I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Inland Post Regulations 1963 (S.I., 1963, No. 2137), dated 30th December 1963, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th January, be annulled.
I do not intend to make a long speech. The question of the Household Delivery Service has been ventilated once before in the House, but in view of feeling among householders and postmen and of the way in which the service will be used, it is absolutely essential that we should express in the House our reasons for thinking that Regulation 25, which is embodied in the 1963 Regulations, should not go through.
In last week's debate not one speaker, Conservative, Liberal or Labour, gave wholehearted approval to the service. Every hon. Member, and particularly the Conservative Members who contributed to the debate, required specific assurances from the Postmaster-General, or, on that occasion, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, before the Regulations were approved. The Chief Secretary wound up the debate. I do not know why. He knows nothing about the Post Office. We had from him no reply and no assurances—only a few gibes, particularly against the Liberal Party and its minibus. The right hon. Gentleman never relieved any of the concern felt by the National Union of Post Office Workers, and neither did he assure any hon. Member opposite about the service, with the consequence that a number of abstentions were recorded that evening.
On this occasion the Postmaster-General is present and we hope that he will intervene and treat the subject a little more seriously than either he or the Chief Secretary to the Treasury did last week. We have a number of questions to address to him. Is this service really necessary? The right hon. Gentleman argues, first, that advertisers are "pinching" Post Office business and, secondly, that only after examining similar services overseas did he think that this would be a useful service and one which might improve Post Office finances.
Is it not a fact that private companies which have been sending out circulars and advertisements still operate a cheaper service and that it is doubtful how much traffic the right hon. Gentleman will take away from them? Could not the overseas guide be misleading? The right hon. Gentleman well knows that there is opposition to this kind of service in some countries and that it is falling off in others. Switzerland has been quoted. There, the administration is now having to hive off some of this circular delivery traffic to private agencies because it is interfering with the first-class service. There has been no market research here. There has been no test of public feeling. The right hon. Gentleman has never sought the advice of the Post Office advisory councils and he has insisted on introducing the service in spite of the decision made against it by the annual conference of the National Union of Post Office Workers.
Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman must prove the necessity of the new service. Does he think that it will be profitable? On every occasion he has said that he hopes to make in the first year a profit at the rate of £300,000 a year. Let us examine what this means. First, the right hon. Gentleman must attract traffic from private agencies which at the moment are providing the service more cheaply than the new service will be able to do. Secondly, those who use the Post Office Printed matter service, that is the 2½.d. mail, will be tempted to use this service. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's printed paper service will lose revenue and what little he may gain on the new service he may well lose on that one.
The first-class mail service may well be affected. Undoubtedly, if the circulars are to go out on early morning deliveries those deliveries will be retarded. The right hon. Gentleman's advice in the first instance to head postmasters was that they should go out where possible with the first mail I hope that he will assure us today that this will not happen. We cannot afford to do any damage to the first morning delivery. Far too many complaints have been made about that already.
Can the sample service pay? The postman carries a 35 lb. pouch and he will be expected to take out samples possibly of soap, detergents, toothpaste and drugs. He cannot take enough for the whole of the walk and either he will have to double back on his walk or extra postmen will have to come into the area to deliver the samples. The right hon. Gentleman states specifically in his advertisements that sizes up to 12 in. long, 4¾ in. wide and ¾ in. thick will be allowed.
How many of these will a postman be able to get into his pouch? This inevitably means, especially in areas where the postmen are already working overtime and where there is a shortage of postmen, that this service will not pay. The right hon. Gentleman will be relying upon the circulars to try to pay for the sample service.
We should, therefore, like the right hon. Gentleman to assure us as factually as possible that these services will pay. He never thought this matter out. The service was hastily introduced. He advertised the service on 6th January. All the advertisement material went out to the post offices on 20th January, but within three days of advertising it the right hon. Gentleman had stopped the service completely. If he had thought of all the implications he would have been prepared and not perturbed. Therefore, the service was hastily introduced.
No, it was hastily introduced, before the right hon. Gentleman properly thought out all the implications and the dangerous aspects of starting for the first time to use a Government Department and uniformed civil servants to distribute advertisements and political propaganda. I intend to go into detail on that subject.
After the suspension, the Postmaster-General, realising that he had not thought the scheme out properly, sent out fresh instructions to head postmasters. He said that they must not allow racialist literature or literature which would be offensive to young people to be delivered. All the postmasters are in the invidious position of being censors and sifters. They have the Post Office "bible" which gives blanket instructions that no matter may go through which is libellous, obscene or might cause a breach of the peace, but now they have the extra instructions about racialist literature and literature offensive to young people.
Apart from advertisements and simple matter, what will now go through the sieve? Only political propaganda. Is not this, therefore, the reason why the right hon. Gentleman hastily allowed the service to come into being, and will not the big users be the Tory "front" organisations who spent in 1958, and who intend to spend now, many thousands of pounds on anti-Labour and anti-nationalisation propaganda?
The Economic League spent £208,000 in 1958 alone. Aims of Industry, which is clamouring to use the service, spent in that year £107,000. Stewarts and Lloyds is starting its campaign now. It spent £269,000 in 1958. There were others of these Tory trumpeters under their private enterprise titles. Altogether, they spent £1,435,000 in that one year, 1958, on anti-Labour and anti-nationalisation propaganda.
As one political writer said:
The amount spent on the anti-nationalisation campaigns was enormous by political standards; it was about four times what the Conservative party was spending on advertising in the same period and fourteen times the Labour party's outlay on public relations. It was £400,000 more than the total expenses of all the candidates in the general election.
I suspect that one of the reasons for the introduction of the service at this time is that it is a method whereby the Government, via the Postmaster-General, can help their Tory friends to cheat the Representation of the People Act.
I have already given way twice to the hon. Member. I am addressing the Postmaster-General and not the hon. Member. The Postmaster-General has a chance to reply and can go into details if he wishes.
The right hon. Gentleman now has the Martens and anti-trade unionists who have printed 250,000 leaflets. Some have already gone out by hand, but if these people cannot find enough handpicked helpers they will use the Post Office service to deluge chosen letterboxes with this propaganda. Now, Industrial Aids Limited has recently been employed by the Tory Party to assist it in the propaganda drive in the L.C.C. campaign
I say all this to show that there has been a switch in G.P.O. thinking and policy with the introduction of this service. I draw attention to correspondence between Transport House and the right hon. Gentleman's Department when Transport House was seeking permission for a franking slogan on envelopes. On 17th May, the public relations officer of the G.P.O. wrote to the director of publicity of the Labour Party and said:
Thank you very much for your letter of 16th May and for telling me about the envelope labels and the franking slogan. I would like to consider these because, as you probably know, one of the conditions of the use of franking slogans, and so on, is that the slogans must not be controversial. It may be that some people in this country might not necessarily agree with your slogan and might feel that it was definitely controversial. I will, however, write to you again as soon as possibly can.
On 30th May, a further letter went to Transport House from the Department, saying:
So far as the envelope labels, which you are proposing to have affixed to individual private correspondence, are concerned, we can have no objection provided that they are used on the address side of the envelope and that they cause no embarrassment to our sorters.
The letter goes on to say:
On the second of your points, I am afraid that I cannot give you such a favourable reply. People are liable to associate slogans in postmarks with the Post Office, and it is for ibis reason that we must forbid the use of any slogan which might be deemed controversial. I am sure you will agree that, by the very nature of things, politics fall into this category.
The right hon. Gentleman will see from that correspondence that the real G.P.O. objections were that it could be
seen, that it could be read, that it might be embarrassing, and that it was politically controversial. May not all these leaflets be the same?
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Reginald Bevin):
I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman. The reason why the second request from Transport House was turned down was simply that it was, apparently, the desire of Transport House to print a political slogan over the Post Office postmark, which is quite a different thing from a slogan on an envelope.
I am sorry to disagree. That is getting away from the real point which is at the heart of it—
I am sure you will agree that, by the very nature of things, politics fall into this category"—
and the Post Office did not want to embarrass the sorters. Without any doubt at all, it appears from what was said that the reason the slogan could not be allowed was that it could be seen, it could be read, it might be embarrassing, it was politics, and it was controversial.
The same applies to these leaflets: they can be seen, they can be read, they may be embarrassing to postmen or sorters, and they ire certainly controversial. Why has there been this switch which now allows open political propaganda to be circulated via the General Post Office and this special service? Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, he will still leave a suspicion in our minds that it has been purposely done to allow the Tory front organisations, these vast spenders on anti-Labour literature, a cheap, easy and guaranteed access to every home.
What about the opting-out procedure? The right hon. Gentleman must be aware, because he will have had telephone messages and letters, especially from his head postmasters because they have been swamped with inquiries, that people wand: to opt out. If a householder wishes to opt out of the service, how is he to do it? Some people are saying that they will put "No circulars" on the gatepost, or they will put the stuff back in envelopes and send them unstamped to the Postmaster-General, to Aims of Industry, and so on. This is a matter of public concern. Many people do not want to receive advertisements, let alone political propaganda, on their mat every morning. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take a little time in explaining to us what directives he has now sent out to head postmasters on this matter.
Now, a few words about the postmen. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, staff relations in the Post Office are now at their lowest ebb. I think it fair to say that they are the worst in living memory. The general secretary of the U.P.W. said only a few days ago that staff relations in the Post Office were the worst he has known them in his 30 years' experience. Post Office workers were incensed by the right hon. Gentleman's low wages policy for postmen. In spite of very strong and persistent opposition to the introduction of this scheme, the right hon. Gentleman still decided to steam-roller it through.
However, I say to the postmen that all the democratic avenues for opposing the introduction of the service have been used. There was a Parliamentary lobby. I think that it was the first time that the U.P.W. had lobbied in Parliament, which shows the concern it feels. Secondly, there have been deputations by the U.P.W. executive to the Postmaster-General himself. We have had a censure debate, and finally, we are praying now against the Regulations. I only hope that, in the event of our being defeated by the vote tonight, the postmen will not take any untoward industrial action which would turn public opinion against them, especially at a time when they have public sympathy. The executive of the Union of Post Office Workers has fought the scheme constitutionally, and it is now entitled to the support and loyalty of its membership.
In conclusion, I say this to the Minister. He is the head of a great Department, a Department which has a fine record as a public service. It is a fascinating and interesting Department which is rapidly growing in importance. The Minister has broadcasting and television under his authority, and he is responsible in part also for the introduction of satellite communications. His Department is now girdling the world with telephone cables. He is responsible for international broadcasting which is bringing nations closer together, and, indeed, he is partly responsible for "selling Britain".
The Post Office is no longer a "Cinderella" Ministry. I appeal to the Postmaster-General not to besmirch it with petty, dubious and unwanted innovations, especially these which smack of commercialism, and not to allow his Department to be used as a tool of the Tory Party.
