I am sorry that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale) was unable to follow the irony of my argument. As a matter of fact, the stamps which the hon. Member purchases for a penny are ½d. stamps—but let us leave these mathematical niceties for another time.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman what arrangements are envisaged for interest and sinking fund arrangements on these very large sums which we are asked to approve today. They amount to a very considerable figure, spread over a period of time as far as expenditure is concerned, and we would like to know more about the service of these capital sums. The right hon. Gentleman told us that of this amount £69,500,000 is required for the telephone service, and he was at pains to explain what is going on in that direction and the problems which confront him. He told us of the waiting list which bears so heavily on him and which he ascribed to Sir Kingsley Wood who could hardly have foreseen what would be happening in 1950. The right hon. Gentleman even prided himself on the fact that he had a long waiting list and pointed out that because of the economic prosperity of the country so many people were applying for telephones with which the nationalised industry is unable to supply them. If he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT he will see that that is the effect of what he said.
There is a reason for that waiting list which has nothing to do with the economic prosperity of the country. Before leaving the question of telephones, may I point out that in the City of Bristol there is a grievous waiting list, not only for residential purposes, but also for business purposes. I sent the right hon. Gentleman a case only last week and I have no doubt it is being attended to. It shows the sort of problem with which we are faced. The right hon. Gentleman put it very well in a written reply to a
Question a week ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Charles Orr-Ewing). He said:
In view of the severe restriction of capital investment it is necessary, when providing new plant, to give preference to industrial and business areas, and I much regret the resultant delay in meeting the needs of some residential areas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 15.]
But the problem is also acute in the business and industrial sphere and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not seek to impress the House that it is not so.
I am glad to hear from him that he is investigating the possibility of easing the position caused by the use of party lines. He said that the position is being examined in order to ensure greater privacy for those speaking on the telephone, but that is only being done now, in the year 1950. What were his two predecessors, two Socialist Postmasters-General, in the last Parliament doing about it? Party lines have been a problem ever since the Government took office. They are now stimulated by the narrowness of their majority and urged on by the Chief Patronage Secretary, who has an interest in party lines, to tackle the problem.
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken, in my view, if he believes that the long waiting list for telephones is in any way an indication of the prosperity of the country. It is due to something else. I notice that £5,500,000, and only £5,500,000, of this capital sum is required for posts and telegraphs. We have heard something about the postal service today. In my opinion the increased demand for telephones is directly due to the curtailment of the postal services of this country. People in London receive their last delivery of the day at 3.30 in the afternoon. I live in Hampstead, a residential area, and I am very lucky if I get my morning delivery by 10 o'clock. Very often it is half-past 10 before it comes, although I am well aware that all the walks are supposed to be completed by 10 o'clock. In my view this curtailment has increased the demand for telephones to enable people to communicate with one another.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman, because he was not in his present office then—he was in another—that the reduction in collection and delivery facilities was announced as being directly due to the incidence of the fuel crisis of 1947? Later deliveries and collections had been restored by Lord Listowel, who I think holds no office today, when he was Postmaster-General. As I say, they were struck off at the time of the fuel crisis. That has now passed. It was three years ago. Would not the right hon. Gentleman look into this matter again? If only the late collections could be restored, it would have a most valuable effect.
It would be a great advantage, as I said at the outset of my remarks, if we could have a simplified picture presented to the House and the public of this problem of Post Office accountancy. It is astonishingly difficult to follow either in the Bill or in this publication of the commercial accounts. It requires to be put over to the public in simple language. Here I offer my congratulations to the Assistant Postmaster-General, with whom I have at least this in common: at the recent election both of us were transplanted from one part of the country to another and have survived and appear to be taking root. He and I had a controversy in the last House, and I am delighted to find that my repeated representations in the last Parliament have at last borne fruit. There is now a new public relations officer appointed from the established service. We now have the right boy for the job instead of the job for the wrong boy.