House Of Commons
Wednesday, 11th November, 1953
The House met at Half past Two o'Clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Mail Vans (Parking)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if he is aware of the congestion produced in Lower Wimpole Street by Post Office vans which take up travelling space on both sides of the thoroughfare; and if he will take steps to lessen it in the interests of the travelling public.
Yes. I am aware of it and we do our very best to minimise the inconvenience. The real trouble is that, owing to the shift of business from the City to the West End, this office is being asked to cope with much more traffic than when it was built. The only solution is a new office with access to the Post Office railway, and plans for this are being pushed ahead as quickly as possible.
While not quite agreeing with my hon. Friend, may I ask him whether, if it is absolutely essential to have Post Office vans parked on either side of the street, some arrangement could not be made with the police so that private cars are prohibited from parking at the same time, as this makes passage through the street quite impossible?
The parking of cars is primarily the responsibility of the police, but I admit that the problem is there and, as I have told my hon. Friend, I hope that we can make a start on a permanent solution to it before too long.
Is Wimpole Street in Ayr Burghs, Mr. Speaker?
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind also the tremendous congestion of vans and motor-cycles belonging to the Post Office in Francis Street, by the Army and Navy Stores? It is getting worse and worse every day.
Yes, Sir. I am afraid that is equally true, and for the same reason—the tremendous shift of business from the City to the West End.
I note, Mr. Speaker, that you are not taking any notice of the interjection by the Hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and therefore I need not answer it.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if he will take action to prevent Post Office vans waiting in the middle of streets and thus stopping traffic.
Post Office vans conform to the same traffic regulations as any other road users. If, however, my hon. Friend will let me have details of any particular case which has come to his notice, I shall be glad to look into it.
While assuring my hon. Friend that I can give him such particulars, may I ask if he will consider issuing a general instruction telling the drivers of vans not to do this, as I think that might meet the case?
The instructions are pretty general. I think it would be much better if my hon. Friend would let me have particulars of any case he has in mind so that I can look into it.
Will the Minister make sure that in moving these Post Office vans it will not be to the Right, the same as the hon. Member?
Telegram Facilities (Service Men)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General why a birthday greetings cablegram to a Service man in Iraq costs 18s. 3d., when cablegrams to other places abroad cost only 2s. 6d.
The Special Expeditionary Forces' Message rate of 2s. 6d. applies only to troops in Japan and Korea, and there is a similar service at 3s. 6d. for troops in Malaya. These concessions are made on behalf of the Service Departments to meet the special conditions in these operational areas, and I have no authority to extend the cheap rates elsewhere. There is, however, an arrangement for troops in all parts of the world whereby their next-of-kin may send them two telegrams a month on urgent private business at ordinary inland rates.
Whilst thanking the hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask whether it is well known in the country that these privileges exist for two messages a month to next-of-kin?
I think so, but I will look into the point that the hon. Member has raised.
Trade Union Recognition
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what conditions have to be fulfilled by a claimant association in order that it may obtain recognition as a trade union for negotiations with the Postmaster-General.
As was said by my noble Friend in another place on 30th July, and by myself in a similar statement in this House, it would be unwise to lay down any hard and fast rules for the future and he will continue to consider any future claims on their merits.
Are we to understand from that reply, therefore, that the 40 per cent. principle still holds and that the Postmaster-General adheres to that principle now as he did previously?
There has never been a 40 per cent. principle in the sense that a 40 per cent. membership entitled a union to automatic recognition—
It entitled them to consideration. Everybody is entitled to consideration.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General how many thefts of mailbags in transit have occurred during the past year; and how the figure compares with the previous year.
Out of roughly 350 million bags in transit, 734 bags were recorded as missing during the year ended 31st October, 1953. In the previous year the figure was 685.
Do not these figures reveal that the additional security precautions, which the Assistant Postmaster-General said were to be put into effect about a year ago, do not appear to be yielding satisfactory results, because the number of thefts is increasing and public anxiety is greater now than ever before?
The number of bags stolen is not necessarily a good criterion. We have also to consider the number of bags which are tampered with, and where there has been pilfering going on. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member and the House that many increased precautions have been taken, but it would not be in the public interest to disclose what they are.
While thanking the Minister for the information he has already given, may I ask him two questions? First, is it not time that, in conjunction with British Railways, he tried to ensure that all railway mail vans are fitted with security cages not accessible to the travelling public? Secondly, is he and the administration perfectly satisfied that the arrangements on platforms, particularly at termini, are sufficiently good to give that measure of security which is necessary?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very big question. I can assure him on the first point that we have made arrangements with the railways to increase very rapidly the number of vans with cages in them. Regarding security generally, I must warn the House that Post Office security arrangements were made on the assumption that this is fundamentally an honest country. If we have to envisage gang robberies in the streets of London, or widespread pilfering, we shall have to introduce different methods of precaution all over the country.
