I am as amazed as my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) that this great Department should be singled out to be used as a pawn. One can use no other word to describe the way in which it has been used by the Prime Minister in his statement of 20th July, in which he said that the Post Office would be used to take £20 million out of the economy. Probably hon. Gentlemen do not realise that he went on to say that the telecommunications changes would mean no net increase to the Post Office. Therefore, in the midst of a so-called economic crisis, the Prime Minister was using this opportunity to shuffle about telephone charges, which would in the end mean no net increase to Post Office revenue. This was announced by the Prime Minister rather than by the head of the Department, the Postmaster-General.
But taking this further brings us to the economics of Bedlam. The Post Office "jumped the gun". Either it was used as a pawn to take £20 million out of the economy, or this opportunity was taken to raise prices generally within the Post Office, which was quite contrary to the Second Schedule to the Prices and Incomes Act, to which every trade unionist and manufacturer is expected rigidly to adhere. One can only repeat what my hon. Friend said about paragraph 32, which ought to be framed.
Let us remember that that Schedule was introduced into the Bill only after the House had dealt with the whole Bill. Incidentally, I asked in Committee why the Schedule was not changed, as it was out of date. I was told that there was no need to change it, when, as we now know, the new Second Schedule was already in print to replace it.
Nevertheless, paragraph 32 makes it clear:
The Government intend to apply the principles of the standstill to all prices, charges and fees of Government Departments.
Yet the Prime Minister said, "We are using the Post Office to take £20 million out of the economy."
All right. If we were in such dire straits—this was the principle followed by the Prime Minister—could he not have got us out of them more quickly, on this formula, by raising the price of coal, electricity, gas or railway fares? This would have been just as justified as the action which he took in singling out the Post Office for charges to be raised. Why is it such a marvellous social benefit to the nation that the Post Office should raise its charges, while everyone else in the country is called upon to exercise wage and price restraint, regardless of the increases which have gone on?
Another valid question in this mixed-up situation is this: has the Post Office agreed to pay any increase to its carriers, the contractors who carry the mails all over the world, who have also had additional costs to meet? After all, if the Post Office is allowed, by special treatment, to raise certain charges by between 20 or 30 per cent., surely the carriers ought to have some little share of it. I would like to lay odds that none of these carriers will ever see any of this increase.
So we come back to the basic point, that this Minister of a great Department of State has been reduced to nothing more than a pawn by the Prime Minister's deciding that he will solve the economic situation which he created by his own action. It reminds me of a wife, who always gets one out of difficulties which one would never have got into if one had not married. This is the problem of the present Government, that they have put up all sorts of Aunt Sallies and then seek to convince the nation that they are very expert in knocking them down.
I believe that we are right to move these Prayers. I hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends will press this to a Division, to show how strongly we feel about this whole sordid affair.