Post Office (Charges)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th November 1966.

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Photo of Mr Ian Gilmour Mr Ian Gilmour , Norfolk Central 12:00 am, 9th November 1966

My hon. Friends have pointed to the dilemma in which the Postmaster-General finds himself this evening. Either he has to defend these charges on the ground that they were needed to put the Post Office finances right, in which case he convicts his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of double talk on 20th July, or he has to say that they were made necessary by the economic crisis caused by the Government, in which case he will be saying something which is plainly untrue.

This is a very dangerous dilemma for the Postmaster-General, because on 20th July these changes were put forward very much as part of the deflationary package. The Prime Minister filled 12 columns of HANSARD with the details of changes in Post Office charges. I hope that the Government's foreign paymasters were suitably impressed, as they scrutinised HANSARD, to find the Prime Minister taking such an intimate interest in raising the charge of an alarm call from 9d. to 1s. It was the first time for a very long time—in any case since 1955—that the Post Office had been trundled out as part of the Government's armoury to deal with the economic crisis, a crisis caused by this Government.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, as my hon. Friend said, he lent himself to this fiction by saying that these measures were an integral part of the measures necessary to remedy the economic situation. This is quite the most absurd part of the Government's economic doctrine, and one cannot say more than that. When private industry puts up its prices, that is inflation. When the Post Office or the Government or a nationalised industry puts up its prices, that is deflation. We are well used to double standards from this Government but this is a bit more than double standards; this is taking opposite standards and making complete nonsense of the entire economic policy of the Government.

It is in complete contrast to what the Government do with other industries. For example, the road hauliers are treated in a totally different way by the Minister of Transport whenever there are any maintenance troubles in that industry. They are revealed publicly, and quite rightly so, but the failures of Post Office maintenance are treated very privately indeed.

What is the case that the Postmaster-General has for saying that these measures were caused by the Government's economic mismanagement? Although the economic mismanagement is an undoubted fact and although these increased charges are also an undoubted fact, that these two are connected is plainly not a fact and does not stand up to examination. On the day before these charges were announced, the Post Office said that it needed tariff increases. As time is short, I will not read them out. Although coincidences happen, this is a fairly considerable coincidence. On one day, tariff changes are said to be necessary. On the next day the Prime Minister suddenly imports into a major economic statement the 12 columns in HANSARD about Post Office charges and alarm calls.

The Postmaster-General, in his truthful way, revealed completely the folly and fallacy of all this, because on 25th July my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) asked the right hon. Gentleman what the effect of these increases would be, and he was told that these charges would remove £1 million of purchasing power in the three months following the Prime Minister's statement. Not even the Postmaster-General—I am sorry; nobody would say that this was an important deflationary measure or that £1 million was an important part of the freeze. By that factual statement the Postmaster-General revealed quite plainly that these charges had nothing to do with the economic crisis into which the Government had led the country.

The contrast between the way in which the launderers are being treated—with the full rigmarole of the Prices and Incomes Act being thundered out against them—and the way in which the Post Office behaves is marked indeed.[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) wishes to intervene he should get to his feet. I think that the hon. Gentleman is a good long way from standing up.

I will not refer to the services having deteriorated, because it is lamentable that the Postmaster-General should have made these increased charges without giving an indication that the services would be improved. It is merely a question of the public having to pay more and more for less and less and worse and worse.