It is a very serious thing and the reputation of a large number of Post Office workers is involved. Whatever may have been the practice in the past they are entitled to the fullest defence. Is it not therefore reasonable, if the circumstances nationally have changed, that we should be up to date in our preventive measures?
We have much increased our precautionary measures during the past year, but as I have said, if we have to envisage an entirely different level of honesty in this country, then we shall have to change them even more drastically.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what steps he proposes to take to improve the security of mailbags in transit on British Railways.
It would not be in the public interest for me to reveal the exact details of the security arrangements agreed between the Post Office and British Railways for the security of mails travelling by rail, but I can assure my hon. Friend that they are continuously adapted to meet, as far as possible, the changing circumstances of our times.
Is my hon. Friend aware that mailbags are frequently left lying about on dingy station platforms after dark, where anybody can tamper with them, and does he think that the most secure method of dealing with them?
No, Sir. I thought I had dealt with this matter pretty thoroughly when answering a previous Question. These arrangements have been in force for many years and have hitherto proved adequate. But, if the circumstances have changed, we may have to change our methods as well.
Can the Minister give an assurance that in respect of mailbags there is a closer degree of cooperation now between the Post Office and the railway police than there may have been a year or two ago?
When letters go by rail they are primarily the responsibility of British Railways and the Post Office.
Does the hon. Gentleman take account of the changed circumstances in that we now have a Government who are giving every encouragement to private enterprise and, consequently, greater security is necessary?
The Government may be giving every encouragement to private enterprise, but they are certainly not giving every encouragement to thieves and robbers.
Mail Deliveries, London (Delays)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if he is aware of the labour difficulties that are being experienced in delivery of mail in the London area; and what steps are being taken to bring about an improvement.
Last week in the E.C. district of London there were regrettable delays in the delivery of mails. The main reason was the overhaul in postmen's duties which takes place from time to time. A contributory cause was the unexpected arrival of exceptionally large foreign mails. The position now, I am glad to be able to assure the House, is much better and should rapidly return to normal as the postmen become accustomed to their new duties.
Is my hon. Friend aware that not for two weeks but for the last two months there have been considerable delays in the West Central area which have caused great inconvenience to industry? Would he look into the matter and bring about some improvement?
It is news to me about the West Central district, but if my hon. and gallant Friend, or any other hon. Members, will provide me with details, I shall certainly have the matter investigated.
So that we may keep this matter in the right proportion, may I ask if it is not a matter on which to congratulate the Post Office workers concerned that it is possible to post a letter in South Kensington at mid-day and have it delivered at the House of Commons at 3.30 p.m. on the same day?
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General the maximum allowance made to purchasers of postage stamps at slot machines when the mechanism breaks down and fails to deliver the stamps; and what records are kept of the difference between cash received and stamps delivered.
There is no fixed limit to the amount which may be refunded. Every Post Office which controls a stamp-selling machine keeps a record of stamps placed in the machine, the cash collected, and any surplus or deficiency. If the hon. Member has any particular case in mind and will let me have particulars, I will gladly made inquiry.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that at least one Post Office in my area refuses to pay more than 3d. even though a potential customer has put in 1s. and got nothing back? If that is the principle, does he not agree that it encourages dishonesty?
That is the type of case which I hope the hon. Gentleman will send me.
Will the hon. Gentleman answer the last part of the Question about the records which are kept of the difference between cash received and stamps delivered?
The records are kept on a regional basis and it would require a lot of digging out to enable me to give the total figures.
Wireless And Television
Interference (Electrical Appliances)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if he will make it compulsory to fit suppressors to all electrical appliances in order to eliminate interference with television.
My noble Friend will be guided by the advice he receives from the Committees established for this purpose under Part II of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, which have not yet made a final report.
Regardless of what that report contains, will my hon. Friend at least make it compulsory to fit suppressors to old cars? Is he aware that this has been already made compulsory on new cars. It is no use his saying that to impose compulsion in respect of new cars will need an army of officials to carry it out, because silencers, trade plates and good brakes have already to be seen to and so this will not entail much work. Is he also aware that the cost will be negligible?
