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Post Office

Volume 656: debated on Wednesday 28 March 1962

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8.32 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Postmaster-General be authorised, as provided for in Section 5 of the Post Office Act, 1961, to make payments out of the Post Office Fund in the financial year ending with the 31st March, 1963.
I do not propose to make a long speech tonight on the subject of this Motion, because I hate long speeches and I know that the House does. The Motion derives from last year's Post Office Act, and for reasons which I know will be clear to the whole House I trust that it will be passed this evening.

The Motion refers in terms to my stewardship of the Post Office which has been variously commended and criticised during the past two and a half years. Of course, we all like praise, just as we all dislike criticism, but we have to put up with both. However, I do think that we can fairly say that we in the Post Office in the last two years or so have achieved quite a number of worthwhile changes both in the structure of the Post Office and in the quality of our services.

Our capital investment, which is possibly the best measure of our success or failure, is far higher today than anyone would have dreamed two and a half years ago. That has not come about by a stroke of luck. It has come about in direct consequence of the financial policies which my hon. Friend and I have pursued. I think, too, that we can quite fairly say that our services generally have improved.

I am the last person in the world to be complacent about them, but, after all, post offices are brighter today than they were two and a half years ago, service arrangements are quicker, the level of new telephone installations has been much higher than at any time in the history of the Post Office, and we have made very rapid progress with the expansion of subscriber trunk dialling. Nor have we been idle in the matter of satellite communications. I hope—indeed, I am confident—that we shall assume a prominent rôle in future developments.

I do not intend to say anything at all about the future of broadcasting and television. One or two things were said about them in this House yesterday. I dace say we shall have a lot to say on those difficult topics before many moons are past. We have, of course, had our little local difficulties with the Post Office unions, or they have had them with me, according to which way one likes to put it. I should like to say a few words about that a little later.

We are discussing the Motion against the background of the recent White Paper on Post Office Prospects. It is true that it is a short Paper, but I think that it gives most of the information that hon. Members require. The Economist described it as "efficient and informative", but, alas, other organs of opinion, and perhaps some hon. Members, may feel rather less complimentary about it than the Economist. As I am not one for running away from criticism, I must say something right away about the major criticisms which have been levelled against us. After all this is one of the rare opportunities that I have of putting our critics on the paths of righteousness.

What do they say? This is all very relevant to the Post Office prospects for the next financial year. In one breath they are apt to say that last year my hon. Friend and I raised certain Post Office charges, that I am milking the public, and making an excessive profit into the bargain. But in the next breath they say that the capital investment of the post Office is paltry and that I ought to be able to meet in full the growing demand for telephones. I am even told that I ought to provide a telephone in every home. All I can say is that I should be a bigger fool than some people take me for if I did that.

I can best illustrate this criticism from one or two things said recently in the Press. I quote the Daily Telegraph, because I like that newspaper and, normally, it is both friendly to the Post Office and well-informed. On 10th March, the Daily Telegraph referred to me as the "Milkmaster-General". Then it said:
"Last July, the Postmaster-General told the House of Commons that he would have to raise another £25 million 'in order to maintain the financial soundness of the Post Office'. This he proposed to do by increasing charges. Now a White Paper blandly informs us that the Post Office will make a profit of £20 million in the current financial year, and £34 million in 1962–63. Whom does Mr. Bevins think he is fooling? For decades, the Post Office has been the only Government Department to make a profit, and that profit, instead of being put to the improvement and extension of services, has been quietly absorbed by the Treasury. No doubt the Chancellor will be grateful for it."
The present Chancellor of the Exchequer would be extremely grateful for it if in fact, he got it, but he does not.

A few days later the Daily Telegraph referred to the comparative fortunes of the American Telephone Company and those of the British Post Office. The clear implication of what was said was that we ace miles behind the American administration. It was pointed out that the American Telephone Company made a profit of £473 million in 1960. This is using statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts—for support rather than illumination. This figure of £473 million appears from the American company's accounts, to represent profit after historical depreciation and taxation, but before appropriations for dividend and reserve. The comparable figure for the Post Office telephones in 1960–61, if one treats, as one is entitled to, interest payments as the equivalent of dividends, was £64 million.

As the American system is about eight times the size of ours, this is a very close correspondence between the American and British figures. Of course, the Daily Telegraph, I regret to say, also omitted to point out that, in the same year, the American postal service, whose speed of postal delivery is, I am quite sure, a very great incentive to the use of the telephone in the United States, made a loss of over £300 million. Perhaps I may turn now from Fleet Street to the facts. I am all for a free Press, especially if it gets its facts right.

The House will remember all too well that last July we increased certain prices, and that the main increases fell on the residential telephone rentals and other losing services. I confess that I was reluctant to do this because I realised that it would be unpopular. But it was done for the perfectly sound reason that the rentals on residential telephones were not even covering costs, let alone producing an adequate return on capital. Last year, we lost about £2 million on domestic telephone rentals.

If our critics would really have us run the Post Office on an uneconomic basis, then I think that, whoever they may be—whether they be hon. Members or newspapers—'they should plainly say so. Would they really applaud me and my hon. Friend if the Post Office were to end up each financial year "in the red"? Or is it suggested that we are making far too much money at the expense of our customers? Frankly, I do not know. But I must tell the House that, in 1961–62, we expect to make a profit of about £20 million and in the next year a profit of about £34 million.

Of course, these are big sums of money, but the Post Office is a big organisation, and I do not consider them to be excessive. They help to give a prospective return on capital of 7 per cent. in the current financial year, which is about to end, and of about 8 per cent. in the forthcoming financial year.

But not a brass farthing of this goes to the Treasury. Every single penny is ploughed back for the improvement and development of Post Office services in the interests of the general public. It is for this reason, and for no other, that we are able to develop the telephone system, to get more telephones, and to modernise the system to a far greater extent than ever before.

When my hon. Friend and I went to the Post Office at the end of 1959—although it seems longer ago than that—our capital investment was £105 million. I can remember debates in the House when my predecessor, and his, were vigorously criticised because, it was said, this capital investment was inadequate.

In 1961–62, that figure rose to £119 million. Next year, it will advance to £132 million. I am now glad to tell the House that for the year 1963–64 we look forward to spending no less than £150 million on capital account. Thus, in three years, our expenditure on capital account will have risen by no less than 43 per cent. Despite that great advance our net borrowings from the Treasury will have fallen—fallen, not risen—from £37 million in 1960–61 to £30 million in 1963–64. I am quite sure that if other nationalised industries had been able to do that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be very grateful indeed.

This progress—and I make no bones whatever about it—has been made possible because the Post Office has demonstrated its readiness so to organise its financial business that it itself finances, year in and year out, a really substantial proportion of its own capital, and limits its borrowings from the Exchequer.

Ever since I came to this assignment, I have held the view that if our prices were not economic the Post Office would stagnate and the public would suffer. If any hon. Member thinks that the Post Office could increase its capital investment while incurring a loss, or even while making only a moderate profit, I can only say that he is living in a world of dreams.

The only way to do what the Daily Telegraph, what the Post Office Engineering Union, and what millions of people wish the Post Office to do is to provide more capital from our own resources, and that, in turn, means earning a good return on capital. In my view, it is unquestionably right that the oldest of our nationalised industries should try to stand firmly on its own two legs, without contributing to inflationary forces by excessive borrowings from the Exchequer.

I should like to deal very briefly with some of the developments in the telephone world; after all, most of our capital goes on the telephone service. Out of a total expenditure, in 1962–63, of £132 million we expect to spend about £122 million on telecommunications of one kind or another. That is about 11 per cent. more than in the present year.

Here, there are really two main claims to the money. The first is to cater for the many more calls that are now being made and to modernise the system as new techniques develop so that we can give an increasingly efficient service; by automatisation, by the development of S.T.D., by new international cables, and, of course in the longer term, by satellites. That is the first thing.

The second thing is to be able to get more people on to the telephone without their having to go on a long waiting list—

Before the Postmaster-General passes from the satellites, does what he has just said imply that the Post Office will bear the best part of the burden of the country's effort in that connection?

It is really much too early to answer that question, but I shall deal quite briefly with satellites a little later.

As I was saying, the second thing is to be able to get more people on to the telephone without their having to go on a long waiting list. I have no doubt at all that this would be politically popular in the short term; and, possibly, the amusing snippets in the Daily Express might come to an end—might. That, however, could be done only at the cost of the slowing down of the modernisation of the service, and my own feeling is that the two needs—increasing the telephone service, on the one hand, and providing more telephones, on the other—have to be kept in proper balance. During the next financial year each of those two demands on our capital will take about half our total moneys. I think that that is about the right emphasis.

I should like to say a word about modernisation. In recent years inland trunk traffic has been rising, as the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) well knows, very rapidly. It is now growing at a rate of about 12 per cent. a year, and I am quite sure that that growth will continue. To cope with that we are expanding the trunk system more than ever before. About 3,600 circuits will be added next year; that is, about three times the number that we added in the 1950s. By the end of next year there should be about 37,000 trunk circuits, against 24,000 three years ago.

The greater use of the trunk service is due partly to subscriber trunk dialling, and I have no doubt that the speed of that service is a great boon to the business world. We plan to make this new system available to about 90 per cent. of our customers by 1970, and the development of this service is progressing fairly rapidly. By the end of next year more than 500 exchanges, serving one-third of all our subscribers, will have the advantages of S.T.D.—quicker service, and, generally speaking, cheaper calls.

I have vary little patience with the modern Luddites—and there are some about today—who object to the modernisation of the telephone system. The fact is that the important thing about a telephone system is speed of answering, and the best way to bring this about is by completely automisation. Some people say that S.T.D. is a bad thing for our customers because it costs them more because it is more expensive. This is wholly untrue. I estimate that the savings to our customers from S.T.D. calls that they will make in 1962–63, compared with the same number of calls at the old rate of tariff, will be no less than £7 million. Already, more than 1 million trunk calls a week, about one-sixth of all trunk calls, are being dialled by subscribers. When I say that the cost of S.T.D. is cheaper to our customers, I am not referring solely to the business community. This applies to the residential subscriber as well.

We are also getting on rapidly with the laying of more local cables which will be capable of providing 300,000 more lines. This will enable us to give a telephone service to a number of people who have had to wait in recent years because of plant shortages. This expansion and the use of existing plant should make it possible for about 450,000 new telephones to be connected in the year—more than 1,200 new telephones every day of the year. I hope that it will please hon. Members on both sides of the House to know that the waiting list for telephones today is only about one-fifth of what it was six years ago, when we had a waiting list of about 250,000. Today it is down to 53,000.

Looking ahead a little, there are two important developments—and they really are important—now under way. The first is the development of electronic exchange systems. For some years we have been working with the principal manufacturers in this country on this new type of telephone exchange, an exchange which will operate much faster even than the present automatic equipment. There are still, I admit, many problems to be solved, but we are making good progress, and later this year we shall be opening the first electronic exchange in Europe to carry public telephone calls.

This will represent a major breakthrough, and we in the Post Office are determined that Britain shall have the best modern telephone exchanges not only to use here at home but also to market abroad. We are, therefore, giving this work a very high priority indeed, and so, too, are the principal manufacturers who are co-operating with us. I have every confidence that this will succeed, so much so that we have recently reaffirmed the policy of moving straight from the existing automatic system to fully electronic exchanges as early as possible.

The second long-term development is that to which the hon. Member for Openshaw referred namely, satellites. The hon. Member may like to know that present day techniques limit the number of telephone systems which can be carried by long-distance submarine cables to about 100. In the design stage at the moment is a cable which may increase the number of calls taken to about 250, but that is not yet in operation. It seems likely that traffic demands in ten or twenty years' time will be so high that, despite their cost, communication satellites with the enormous capacity they offer—probably 1,000 simultaneous telephone calls and perhaps a television channel—will be used as the backbone of of a worldwide telephone service.

This is something in which we all earnestly hope that the Commonwealth will play its part. I have today welcomed representatives from all the Commonwealth countries who are here to consider Commonwealth policy. We are also co-operating with the Americans in test transmissions through satellites and these experiments will take place later this year.