I share with the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) an admiration for this great public institution, the Post Office. I listened with pleasure to some of the sentiments about the greatly enlarged responsibilities of the Postmaster-General with which he ended his speech, and I share in his admiration of the way in which my right hon. Friend has carried out his responsibilities in those wider fields.
The hon. Gentleman's speech contained many contradictions. I shall try to deal with some of them, and, no doubt, my hon. Friends will deal with others. He made much play of the fact, which he stated, that there had been no unreserved support for the scheme from this side of the House when it was last debated. On that occasion, we had limited time for debate. There was another important subject down for discussion that day, and several hon. Members who wished to take part were unable to do so. I was one of those. In spite of the fact that I knew that, if I stood in my place, I should have the same chance as any hon. Member to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, I thought that there was a considerable pressure of speakers and, because my chances were small even by the law of averages, I decided that I for one would not try to intervene on that occasion.
Now, the subject is raised again. No doubt there will be some acrimonious arguments. My speech may contain one or two inflammatory sentences—I am prepared to argue the merits of this case with any hon. Member—but it will to some extent also be exploratory. We have the benefit of my right hon. Friend's presence this evening, and he is in the best possible position to answer all the allegations which are being made.
The hon. Member for Barnsley said that there were other services apart from the proposed Post Office Household Delivery Service which were cheaper, and he did not think that this service would be a success because it would not be an economic one and people would not use it since it did not offer a good and cheap service. He said this at the beginning. At the end of his speech, he said something about wicked Tory spenders who would get a cheap, easy and guaranteed access to every household. The hon. Gentleman must concede that there was a contradiction between those two statements.
Not at all. In order to send printed matter through the G.P.O. service now, people must purchase envelopes, see that they are addressed and make sure that each carries a 2½d stamp. It is an expensive service. If people want an alternative unaddressed delivery service, they must use a private agency, which, of course, does not guarantee access to every home. These agencies are unofficial. They cannot be relied on. But the Postmaster-General has stepped in now with a service, which is cheaper than the rate service, though more expensive than the private agency service, but guaranteeing access to every home.
Then perhaps my hon. Friend will do so on his feet.
The hon. Member for Barnsley suggested that this service would interfere with the first class mail service. I should have thought that the regulations in the Post Office Guide, July, 1963, edition, Supplement No. 5, January, 1964, so tied up the user of this service that it would be almost impossible for it to clash with the interests of the first class mail. There are all kinds of conditions of acceptance and conditions under which these circulars will be delivered. There are restrictions on postings. They will not be accepted on Saturdays, Sundays or public and bank holidays, or during the period from 8th to 27th December. How right that is. We all know that the service is overloaded at that time. All this would seem to take care of the hon. Member's argument. I do not think that he has made a very good case. He was clutching at every conceivable objection to this service.
This is the third time that the House has had the opportunity to discuss this matter. Perhaps we shall be treated to a fourth. Perhaps it will be pursued in another place. As I say, the hon. Member had to grasp at every possible argument. No doubt the House will see from the regulations that the first class mail will not be interfered with. Surely the early delivery which we all hope for in our homes will not be affected. Surely we shall not have the spectacle of the staggering postman with a great pack on his back laden with bars of soap and boxes of detergent. All this is taken care of in the regulations.
If the Post Office has surplus space in its delivery vans—and many of us, certainly in the country, know that when a van comes to a house it often is not full—postmen will be able to deliver samples in the country areas and make money for the Post Office. They will be travelling with their van not empty but full of custom from which the Post Office will, I hope, reap a handsome profit. Having studied the regulations with immense care, I do not feel there is any dander that the first class mail and important matters will be interfered with by this service. The regulations tie the matter up.
The hon. Member made much play with the fact that my right hon. Friend had introduced this service and then suspended it. However one tries to construe the facts, my right hon. Friend suspended the service because there was an outcry against it from certain people—mostly from right hon. and hon. Members opposite and particularly a certain right hon. Member about whom I will have more to say in a moment and whose name is mentioned in one of the pamphlets concerned. It was because of that that my right hon. Friend temporarily withdrew the service pending discussion here. Surely that is the right way to go about the matter out of the courtesy to the House. If the House felt that this service should be looked into more carefully, my right hon. Friend acted with absolute propriety in withdrawing it.
I do not want to weary the House endlessly with answering the speech of the hon. Member for Barnsley—he and I have our differences—but I feel that I must challenge some of the things that he said about the enormous expenditure by what he called, I think, Tory front organisations. Surely the essence of all this propaganda is anti-nationalisation. [An HON. MEMBER: "And anti-Socialism."] Anti-Socialism as well, as an hon. Member says. Nationalisation and Socialism are the same thing; nobody can escape from that. There are other aspects of the Socialist creed, other symptoms of the disease—[Interruption.] I do not think I can define Conservatism within the scope of the short speech which I hope to make.
Let me return to the charge which the hon. Member made that Tory front organisations were indulging in vast expenditure on anti-Nationalisation propaganda. Surely they are entitled to do that. They are protecting the interests of their shareholders. I expected a derisive laugh at that remark. They are protecting the interests of their workers. [Laughter.] That produces nothing more than a derisive laugh from hon. Members opposite. This is what these people are trying to do. They are fighting for their very life. They sincerely believe that their method of operation will be severely damaged by nationalisation, that many of their workers will lose their jobs, and that the industries will be less profitable and the workers will not receive a proper reward for their work.
I leave that aspect of the matter. The hon. Member dragged it in as part of his argument, but it is not what we want to discuss this evening. I should say, in passing, that the so-called great Tory front organisations are not alone in this campaign. If the hon. Member knew what the Tobacco Workers' Union laid on every workbench in the Imperial Tobacco Company's factories shortly before polling day at the last election, he would be ashamed of what some of his friends were up to.
The hon. Member suggested that this was a way in which a political party could cheat the Representation of the People Act, which deals with the amount of money which should be spent at election time. At the three Parliamentary elections in which I have been a candidate I have never used all the allowed money on my campaign. There must be many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have never used their maximum permitted allowance. It is not right to suggest that here is some back door way of financing a campaign. The maximum sum allowed is very seldom completely used.
The hon. Member ended with a few words to the postmen. I imagine that he was addressing the postmen through you, Mr. Speaker. I should like to say this about the position of the postmen, through you, Mr. Speaker. We all like our postmen—I hope we do. We all regard him as being a pleasant and helpful member of the community. Some of the trouble which has occurred has been due to a lack of unanimity, to differences within the union where relationships are said to be so low at present. My right hon. Friend will be able to deal with this at greater length. Surely some of the difficulties have arisen from a lack of decision and a going back on previous decisions by the Union of Post Office Workers. It is not fair to say that it is my right hon. Friend's harsh or ill-considered action which has caused this difficulty. There are differences among these people, and they have not been able to tell him what their mind was. That is bound to make for difficulties.
No doubt hon. Members opposite will say that my right hon. Friend should not have introduced the service if he was not sure what view the Post Office workers would take about it. If one takes this attitude one never gets anything done at all. Her Majesty's Government are often criticised for not having ascertained the views of their supporters before doing something. But when one asks for the views of one's supporters on anything one often gets a mixed bag of arguments and one has to make a decision. It is the Government's duty to govern and make decisions, and it is a Minister's duty to run his Department and not to be run by it. That is the only sentiment uttered by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) with which I agree.
My right hon. Friend was right to introduce this service, because he is trying to make more money for the Post Office. The hon. Member for Barnsley said that the pay and conditions of the Post Office workers were bad. We are hoping that they will receive an increase. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have something to say about that. Many Government services have received an increase recently. How can the hon. Member reconcile his claim that the Post Office workers are not getting enough money with his opposition to a service which may bring in more money and make it possible for the workers to be paid more? If they are to get overtime for working this service as well, there will be great opportunity here for earning a little extra. It is incomprehensible—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Barnsley wish to intervene? I will be happy to give way. It is difficult to contain my speech within the short time which I intended if he continues to interrupt from a sitting position. No doubt, my right hon. Friend will deal with the other details which were raised by the hon. Member for Barnsley but which I have been unable to cope with.
May I ask the hon. Member a question about overtime? Is he aware that in many districts breaking point has been reached through overtime being worked in areas where there is already a serious shortage of postal staff? How are we to deal with this extra work in such areas? If the hon. Member cannot answer, no doubt the Postmaster-General will try when he replies.
Perhaps I might have a shot at it and, if I do not succeed, my right hon. Friend may be able to answer at greater length. The whole tone of the prospectus of the scheme is that the Post Office will carry out this service where it finds it possible to do so and it will not allow it to interfere with its existing important services. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will be able to give chapter and verse from the Regulations. As I see it, however, there are adequate safeguards to prevent an overburdened service—as it is in some, but not all, districts—from being swamped.
To return to my case concerning the country districts, I know that the Post Office van which calls at our house regularly in the morning before I am awake and in the afternoon is certainly not full to capacity. Once when the door was open I saw that there was practically nothing in it. There are opportunities for using the existing facilities to a profitable end.
I cannot pursue the matter endlessly with the hon. Member, because my right hon. Friend has all the details and other hon. Members might be disappointed in their efforts to speak in the debate if they prolong my remarks unduly.
The answer is in the regulations. It will be within the power of the Post Office not to get itself swamped with a vast amount of this stuff to interfere with the firstclass mail. The regulations say so. My right hon. Friend will give the details.
I turn to my general remarks about the service before coming on to some of the detailed criticisms. We have virtually debated the subject twice already, with one full-length debate and another period of to-ing and fro-ing across the Floor of the House. There have been long discussions and one might well take the view that all that could usefully be said on this subject had been said. I am surprised that it cannot now be left alone, but hon. Members opposite have raised it again tonight and it is only fair that those of us who are interested in the Post Office should give the House our views and, possibly, be contradicted by other hon. Members, so that we do not waste the time which has been allotted for this debate.
I hesitated to intervene but for the fact that time this evening seems to be unlimited, there does not appear to be a large number of hon. Members on either side who are interested in the subject, and one might use this opportunity of one of those rare occasions when it is possible to speak in the House without crowding out one's hon. Friends or opponents, giving the House one's views and learning from subsequent speeches.
I share the view of the hon. Member for Barnsley that the Post Office is a great national institution with a fine record of public service. But it is not a fossilised institution. It has progressed with the times. We have seen the introduction of the letter service in its various forms. We saw the introduction of postage stamps in which this country was a pioneer. We have seen the introduction of adhesive postage stamps and the telephone service, first of all over wire and now, to some extent, over the radio. I hope that during his subsequent years of administration my right hon. Friend will be able to get rid of some of the wires which festoon the countryside. I must not, however, stray from the subject.
