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Post Office

Volume 498: debated on Wednesday 2 April 1952

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Postal Packets, Northern Ireland (Examination)

9, 13 and 27.

asked the Assistant Postmaster-General (1) the terms of the warrant under the authority of which officers of his Department handed over postal packets passing through the Post Office in Belfast for opening and examination;

(2) to whom the officers of his Department hand over letters and other postal packets under warrant; and to what extent such persons are responsible to him for their action while on such premises;

(3) what check his officials in Northern Ireland adopt to see that they receive back the identical letters they pass over to the censors.

I propose, with permission, to answer Questions 9, 13 and 27 together.

If the hon. Gentleman insists upon that, he will probably get the same answer three times.

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits for the answer, when perhaps he will not want me to read it three times.

In this matter I act in Northern Ireland in pursuance of an express warrant in writing under the hand of the Governor, who acts on the advice of the Government of Northern Ireland. The warrant is issued under the prerogative power at common law, which is recognised and preserved by the Post Office Act, 1908, as amended, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, by the Irish Free State (Consequential Provisions) Act, 1922. It not only authorises but requires me to detain and produce for inspection postal packets addressed to a specified individual or individuals. I have no responsibility for the persons carrying out the inspection. The only duty of my Department is to act in accordance with the warrant. I can assure the hon. Member that all proper steps are taken to ensure that letters dealt with under such a warrant are sent on by post.

I have no further responsibility in the matter, and I am unable to give any further information.

Will the hon. Gentleman ask his colleagues to cease talking about the importance of iron curtains abroad if this sort of thing goes on in Northern Ireland, and has not the Press of the United States been referring to this condition of things as "typical Westminster hypocrisy"? Also, will the hon. Gentleman say whether he has received complaints from Belfast about missing letters and postal orders for which his staff are under suspicion, and will he not, therefore, inquire a little further into the conduct of these police officers, who have been recruited on a sectarian and political basis and are responsible to nobody?

I am only responsible for the letters, and I have given the hon. Gentleman the assurances for which he asks.

How would it have been possible to discover the plot of the Irish Republican Army to welcome German forces if they landed in Northern Ireland if it had not been possible to open their letters?

Savings Bank (Nominations, Registration)


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he will alter the present method of registration of nominations in respect of Post Office savings bank accounts so that two nomination forms shall be required to be executed by the nominator and witnessed, one to be retained by the Director of the Post Office Savings Bank and the other to be returned to the nominator after the nomination has been registered by or on behalf of the Director

Consideration is being given to this question in the light of a recent appeal heard by the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his suggestion, and I will see that it is fully examined.

While thanking my hon. Friend for his reply, may I ask him to see that the matter is dealt with quickly, in view of the possibility of fraud in the present procedure?

Salaries And Wages


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General to what extent the recent rise in the Post Office salaries and wages bill is responsible for the increase in postal and telegraphic charges.

The estimated cost in a full year of increases in salaries and wages announced during 1950–52 is about £28 million. The consequent rise in expenditure is the main reason why it has become necessary to increase Post Office tariffs.

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that this increase in wages will not decrease the commercial surplus?

I am afraid that the commercial surplus for the next year will be less than it has been for 25 years.

Is not that answer in contradiction to the statement that the hon. Gentleman made on Monday, when, in answer to a specific Question, he stated that the surplus on the commercial accounts would be reduced from £25 million to £3 million for 1951–52?

There is no contradiction whatever. I was asked bow much the increases in salaries meant to the Post Office Bill generally, and I have given the answer.

Road And Petrol Taxes


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if he will state, for the latest convenient date, the cost to his Department for road tax and petrol charges; and what increase is anticipated resulting from the Budget changes.

The Post Office is not liable for Road Fund Tax on its vehicles. It is estimated that the expenditure on petrol in 1951–52 will be about £2,500,000 and that the recent increase in the price of petrol will raise Post Office direct costs in 1952–53 by £565,000.

Can the Assistant Postmaster-General tell me whether this is the means whereby the Tories are to implement their promise to bring down the cost of living?

Mail Delivery, Chelsea (Delay)


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he has considered the complaints received by him from residents in the Sloane Avenue areas of Chelsea, regarding the late arrival of the first post in that area; and what steps he proposes to take to arrange for an earlier delivery of mail.

My noble Friend regrets that a re-organisation of postmen's duties, and sickness, have led to delay in completing the first delivery in the Chelsea area. The position is improving as the postmen become accustomed to their new duties, and I hope that the delivery will shortly be completed by 9 a.m.

Before these service changes were introduced, had representations from the staff made it clear that the proposed arrangements were inadequate and that the public service would suffer? Will the hon. Gentleman look into this?

If the hon. Gentleman will put down that Question, I will give him an answer to it.

Does my hon. Friend realise that many residents of the Chelsea district are speaking in contemptuous terms of the service they are now getting and that this service has been going on for a considerable time? Will he take steps to improve the delivery, because at the present time many residents are receiving their letters as late as 9.15 a.m. and in some cases as late as 9.30?

I hope that my hon. Friend will agree before long the service is very much better than it has been in the past few weeks.

May we have an assurance that the delivery will take place by at least 8.30 a.m.?

I cannot give any specific guarantee. I have explained the circumstances which led to the delay. Perhaps the chief one was sickness. The position has now improved in that respect, and I anticipate very quickly a marked improvement in the time of delivery.

Regionalisation (Report)


asked the Assistant Postmaster-General when he expects the report on Post Office regionalisation to be available.

The report on the present system of Regionalisation in the Post Office was presented to the House on 11th February, 1952.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he promised in November that this report would be available in the Library, and yet as late as last week it was not in the Library? Will he take steps to have it put in the Library, as he promised?

The report is in the Library. The first part of the report was presented to Parliament on 11th February, and was available in the Vote Office.



asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what losses he estimates would be incurred yearly by operating a system which permits letters carrying a ½d. stamp, posted before 1 p.m., to be accepted for the second delivery on the following day.

Could the hon. Gentleman say if that is a net loss, or does it take into account any gains which might accrue from the adoption of this system?