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Commons Chamber

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 18 May 1966

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House Of Commons

Wednesday, 18th May, 1966

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Welsh Office Provisional Order (Western Valleys (Monmouth-Shire) Sewerage Board) Bill

Read a Second time and committed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Wireless And Television

Pirate Radio Stations

2.

asked the Postmaster-General what action he is taking about pirate radio stations broadcasting to the United Kingdom.

4.

asked the Postmaster-General how many radio ships are broadcasting programmes to Great Britain; what information he has as to the numbers listening to these programmes; and what is his policy with regard to these transmitter ships.

16.

asked the Postmaster-General what action he is taking about pirate radio stations; and if he will make a statement.

49.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will now make a statement on pirate radio stations.

61.

asked the Postmaster-General what steps he is taking to deal with the problem of pirate radio stations.

At present there are four pirate stations broadcasting from ships to this country: I have no official figures about the size of audiences.

The Government intend legislation as soon as the timetable permits and are considering how the demand for more popular broadcast music can more rationally be met.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that this has been going on for a very long time and that legislation could easily have been introduced before if he had had his heart in it? Could he not be just a little more forthcoming about this and say whether he really means to stop them, or whether they are to go on indefinitely under a kind of truce?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that our intentions are to fulfil our international requirements in this matter and I am as keen as he is to get this put right.

Will this legislation be designed, whilst dealing with wavelengths, and so on, to meet the demand for this popular type of programme which we are told is listened to by a very large section—perhaps one-quarter—of the adult population?

No, the legislation and the demand are two quite different things. The legislation is to deal with the problem of unauthorised broadcasting. The demand for popular music is in this sense not a local one but a national one and must be seen in the context of the review.

What urgent action does my right hon. Friend intend to take with regard to a new and extremely sinister development on which I have written to him? I hold in my hand a notice that announces the setting up of a political station called "Radio Freedom" which is due to open in August and which will pump political propaganda into this country.

I think the whole House will agree that as this type of development takes place it will indicate the dangers of unregulated radio.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that on 8th December last he urged the pirates to stop broadcasting or he would prosecute them under the existing law? Is he convinced that he has this power? If so, why has he not carried out this assurance to Parliament?

I have dealt with this. It is a matter of jurisdiction. It has not been possible to proceed in this way. In any case, it would have dealt with only a very small number of those concerned.

Would the Postmaster-General accept that the longer he delays action the harder it will be to take when the time comes and that what would have been possible a year ago will be very difficult in the months ahead?

Yes, I recognise this. The interference by these stations in Europe is creating mounting difficulties, and this is an international obligation. It is a matter of the timetable.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the musical profession and the record manufacturers are thoroughly dissatisfied at the prevarication of the Government on this? Although I believe that my right hon. Friend really wants to deal with this problem, may I ask him to try to bring more pressure to bear within the Government to get early legislation to deal with these pirates?

There is no difference of opinion as to the necessity for this. As I told my hon. Friend before, it is a question of the timetable.

Will the Postmaster-General take note that there is considerable feeling in all parts of the House about the urgency of this matter? Will he accept it from us that we will support him in any endeavour to get some of his colleagues to drop some of the more useless pieces of legislation in favour of this one?

As often with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, part of his intervention was very helpful and I shall take it back to my colleagues.

Television Reception (Bideford)

5.

asked the Postmaster-General what reports he has had of the quality of picture produced by the new British Broadcasting Corporation's television booster between Bideford and Barnstaple, in the Bideford area.

The B.B.C. tells me that its Barnstaple relay station, which was brought into service earlier this week, is working satisfactorily; and that in general there should be no difficulty in receiving B.B.C.1 in the Bideford area if suitable aerials are properly installed.

While welcoming this statement, which I am sure the people in this area will be very pleased to hear, may I ask the hon. Gentleman if he will turn to clearing up all the other pockets where there is very poor reception in the South-West?

According to my information, the B.B.C. has checked the reception right throughout the Bideford area and elsewhere, and is quite satisfied that the reception is adequate.

6.

asked the Postmaster-General when the Bideford area will obtain coverage of Westward independent television programmes.

The I.T.A. tells me that it hopes to open, towards the end of 1968, a low-power relay station in the Bideford-Barnstable arca to transmit programmes provided by Westward Television Ltd.

Surely it is the duty of the I.T.A. to provide these booster stations so that people in the area can have the type of programme that they want? Will the Minister bear in mind that we do not look towards South Wales or Bristol for our programmes? We look towards Plymouth.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's observations. I agree that the programme construction timetable is the I.T.A.'s responsibility, but the station at Barnstaple is one of 13 new stations which the Authority is to construct in the next three years and I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that a programme of this size is bound to take some time to complete.

Advertising

11.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will introduce legislation to impose restrictions on television advertising levelled primarily at young children during daytime viewing.

No, Sir. Parliament has placed on the Independent Television Authority the prime responsibility for the advertisements broadcast in its programmes; and the Authority's code of advertising standards and practice lays down conditions governing advertisements likely to be seen by large numbers of children. If my hon. Friend has any particular advertisement in mind, I am sure the Authority will be glad to have his views on it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that young children are being subjected daily to the most modern of refined techniques of advertising and, quite apart from the moral point of view, is he aware of the financial embarrassment that this can cause to some of us who are too soft-hearted to say "No"?