During my time as a Member of the House of Commons, we have seen the introduction of S.T.D., when Her Majesty the Queen made the first telephone call by this method to my constituency in Bristol. At that time, my right hon. Friend's predecessor was Postmaster-General. The hon. Member for Barnsley and other people at various times have spoken on the contribution by the Post Office to the space age.
Some of the services are healthy, paying services, much used by the public, expanding and profitable. As a result, Post Office finances in those spheres are reasonably healthy. There are, however, some aspects of the services which do not pay. Some do not pay because they could hardly be commercially viable, and others do not pay because it is a conscious act of policy to protect the public from the increasing costs which we all face.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's efforts to keep the postage rate at a steady price. He has done much in this direction. For this purpose, he has introduced a number of commercial methods. We can hardly have escaped the attractive coloured posters which are to be
seen on nearly all Post Office, or certainly on Her Majesty's Stationery Office vans, saying:
Some one somewhere wants a letter from you".
It may be suggested that the new advertisements are cheap and nasty, but, on the other hand, if we can get a postal service which is efficient, and by and large it is highly efficient—incidentally, to digress for a moment, we hear only about the inefficiencies. It is rather like when the House of Lords gets into trouble. That is all we hear about. We do not hear about the good work that it does. We hear about Members of Parliament only when they do something silly. When they do something constructive, we are not told about it; it is not news.
Nobody wants increased postal charges. My right hon. Friend is right to pursue every possible course to try to make the Post Office more profitable and to keep the letter post at the present rate. The service is under-used in some parts. My right hon. Friend has introduced this new delivery in order to take up the slack. But it is not a new idea. One or two other countries have tried it already. I believe that it was even tried here some years ago in a limited form. Of course, it is quite possible to have the same sort of service covering every household by sending out stereotyped postcards. Postcards can be of enormous size and can carry something much more illuminating and inflammatory than some of the leaflets now criticised. The fact is that the new service is a valiant attempt by my right hon. Friend to try to make a little more money for the public service.
Why should not the Post Office cash in? Why should it be left to a lot of private individuals to detract from the Post Office, to take away its opportunity and profit? Surely we are here to protect the public and this great national service. Shall it compete like the railways—
The hon. Gentleman says that soon we shall not have railways. But, judging from opposition in this House from both sides to any sort of retraction of railway services, I doubt if Dr. Beeching will be able to carry out more than a little palliative surgery, let alone a large-scale policy of amputation. The railways are anxious to benefit from profitable services and to abandon unprofitable ones. An example is the Railway Museum, which they are trying to unload. However, if I digress, other hon. Members will call me to order even if you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, do not.
My right hon. Friend did not introduce the new delivery without proper thought. He consulted the union. My construction is that the union thought it a good idea at first and then found it might have snags. I cannot but believe that there is a certain amount of politics in this. The union does not like delivering a particular leaflet. I will come to that in a moment. I tried to get a copy of this leaflet in the Library, but it did not possess one. I was told that the Library found it difficult to obtain the publications of Aims of Industry Ltd. I hope that Aims of Industry Ltd. will be more forthcoming, since it is difficult otherwise for hon. Members to study these things. Fortunately, I now have one of the leaflets.
I thank my hon. Friend for that useful intervention. If I do not deal sufficiently with "Signpost for the Sixties" perhaps he will intervene again. I wanted to point out that the new delivery is introduced by a much more attractive pamphlet. It is not right to say that my right hon. Friend took no thought before introducing it.
If the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) had been present at the beginning of my speech—which was, I agree, some time ago—he would know that my right hon. Friend suspended the delivery out of courtesy to this House—that puts the best construction on it—or, if one wants to be more partisan, because the Leader of the Opposition did not like what the pamphlet said. Hon. Members opposite must decide as they please. The fact remains that my right hon. Friend has produced a most attractive booklet. It is in colour, and copies may be obtained from the Library.
It is a first-class presentation of a public service in the very best commercial way. We receive great numbers of documents through the post. Some are of low taste and others are ill constructed. This, however, is a most handsome document and any businessman would be bound to be attracted by it. I have seen favourable comments on the leaflet in journals published by chambers of commerce. I have no intention, however, of reading great expanses of the document to the House.
My hon. Friend has me there. I can see no signature to the illustrations in this document. The pamphlet seems to be anonymously produced, but perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to say something about that. I can, however, tell my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) who did the drawings in a most attractive Aims of Industry production which has not yet reached the general public. Incidentally, I have no connection with any of these bodies but another hon. Member showed me a new booklet only this morning.
To return to the Post Office booklet. One finds one's way about it with great ease. The pages are well numbered and each section is designed to arrest the eye and tell how the service operates. This is a popular version of the rather turgid document I quoted at an earlier stage. I see that the hon. Member for St. Helens still seems unable to sit firmly in his place. I think he will find that, if the answers to various questions are not in the coloured document, they are in the less colourful one. However, I will not prolong the discussion on this beautifully produced affair because other hon. Members may wish to refer to it.
Now I come to the controversial leaflet, or leaflets, because it seems that some hon. Members have been more successful than I in getting copies. I did have the other leaflet, but when this matter came up at Question Time the other day my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) stretched out his hand to me and said, "What is that you are reading?" He took it away and I have not had it back.
The Aims of Industry leaflet is quite harmless in many ways. It is certainly neither obscene nor offensive. It really contains only one thing that could have caused difficulty to hon. Members opposite. It quotes some of the more unfortunate sentiments of the Leader of the Opposition. It also makes merry with the "thumbs up" sign we have seen presented on so many of their documents. It gives the "thumbs down" sign to nationalisation. That is all it does. The other document concerned in this quarrel is very much the same. A somewhat faceless gentleman is to be seen with his pockets full of factories and workshops.
In other words, this is the straightforward anti-nationalisation case which we have heard so many times before. Hon. Members opposite nod their heads. We have seen it all before. Then why do they find it so offensive when the case is restated? The only reason why it is being restated is that the party opposite sticks to the out-of-date doctrine which we have election after election.
I shall not continue on that political line, except to say that I find it difficult to see why the Post Office workers should object to this leaflet.
If the hon. Member had been here earlier he would have heard me pay tribute to the splendid service that these people are giving. I go along with the hon. Member for Barnsley in his sentiments about the Post Office, but I clash with him when he denounces this service. I say that it would be a good thing, because with the extra profit we could pay the Post Office workers more. They are to get more anyway, but they might then be able to get even more. Not to go over the earlier part of my remarks—
If hon. Members persist in intervening and charging me with things that I did not say I must answer the charges, even if those hon. Members were not here at the beginning of my remarks.
I was merely indicating that the hon. Member should keep off the subject of the workers' grievances. Others here are more competent to do that than he is. They can speak more adequately for Post Office workers than he can. We do not need to have him butting in and saying things that he knows nothing about.
It is wrong to charge hon. Members on this side of the House with being outsiders. We are as entitled as hon. Members opposite to take an interest in Post Office workers. Hon. Members opposite have no monopoly in that.
I now come to the next part of my speech, which will deal with some of the arguments that have been put forward to the effect that the proposed introduction of this service has met with considerable public opposition. I have received one letter on the subject, against the service. I would not wish to hide anything or to try to prejudice the case, but this is a very small postbag compared with that which I received on the subject of trading stamps, or on what the Minister of Education said or did not say about sex, or on pay for teachers, or on nuclear disarmament, on which subject I receive a steady flow of letters, most of them from people who are not in my constituency.
But this subject attracted very little interest among my constituents. I believe that other hon. Members have had the same experience, unless they have some special interest in the Post Office. The correspondence that I have had in connection with this matter in no way approaches that which I once had after a wet Sunday afternoon when the stag hunting issue was current. I will now turn to the objection made by my constituent on this service in order to try to allay some of the suspicions and
the fears that great difficulties will arise over it. My constituent says:
The service could give offence or discomfort to sections of the community by the indiscriminate distribution of circulars of a religious, moral or ethical nature contrary to the beliefs or principles held by individual members or sections of the public.
I will not go into details, but my constituent makes the point that certain religious or moral dangers might ensue from the distribution of these pamphlets.
Surely they can be distributed by the ordinary processes of the mail. They can be distributed on postcards which are open for all to see—and everybody reads everybody else's postcards. They are more likely to pick up other people's postcards—
I am sorry if I have appeared to be tedious to some hon. Members opposite. It must be fair to point out that many of them were not here at the beginning of my remarks, so it is a little difficult to see how they can claim that I have been guilty of tedious repetition. Tedium it may be, but not repetition—because they do not know what I said earlier on.
If I were to try to answer all the various charming suggestions which have been made by hon. Members during the course of my remarks I might remain on my feet longer than the House would wish.
I do not wish to go over the arguments that were raised in the debate on 4th February, except to say that any hon. Member on either side of the House who read through the report of that debate might be charmed by the wholehearted plunging in of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) but would surely have been impressed by the incisive wit of the First Secretary to the Treasury, who wound up the debate. I do not wish to prolong my remarks by going over the arguments raised in those two speeches, but in my view my right hon. Friend flattened the right hon. Member for Belper. Let any hon. Member challenge that if he dare.
During the earlier part of my speech I said that there was a final consolation for hon. Members who objected to this scheme, namely, that we are not to be treated merely to miserable black and white leaflets from the organisation that was so much in question. Today one of my hon. Friends had sent to him another of its publications, and I have seen it. It is a charming yellow and black booklet, called The Trojan Horse. That is a new approach to this problem of back-door nationalisation. It seems to be a very suitable illustration.
I understand that all the regulations are under discussion and that if hon. Members opposite had their way and managed to carry the vote against these regulations this evening we would be as we were without these regulations, except that we would not have the new service proposed by my right hon. Friend. [Interruption.]
I am not here to answer an interrogation from a sedentary hon. Member opposite. If I endeavoured to answer all the questions I should be here until the end of the debate, and that would be unkind to other hon. Members. To come to the end of my remarks—
Before that unhappy state of affairs arrives, would my hon. Friend give us the benefit of his thoughts on the point which flowed from the remarks of the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) earlier in the debate, when he referred to that very noble band of people who are employed in putting literature through letter boxes? The hon. Member was referring to postmen, and he said that if they were to carry out this service they would be degraded to the level of those deliverers. In my opinion, those people are most assiduous working people, earning an honest living, and they should not be referred to in such a way.
May I put the end of my question which was not heard, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? Would not my hon. Friend also agree that to refer to people who are earning an honest living as "dishonest"—as has been done this evening—is detrimental to decency and to the type of speeches made in this House?
I would not wish to pursue my hon. Friend in his difficulty in putting whatever it was through the letter box—I still do not know what it was.