It is not a question of the cost of the suppressors, but it is not the slightest use the House bringing in a regulation unless we can enforce it. We have gone into this and there is no means of effectively enforcing this requirement in respect of old cars unless we are prepared to recruit a corps of officials.
In view of the fact that the Wireless Telegraphy Act has been on the Statute Book for four years and it is three years since technical committees were appointed, is it not possible to get a move on with the general question of interference, let alone interference by old motor cars?
I should be glad if this Committee could report more quickly, but they have told us that there are great difficulties in the way. As I told the House two weeks ago, this problem of suppressing interference is going to be far more difficult than many of us imagined in the first instance.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what investigation he has made into systems of subscription or "Pay as you view" television, details of which have been sent to him.
I am aware that various systems of subscription television are being tried out experimentally in the United States, and we are studying developments with interest. There does not seem to be any scope at present for such a system in this country.
Has the hon. Gentleman received any applications from any firms in this country—any inquiry about the possible establishment of that system?
I do not think so, but if the hon. Lady will put that Question down I will let her know definitely.
To save the hon. Gentleman in future, will he tell us what authority he has for answering this Question? It has nothing to do with him.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether, in view of the fact that there is freely available a published list of frequency allocations for both Government and civil use in the United States of America, he will make the same information public regarding frequency allocations in the United Kingdom.
I am consulting other interested Government Departments to see to what extent such information can be published in this country.
Is my hon. Friend aware that this is welcome information, and that up to now we have assumed that the hush-hush policy of the G.P.O. was to protect their tyranny and arbitrary power?
Television White Paper
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General when the White Paper on the future of television is to be published.
Yes, Sir; on Friday.
Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that the White Paper will contain no such nonsensical suggestion as another public corporation?
I think that my hon. and gallant Friend and the House generally had better wait and read the White Paper.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he is aware that there is waste of valuable very high frequency space through the use of excessive channel spacings because of obsolete equipment, both civil and military; and whether he will insist upon minimum channel spacings being applied by all users as early as possible.
I cannot agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that channel spacings are generally excessive, but it is true that some of them could be reduced with more modern equipment. There is, however, a limit to which the Government would be justified in compelling large numbers of users to replace their otherwise satisfactory equipment at short notice.
Will my hon. Friend impress upon the Defence Departments the need for the conservation of frequency space?
Old Age Pensioners (Licences)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if he will arrange that all old age pensioners and those in receipt of pensions for being blind may obtain an annual wireless licence and television licence free of charge on production of their pension order book.
The blind now receive a sound broadcasting receiving licence free: successive Governments have, however, felt that this concession could not be extended to other sections of the community.
I am very much obliged for the information that the blind now get a licence for radio. Can the hon. Gentleman not see his way clear to grant old age pensioners a radio and television licence because this is an admirable way of helping them without in any way affecting the cost of living?
I think I have answered that point in my original answer—that successive Governments have looked into this and felt that they could not extend this concession to other sections of the community—
It is a matter of cost.
If the hon. Gentleman cannot make things easier for the old age pensioners in this respect, will he give an assurance that he has no intention in the immediate future of making things harder for them by increasing the cost of these licences?
The whole question of B.B.C. finance is now under consideration.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General the estimated cost to his Department of allowing all old age pensioners, and those in receipt of pensions for being blind, an annual wireless and television licence free of charge on production of their pension order book.
So far as can be estimated, the cost would be from £2 to £4 million a year, depending on how many households included old age pensioners, and how many of them had television sets. The cost would not fall on the Post Office but would have to be made up by the general body of broadcasting licence holders.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General on what frequency band the new system of meteorological sonde is to operate; and how far the frequencies at present allotted to meteorological sonde will still be used for that purpose.
The new system of meteorological sonde will operate on frequencies of 152·5 and 2,850 megacycles per second. Frequencies at present used for meteorological sonde will continue to be used for that purpose.
Can we be assured, therefore, that the frequencies that are not so used will be available for re-allocation?
That is another question, and I would ask my hon. Friend to put it down.
As it appears that most Members of the House are ignorant of what this technical term means, can we have an explanation of it?
I do not mind confessing to the House that I was ignorant of it when I saw it on the Order Paper. I understand it is a method of testing the temperature, pressure and humidity of the upper air and is done by comparing the intensity of signals emitted at varying heights.
Alternative Programme (Television)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what steps have been taken or are contemplated to develop the television facilities of the British Broadcasting Corporation so that an alternative programme of the Corporation will be made available to those who view with regret the Government's proposal to permit commercial television; and, bearing in mind the fact that the safeguards so far tentatively proposed do not appear to be adequate, what other measures are contemplated to avoid commercial exploitation of television.
