Committee, and without raising any controversy—that I hope the hon. Member for Clitheroe will convey these views about late hours and the impropriety of separating husbands and wives to the Leader of the House.

I think there is another possible bottleneck which is causing delay in the delivery of mails The Postmaster-Genera) will, I think, be familiar with the case I am going to put to him. When I go to my constituency, I frequently catch the 10.10 a.m. train from King's Cross which, as he knows, splits at Doncaster for Bradford, Leeds, Harrogate and Hull. On its way to Doncaster it calls at Peter-I borough, Grantham, Newark and Retford, and serves a large number of important provincial centres. I frequently notice at King's Cross trolley loads of mail labelled for these various towns. I suspect that some of those mail bags reach the station in time to catch earlier trains. I further suspect that a great many do not get on to the 10.10 train, because, to reach the restaurant car from the Hull portion of the train, one has to traverse the whole length of the train, through several guards vans, and very few mail bags are to be observed in them. I wonder if they get left behind? If so, it is small wonder that we get this persistent complaint of delay in the delivery of correspondence. I ask the Postmaster-General, whose fault is it if the mail bags are not loaded on to the train? Is it the duty of the station postal staff, or of the railway staff alone? If it is the duty of the railway porters, it may be that they, not unnaturally, prefer to handle passengers' luggage and collect tips, rather than the mail. I think a little investigation might be worth while in that connection.

I will now turn to the question of telephones. In his very interesting speech, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the Bell system in America,' and gave us some comparative figures of installation. It is rather an interesting thing that when the great majority of people hear the name of Mr. Bell, the telephone pioneer, they think of him as an American. He was not; he was a Scotsman. The reason he had this American label tacked on to him is that the United States seized upon this invention, and developed it through private enterprise to a higher state of efficiency. That is why the name of Bell is connected with the United States. Before the war—because we cannot compare this country with America after six years of blitz—nine out of every 12 households in America possessed a telephone, and in this country the figure was three out of every 12. That is a most obvious comment upon the nationalisa- tion of this important system. This, of course, has developed a great deal more in' the present Parliament. The present Government, in their famous Election manifesto, advocated nationalisation as a panacea for our industrial ills. They are now forcing through ill-prepared and even more ill-discussed Measures to that end.

Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Heston and Isleworth

It was a Tory Administration that nationalised the Post Office services, and the telegraph system in particular.

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

As a matter of fact, I believe it was a Liberal Administration, but, in any case, I did not sit in that Parliament. It happened some little time ago. We have now had an opportunity of seeing how the system works, and I am not one of those who are impressed. The important thing is this: experimental Measures are going through at the moment, and are in an early stage of administration, -dealing with coal, railways and the like, but here in the Post Office is a going concern, already nationalised, as we have been told, years ago—whether by Liberal or Tory, it does not matter. Surely it should be an outstanding success. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] Hon. Members are interrupting a little too soon.

From the start the Government were obviously anxious about the value of the Post Office as an advertisement for State control, because it is only just over 12 months ago that they appointed a public relations officer—not a civil servant. and with no connection whatever with the Post Office, well over the age of retirement for Post Office servants, but who possessed the cardinal virtue in these days of having at one time served in Parliament as a Socialist Minister without any great distinction. I refer to Sir Drummond Shiels. He was relied upon by the Government to "sell" the Post Office as an example of State control. In the words of the Postmaster-General himself last week, Sir Drummond became very comfortably "bedded down" in the Post Office. He has been a singularly unsuccessful salesman. The only slogan which I have seen since he took office, and which I seem to recall from the days of "Tory misrule," is "Post early for Christmas." It is unnecessary to pay any gentleman £1,250 a year, or one and a quarter times the salary of a Member of Parliament, to produce that particular slogan. Let us be fair to the public relations officer—this gentleman so well stricken in years. Let us admit that he has had an impossible task. This Government cannot even run an industry which was already nationalised when they came into power, with the full resources of the State behind them, and allowed to sell 1½d. stamps for 2½d. to all and sundry. What have we found? There has been a steady run-down in efficiency.

Let me digress to deal again with the hon. Member for Clitheroe who told us that it was Lord Simon who, in 1940, put up the price of the 1½d. stamp to 2½d. That is true. It was done with the approval of the whole House, because there was no Division. The price was increased as a wartime revenue raiser, and also deliberately to restrict Post Office traffic and to discourage the writing of letters,' and so on. Lord Simon made that clear in introducing the tax. With all that, there has been a steady run-down in efficiency. I doubt if there was ever a time in the memory of any hon. Member present when, in peacetime conditions, the Post Office services were so unsatisfactory as they are today. I suggest they have even deteriorated since the Adjournment Debate which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) nearly a month ago. There was a Question on the Order Paper today saying that letters posted in the London Western District addressed to a place in the same District took over two days to deliver. The senders could have delivered them by hand in a quarter of an hour without any difficulty at all. I am told that in this particular office, W.1—and the Postmaster-General might look into this— one of the difficulties is that among the sorters are extremists of the U.P.W. who may leave the bags undealt with and go home at the hour of six to their wives and families—as suggested by their representative here.

I want to turn for a minute or two to what I would call the "Wallington affair," which has had some prominence in the newspapers during the last few days. The Union of Post Office Workers has a very excellent slogan, "Pride of Craft." There could be no better one for any industry or body of people. Telephone directories are normally delivered in bulk by van. In this instance at Wallington there were two to deliver—obviously, an insufficient number to justify any special arrangements. Equally obviously, the addressees were entitled to receive their telephone directories for which they had paid. The postman on whose walk their houses were situated refused to take the directories, and was, accordingly, suspended. Here the matter gets a little more interesting. He, being a prominent official of the local branch of the U.P.W., immediately pulled out all his colleagues, who came out on a sympathetic strike. According to the Press—and the Postmaster-General will tell me if this is not true—the terms for resumption of work included the demand for overtime payments to deliver correspondence which had accumulated as a result of this strike. I do not call that "pride of craft." I call that sabotage—sabotage of the most obvious character. I very much hope and believe that the Postmaster-General is not the type of man to subordinate himself to this kind of pressure. I do not think he is at all the type of man to regard himself as in any way a servant of the U.P.W—in the same way as the Minister of Fuel and Power is the abject slave of Mr. Arthur Horner.

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

I do not think the Postmaster-General is that type of man at all. But here I come to remarks that I would offer to the Committee in which I find myself in alliance with the hon. Member for Clitheroe. To say that the Postmaster-General should not allow himself to submit to pressure of this kind by a trade union is not to say that there is not a long and large list of grievances which exist among the Post Office staff. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) not very long ago said of the present Government that they demoralised everything they touched. He was then speaking of the Committee of Privileges. But there is no doubt whatever—no doubt at all—that during the past two years the Post Office staff have become increasingly depressed and demoralised.

We have heard today in this Debate from both sides of the Committee about shortages of switchboard operators, of shortages of telephone girls. More than one hon. Member has referred to that. There is no mystery about that, or about the rapid turnover in the staff of the Postmaster-General. The reason, of course, is that the remuneration of these girls falls so far below what they can obtain from any private firm. The same is true of the shorthand typists in the Post Office. The hon. Member for Clithcroe gave us some figures that will be on record. I am bound to say they appalled me: they were lower than I thought. He, at least, I hope, will be in agreement with me here, that the reason for the rapid turnover is that the telephone operators and the shorthand typists look for jobs in private industry where the remuneration is higher. The other day I had two Post Office engineers come to mend a defect in my telephone in my own house—middle-aged men, thoroughly disgruntled, saying that if they could start all over again they would not go into the Post Office, but that they would go into private industry under a capitalist employer. They had little to look forward to.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

They were pulling the hon. and gallant Gentleman's leg.

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

They had been badly paid all their lives, and had only small pensions to look forward to. That is what these gentlemen told me, and I do not think they knew I was connected with this House. In any case, they had nothing to gain by currying favour with me. Let the right hon. Gentleman ask among the engineering staff how their wages compare with what can be obtained in private industry outside. There is no doubt at all what the answer will be.