To come back to "The Trojan Horse" booklet, which I mentioned, and which I have not any intention of showing to the House or quoting from—hon. Members show considerable dismay when I referred to it—if it is a booklet, I should think that it would be caught by the regulations and it would not be possible to put copies of it through the letter box unaddressed. So hon. Members opposite will at least have the consolation of knowing that some of the things to which they would, no doubt, object will not be put about by this service.
I wish to end with the thought that there has been a lot of silly fuss about this really rather small, trifling matter. But Parliament often takes a long time to deal with trifling matters. This is an example of the way in which in this House we always do our best to do justice to the smallest problem, even though on some occasions we are accused of tedium by so doing. But it has some merit in that it fills an idle hour—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and it may be that from this discussion, this prolonged discussion, which we are having some new thoughts may materialise which my right hon. Friend may find useful when putting this service into full operation. So who knows what profit may result. Surely hon. Members on both sides of the House must be anxious to have an up-to-date, efficient and profitable postal service.
It is no bad thing that the Post Office should enter into the competitive world, just as other businesses should do. Why should the Post Office be hamstrung by prejudice? Let it compete on equal terms with private enter-price and become more efficient. We might even see—though my right hon. Friend may have doubts about this—a reduction in the charges made for some of the services. No doubt my right hon. Friend is striving in this direction. But he will not have a chance to reduce charges unless we can obtain more revenue for the Post Office, and this is one way to get it. I do not think that any hon. Member would quibble about the need for more revenue.
We are a long way from the penny postage. There must be few hon. Members alive in this House who can remember the penny postage—
—but we must try to avoid a delivery charge of something like 6d. for letter post. Through all the years in which he has been Postmaster-General, my right hon. Friend, has been struggling to keep down the charges, and so far he has succeeded. Do not let us do anything this evening to stop that effort. Do not let us take away the new regulations which he so badly needs in order to improve his service. The only possible result of killing this by a vote would be to impair the Post Office services and lose one chance to get more revenue from an increased and improved service. So I wish success to the Household Delivery Service which I wholeheartedly support.
I welcome the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, West, (Mr. Robert Cooke). He said that on the last occasion when the House had an opportunity to debate this issue the time available was somewhat short. Having listened to his very long speech, I can well appreciate his regret, if we had contributions as long as his, a week would not be an adequate length of time in which to hear all the contributions that hon. Members would wish to make.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the circulars distributed by Aims of Industry and other anti-nationalisation institutions. He said he wanted to pay tribute to the efficiency of the Post Office and the work done by post office workers. I welcome that tribute. From someone who is a self-expressed opponent of nationalisation, such a generous tribute to the first nationalised institution in this country is indeed welcome.
I think that that intervention was somewhat unfortunate and completely irrelevant.
I am identifying myself with this Prayer because of some of the new factors which have emerged since the Household Delivery Service outlined in paragraph 25 on page 19 of the Regulations was introduced. The hon. Member for Bristol, West referred to the limitations of the delivery aspects of the service. I think that they have reached a stage where the situation is slightly ludicrous.
The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the fact that deliveries will not be made on Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays, or during the Christmas holiday period. This week the Post Office has announced that there will not be deliveries cm the night mail delivery—that is the first delivery of the day—on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays. There are a host of restrictions on the service. The question which occurs to me is: with all these restrictions, is the service justified? Is this House is the Postmaster-General, justified in provoking the hostility of the nation's postmen by providing such a restricted service?
When I refer to the nation's postmen I am not referring to industrial anarchists. They are a reasonable and responsible section of the industrial community. Were they industrial anarchists, if they opposed services provided by the Post Office just for the sake of opposing them, why did they not oppose the Recorded Delivery Service? They gave wholehearted cooperation to the Post Office in the introduction of hat service regardless of the fact that it has had a tremendous impact on staffing of high-grade postmen. Postmen are a responsible, co-operative section of the people who have a pride in their job and the service which they provide; they are being treated in a most irresponsible fashion by the Postmaster-General.
The hon. Member for Bristol, West touched on the very important topic of remuneration of Post Office minor manipulative grades. I do not think that his right hon. Friend will welcome the com ments he made. I share his hope that postal workers will get justice in the current wage negotiations, but I want the Postmaster-General to make it clear, when he winds up the debate, whether he accepts the point made by the hon. Member that profitability ought to be taken into account in determining wage levels within the Post Office. If the Postmaster-General accepts that contention, I hope that he will be far more forthcoming with regard to wages than he has been so far in the negotiations he has begun with the Union of Post Office Workers.
A great deal has been said about the political involvement of postmen in the Household Delivery Service. This is an important aspect of the scheme. Post Office rules lay down that a postman, while in uniform, should not become involved in political activity. He should not canvass for any political party; he should not identify himself with any political party during the hours of his duty while wearing the uniform of his employment. Are those rules to be changed now that we are to have the Household Delivery Service which will create political involvement outside the period of General Elections or by elections?
Some time ago the Post Office introduced Premium Savings Bonds. One of the interesting facts which emerged during the negotiations about the introduction of that scheme was that Post Office clerks who had a legitimate, conscientious objection to becoming involved in what they thought to be gambling were allowed to make known their conscientious objection to their head postmasters or postmasters. Is the Postmaster-General to make available to Post Office staff an opportunity to make a similar conscientious objection to becoming involved in politics?
There is the question of compulsory overtime. I have indicated the limitations that have been put on the delivery aspects of this service. It becomes perfectly clear that if the Postmaster General does not accept that this is a burden additional to the normal exigencies of the service, at least officials at Post Office headquarters accept this argument. They accept that the House-hold Delivery Service will be an added burden for postmen. They have accepted that it cannot be done on the night mail delivery because that delivery is already over-full in a great many areas. They were, therefore, obliged to consider when it could be delivered. It is now proposed that it will go on the second or third delivery within the London area.
Will the Postmaster-General tell us whether overtime for postmen involved in special household deliveries, or deliveries expanded because of the inclusion of household delivery items which will be incurred on that basis, will be compulsory? If so, and if the Department says that the household delivery items are a burden above the normal, will he consider making an overtime rate for postmen involved in this duty above the normal overtime rates?
I want to deal with the effects on the fully-paid correspondence which the introduction of this scheme will have. This is the nub of the argument for people outside this House and outside the Post Office. Everyone within the Post Office and those with its interests at heart takes pride in the fact that we have one of the most efficient postal administrations in the world, but that is not shared by hon. Members in regard to delivery arrangements for first delivery fully-paid correspondence.
I did a little research and looked up Questions which had appeared on the Order Paper during the past 12 months. During that time 31 Questions have directed the attention of the Postmaster-General to the inadequacies or failure in regard to treatment of fully-paid correspondence by his Department. That opinion exists in this House and obviously reflects views of constituents in every part of the country. In that situation, are we to insist that this service which will be an added burden should be accepted without any quibble?
The hon. Member for Bristol, West talked about advertising. He said that the Post Office was at present engaged in an advertising campaign, "Someone somewhere wants a letter from you". I hope that no one wants it delivered by the Household Delivery Service. The Postmaster-General is wasting money in this direction; and I say that deliberately. One estimate of the cost in which he is involving the Department at present is £150,000 for outdoor advertising and television advertising of the postal service. He should ask himself and his officials how much traffic all the advertising has attracted since the inception of his policy of commercial advertising.
I hope that the Postmaster-General will not persist in his obdurate attitude towards the very reasonable and responsible opinions which have been expressed to him by the leaders of the Union of Post Office Workers.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. C. Morris) too closely, except to say that I share with him, as with all hon. Members, a great admiration for the work done by the employees of the Post Office. But it was a little ungenerous of him to suggest that because hon. Members, in carrying out their constituency responsibilities, drew attention to shortcomings here and there in the mail delivery in their own area they were doing a disservice to the Post Office, or reflecting adversely on the merit of Post Office employees. I am sure that there are many hon. Members opposite, as on this side of the House, who from time to time have had to complain about an inadequate telephone service as about an inadequate mail service. I do not think that that is relevant to the matter which we are discussing.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) for the fact that I was not here when the debate started. I was unaware that it was to begin so early. In fact, I was attending to the very large volume of mail, some complimentary and some uncomplimentary, which I have received in the last few days.
It was all stamped, but not all sealed. I am sure that postmen who are responsible for the delivery of mail to the House do not worry particularly whether what is contained inside an envelope is complimentary or otherwise to the hon. Member who receives it. Perhaps some of the senders of some of this unpaid correspondence—unpaid in the sense that it does not carry full postage and is sent in unsealed envelopes—would be interested to see what happens to some of this mail when it is opened. But there is a distinction between mail sent in an envelope and the subjects contained in Rule 25 of the document which we have been discussing.
It is obvious that the hon. Member has not been diligent in his duties during the last 10 days, otherwise he would know that I made two speeches, both short, in the House last week. I am sorry that he was not in his place. Had he been in his place, he would not have made that rather impertinent interjection.
I am anxious to discuss the matter raised by the bon. Member for Barnsley It is ironic that criticism is being directed to the distribution of leaflets through this new service by an organisation which is interested in putting the case against nationalisation—and the method which it is seeking to use to put the case against nationalisation is the nationalised Post Office. Surely it is a wonderful argument for hon. Members opposite to say, "What is the use of these people saying that nationalisation is no good when they are paying tribute to the efficiency of nationalisation by using a nationalised service?" Surely that is a worth-while point.
On the other hand, that would start with an assumption that Aims of Industry, members of the Conservative Party and others who criticise nationalisation are necessarily opposed to all forms of nationalisation. Of course we are not. The Conservative Party has not opposed running the Post Office as a nationalised institution, nor do we pretend that its success has been achieved solely as a result of nationalisation.
It is only in recent years that the difficult job of transporting letters from Land's End to John O'Groats has been undertaken by another nationalised industry; until then it was done by private enterprise. It is only in comparatively recent years that the mail vans have been run directly by the Post Office. They used to be run by contractors to the Post Office whose name, I think, was McNamara. The difficult job of getting letters across long distances overseas is done even today by ship.
Let us not pretend that we must be doctrinaire about nationalisation on this issue. Where nationalisation can he justified as essential in the national interest, and where there is a case to show that it is being done efficiently, by all means let us pay tribute to the work which it does and let us seek to extend its efficiency by constantly seeking to attract new ideas into the service.
But it surely is not fair to lay the blame upon the shoulders of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General by suggesting that he dreamed up this idea himself. I have a great respect for him. I have know him for many years, but I know that this was not an idea which he thought up one night when he was able to slip home to Liverpool to get a few hours sleep. This has been talked about in Post Office circles for many years, not only in this country but overseas. The executive of the union was rather in favour of this idea and recommended it to the conference. It is true that the conference rejected it. Conferences do not always agree with their leaders. Hon. Members opposite know that very well, as do members of the Conservative Party. We all know that at a conference the rank and file often take a different view from that of the leaders.