The full potentialities and the costs of satellite communications are a matter of speculation. Some of this speculation is very gloomy and some very rosy. In this matter we have to keep a sense of proportion. The important thing is to put ourselves in a position technically to take advantage of whatever course seems economically desirable as matters develop. In this sphere there are still a great number of imponderables—let there be no mistake about that. We have not yet had experiments and we may be many years away from a full universal operational system. No one yet knows how many satellites would be required, what they would cost, or how long they would last. Nor, which is most important, does anyone know what traffic demands would be imposed on such a system. I repeat, the important thing is that we should put ourselves in a position where we have the technical "know-how" to take whatever seems the wisest course in the interests of this country and the Commonwealth.

I do not wish to speak for too long, because I know that several hon. Members wish to speak and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretar, who has a great interest in the postal services, would like to say something about them. I should, however, like to say a word about staff matters. During the last year we have had our troubles. There has been the dispute over pay with the Union of Post Office Workers which led to work-to-rule in January. The campaign was called off at the end of January. Since then we have had discussions about the union's claims, and I have met the leaders of the union on two occasions. There has also been the dispute with the Post Office Engineering Union. This led to a work-to-rule campaign which, I am glad to say, has come to an end. Here, also, I have had talks with the executives of the union about the new wage claims.

All this has been a very unhappy business. I must in all honesty say to the House that in my view—I have never equivocated or wavered in this—the pay pause was right if the inflationary spiral was to be stopped. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] The hon. Gentleman may disagree, as he is perfectly entitled to, but that was my view and is still my view. That being so, I should act in precisely the same way if I had to relive the unhappy month of January as Postmaster-General.

I do not want to appear to be in any way unctuous or sanctimonious, but this is a matter of public duty. However much the Post Office unions may have differed from me, as they did, I hope that they will recognise, in the course of time, that my motives and my conduct were in the national interest. Of course, I shall do all I humanly can to restore good relations with the unions and the thousands of people who work for the Post Office. But, at the same time, I shall support the incomes policy of the Government.

Before I conclude I should like to pay my tribute not only to hon. Members on both sides of the House who are so consistently friendly to the Post Office in all its affairs, but also to the many thousands of loyal Post Office workers throughout the country—the postmen on their walks in all sorts of weather; the helpful telephone operators; the admirable men and women who look after our sub-offices, and also those who support and work with me at St. Martin's-le-Grand. Of their qualities and their loyalties I could not possibly speak too highly.

9.2 p.m.

I have listened to the Minister with considerable interest. I highly commend him for the brevity of his speech. I hope—I put it no higher than that—that I shall emulate him in so far as that is compatible with doing my duty to the House and to people outside the House. The Minister said many interesting things. I shall not pick them out one by one. I shall cover some of them in the course of my speech.

I am strongly in favour of this country being 100 per cent. with all other countries which wish to develop satellite communication for peaceful purposes. I will leave my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) to deal with this question in more detail, but I thought that I should express my view. I express the view of the Labour Party when I say that we think that there are tremendous possibilities for world good will and peace if this system transcends all other systems of telecommunications which we have at present. As I have said before, in the course of the year this system will be a money spinner, if ever there was one.

This is the first anniversary of the new order of things in the Post Office. During our debates on the Post Office Bill there were many exchanges of view about what real authority the right hon. Gentleman would possess under that Measure. He paraded himself in a new mantle of authority, but I am not too sure that the events of the last twelve months have not proved that many of them are fairly flimsy, possibly made of paper and not much more. The cold wind of change from the Exchequer has torn some of them to shreds.

The right hon. Gentleman ended his speech with a reference to relations with the staff. In White Papers for many years we had a separate paragraph about the Postmaster-General's relations with the staff and the trade unions representing them. I used to think that those paragraphs were expansive and perhaps a little effusive, but the fact remains that they were there and on the record. It is rather surprising that there is no reference to that relationship in recent White Papers. Perhaps we should not be too surprised about that, because recent events have shown that present relations are of a different character.

Speaking as an old servant of the Post Office and one connected with it for the past forty or forty-five years, I think that the trouble with the Post Office has been that it has been inclined to take the good relations and good will too much for granted and has forgotten the simple fact that a good relationship means giving as well as receiving. In this respect, the year 1961–62 has been the worst in my long recollection. I am very sorry about that, because over the years I helped to build up the good relationship. It was not an easy matter and it meant a good deal of being misunderstood in many quarters in those years. But we persisted and we built up a good relationship.

During the past year, we have had unprecedented actions by the staff and the unions, actions completely foreign to them. But I must say that they were actions which in my opinion, after carefully weighing up the situation, were imposed upon them by a genuine sense of grievance and unfairness by the Government and the right hon. Gentleman in dealing with Post Office workers.

There has been unprecedented action by the right hon. Gentleman himself. He suspended arbitration; he suspended the Joint Productivity Councils; there has been an inordinate delay in seeking ways and means out of this impasse and, above all, there has been a lack of fair treatment and reasonable consideration of staff claims. Had I the time, I would like to show how unfairly Post Office workers have been treated compared with workers in private industry and in some nationalised industries.

The trouble is probably mainly due to the Government's foolish and inequitable policy. The right hon. Gentleman and I have known each other for many years and I have not been one of those severe critics whom he has found in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express. There is nothing like one's own family when they start to turn on one for being bitter, vicious and violent. If these were his friends, I would not like to see unfriendly criticisms. With that in mind, I am sorry to say that the right hon. Gentleman has been something of a willing tool of the Treasury. I have not seen any evidence of his having kicked. Other Postmasters-General who have faced a similar situation with Treasury dicta have made their position clear to various Chancellors of the Exchequer, but I am sorry to say that in my long connection with the Post Office I have known few Postmasters-General who have become so unpopular with so many people in such a short time as the right hon. Gentleman.

I must warn him that there was a sense of complacency in his last few sentences. He said that things were going on all right. Will he take it from me in a friendly spirit that among some of the grades of the Post Office, especially the postmen and other basic grades, there is a deep sense of resentment about the way in which they are treated and a sense of dilly-dallying with claims which have been before the right hon. Gentleman since July 1961? I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to try to get together with these people and to reestablish the friendly relations. I hope he will remember that I said that he must give as well as expect to receive if he is to establish a good relationship.

In a sense I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said; but he referred to claims—in the plural—which, he said, had been before me since July, 1961. Would he be good enough to tell the House which claims he has in mind?

The claim of the Union of Post Office Workers. That claim has been before him since July, 1961.

I should like to deal with the White Paper—Post Office Prospects 1962–63. During the passing of the Post Office Bill, it was recognised, I think, on both sides of the House that if Parliament was to take a really keen interest in the Post Office—and I am one of those who believe that it should do so—it should be kept very fully and attractively informed of the developments. This White Paper is, I must confess, a distinct improvement on some that we have had in the past, but in certain directions it is not as informative as it could be. The Postmaster-General has not enlarged upon certain factors in it.

Paragraph 2 deals with growth of business. That is rather an Irishism because there has not been much growth. We hope that there will be next year. No reason is given why there has not been much growth and no explanation to justify hopeful feelings in the future. I will leave it there. Paragraph 3 deals with staff. It is an important paragraph, but it is given only four lines. It could not have been much shorter. The table in the Annex is an improvement on the way in which the figures used to be given. I would suggest, however, that from now on there should be another column or two columns showing how the figures compare with those of the previous year. I do not know how we are to understand the figures given unless there are comparisons. Like speed, which has to be related to something, I think that we ought to have the figures related to those of the previous year, showing either an increase or a decrease.

The White Paper says nothing about the staffing in the various grades, whether it is up to authorised establishment or below. In other words, it does not say whether any difficulties have been experienced in recruiting, which I understand there have been. It does not say whether recruits are forthcoming to the basic grades, who are not only suitable for the work that they will have to perform in those grades but suitable also for upgrading into some of the higher grades, such as the supervisory grades. I will give the information which I have obtained and which I hope is correct. I have taken every step to see that it is correct. My information is that in London at present there is a shortage of nearly 1,000 postmen. I understand that there are shortages also in a number of the provincial centres.

I am inclined to believe that there has been a deterioration in the quality of the service given by the Post Office in London. I say this from my own observations and from what has been reported to me. There are, for instance, failures to clear mails in the proper time. I will deal later with some of the reasons for these shortcomings. I understand that the Post Office is spending about £1,500 a week on attracting recruits. Many applicants turn down the job soon after taking it, and I have been asking myself why this should be. It is a serious matter. Are the wages offered so low that the men reject them out of hand, or are the advertisements misleading so that although people are told what is the maximum rate they are unaware of the lower rates?

The weekly wage of a postman aged 21 in Central London is £10 9s. 0d. Outside London it is 9 guineas. I ask the right hon. Gentleman in all seriousness, how does he think he is going to recruit men into this important service when the wage is so far below the national average industrial wage? I am pleased to know of the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the mechanical side of the service, but I would point out that he has a moral obligation to attend also to the human material in his charge.

I had thought of dealing with the paragraphs relating to buildings, but I will say no more than that I am glad to hear that it is proposed to start 65 new post offices and 50 sorting and delivery offices, and that there is to be a programme of replacement and modernisation at other offices. It is very difficult for hon. Members to assess the real value of a project without some information about the size of the problem and the arrears of work which have to be recovered. I do not know whether an assessment of that sort is possible in future White Papers, but it is certainly difficult to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is doing a good job if we only have the sort of statement which is presented to us on this occasion. If he intends to start in earnest on the post offices in Liverpool and Manchester alone, he has a very big job in hand.

I should like to deal with paragraph 7 relating to mechanisation. I have visited some of the sorting offices where experiments are being conducted with this mechanisation, and I should like to say how grateful I am to the Postmaster General and the Assistant Postmaster-General for their assistance and co-operation as well as to the post office officials who have accompanied me, and to the local staffs who have shown me all the intricacies of these new machines. I have been impressed, and indeed staggered. I never knew that a sorting office could look so much like a factory. It is an improvement and does much to meet the needs of modern times. The modern sorting office looks like a factory in every respect except one, and that becomes apparent when one asks what the personnel are being paid in the sorting offices. There is a big difference between the wages which are paid to them and those paid to the factory employees. The Post Office can claim full credit for what it is doing in the introduction of mechanisation connected with sorting, segregation, distribution, conveying and so forth.

The right hon. Gentleman has attacked one of our great allies today and said that all is not well in the American postal service. I do not attack anybody as a rule, and I do not attack allies, but I must say that, after having spent some time in the United States about three years ago visiting many post offices there, I am convinced that what can be seen here is much to the credit of the British Post Office. I did not see anything approaching what I have seen in our own post offices in the way of development, expansion and mechanisation.

At the end of my visits to post offices in this country, I asked myself this question. Where does experimentation finish and where does putting the thing into operation begin? Many years ago, I had a long experience in the telegraph service. I admit that these decisions are very difficult to make because scientific development is so rapid nowadays that what looks like the finished article today is almost outdated in a few years, but an enormous amount of capital was expended on the telegraph system and half of it was wasted because excellent systems were outdated almost before they were in universal use.

I suggested yesterday that, sometimes, the best becomes the enemy of the good or even of the very good. If we are to have the benefit of the money we are putting into this work, someone must at some time consider the question of when to decide to apply our knowledge and new ideas in service.

What I regard as one of the big problems which the right hon. Gentleman must tackle soon concerns the mail service in general and the handling and transit of mails. There is no reference to this in the White Paper apart from a mention of an experiment in the transit of mails between points in rural East Anglia. I am very grateful for a sight of the report of the study group which has been considering this matter. It is an excellent report. I know well many of the people who put their names to it and I respect their opinions, but I must say that if I were studying this report for the first time now I should come to conclusions rather different from those which I reached when it was first brought to my notice a few months ago.