Finally, I should like to say a few words about the public post offices. Cannot something be done about the long queues one finds lined up at post office counters during the busy hours? The other day I visited a post office during a slack period. Behind the counter was an extremely pleasant and delightful young lady. I asked her if she liked her job. She said she did not. She told me that she was overworked, and was seeking employment outside the Civil Service at the earliest opportunity. It will be a bad thing for the Post Office if the demoralisation which is so pronounced in that Department, and about which the hon. Member for Clitheroe has been telling us, spreads to the public counters of the post offices. I cannot help thinking that there has been a certain lack of fore- sight in providing adequate staff for these undoubtedly heavy counter duties. What has emerged from the Debate this afternoon is, in the words of the hon. Member for Clitheroe, that the State is a thoroughly bad employer. The hon. Member went on, however, to qualify that by saying that, of course, the State is handicapped now because full employment is in our midst.

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

He should, of course, have said "full underemployment." We all know that people are drawing larger wage packets and working short time. But the handicap is there just the same, and must be admitted. The State, then, in the words of the hon. Member for Clitheroe, is a thoroughly bad employer. That is the moral of our Debate on the nationalised service taken over two years ago by the Socialist Government as a going concern. The situation is not quite as black as it looks. I pin my faith to the Minister who has now been appointed. His noble predecessor knew nothing at all about these matters. I agree with the hon. Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. H. Wallace), who welcomed the fact that the Postmaster-General was here with us in the House of Commons. I think that is a very good thing. The Motion to reduce this Vote, which will be moved a little later is, of course, the Parliamentary method of registering displeasure. The Postmaster-General has inherited this muddle from his predecessor.

Photo of Mr Edward Evans Mr Edward Evans , Lowestoft

The hon. and gallant Member should say "predecessors"; he should have put an "s" at the end.

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

The right hon. Gentleman was a good Minister of Pensions—sympathetic, assiduous, and courteous. I believe he brings all those qualities with him to the Post Office. As I said at the commencement of my remarks, he has the greater advantage of being a native of Yorkshire, and we all know that when England gets into trouble, the Yorkshireman comes out of the farmhouse to stop the rot and put things right. I believe the right hon. Gentleman will look very carefully into the various grievances which have been brought to his notice today from all quarters of the Committee. Indeed, I believe he will re- verse the present trend of administration in these nationalised industries. The nationalisation of coal has obviously been operated for the benefit of the National Union of Mineworkers; but the commodity is scarcer and dearer. I suspect that a year from now the railways will be the instrument of the National Union of Railwaymen: we shall have to pay first-class fares for third-class accommodation 12 months from now. Let not the Post Office be the instrument of the Union of Post Office Workers. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will get rid of the "tinker's cuss" complex, which is so apt to come down upon some of his colleagues today. Let him be a Minister in the literal sense of that word; let him be the servant of the public, and he will then deserve well of his fellow Members, and, indeed, of his fellow citizens.

8.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Skinnard Mr Frederick Skinnard , Harrow East

I usually listen to the speeches of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Holder-ness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) with interest and amusement, because his sallies generally have some basis of fact, but today I am moved more to indignation, because if ever there were a speech calculated to cause trouble and to dishearten a body of men and women working under very difficult conditions, it was this one. I have appeared from time to time as a critic of one or two matters here and there which I felt could be remedied, and I have found the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General always ready to deal with the points I have raised. In no case have I found the remedy delayed more than a month after I have raised a matter. I think that the hon. and gallant Member was sincere in welcoming the former Minister of Pensions to this great, important, public business of the Post Office, but his welcome is echoed in a more practical form by the body of men and women he has denigrated in his speech, which he has, either purposely or puckishly, rubbed up the wrong way.

Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness

I was merely expressing my agreement with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Randall), who is an official of the U.P.W.

Photo of Mr Frederick Skinnard Mr Frederick Skinnard , Harrow East

I think that we can leave the members of the U.P.W. to read the hon. and gallant Member's speech with the attention it deserves. The U.P.W. are doing their utmost to help the Postmaster-General, in what is admitted to be his very difficult task. Purely by accident, this document came into my possession. It is an order or directive from the local branch of the U.P.W., with which I have no official connection, and whose officials I have not met as far as I know. It is significant of the attitude which the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General have inspired in the Post Office workers. It states: Owing to the large number of entrants in the area, I feel that I should give some guidance to those not acquainted with the staff rule book, and who have not received adequate training. If you look at your U.P.W. subscription card, you will find that our first aim is for 'an efficient Post Office service.' In our area, owing to the staffing conditions, the majority of our indoor members have been unable to attend the Counter training establishment, and consequently our service to the public is not all that it should be. Perhaps a few helpful suggestions would help in giving the public the service it is entitled to, as laid down in the rules governing counter procedure. Speeches from Members opposite have a tendency, when dealing' with organised workers in any union, to assume that they live entirely as organised workers. They forget that in their leisure they are members of the public and expect as such to receive the benefits of public services. They have a dual capacity, and their attitude is well expressed in the quotation I have given. Lest it be thought that this directive applies merely to counter staff, I would point out that it goes on to give instructions to postmen; and this is a complete denial of the implications contained in the speech to which we have just listened. It states: It is felt that the postmen colleagues of our branch, particularly the new entrants, require some guidance on the correct procedure so far as the performance of their duties is concerned. It is appreciated that the time factor is involved when handling correspondence for sortation and delivery. If the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) were here, I would apologise to him for the use of the word "sortation," but it is not of my breeding: It is in your own interests that proper regard be paid to the correct handling of postal traffic. The desire to get finished early and 'catch' the Department for 10 minutes or so is understandable, but it must be pointed out that when an officer commences duty before the scheduled time, without signing on at that time, an offence is committed. No officer should handle postal traffic unless he has signed on duty, and any officer who makes a false entry on the attendance sheet is open to disciplinary action. These are the instructions given voluntarily by the Union of Post Office Workers as a supplement to any instructions which are given by the Post Office. I taught citizenship for many years, and I claim that if my students have shown the same sense of citizenship as the Union of Post Office Workers do, as evidenced by this typical branch circular to their members, they deserve well of their country. These Post Office workers are truly citizens; they are working long hours and, in many cases, are receiving very poor pay.

Now I want to revert to my normal role of making a few constructive suggestions to the Minister, because they have been drawn to my attention, and rightly so, by members of the public. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for mitigating the difficulties in connection with telephone exchanges, particularly in the Greater London area, which are partly manual and partly automatic. Here, curiously enough, the human factor appears to be infallible, while the automatic factor is fallible. It has been difficult, on many occasions, to get the dialling mechanism to work. Perhaps after the tenth and finally successful attempt a courteous and immediate connection has been made by the manual operator.

I called the attention of my right hon. Friend to the difficulties in this type of exchange, and I was gratified to know that increased staffs were the result. Unfortunately, however, I did not correctly diagnose the fault, and I now suggest that some attention should be paid to the automatic side of these exchanges. I know that is is impracticable, at the moment, to make the automatic side of the part-manual exchange as efficient as the long-functioning, fully automatic exchange, but I hope the Minister will look into this question of partly dial, partly verbal exchanges.

The hon. and gallant Member for Holderness was particularly aggressive in his references to the number of telephones in America, as compared with the number in this country. As he possibly knew, the number possessing a telephone does not mean the number possessing a separate line. Right through the United States the party line is a popular way of dealing with telephone traffic. When 1 resided in a Pacific Coast city I shared a party line with some neighbours. The Post Office in this country have shown ingenuity in trying to overcome difficulties caused by six years of blitz and war conditions. They have been endeavouring to "sell," in the American acceptance of the word, the idea of the party line in order to surmount the temporary difficulty of supplying everyone who wants one with a telephone. Despite the success of "Let us Face the Future" many men and women are still conservative, with a small "c," in their ideas, and "jib" at the party line because they do not think it provides the necessary privacy. As a matter of fact, the party line works so well in America, that I wonder whether it would be possible for the publicity department of the Post Office to do more to explain that it is a commonplace there, which is economical and appreciated. I hope that the Post Office staff will continue to lend their full support to a progressive Minister in the work of rehabilitating the postal services of this country which even now I claim are second to none.

8.35 p.m.

Photo of Colonel Ralph Glyn Colonel Ralph Glyn , Abingdon

There are three or four matters which I should like to mention and to which I hope the Postmaster-General or the Assistant Postmaster-General will reply. I would urge him to say whether a little more money can be devoted to research. It seems to me that the work done at Dollis Hill is so good and efficient, and the savings that have been made are so considerable, that it is high time Parliament appreciated the value of that work. At Dollis Hill the accommodation is not good. If, having a great service like this, we are to take advantage of all the wartime inventions which are germane to the business of the Post Office, it is absolutely essential that a higher priority should be given to the work that is being done there in connection not only with radiotelephone communication, but with regard to the amplifiers now being put in the cables. We are being promised increased services on existing capital expenditure with very little increase of money, and I do not think that it is right that a sum of only £200,000 should be the total amount paid in salaries to skilled scientists and research workers in a business of this magnitude. Parliament should vote more money so as to get the most efficient scientific service that can be devised.