But that does not mean that the leaders are wrong. I think that the executive of the union, with its variety of experience and intimate knowledge, came to a very sensible decision in recommending this proposal to its members, and it is a pity that its members threw it out at the conference. But that does not stop it from being a good idea. The Postmaster-General and his associates in the Ministry and in the Post Office came to the conclusion that it was a good idea which ought to be further developed and exploited, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend has gone on with it undeterred by the fact that, in the main, the criticism seems to be about the nature of the leaflets which may be put into people's homes.
I am glad that the representatives of the Post Office who have come to see me have not advanced the idea that there is some right for them to act as political censors. Hon. Members opposite complain about the leaflets being issued by Aims of Industry attacking the case which they seek to put. I find them very sensitive on these issues. They never seem to hesitate to attribute all sorts of unworthy motives to hon. Members on this side of the House. They seem to find no difficulty, as I have experienced many times, in describing people as Fascist hyenas, jackals and wicked upholders of the capitalist system. But if anybody attempts to hit back and to say, "It may be that there is something good in the idea which you are attacking", they become very sensitive and nervous about it.
This shows an unhealthy over-sensitivity. I hope that hon. Members opposite will in future recognise that the objection of postmen themselves is that this service is degrading their status. I cannot for the life of me understand how it should degrade one's status to put an item of correspondence through the letterbox of every house in a road rather than through the letterbox of every other house or every fourth house. [Interruption.] If hon. Members will listen, I shall be able to come to the end of my argument without any repetition.
I have not indulged in any repetition yet, and I do not propose to do so. Neither do I propose to make a filibuster. I propose to deal with the points I wish to make and I hope that hon. Members will listen to them. The more closely they listen, the more rapidly I shall get to the conclusion. I have never inflicted upon the House a speech of more than about 20 minutes. I have always felt that other Members would do excellently if they copied my concise example, instead of wandering all over the shop.
I cannot see that there is any justification for talking about the degradation of status merely because a person delivers something through the letterbox of every house in a road rather than to those few houses which happen to have some addressed mail to be delivered to them. This does not seem to me to be a degradation of status. If there is to be solidarity amongst workers, it is a bit thick when one can say that those who are employed in a private capacity to deliver circulars are degraded individuals. I hope that hon. Members opposite will think about this at the General Election, the date of which is not within my knowledge, when they send their various supporters round stuffing leaflets through doors. I hope that they do not hold a conference before they send their supporters out and tell them, "Go out and degrade yourselves by pushing these leaflets through doors". I hope that they will consider that these people will be serving a worthy and useful purpose.
I do not think that Post Office employees need he unduly worried, provided that this service does not clog up the delivery of normal mail, provided that it allows the more useful employment of the Post Office's labour force, and provided that it allows the Post Office to provide a service which is presumably wanted by the people. Let it not be assumed that Aims of Industry is the only body which will use this service. For all I know, the Co-op may go in for it, or Transport House. A large number of people may wish to make use of this service.
But it is not for free. They must pay for it. They will pay for it only if they think that it is worth while. I am sure that the Postmaster-General would never have introduced Regulation 25 unless he had already made inquiries to find what sort of reaction he was likely to get from people who are interested in having unaddressed circulars delivered to houses.
The hon. Gentleman, who makes so many interruptions from a sitting position, ought to know better, having been a school teacher. He should know his manners by now. He should know, first, that he should not talk when I am talking. He should know, secondly, that he should wait until I give way to him, and then stand up and say what he wants to say.
If it be true, as has been alleged by hon. Members opposite, that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General did not make inquiries, what can one say about the executive of the Union, which recommended this to the conference? Is it contended that the executive never made any inquiries in this country or from its international colleagues in the Post Office service overseas to find out whether such a service was worth while?
I am satisfied that this matter has been investigated and studied by the Postmaster-General, that the probable revenue resulting from it has been accurately assessed by him, and that the service will be of benefit to the Post Office. I co not want this business to be cluttered up with the idea that there should be same kind of political censorship of the mail merely because a postman, because of his political views, may not like what he is asked to deliver. Many of us have to receive by stamped mail which comes to our homes literature which we find personally offensive. Many times I have heard complaints in the House about advertisements for gambling being delivered to homes. Many people of the Catholic, faith take strong exception to birth control literature being circulated to them in stamped mail.
To be honest, I also have confidence in the "shadow" Postmaster-General, as being a sensible chap. That is why I know that: tonight he has really been speaking with his tongue in his cheek. He knows full well that this is an excellent service and as a man of intelligence he knows that were he in the Postmaster- General's position he would have introduced it long ago. He should rejoice in the knowledge that my right hon. Friend has now, after due consideration and in full knowledge of the consequences, introduced these Regulations. They will, I am sure, prove of enormous benefit to the people.
I hope, therefore, that the proposal that the Regulations should be annulled will be treated with the contempt it deserves and that it will be known to be what it is—just a party political exercise which has nothing whatever to do with the Post Office.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. C. Morris) in his place, because I intend to comment on his speech. I do so with some feelings of almost affection, because I was responsible for beating him at the last General Election. I have had discussions with him in the past about the Post Office, in which we have a mutual interest.
I cannot understand why a representative of the Post Office like himself can begin to complain about my right hon. Friend showing a bit of enterprise. The hon. Member said, in effect, that it was a disgraceful thing that my right hon. Friend should be spending money on advertising. I want to see the Post Office much more aggressive in its selling activities. I wish we could have a big advertising campaign for telephones. We cannot because we do not have enough telephones to advertise. I want to see a sort of buccaneering spirit in the Post Office, and I regret that the hon. Member, who is a representative of the Post Office, wants to see it sitting down doing nothing and not trying to bring more business to its activities. This is not the way to promote a healthy organisation, and I am convinced that his advice is very bad for the Post Office.
The hon. Member for Openshaw also said that there was no merit in this form of activity. We are all inclined to say that there is no merit in the things we do not like and immense merit in the things we like. I am not on his issue concerned about whether or not this mail is worth while delivering, because I am not paying for it. If I am paying for it, I then have an intense interest in it and I must weigh up whether or not it is worth while. People who are interested in this sort of delivery must consider the merits or demerits of their activities, for they are paying for it, and if it is good and if they find it good for them they will go on using it. If as a result of their experience they find that the service is not of any commercial value, my right hon. Friend will not get much revenue from it.
I accept some of the hon. Member's points, but will he accept that it is a complete provocation to accept this type of correspondence against the expressed hostility of the people who will be obliged to carry it?
I will come to that, because it is a matter of regret to me that the circumstances which surround this issue have been so full of dissension. Hon. Members opposite have imported into it a political content which should not be imported.
Has my hon. Friend received one letter from any of his constituents? I ask this because, despite the great post office in Hereford, I have not had one letter on this problem. I cannot understand, therefore, why hon. Members opposite insist on taking up the attitude they have adopted.
I do not know about the great post office in Hereford, or whether it is any greater than the post office in Cheadle. I have had one letter from someone who said, "We don't want these damned circulars." That person was expressing a point of view to which he is entitled, but this must be judged on the commercial merits of the service. If it has commercial merit, it will be of value. If it has not, it will not be of value. It may well be that the circulars will be of considerable value to people. It may be that one circular out of twenty may be immensely interesting to the recipient. If that is so, the service will proceed.
The hon. Member for Openshaw was very unfair and unreasonable in pointing to certain criticisms made in Questions in the House about the postal service. It was an appalling statement for an hon. Member associated with the. Union of Post Office Workers. On both sides of the House there is a very profound feeling of gratitude to and appreciation of the postman. He is on the whole the friend of those whom he serves, and I think that a great part of the prestige of the British postal service arises entirely from the quality of the postman and his attitude towards his job. He still speaks of "going on duty," and to a postman it is a duty. Although after the war some rum ones were drafted into the service in various ways, this situation has now considerably improved and the postman is back on his old standard as a public servant who is immensely admired and who justifies that admiration. The hon. Member is wrong in assuming that because we criticise the proposal we are in any way critical of the postman or that because sometimes hon. Members have to draw attention to deficiencies, they are critical of the postman's work.
I want now to say a word about the unfortunate circumstances in which this situation has arisen. The most unfortunate situation has been created by—
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) for being instrumental in giving me a little rest in the middle of my speech and for having brought an added number of hon. Members to listen to my words of wisdom.
I was saying that a good deal of the criticism about this unfortunate state of affairs can fairly be directed at the Union of Post Office Workers. It is, to say the least of it, extremely unfortunate that its executive did not take more steps to determine the attitude of its members to this service. My right hon. Friend was perfectly justified in taking the view that the service was approved of by the executive and had at least a reasonable chance of being approved of by the average postal worker. A good deal of the criticism in this connection can be directed at the Union of Post Office Workers—
Will the hon. Gentleman accept the fact that the executive council of the Union of Post Office Workers lid everything that any reasonable person could expect it to do? It took the views of the members on the question of the household delivery service. It then convened the annual conference of the Union and accepted the expressed decision and will of those present at it. There is this constant reiteration that it is the Union of Post Office Workers that is responsible for the atmosphere that now exists within the Post Office, but I say that the person responsible is the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General.
The hon. Member is quite entitled to defend his own union—I would expect him to do that—but I repeat that it would have been at least desirable had the union taken more steps to ascertain its members' views, or, if it failed to do that, had taken the usual steps to manage the conference when it was convened [HON. MEMBERS: "Of."] It should have adopted one or other of those procedures.
It is a little unkind of the hon. Gentleman to blame my right hon. Friend for accepting the word of the executive of the Union of Post Office Workers. In all the circumstances, it does not seem unreasonable that he should have done so—
The hon. Gentleman has said that the executive of the Union of Post Office Workers gave its word to the Postmaster-General. I hope he has some proof of that. The Postmaster-General has told the House that the executive stated its view, but for the hon. Gentleman to say that it gave the right hon. Gentleman its word is a vastly different thing.
I would hope that, in this connection, "view" and "word" meant the same thing. When my right hon. Friend talks to the union he must sound its executive's views. He is entitled to say that those on the executive are responsible people who, when they give a view, give one consistent with what they truly think and feel. I do not think shat my right hon. Friend was unreasonable in taking the view he did—
My right hon. Friend was quite right to go ahead with this proposal, and I will tell the House why. I do not particularly like the idea of postmen delivering unaddressed packages. I wish it were possible to avoid their having to do it, but the House will appreciate that the Post Office is one of those activities in which the great cost is wages. The House must face that. Every year the postman comes along and wants more wages. I do not complain about that, but the fact remains that the postman wants more wages. Clearly, there is a limit to the extent to which increased efficiency in the Post Office can take account of and overcome the increased cost of wages. Therefore, if we are not to have a further rise in the cost of the postal services, we must have either greater efficiency each year or find some other source of revenue.