The conclusion of the study group, as I understand it, is that the basic arrangements for handling and conveying letter mails are sound and that the present rail-based system should meet most requirements for as far ahead as we can see. About twelve months ago, I should, I think, have subscribed unhesitatingly to that view. I am not sure that I do so now. Since then, revolutionary changes have been proposed in the general policy for British Railways and we have seen the advent of the very efficient but ruthless executioner, Dr. Beeching.

The Post Office faces a problem here. Dr. Beeching is a tough protagonist. At present, he has a one-track mind. All he is thinking about is making the railways economically sound, and, as far as I can judge, he does not care two hoots what happens to the customers or the general public in the meantime. I suggest that the situation demands serious rethinking in the Post Office not only at administrative level but at high ministerial level, too, if our transport for the postal service is to be adequate for more than just the big provincial centres and London. I do not have time to deal extensively with many of the arguments I had thought out, but I must refer to the closing of branch lines on a large scale, for this presents quite a problem. It is, however, a problem which the Post Office can overcome, perhaps more easily than some would believe.

The right hon. Gentleman is making an experiment in East Anglia and I see no reason why, concurrently with that, he cannot also make similar experiments in rural Wales and Scotland. After all, they have separate regional directors and I see no reason why experiments could not be conducted there now and so save time later on. Even when the Commission does not intend to close lines it seems obvious that diesel trains will be utilised. These trains are inadequately equipped or unsuited to deal with postal traffic on fairly long journeys.

This is not confined to branch lines or rural areas. As I understand the problem, Dr. Beeching has a plan for fast passenger services between London and the main provincial centres. He intends to have non-stop or limited-stop trains and I understand that the railway authorities may consider that having too many mails on some of these fast trains may turn out to be a handicap to them and that they might, as a result, make things difficult for the Post Office.

Dr Beeching must be told by the right hon. Gentleman—and perhaps by the Cabinet—that the Post Office is one of his best customers, that it is an integral part of the communications system and that the railways and the Post Office must co-ordinate more than ever to make the system more effective than it is. I make that point because I sincerely feel that we are in danger now of two Government Departments working at cross purposes and that, as a result, the railways and the Post Office will suffer.

I will not deal with the gyro system but leave that to another time. I must, however, refer to the "Telecoms", for I regard the Report as encouraging in many ways. I will not repeat many of the remarks the Minister made, nor am I challenging them. The position shows, though, that a substantial surplus has been yielded during the past year and that another substantial surplus will be achieved in the next financial year.

When the Minister announced the increased charges last July people got the impression—I think it is fair to say this—that wage increases had, to some extent, at any rate, been responsible for the increases the Minister announced. The White Paper hardly confirms this.

It points, rather, to what I regard as an insatiable desire to provide a very large proportion of Post Office capital expenditure from its internal resources.

I do not dissent from the Post Office getting as much as it can from its own resources. I have said that frequently, but that should be done within reason. I am strongly opposed to it being the sole objective of the policy of the Post Office. In past years the Post Office was satisfied with just over 50 per cent. In 1961–62 it was 69 per cent. and now, according to the White Paper, if my calculations are correct, it is about 73 per cent.

Three points must be made regarding this. Firstly, is there no ceiling to this desire? There is a danger of the present customers having to bear an undue and oppressive burden for benefits which will accrue to posterity. Secondly, there is a danger of the social obligations of the Post Office being further squeezed out, as is happening on the railways. I am sure that the Postmaster-General has no wish to avoid his social obligations with regard to this service. Thirdly—and this is important—as a result, there will be a blocking of the expansion of schemes which are in themselves likely to be very necessary and, perhaps, extremely profitable. For example, the sooner the subscriber trunk dialling system is brought into universal use the bigger will be the profit accruing to the Post Office.

I now turn to capital expenditure on fixed assets. In 1960–61 this rose from £100·7 million to £105·4 million, an increase of £4·7 million. In the present year it has increased by £13·6 million to a total of £119 million. At first flush that seems to be very good. But is it as good as it looks? It includes upward price charges. That is reasonable. But it also includes the capitalisation of certain items. I will not bother to go into them now. The Postmaster-General knows what they are as well as I do. I estimate that, in real terms, the increase is about £8·4 million.

The Postmaster-General and I had a bit of cross talk over the Table yesterday about the telephone waiting list, I agree with him that rapid strides have been made in the last few years in this "matter, but I am not sure that the situation is as satisfactory as he tried to lead us to believe. This is what he once said:
"I am determined to prevent the number of those waiting for new exchanges or more cables, at present about 50,000, from rising".
Perhaps the Assistant Postmaster-General will tell us whether the number of those on the waiting list is under or over 50,000. The Postmaster-General continued:
"I want to reach the position when those unfortunate enough to have to wait can be within sight of service within twelve months and in straightforward cases with a service right away."
Perhaps the hon. Lady will tell us how near the right hon. Gentleman is to fulfilling that objective.

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman put his chest out when he said this:
"I am even less complacent about the telephone waiting list than the P.O.E.U. and the Daily Express, and I hope that we shall be able to do better."
I do not know what the Dally Express has done to come under fire as much as it has in recent weeks. Has the right hon. Gentleman achieved his objective?

The Times of 7th March had something to say about this matter. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not attack The Times merely because I refer to it. He has attacked all the newspapers except the Daily Herald. This is what the The Times said:
"Among all the forecasts of expansion and technical innovation there is one sad confession of no progress. The waiting list for telephones was not reduced last year and nothing is said about the prospects for next year."
Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman led us to believe that we are doing all right in this sphere. There is an obligation on the Assistant Postmaster-General to tell us how we have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, because, as I see it, The Times is quite right when it states that we have not made much progress this year. The White Paper is silent on this issue.

The demand for telephones is increasing faster than ever. About 1 million residential subscribers are still obliged to share lines, which they do not want to do. I do not propose to make comparisons with other countries, but I want to say a few words about subscriber trunk dialling. I read with great interest a fine article on subscriber trunk dialling by a Mr. J. M. Harper in the spring issue of "Telecommunications". I do not know this gentleman from Adam, but he has been writing most intelligently and knowledgeably on the subject of S.T.D. He comes to these conclusions and it is right that the public should know them. Briefly, they are as follows. I note with surprise, but with satisfaction, that 74 per cent. of the people who are now connected with S.T.D. prefer it to the old system. They think that it is quicker and cheaper.

Mr. Harper says, secondly, that the service has proved efficient and popular, that it has given a stimulus of 20 per cent. to trunk calls and that callers find S.T.D. procedure quite simple. Perhaps the Minister will refer that to his hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) after what he said last night. Mr. Harper says, in conclusion, that there has not been any marked effect on subscribers' bills. The bulk of subscribers who write to me are under a misapprehension. In future, I shall simply refer all my correspondents on that subject to Mr. Harper.

I accept all those conclusions. Therefore, I am bitterly disappointed to learn that there has not been as rapid an expansion as was forecast. It looks as if there has been a slight slowing down of the programme. According to Command Paper 973, 1960–61, about 40 per cent. of telephones should have S.T.D. by March, 1963. According to the White Paper, we are looking forward to only 33 per cent. That seems to me to be a rake's progress. It does not show much forward-looking initiative.

The Postmaster-General may remember that my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) and I made representations to him in regard to the charges for old people. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to meet me privately to consider ways and means of administering any changes. I have not heard from him—I do not know whether my hon. Friend has—and I should like to know before long what is happening about that.

I am disturbed about the Liverpool A.T.C. position and the transfer of work to Essex. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I have been connected with Liverpool for many years. I know of the tremendous work that the A.T.C. has done in conjunction with the Post Office in the development of the telephone service. Liverpool has held a proud place in regard to this association in the development of telephones.

Correspondence which has been shown to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) indicates that there will be substantial redundancy. I have read the report of the Merseyside Development Corporation as published in the Liverpool Echo last night, to the effect that unemployment on Merseyside is double tine national average and well above the average in the rest of the North-West Region. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the position and to see whether the long connection of A.T.C. with telephone traffic cannot be sustained and maintained. I shall be obliged to him if he does so.

I told the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) last week that redundancy at the Strowger main works in Edge Lane, Liverpool, was not due to the removal of telephone contracts by the Post Office from Liverpool to anywhere else but was due to rationalisation and reorganisation of which the Post Office does not have control. I assure the hon. Member, however, that we are watching the position carefully from all points of view, because I am just as much—perhaps even more—concerned with the employment situation in Liverpool.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that assurance, but there is a subsequent letter since he gave that assurance to my hon. Friend, and it seems to indicate that the position is not quite as he thought it was. Maybe there was a misunderstanding. I leave the matter there and accept the assurance.

I say, finally, that I wish the service well. Whatever difficulties have been experienced during the year, and there have been plenty, I hope they will not recur during 1962–63 and that all the big schemes which the Post Office has in mind will go on smoothly to the benefit of the public, the Post Office and the workers in the industry.

9.40 p.m.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) will understand if I do not follow him to Liverpool or deal with some of the very broad matters of general policy which he covered so well. I want to deal first with one or two matters relating to the most important post office in the United Kingdom and subsequently have a very brief look at one or two aspects of the more general picture.

Basically, most of the difficulties for both staff and public at the Acton Post Office arise from the inadequacies and unsuitability of the building and the whole of the available accommodation for sales and for sorting, and till something quite drastic is done to the building it seems likely that I shall continue to be a thorn in the side of my right hon. Friend. There are three possible alternatives. The first is to build an entirely new postal and sorting office somewhere else; the second is to build a sorting office somewhere else and to redesign the existing building so that it can provide a modern sales unit; and the third is to extend the existing building in the only direction possible on that site—which is upwards.

In case my right hon. Friend imagines that I am trying to make a mountain out of a molehill unnecessarily, let me remind him that Acton's post office serves the biggest industrial area in the whole of the Paddington district which, as he knows, stretches from W.2 to W.14. Much more than that, it serves the heaviest concentration of industry south of the Midlands. It also serves the thriving, bustling modern community which inevitably goes with such an industrial concentration. Having said this, let me hasten to add that I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the unsuitability of the present building and is seeking a solution to the problem, and today I am just trying to ensure that he does not relax his efforts.

The accommodation problem is one of long standing, and undoubtedly the solution will be a medium or long-term solution. That I realise and accept. In the meantime attempts have been made to provide a short-term relief for staff and public alike by providing in front of the counter new machines to sell id., ½d. and 3d. stamps and to sell 2s. books of stamps. These 2s. books of stamps have proved to be very popular indeed in Acton. I should like to suggest that the provision of a stamped stationery machine would be a useful addition in Acton, and, of course, a machine giving change would be invaluable.

Administrative modifications have also eased the congestion at the counter to a certain extent though not to any large extent. For example, the payment of pensions on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays instead of on Fridays only as formerly, has eased a little of the congestion. Some of our enlightened industrialists have also helped to reduce congestion at the counter by telephoning their requirements half an hour or so before sending their messengers, and by calling back after depositing their franking meters so that these can be attended to during the quiet period of the day. I mention this in the hope that other industrialists may follow the excellent example of Acton's paragons of virtue.

I am advised that the real answer to the frustration of customers in queues and the strain on the staff is to have all-purpose service at each counter position. At present in Acton Post Office there are twelve counter positions, of which six are devoted to the savings bank, pensions and licences, and the other six to the sale of stamps. Queues are heavy, particularly in the lunch hour and the afternoon, especially the late afternoon, because this office is open until half-past six.

It is generally felt, from the staff's point of view, that quite apart from a reduction in the size of queues, and the elimination of queues during parts of the day with the attendant elimination of frustration, all-purpose working tends to spread more evenly the strain of counter work. At present the man who deals all day long with savings banks and pensions work is under a heavier mental strain than the man who is carrying out the almost mechanical process of selling stamps. Although they take it in turns in different positions on the counter they do it for a long stretch at a time and it would be more convenient and less of a mental strain if they could intersperse this work with the more mechanical type of work each day.

Unfortunately, there is insufficient safe accommodation for all-purpose work all day on the counter in Acton. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see whether anything can be done about this. It may well boil down to lack of space to provide the safe accommodation required. If it does, then it is another reason for tackling the problem of general accommodation with vigour. Loose-leaf balancing with the aid of a Burroughs machine has been introduced in the post office and this helps to simplify accounting. It is much appreciated.