I think that the work done—one does not like to mention names because it is invidious—by Mr. Gill, the Engineer-in-Chief of the Post Office, has never been properly recognised. I consider that the work which he did during the war, the assistance which he gave to the Armed Forces, and the efficiency with which the whole of the engineering side of the Post Office functioned immediately before the attack on the Continent have never received proper appreciation, and I would urge the Postmaster-General, if he has this public relations officer which we have heard about, to direct his attention to publishing the true story of the great contribution made by the Post Office to the assistance of the British Army immediately prior to that attack.

Science never stands still. There are great changes coming of which we read in the technical papers, and I think that we ought to do more to encourage research training by competent junior persons in the Post Office. There are many boys serving in the Post Office now who have qualifications but no opportunities. Every large firm in this country worthy of the name does try to arrange a system whereby boys who start at the bottom may have an opportunity of going to a technical college or university, and they are encouraged in every possible way. There are too many risks in the present Post Office set-up of dead-end operations. I often talk to telegraph boys and ask them what they are going to do. I am quite convinced that there ought to be some information given both to the boys and their parents of the avenues that are open to them, so that they may get that extra training which is so necessary. I think that now we have the National Service system and the cadet system, of which we have heard today, it might be possible for the Postmaster-General to link up the cadet system and the National Service system so that these boys who have to join up could become part of the signal and postal staffs of the Services. If that is done during the short period of service they would be gaining scientific knowledge which would stand them in good stead when they go back to the postal service.

Having been to Dollis Hill and seen some of the work there, and having talked to some of the people who are employed there, I feel it is really most unfortunate that at this juncture we have not got better accommodation there. I think it would be to the general advantage if the Postmaster-General could induce the Ministry of Works to disgorge some of the accommodation which they control or if he obtained possession of some house which is being requisitioned for use in coanection with the research centre. I believe it would pay tremendous dividends.

There is one other aspect with which 1 should like to deal and which is, I believe, not as much appreciated as it might be. We have heard about the railway postal service. It is an extraordinarily efficient service. I do not know if any hon. Members have ever travelled in a travelling post office, but the men know exactly where they are by sound. They know whether they are going through a tunnel or over a bridge, and at the appropriate place they put out their nets and get their stuff. There are matters in connection with this service which could be improved, and I believe that the whole system should be carefully studied by the Post Office prior to the taking over by the State of the transport of the country.

It really is fantastic that we are still using the ordinary postal bag, and that we do not convey a lot of these mails in a container. The amount of double handling under the present system is astonishing. It is quite possible to invent a form of plastic container which would ease the work of the postal service. No doubt many Members have noticed at a junction a trolley with a trailer towing the mail bags. Solemnly the bags are unloaded on to the platform, and then they are taken off the platform and put into the van; at the next station they are taken out of the van and put on to the platform again, later being lifted from the platform on to a trailer. There is a tremendous amount of double handling and waste of time here and often it means delaying the train. There is quite a simple arrangement used in Sweden where there is a light form of container into which the mails are put and the appropriate container is pushed through into the van with far less trouble and it is a far better system.

I know that it is very difficult at the present moment to safeguard registered packages, but on the railways we have some extremely able police officers whose duty it is to try to protect the mails. I think it is a wonderful thing when we remember all the immense traffic that is handled that there is practically no thieving as long as the bags are in the possession of either postal workers or the railway staff. There are black sheep in every profession, but I think the high standard here is something of which we ought to be proud. It is asking for trouble to have the mails in the loose and put into a van when passengers have the right to walk through the train to go to the dining car or for some such reason. Sometimes people cannot resist temptation. On the L.M.S. the other day there was caught a clever gang who had been working for a long time. They were disguised as ordinary travellers. Like the Post Office workers on the trains, they knew exactly where the train was and they pitched the stuff out at the appropriate point where it was put into a lorry and away it was taken. That sort of thing is very difficult to detect. This gang was caught and the appropriate sentence was passed upon its members.

The Postmaster-General said that he looked forward to the re-establishment of the old timings with travelling postal vans which would give a better service, but I must say that I am afraid that unless the railways are able to obtain the necessary materials, the Committee should appreciate that instead of faster running there will be reduced running. I think it is wrong to hold out to the public the belief that the old timings can be re-established because we cannot get sleepers or steel rails, and it will not be sale to travel at the old speeds. I think it is right to say, however, that as soon as the material is forthcoming, and the rolling stock put right then, no doubt, the old speeds could be maintained.

I quite agree with some hon. Gentlemen who said that some Post Office buildings are deplorably bad. They are, and one despairs of knowing when they are to be improved. I support the idea that somebody on the building side should have greater powers. If a suitable site suddenly becomes available, for heaven's sake buy it before it is unobtainable. Otherwise the taxpayer suffers. While you may think that you are frightfully clever in safeguarding the taxpayer with strict Treasury control, if there is not elasticity which permits of quick action, it is the taxpayer who suffers. I think it is only right to say, however, that recently the architects employed by the Post Office have produced some very fine buildings of which I think we ought to be very proud indeed. In too many cases, however, insufficient land is bought so that when the population increases the post office concerned cannot be made adequate to serve the particular community. I think all of us know of post offices where there is tremendous congestion, for some reason or other—perhaps because the Minister of Town and Country Planning has had some new idea for erecting prefabricated houses there or something of the kind. I ask the Postmaster-General if he will not have a competition for a month in an attempt to produce a new design in post offices so that every counter will be available and not one single counter used for everything. So long as pensions or postal savings are mixed up with the buying of penny stamps we shall not have a good arrangement, but if we could have a guichetwith a label showing what it is for, and somewhere for people to sit down before they have to go in, congestion would be avoided. It is maddening for the counter staff to have to switch from one thing to another.

Some years ago I was interested in trying to help telephone operators by providing them with a lighter headpiece. I do not know whether it is realised that in hot weather telephone girls had a perpetual headache or the risk of it because the apparatus was too heavy. I believe that there would be a tremendous dividend if a competition could be organised to provide a good type of headpiece, and I am quite sure that Dollis Hill can and will produce ever better type of equipment. Finally, I hope that the Postmaster-General will consider using motor buses for travelling post boxes in rural areas. In any rural district what was the junction or the station in 1876 is still the junction or the station where the local mail goes. It is quite the thing in Switzerland and Scandinavia for a post office box to be attached to the bus. One posts one's letters in the travelling box and the bus then takes it to the main town. The box is collected at the bus offices there and an enormous amount of time is saved. It would reduce the cost I believe from the present figure of 1.4d. to something considerably less because we should be using transportation already provided. All that is wanted is a box inside. It is clamped in, and is automatically locked. It is perfectly safe, and would not mean a lot of risk. An hon. Member who spoke for one of the Scottish Divisions told of conditions in his part of the world. I also know the West of Scotland. I hope that the Postmaster-General will soon experiment with the dropping of parachuted containers in some of the outlying parts of the country. It is not beyond the wit of man to use them for Post Office purposes.

If the Committee look at the Estimate they will find that it is rather an interesting document. It reveals that no less a sum than £19,854,462 was the value of services to other Departments using the Post Office. That is an immense sum and it makes me ask whether something cannot be done to reduce the number of forms which we are circulating through the Post Office. A reduction would be of great benefit, at any rate to the present recipients. I always remember one extraordinary thing in connection with the Select Committee on Public Expenditure, of which I was a member. We had some information during the war that a Department had ordered 12 million copies of a particular form. The Stationery Office had a Committee examining the wording of forms, with a view to using less paper. They communicated with the Department concerned, who replied that if the form were not printed in the way they wanted it they would not have it at all. That seems to me a very good way of stopping some of the immense weight of paper passing through the Post Office. The postal services today are not perfect but on the whole they are extraordinarily good. It is not a good idea to cry down this service. If we give encouragement to and increase the welfare of the staff I am sure that the public will benefit.