I do not like this source of revenue. In a sense, it is not the sort of thing the postman necessarily wants to do. It is not the thing I should like to see him doing if we could run the Post Office and give these increased wages every year without it, but where we have a service in which a huge part of the cost is in wages, and those wages are increasing every year, my right hon. Friend has either to find increased efficiency in the service, or new services to work, or he must increase the cost of the postal services.
I am bitterly opposed to any further increase in the cost of the postal services. I want to see that kept at its present level, but my right hon. Friend must get greater efficiency from the Post Office—
This is one of the important matters. With whom must the Postmaster-General co-operate to achieve that efficiency? Surely, it is with the workers. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have been concerned with this problem for a long time, because for about 16 years I have been a member of the Post Office Advisory Council. I realise that the co-operation of the workers is absolutely essential to the solution of the Department's problem, and the fact of this service being introduced against the wishes of the workers will itself tend to worsen the situation when it comes to consideration of all these things.
This may be introduced against the wish of some of the workers, but not of all the workers. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is only with the co-operation of the postal workers that we shall get the increased efficiency that will make it possible to keep the cost of the postal services at least at their present level. I should not like to think that the dispute over this service will interfere with the long-term co-operation between my right hon. Friend and the Post Office workers.
This has been an unfortunate matter, made the more unfortunate by the attempt to make political propaganda out of it. But I am convinced that it will not interfere with the postman's sense of duty, which is very strong, and his desire to co-operate with the Post Office in increasing efficiency. I am sure that the average postman knows that it is not a practical proposition to increase postal charges yet further, and that the only way we can get away from this grievous possibility is by increasing efficiency and finding new services.
I hope that this will see the end of this dispute, and that we shall have these circulars delivered to those who want them and those who do not want them, so that we can see at the end of 12 months or two years what is the merit of this proposal. If it has commercial value it will continue and if it has not it will fail. All I ask hon. Members opposite is not to try to make further political propaganda at the expense of good relations between the Post Office workers and the Postmaster-General.
I can appreciate the difficulties with which hon. Members opposite are faced. After listening to the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), I have great sympathy with him, because the speech which he has made was certainly not up to his usual standard. I appreciate that when an hon. Member is doing a filibuster of this kind—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members opposite are filibustering, as they know full well. That was the reason I called a Count, to see whether those for whom they were waiting would arrive. I appreciate the difficulties, and I think it essential that one or two hon. Members on this side should help them if they are not capable of conducting a filibuster properly.
The question that we are faced with is whether, in pursuance of this alleged economic stability of the Post Office, we shall not so undermine the relationship between the Postmaster-General and the postmen as to seriously damage the postal services of the country. No matter what the hon. Member for Cheadle thinks, this is what the House has to face.
I think that the Postmaster-General will admit that there has been a serious deterioration of the relationship between the Union of Post Office Workers and the Postmaster-General during recent months. I have experience of both nationalised and private industry and, in my view, no matter what else one does, it is impossible to maintain any degree of efficiency in any industrial or commercial unit unless there is a firm cooperation between management and workers.
The introduction of this unstamped delivery service is unquestionably causing a great deal of concern to postmen. It is no good the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) saying that we have not had letters from constituents. I have.
It is a fair question. I do not mind it being asked. It is possible for hon. Members to so frame and distort things as to be able to invite people. No doubt this is in the hon. Member's mind because it is a practice in which he indulges when it suits his purpose. I assure him that the postman who called on me to discuss the subject with me, on behalf of his colleagues at the Coleford and Lydney post offices, was not invited by me to call at my home. He came entirely of his own volition, at the request of his colleagues, to discuss my attitude to this issue.
I have had delegations from my constituency. I have had letters from my constituents. I received a delegation in the Palace of Westminster. They came from the Union of Post Office Workers, and perhaps, it was unfortunate that they did not put in a green card for the hon. Member for Hereford. I can assure the hon. Member that they left me in no doubt about their attitude towards this service.
Has the Postmaster-General gone into this matter in the way he ought to have done? Let us be quite clear that there is a possibility of a breakdown of postal services if this service is introduced against the wishes and in opposition to postmen generally.
The trouble with the hon. Member is that he never gets a new idea. I dealt with that point two or three minutes ago, but if the hon. Member wants me to tell him again I will tell him. I knew that hon. Members opposite were hanging on to the debate until their colleagues had arrived, and all I wanted to do was to find out whether they had arrived.
No, and some hon. Members opposite are still willing to do a filibuster. I said that I would help them out.
To return to the point I was making, the Postmaster-General is in danger of undermining the efficiency of the postal services by the introduction of this new service because, if he cannot get the fullest co-operation of the postmen themselves, the normal delivery service may break down.
There are some technical difficulties, about which the right hon. Gentleman will know more than I do myself, but I wonder what would happen if, as the hon. Member for Cheadle suggests, all the people who want to advertise in one way or another or send samples use this service. Leaving aside for the moment the political organisations, Aims of Industry and the other pseudo-Tory organisations, which are likely to flood the mail in the next few weeks before the General Election, what will happen if there is a big demand for the service? What if it becomes a raging success?
Is the Postmaster-General satisfied that, if it is a successful venture, he either has the staff now necessary to carry the service through or he will be able to engage sufficient of the right calibre of staff to do the job? Presumably, one must take it that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to introduce the service if he did not think that it was going to he successful. If, in the first place, one undermines industrial relations with the existing staff of the Post Office. and, in the second place, one cannot convince the House of Commons that it will be possible to secure sufficient staff for the purpose, there ought to be second thoughts, even at this late stage.
This is the problem which the Postmaster-General faces, and, if he cannot give the House assurances that, if the venture is successful, he can produce an adequacy of the right type of staff, it would be wrong for the House to give its consent to the introduction of the service.
That is a fair question. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman grins all over his face as he puts it. Perhaps he thinks that he is very clever. As far as I am concerned, it is a fair question, though hypothetical. If the service were a terrific success, and if we were able to overcome the objections which I am at the moment putting to the Postmaster-General, it would be wrong for a Government to discontinue it.
But this is not the point. We would then be acting in accordance with ex- perience, and anybody undertaking a commercial venture must be able to assess the degree of difficulty likely to be encountered in the introduction of a service. I am posing not what may happen in two years' time, but the problems which may arise from the Postmaster-General's actions.
I hope that the Postmaster-General will answer these two questions. First, is he satisfied that he can pursue a service on the basis of a lack of co-operation on the part of the people who are to operate it? Secondly, is he satisfied that, in the event of the service being successful, he will be able to find adequate staff to maintain it in its entirety?
I now turn to consider the people who are to receive these documents.
It is equally important as the points raised by the hon. Member for Cheadle.
Suppose I do not want these documents and want to discourage people from delivering such matter as this. Right hon. Members opposite have always argued that an Englishman's home is his castle and that there should not be any infringement of the Englishman's privacy. My home begins at my gate, and I have a right to say who shall come in that gate and what shall be brought within it. If I do not want the postman to deliver to me circulars advertising various types of deodorants—which, I may conclude, is a veiled insult to me—and similar types of literature. I should be able to say that I do not want them.
I do not get unwanted telephone calls. I get inconvenient telephone calls. I live in my constituency and my constituents ring me up at hours when I think they should not do so—perhaps at ten minutes to ten on a Saturday evening, and sometimes later, when the problem is an acute one to them.
I hope that my hon. Friend will have sufficient confidence in my ability to deal with interventions.
As I say, I have never had an unwanted telephone call in my life. No doubt, like the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris), if he lives in his constituency, I have a constant barrage of telephone calls, but I recognise that the difficulty with which my constituent is faced, trivial though it may sometimes appear to me, is most important to him. As my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) has so ably pointed out, the calls are paid for at the full rate.
Will the hon. Member help me out by telling me how he draws the final moral distinction between a circular which is put in a 3d. or a 2½d. envelope and one which has no stamp?
I do not draw the moral distinction at all. What I know is that the number of circulars that come to me already in this type of post when they have been paid for is too many. I get far too much advertising in my post and I do not see why I should spend my time dealing with it, even if it is merely opening the envelope, reading the contents and throwing them away. I am afraid that I will be deluged by pamphlets of this kind if the service is introduced.
Why is it being introduced? The hon. Member for Cheadle says that I should draw a moral distinction from the type of litera ture which I now get in the 3d. or 2½d. post. I object to that type of literature, but what I object to even more is that the Postmaster-General is making it easier for me to receive a far greater measure of this type of literature than I receive now.
This may be illegal, but if my constituents take my advice they will put the literature into an envelope, seal it, address it to the senders and put it back in post boxes unstamped. That is the way to deal with it. If the Postmaster-General institutes a service that I am not desirous of enduring, which will enable any commercial organisation to send documents to my home, which consider to be an infringement of my privacy, and into the homes of my constituents, which is an infringement also of their privacy, the only way they can deal with them is to send them back to the people who sent them to them and to let those persons pay the surcharge.
Would it not be easier to cross out "The Occupier" and readdress it to the Postmaster-General? I have already done this. I received two, one for myself and one for my husband, who died in November, so I readdressed them in that way. I do not know whether the Postmaster-General has yet had them. I am advising my constituents. and I am entitled to do so, not to put these things in a 3d. envelope, but simply to cross out "The Occupier" and send them to the Postmaster-General and let him have a go.
The point about my suggestion is that this material will be sent to me, I understand, without an envelope. Instead of being civil servants, men with a degree of dignity, postmen will be degraded into leaflet distributors. These circulars are to be sent to me without envelopes. If I am asked to put them into envelopes and address them to the right hon. Gentleman I might just as well send them back to those who infringed my privacy. Sending them back to the right hon. Gentleman will simply mean their going into the waste paper basket. If I return them to the senders unstamped, they will go through the Post Office services, producing the biggest possible blockage of the works. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is not a new suggestion. What I am saying about it now may well give additional publicity to it, but it has been suggested before and, no doubt, will be used extensively.
The right hon. Gentleman is introducing this delivery in face of the fiercest opposition of those who are to operate it. The hon. Member for Cheadle said that the union executive was consulted by the Postmaster-General. But in all negotiations union officials meet the employers representatives first. They may agree with a proposal in principle, but they still have to take it back to their members.
There is no rigging at a union conference. It is not like the Tory Party conference. One cannot rig a union conference as the hon. Member for Cheadle suggested that the Post Office workers should have rigged their conference. The lads in the trade union movement are as suspicious of union officials as they are of employers when it comes to accepting any proposals.