On the sorting office side in Acton there appears to be little that can be done to effect a major improvement in the limited space available, but I am advised that it might be possible to effect considerable economy in the distribution of telephone directories. This is general to London as a whole, but I should like to refer to it as I saw the problem and had it explained to me in Acton. At present each subscriber receives a local telephone directory. In addition, about 8,000 general London directories have to be distributed four times a year. I believe that for many of the local private subscribers the local directory is enough. They rarely need to refer to the larger directory and, therefore, probably they do not need it renewed quite so frequently as it is at present. Those who use the larger directories regularly would have no objection to writing their names and addresses on a pre-paid postcard slipped in at the beginning of each volume. They could post this to obtain a regular supply. In this way it would be known at least that the directories issued would be used and it might well effect a 50 per cent. saving, unless of course the advertising revenue from the present distribution enables my right hon. Friend to make a substantial profit.

To turn to more general subjects and to set them in the context of present conditions; in the industrial and scientific fields generally we are embarked in this country on what I think are the most fascinating and exciting developments that have taken place since the introduction of mass-producing machinery, and since the evolution of the factory system to replace the old cottage industries at the end of the eighteenth century and early in the nineteenth century.

The visible signs of this great new industrial and scientific revolution that are upon us are firstly, the growing accent on automation in our factories and offices, bringing in its train more leisure and the means to enjoy it; secondly, the development of atomic energy and space research with all its immense potentialities for good, bringing great possibilities of abundant cheap power and communications; thirdly, a speed-up in transport causing the world to shrink so fast that before the end of this century New York may well be as near to London in time as Paris is now.

Is this revolution reflected in the operations and plans of the Post Office? In spite of the pessimistic view that the hon. Member for Openshaw put forward—though towards the end of his speech he was quite optimistic about the future—I believe that the Post Office represents the modern trend. I am sure that anyone who has been to the Dollis Hill Research Station in the last two years will have seen something of a development of mail handling machinery aimed at reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

In this context, it might be helpful if we had some information on the experiments being conducted at Luton and Norwich. I have been interested to learn, in my private researches, of the wholly mechanised, push-button parcel sorting installations at Leeds, handling 10,000 parcels an hour. I should like to know more about this. The hon. Member for Openshaw suggested that we should have more such information to excite our imagination, so that we all would take a keener interest in Post Office methods. The machinery at Leeds is certainly the sort of thing which would interest many hon. Members. I shall not catalogue the whole range of new machines, but the evidence is there that the Post Office is in step with the development of automation. I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that the bold and progressive management of which he and his staff are capable keeps the Post Office in the forefront of advance.

The second visible sign of the twentieth century revolution is that the Post Office is already involved operationally in space research. We have heard of future plans and we know that an experimental station near the Lizard is being built. My right hon. Friend must ensure that his Department plays a leading role in establishing a commercially sound satellite communications system.

The transmission of trans-Atlantic television pictures, and, indeed, of trans-world television pictures, should also, I agree, assist in making the world a smaller place and in encouraging greater familiarity and understanding between nations. The big speed up in international transport which the development of supersonic aircraft presages calls for greater speed in international telephonic communications. The Post Office, as my right hon. Friend has told us, is well aware of this need.

We understand that the Post Office has plans to open up for London subscribers direct dialling to Paris, and that these are well advanced. We use various initials, and presumably the present S.T.D. system will become "subscribers international dialling", and we will call it "SID". Such expansions will play their part in more personal contacts with peoples of other nations. This is particularly important as trade barriers come down, and will be especially so if we reach a trading arrangement with the Common Market.

It must be apparent from what I have said that, whilst I applaud the progressive and imaginative reaction of my hon. Friend and his Department to the stimulus of the second half of the twentieth century, I feel far from satisfied with the facilities available in Acton. I believe that only the best is good enough for the public and the staff in Acton, and I feel that the Crown post office we have there now falls a very long way below the best.

I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend, but I am speaking about the most important Crown post office in the country. To reject this Motion would prevent my right hon. Friend from spending part of the £20 million on a new post office in Acton. As I have every confidence that he will not neglect Acton in the future as it has tended to be neglected in the past, I warmly support the Motion.

9.55 p.m.

I am in no sense of the term an authority on the working of the Post Office, and only venture to take part in this debate because I want to raise a point about Premium Bonds and the prizes which are drawn, for the administration of which the Postmaster-General is responsible. My interest arises from a letter written to me by a constituent, the contents of which I have communicated to the Minister.

The father of my constituent was the holder of a number of Premium Bonds, one of which was selected by "Ernie" for a £25 prize. Unfortunately, the holder died shortly before the beginning of the month when the number was drawn. His widow, who took out the Letters of Administration, was not in very good circumstances. She could well have appreciated that £25, but was, apparently, unable to obtain the money, although the bond belonging to her husband had won the prize. She could not have the prize because the holder had died before the first day of the month, and I understand that the money went into the pool to be drawn again later.

I have looked at the conditions on the application form issued by the Post Office in connection with Premium Savings Bonds, and the sixth condition reads:
"A Bond will be eligible for inclusion in the first draw held after the expiration of three months beginning on the first day of the month following the month in which it was purchased, provided that it has not been repaid before the expiration of those three months, and (subject to the provisions of paragraph 14 below) that the registered holder has not died before the expiration of the first two of those three months. After a Bond has qualified for its first draw it will be included in each succeeding monthly draw, unless it has been repaid before the first day of the month in which the draw is held or (subject to the provisions of paragraph 14 below) the registered holder has died before the first day of the month preceding the month in which the draw is held."
Delightful language; I read very word, I suppose that the ordinary person is expected to understand it. What it comes to is that if the person has died before the first day of the month he cannot be awarded a prize if his number is drawn.

Condition No. 14 is a little simpler. It states:
"The Treasury reserve the right by giving not less than three months notice in the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes… to vary the rate of interest"—
I think that 14 (c) is the material part. It states:
"… to vary the provisions of paragraph 6 above insofar as they relate to the eligibility of a Bond for inclusion in a draw after the death of the registered holder.…"
Presumably, therefore, the time may be varied.

I have discussed the matter, as being of some interest, with a number of people. None of them seems to be aware of this provision with regard to the death of the person before the first day of the month, and many holders of these certificates are quite unaware of it, too. This is a matter of some public importance. It is bad enough for some of us who have these bonds and never seem to have the good fortune to have "Ernie" select our numbers, but it is hard when a number is drawn and the holder has, unfortunately, died before the first day of the month, and, as a result, the next-of-kin cannot draw the prize.

What is the authority for this prohibition? I have gone to some trouble over the matter. I have looked at Section 43 of the Finance Act, 1956, which amended the National Loans Act of 1939, so as to make possible the issue of Premium Savings Bonds consequent on the announcement of the Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he introduced these bonds.

The detailed conditions for the purchase and holding of these bonds are prescribed in Statutory Instrument 1657 of 1956, known as the Premium Savings Bonds Regulations. Those Regulations have been amended from time to time. I have diligently and carefully searched through the whole of the Regulations, but there is not a single word that refers to this condition with regard to the death of the holder. There is no regulation which authorises withholding the prize money in the way indicated.

It may be that the Minister takes the view that he is entitled to do this under the conditions for the issue of these bonds. It is obvious from paragraph 14 that the right is reserved to vary the conditions of the draw. I ask the Minister whether this rule was made by him, and if it was, why it was made, and what was his authority for making it?

After all, if a person has an investment, on his death the interest on it goes to his next-of-kin, or to the person entitled to it under the terms of his will. If there were a bond drawing interest, presumably in the same way the bond itself and the interest on it would go to the next-of-kin or to the person entitled to it under his will. It seems somewhat unfair that because a person dies before the first day of the month his next-of-kin, or the person entitled to under his will should not in the same way get the prize money.

I hope that some consideration will be given to the justice of this matter, and if the present system is deemed to be unfair it may be possible to vary this matter in the way prescribed in paragraph 14 of the application form.

10.2 p.m.

After an all-night sitting, I do not wish to delay the House for more than a few moments. There are two points I wish to make. First, Folkestone was one of the first post offices to have an all-service counter, and I congratulate the Postmaster-General on the policy that he is pursuing.

Secondly, I should like to make a special plea on behalf of old people. Possession of a telephone is a matter of real concern to elderly people and I hope that my right hon. Friend will remember their needs. S.T.D. may be good and cheaper than the present system, but it is not so for those who have teen-age children or children in love, because a telephone then costs a lot more.

Home safety is a matter to which I have given considerable thought, and I therefore offer my right hon. Friend this suggestion. If he is not able to install telephones which can be used to make normal calls, will my right hon. Friend consider installing emergency bells which elderly people can ring to request immediate assistance when they find themselves in trouble?

10.3 p.m.

I am sure that the earlier business was of great importance to the House, but I would have very much welcomed the opportunity to discuss the Post Office earlier in the day. However, we can take full advantage of this opportunity because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) said, this is the anniversary of the new dispensation. I have one or two things to say to the Postmaster-General, but before doing so I offer him my congratulations on what he has done so far.

All postmen very much appreciated the decision to abolish the Christmas Day delivery of mail. I was particularly interested in this decision, because I remember on many occasions being dragged out early on Christmas morning to deal with the Christmas mail. The right hon. Gentleman's decision was warmly welcomed everywhere.

With a profit of just over £20 million I suppose that we are entitled to say, "Another good year." The right hon. Gentleman was quite right to say that there have been considerable developments. There has been an expansion of business and an increase is reflected in most of the services. The information may be found in the Report and Accounts, Cmnd. 1521.

I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw drew attention to the omission of any reference to staff relations. I do not understand this omission. For years there have been two for three paragraphs referring to this subject in the Report. I checked the 1958–59 Report and found these words:
"The year was distinguished by continued co-operation between the Post Office and the trade unions."
That was not exceptional, it has always been so. What is exceptional is that this year there is no reference to staff relations. That is all the more regrettable because of what has been happening and because staff relations have been thoroughly bad. We ought to admit it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw and I spent a number of years in the Post Office service. My hon. Friend made a tremendous contribution to the welfare of the service and I tried to do my share. This year there have been strained relations and a break-down in relations with the unions. I agree with my hon. Friend that this has been due mainly to Government foolishness and also because the Postmaster-General has too often maintained the view held by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I remember that when Mr. Wilfred Paling was Postmaster-General there was a wage claim discussion and that, according to Civil Service practice, what was termed corresponding points, or rates of assimilation, were applied. This meant that a 5s. increase would be received over a period of three years. Perhaps the first shilling would be paid the first year and the second shilling the following year and the remainder in the third year. Mr. Paling, who was an exminer, could not understand why the 5s. was not paid at once, and he fought with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on behalf of the grade in the Post Office which was affected. That sort of action has been lacking on the part of the Postmaster-General. I should have liked to have seen him stand up for the Post Office staff and not necessarily agree with everything, even from the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

During next year the Postmaster-General should endeavour to rebuild the good understanding which formerly existed in the Post Office. I hope that every effort will be made to rebuild what I believe to be the finest system of staff consultation in the country. There is nothing like it in any industry. Mr. Ron Smith, the General Secretary of the Union of Post Office Workers, said again and again during the period of the work-to-rule that he derived no satisfaction from what was happening. I do not derive any satisfaction either from having to refer to the difficulties of the last twelve months.

What has happened to the Report this year? It contains no reference to public relations. This subject has been mentioned in previous years. Previously, a whole section of the Report has been devoted to public relations, including customer surveys, exhibitions, and Post Office advisory committees. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the advisory committees make an important contribution in bringing about an understanding of Post Office work. Yet the Report this year does not mention these bodies. I regret this very much, especially as this is the first year of the new status of the Post Office. Does it mean that, with its new commercial freedom, the Post Office is not interested in public relations?

On the Second Reading of the Post Office Bill last year the Minister said this:
"It is, I think, a fact that, at present, the public is curiously ill-informed about many of our facilities and services.… We need much more publicity and much better public information."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1961; Vol. 633, c. 181–2.]
It may be a slip that these matters are not mentioned this year, but I hope that it will not happen again.