8.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Heston and Isleworth

I do not think that I can do better than start my observations at the point at which the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) finished his. In a few well-chosen phrases he practically disposed of all the criticism from hon. Members opposite regarding the postal services. I wish to associate myself with the very nice tribute which he paid to Mr. Gill and to the staff at Dollis Hill. I do not know whether the Committee will ever know how much we owe to those people, not only in the development of telegraph and telephone services, but in connection with the war effort of this country. I agree that money spent on research at Dollis Hill or any other station or extension will be well spent. We can never make the Post Office too efficient.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Harrow (Mr. Skinnard) referred to the fact that the first point in the programme of the union with which I have been associated is not more pay and not fewer hours, but an efficient Post Office service. I would like the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut. - Commander Braithwaite), who made such ungallant statements this evening, to bear that in mind. He seemed to take an unholy delight in forgetting all about the Post Office and trying to chase a union of which he had a very small knowledge.

I want to refer to the opening statement of the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston). I would like to thank him for what I regarded as a very moderate statement. If the terms in which he put his constructive views before the Postmaster-General had been adopted by some of his successors, it might have been said that this Debate was worth while so far as the Post Office and this Committee are concerned. He said he would like to have some consideration given to the reduction of postal rates. As a Member of Parliament, I can readily subscribe to that, as can most hon. Members. I should imagine.

Photo of Sir William Darling Sir William Darling , Edinburgh South

I have a dozen letters here bearing 1½d. stamps and none of them has been surcharged.

Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Heston and Isleworth

That is no doubt quite possible when dealing with Scotsmen. There are some considerations which should be kept in mind in relation to the postage rate. I do not agree that the Post Office should be regarded as a milch cow for the Chancellor of the Exchequer or anybody else. It is an industrial concern which ought to have its own profits ploughed back into it.

I would bring to the notice of hon. and right hon. Members that there is plenty of scope for using the Post Office profits if one only looks for it. The hon. Member for Abingdon referred to one use for it. I should not like to say how much money will be required for research during the next five or ten years, how much will be required for the development of air services and helicopter services for delivery within certain areas, and how much will be required to bring the conditions and wages of Post Office workers up to a standard of living which is reasonable in these days compared with the wages in outside industry. There is plenty of scope for using all the profit the Post Office can make if we only look in the right direction. My advice to the Committee is that for the time being at least we should leave that alone. If I know anything at all about him, the Postmaster-General, being a Yorkshireman, will certainly know what to do with the brass when he gets hold of it.

I shall take no notice of the contribution of the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness, because I do not believe that it was seriously made or seriously intended, except to say that insofar as the Wallington incident was concerned, he had nothing like the whole story and nothing like the true story. If he had been in a position to know everything about it, he might have been the first to pay tribute to the excellent relationship existing between the official and staff sides which nipped in the bud an incident which would have been a very serious matter—and did it in the course of two or three hours. This Committee ought to be very grateful to the official side and to the staff side for being able to do it so quickly.

In these Debates on the Post Office, we should look more or less objectively at the position. I know there is a tendency—and a very natural tendency—for all of us to pick out small things that we know best, and I think some good comes out of it. I wish we could have a Debate like this on transport. It is all to the good that these things should come here for free Debate. [Interruption.]I am giving my point of view. If it happens to coincide with that of hon. Members opposite, I am very surprised. In regard to the objective review which I would like to have here, I hope the Postmaster-General will not listen to some of the complaints which have come from the other side regarding the Union of Post Office Workers and other associations connected with the Post Office. I hope sincerely that he will go further still in getting the closest cooperation possible, because the days are over—the days that hon. Members opposite remember—when the trade unions were simply more or less defensive factors in industry. Trade unions now will play their part and take their share in industry, and they will have some right of control and direction and guidance in industry. If my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General is a wise man in his generation, in regard to his contacts with staff associations, he will encourage that relationship with the associations which will be of tremendous value to him and to the Post Office in the days to come. For the best, part of 30 years now I have been closely associated with Whitley working in the Post Office, on a local level, on a departmental level, and on the National Staff side level of the whole Civil Service. During that 25 or 30 years, I am satisfied that they have made a tremendous contribution not only to improving the conditions of service of their own people, but to improving the over-all general efficiency of the service. My right hon. Friend should devote himself to the wonderful opportunity he has.

May I suggest for his consideration in passing that not only should he carry on the close co-operation of the past, but that representatives of the staff should be placed on the Post Office Advisory Committee. There are all sorts of people on that Committee whose lack of knowledge of the Post Office would fill volumes Why not, for a change, put persons there who have working knowledge of the Post Office, who are interested in the work of the Post Office, and so on? I commend all those suggestions to my right hon. Friend but, above all. I hope he will show human understanding towards the people who are working in the industry, because I can assure him, despite all that has been said by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), despite all that has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness, that there is no more loyal body of workers in this country than the workers in the Post Office have been all these years. I hope, therefore, that he will treat them with a good deal of human understanding in these difficult days.

There are three major factors concerned in this review that I would have liked to mention had time permitted. The first is that it would be wrong to assume that services can either be contracted or expanded at will, or that the only factor in the determination of level of services is a public demand for a certain service. I believe that' the three main factors in this relate to building and equipment available, suitable manpower, and an observation of staff conditions in the industry. Those are considerations that it would be worth while for the Postmaster-General to examine. A large number of the buildings used by the Post Office are buildings of the last century. They ook it, and feel like it when one works in them. I challenge whoever is to reply for the Opposition to say that in his opinion previous administrations of the Post Office did all that was possible at a time of national prosperity to improve those buildings, to expand and make them more suitable, modern, and practicable for the purposes for which they are used. Sir Kingsley Wood certainly did something with his "brighter post offices" campaign. He certainly cleaned up the fronts of post offices, but he left the backs in a terrible state. Whatever money and material my right hon. Friend is likely to get from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I ask him to allocate some of it to improving buildings in which some of our people are working.

Will my right hon. Friend have inquiry made into the counter staffing, telegraph staffing and telephone staffing in many areas? In addition to difficulties arising from the war, new difficulties are arising through the redistribution of industry, and the decentralisation of industry, and] the Post Office is being asked to face up to the new situation without the wherewithal in accommodation or staff to do so practically or properly. I am glad to note the advance which has been made in regard to training. As one hon. Member has already suggested in the Debate, hon. Members should read the report on training. It is an excellent document, and shows the good relationship which exists between the official side and the staff side in their consideration of matters of mutual interest and of interest to the service as a whole. The Postmaster-General could, with advantage, read some of the reports on welfare and training, and such matters.

Some of my hon. Friends have discussed the question of wages, but I wish to say a word about hours. We can joke as much as we like in this Committee about people wanting to be at home with their wives and families, but the fact is— and it cannot be ignored—that the hours of Post Office workers are unsociable hours. They are not prepared to carry on with those hours, and my right hon. Friend will have to face the possibility of the service breaking down through a lack of recruiting, or inability to retain men and women to work Under such conditions. Men and women working at the counters and telegraph staffs in London are leaving for private industry, not so much because of the wages they can there earn, but because the conditions of work and the hours are very much better. Some form of compensation must be given. If necessary, working hours must be reduced in certain directions in the Post Office if the system is to be made to work as it should, efficiently and well, in the future. I am afraid, Mr. Beaumont, that you are looking very angrily at me. I have been looking very angrily at many hon. Members who have been speaking when I wished to address the Committee.

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

I am not angry, but I hope I am making an impression on the hon. Member.

Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Heston and Isleworth

Whenever you look at me, Mr. Beaumont, you make the most favourable impression possible. I sincerely hope that this Debate will be of great assistance to my right hon. Friend. I wish him well. I think he will do as well in the Post Office as he did at the Ministry of Pensions. If he shows the same human understanding of our problems, I do not think the Post Office will regret his appointment; and the people who work in the Post Office will find him a first-class Postmaster-General.

9.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

The hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. W. R. Williams) must find it somewhat maddening, after a lifetime spent in Post Office work, to be cut short in order that some one who cannot claim ever to have been anything other than a consumer of Post Office goods should take his place. The hon. Gentleman gave, or tried to give, the impression that now, for the first time, in contrast to the bad old days of Tory rule, the Union of Post Office Workers and His Majesty's Government were marching in complete harmony and concord towards an agreed solution, leaving behind them altogether the bitter days when, according to him, Tory Governments of the past regarded the Union of Post Office Workers as being an obstructionist and unnecessary organisation. The trouble, as he knows very well, is very different. One of the reasons why we are very disturbed at the present situation in the Post Office is the language now being used towards the Socialist Government, and towards each Minister in succession, by the very Union which the hon., Member has now claimed is going to march in harmony with his own Administration.