Speaking as a parent, I am very well aware of this. As a matter of fact, this is not limited to television advertising. The I.T.A. does preclude advertisements which are likely to present physical mental or moral harm.

Is there any evidence to show that this television advertising does any harm to children?

As I indicated in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), it can be very expensive—I think that is the point that he was raising—and, to that extent, I suppose, the advertisers might think that it is a success.

Bbc Programmes

14.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will issue a direction under Section 14(4) of the Licence and Agreement to prevent the televising by the British Broadcasting Corporation of the film entitled "Matador".

17.

asked the Postmaster-General if, in the public interest, he will direct the British Broadcasting Corporation, under Section 14(4) of the Licence and Agreement, not to send out television programmes which include the showing of nude women; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. Parliament has vested responsibility for programme content in the broadcasting authorities; and the Government do not intervene.

Does my right hon. Friend think that the British public want scenes of revolting cruelty on their television screens depicting the so-called sport of bullfighting, which is illegal in most civilised countries?

With great respect to my hon. Friend, it is not a matter of what I think at all. This is the responsibility of the B.B.C., and I really cannot be the censor of bullfights.

Is it not time that my right hon. Friend asserted himself in order to prevent any further debasement of moral standards in entertainment, and will he not agree that to include, as contemplated, the showing of nudes is an act of undiluted vulgarity? What is he prepared to do about it?

It would be quite wrong for me to get involved in any matters of broadcasting content, including the allegation that nudes are to be shown on television. I understand that the reports of striptease on television were completely denied, and I do not think that there is anything I should do about it.

Remembering how much money was abortively spent on "The War Game", which was not shown, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether "Matador" is in fact to be shown and what it cost?

I cannot, without notice. I am not sure that it is for me to give figures of programme costs in matters of this kind; otherwise, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well, I should be assuming gradually all the functions of the B.B.C. Board of Governors. But I am sure that, if he writes to the governors, they will give him any information he wants.

Will the Postmaster-General bear in mind that this is a free country and we all have the ability to turn our sets on or off?

I am grateful for that support, though it was put in a rather hostile manner.

Bbc (Policy And Finance)

27.

asked the Postmaster-General when the White Paper on Broadcasting policy will be published.

33 and 34.

asked the Postmaster-General (1) if he will make a further statement regarding the British Broadcasting Corporation's finances;

(2) when the committee considering the future of broadcasting will report.

As I said in the debate on 3rd March, the B.B.C. has put to the Government proposals which, it believes, would enable the licence fee to be kept at the present level of £5 for the next two years or so. I am discussing with the Corporation the assumptions on which these proposals are founded. The other unresolved and major issues of broadcasting policy should be considered along with the problem of B.B.C. finance. We will announce our proposals to the House when the whole of our review is complete.

Is it not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to give a better approximate date as to when an announcement will be forthcoming, as the delay is holding back many developments in broadcasting? Does he recall that on 3rd March he said that the main problem holding back the White Paper was B.B.C. finance? Is it possible to make some kind of interim announcement?

I should naturally like to make an announcement as soon as I can, but I think that the hon. Member realises that hours of television broadcasting, local broadcasting and matters such as the fourth network are all very much tied to the question of B.B.C. finance, and I must ask the House to be patient a little longer.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are becoming increasingly mystified about this committee, about which he seems to know so little? Is he a member of it? We were promised this report, I think, in January. On and on we go. Can he say within six months when it may be published?

Television Reception (Romney Marsh)

30.

asked the Postmaster-General what consulations he has had with the British Broadcasting Corporation with a view to improving the television reception on Romney Marsh.

In presenting Stage 5 of its plan to extend and improve the V.H.F. television services, the Corporation told me that it had considered the claims of Romney Marsh, in some parts of which reception is poor at times, but had had to give a higher priority to other places where reception was worse or non-existent.

Is not the Postmaster-General rather ashamed of the fact that within 70 miles of London the B.B.C. cannot give an adequate television service? Is he not collecting the licence fee under false pretences? Why can the Independent television service do it and not the B.B.C?

There is one point which the hon. Member, I think, overlooks. He says that the I.T.V. service is satisfactory in the area. The I.T.A., which provides and operates the station, is, like the B.B.C., a public corporation. From my information I understand that everything possible has been done in the siting of the stations, and I believe that the decision arrived at is the proper decision.

Television Licences (Deaf Persons)

45.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will introduce legislation to enable deaf persons to obtain television licences at a reduced fee.

I have considered with great sympathy the possibility of introducing concessions of one kind or another for various groups, including the deaf. But I have been forced to conclude that it would be impracticable to do so without creating serious anomalies.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that watching the picture without the benefit of sound somewhat reduces the value of television? [Interruption.] Since this has always applied to the deaf and is a rather serious matter, will my right hon. Friend reconsider his decision?

I have considered this very carefully. The difficulty is that it creates very large anomalies in the case of families living together, and deaf people without television would not benefit as a result of concessions given to others. There are other categories who are really deserving of special care. We have introduced a savings card to help and I am afraid that that is all I can do.

Bbc (Staff Posts)

46.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will seek power to enable him to supervise the application of the job grading system currently operating for the grading of staff posts in the British Broadcasting Corporation.