The B.B.C.'s first task is to provide national coverage for their existing programme, and it is too early for the Government to take a decision on the question of an alternative programme, as envisaged in the Corporation's 10-year plan. As to the last part of the Question, I would ask the hon. Member to await the White Paper.
Will the Question I have put down be given due consideration when the time comes for this consideration?
I can promise the hon. Gentleman that this and many other factors will be taken into consideration.
Television Transmitter, Isle Of Wight (Coverage)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General the effective range of the permanent television transmitter to be built in the Isle of Wight.
The B.B.C. expects that the coverage given by the permanent station at the Isle of Wight will extend along the South Coast from Lyme Regis in the West to Seaford in the East, and will include the counties of Hampshire and Dorset, the western half of Sussex and parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Berkshire and Surrey.
Can my hon. Friend say what progress has been made in the erection of this transmitter?
This is being dealt with by the B.B.C. but I was asked a question two weeks ago, and from memory I think the answer was that it is expected to be operating towards the end of next year.
Third Programme Reception, South Wales
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General why steps were taken earlier this year which have reduced in South Wales the power and quality of reception of the Third Programme of the British Broadcasting Corporation; and what steps will be taken to restore the former quality and power of that service.
The power had to be reduced as a result of a fault in the main aerial. Some of the loss has been made good and the B.B.C. will resume full power operation as soon as possible.
Is the Minister aware that this programme was greatly enjoyed in South Wales where cultural values are still appreciated? Did he note the views of certain professors and lecturers at University College, Cardiff, which I brought to his notice, that this programme had not been restored in quality or in power, and will he look into the matter again?
As I said, I hope this station will be restored to full power before too long.
Is the Minister aware that in North Wales, where a very large proportion of people appreciate this programme, the reception is almost nonexistent?
The Question deals only with South Wales.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in Perthshire it is impossible to get a good reception of the Third Programme at all and that there cultural appreciation is even higher than in the other two places which have been mentioned?
Bbc Finance (Consultations)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General, in view of the necessity of making an early decision in respect of additional finance for the British Broadcasting Corporation to enable improvements to be made in its television service, what progress has been made in the consultations taking place with the Corporation; and when a decision on British Broadcasting Corporation finance is likely to be made known.
The whole question is being reviewed by the Government, but I regret that I am unable to say when a decision is likely to be reached.
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed me that the hon. Gentleman would reply to this Question, will he deal with the point which asks what progress has been made in the consultations? Has any progress been made?
A lot of progress has been made, but the consultations are still going on.
For how long?
Will my hon. Friend initiate conversations with the British Broadcasting Corporation to see whether the expansion cannot be financed by capital borrowing rather than by taking the money from licence revenue? Will he bear in mind that the Beveridge Committee recommended that this Cor- poration should do the same as other corporations and borrow instead of financing from revenue?
It is true that the B.B.C. have financed capital development out of revenue. That, as well as other matters, will be considered in the discussions.
In view of the urgency of this matter, cannot the hon. Gentleman give some idea whether it will be this year or next year when the consultations finish?
I think I answered that question when I said that I hope that the deliberations will not take too long.
But how long?
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if, in view of the shared wavelength between the North-East Coast and Northern Ireland, he will press the need to place the first very high frequency station in the North-East coast area.
This area has already been promised priority.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the people of the North-East are losing their patience over having to endure this business for so long and that that attitude is fully expressed in the correspondence which I and my colleagues from the North-East have received from many organisations? Can we have an assurance that this matter will be speeded up? Can the hon. Gentleman forecast a date?
I cannot forecast a date, but I hope that it falls to my lot to preside at the divorce between the North-East Coast and Northern Ireland.
Does that mean that we shall have some arrangement made in the next six months? Does the hon. Gentleman mean by his hope that this may be done very soon, or does he mean within the next two or three years?
The first development must be the Television Advisory Committee's advice on the form of modulation which will be used for very high frequency, and they have not given that yet.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Northern Ireland would welcome the divorce most heartily? As there is no certainty that V.H.F. will solve the problem, would not it be better to abolish the Third Programme?
Will this very high frequency station have priority over sponsored television?
That is an entirely different question.
Yes, but if the North-East, which is a very large area in terms of population, has to choose between sponsored television, which will be very costly and use up a great many resources, and having this matter attended to, surely they would prefer this rather than sponsored television?
It may be that the right hon. Gentleman is right, but it will not fall to the North-East to choose. There is no question of choice. The two things have nothing in common.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment as early as possible.