This has been a very strange Debate. I wish to preface my controversial remarks by joining with other hon. Members on both sides of the Committee in congratulating the Postmaster-General on his appointment, in wishing him and the public success while he is at the headquarters of the General Post Office. I should like to thank the Assistant Postmaster-General for the unfailing courtesy which he has shown during his longer period at the Post Office in dealing with the host of personal problems which arise, and which we believe— I say this frankly—have largely increased in number and complexity since his Government took over. But that is not his fault, and he has certainly been extremely courteous in dealing with any troubles which we have brought to him. We have had a series of fierce attacks by three if not four Socialist Members on the first nationalised industry, and we have watched the spectacle of them facing the impossible dilemma of trying to suggest that conditions in the Post Office service are deplorable, and at the same time to give the impression that a nationalised industry must always have been efficiently run.

We have also seen universal acceptance of the view that the services have tragically deteriorated since be- fore the war, though some Members say that the past good service before the war was achieved by demanding too harsh conditions from a large number of postal workers. We are all agreed that the services have deteriorated, and as we are all jointly concerned in the matter of the postal, telegraph and telephone service, it is up to the Committee to suggest ways whereby this deficiency can be remedied. We think it has deteriorated in all the communications side of that large business organisation, in the telegraph, telephone and postal delivery services. As for the telegraph service, we were glad to hear earlier today from the Postmaster-General that the average time for handling a telegram, which I think was 30 minutes before the war, is now 45 minutes, which is an improvement on the high figure during the war and on the figure recently given in this House, of, I think, 70 minutes.

We are glad to hear that, but we are very disturbed by the large number of stories that reach all of us individually of the long delays in the delivery of telegrams, and also by the disclosure that the right hon. Gentleman threw out almost en passant this afternoon that while the telegraph services made a deficit in the year 1945–46 of, I think, some £38,000, the deficit last year was no less than £2 million. It appears to me to be a piece of arrogant presumption to assume that no private organisation in the world, with the examples of America and elsewhere, could not have made a profit out of sending telegrams in the course of the last year of business recovery and great industrial revival.

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

As for telephones, there was previously the gloomy information from the right hon. Gentleman that in London alone there are 136,000 people waiting to become subscribers, and no less than 390,000 in the country as a whole. Even if this large total is satisfied, we shall remain from the point of view of telephone density one of the poorest served great countries in the world. On the question of telephone boxes, I think no one would deny that they are shamefully dirty, broken, neglected and frequently out of action in such a way that if they belonged to the railway companies or to any private owner the Chancellor of the Exchequer would call them, "a pretty poor bag of assets." As to Trunk and Toll Services, I think most hon. Members will agree with "Punch" that: Trunk is only for the tough, toll for the brave. What about the postal services? We heard today that last year the postal side of the Post Office made a profit of £10,500,000 and we know from published figures that in 1945–46 the profit was £15,500,000. I agree with my hon. Friend the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) that it is quite monstrous that with figures of this kind and the acknowledged fact that the average cost of handling a single letter all over the country is 1.4d., we should have to pay 2.5d. for every letter we put into circulation. I saw no indication this afternoon—and I do not think any of my hon. Friends did either—that the Government have made up their mind whether the Post Office exists to produce revenue or to help to conduct the nation's business.

I agree with the hon. Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. H. Wallace) that it should exist as a business and that the money should be ploughed back into it, but we are not at all sure that His Majesty's Government accept that view. We want a restoration as fast as possible of the admirable postal facilities of prewar days. We are quite prepared to agree with the Government, and with the spokesman of the union, that the country should pay for these services and most certainly we should not have good services at the expense of the postal workers. We are prepared to pay differential rates for speedier service. I entirely agree with the junior Burgess for Cambridge University that there is no reason why we should not have differential rates. When discussing what the deliveries used to be, it is now possible to find people of about 18 years of age who do not even remember how quickly letters travelled in England before the war. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) mentioned the Bridgeman Report. Surely, he realises that the deliveries mentioned in the Bridgeman Report, and which were regarded as adequate, have largely gone now.

At that time it was possible to post a letter in the inner London district at 5.30 p.m. which would be delivered in the inner London district that evening; or at 7.30 and it would be delivered by the first post next morning anywhere in England; or, up to midnight, and it would be delivered in the inner London area and the Home Counties and some districts outside by the first post next day. The Postmaster-General boasted about speedy services to the Empire, and we are certainly delighted that it is now possible to send a letter, for instance, to Australia in three days, and to some parts of Africa in less, but the truth of the matter is that, if I wanted to post a letter to my own constituency, 45 miles away, and this were a Friday, it would take 2½days to arrive—62 hours—about as long as it takes a letter to get to Australia. The same would be true if I posted it today, when it would take at least 38 hours. While we do praise him and all concerned about Imperial communications, we ask him to spare a moment to deal with communications here in the heart of the Empire itself.

The truth of the matter is that, the first post arriving after a large number of people have left their homes for their daily work, and the last collection having taken place before they get home, millions of people who hitherto have answered their letters by return cannot now do so. That is what happens now, and we are prepared to accept it if it is temporary, but what alarms us is the feeling that this situation has come to stay, and has come to stay for reasons that have nothing to do with efficient postal services, but are a great deal due to the origins of this Government and the obedience which they are obliged to pay to certain powerful unions from whom they drew political authority. We agree, of course, that the Government have a great many difficulties in regard to staffing and production, but it ought to make them more careful in later years not to promise the workers of the country a 40-hour week without waiting to see what the situation would be like when they were called upon to implement their promise. They have also to face great difficulties in regard to equipment, and that' ought to make them a little more lenient to private interests, like the railways, which suffered precisely the same troubles during the war years. The Government, however, have another lesson to learn in this field of activity. They have to meet and face the challenge of certain trade unions whom they first taught to link their industrial and political activities—

Photo of Mr William Cove Mr William Cove , Aberavon

They are most docile.

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

They may be, but it does not augur very well if this is the most docile of the unions. I will come now to the extraordinary story which unfolded itself a few months ago in regard to the temporary return of postal facilities in London and elsewhere. In March of last year, we were promised in London restoration of the 7.30 and 9 p.m. collections, and the restoration every day except Saturday and Sunday of the 7 p.m. deliveries. This was postponed from the summer until last January. It was tried, as the Committee knows, for a brief period in January and was then dropped, and we have never had any real explanation why it was dropped. The fuel argument is, of course, ridiculous, and no one today got up seriously to defend it. The new argument is the shortage of manpower, but, as has been pointed out, there are now 700 more postmen than there were when the experiment was tried in January, some 19,000 more postal workers than on 1st April last year, and some 50,000 more than on 1st April, 1939, before the war convulsed all our affairs.

Coming to this question of the relations with the staff, I agree wholeheartedly with all hon. Members who have paid tributes to the Post Office staff for their work during the war. I saw something of them during a brief period at the start of the war when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Home Security. I saw a great deal of them in fields other than A.R.P. when I was in the Navy. 1 well remember the men who, in the blitzes in London and elsewhere—men like the cable jointers—stood hour after hour in water and sewage to build up again the communication system on which our victory depended, and who used, as it was stated in one case, the words: It is a privilege to be allowed to restore this vital communication service. These are very fine people if properly led, and if frankly told the truth. They are just as good as their predecessors of 300 years ago who formed part of the 45 postal workers in London at the time of the Great Plague and the Fire, of whom it was said that they wrote: They consider the dispatch of your Majesty's service more important that the preservation of themselves and their families. They are very good people, but the Government have got to be quite frank with them with regard to our present position. The Government must remind certain of their leaders, whose powers as leaders, I am sure, will cause some distress to older trade union leaders in this House, as elsewhere, that the union and these people exist to serve the public, and not the Post Office to serve the union.