I must confess my disappointment with the White Paper, Post Office Prospects. Incidentally, last year's White Paper, The Status of the Post Office, cost 6d., whereas this year's White Paper costs 8d. Each White Paper has seven pages. There is very little difference in the contents. These are scrappy documents. They do not measure up to what we want them to do. I remind the Minister that we were given an assurance in Committee on the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw drew attention to the need for more attractive publications. The Assistant Postmaster-General said that the Post Office would endeavour to give us lucid and attractive reports. She said that if possible the Department would issue a popular version which people could understand. I have not seen a popular version and I am not very happy about the two documents we have received.

I have another criticism. Apart from the fact that the document is scrappy, its content is not what I should like it to be. Why has the general pattern of the document been Changed? Somebody at Post Office headquarters has been having a lot of fun throwing the mud about. If there is one thing which makes a document valuable when it is issued from year to year, it is that people have the opportunity of making comparisons. I invite the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General to go through the two documents. It is very difficult to compare one year with another. This is not helpful. I should not like to believe that this has been done deliberately. I should not like to think that there is an effort at Post Office headquarters deliberately to hide information.

I do not like the presentation of the statistics. It is difficult to find the number of established staff, the numbers in the grade, how many temporaries are employed, and so on. Far more information about the staff should be given. The presentation of the Civil Estimates has been revised for this year and statistics about civil servants are set out quite separately, although those for Post Office workers are excluded. The Post Office Act provided that Post Office workers would still be civil servants, and the information given about them should be no different from that given about other civil servants. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the presentation of this document and to try to improve it. But I hope that, having improved it, he will let that be the pattern for future years, because changing the pattern makes it extremely difficult to follow the information and see what progress has been made.

The White Paper obscures what I believe is becoming a serious problem of recruitment. I have no desire to exaggerate, but in my days we staffed the main grade, postmen, either from boy messengers or from ex-Regulars. The boy messengers came in to make a career and then went right through the Service. They and the ex-Regulars remained in the service and could be relied upon to remain. One of the things which is emerging from the present situation is that far too many young men are leaving the Post Office. I have some figures of which the right hon. Gentleman will be aware because they have been given to him from another quarter. The Union of Post Office Workers took a return from 60 offices from six regions covering all sorts of towns and cities, large and small, and rural areas. This survey revealed that many young men were leaving the Post Office.

This is a serious matter for the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman knows that after the war reallocation was introduced to give young men an opportunity to progress through the grades. If young men do not stay on in the service, it will be difficult to fill the higher posts—postmen higher grade, postal and telegraph officers, and so on. The right hon. Gentleman knows the problem of postal and telegraph officers in London. The limited and open competition will not give the staff we want for very important grades in the Post Office. The supervising posts are also dependent upon the basic grades and we are losing far too many of the young men who could eventually occupy them. There is no doubt that wages in outside industry are a factor for they are much more attractive than those in the Post Office, particularly in large industrial towns. It is extremely important to hold on to our young men. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will not be the Postmaster-General when the problem emerges, but it will emerge and I am sure that those in the Post Office who will have to deal with the problem are very troubled.

It is a little difficult to assess the value of the building taking place during the next year, but I believe that it is not as fast as we would like. There are far too many offices throughout the country which are no credit to the Post Office, especially when they are compared with multiple stores and groceries and other shops. I am somewhat troubled that many of our post offices are too slowly, if at all, going through a transformation.

I had the privilege of serving on the Estimates Committee when, last year, we dealt with the subject of school buildings. We had an opportunity to study the work done by organisations of consortia in which a number of local authorities got together so that a building could be erected very quickly. Many of us saw these schools being developed. The buildings are adaptable for meeting a number of conditions and the Committee said that other Departments should be considering this form of building—the War Office, hospitals, and so on, and, I think, the Post Office.

Growth is a very important matter to the Post Office. Populations move and this has a great effect on certain post office accommodation and telephone exchange accommodation. Sometimes it is not the right thing to put up buildings which will last for a hundred years. They do not really meet the situation. I hope that the Post Office will look very seriously at the method that has been adopted in our school building programme.

Another matter is the siting of post offices which provide counter services. I have been watching Questions on the Order Paper over the last few months, and I find that there are many hon. Members who are concerned about sub-offices. They feel that their constituents are not getting the counter services to which they are entitled. Almost all have raised the issue of distance, remoteness, the number and allocation of houses, hills and steep gradients, mothers with young children and old age pensioners.

As I have watched these Questions on the Order Paper, and listened to the Assistant Postmaster-General's replies, I have felt much sympathy with her. I have this problem in my own constituency, but I will not trouble the hon. Lady with it tonight. I think that the problem is larger than can be dealt with on an individual basis. Nevertheless, my constituents are suffering. They have steep gradients to climb and long distances to go. They live in the tough North and not in the soft South, and that makes a lot of difference when mothers have to push perambulators uphill and for some distances.

I do not want now to develop my own constituency problems, neither do I want to develop the problem of the Crown office versus the sub-office, which is a very contentious one. I plead for consideration to be given to certain parts of the country. There are large areas where the sub-offices serve very well. In some rural areas, not all, but the majority, the old sub-office is suitable. There are some vast housing estates and I do not doubt that sub-offices or Crown offices have been built there. Those living in large council housing estates are usually well served.

I am concerned with the urban areas where small council estates have been put up and where the only sub-offices available are those which were sited many years ago and have no relation at all to the build-up of the community—in fact, sub-offices which had nothing like the business to deal with that they have today. The business which the Post Office has had to deal with since 1945 is quite different from that of the old days. The social legislation which has been put on the Statute Book means that nearly all the post offices are serving different types of customers from those in the past. Today, they have to deal with mothers with children's allowances and old-age pensioners. Most of the sub-offices are very badly sited in the areas to which I have drawn attention.

I ask whether the time has not arrived for a study of this situation. I ask for nothing more than that. I believe that this problem must be known in the regions. I feel that it is wrong to bargain with the Assistant Postmaster-General in the way that we are accustomed to do, when we speak of constituents who live a mile away from a post office, people who have to climb steep gradients to get there, old-age pensioners, and mothers who have to push perambulators. I do not think that is the right approach. The time has arrived when the Post Office should consider the problem as it affects the areas which I have mentioned.

I am glad to have had the opportunity of speaking in this debate. I hope that next year we shall have a similar debate, but that it will take place earlier in the evening.

10.26 p.m.

I want to ask three questions which I hope the Assistant Postmaster-General will answer. My first question relates to the problem, which is in the minds of many of us, of moving business offices out of the London area to outlying districts. The Town and Country Planning Association has just published a report resulting from interviews with sixty firms which have moved out of London into an area within a 25-mile radius of central London. The majority of these firms were overwhelmingly satisfied with the move. They have found great advantages but there have been disadvantages, one of which is the high cost of telephones, for obviously businesses incur large telephone bills.

A more serious disadvantage has been the delay in the postal service. When the Assistant Postmaster-General replies on the question of postal services, I should like her to say whether the Department has examined the problems of these firms and the particular difficulties which they experience. Without detracting in any way from the general needs of the ordinary customer, I should like her to say whether the postal services to these firms can be improved, for it is of vital importance in connection with the whole planning policy that telephone and postal services should be adequate if we are to decentralise office and business accommodation from central London.

My second question relates to recruitment. On 28th February I asked the Minister of Labour whether he could state how many men between the ages of 60 and 65 were unemployed, and he said that on 11th December last year there were 34,724 unemployed men in that age group. A number of men in that age group become redundant and have to take lighter work. In view of the difficulty which the Post Office experiences in recruitment, I wonder whether it is possible to do something for this group of men. I refer particularly to the Post Office advertisements inviting recruits from men between the ages of 18 and 59. I know that there are difficulties connected with the employment of older men, from the point of view of pensions and the type of work that they are able to do, but I wonder whether something can be done to bring some of these men into employment and to raise the age limit above 59.

My third point, which has already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams), relates to the problem of elderly people and the telephone service. The hon. Lady knows that if elderly people, particularly those living alone, can have the telephone, they are enabled to be self-supporting and self-sufficient for a very much longer time than they would be if they had not that means of keeping in touch with their friends and calling someone in to help in an emergency.

After Questions in the House on this subject, the Postmaster-General was good enough to write to me on 8th February explaining some of the difficulties in helping elderly people with their telephone charges. In the last paragraph of his letter, he said that he was setting in hand a further examination of the whole problem. How is that examination proceeding? Can the hon. Lady give us a report about it tonight or say when we may expect to have one? It is a matter of great concern to elderly people, as she knows.

10.30 p.m.

I associate myself with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) about the provision of telephones for elderly people, and I support what was said on the matter by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). Old people living on their own are often very lonesome and a telephone in the home gives a good deal of comfort, especially during the winter when it is difficult for them to get about.

I want the Postmaster-General to consider this matter seriously and sympathetically. I suggest that he should have discussions with those local authorities which operate call systems which old people can use in the event of illness or trouble. If he cannot make concessions to old people so that they may have the telephone in the home, he should arrange for some kind of call system, perhaps operated through a central exchange, which old people can use to ask for help if need be.

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not present. His absence puts me in a rather invidious position because I wish to comment on something he said in his opening speech. He seemed rather hurt when he was talking about the wage pause and its effect on Post Office workers. If there should ever be such a thing as a wage pause again—I sincerely hope that there will not—he should, instead of basing his comparisons on what is happening in this country, make his comparisons with wages paid to telephone operators and post office workers in other countries. If he had done that in this case, he would have seen that the criticisms levelled against him by the Post Office unions were necessary and well founded criticisms.

Wage increases on the Continent averaged between 11 per cent. and 12 per cent. whereas in this country the rise was only 3·4 per cent. Post Office workers had good reason to feel strongly in the matter. I hope that future relations between the right hon. Gentleman and his Department and the unions will be better than they have been in 1961 and 1962.

I felt that the Postmaster-General took a rather easy view of Post Office activities today. The number of people on the waiting list for telephones has increased during the past three months or so. Over the years, the number had been coming down, but the move is now upwards again. Is this the sort of standard which the Post Office is to give in the future?

It is not always the right course for hon. Members to make comparisons between certain years. I hate to hark back to 1951 or the years between 1945 and 1951 because so often we hear hon. Members being scornful or gloating over what happened during that period. I wish that they would sometimes consider the standards that existed in the years up to 1939. Rather than make those sort of comparisons, hon. Members should compare our communications system with that of other countries. I was interested to find that, compared with countries with similar standards of living, we are ninth on the list regard- ing the number of telephones per 100 of the population. Is the Postmaster-General pleased about that? Is he satisfied that, in this so-called affluent society, we should be ninth on the list?

It is worth remembering that many of the countries on the list have fewer people to the square mile and, therefore, the capital investment required for each telephone is higher. The Post Office unions are constantly trying to make the right hon. Gentleman realise that more telephones must be provided, specially since so much of the profit of the Post Office is derived from that source.

Satellite communications is an important aspect for the future. In so many things the Government allow private enterprise to step in after public money has been spent on the necessary research. Just as the Channel bridge or tunnel requires a lot of work before it can be constructed, so the Government need to spend a great deal of money if they are to develop a proper satellite communications system. I hope that they will not delay in the development of this means of communications and allow private enterprise to step in—the Government having paved the way and done all the ground work.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of co-operation among Commonwealth countries. I hope that will happen, but that request for co-operation should not be restricted to the Commonwealth. Any country willing to co-operate should be welcomed so that we can give a lead to the world in satellite communications. In this connection, I hope that the Postmaster-General will oppose the cold, clammy hand of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and will demand that more money is spent on research into the development of this communications system. The money must be found. It cannot be got from the income of the Post Office and I hope that the Chancellor's cold hand will not prevent this development taking place.

We on this side of the House will give every support to both Ministers and their Departments and all employees in the Post Office unions to ensure that the Post Office organisation improves in efficiency and in working relations and continues to be an example to the rest of the world of what a nationalised industry can do in the service of the nation.