Bristol Ambulance Service (Frequencies)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General why the Bristol Corporation ambulance service radio communications are to be moved to a new frequency; what consultations took place with the corporation before this decision was reached; and why the full cost of this frequency charge will have to be borne by the citizens of Bristol.
The Bristol Corporation ambulance service has not been asked by my Department to change its radio frequency.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Bristol Corporation are very anxious about this and that I have in my hand a letter from his Department in which he indicates that a change of the ambulance frequency will be necessary? Is he also aware that if the citizens of Bristol are put to great expense in changing their ambulance frequency to make room for sponsored television there will be great resentment in the area?
The hon. Gentleman can get that bogey out of his mind. The two things have nothing whatever in common. Licences which are issued are subject to the condition that the frequencies may have to be changed. As I told the hon. Gentleman, Bristol has never been asked by my Department to change its radio frequency.
Can my hon. Friend give us an assurance that if licences have to be changed, either for corporations or for private individuals, some compensation will be given for the changing of the wave-band.
No, Sir, I cannot give that assurance at all. Licences are issued on the condition that they can be changed and that no compensation will be payable. Those are the conditions under which people accept the licences.
As the change is the responsibility of the Postmaster-General, will he not also carry the responsibility of paying for it, not only in Bristol but in all the other localities involved?
I have just answered that point.
Can we have an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that he will stand by the terms of the licence and, when clearing out Bands I and 2, will not encourage rackets when people have to make changes?
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General for an assurance that it is still Government policy to ban all political and religious subjects on commercialised television.
I would ask the hon. Member to await the White Paper.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us why the assurance which was given openly and publicly in the last White Paper on television should not be reaffirmed by the hon. Gentleman before the new White Paper is issued? If he repeats the pledge, it will be received with great thanks on this side of the House.
The hon. Gentleman need only contain himself until Friday afternoon.
Arts (Bbc Patronage)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he is aware that the British Broadcasting Corporation is not able to function adequately as a patron of the arts, or to assist in the creation of new work, owing to its restricted income; and what action is contemplated to overcome this difficulty.
I am not aware of any such failure on the part of the B.B.C., nor have the Corporation complained to my noble Friend that they cannot function adequately as a patron of the arts owing to lack of funds. Indeed, I think most people would agree that the Corporation is one of the greatest present-day patrons of the arts.
Is the Assistant Postmaster-General aware that he has missed the whole point of the Question? Does he not know that the B.B.C., which is a notable user of the arts, but has not the money to ask for new presentations or new forms from artists, is not, therefore, a true patron? It is not a creative patron of the arts but a great and very magnificent user. We want patronage in view of the fact that we cannot now afford it personally.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should listen to the Third Programme for a week or two. If he does that, I think he will agree that the B.B.C. is not pandering to the low taste of earthy extroverts but is helping the arts in every possible way.
Can I not make apparent to the Assistant Postmaster-General what I am asking? Of course, there is a magnificent presentation of all forms of the arts by the B.B.C., but the B.B.C. cannot ask artists to offer them new creations and new forms, and it is not patronage.
If I undertsand the hon. Gentleman correctly, he is complaining that the B.B.C. has not enough money. If that is true, the B.B.C. has not said so.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he has examined the British Broadcasting Corporation's plan to spend £1,500,000 of their licence revenue to relaying the Third, Light and Home programmes on very high frequencies by means of 51 new transmitters and several new stations; and if he has yet examined the more economical methods adopted in Germany in bringing into operation 70 relay stations on these frequencies.
The first task is to settle the question of modulation, and my noble Friend is awaiting the report of the Television Advisory Committee on this subject. When this has been done, we will examine the B.B.C.'s programme of V.H.F. development in the light of practical experience in other countries including Germany.
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that, while the need for an improved sound service in some areas is realised, it seems to be a very large sum of money to spend on relaying the three sound service programmes, and it takes up an undue amount of the spectrum now available?
I can assure my hon. Friend that when the report is published my noble Friend will give very careful consideration to the matter of cost.
Will the hon. Gentleman make arrangements for his own wireless engineers, apart from those of the B.B.C., to visit Germany and see the new method in operation?
I will look into the point. It is a very good idea.
Plymouth Television Station
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether any decision has yet been made as to the site of the Plymouth television station, following the public inquiry at Exeter in September last.
No, Sir. I am awaiting the outcome of the inquiry.
Will my hon. Friend do everything he can to expedite a decision, for this is causing delay in the provision of a television service for Cornwall?
I am not making the inquiry. It is being made by another Ministry.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what frequencies are allocated for GEE navigation.