It has been said by a number of hon. Members that the Post Office is not attracting new recruits, despite the fact that it is a nationalised service. There is, they say, no attraction offered to young and enterprising people. There is a huge turnover of man and woman power. Some figures have been quoted today of the turnover of workers which, if they had applied to private businesses, would rightly be regarded as proof of most inefficient management somewhere. We have also heard from the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Randall) and the hon. Member for East Waltham-stow (Mr. H. Wallace) the story of the situation today in postal work, which suggests that everything is by no means rosy, even in that nationalised industry. Quite lately the Secretary of the Union of Postal Workers urged the right hon."Gentleman's predecessor to copy model private employers. I think that a certain irony attaches to those words. I feel that the trouble is that this particular union is watching other unions. The words of its chairman at the last conference of the union are rather significant. He drew attention to the success of other unions, to the progress of pay and hours of labour obtained by unions who used their industrial powers in disputes. The general secretary of the union said: The year has been bitterly disappointing The permanent officials are now more firmly in the saddle than ever And, as I will come to shortly, if I have the time, he ventured to prophesy a clash between the Government and the union if certain extreme demands were not conceded. There are no politics in this, because the present Government are being attacked by the anion and in its journal just as fiercely as was any Tory predecessor. Indeed, in one copy of the Metropolitan branch paper, Sir Kingsley Wood was held up as the best Postmaster-General the Post Office had ever known. One year after the 1930 Socialist Government had been in office, this journal said: Under-employment, under-payment of workers, parsimonious and ill-conceived ideas of increasing the public usefulness of the Post Office, a total lack of enterprise in all sections of the service, everything going on in the same old routine, everybody in the same old ruts. Shortly after the present Prime Minister ceased to be Postmaster-General, the same journal said that the whole postal service was alive with discontent. Therefore, Lord Listowel need not think he is making history when he is abused, and I do not think that the present Postmaster-General need imagine that he is going to have a clear run just because they have called off the hounds for a moment, and have given him a friendly welcome at the start. There is a fear that the control of the service is going to be taken out of the hands of the Minister and placed in the hands of political trade unions. The edition of 1st June this year of the journal of supervisory officials said: Special treatment of air mails should finish on their arrival in this country. After all, they have gained many hours by air service and a few hours' delay in this country would still give them a good many hours of advantage over the prewar service. The general secretary said only a few weeks ago: I hope that it will not be necessary to lead the manipulative grades of the Post Office in a demonstration of their strength industrially, particularly against a Labour Government, but unless something better in the way of meeting our claims is done than the irritating and almost insulting references to manpower and economic conditions, then a clash is inevitable.

Photo of Dr Hyacinth Morgan Dr Hyacinth Morgan , Rochdale

The hon. Gentleman referred to two unions. One was the Federation of Post Office Supervisors, and the h6n. Gentleman gave a quotation from the general secretary, and then he referred to "the general secretary" without stating the organisation of which he was the general secretary.

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

When I was referring to the Federation of Post Office Supervisors, I said so. The second quotation was from the general secretary of the Union of Post Office Workers, to which I had earlier referred. This clash which is now threatened, we feel, will arise everywhere if the field of nationalised industry is expanded. What the average person wants is good wages, chances of promotion, more money if he works better and faster, the ability to change his job if he wants to, and to go to an alternative employer, and a personal relationship with his employer which makes him feel that he is part of a joint enterprise. The Government must face this problem of trying to give to nationalised industry in this form, something of the personal relationship which is the best feature of the best of private industries.

I had a number of other things which I was rather anxious to say, but I have made certain promises to the hon. Gentleman who will be winding up the Debate, and I do not want to speak beyond one or two moments more. I feel this is an important note, and one on which to end. The general secretary of the union drew attention to the need for the Postmaster-General to act as a model employer, using, as I have said earlier, a phrase with a certain irony in it. There is an opportunity here of bringing in some model employers, possibly in the form of a working party or something of that kind, to advise on how staff relations can be improved, for if that is not done, then quite definitely there is every prospect of a clash which will bring the communication services of this country to a sudden end.

We know the difficulties of the Post Office; I have not denied them before I agree with one hon. Member who said that in the future we shall probably have to face the possibility of dividing the different functions of the Post Office. It is no longer going to be possible to accept as permanent an arrangement under which one side of the Post Office is a large Government Department catering for all sorts of activities which have got nothing to do with the communication services of the country; and, on the other side, a large business to be run as a business and not taking a form which enables it to be run as such—a vast business but not organised as one; with an over-centralised authority; with Treasury control over its surpluses; with no power of the Postmaster-General to turn these surpluses that its own ingenuity and skill may have achieved, to purposes which he thinks good for his own Department; with the power of the Treasury, with footling and false economies, to hamper that expansion which would be really fruitful to the Post Office services as a whole.

The Government have an opportunity, in dealing with the Post Office, of coping with the dangers which lie in the field of vast State monopoly conducted, as this one is being conducted, without the power to apply a proper business yardstick to its day-to-day transactions. That is one of the difficulties from which all hon. Members suffer when they try to see the work of the Post Office at close quarters. We have great difficulty in being able to analyse the accounts and to get a fair picture of how the business is being conducted. There has been a great improvement since those prewar years when the accounts were even more obscure, but even now it is difficult for people who want to apply business tests to the Post Office business side to see. how, in fact, it is being conducted. The accounts for 1947–48 will be the first accounts we shall have had for some time, and I hope that these accounts will be published in such a form that the average layman in this Committee will be able to understand, as far as possible, the exact cost that goes to the sending of a telegram, the making of telephone calls and the postal services in general. For it is on this model that the Government will find the country judging the wisdom of their nationalisation proposals.

I wish it had been possible, as there is such a field of common interest and common good will in regard to the postal services in general, and with such a universal liking for the people engaged in those services—I wish it had been possible to allow this to be an agreed Vote. But as we very much disapprove of a great many actions of the Government in regard to the postal services as a whole, and as we regard the telephone situation today as being lamentable, and the telegraph situation as being little better, we have no option but to challenge the Vote, and I shall therefore move—

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

It would be more convenient if the hon. Gentleman would move the reduction of the Vote at the conclusion of the Debate. This will avoid any limitation of the scope of the Debate.

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

That would depend upon the hon. Gentleman giving me time to move it at the end of the Debate.

Photo of Mr Hugh Delargy Mr Hugh Delargy , Manchester Platting

On a point of Order. Earlier in this Debate my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Mulvey) raised the question of the postal censorship in Northern Ireland. He was ruled out of Order on the ground that this question might be addressed to the Home Secretary. But, after some research, I find that it is an offence against Section 56—

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

That question has been ruled out of Order, therefore that matter cannot be discussed.

Photo of Mr Hugh Delargy Mr Hugh Delargy , Manchester Platting

Further to that point of Order, Mr. Beaumont. Despite my lack of knowledge and my shortcomings as a comparatively new Member of the House, may I ask whether I may raise a point of Order when reinforced by an Act of Parliament?

Photo of Mr Hubert Beaumont Mr Hubert Beaumont , Batley and Morley

I allowed the hon. Gentleman to rise to a point of Order, but a point of Order as stated by the hon. Member is a challenge on the Ruling of the Chair. The question raised by the hon. Member is out of Order on the Post Office Vote.

9.37 p.m.

Photo of Mr Wilfrid Burke Mr Wilfrid Burke , Burnley

We have had a very wide Debate, and very many points have been raised by various Members; and, at the risk of this course making my remarks rather scrappy, I should like to deal with those points as they have been made. I want to thank those hon. Members—and they have been very many on both sides' of the Committee—who have paid tribute to the work of the employees of the Post Office, and who have said many kind things about what the Post Office did in the past and even what the Post Office is doing at the present time. The hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) made a speech which was critical in many respects, but which was from his own knowledge of the Post Office, kindly, I think, in its intentions; and I should like to say at once, about the study group of which he was chairman, that those who have followed on after him value very much the work of that study group and have tried to implement as many of its recommendations as we possibly could in the difficult circumstances of these times.

It was the opinion of that study group that the Post Office Guide should be published as early as possible. That we have done. It was the opinion of that study group that we should have an inquiries section for the public at the counters, and, as far as possible, in some of the bigger offices, that also has been done. It was suggested that there should be public relations officers in the various regions. I think it is true to say that eight have already been appointed. The telephone directories have been issued. I am sorry we have not been able to get the quality of paper we thought we were entitled to, but that is one of the difficulties' with which we are faced; but still we have got the telephone directories out. The "Post Office Magazine," hon. Members will be glad to know, has been published, and has a circulation of 170,000, and is very warmly welcomed by the staff and much appreciated. Those are all recommendations of this interim report. We are trying to do as well as we can with regard to the other recommendations of the report, which came out later, but many of them depend upon supplies of paper and getting the printing done; and, in so far as that is difficult, it is made difficult for us to carry out those recommendations.

