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Post Office

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 14 March 1951

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Technicians (Duties)

2.

asked the Postmaster-General the number of technicians 2A classified as employed on internal duties; and the number of technicians 2A classified as employed on external duties in the Post Office engineering department.

On 23rd February, 1951, there were 9,317 employed on internal duties, and 7,352 on external duties.

Advisory Committees

3.

asked the Postmaster-General whether the membership of the Advisory Committee under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, is complete; how long after the passing of the Act the Committee was nominated; when its first meeting was held; when its last meeting was held; and what advice it has given to him.

Two committees were set up on 26th July, 1950, to consider, in the one case, interference from the ignition systems of certain internal combustion engines, and, in the other, interference from refrigeration apparatus. They are complete in membership. The committee considering ignition systems had its first meeting on 13th September, 1950, and its most recent one on 17th November, 1950; that for refrigeration apparatus met first on 14th September, 1950, and most recently on 26th February, 1951. Neither committee is yet ready to make recommendations.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that on 3rd May last year I asked him what measures he would be prepared to take concerning the suppression, in particular, of interference from motor car engines with television reception? Is it not incredible that this committee, which was set up under an Act passed in 1949, and which first met in 1950, has still made no recommendations on such a simple problem?

I disagree. It is not a simple problem; it is a very difficult one. In view of the consultations which had to take place, as was made perfectly clear during the Committee stage of the Bill, I cannot agree that there has been undue delay.

As we are allowing an increasing number of newly manufactured vehicles to come on to the market without suppressors, thus increasing the problem, can the Assistant Postmaster-General say when he expects that the committee will be able to make its recommendations?

No, I cannot say, but, like the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt), I realise the importance of an early report, and we will do what we can.

Hms "Theseus" (Telegram)

4.

asked the Postmaster-General in what particular the address was incorrect on a cablegram handed in aboard H.M.S. "Theseus" in an operational area on 14th December and delivered in Hill Head, Hampshire, on 29th December last, and which was delayed for that reason.

Inquiries have shown that the address was correctly shown on the telegram handed in on board H.M.S. "Theseus," but my right hon. Friend regrets that mutilation occurred in the course of transmission to this country.

Postmen (Age Limit)

6.

asked the Postmaster-General why, in view of the shortage of manpower, he is placing an upper age limit of 40, or 45 in the case of ex-Service men, on the recruitment of postmen.

The physical effort and exposure to weather involved in the majority of postmen's duties make it necessary to avoid an undue proportion of established postmen in the higher age groups if an efficient service is to be maintained. The postman's class already includes a high proportion of men over the age of 45, as well as of registered disabled men.

In view of the fact that London Transport, for its bus services in the country, finds it possible to employ men over 40, will the hon.

Gentleman state what is the very much larger difficulty in the case of the Post Office?

The fact that there is no parallel between the London Passenger Transport Board and Post Office postal services.

Would the Assistant Postmaster-General say whether this policy has been agreed in consultation with the Minister of Labour, who is trying to encourage the employment of older men?

We are always in consultation with the Ministry of Labour on this question.

Is the Minister aware that his answer is not in accord with the answer which the Minister of Labour gave on an Adjournment debate?

Could you disabuse the minds of the engineers, Mr. Speaker, of the idea that we are such tender plants that we cannot stand the spring sunshine?

That may be so, but, when the sun shines, the whole of that side of the House goes black, and I cannot see anyone. Hon. Members will remember that, in the old House, Members on the Front Bench were continually complaining that they could not see across the House because the sun shone in their eyes. We have to try this plan out, and do our best.

Reverting to the Question, does the hon. Gentleman really think that 45 years of age is too old for postmen to carry out their duties, and, if so, does he apply that principle to the Government Front Bench?

Argentine Air Line (Mail Rate)

7.

asked the Postmaster-General why he pays the Argentine Air Line nearly twice as much for carrying mail from Great Britain to South America as he pays to British Overseas Airways Corporation.

The rates of payment where the use of foreign air services is concerned are prescribed in the Convention of the Universal Postal Union. The Argentine Air Line is used in order to facilitate reciprocity in the interests of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and to accelerate the mail.

While the Postmaster-General is bound to pay not less than the full rate to a foreign airline, that is no reason why he should pay cut prices to a British airline. If the Argentine price is a fair price, why does the Post Office not pay a fair price to our own people?

Because the price paid by the Post Office to B.O.A.C. in this case is negotiated on a purely commercial basis, which, I think, would recommend itself to all sides of the House.

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile the statement that the prices are negotiated on a commercial basis with the fact that the two negotiants are both monopolists?

I said that they are negotiated on a purely commercial basis because that happens to be the fact of the case.

Would the hon. Gentleman study the evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee of the House last year and familiarise himself with the views there expressed?

I am only too familiar with the views expressed. The answer to that is that the Post Office is paying two and a quarter times for mail what the B.O.A.C. receives for passenger traffic and four times the amount it receives for ordinary freight.

Are not airmail rates very much higher than ordinary freight rates because airmail is very much more difficult to handle? How does the Minister justify squeezing a publicly-owned corporation in this way?

I resent that; there is no squeezing. We have been perfectly fair in this matter.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Postal Deliveries, Cardiff

14.

asked the Postmaster-General when he will be able to arrange a later postal collection in this House for letters to be delivered in Cardiff the next day.

Letters for Cardiff posted in time for the 9.15–9.30 p.m. collection at the House of Commons are due to be delivered by first post next week-day. Supplementary collections made after this time depend upon the hour at which the House rises. Letters for Cardiff posted for supplementary collections made up to 10.40–11 p.m. would still be due to secure first delivery next week-day: those posted in subsequent supplementary collections up to 2.40–3 a.m. would normally secure second delivery.