No, Sir. Full responsibility of the broadcasting authorities for the day-to-clay conduct of their affairs is an essential part of their independence.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the grading documents used by the B.B.C. for the grading of posts extend only to grade A1 and do not extend to the large number of posts at A2, A3 and above? Is he aware that there is very considerable dissatisfaction among members of the B.B.C.'s staff about this?

The hon. Gentleman and I are both ex-B.B.C. employees and we may know too much about grading. It is the responsibility of the management and I do not think that it would be right for me to intervene.

Television Reception (Merioneth)

51.

asked the Postmaster-General what booster stations are to be sited in Merioneth to assist television reception; where they will be sited; and when they will be operational.

Measures to improve the reception and extend the coverage of their services are a matter for the broadcasting authorities in the first place.

The B.B.C. hopes to open a low-power relay station at Dolgellau in the summer of 1967 and one at Ffestiniog sometime in 1968. The I.T.A. expects to open a station at Bala sometime in 1967 and one at Ffestiniog in 1968.

Colour Television

57.

asked the Postmaster-General what progress he is making in the establishment of a colour television system in the United Kingdom.

I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement I made in the House on 3rd March.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what plans he has for the independent television companies to which he did not refer on that occasion?

I simply said at the time that we accepted the Television Advisory Committee's recommendation that colour should be on 625 lines only, and that this was without prejudice to the other questions, which are part of a much wider problem.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the statement of 3rd March was made in something of a rush to get it done in time for the election? Now that he has more time to consider this, can he promise a larger allocation of hours of colour television than he could then?

It was not for me, as the hon. Gentleman knows, to promise how additional hours on television should be used. That is for the B.B.C. to do. I gave the number of hours for which programme material had to be prepared. The total number will be greater. The hon. Member cannot grumble if we come out early with a decision.

Telephone Service

Public Telephones, Ilford (Damage)

3.

asked the Postmaster-General how many public telephones have been put out of order in Ilford this year; and what is the present situation.

There have been 198 incidents of damage to call offices in Ilford since 1st January, 1966. Out of some 160 public call offices in the Ilford district six were completely out of order on 2nd May and nine others were available for emergency calls only.

Telephone Exchange Equipment (Birmingham)

7.

asked the Postmaster-General what arrangements have been made to overcome the shortage of telephone exchange equipment in Birmingham.

Major extensions to the value of £3 million are currently on order for Birmingham exchanges; half of this is to improve the trunk service. In addition, many smaller extensions are being carried out by Post Office staff and a further £1 million worth of equipment is on order for this purpose.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while his reply will be received with pleasure, there were at the end of the March quarter 5,767 applicants on the list for telephones in the Birmingham area? Therefore, will he please speed up this matter as much as he can?

As the hon. Lady knows, it takes many years to build a telephone exchange, but within the next year we shall be providing enough equipment for most of the applicants and within the next two years more orders to the value of £6 million are planned for the Birmingham area alone.

Rentals

18.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will reduce telephone rentals where the service has declined due to lack of equipment below what might have been expected when the rental was fixed.

No, Sir. We must all contribute to finance the huge development programme now in progress.

When a nationalised industry which is at the same time a monopoly is failing in the service which is due to the public, ought it not to be urged by the Minister to set a good example in this respect, to recognise that it is in moral breach of its contract, and to endeavour to reduce the rental for its telephones?

If the difficulty in the past arose from inadequate investment, it would be very foolish to deny ourselves the finance for more adequate investment in the future. We make provision for shared service and for restricted service at a lower rental. We shall always look at individual cases of failure of service, but the proposition made in the Question is quite impossible.

New Telephone Connections

22.

asked the Postmaster-General how many orders for new telephone connections were met in the last financial year; and how this compares with previous years.

808,500 new connections were provided, a higher annual total than ever before and an increase of 16½ per cent. over the previous year.

The existing list is about 96,000 now, and, due to shortage of equipment, it is likely to rise before it comes down, although by last March three-quarters of exchanges had no waiting list.

To what extent did the waiting list diminish last year compared with a year ago?

The waiting list has risen in the last 12 months due to the failure to provide adequate capital in the past. I have told the House on other occasions, and I must repeat, that the waiting list is likely to rise despite the fact that the capital programme authorised last year was far greater than that authorised before and that the number of connections also is higher.

But is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Bedfordshire area waiting lists have actually had to be closed and, what is more, in Luton and Dunstable a very high proportion of the public boxes are out of action? What urgent steps are being taken to remedy the situation?

The first part of that supplementary question relates to the growing congestion in the Home Counties region. The second part relates to vandalism, on which I have another Question.

New Exchanges And Extensions

23.

asked the Postmaster-General how many contracts for new telephone exchanges and extensions to existing exchanges were completed during 1965–66; and how many orders were placed.

Contractors completed 111 new large exchanges and 161 major extensions to existing exchanges during 1965–66, and as part of our expansion programme contracts were placed for 121 new exchanges and 531 extensions.

How much did the Post Office spend on new exchange equipment in 1965–66 and how much will be spent in 1967–68?

In 1965–66 £36 million was spent. We are planning to spend more than half as much again in 1966–67, and more than twice as much in 1967–68.