The hon. Member asked about the "Ask Me" service. That corresponds I think, with a service they have in France called the"M'aidez"Service, or something of that description. We have considered that very carefully. As the hon. Member said, it has very great attractions, but unfortunately it would need a good deal of work on telephone equipment, as he probably realises. In the present state of the telephone services, when so many demands are being made upon us for fresh installations and speedier services, I am afraid that that service cannot be put into operation at the present time; though, I must say it is one of the things, amongst others, which the Post Office are looking at, and we hope that sooner or later there will be an opportunity of putting it into operation. When something like it was run under private enterprise, I believe by Selfridge's, I understand it had to be abandoned because people were making rather frivolous use of it. Possibly that is one of the dangers we would have to avoid in the Post Office.

The hon. Member next asked whether we were thinking about the use of helicopters. We have this in mind. In the speeding up of the service we have in mind not only the use of helicopters, but also the use of ordinary aeroplanes. The difficulty, of course, is that the Post Office would want planes which would fly at night, and that cannot be, unless we get perfect regularity, and perfect regularity depends upon certain navigational aids, which are not available at the present time. I remember the case of Burma, which the hon. Member mentioned, because I dealt with it, but I am afraid there were complications of a personal nature there, which I do not want to enter into now, which prevented us obtaining all the information which we might have obtained in another kind of case. It was the responsibility of the War Office, who withdrew the Army postal facilities there, and they regarded their action as being essential. It is not a matter about which the Post Office itself had any control.

The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) raised the question of frauds, which has caused a good deal of perturbation in the minds of hon. Members. We know that a good many frauds are taking place now with Post Office bank books, and we have withdrawn certain facilities in order to try to tighten up the machinery. I am not trying to minimise these frauds, but on the other hand people ought to have this thing in the right perspective. The frauds come to between £90,000 and £100,000 out of a turnover of about £1,250 million a year. In other words, the extent of the fraud is about equal to 1.9d. in every £100. When one reads about these frauds in the reports of court cases it looks very formidable, but in actual practice it does not involve the public in any very great loss of money.

I come now to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) who has repeatedly raised the question of the inefficiency of the Post Office, and who has said that he has never had an explanation—and one or two other hon. Members have said the same thing—why the services which were put on at the beginning of this year, on 20th January, were withdrawn at the end of the fuel crisis. In spite of many definite denials on my part, I think the hon. Member is still of the opinion that those services were withdrawn because of the pressure of the staff; and he has quoted to us a passage from the "Economist," in which the editor, or whoever wrote the article, shares that view with him. He read it very impressively and felt very right about it, but he is not nearly as right as he thought.

The only reason these services were withdrawn in the beginning was because of the fuel crisis. While that fuel crisis was on, we were asked by the Government to make a contribution to the manpower situation, by releasing some of the people in the employment of the Post Office. We looked around, and we found that we could not release anyone from the savings bank, from the telephone side, or from among the engineers. As a commercial firm, if we had to make a contribution, we could make it only by cutting down some of the services. Therefore, it was decided not to restore these cuts when the fuel crisis eased. The reason the fuel crisis interfered with the services was because the men had to go out into darkened streets in the evenings and early morning, and because the staff had no heating in the sorting offices. For all these reasons the services were cut, and as a result we have succeeded in releasing about 3,500 up to the moment, as well as stopping the recruitment upon which we were engaged to improve the services.

If the need for manpower had not arisen, we should have continued with that recruitment, easing away our temporary people, and recruiting, as we have been doing all along, ex-Servicemen on the 50 per cent. basis. I hope that I have disabused the mind of the hon. Member, although I am afraid that he will still be of the same opinion; but if he is, he is sticking to it in complete contradiction of the facts. The hon. Member also asked whether we were doing anything about mechanisation. It is very difficult to get mechanisation on the postal side, but our research department are doing what they can. He also asked whether the staff were running the Post Office. Well, the staff do not think they are running it at all. To all those who have been talking about the influence of the trade unions on the Post Office, let me say that we understand the trade union point of view. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) has told us what we ought to do about the unions and those who lead them. The unions have been choosing their leaders for a long time, and they will not take advice from the hon. Member on that. We are not afraid to trust the trade unions, or to take them into our confidence. I am perfectly satisfied that we shall handle this situation, getting the goodwill of the workers, and at the same time doing the right thing by the customers. It is not the intention of the Postmaster-General to be in the hands of one side or the other. His intention is to hold a just balance between the needs of the people and the rights of the trade unionists.

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) referred to the difficulty of getting a toll number last Friday. I do not know why that was, but I suspect that last Friday quite a few lines were put out of action by the storm. It seems that the services of the Post Office are not supposed to stop at all. Even when there is a storm, like we had last Friday, it seems that if a Member of Parliament wants to make a telephone call he ought to be able to get through. Although we have control of many things we do not control the weather. The hon. Member exaggerated a little, I think, when he said that somebody died as a result of an accident, because of the failure of the Elmbridge exchange. We went into that case, and the trouble was not that the hon. Member failed to get through in three minutes as he said—somebody else said it was two minutes—but because there was no local ambulance available. It was, therefore, wrong of the hon. Member to put the blame on the Post Office for that.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. H. Wallace), and the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), I am glad to be able to tell them that the Post Office is doing a considerable amount towards the improvement of research at Dollis Hill. We have taken some houses at Stone, in Staffordshire, at which we shall train 1,000 engineers, some of whom have been at Dollis Hill. This has been done so that other people can have more accommodation at Dollis Hill in tackling real problems of fundamental research. We expect, by 1950, to have 150 fully qualified scientists and engineers on basic research work, and we propose to double the major scientific and engineering staff during the next few years at Dollis Hill.

I want to deal briefly with the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite). I would only say this to him: that I thought his remarks about Sir Drummond Shiels were in extremely bad taste. He criticised someone who cannot defend himself in the House. I always understood that it was not the right thing to do to criticize a member of the Civil Service when he could not defend himself. To the knowledge of myself, and others, Sir Drummond Shiels has been a very loyal and faithful servant of the Post Office, and is very widely respected by' many people with whom he has come into contact. His has been one of the best appointments which the Post Office has ever made.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) asked about telephone facilities in that area. We have plans for improved communications for the whole of Scotland and the Islands as soon as possible. It is only a short time ago since one of the Islands up there was marooned, and the Post Office succeeded in getting a plane across and delivering the mail. The hon. Member for Abingdon also asked me about plastic containers. This is one of the matters upon which our research department is at present engaged—

Photo of Sir Edward Keeling Sir Edward Keeling , Twickenham

Surely the hon. Gentleman will reply to the charge I made, and proved up to the hilt, that the reduced postal services are not functioning properly, and that a considerable proportion of letters is not being delivered.

Photo of Mr Wilfrid Burke Mr Wilfrid Burke , Burnley

I am not going to forget the hon. Gentleman if he will leave me alone. I will deal with the question of party lines and rural services. We are going out of our way to do what we can for the rural areas. We have given concessions which will enable us to meet the needs of the farming community in a better way than before.

I now come to the postal services. It is true that the hon. Gentleman has brought to our notice some evidence of delay from a firm in Regent Street. It appears that there was a breakdown in the service, and it may be that these new services will take some time to work themselves in. All these things have to be worked in with one another. The fundamental thing, as I said before, is still true: we have not deteriorated the postal service in the way in which it has been suggested. All that has happened is that we have had to take off the late deliveries in order to save manpower, but if letters are posted before 6 or 6.30 in London or in most of the large towns, they will, when the services are running normally, and provided that transport, over which we have no control, does not let us down, get first delivery next morning in most places in the country. This was the kind of service given before we had the cut, and this service will meet the needs of 90 per cent. of the correspondents of the country. I shall be asked: What about the other 10 per cent? It is hard, but even in their case we have done what we can to meet them. If those 10 per cent. of correspondents will go to the head offices of the towns, up to 8 o'clock, their letters will get the same treatment as the letters which are posted before 6.30.

I contend that in meeting the reasonable needs of the business community to the extent of 90 per cent, of the correspondence, and in providing a let-out for urgent correspondence at night, we have met the reasonable needs of the country as a whole, in view, of the demand for manpower. It is true that if we had unlimited manpower we should like to put back the services, and if the manpower position eases we may be able to restore them, but if we have to make a contribution to the manpower situation, we have done it with the least possible curtailment of the services of the country and with the minimum amount of upset. If 90 per cent. of the correspondence is posted before 6 and 6.30 —and special arrangements are made for Members of the House of Commons to post up to 8 o'clock at night—then we believe the country will be satisfied that it was reasonable to cut the services in order to make a contribution to the manpower position. I suggest to the Committee that, having regard to all the difficulties we have had to face, the Post Office does not deserve condemnation tonight, but rather commendation.