Is my hon. Friend aware that for a long time letters posted at six o'clock have not been delivered next day in my constituency?

Savings Certificates (Children)

16.

asked the Postmast-General whether in view of the continuous rise in the cost of living, he will amend the Savings Certificates statutory regulations so as to provide that parents or guardians may obtain repayment of National Savings certificates held by children under seven years of age.

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir G. Harvie-Watt) on 6th March.

While this matter is being examined between the two Departments, will the hon. Gentleman exercise the special discretion which he possesses and authorise repayment in all cases where the continued rise in the cost of living is causing hardship?

In view of my right hon. Friend's reply last week, I cannot give that assurance.

Surely, quite apart from that point, the hon. Gentleman has a discretion under the existing regulations. Is he or is he not going to exercise that discretion?

I cannot give an answer until the matter has been decided by the Government.

Cable And Wireless

17.

asked the Postmaster-General what action is being taken to remedy the deficiency in technical staff in Cable and Wireless.

The small shortage in the technical establishments transferred to the Post Office is being made good from normal sources of recruitment.

Does the hon. Gentleman's reply mean that there is now no shortage of staff on the technical side of Cable and Wireless?

Had the hon. Gentleman listened to my reply, he would have heard that I did not say that.

18.

asked the Postmaster-General what is the estimated deficiency of operators at Cable and Wireless; what is the average monthly intake of recruits; and how long is the period of training.

The United Kingdom shortage at present is 500, including 231 on ancillary duties. There are 382 recruits in training, with an average monthly intake of 50. The period of training varies from six months for inland operating to 12 months for overseas cable work.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this problem is at the root of the very big decline in the cable service, and is he satisfied that all steps that should be taken are being taken to get the proper number of operators?

It is one of the causes, but I do not think it is one of the main causes. We are giving this matter active consideration.

Is it true that the service is deteriorating since it was nationalised?

19.

asked the Post master-General the total average emoluments, including salary, bonus, overtime, Sunday duty and any other allowances, of a male telegraph operator in the London Station of Cable and Wireless, Ltd., for the years 1946 and 1950, respectively.

The figures are £765 and £592. The hon. Member is no doubt aware, from my right hon. Friend's reply of 28th February, that the former figure includes a non-pensionable and variable profits bonus.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the prospects of these men have deteriorated since nationalisation, and can he give an assurance that pre-nationalisation contracts with these men are still being fulfilled under nationalisation?

This is an industrial matter, and the rates of pay were freely negotiated between the trade unions concerned.

Unions And Associations (Recognition)

20.

asked the Postmaster-General whether the committee appointed by him to advise him on claims for recognition by trade unions and staff associations in the Post Office has yet begun its sittings; and when he expects a report from it.

My right hon. Friend understands that the committee has fixed its first meeting for tomorrow. He is unable to say when it is likely to complete its task.

Will the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend to convey to the committee the fact that among the matters it has to advise upon is a claim which has been outstanding for over a year, and will he also ask his right hon. Friend to urge the Committee to accelerate its sittings?

Postal Deliveries, London

21.

asked the Postmaster-General what steps he is taking to improve the first post deliveries in the St. Marylebone area, in view of the wasted time and inefficiency caused to business firms by the present late deliveries.

26.

asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware that early posts in the Piccadilly and St. James's districts of London have recently been delivered to business and private addresses as late as 10 a.m.; and what action he proposes to take to improve this service.

My right hon. Friend regrets that abnormal sickness and a reorganisation of postmen's duties has led to some delay in completing the first delivery in the districts in question. The position should rapidly improve as the postmen become accustomed to their new rounds, and it is hoped that completion of the delivery by the recognised time will shortly be effected.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there has been very grave dislocation of business owing to the very late deliveries to business firms in this area? Will he try to expedite matters and to ensure that early deliveries are resumed and maintained so that efficiency in business houses may be maintained?

Yes, Sir, we will keep a close watch on that. The latest report I have is that there has been a considerable improvement. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this reorganisation is being undertaken in order to secure a better and more efficient service, and I am convinced that, as a result of the reorganisation. that will ensue.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what the hour of the early delivery is supposed to be, and what it will be when the reorganisation is complete?

Not without notice, but it will compare with deliveries in other parts of the London area.

Can the Assistant Postmaster-General say whether or not the Communist cell which, some years ago, existed in the Western District Office in St. Marylebone, and which, as I was informed by the Post Office, was delaying the sorting of letters, has been eliminated?

I am not aware that there has been any delay for that reason at all. The delay is entirely due to the reallocation and reorganisation of the postmen's walks.

The later evening collection will affect the St. Marylebone area in exactly the same way as any other parts of London where there is an evening collection.

Deliveries, Benfleet

30.

asked the Postmaster-General what steps he is taking to improve postal services in the Benfleet urban district in view of the inconvenience caused by late and irregular deliveries.

My right hon. Friend is looking into this matter and will write to the hon. Member as soon as possible.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in one specific case, particulars of which have been sent to him, first deliveries took place on four days in one week between 11 a.m. and 12.35 p.m.? Is it not about time that my constituents had a very much better service than that? Will he urge upon the Postmaster-General the necessity for speed?

As a result of the hon. Member's complaints we are looking into the matter and I am positive that action, as usual, will be taken.

Mauritian Employees

31.

asked the Postmaster-General how many Mauritians work in the Post Office; and if they receive the same pay and are eligible for the same promotion as the staff recruited from this country.

As regards the first part of the Question, my right hon. Friend regrets that information is not readily available. Mauritians in Post Office employ have the same pay and conditions of service as other members of their grade.

Is that equally true of the Continental Telephone Exchange and does the answer mean that any Post Office worker who comes from any part of the Colonial Empire has no differentiation whatever made against him?