Electronic Exchanges (Development)

24.

asked the Postmaster-General what progress has been made with the development of a British electronic telephone exchange.

The Post Office and the British manufacturers have recently brought to commercial production an electronic exchange for up to 2,000 lines, and all appropriate orders are now being placed in this design. Good progress is being made with a design for large exchanges.

Exchanges (Automatic Working)

25.

asked the Postmaster-General what progress was made with the conversion of manual exchanges to automatic during 1965–66.

Ninety-five exchanges were converted to automatic working during the year, bringing the proportion of subscribers served by automatic exchanges to 94 per cent.

How many more manual exchanges remain to be converted to automatic working, and when will it be done?

Does the Postmaster-General realise that we fully appreciate the comfort he has derived from preparing the Answers to these six planted Questions on the telephone service but that, whatever good news they bring for the future, over large areas of the country people are driven absolutely mad by the poverty of the service?

The telephone service would be a lot better if there had been a bit more interest shown in it by the party opposite in years gone by.

Palace Of Westminster (Telephone Exchange)

53.

asked the Postmaster-General how old the equipment of the telephone exchange in the Palace of Westminster is; whether it is due for renewal; how much depreciation has been set aside for its renewal; and when renewal will be set in hand.

The main exchange equipment was installed in 1950 and subsequent additions made. It is not due for renewal. Depreciation is not assessed for individual installations.

As this rather antique private branch exchange has been in action for 16 years and is very heavily used, and as it now gives a great number of mis-calls and mis-routings, through no fault of the operators, should it not be modernised? Is it not part of the Government's policy to modernise this exchange?

On technical grounds we would not be justified in replacing it as it is. If the House wants a different type of exchange that is a matter for the House to decide. Some of the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman refers stem from the inevitable peaking of business in the House. Hon. Members come out of the Chamber at the end of a big debate and then have to wait before they can get through.

Public Telephone Equipment, Greater London (Damage)

59.

asked the Postmaster-General by what date he expects the number of breakdowns in public telephone equipment in the Greater London area will have been reduced to the average level common before the partial introduction of subscriber trunk dialling equipment.

The shortage of spare parts caused by the recent increase in vandalism has created special problems. Measures now being taken are improving the position but I cannot estimate how long it will be before the situation eases.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at the beginning of this month half of the S.T.D. telephones in my constituency were out of order and that one-third of the S.T.D. public call box telephones in the whole of Greater London were out of order? This situation has existed for some months and the matter is urgent.

The phones are being destroyed as quickly as we repair them. It is not as if they are destroyed and then there is a long gap before they are repaired. As soon as they are repaired many of them are destroyed again. This is a feature of the public attitude to the telephone which has emerged in recent years.

Does not this show a fault in design, because it is only the S.T.D. telephones which are being "vandalised", if that is the right word, rather than the old-fashioned ones which appear to stand up to it?

It is true that the S.T.D. boxes are being attacked in greater numbers, but they tend to be in the big cities. They were designed some years before vandalism was a problem. They are better in some respects because they are safer against certain types of fraud. But we have a number of measures in hand to strengthen the boxes, and I think that they will improve.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a combination of the old and the new type of telephone equipment is more resistant to vandalism?

What my hon. Friend is saying, I think, is that if we strengthen the money box we are better off, and that is what we are doing.

Post Office

Postal Services (Brighton)

9.

asked the Postmaster-General why a letter from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, posted on Thursday, 7th April at London Airport did not reach the Vice-Chancellor at Sussex University until Thursday, 14th April; and whether he is aware of continuing concern at delay and inefficiency at the Brighton post office.

At its own request letters were not delivered to the Sussex University over the period 8th to 11th April but the hon. Gentleman's letter should have been delivered on 12th April. I have not been able to find the cause of the delay, which I much regret. The general scale of complaint does not suggest that the Brighton Post Office is not giving a good service.

Am I to understand from that reply that it is more or less on the same level as the rest of the country? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the service is considered to be pretty bad down in Brighton? Does the hon. Gentleman realise that a number of other Questions are on the Order Paper today which show an appalling amount of discontent at the complete lack of support from the Brighton Head Post Office? Would the Minister one day find time to go down to Brighton and talk to the people there and find out why everything is wrong?

My right hon. Friend has already been to Brighton, and he is quite satisfied that the conditions prevailing there are very good. In answer to the first part of the supplementary question, the Post Office handles no fewer than 35 million letters a day, and despite all our efforts, it is inevitable that a small proportion will suffer some delay in transit.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Sub-Post Offices

10.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will give sub-postmasters the right to a direct appeal to him where their successor who has bought the business is unacceptable to the local postal authority, and so prevent the abuse of this power; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. We make clear to every sub-postmaster that, if he resigns, his business successor will have no automatic right to the sub-postmaster ship.

I believe the Minister is aware that two of my constituents feel that they have been grossly unjustly treated by the local officials. Is he aware that they want an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman when they feel their case is well founded, and sub-postmasters in the whole country feel the same way? Surely these people ought to have a right of appeal to the Minister if they feel they are not being properly treated?