10.40 p.m.

The debate may have been short, because it has come at a late hour; nevertheless it has been worth while. This vast department of State is debated all too rarely in the House. Other than on the harm he has done to staff relations over the past year, the Postmaster-General is to be congratulated upon a measure of success in such matters as the introduction of subscriber trunk dialling, his interest in satellite communications, and the start made on modernising the Post Office. Unfortunately, few people know about Post Office achievements. Two or three hon. Members have mentioned this, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall) and the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Holland).

Generally speaking, the Postmaster-General is an uncommunicative character. This is reflected in the two White Papers of the past two years. They are not helpful. They are short and scanty in content. They could have been expanded, to the benefit of the public and of the Post Office. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has taken note that two of my hon. Friends have pointed this out to him. I know that it is difficult for him to follow his "gimmicky" predecessor. I should not like him to go to extremes and copy his predecessor's methods, but the public are entitled to know more about the Post Office and its services. If they did, the Post Office itself would benefit financially from greater use of those services.

I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have gone into more detail about the progress being made in the mechanisation of the Post Office. I have already suggested that he should consider showing on film or television the working of the electronic random number indicator "Ernie" so that the public may see that it is a fair system. What progress is being made with the electronic sorting machine, "Elsie"? This appears to be the first stage of mechanisation of letter sorting. Hot on its heels we are having automatic sorting by machine which reads phosphorescent guide dots on envelopes. Are both experiments proving a tremendous success? If so, what thought is being given to the introduction of uniformity of envelopes. We have an automatic letter-facing machine, "Alf", which would benefit in operation if there were such uniformity. Mention of these machines makes me look forward to the day when we might have machines called "Reggie" and "Mervyn".

My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West mentioned sorting offices and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) spoke of the progress he had seen made in some of them. I should like to refer to what I have witnessed in a London sorting office. No doubt this happens in many large city offices. As the five-day week is introduced generally and hours are staggered for the benefit of workers, letters are posted later in the city and reach the sorting offices later in the day. Trains still leave almost at the same time, with the result that feverish activity is concentrated into a short period to get the mails off on time. Business people in the City still expect the same service and efficiency, but they should be told that this is proving difficult because of the short space of time and that it is essential to post earlier. This applies also to business people in other cities.

Mention has been made of the all-purpose counters. What progress is being made with these? Much still remains to be done. I have visited some, particularly in my constituency. Post offices in small towns are usually overcrowded. The counters are short and some of them are shared by various services. One gets criss-cross queues with feverish activity at one counter while others, which still have to be manned, are little used. This results in public inconvenience and some bad service.

I know that the Post Office is doing something about this problem, particularly in the large towns. But, with the post offices busier than ever, the right hon. Gentleman should be thinking about some of the smaller post offices, particularly in the North, and trying to get a more rapid service in them.

A matter which has often been raised in this House is that of pictorial stamps. I know the arguments against—that this country's position is unique and that we can only continue leaving our name off stamps while the monarch's head appears on them. Nevertheless, pressure is mounting on this issue. Philatelists particularly want more pictorials, and there is an increasing demand for them both at home and abroad. It would be a splendid opportunity to display our history and our culture, and the right hon. Gentleman should certainly consider broadening the experiment.

A short while ago, we had a pictorial stamp showing our castles. This was a high-priced stamp. On it, we retained the monarch's head in a prominent place alongside attractive pictures of castles, and we did not include the name of the country. The right hon. Gentleman should consider issuing stamps of this nature in the lower denominations, thus being able to satisfy the desire of the philatelists and to increase demand. The Post Office would benefit financially.

We have often criticised the Postmaster-General for uncommunicativeness, for not telling the people about the services, and for doing little about advertising. There is no mention of advertising in the 1961 Report, nor in the two White Papers. He is aware of the importance of advertising and of the urgent need for it in the Post Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West quoted what the right hon. Gentleman said during the Second Reading of the Post Office Act, 1961, and I will do so again. The right hon. Gentleman said:
"It is, I think, a fact that, at present, the public is curiously ill-informed about many of our facilities and services.…
We need much more publicity and much better public information."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1961; Vol. 633, c. 181–2.]
What is the right hon. Gentleman doing about it? I admired his stand when he was questioned about advertising on the front covers of telephone directories; he took them away from commercial companies and is now using them for Post Office advertising. He lost about £20,000 in doing so, but, no doubt, because people are becoming more informed about Post Office services, he will get that money back. The sales staff are partly responsible for promoting sales and informing people of the services. They have gone through a very long and tedious period of explaining, first, why people cannot have a telephone, and now that, as the right hon. Gentleman says, the waiting list is being reduced it has coincided with the introduction of subscriber trunk dialling—S.T.D.

Here, the Postmaster-General is subject to some criticism. S.T.D. was introduced with little preparation. The public were not fully informed. The right hon. Gentleman has had shoals of complaints, there has been correspondence in the national Press, and he has been questioned time and again in the House. The Post Office is now having to counteract all that by using Press advertising to defend S.T.D. The right hon. Gentleman's comments tonight emphasised that point. My hon. Friend pointed out that after a time, when people have become accustomed to using S.T.D. they have found it beneficial, but they should have been more fully informed before hand. They would not then have adopted the Luddite approach of which the Postmaster-General spoke, and would not have been afraid of the change.

The trouble is that the public are not informed at all. Indeed, even those who have the telephone are not fully taught how to use it to the best advantage. The telephone is not just a social instrument for the use of the "toffs" of society, and an emergency line for the poor. It is a household thing, and is just as useful as any other piece of household equipment such as the washing machine or the refrigerator.

More should be done by the Post Office to advertise the telephone's usefulness, and then we might creep up in the league of telephone users. Among the twelve countries that are most advanced in the use of the telephone, we are ninth. In Canada, the average number of calls made per person per year is 538; United States, 520; Sweden, 348; Denmark, 302, and Switzerland, 230. Because our people are not being properly educated in its use, our average is 90.

It is time that the Post Office spent a little more on advertising that side. How many people are aware of all the services that are offered? I wonder how many hon. Members would know what number to ring for the weather forecast, or to find out what is on in London, or for an alarm call in the morning? Few of them would know one of those numbers, and I doubt whether any would know all three. We are supposed to be informed people, yet I doubt whether the public are fully informed of all the services which the Post Office provides. We have a telephone weather forecast service in twelve centres, but few people know that those centres exist. In conjunction with the Automobile Association, we have a road weather service at nine centres, operating throughout the winter, but I doubt whether any hon. Member could tell me of a centre with that service.

I therefore do not think that the Post Office is tackling the problem with the necessary enthusiasm. The Postmaster-General has often said in the past that he cannot get over to people that there are coloured telephones, a wide range of stamp books, high-value postal orders, and the like. In 1961, British Railways spent twice as much on Press advertising as the Post Office, and even the National Savings Movement spent more than did this vast public service in letting people know precisely what was offered. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, the responsible authority for the B.B.C. and I.T.A., does not use those media to the full to get the information over—

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, the distinction is that the Post Office spends less than do British Railways on advertising but, perhaps, spends it more wisely—and succeeds in making a profit.

I do not see how the Postmaster-General can say so emphatically that the money is spent more wisely, when hon. Members cannot tell from the Reports how it was spent. We should like to see a boost in the use of the services as a result of Press advertisements. I cannot see that the right hon. Gentleman can maintain that standpoint when we are not as informed as we should be.

I wonder if the Postmaster-General has interested himself in an experiment which has taken place in Germany during the past five years—comfort and guidance by telephone. I think that this is a matter worthy of consideration by the Post Office. It would, no doubt, necessitate a pilot scheme. I know that something is already being done along these lines on a small scale and which is called the "Good Samaritan Service". It caters for an unfortunate category of people suffering from mental depression, loneliness and distress, particularly old folk. Two hon. Members have already mentioned a service for the old people.

I should have thought that we could now give some consideration to introducing a national telephone number which could be regarded as a signal for bringing comfort to lonely people. Even a conversation with the telephone operator might help initially, but in the large cities I have no doubt that a number of clergymen, psychiatrists and social workers would be willing to form a committee which, on receiving a call via the exchange, might be able to help and comfort the lonely. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at this suggestion sympathetically and see if he can help. It might be an extension of the Good Samaritan Service.

I now turn to the problems of cables versus satellites. I believe that at this stage we ought to query to what extent we are going to be interested in satellite communications. There is bound to be an argument concerning the extent to which this form of communication will outdate the cables system, whether the satellites will be supplementary to the cables or whether we can draw in our horns on cable expenditure. The conference at present taking place in London of Commonwealth representatives interested in Commonwealth satellite communications will no doubt be studying this question in great detail in the next few weeks.

As far as I can gather, our commitments so far on cable laying represent, first of all, a recently concluded agreement to lay another transatlantic cable between the United States and this country at a cost of £18 million. This cable, I understand, is to be laid next year. Secondly, there is the long leg of the Commonwealth cable between New Zealand and Canada via Fiji and Hawaii which is to be laid in 1964 at a cost of £26 million. The New Zealand-Australian link is being laid this year. This will mean that half of the "round the world cable" will have been laid.

Can the Postmaster-General say whether thought has been given to halting there and hoping that by 1965 global communications, including the Commonwealth countries, might then develop? I know that progress is proving to be rapid in this field, and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Openshaw and myself I applaud the endeavours of the Post Office in this matter. The Postmaster-General said recently that it is not his desire to be a "space titchie". We should be obliged if the right hon. Gentleman would take the matter a bit further and say positively what we are going to do. We cannot allow ourselves to trail behind in these developments.

The Post Office, alongside the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the French Centre for Telecommunications Studies, is cooperating in an ambitious and hopeful project, a project to demonstrate the feasibility of Atlantic communications via space satellites. Our contribution to date is the building of the Goonhilly transmission and reception ground station at a cost of £600,000. This may be all very well for experimenting initially to see how good the system might be of transmitting to the satellite over the Atlantic and to America.

We should like to know to what extent we are going to be fastened on this. Does it mean that if the experimenting which the Post Office is now carrying out with the United States proves successful shall we rent communications from the Americans? Shall we be able to look forward to achieving what I understand are the Post Office's targets of a 24-hour telephone service with 1,000 telephone channels and with one or two television links as well? To What extent are we going to have our own satellite system? If it is to be used with America, it looks as though we will have to rent it, and this might prove too costly.

We should like to see the Post Office and the Ministry of Aviation going ahead with attempts, either with Europe, or with the Commonwealth countries, to launch our own satellite. The Blue Streak missile which has failed militarily could be used as the first launching vehicle for satellite purposes. We know that if we go into the space communications race it will prove costly initially, but we think that eventually it will prove worth while. We hope that the Government, and particularly the Post Office, will do all that they can to speed up this development.

I understand that the British Space Development Company presented a plan to the Government five months ago, outlining how we could set up a global system of telecommunications. So far the Government have given no indication of their reaction to this plan. The Commonwealth is interested. Europe is interested. We are technically advanced in this sphere. Our research scientists and some Post Office engineers have done research into space satellites. We have the initial launcher vehicle. We should be giving some indication to our scientists, engineers, and space rocketry people that we are going to do something about this, and that we intend to develop space communications.

I turn finally to the question of bulk supply agreements. This is the system whereby the Post Office, in purchasing telephones, cables, exchange equipment, and so on, has been dealing for many years with a ring of firms. A reservation clause has been introduced in the last few years, and this has meant a slight relaxation of the grip that the ring has had on the Post Office.

Throughout this period the system of purchasing Post Office equipment has been open to criticism, and indeed has been subjected to many probes by the Public Accounts Committee and by the Select Committee on Estimates. It was questioned in 1947 and 1954 by the Public Accounts Committee, and again by the Select Committee on Estimates in 1950. The Monopolies Commission examined the cable industry in 1952, and as a result the reservation clause was adopted. This asked the Post Office to place a percentage of its orders with firms outside the ring. It was very small. It was approximately 10 per cent. and at this stage we are nowhere near that.

