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I think that we must pass this Bill tonight. I do not think that there is any question of voting against it. At the same time, I think we should let it be known that this Bill, which is seemingly so satisfactory, does not bear optimistic examination. After all, last year we spent £36 million on capital equipment —the very things which my hon. Friends have been talking about, such as new post offices, extra telephone exchanges and kiosks in the countryside.
This year we are to spend £48 million and the year after that £50 million, which. on the face of it, looks very good indeed. But, as we have learned from the discussion of the Bill, we have to reduce that £98 million in the next two years by about £25 million, which is being diverted purely to defence purposes and from which, for the moment, the civilian population will get no benefit.
I want the Assistant Postmaster-General to be frank with the country and the House. No one has done more than the party opposite to rouse the hopes of farmers, of business men, of shopkeepers, of the still growing army of citizens needing a telephone, that if only they got rid of the Labour Government they would get telephones. It is for them to bring the Bill to the House and to be frank with the country. They should tell the country what little hope there is of meeting the demand. There is even less hope when we appreciate that since the end of the war we have been building up a service, for the ordinary replacement and maintenance of which we need to spend more capital each year. Furthermore, with equipment of this type there has been no fall in price, so that for the same capital expenditure this year we shall get less in results—in telephone exchanges and so on—than in the past.
One of the most disagreeable features is how little we are to spend in the next two years on postal and telegraph services. That means that these small towns and new areas within our cities, new housing estates, which have been hoping to get better postal facilities, will for some time have to be content with makeshifts. The Assistant Postmaster-General must be frank and tell the House and the country what the position is. It is far better that he should do so than he should lead the people to hope that something will come along.
For the Post Office itself and those who work in it, this Bill and this situation spells frustration. I do not know any service which sets out more anxiously to provide the facilities which it could provide, given the elbow room within the existing situation. We on this side of the House are faced inevitably with this situation and we have to accept it; and, in supporting the Bill, I ask the Assistant Postmaster-General to be frank about the situation.