While I agree that someone has got to be the arbiter, in this case we do not think it ought to be the Postmaster-General. If anyone is to be the arbiter it ought to be the director for the region. If any sub-postmaster has any complaint when he seeks to relinquish a sub-post office and he is not satisfied with the decision that has been given, he can appeal to the director who is the final arbiter. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that there are over 20,000 of these sub-post offices in the country.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Postal Services (London-Westmorland)

12.

asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware of the deteriorating postal service between London and Westmorland; and what plans he has to improve the situation.

A reorganisation of the railway services on 18th April has resulted in late running of mail trains and in consequence some delays in the postal service between London and Westmorland. This matter is receiving urgent attention by the British Railways Board.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that this difficulty has been going on for much longer? May I quote my own example of letters posted to me in London during the election before 4.30 each day, which arrived a day late more often than they did the following morning?

I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks concerning his own correspondence, but it must be borne in, mind that we depend on the efficient running of the railways for the transit of our mail up and down the country and, on the information that I have, I think the present difficulties are only temporary.

Southern Rhodesia (Letters)

13.

asked the Postmaster-General why a postal surcharge is made on letters received from Southern Rhodesia bearing a Southern Rhodesian stamp; what actual sum is charged: and whether a rebate is payable where the surcharge causes hardship.

Certain stamps used on mail from Southern Rhodesia are not valid. We therefore discount them when assessing the postage paid and make a surcharge, on ordinary letters, of double any resultant deficiency. No rebate is payable for hardship.

Could the right hon. Gentleman indicate on average what the scale of surcharge is likely to be? Can he say whether he thinks that a penalty for what may be an illegal act should be visited upon, for example, pensioners? A 5s. surcharge can make a very severe dent in their weekly income.

The surcharge depends, of course, entirely on the weight of the package sent; 95 per cent. of the mail entering this country from Rhodesia bears valid stamps.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have received unsolicited official letters from Rhodesia without stamps and without surcharge? What is he going to do about that?

With many millions of letters coming in there will always be some unstamped letters and some letters improperly stamped which will escape surcharge. This is inevitable in this sort of organisation.

Post Office Employee (Wages)

15.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will give instructions for the immediate payment to Mrs. Gray of the outstanding 14 weeks' wages, as raised in correspondence from the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey in view of the manner in which Mrs. Gray was suspended as an employee after 18 years' unblemished service in the Post Office.

No, Sir. For reasons which my right hon. Friend has already explained to the hon. Gentleman, he does not think it would be justifiable to pay Mrs. Gray for the period during which she was suspended from duty.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that my constituent feels that she has been very shabbily treated, and will he look at this again to find out whether it would be possible in any case to make an ex gratia payment to her?

I am afraid not. For the benefit of the House, I should explain that every effort was made by the officers to get Mrs. Gray to undertake the work which was assigned to her, but she refused, with the result that they had to take this action. Even when she put forward medical grounds as the reason why she did not want to do this type of work, when requested to produce medical evidence—this happened on 1st March—she did not produce any medical evidence whatever, until 7th June, 1965, when she had other employment.

In view of the thoroughly unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Giro System

26.

asked the Postmaster-General when he proposes to give further information about the Giro.

A booklet will be published early in July next giving details of the services which Giro will offer and how they can be used to best advantage by business firms and private individuals.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in spite of the remarks made earlier by the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) on the subject of planted Questions, many of us are keenly interested in the work of the Post Office, and we are inspired by the drive and initiative which he is showing as Postmaster-General?

Has the Postmaster-General considered the possibility of separating the Post Office banking service into a more clearly defined separate department?

Postal Services (Radcliffe-On-Trent)

28 and 29.

asked the Postmaster-General (1) what steps he will take to improve the postal collection and delivery in Radcliffe-on-Trent.

(2) why his Department refuse to disclose to the inhabitants of Radcliffe-on-Trent the latest posting times at Radcliffe Post Office to obtain first delivery in major towns on the day following.

The collection arrangements in Radcliffe-on-Trent already compare favourably with those in similar areas, and I should not be justified in making any change. Owing to staffing difficulties, the first letter delivery has not always been completed as early as it should have been; but I hope that we shall be able very shortly to put this right. I am sorry there should have been difficulty in obtaining information about posting times; I am looking into this point and will write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as I can.

Pursuing the question about the postal collection and delivery in Radcliffe-on-Trent, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that this is a large and growing community and very largely a business community and that the Radcliffe-on-Trent Parish Council would be grateful if he reconsidered its very reasonable suggestion that he should provide a late collection, say at 7 p.m. or 7.30 p.m., from the railway station, in addition to the 6 p.m. collection, which is too early for most purposes there. On the second Question—

The expense involved in providing a further collection, for example, at 7.30 p.m., as in West Bridgford and Nottingham, would not be justified in this case, but I am prepared to give further consideration to the application which has been made by the hon. Member once more about these matters.

Sub-Post Office (Wareham)

31.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will arrange for the installation of a sub-post office on the Carey Estate, Wareham.

My right hon. Friend is sorry that, for the reasons explained in his letter of 2nd May, he would not be justified in doing as the hon. Gentleman asks.

In considering any rules which may govern the installation of sub-post offices, will the Minister give preference to areas which contain an above average number of elderly people? Dorset is one of them. Will he take into account the genuine hardship which exists in places where there are large numbers of pensioners?