My hon. Friend says "No", but it is a healthy attitude for trade unionists to take. I think that I can claim, however, that I had no difficulty with my members. I had their confidence. Nevertheless, I hope they were always suspicious when I presented a proposal to them. The national executive of the Union of Post Office Workers was correct in telling the right hon. Gentleman that it agreed with this proposal in principle, but the people who determine the union's policy are the members.
Even at this stage, if the men in the Post Office do not want this Household Delivery Service—and they are not likely to co-operate on it with the right hon. Gentleman—it is incumbent upon him to have the courage to withdraw it.
Those who have listened to the debate tonight wonder why it is taking place at all. Most of the arguments which have been put forward were put forward, at greater or lesser length, in last week's debate. I want to examine the attitude of mind of hon. Members opposite, and to try to understand what has caused them to oppose this scheme. I believe that it is partly sheer Luddism, partly anti-commercial advertising, and partly anti-modernisation.
The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) referred to the Postmaster-General as not having obtained the approval of the Post Office union. That is an important point to make. But it would be a great mistake to follow it up—as he almost suggested—by saying that the Post Office union, which, I agree, is a very responsible one, should have the right to veto something put forward by the Post Office.
My right hon. Friend was quite right to consult the union on this scheme, over a period of eight months. He would have been the subject of criticism if he had not done so, but we cannot accept an argument that the union should have the right to veto a commercial proposition put forward by the Post Office.
I welcomed the view of the hon. Member that once this matter has been fought out in the House by political action it will be wrong for the union to engage in industrial action, but my hon. Friends and I resented his suggestion that the Tory Party had attempted to introduce this proposal so as to evade the provisions of the Representation of the People Act. In effect, that is what he said, and it is an extremely serious allegation. I attempted to interrupt him at that point in his speech to ask him to substantiate his allegation, but he would not give way.
Does not the hon. Member agree that if the Government introduce a scheme which gives one party an advantage over the other—which alters the balance between the two parties and allows the friends of one party more easily to put over its propaganda—that is really providing a way round the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, and is a deplorable thing?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention, but it has not been substantiated that this is what will happen as a result of my right hon. Friend's scheme. There are other leaflets. I have never noticed any lack of resources on the part of some of the large trade unions. They are entitled to put out what documents they wish within the provisions of these Regulations. The hon. Member for Barnsley made this serious allegation, and if it is to be made from the Opposition Front Bench it ought to be substantiated. It was not substantiated this evening.
The other interesting thing about the debate is that to some extent we are reversing the normal political situation. Usually, it is the Labour Party which wishes to extend the work of public authorities. It says, "Let the air corporations do additional work; do not let private enterprise muscle in."
That interruption illustrates the danger of giving way. The hon. Member has anticipated the trend of my argument. The party opposite says, "Do not shut down the railway workshops. Let them continue their commercial activities." It is suggested that they should be allowed to manufacture rolling stock, for example. Hon. Members on this side are accused of opposing any such extension. So it may be said that tonight, to some extent, we have changed sides. It is odd that hon. Members opposite should be attacking a proposal to give a public authority an opportunity to compete on fair terms with private enterprise.
Another relevant point which has not been sufficiently ventilated is that in 1938 the postage rate was 1½d. Today, it is 3d. But if the postage rate had kept pace with the cost of living it would now be nearer 6d. That is a tribute to the efficiency of the Post Office and to my right hon. Friend, who has made a considerable effort to keep down postage costs so that our postal rate compares favourably with that of other countries in Western Europe.
It would be harmful to interfere, as hon. Members opposite are attempting to do, with the extension of the commercial activities of the Post Office. It is not only a question, as has been suggested, of the £300,000 profit which would result from this service, and which is most important. There is also the substantial contribution which the turnover of the service will make in meeting the Post Office overheads.
I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is trying to build up a case in a sensible way. Would not he agree that we should seriously consider the proposition that circulars which are delivered all over the country are unwanted by householders? Is he aware that many monopoly firms deliver them by engaging labour on a day rate, and that this is regarded as distasteful work.
The hon. Gentleman has anticipated a point which I was proposing to make.
I wish to emphasise the importance of gaining as much revenue as possible for the Post Office in order to keep down the cost of other services. If it were found that this service interfered with the normal postal services—there is, as yet, no evidence of that—but were that the price of having this service, I should be against it. It is up to this House to give the Post Office a chance to see whether it can operate this service and still maintain the efficiency of other Post Office services.
Every day I find something in my letterbox which has been distributed by commercial organisations. I never read any of them. Most of them are commercial—
It is possible to tell at a glance the difference between an insurance leaflet and a Labour Party pamphlet.
The important point is that I do not know who has delivered this literature. Shall I know, after this service is in operation, whether it has been delivered by the postman or by the employee of a firm unless I actually see it delivered? I suggest that some hon. Members opposite are being a little thin-skinned on this point. It is a fundamental human right to be able to throw away this advertising literature unread. This, I think, is essentially a fundamental human right, but it will be in no way interfered with by the scheme which my right hon. Friend has proposed.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give us an assurance this evening that if one puts a notice above one's letterbox saying "No circulars" that will be given attention to by the Post Office. There is a much greater chance of having control and assurance that this would not be disregarded if the service is carried on by the Post Office than it may be if it is carried on by commercial firms, some of whom may be reputable but some not. It is only fair to give the Post Office a chance to show that it can engage in this scheme and compete effectively with private firms.
We have had a good-humoured and lighthearted debate this evening, and I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for contributions which they have made. I promise the House that nothing I say—and I have not been provoked this evening by hon. Members opposite—will sour the atmosphere of this debate.
Since we had the second round of this controversy in this House last week, talks have taken place between the executive of the Union of Post Office Workers and my officials, talks which have taken place in a very amicable atmosphere. They have covered a wide range of operational factors concerned with this service. My people have made a certain number of operational concessions and will discuss other possibilities with the union in the near future. I say that to the House because it is important in the case of a new service like this, which is bound to have teething troubles during its early stages, that we should be able to show that we are prepared to give-and-take and to behave like reasonable people.
I also want to assure the House that there will be no deterioration whatever in normal postal services, but at the same time this new service, for reasons very eloquently stated by several of my hon. Friends tonight, will go on. I take up a small point made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. C. Morris), who took a rather unhappy view of the expenditure of the Post Office on advertising the postal service. I think he felt that expenditure was a waste of money. I have never felt so nor has my Department, nor indeed has the Union of Post Office Workers, who were enthusiastic supporters of this advertising campaign.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) made one of his typically wise and witty speeches. I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) and my hon. Friend the Mem- ber for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), who have taken such a close interest in Post Office affairs and spoke so incisively this evening.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) is not in his place, because I wanted to congratulate him not only on the lucidity of his speech, but also on, for him, its unusual brevity. I thought he made a very wise remark when he commented on the capacity of people outside this House to comment on the doings of politicians and political parties when things go wrong, because then, of course, they happen to have news value.
One of the curious things in this life is that when Lord Robens is able to make quite a modest profit on the coal industry songs of praise appear in all the newspapers, and when Dr. Beeching reduces a fantastic loss on the railways to a slightly less fantastic one he also has praise heaped on his head, but if I as a political animal were to announce in this House tonight the financial profit which the Post Office will probably make during the current financial year I, being a politician, would get nothing but brickbats from outside this House. This applies to both parties.
On Tuesday of last week the House rejected an Opposition Motion to exclude from the new service political literature and other highly contentious matter. I realise that several of the speeches which were made in that debate expressed objections to the service in general. Even so, I think that it is a reasonable inference that at that time the Opposition as a whole at least acquiesced in the decision to introduce the new service as such, otherwise there is no reason why they should not have elected to pray against these Regulations last week instead of tonight. Of course, had they done so successfully, they would have killed the service and automatically, in the process, would have halted the distribution of unaddressed political leaflets. After all, the greater includes the less even in this place.
Having failed to persuade the House to accept their limited Motion, they have decided this evening that they do not want the service at all. What I do not understand is why it should be supposed that the House, having refused to swallow the gnat, will find even more digestible the camel which it has been offered tonight.
Even so, I welcome the opportunity which this debate gives me to try to clear up once and for all—and I hope that it is once and for all—any doubt which may remain in hon. Member's minds as to the value of this new service.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to deceive the House. He will recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) made it clear in the earlier debate that there is a strong view in favour of opposing the service as a whole, but, anticipating that the House might approve the service, he wanted to mitigate some of the damage which it would do in this respect.
If that were the sincerely held view of the right hon. Member for Belper—and I do not question that it was—then the Motion put down by Her Majesty's Opposition ought to have been framed in much broader terms than it was last Tuesday.
Before I come to the substance of my case I want to refer to one small slip made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West because he appeared to think that if this Prayer were carried, which I believe is most unlikely, the effect would be that the Household Delivery Service itself would go by the board and nothing else in particular would happen.
It is my duty to tell the House that the Prayer itself is not directed solely against this service. It is directed against the whole of the inland postal services of this country. I am legally advised that if the Prayer were successful, then tomorrow there would be no legal basis whatever for carrying on a postal service in this country. I therefore hope that hon. Members opposite will reflect well on what they are doing and will consider that if they force this issue to a Division, they are liable to go down in history not only as the party which wanted to introduce political censorship into the Post Office but, worse still, as the Party which wanted to abolish the Post Office altogether.
The right hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House, nor is he a political innocent. In effect, if we succeeded in our vote against the 1963 Post Office Regulations we should revert to the 1962 Regulations, the only difference being that the new service is not embodied in the 1962 Regulations.
The hon. Gentleman has not taken the best legal advice. I have been to extreme lengths to find out what the exact legal position is, and I assure the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that when I state a legal opinion, although I am not a legal man myself, it is invariably right.
I come to the case which has been deployed from the Opposition benches tonight—here I want to be quite serious, because this is a serious subject—on the question whether the service is necessary at all. The hon. Member for Barnsley said that he was against innovations of this sort that smacked of commercialism. I am surprised that he should take this view. I am surprised for two reasons. First, we all know that the practice for firms and organisations in this country to use outside agencies for postal deliveries has been growing at the expense of the Post Office over the last ten years. Secondly, a proportion of second-class mail is not at present handled in the most efficient way by the Post Office itself.
Let me illustrate this to the House. It often happens that people, firms, organisations, want to communicate with large numbers of people and sometimes, indeed, to communicate with all the people in either a given town or a given part of a town or city. It is surely right that the Post Office should try to meet this need in the most efficient way possible.