The following are some of the frequency bands allocated to GEE: 29.7 to 31.7 megacycles per second; 68.0 to 70.0 megacycles per second, and 72.8 to 74.8 megacycles per second. It would not be in the national interest to name all the bands allocated to this service.
Fire And Police Services
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General how much of the frequency band, 80–84 megacycles, is allocated and used for purposes other than fire and police services.
The band 80–83 megacycles per second is allocated to fixed and land mobile services and the band 83–84 megacycles per second to aeronautical radionavigation, fixed and land mobile services. Both bands are at present occupied solely by services operated by fire brigades and the police.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General how many applications for telephone installation are still outstanding in the City of Bradford; and what were the comparative figures for the same period last year, and the total of new subscribers during the past 12 months.
One thousand four hundred and seventy applications were outstanding at 30th September, 1953, as compared with 2,479 a year ago. Two thousand nine hundred and thirty-eight new lines were connected during the year.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for that reply. Will he keep the matter under active consideration?
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General the Government's policy in relation to shared telephones; and how many complaints he has received from ministers of religion and professional persons against this practice.
In order to make the most effective use of our limited capital resources, we have to ask all new and removing residential subscribers to accept the liability to share their lines. This system has enabled us since the war to put over 300,000 people on the telephone who would not otherwise have one. Considering the initial, and very natural, doubts and reluctance which people have to sharing, we have had remarkably few complaints, and my belief is that most people find the service very satisfactory.
Can the Assistant Postmaster-General say whether this is to be the permanent policy of the telephone service or whether we may some day in the future all be able to have our own lines again?
Sharing may have come to stay, but I should like to do away with compulsory sharing at the earliest possible moment.
Will the hon. Gentleman say what categories of people are not expected to share?
One category which does not share is Members of Parliament.
I know, but what are the others?
Subscribers (Change Of Address)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if he will take steps to ensure that in future when a telephone subscriber moves to another house he shall be given high priority for the provision of a telephone there; and that, in all such cases, such a subscriber shall be given the opportunity of retaining a telephone already installed in his new residence.
A removing residential subscriber is given priority over a new residential applicant, but not over a business applicant. When anyone moves to a house where a telephone already exists, the normal rule is to let him keep it, except in certain areas where the waiting list is very long due to a shortage of local lines or exchange equipment.
While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask whether he agrees that, in normal circumstances and other things being equal, old subscribers do merit some extra consideration?
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General how many applications for the supply of telephones in Leicester are at present awaiting attention; how many of these have been outstanding for periods between six months and 12 months; how many for longer than 12 months; and by what date, approximately, they will all have been complied with.
Two thousand seven hundred and sixty-three applications were outstanding on 30th September, 1953, which is a reduction of more than 1,000 during the last 12 months. Three hundred and forty-seven applications have been outstanding between six and 12 months and 1,207 for over 12 months. Our aim is to continue reducing the waiting list, but I regret I cannot say when all outstanding applications will be met.
Will the Minister inquire into those cases which are so highly essential for our public services and say whether the people who are concerned with those services will be given the facilities of a telephone service?
If the hon. Gentleman has any case of a priority service sponsored by a Government Department where an application has been refused, I shall of course look at it at once.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he is aware that difficulties are being experienced by the residents of Braunstone Frith, Leicester, owing to the non-availability of telephone booths there; and when he proposes to have these installed.
I understand that only 14 of the houses on this new estate have been finished so far. We plan to provide a new kiosk on the estate as soon as the pavements have been made up, as well as two others very close to the estate. There is already one kiosk about half a mile away.
Will the Minister inquire again of those who know, when he will discover that there are many more than 14 houses on that estate? Will he see to it that these booths are provided as speedily as possible in view of the difficulties confronting parents in regard to transport to the schools, facilities for doctors, and so on?
If the hon. Gentleman feels that those figures are wrong and will communicate with me, I will investigate, but, as I have said, we are planning to put up the new kiosks as soon as the pavements are made up.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General how many applications for new telephones are now outstanding in Scotland; and what the corresponding figure was last year.
Thirty-five thousand nine hundred and sixty-four applications were outstanding at the 30th September, 1953, as compared with 40,541 12 months ago.
May we take it from those figures that the number of applications outstanding is being steadily reduced?
Yes, Sir. I think the number will be reduced even more. The number would have gone down more quickly if it had not been for the repair of storm damage in Scotland at the beginning of this year.
May we look forward to a faster rate of reduction in the next 12 months?