We have had the hardship to aged people very much in mind and we have done everything we possibly could to assist aged people. But it must be borne in mind that we do not provide post offices within one mile of one another within towns. Our aim, which I think has succeeded very well over the years, is to give the best possible service and to try to keep a reasonable balance between the service given and the cost, which must be borne in mind, in providing it.

Post Office Tower

32.

asked the Postmaster-General on what date the viewing platforms and restaurant at the top of the new Post Office Tower will be open to the public; how many lifts there are in the tower, and what is their capacity; and, in view of the large numbers of people who may wish to ascend the tower, what steps he is taking to prevent undue congestion and delay.

The viewing platforms will be open to the public generally from 3 p.m. on Thursday, 19th May, after the public opening ceremony has been concluded. I understand from the proprietors that the "Top of the Tower" restaurant is to be opened for business with effect from Friday, 20th May.

There are two high-speed passenger lifts in the Tower, each carrying 14 people in addition to the attendant. The number of people who may be allowed at the top of the tower at any one time will be limited to 500, by agreement with the Greater London Council.

Does my right hon. Friend take the view that two lifts carrying altogether 28 people will be enough to cope with the very large number of visitors who may wish to see what is obviously going to be a major tourist attraction? Can he say whether he has had to provide at public expense some special wiring for the revolving restaurant?

I cannot answer the latter part of the question without notice. The first part of the question about lifts is very important. This will determine the number of people we shall be able to take to the top of the tower. We are having crowd control exercises at the moment. We think that about 5,000 a day will be able to go there.

Special Stamps

44.

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will introduce the stamps commemorating the Norman Conquest to coincide with the opening of the Berkhamsted Pageant on 3rd June; and if he will ensure that one of the issue will relate to the offering of the Crown to William at Berkhamsted.

These stamps will be issued on 14th October and it is impossible to bring the date forward to 3rd June. The designs have not yet been selected but are unlikely to include one depicting the incident referred to by the hon. Gentleman.

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Norman Conquest is of considerably greater interest, historically, than the Battle of Hastings? Why is it that he concentrates so much on the defeat and destruction of Harold?

I thought that the last Harold to get one in the eye from a Frenchman was the Harold at the Chateau of Rambouillet at the end of the Common Market negotiations. It was decided that this would commemorate the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and I think that it had better rest like that.

52.

asked the Postmaster-General what plans he has for issuing a Learn to Swim postage stamp; what will be its design and its value; and when it will be on sale to the public.

I have no plans to issue such a stamp in this year's programme, but I shall keep my hon. and learned Friend's suggestion in mind for the future.

Does not the Minister appreciate the relationship between physical fitness and intellectual alertness? Is not this an admirable way to encourage both?

Since I enjoy neither I am not sure that I am qualified to say. There were 90 suggestions made and it was not possible to pick all of them. I certainly do not rule out subjects of this kind.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say why we must have this ludicrous number of new stamps?

Stamp policy has always been controversial. The Penny Black was described by The Times in 1840 as a disgrace and discredit to our country. The hon. Gentleman is one of a small group of "misatelists".

55.

asked the Postmaster-General if he will issue a national stamp for Wales commemorating Robert Owen.

I shall be glad to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion for any future issue featuring distinguished men and women but I do not envisage any such stamp being restricted to Wales.

While appreciating my right hon. Friend's reply, may I ask whether he realises that Robert Owen was a hundred years ahead of his time in his social thinking? Ought not the Postmaster-General to recognise this in the way that I have suggested?

The criteria for stamps is now wide enough to include the addition of distinguished men and women from our history, and I will certainly consider this.

Is the Minister aware that Robert Owen did far more for this country than William the Conqueror?

Is the Minister aware that Robert Owen died a disillusioned Socialist?

I cannot remember offhand what happened to William I, but I dare say that he had some difficulties as well.

56.

asked the Postmaster-General how many designs were submitted for the 4d. stamp portraying Sussex; what the design is intended to convey; what is the age of the artist, and where he lives; if he is aware that the stamp is printed in unattractive and sickly colours; and if he will withdraw it immediately.

Five designs were submitted; that chosen shows a view near Hassocks. The artist is 52 and lives in London.

I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's criticism of the stamp and I do not intend to withdraw it.

Can the Minister say who chose this dreadful doodle and why did they choose it? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman why he picked on Sussex, of all the beautiful counties in England? May I not press him to withdraw this horrid stamp?

As the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows very well, not all stamps will be liked by everyone. He provided the beautiful Simon de Montfort seal which was used in the Parliament stamp, and which was widely welcomed. However, there were even critics of that. One has to trust the very careful advisory procedure followed before stamps are chosen.

Post Office Savings Bank (Interest)

50.

asked the Postmaster-General from what date interest is payable on money deposited in the Post Office Savings Bank on the first day of any month.

The Post Office Savings Bank Act, 1954, provides that interest shall not commence until the first day of the calendar month next following the day of deposit.

Is the Minister aware that if a depositor withdraws his money the interest ceases on the first day of the month in which he draws it? Would he not agree that a depositor, depositing money on 1st January and withdrawing it on 31st December of the same year, ould lose two months' interest? Is he aware that these regulations were laid down in 1861 and will he now have another look at them?