I want the House to note that there have been two important recent developments. First, there was the Pye take-over of a number of the ring firms. Secondly, there was the Third Report from the Public Accounts Committee.

Let us deal with the first. Prior to the Pye take-over, Mr. C. O. Stanley, a spokesman of the company, made a few statements. He told the President of the Board of Trade that in the interests of the export trade, and in the interests of telecommunication and telephone equipment the ring should be destroyed, first, because it was wrong anyway, and, secondly, because it was proving disastrous to our export effort, pointing out that exports from the ring had stagnated over the past three years while world telephone business had more than doubled in the past five years. Thirdly, he demanded that the dosed shop conditions in telephone manufacture and design should be ended.

He was then on the outside looking in. Now he is inside and is a party to the bulk supply agreement. Would not it be right to ask the Postmaster-General whether Mr. Stanley has made representations to him reasserting his previous demands? May we also be told the extent to which our exports of telephone equipment are either stagnating or flourishing?

The reason why we want to know more about the activities of the ring and its effect on exports is that a merger has taken place within the ring. In August of last year an announcement appeared in the Financial Times stating that a £55 million merger in the communications industry involving the Plessey Company, the Automatic Telephone and Electric Company and Ericsson Telephones was now in being. This means that about 40 per cent. of the telephone work done for the Post Office in this country will be in the hands of the new group. It is in a very strong monopoly position, and if it was not a question of Crown privilege on agreements, this would be worthy of examination by the Monopolies Commission. We must remember that this group is a party to the two main agreements with the Post Office in connection with exchange equipment for telephone purposes.

The merger happened in August of last year almost, it appeared, in defiance of what had happened a month before, when the Third Report from the Committee of Public Accounts appeared. It is interesting to read what the Committee states about this system of bulk purchasing, when the position was not quite as bad as this new merger has made it. Paragraph 58, on page 21 of the Report, states:
"Orders placed in 1959–60 amounted to £28·5 million."
That is quite a sizeable figure. In paragraph 59 there is another sentence stating:
"… the rates of profit actually earned by the manufacturers are not known to the Post Office."
That is strange.

Paragraph 61 states:
"Your Committee note … that a comparatively small number of manufacturers have enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the supply of an important and substantial part of Post Office requirements for over thirty years, and they are concerned that the normal system of competitive tender should, with the acquiescence of the Post Office, have been set aside for so long. It appears to them that in the absence of competition there can be no assurance that these supplies are being obtained by the most economical methods. The introduction of the reservation clauses into the current agreements for telephone apparatus and exchange equipment is a welcome, though belated, appreciation of the merits of competition. Your Committee accordingly recommend that the Post Office should invite tenders from firms outside the agreements up to the full limit permitted by the agreements, and thus give evidence of a determination to widen the field of supply, and foster competition. If, as your Committee hope, there is an adequate response from the industry, they trust that the Post Office will consider the possibility of terminating the present system."
This is Civil Service phraseology, and not a politician stating forcibly and emphatically what he thinks about this matter. The Committee is not satisfied. It does not think that the Post Office is getting value for money in this operation and it would like to see the ring broken. The Report continues:
"It is, however, most unsatisfactory that, for example, the cable agreement, covering the period of four years from September, 1957, should not have been signed until three of the four years for which it was to run had elapsed."
It had been operating for three of the four years and no signatures had been appended to the agreements. In other words, there was a measure of inefficiency and complacency and a could-not-care-less attitude on the part of the Post Office to this problem. What an indictment of the Post Office. First of all, the ring is assisted to the tune of £28½ million. Secondly, there is no knowledge on the part of the Post Office of the profits which the firms are making. Thirdly, there is the could-not-care-less attitude about the signing of the agreements. Work had been done and money paid out for three years without any signatures being appended to the agreements until last year. Fourthly, in defiance of the Report from the Public Accounts Committee, which expresses the hope that more firms should tender and that there will be a termination of the ring, we see a tightening of the monopoly position where one group now does 40 per cent. of the telephone work for the Post Office.

It may be that Crown privilege operates and protects the Postmaster-General from appearing before the Monopolies Commission. If that is so, and nothing more positive is done to stop these malpractices, we on this side of the House must ask for this privilege to be waived in the public interest. I note that the Postmaster-General gave an intimation that he was widening the tenders and inviting more firms outside the ring to tender for exchange equipment. We think that this is a favourable trend and we intend to watch it closely to see how it develops. Even though the right hon. Gentleman takes it farther than hitherto, it would appear that he has a long way to go before breaking down the monopoly position of this ring system.

Finally, there is still much to be done to improve the Post Office and the vast public service which it offers to us. A measure of progress has been made, which we all applaud, but we only hope that the phrase "public service" is never forgotten, especially during this year of commercial thinking. We welcome this change in Post Office procedure, whereby more opportunities are being provided for debate. We hope that this will continue. Then if the Postmaster-General cannot advertise his successes, hon. Members who take pride in the Post Office will be able periodically to do so.

11.10 p.m.

We have had an interesting debate and at this late hour it is very tempting to answer in detail all the questions which have been raised. I will try to emulate previous speakers, however, and be as brief as possible and cut out as many frills as I can.

In trying to draw together all the threads of the debate and all the threads and ramifications of our Post Office activities, I wish that I could have here the working model which is now at the Ideal Home Exhibition and which has been designed by Mr. Emett. It shows in detail, and very often in fantastic but vivid detail, all the many activities of the Post Office. That would possibly give a more comprehensive, and certainly a more amusing, vital and vivid, picture than I can possibly put over tonight.

My right hon. Friend said that I would go in greater detail into the workings of the postal side of Post Office administration. Several hon. Members have mentioned certain aspects of our postal services. I am glad that people have praised the all-purpose working which we have introduced this year. We believe that it is one of the most important things which we have done on the postal side. It has certainly pleased the customer. It has speeded up our Posit Office working and I think that it has improved customer relations, which is a very good and a very important thing.

I hope that hon. Members have noticed that not only have we got the all-purpose working in this context, but we have got rid of the grille between the counter clerk and the customer and we are putting up glass screens, which not only add to the comfort of the customer but make the place look brighter and remove some of the barriers which seemed to exist before.

We recognise the difficulties in Acton. My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Holland) certainly keeps them before us the whole time. We promise him that we will not drag our feet in trying to give him the improvements which he wants.

We are bringing more self-service machines into our post offices. These are helping to cut down queues and add to the convenience of the customers. We should all like change machines and stationery dispensers, but these things cost money and take time. However, we are pushing ahead with them as fast as we can.

We are not only improving our service in this way. We are at the same time doing what we can to improve and brighten Post Office buildings. Capital expenditure on the postal services next year is expected to amount to about £10 million. Much of this will go on buildings. The White Paper mentions the building programme for 1962–63 and provides for a start to be made on about 65 new post offices and 50 sorting offices and delivery offices.

The hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall) said that many retail shops are improving their appearance and brightening up their premises. I remind him that a retail shop has a very different problem and challenge. The turnover of a retail shop can be increased if the building is made more attractive. Our problem is that we have all the time to balance the cost of our overheads with our turnover. We do not "dish out" more children's allowances or old-age pensions, or even sell more stamps, because we have the best, brightest and most up-to-date post office in a town. But we do recognise the importance of a good post office building, and we are stepping up our building programme on the telephone and the postal side.

On the postal side, we have to provide for the replacement of a large number of head post offices and of sorting offices, particularly in London where there are old buildings which have long been inadequate for the traffic which has grown, and also for the introduction of the up-to-date mechanisation which the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) mentioned. We want to go ahead with as much mechanisation as possible.

It is difficult to adapt some of the old sorting offices to new methods of mechanisation, but we are pressing on with this and we have scheduled more than 900 offices all over the country for modernisation. Work has already started on about 80 of them and many more are being planned. As many hon. Members know, our aim is to modernise between 100 and 150 offices a year. The average cost is expected to be between £2,000 and £3,000 for each office and we are allocating £300,000 a year for this work.

As the hon. Member for Gateshead, West mentioned, in all our building programmes we have tremendous scope for saving in the planning of our buildings. It was, I think, the hon. Member who referred to the progress which has been made with schools from this point of view. We believe that we can teach other people how to save money. We have set up, with the Ministry of Works, a research team which is looking into the possibilities of saving money in the efficient planning of our offices.

There are two buildings which show particularly clearly the possibilities of introducing new ideas and new techniques into post office buildings. These are the telephone exchange at Altrincham, which should be open this autumn, and the head post office at Hitchin, which was opened in February of this year. Both of these buildings include features which, I hope, will enable us to provide better services for customers, which is one of the most important considerations. Yet by taking careful thought it has proved possible to build them much more cheaply than comparable buildings in the past.

The cost of the telephone exchange was cut from an original estimate of £60,000 to £25,000. Hon. Members will recognise that that is an extraordinarily dramatic saving particularly in present circumstances. The cost of the post office at Hitchin was cut from an original estimate of £100,000 to £60,000. Both buildings were, of course, designed by the special research team which I have mentioned, a joint enterprise between the Post Office and the Ministry of Works. This shows how particularly fruitful this sort of co-operation can be.

A basic feature in each design has been the planning of a building for the short term but one which is capable of easy extension. As has been said, we are sometimes inclined to build for ever. Here we have built so that we can adapt our buildings in the long-term in the light of needs. This, of course, has called for great ingenuity on the part of the design team.

There is a third building to the designs of this group, an engineering centre at Plymouth, which is due to start in May of this year. This group not only designs specific buildings, but has also been researching into better methods of building generally. The results of these researches are used to reduce the cost of all our post office buildings, and, indeed, of the adaptation of so many our post offices.

The hon. Member for Openshaw mentioned the handling of mails between post offices, and he praised the recent report on the handling of mails. We have made a start with the implementation of the recommendations of the study group which reported last year. As the hon. Gentleman said, the members of that group were people with tremendous "know-how" in the handling of mails and in industry generally. We feel that we shall make considerable progress if we can go ahead with implementing their report.

Our constant aim is to improve services wherever we can and, at the same time, to hold down the cost of our operations. To improve our service, we introduced on 1st November last an airmail service between London and Glasgow and Edinburgh and Belfast. The service is run in conjunction with British European Airways, and it is now carrying about 10 tons of mail nightly. About 52 million letters a year are being delivered earlier than before.

Letters for the first delivery on the following weekday morning in many parts of Scotland can now be posted in London about two hours later than before, and for Northern Ireland as much as four hours later. There is much correspondence for the Home Counties posted in Scotland and Northern Ireland which is being delivered a day earlier. I am sure that these improvements in speeding up the service are not only in the interest of the general public, but, more particularly, in the interest of businesses in those parts of the country.

The important impact of the study group's recommendations is most likely to be on the parcel post, where we have the greatest scope for improvement. To assess the possibility of improving this service and, at the same time, reduce our costs, we are planning to start this year a large-scale experiment covering the whole of East Anglia. This will involve the concentration of parcel mails on suitable centres and despatching them in bulk between those centres, making greater use of road transport for their conveyance, especially over shorter distances.

When the hon. Member for Openshaw mentioned the East Anglia experiment, he spoke as if it was just to cover a rural district. I assure him that East Anglia was chosen because we feel that it is a very suitable place in which to conduct this type of experiment. We have other experiments going in other parts of the country. There is one in Yorkshire, about which the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has probably heard, which is proving quite successful. The information which we have collected so far suggests that, with the co-operation of the railways, we shall be able to make some fairly substantial improvements in the parcel post service.

We recognise, of course, that there is the probability of great changes in the railway services. For some time, we have realised that there would be a changing pattern of rail services in this country, and five years ago the British Transport Commission readily agreed to our proposal for a high-level joint Post Office and Transport Commission committee to be set up with the task of making sure that the arrangements for mails on the railways were modified in ways best suited to meeting Post Office and railway needs as modernisation developed.