I should like the House to think for a moment or two about what has happened in the past and what can happen under the new service. When one of our customers says to us now, "I have 50,000 leaflets or circulars, and I want you to deliver one to each house in a certain locality", what does the Post Office do? In the past we have said, "That is fine, but first you must address the circulars or leaflets to the occupier of each house at which you want one delivered. You must put on a 2½d. stamp or meter-frank the envelope, and then hand the packets over to the Post Office". The Post Office would then have to go through the chore of sorting them into the order in which they are to be delivered. They would then be taken out by postmen in the ordinary course of their work. Because of the work we have to do in sorting, the probability is that the Post Office would barely cover its costs. It is the fact that at this moment we are losing about £1½ million a year on second class mail. This existing system can be a burden not only to our customers. It can also be a financial burden as a losing service to the Post Office.
What happens, by contrast, under the new service? The leaflets or circulars, or whatever they may happen to be, are handed over in bulk. There is no laborious addressing. There are no envelopes to be paid for. There are no stamps to be stuck on. There is no metering to be done. At the end of the day there is a rebate of up to 50 per cent. in the charge to the Post Office's customers. On our side there is no sorting. Postmen take them out and deliver them just as they would have done had they been addressed. The Post Office into the bargain will make a profit out of this business. Therefore, this new service is advantageous all round—not only to the Post Office, and therefore to the public financially, but also to our customers.
Some hon. Members have queried whether the need for this service really exists. Long before this service was ever introduced—when I say "long before" I mean about four years ago—all sorts of inquiries were made of various organisations. Inquiries were made abroad. There was every indication that this was a service which would be a useful addition to the services which we give to the public.
One or two hon. Gentlemen have repeated the allegation this evening that the delivery of this matter would be somehow or other degrading to the postmen.
I can well understand the view that postmen would not wish to be regarded as distributors of mere throw-away literature, but this is not throw-away literature. This is not a service on the dirt cheap, and the vast majority of postmen in the service of the G.P.O. are sensible people who, after a little experience of this service, will, I am convinced, come to realise why it in no way detracts from the dignity of their main task of ensuring the correct delivery of the nation's first-class mail.
On the estimates of my advisers, during the first year we will probably deliver about 150 million of these leaflets and circulars. This means about 15 unaddressed leaflets for every 1,000 addressed items.
The hon. Member for Barnsley accused me of having made a hasty decision and of having introduced the service precipitantly. That is a most extraordinary allegation. I have been Postmaster-General for more than four years and one of my first acts after taking office was to set up a study of the possibilities of this service, among others. This study was completed in 1962 and early in 1963 I was ready to go ahead with the service.
Proposals were put to the staff associations, but because the executive of the Union of Post Office Workers wished to consult its membership at its annual conference in May last year I agreed, at the request of the union, to postpone the introduction of the service until that consultation took place. As the House knows, the conference rejected the executive's recommendation that it should co-operate in the setting up of the service and, once again—since I had no wish to be provocative—I decided to delay still further the introduction of the service.
The time came, nine months after that decision, that, in fairness not only to the customers of the Post Office but the public at large—who, after all, will benefit financially from this scheme—I decided that I could not go on deferring for ever. I decided, therefore, to introduce the scheme last month; and this was almost a year after I had formally approached the union. This delay may have cost the Post Office as much as £¼ million.
I am always prepared to discuss this and other matters with any of the Post Office unions, but at the same time—as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North pointed out—it would be wholly wrong if any Minister were prepared to be dictated to by a sectional interest in a matter of this kind. To be fair to the Union of Post Office Workers, I am sure that any sense of dictation has never been in its mind.
Several hon. Members have referred to the question of profitability. I expect that this will prove to be a good thing for the Post Office. In the first year we reckon that our revenue will be rather less than £1 million and on that we expect to make a profit of about £300,000. That is worth while and I think that I would be failing in my duty if I were to fail to introduce this scheme.
The hon. Member for Barnsley—and, I suppose naturally, other hon. Members opposite—have referred again to the inequity of our accepting political leaflets for distribution by the service. Only last week the House rejected, and rejected decisively, the Opposition objections to this part of the scheme, and I think that I should be guilty of discourtesy to the House if I dealt at any great length with those issues this evening.
I should just like to say one final word. The Post Office as we now know it was established 300 years ago. During the whole of that time it has carried the literature, the arguments and the propaganda of every political party, every sect and every faction in the country, and never until now has there been the smallest suggestion that the Post Office was wrong to do so. It has taken the Labour Party, a party which prides itself on its democratic principles, to be the first to advocate political censorship of the mails, a doctrine which has not found support in a single national newspaper or, indeed, in a single commentary of Socialist opinion in the country, and which will certainly find no support in the House tonight.
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, he made rather serious remarks at the start about the effect of having a Division. Will he tell me exactly what Regulation 57 means? It says:
The Regulations mentioned in Schedule 8 are hereby revoked.
If the Prayer were carried, they would not be revoked. It is as simple as that. The right hon. Gentleman should not mislead the House.
I do not want to weary the House, but out of courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, who a moment ago was so courteous to me, perhaps I might tell him—this is not my opinion but an eminent legal opinion—that the Regulations could not be annulled in part. A successful Prayer would kill the whole of the Regulations.
According to Section 5(1) of the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946, if the House resolves that an Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that an Instrument be annulled, then no further proceedings shall be taken thereunder after the date of the Resolution. The opinion goes on to say that the effect of a Resolution would be that until fresh Regulations were made there would, in effect, be no Regulations relating to the inland postal service, and the most difficult consequence would be that the postal charges made in the meantime would be without legal authority.
|Division No. 22.]||AYES||[10.3 p.m.|
|Ainsley, William||Callaghan, James||Fitch, Alan|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Carmichael, Neil||Foley, Maurice|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)|
|Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central)||Collick, Percy||Galpern, Sir Myer|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Gourlay, Harry|
|Barnett, Guy||Crossman, R. H. S.||Grey, Charles|
|Beaney, Alan||Dalyell, Tam||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)|
|Bence, Cyril||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)|
|Benn, Anthony Wedgwood||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Diamond, John||Hamilton, William (West Fife)|
|Blackburn, F.||Dodds, Norman||Hannan, William|
|Blyton, William||Doig, Peter||Harper, Joseph|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics, S. W.)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Hayman, F. H.|
|Boyden, James||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Herbison, Miss Margaret|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Evans, Albert||Hill, J. (Midlothian)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Fernyhough, E.||Holman, Percy|
|Houghton, Douglas||Mendelson, J. J.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Howie, W. (Luton)||Millan, Bruce||Snow, Julian|
|Hoy, James H.||Milne, Edward||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Mitchison, G. R.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Monslow, Walter||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Morris, Charles (Openshaw)||Steele, Thomas|
|Hunter, A. E.||Morris, John||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Neal, Harold||Stonehouse, John|
|Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Stones, William|
|Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Oliver, G. H.||Symonds, J. B.|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Oram, A. E.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Oswald, Thomas||Thornton, Ernest|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Paget, R. T.||Tomney, Frank|
|Kenyon, Clifford||Parker, John||Wainwright, Edwin|
|King, Dr. Horace||Parkin, B. T.||Warbey, William|
|Lawson, George||Pavitt, Laurence||Weitzman, David|
|Ledger, Ron||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Pentland, Norman||Whitlock, William|
|Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Lipton, Marcus||Rankin, John||Willey, Frederick|
|Loughlin, Charles||Reynolds, G. W.||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Rhodes, H.||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|McBride, N.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|MacColl, James||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|McInnes, James||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)||Woof, Robert|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Ross, William||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Mahon, Simon||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Manuel, Archie||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)||Mr. Redhead and Mr. McCann.|
|Mason, Roy||Small, William|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Elliott, R.W.(Newc'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Emery, Peter||Longbottom, Charles|
|Allason, James||Farr, John||Loveys, Walter H.|
|Anderson, D. C.||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Lubbook, Eric|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Foster, John||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn|
|Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Balniel, Lord||Gammans, Lady||McLaren, Martin|
|Barlow, Sir John||Gardner, Edward||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia|
|Barter, John||Gibson-Watt, David||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Batsford, Brian||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, w.)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||McMaster, Stanley R.|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Goodhew, Victor||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Gough, Frederick||Maddan, Martin|
|Bidgood, John C.||Gower, Raymond||Maginnis, John E.|
|Biffen, John||Grant-Ferris, R.||Maitland, Sir John|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Green, Alan||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Gresham Cooke, R.||Marlowe, Anthony|
|Bishop, F. P.||Grosvenor, Lord Robert||Marten, Neil|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Gurden, Harold||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Halt, John (Wycombe)||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)|
|Brewis, John||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Maude, Angus (Stratford-on-Avon)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Mawby, Ray|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Browne, Percy (Torrington)||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Mills, Stratton|
|Bryan, Paul||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Buck, Antony||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Bullard, Denys||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Hendry, Forbes||Morrison, John|
|Channon, H. P. C.||Hiley, Joseph||Mott-Radclyfle, Sir Charles|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)||Neave, Airey|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence(Portsmth, W.)||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Quintin||Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael|
|Cooke, Robert||Holland, Philip||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hope, Rt. Hon. Lord John||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon, Dame P.||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K,||Howard, Hon. C. R. (St. Ives)||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Cordle, John||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Partridge, E.|
|Corfield, F. V.||Hughes-Young, Michael||Pearson, Frank (Ciltheroe)|
|Costain, A. P.||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Peel, John|
|Coulson, Michael||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Percival, Ian|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Jackson, John||Peyton, John|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||James, David||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Crowder, F. P.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Pounder, Rafton|
|Dance, James||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch|
|Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Pym, Francis|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Kirk, Peter||Quennell, Miss J, M.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M.||Lagden, Godfrey||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Doughty, Charles||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Renton, Rt. Hon. David|
|Duncan, Sir James||Litchfield, Capt. John||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carehaton)||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut' nC' dfield)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Rippon, Rt. Hon. Geoffrey||Studholme, Sir Henry||Wade, Donald|
|Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)||Summers, Sir Spencer||Wall, Patrick|
|Roots, William||Tapsell, Peter||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Russell, Ronald||Taylor, Sir William (Bradford, S.)||Webster, David|
|Sandys, Rt. Hon. Duncan||Teeling, Sir William||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Scott-Hopkins, James||Temple, John M.||Whitelaw, William|
|Sharples, Richard||Thompson, Sir, Richard (Croydon S.)||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Shaw, M.||Thornton-Kentsley, Sir Colin||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Shepherd, William||Thorpe, Jeremy||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)||Wise, A. R.|
|Spearman, Sir Alexander||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Speir, Rupert||Turner, Colin||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Stainton, Keith||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.||Woollam, John|
|Stanley, Hon. Richard||Tweedsmuir, Lady||Worsley, Marcus|
|Stevens, Geoffrey||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)||Vane, W. M. F.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Stodart, J. A.||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Mr. Finlay and Mr. MacArthur.|