It is unsatisfactory and it has been going on for a hundred years. It might be worth considering this if we were not just moving over to computer working, but, with manual record-taking, to make the change at this late stage would not be justified. When the records are on computers, much more sophisticated calculations of interest can be made and then we shall certainly look at this again.

Mail (Security)

54.

asked the Postmaster-General what plans he has to improve the efficiency and security of the Post Office to avoid losses of letters and parcels.

Measures to improve mails security are constantly reviewed and new methods and devices adopted where appropriate. If the hon. Gentleman will let me know of any particular case he may have in mind I will be glad to make inquiries.

In view of the fact that compensation for losses in the course of transit are running at the rate of nearly one-third of a million pounds a year, may I ask whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that there is great scope for increasing efficiency? Can he not give more assurance to those who use the postal services that such a drive towards increased efficiency is being carried out resolutely?

While I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has had to say about security, he will not expect me to give full details, as criminals will also be interested in such information. I can say that new alarm devices have been fitted in certain mail trains and new security drills adopted for postmen driving mail vans. While crime generally is on the increase the Post Office cannot expect to escape its share of it.

Palace Of Westminster (Working Conditions)

35.

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will appoint an independent time and motion study team to conduct an inquiry into the working conditions of Members of Parliament, Press and staff, and to prepare a full report on the accommodation in the Commons part of the Palace of Westminster and the uses to which it is put.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Herbert Bowden)

This proposal is for consideration by the Accommodation and Housekeeping Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) which intends to review comprehensively the present allocation of rooms and the use to which they are put in preparation for use by the House of the new Star Court Building and eventually of the new Parliamentary building in Bridge Street. In addition, an O & M study is at present being made into the work and staffing of the Departments of the Clerk of the House, the Speaker and the Serjeant at Arms.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the deplorable conditions under which all people work in this House are causing very grave concern among new hon. Members? Does he not agree that a team of experts may be a way of effecting the improvements which are required as a matter of real urgency?

I am not aware that conditions are deplorable. They could be greatly improved, and there has been considerable improvement in the last few years. The House of Commons Services Committee is working on this. What we require is additional accommodation, not additional advice.

When is the Accommodation Sub-Committee to be set up again? It does not at present exist.

Will this investigation be able to take into account the spacious unused facilities in another place?

No, Sir. The Committee has no responsibility for another place. The House will recall that Her Majesty, in giving the authority to the House, gave it to Mr. Speaker in relation to the House of Commons side of the Palace.

While carrying out what the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) wants, will the Leader of the House extend the inquiry to the efficiency of the Government and the necessity for 12,000 extra civil servants in the past year?

Race Relations Act

38.

asked the Attorney-General how many representations he has received concerning the publication of material alleged to contain incitement, as defined in the Race Relations Act; and in how many cases he has instituted proceedings.

Since the Race Relations Act came into force on 8th December, 1965, I have received 14 representations on which I have consulted the Director of Public Prosecutions. In no case have proceedings been instituted. Inquiries in one of these cases are still continuing.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend not aware that the most scurrilous and costly literature of a racialist nature is being distributed throughout the length and breadth of the land by an organisation based on Sussex and the Midlands? Is not his Answer evidence that the Race Relations Act needs new teeth to deal with this situation?

I am aware of the circulation of both costly and surrilous literature, but I have to deal with the question whether the publication in question infringes the criminal law and the terms of the Race Relations Act. I have concluded that the publications sent to me did not do so. It would indeed be deplorable if there were an unsuccessful prosecution in this type of case.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman let it drop in the exalted circles to which he has access, in the nicest possible way, that the deliberate arson of places of public worship is quite a serious offence and that much of the disquiet felt about this would be removed if there were exemplary sentences imposed in respect of it?

I respectfully agree with that, save with the reference to the exalted circles in which I am alleged normally to circulate. But the fact is that the penalty for arson is a maximum term of life imprisonment, and there was a case recently in which the learned Judge at the Old Bailey imposed a sentence of five years' imprisonment for this offence. I think that the judges are aware of the gravity of the matter.

Divorce Law

39.

asked the Attorney-General whether, in view of the unsatisfactory state of the law as revealed in recent cases such as that of Williams v. Williams, he will seek to reform the divorce laws.

This branch of the law is likely to be covered by the examination of matrimonial law currently being undertaken by the Law Commission and referred to in Chapter X of its First Programme. I think it would be better to await the outcome of this examination.

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the interpretation of the law in this and other cases—which is that a marriage that has broken down so badly must nevertheless continue, to the detriment of the two people wanting to remarry and of a child who is thereby prevented from being legitimated—shows that this is an urgent matter?

There are few who think that the law of divorce is now satisfactory, but I think it better that it should be tackled as a whole in the fundamental way in which the problem is now being dealt with.

Does not the Attorney-General appreciate that the divorce law and the family law, to be considered by the Law Commissioners, is only fourth in their list of priorities? Cannot he see that this matter of great urgency is promoted in the list?

It is true that there are priorities, but the study is continuing alongside the studies of the subjects given priority. The House will also like to know that the Report of the Commission set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Exeter, is likely to be published some time this year. That also may prove very helpful.

Regional High Court And Court Of Appeal (York)

40.

asked the Attorney-General whether he will take steps to establish a regional high court and court of appeal at York to serve the north-eastern circuit.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General informed the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) on 4th May, my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is considering the best means of improving the arrangements for the trial of civil actions outside London.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend say when this consideration is Likely to reach fruition?