These activities have included a review of the methods of loading and unloading mail carried on trains, a matter raised in the House only yesterday. The activities of this committee are supplemented by continuing contacts and consultations at all levels right through the Post Office hierarchy. I assure the House that we recognise the need for constant consultation so that both we and British Railways are well aware of each other's plans for the future. Just as British Railways have far-reaching plans for the future, we, too, want to keep abreast of all modern developments and methods.

The hon. Member for Gateshead spoke about the siting of sub-post offices. I agree that it is a good thing to review, especially in urban areas, the need for sub-post offices. None of us is ever satisfied that we have our sub-post offices in the right place. It would be wonderful to be Assistant Postmaster-General at a time when one could wipe the slate clean and start all over again, siting them just where they should be to accord with modern needs. Of course, in an organisation such as the Post Office, which has been going for about 300 years, conditions and requirements change.

We have done a lot in new housing estates and where there has been considerable new building to ensure that we work very closely with the local authorities to see that we get our new post offices and sub-offices in the right places. However, we are looking at the needs of the urban areas all the time. Hon. Members are aware of our difficulties. We cannot uproot someone who has been serving us well for many years. We cannot, if we are to be good employers, suddenly terminate someone's employment just because the needs of the district, the focus of the area, has changed.

Possibly the remarks of the hon. Member for Acton about the growth of his constituency and the fact that the facilities there were too cramped, to a great extent highlights what the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) said about the need to ensure that our services match the requirements when new building takes place in the country. I can assure the hon. Lady that we look at this matter carefully. It is not always easy to get our services as quick or efficient in these outlying places as it is in London, but we are alive to the need to match efficient postal services in these areas and I can assure her that we have this matter constantly in mind.

Can the hon. Lady give an assurance that there will be a study made into the siting of sub-offices in the urban areas?

I am glad to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, but this would be a matter for regions as a whole. This study is going on the whole time and it will be speeded up to make certain that we do all we can to meet the requirements of these places. I cannot promise that every hon. Member who asks for a sub-office will be given one immediately, but we will certainly do our best.

We believe that we have an extraordinarily good record in the progress of mechanisation. The experiments at Luton and Norwich are going forward well and we are in consultation with the envelope manufacturers about the need for standardisation of envelopes. I think that we can claim that our experiments are foremost in this field in the world. We hope that we shall be able to keep that lead.

We are not only experimenting with the sorting and segregation of mail, but with the sorting of parcels. The pushbutton machine at Leeds sorts 10,000 parcels an hour. When I mention this at public meetings I am inclined to say "10,000 parcels a minute," with the resultant looks of consternation from the audience. Other forms of mechanisation are in progress and I hope that I have covered most of the questions that were put by hon. Members on the actual postal services.

We have an extraordinarily good tale to tell about telecommunications, but my right hon. Friend has already told most of it. There is, in addition to the development in the telephone service, an interesting and important advance in our Telex service which is making extremely good progress. Telex offers many advantages to industry and commerce and has been even more popular since it became fully automatic in 1960. Demand has doubled in the past four years and more than 1,600 new lines will be added in 1962–63, bringing the total to over 10,000 lines. About 20,000 subscribers are expected by 1970 and to cope with this growth 21 new Telex exchanges will be required and work will be started on six of these in 1962–63.

A second and most important development concerns data transmission. The Post Office is becoming increasingly involved in this new form of communication. Expensive computers have to be used fully if they are to be economic, and already some large industrial and commercial groups are sending data into computers from widely dispersed branches and subsidiaries. Smaller organisations which cannot justify computers of their own will want to hire time on other people's machines. This too, will call for the transmission of data to and from computer centres. These trends will lead to a rapidly increasing use of telecommunications networks for data transmission, and within the next decade there will be a large number of data calls passing over the telephone and Telex networks in this country. Some facilities for this traffic are already available and others are being developed so that the Post Office may be ready to meet the needs of industry in good time.

The necessity to push on with our expansion of telecommunications highlights to some extent the need for satellite communications which has been mentioned in the debate. My right hon. Friend opened the Commonwealth Satellite Conference which started in this country today and I think that the very fact that we are having the conference at this time answers the questions which many hon. Members have raised as to whether we are keeping abreast and whether we shall be first or at least well up in the field in this important means of communication.

I do not think that the House would wish me to weary right hon. and hon. Members, longer with what we are hoping we can do in this respect. We have hopes and expectations of what can be done with satellite communications, but, at the same time, we have to ensure that we also have the basic submarine cable communications. I quite appreciate the point made that we do not want massive investment in communications which might be useless in years to come, but this is a field in which one person's guess is almost as good as anybody else's. We want to be absolutely certain that we have a backbone of communications systems throughout the Commonwealth. In this respect, it is interesting to note that the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, despite a huge effort on the development of satellite communications, has decided not to change its plans for a very large investment in submarine cables between now and 1965–66. We, too, would be foolish if we stopped any effort that we are putting into these cables at present, but all the time we must look to what is happening in this field.

The growth of telephone traffic also calls for a strengthening of the overseas cables system. Last year, representatives of seven Western European countries met in London and provisionally agreed to a programme involving the provision of six additional cables between Britain and the Continent by 1967. Recently contracts have been placed for the manufacture in this country of the first three of these—two to Germany and one to Denmark, giving a total of about 350 more telephone lines to Western Europe. We also have more telephone lines to Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. AH in all, we are catering for growth in our overseas services at the same time that we are stepping up the growth of the telephone traffic in this country.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) and the hon. Members for Openshaw and Wood Green, spoke of the need of the housebound and elderly to have telephone communication with the outside world. My right hon. Friend has stated that we are considering this matter. I can assure hon. Members that we are giving very urgent and deep thought to it, but they will recognise that it is a highly complicated problem. There are many difficulties—for instance, what should be the categories, and how should it be dome? But we are sympathetic to the needs of old people. As soon as he has anything to report, my right hon. Friend will come to the House with it, but I cannot promise that that will be very soon, because, as I know from my own experience, a lot of thinking has to be done about it.

The hon. Member for Openshaw asked about the telephone waiting list—specifically, whether it was now under 50,000. I am sorry to have to tell him that it stands at 53,000. He asked how many would-be subscribers would have to wait for twelve months, and the answer is one-tenth of the list. As my right hon. Friend said, we are laying a very large number of additional cables. We are laying 300,000 more lines at present in underground cables to try to build up plant and equipment which will enable us to give service more quickly. Each day, 12,000 new telephones are being connected. That is a remarkable increase.

Subscriber trunk dialling was also mentioned. When people get it, they like it. The hon. Member for Barnsley asked why we did not make them like it before they got it by describing the joys that they would experience. But to convince a man against his will is to leave him of the same opinion still.

This system is in my constituency, and I have not yet had any complaints about it. I am sure that my constituents would soon complain if they did not like it.

Another important matter which has been raised is that of recruiting and wages of our postmen. The hon. Member for Wood Green asked specifically about the 60–65 age group. We will see what we can do, but the job of a postman is arduous and the hours are not easy. It means getting up early and being out in all weathers. These factors, as well as pensions, must be considered. Having said that, I should add that we must recognise we are an ageing but healthier population. We will always keep in mind the need for finding employment wherever possible for this very important age-group that the hon. Lady mentioned.

Our story of recruitment is not as bad as hon. Members like to make it. In London, the vacancies in November, 1961, were 1,300. Now, they are 650. In the telephone service, there are 5,000 more in post now than a year ago. We can claim that we are not falling back in recruitment, but we must recognise that, in common with most other industries and large concerns, we have a tremendous problem in recruiting and keeping labour.

Hon. Members spoke about the turnover in our young people. We would like to think that those joining us stay for ever, but times have changed and we suffer, in the same was as other industries and large organisations, from a much larger staff turnover than was considered feasible in the past. Security does not mean quite the same thing to young people today, but I think that we can claim that our turnover is not as high as it is in some other organisations.

The reason for that is possibly that we lay tremendous stress on the training of our people. Most Post Office work is highly specialised and is without counterpart in other industries. Most of the staff are recruited with general educational qualifications, and the Post Office accepts full responsibility for teaching them their jobs. We feel that it is right that we should regard expenditure on this training as an investment in human resources, which is of equal importance to any investment on capital equipment.

The Post Office spends about £10 million a year on training.

We have developed an extensive system of internal training; there are 78 training centres covering all sides of staff training. We have our own training centres for instructors, all of whom are drawn from our own staff, with firsthand experience of the work they have to teach. Training is also given at centres in outside educational institutions. We have, as is well known, a very fine apprenticeship scheme which allows young people to come in with G.C.E., and go on, on the engineering side, to university degree standards.

If there were time, I would very much like to deal with the different ramifications of our training. I think that we can claim to enable our people to progress through the various grades. In fact, the records of many of our people in top management proves the tremendous scope there is in the Post Office for people to make a real contribution to the organisation while, at the same time, bettering their own chances in life.

The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) referred to Premium Bonds. The responsibility for that side is not vested in the Post Office; we are only concerned as a manager. The terms of issue of the bonds lie with the Treasury, so that it is for Treasury Ministers to reply on the actual terms on which the bonds are issued. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me for the authority; the Premium Bond authority is the prospectus, which constitutes the contract between the Treasury and every holder, and the Treasury itself is exercising powers of a general character conferred by various Acts, including the National Loans Act, 1939.

Having said that, I must add that I have a tremendous sympathy for the person in the case that the hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned, and the fact that he has aired it here tonight, and has given some publicity to it may, perhaps, enable us to get across to the general public what the considerations are, and possibly enable hon. Members to have some influence with the Treasury in seeing whether different regulations could be devised. I must say that when I have to sign a letter saying that the deceased person's next-of-kin—it is usually a widow—cannot benefit from the winning bond, I wish that something could be done. It is a matter for Treasury Ministers.

The only other thing I wish to mention is the point raised by the hon. Member for Barnsley about our advertisements and our public relations. Of course, one could spend a tremendous amount on advertisements and I think that we could possibly spend it to no good purpose in the Post Office. We are trying to make the best possible use of our own media. Hon. Members will have seen the stickers on the postal vans and the posters, particularly the good display of posters which we had in Charing Cross Station last year. We do what we can with our own media and we try by good Press advertisement to bring to the notice of the general public the many services which we have to offer.

We have, of course, a great many services, but people will not look at what they do not want to look at. We advertise them on telephone directories, in the newspapers and in our post offices. I hope that hon. Members themselves will perhaps do something to advertise our services for us. "Ernie" is not very photogenic, and just to make a film of him churning out his numbers would not, we think, serve the purpose. But my right hon. Friend is looking into the possibility of having a film made, with diagrams, which would give people some idea of the sort of thing that we are trying to do.

The hon. Member for Barnsley mentioned two other matters. One was pictorial stamps. I do not propose to go into that matter now, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman to go to the Design Centre, where there is an interesting display of stamps. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that British stamps come out extraordinarily well in that display. If he looks at that display in conjunction with some of the possibly better thought out features in our stamp design he will, I feel sure, recognise that as far as our stamps and our special issues are concerned we have nothing to be ashamed of in this country.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned bulk supply agreements and all the complications in that field. I am sure that at this hour the hon. Gentleman would not wish me to go into that very complicated argument, but I can assure him that my right hon. Friend has listened with great interest to all he has had to say and that possibly on a future occasion he can return to the battle once again.

I wish to say how grateful we are in the Post Office for the tremendous interest that is shown in our affairs. I hope that I have answered most of the questions which hon. Members have put in the debate. I apologise to the House for speaking at such length, and, in conclusion, I would add my gratitude to the words spoken by my right hon. Friend for all the loyal service that we receive in the Post Office from the postmen on the rounds up to every level in management. Perhaps the fact that we do not talk so much about our good service and our good relations in general is because so many of us take for granted the very willing and efficient service which we receive from the telephone operators in the sub-post offices and from our friends in the Post Office everywhere.

This debate gives us once more a very good opportunity of saying how grateful we are as a nation for the work done, and it is in that spirit that I hope the House will pass this Motion this evening.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Postmaster General be authorised, as provided for in Section 5 of the Post Office Act, 1961, to make payments out of the Post Office Fund in the financial year ending with the 31st March, 1963.