I hope so, so long as there are no more storms.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General how many applications for telephones are now outstanding in North Berwick; and how this figure compares with the number 12 months ago.
There were 64 applications outstanding on 31st October, 1953, but 38 of these will be connected during the next three months. The number outstanding 12 months ago was 53.
Can my hon. Friend also deal with the problem of shared lines, of which there are rather too many in North Berwick?
I answered a Question about that subject earlier this afternoon.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General how many telephone lines would be required to supply the waiting list in Glasgow at the end of October; and when he expects to be able to give the service required.
The number at 30th September, 1953, which is the latest available, was 11,465, this being 1,221 less than a year ago. We are fitting telephones as fast as our resources allow, but I regret that I cannot say when it will be possible to give service to all applicants.
Can my hon. Friend say whether it is material or labour, or both, which is holding up provision of the additional lines?
Chiefly exchange equipment.
Is not it wrong that at the same time skilled engineers who make these parts should be dismissed from London factories?
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General how many applicants are awaiting telephone installations in the Western and Kelvin exchange areas of Glasgow; and when he expects to satisfy their requirements.
The number is 930, this being 134 less than a year ago. I regret that I cannot say when all the outstanding applications will be met.
Is the Minister aware of the growing irritation and dissatisfaction with his Department in the Glasgow area?
I am sorry to hear that. We are reducing the waiting list considerably, and I hope that we shall be able to increase the rate of decrease in the coming year.
Having regard to the number of similar Questions on the Order Paper today, and to the experience of every Member of Parliament on both sides of the House on this question of long waiting lists and slow development, is not it time that the hon. Gentleman's noble Friend took up the matter seriously with the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a view to a readjustment of the allocation for this purpose?
I must remind the House that we have reduced the waiting list in the past year by 60,000.
Is not it true to say that while the Government are causing people to be dismissed from employment they cannot be said to be meeting adequately the demand which hon. Members are expressing?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a question that is not on the Order Paper. I assure him that the Post Office is causing nobody to be dismissed. No Post Office orders have been cancelled in North London or anywhere else.
Weather Ships, North Atlantic
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air the future arrangements regarding the British weather ships operating in the Atlantic; and how many he intends to maintain on this service.
It is too early to say what ocean weather ship service, if any, it will be possible to operate in the North Atlantic after June, 1954, when the United States ceases to contribute. It is certain, however, that any scheme that lacked United States support would be smaller and less effective than the present arrangements.
Has my hon. Friend taken into account the fact that, if the British maintain the weather ships in the Atlantic, foreign countries, including the United States, who do nothing to maintain ships there, will get the benefit of the British service when they are flying the Atlantic from East to West? Is it right that the British taxpayers should pay for this when there is no reciprocal service the other side?
My hon. and gallant Friend will realise that the question of whether it will be worth while maintaining a service after the United States have withdrawn must be a subject for discussion between ourselves and the other signatories to the agreement, and that it is too early yet to give a definite answer.
As this is a very important matter, would it not be advisable —although it may be of lesser importance than the other great subjects to be discussed—that consultations on this subject should take place when the Prime Minister meets the President of the United States, in an attempt to get the United States to continue a service which is essential in all circumstances?
I shall certainly bear that in mind.
Royal Air Force
Air Ministry Staff
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air why the number of persons described as "Other scientific, professional and technical staff" has increased from 288 in 1952–53 to 331 in 1953–54.
The figures quoted by my hon. Friend are the forecasts in the Air Estimates. The numbers employed were: 263 on 1st April, 1952; 290 on 1st April, 1953; and 303 on 1st October, 1953. The largest single increase was in technical staff for radar duties.
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air why the staff of the Department of the Air Member for Supply and Organisation has been increased from 2,417 in 1952–53 to 2,608 in 1953–54.
The figures quoted by my hon. Friend are the forecasts in the Air Estimates. The numbers employed were 2,404 on 1st April, 1952; 2,547 on 1st April, 1953; and 2,587 on 1st October, 1953. This small rise is due to the increased volume of work resulting from the expansion of the Royal Air Force, much of which falls on the Department of the Air Member for Supply and Organisation. My noble Friend is satisfied that the numbers employed are warranted by the work to be done.
May I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and, as the figures are still going up, ask him to observe the strictest economy in the employment of additional staff?
Would my hon. Friend please bear in mind the fact, which has been confirmed in many other commercial undertakings, that the more hands through which plans for the proposed development of machinery have to pass the longer is the time taken?
Yes, Sir. We are expanding the Royal Air Force airfields and storage depots, but the increase is only 7·6 per cent.
