asked the Postmaster-General whether, in view of the congestion in many post offices, he will arrange to increase the number of automatic machines from which postage stamps can be obtained.
It is Post Office policy to provide automatic stamp selling machines to the fullest practicable extent as a means of diverting small sales of stamps from post office counters. If the hon. Member will let me know of any particular case in which he thinks the number of such machines might with advantage be increased I will gladly consider the matter.
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that there are a great many instances throughout the country of the need for these machines which avoid an enormous amount of trouble and inconvenience on the part of the public and the employees of the Post Office.
That is not our view. Our trouble is in having to educate the public to use the machines which are in the post offices.
Foreign Postal Packets (Opening)
asked the Postmaster General what instructions he has issued to Post Office officials regarding the opening and perusal of private correspondence between this country and the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth.
In implementation of the provisions of the Foreign Postal Packets (Customs) Warrant, 1948, Statutory Instrument 1948, No. 562, Post Office staff are instructed to open postal packets sent to or from the United Kingdom only if required to do so by the proper officer of Customs and Excise for Customs purposes or for the purpose of the provisions of Part IV of the Exchange Control Act, 1947, and to reseal promptly and put in course of transmission all packets when released by the Customs. It is no part of the duty of Post Office staff to examine correspondence contained in such packets.
But this is a matter of great importance. How can the hon. Gentleman justify interference with the private correspondence of a constituent of mine with a relative—a sister who has been in Canada for the last 30 years? Is this a corollary to the invasion of the home and the examination of private shopping baskets? Is that what the Government are after?
The reasons have been stated in the answer to the Question.
But did the hon. Gentleman understand what the answer was, for I did not?
Perfectly—otherwise I should not have given it.
asked the Postmaster-General what is the relative manpower now compared to pre-war concerned with deliveries of letters.
I regret that figures relating solely to the delivery of letters are not available, but for postal deliveries, collections and allied operations, the comparable numbers of postmen employed (each part-timer counted as one-half) were: 1st April, 1939, 78,899; 1st April, 1949, 76,176.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the figures he has just given justify the statement of his right hon. Friend the other day in which he said that the pre-war facilities of early delivery and late collection of letters were not possible because of the manpower shortage? The figures he has given are very nearly comparable.
Yes, Sir. Of course, the position is that there are now practically no split tours of duty for post office workers such as those which operated before the war and, therefore, more manpower is required for the same services.
Telephones (West Riding)
asked the Postmaster-General how many telephones have been installed at farms in the West Riding during the past six months; and how many of these are being shared by more than one farmer.
In the six months preceding 1st May, 1949, 168 farmers in the West Riding were supplied with telephones. Thirty of them were connected by means of shared service.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the number still in need of telephones, and can he give any assurance that telephones will be installed at a greater rate in these rural areas?
I cannot give that assurance. This is entirely a question of the supply and availability of labour and of telephone equipment in the exchanges.