Photo of Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd , Mid Bedfordshire

I beg to move "That Item Revenue Departments, Vote 3, Post Office, be reduced by £5."

Question put.

The Committee divided: Ayes,. 102; Noes, 258.

Division No. 292.]AYES.[10.0 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.Gridley, Sir A.Molson, A. H. E.
Amory, D. HeathcoatGrimston, R. V.Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.
Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Scot. Univ.)Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)
Bennett, Sir P.Head, Brig. A. H.Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Birth, NigelHeadlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C,Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Henderson, John (Cathcart)Neven-Spence, Sir B
Boyd-Carpenter, J. AHinchingbrooke, ViscountNicholson, G.
Bracken, Rt Hon. BrendanHogg, Hon. Q.Nield, B. (Chester)
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.Hollis, M. C.Writing, Anthony
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.Howard, Hon. A.O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.Peaks, Rt. Hon. O
Bullock, Capt. MHutchison, Lt.-Cm Clark (E'b'rgh W.)Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Butcher, H. WHutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)Pickthorn, K
Byers, FrankJeffreys, General Sir G.Prescott, Stanley
Cooper-Key, E. M.Jennings, R.Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. EKeeling, E. HRamsay, Maj. S.
Crowder, Capt. John EKerr, Sir J. GrahamRayner, Brig. R.
Darling, Sir W. YLancaster, Col. C. G.Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
Digby, S. WLangford-Holt, J.Ropner, Col. L.
Dodds-Parker, A. D,Lennox-Boyd, A. <ob/>.Savory, Prof. D. L
Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V G. (Penrith)Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Stanley Rt Hon. O
Drayson, G. B.Low, Brig A. R. WStewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Dugdale, Maj. Sir C. (Richmond)Lucas, Major Sir J.Stoddart-Scott, Col M
Eccles, D. M.Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Eden, Rt. Hon. A.Lytteiton, Rt. Hon. OTaylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Elliot, Rt. Hon. WalterMacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness)Teeling, William
Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L,Mackeson, Brig. H. R.Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)McKie, J. H. (Galloway)Touche, G. C.
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P MMaclay, Hon J. S.Vane, W. M. F
Gage, C.Maomillan, Rt Hon. Harold (Bromley)Walker-Smith, D.
Galbraith, Cmdr. T DManningham-Buller, R. E.Wheatley, Colonel M. J
Gammans, L. D.Marlowe, A. A. H.Williams, C (Torquay)
George, Lady M Llovd (Anglesey)Marples, A. E.
Gomme-Duncan, Col. AMarshall, D. (Bodmin)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grant, LadyMaude, J. C.Mr. Studholme and
Lieut.-Colonel Thorp.
Adams, Richard (Balham)Castle, Mrs. B. AFoster, W. (Wigan)
Adams, W T. (Hammersmith, South)Champion, A. J.Fraser, T. (Hamilton)
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V.Chetwynd, G. RFreeman, Maj. J. (Watford)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Cobb, F. A.Gaitskell, H. T. N
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Cocks, F. S.Gallacher, W.
Anderson, A. (Motherwell)Coldrick, W.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)Collindridge, F.Gibbins, J.
Attewell, H. C.Collins, V. J.Gibson, C. W.
Awbery, S. S.Colman, Miss G. M.Glanville, J. E. (Consett)
Ayles, W. H.Comyns, Dr. L.Gordon-Walker, P. C.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs B.Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)Greenwood, A. W J (Heywood)
Bacon, Miss A.Corlett, Dr. J.Grey, C. F.
Baird, J.Corvedale, Viscount.Grierson, E.
Balfour, A.Cove, W. OGriffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)
Barstow, P. GCrawley, AGriffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)
Barton, C.Crossman, R. H. S.Guest, Dr. L. Haden
Battley, J. RDaggar, G.Gunter, R. J.
Beehervalse, A. E.Daines, PGuy, W. H.
Belcher, J. WDalton, Rt. Hon. HHall, W. G.
Benson, G.Davies, Edward (Burslem)Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.
Berry, H.Davies, Ernest (Enfield)Hannan, W. (Maryhill)
Beswiek, F.Davies, Harold (Leek)Hardy, E. A.
Blenkinsop, A.Delargy, H. J.Harrison, J.
Blyton, W. R.Diamond, J.Hastings, Dr Somerville
Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. WDodds, N. NHenderson, A. (Kingswinford)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Donovan, T.Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)Driberg, T. E. N.Harbison, Miss M.
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Dumpleton. C. W.Hewitson, Capt. M.
Bramall, E. ADurbin, E. F. M.Holman, P.
Brook, D. (Halifax)Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Holmes, H. E. (Hamsworlh)
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Edelman, M.Hoy, J
Brown, George (Belper)Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Hubbard, T.
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Fairhurst, F.Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)
Buchanan, G.Farthing, W. J.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Burden, T. WField Capt. W. JHughes, H. D. (Wolverhampton, W.)
Burke, W. AFollick, M.Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Foot, M M.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Callaghan, JamesForman, J. C.Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)
Irving, W J.Murray, J. DSorensen, R. W.
Isaacs, Rt. Hon G. ANally, W.Soskice, Maj. Sir F
Janner, B.Neal, H. (Claycross)Sparks, J. A
Jay D. P. T.Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)Stamford, W
Jeger, G (Winchester)Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Steele, T
Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E (Brentford)Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E)
Jones, J. H. (Bolton)Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)Stross, Dr. B
Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)O'Brien, T.Swingler, S.
Kenyon, C.Oldfield, W. HTaylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. EOliver, G. H.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Kinley, J.Orbach, M.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Kirkwood, DPaget, R. TThomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Lang, G.Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)Thomson, Rt Hon. G R. (Ed'b'gh, E)
Layers, S.Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Lee, F (Hulme)Palmer, A. M. F.Thurtle Ernest
Lee, Miss J (Cannock)Pargiter, G ATitterington, M. F.
Leonard, WParkin, B. TTolley, L.
Leslie, J. R.Paton, J. (Norwich)Tomlinson, Rt. Hon G
Levy. B. WPearson, A.Turner-Samuels, M
Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)Peart, Thomas F.Ungoed-Thomas, L.
Lindgren, G SPoole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)Usborne, Henry
Lipson, D. LPorter, E (Warrington)Vernon, Maj. W. F
Lyne, A WPorter, G. (Leeds)Viant, S. P.
McAdam, W.Price, M. PhilipsWalkden, E.
MeEntee, V. La T.Proctor, W. TWalker, G. H
McGhee, H. G.Pryde, D. JWallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
McKay, J. (Wallsend)Randall, H EWallace, H W. (Walthamstow, E.)
McKinlay, A S.Ranger, J.Webb, M (Bradford, C.)
Maclean, N (Govan)Pees-Williams, D. RWeitzman, D
McLeavy, F.Reid, T. (Swindon)Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
MacMillan. M. K (Western Isles)Rhodes HWells, W. T. (Walsall)
Malialieu, J. P W.Richards, R.West, D. G
Manning, Mrs L. (Epping)Hidealgh, Mrs. M.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W
Marshall, F. (Brightside)Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Wigg, Col. G. E.
Mathers, G.Robertson, J J. (Berwick)Wilkes, L
Mayhew, C. P.Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Wilkins, W. A.
Messer, F.Royle, C.Willey, F T. (Sunderland)
Middleton, Mrs. LScollan, TWilliams, D. J. (Neath)
Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. RSegal, Dr. SWilliams, J. (Kelvingrove)
Mitchison, G. RShackleton, E A. A.Williams, W R (Heston)
Monslow, WSharp, GranvilleWillis, E.
Moody, A. SShawcross, C. N. (Widnes)Wills, Mrs. E A
Morgan, Dr H B.Shawcross, Rt. Hn Sir H (St Helens)Woods, G. S
Morley, RSilverman, J. (Erdington)Wyatt, W.
Morris, Lt.-Col. H (Sheffield, C.)Simmons, C. J.Yates, V. F
Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)Skeffigton-Lodge, T CYounger, Hon. Kennet
Morrison, Rt. Hon H (Lewisham. E.)Skitinard. F W
Mort, D. LSmith, C. (Colchester)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mulvey, A-Smith, S. H. (Hull. S.W.)Mr. Snow and Mr. Popplewell.

Question put, and agreed to.

Original Question again proposed.

It being after Ten o'clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding,The CHAIRMAN left the Chair. to make his report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.