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air why there has been an increase in the number of assistant principals employed in the Department of the Permanent Under-Secretary of State.
There has, in fact, been no increase in the number of assistant principals in the Air Ministry over the last year.
Works And Lands (Expenditure)
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether the expenditure of £70 million on works and lands in 1953–54 was due to expenditure incurred primarily at home or abroad.
Primarily at home.
Is this enormous sum absolutely essential? Can it not be reduced in any other way?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are watching every penny we spend as carefully as possible. As he knows as well as I do, the cost of these works services is very great and is rising all the time.
Royal Observer Corps
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air what proportion of the pay of the members of the Royal Observer Corps goes to those who are engaged on administration; and what proportion to whose who undertake observation.
We estimate that the full-time officers of the Royal Observer Corps, who constitute only one-two-hundredth of the total strength and who alone draw pay, spend between one-quarter and one-third of their time on administrative duties as distinct from recruiting training, operations and exercises.
Is there any hope of this large proportion of time spent on administration being reduced?
I should have thought that one-third of their time was not very great for administering a large corps like this.
Traffic Lights (Pedestrians)
asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he will introduce legislation to make the observance of automatic traffic lights by pedestrians compulsory.
It is not my present intention to deal with this particular matter by legislation.
Surely my right hon. Friend will remember that this point has been always in dispute and has never been really settled. Does he not think that, in the interests of the people concerned it is time a clear ruling were given?
I am satisfied that it would be impossible for the very overburdened police effectively to enforce observance of traffic lights by pedestrians, but there may be other ways in which responsibility for safety on the roads can be spread more fairly among all road users, and I am looking at those other ways.
When considering traffic lights, does the Minister realise that the two colours used are the very ones that most colour-blind people most consistently confuse?
That has been frequently argued, but my predecessors and others have come to the conclusion that these are the best colours for the vast majority of road users who, I am glad to say, are not colour-blind.
Has it ever been seriously suggested that in the middle of the night some wretched pedestrian should have to wait until a car comes along and changes the lights?
asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation how many elementary school children were killed or injured on the roads during the last period of one year of which he has a record, and also during the previous year; and in how many of these cases the accident took place while going to and from school.
The statistics do not distinguish between elementary and other school children. In 1951, the number of children between the ages of five and 15 killed, seriously injured and slightly injured on the roads were 554, 6,961 and 25,119, a total of 32,634, and in 1952 the comparable figures were 460 killed, 6,805 seriously injured and 24,538 slightly injured, a total of 31,803. I cannot say how many of these accidents occurred on the way to and from school, but I will send the hon. Member a copy of "Road Accidents, 1951" which gives the times when casualties occurred to children. The most dangerous hour seems to be between 4 and 5 o'clock in the afternoon.
In view of his last statement, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that every care is taken to prevent accidents when children are returning from school?
I am sure that a great deal of care is taken, but I should hesitate to say that everything is perfect, because clearly a number did occur in that hour. In consultation with my colleagues, I am always looking for a way to improve safety in this direction.
Has the Minister an arrangement with the police in various parts of the country so that their patrols are on duty in the afternoon when accidents of this kind take place?
Through the Ministry of Education and the Home Office, we have arrangements in most parts of the country and we are always anxious to perfect them.
Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the very dangerous situation on the Great Cambridge Road, at Edmonton, where the Edmonton County Grammar School is situated on the main arterial road, and the derestriction for the 30-mile-an-hour limit is lifted right outside the school so that motorists are allowed to go at any speed they like without any restriction whatever? Will he not look at this particular case?
While congratulating the hon. Gentleman on being able to get that point across, I will certainly look at that particular case.
Safety Week (Accidents)
asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he now has figures of road accidents occurring during Road Safety Week; and if they are greater or smaller than the average for comparable periods in October over the past three years.
asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he is in a position to announce the accident figures for National Road Safety Week; and how they compare with the previous week and with the same week in 1952.
This information is not yet available, but I am making special arrangements to publish figures soon, including a comparison with the same week in October, 1952.
Does the Minister consider that it is worth holding a road safety week and concentrating public attention on this matter and not also arranging for these figures to be published much more rapidly?
I have to have some regard for the difficulties of police in this matter, and there is also the fact that there was this year a petrol strike which naturally threw out the value of all the calculations. On reflection, I think there is a case for speeding up the return and I have arranged to do it.
Loch Lomond (Parking Facilities)
asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation the number of places on the Loch Lomond Road along the total distance from Balloch to Ardlui where motorists can draw in to enable them to admire the view of the loch.