The consideration is now taking place and is being dealt with as a matter of considerable public importance. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is applying his mind to it immediately and all the time.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that the important thing is to have a regional high court not only for the North-East but for the whole of the North?

I have no doubt that this suggestion will be among those considered.

Works Meetings (Impositionof Monetary Penalties)

41.

asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on his inquiry into the conduct of work's meetings which claim the right by voice voting to impose monetary penalties on persons employed in the same undertaking.

I have conducted no inquiry into these matters, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so. The Director of Public Prosecutions consulted me about the alleged intimidation at a works meeting at the B.M.C. Works at Cowley on 4th March, and I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to my Answer of 27th April to Questions asked by my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) and Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Walden).

Does the Attorney-General agree that there was prima facie evidence of intimidation by the threat of personal violence but that the Law Officers considered that there was insufficient evidence against any of the individuals who had been accused of having arranged this? Would it not have been more appropriate for the evidence against these persons to have been evaluated in a court of law? What steps is the Attorney-General taking to give guidance to chief constables in the event of there being any recurrence of this sort of thing?

The decision whether to prosecute or not rests upon the Director of Public Prosecutions and myself. It is an important decision which involves, I hope, an objective and quasi-judicial approach to the matter. We decided that, on the facts available to the public authorities, there was no evidence against any identifiable individual sufficient to justify bringing a prosecution. The business of bringing a prosecution against a citizen is a grave and important step and I hope that the House will not press me unduly into particular matters.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that works meetings are not the only places where monetary penalties are imposed? Does he recall that last week I sent him evidence that a branch of the Showmen's Guild had fined one of its members £200, for a breach of one of the rules? Has he any evidence of the number of organisations which claim the right to impose such penalties?

I have none, but I recollect that recently my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) drew attention to certain practices at an ancient school, which I think is known as Eton College, in regard to this matter.

While appreciating that diversion, may I ask the Attorney-General to confirm that, while there was a prima facie case, it was only the difficulty in identifying persons which prevented any form of prosecution?

Jury Verdicts

42.

asked the Attorney-General whether he is aware that there is concern at the state of the law shown by the case of Mr. Boston of Rugeley, Staffordshire, and the confusion which arose from the decision of the jury, resulting in costs against this plaintiff; and whether he will include this case in his review of the administration of justice with a view to the introduction of legislation to clarify the law.

43.

asked the Attorney-General whether, in the light of the recent Appeal Court decision in the case of Mr. Alfred Boston which was the opposite of that intended by the jury, he will seek to amend the law so as to enable the appellate courts to reverse the decisions of juries where those decisions are acknowledged to be mistaken.

No. It is a long-established principle, based on the desirability of finality in litigation and the protection of jurors, that the courts will not go behind a jury's verdict. In any event, in the case referred to—the case of the Three Little Pigs—the Court of Appeal made it plain that the verdict was abundantly justified by the evidence.

Is the Attorney-General aware that the injustice of this clearly indicates that there should be some revision of the laws and procedure of libel?

The hon. Gentleman mentions the injustice of the case. As I have said, the Court of Appeal thought that there was overwhelming justification for the finding of the jury that there was no malice. Perhaps I may cite the words of Lord Justice Harman, who said:

"The plaintiff had every indulgence granted to him, perhaps more than he deserved; he failed; and deserved to fail."

But would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is at least a possibility here that a serious miscarriage of justice may have occurred at great cost to Mr. Boston and that, in the best interests of justice, steps should be taken to facilitate an appeal to the House of Lords without the risk of further legal costs?

Order. We cannot try the case. The hon. Gentleman can press for the reform of the law but we cannot try a case by question and answer.

I do not think that my silence should indicate agreement with the view that an injustice was done in this case. I agree with you, Mr. Speaker, that neither this House nor I myself can sit in judgment upon the proceedings of the court or upon the proceedings before the Court of Appeal, but the Master of the Rolls said that there was very good reason for the finding of the jury that there was no malice because there was overwhelming evidence that the defendant auctioneers, when they informed the police, made it plain that they knew that it was not the plaintiff who had stolen the pigs. It is difficult to say that there was malice, therefore, in the auctioneers in these circumstances.

Would it not have been better if the newspapers and others proposing to comment adversely on the administration of justice because of that case had read carefully the judgment of the court concerned first to see what was decided and why, and then to have made further inquiries of both parties to the case and not only of the one who lost?

The Press is entitled to comment on court proceedings. I have given certain lectures to the Press lately. I do not think that I should add more at this stage.

Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it was very lucky for Mr. Boston that the jury gave the verdict it did, because if it had given the verdict it subsequently said it wanted to give the unfortunate Mr. Boston would have had to pay for an appeal too?

Rhodesia (Murder Of Mr And Mrs Viljoen)

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations whether he will make a statement on the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Viljoen by African terrorists at Hartley, in Rhodesia, yesterday.

I have heard of recent incidents in Rhodesia, including the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Viljoen yesterday, with the deepest regret. The British Government have always condemned violence from whatever quarter it may come.

Would my right hon. Friend agree, first, that under the terms of the Rhodesia Order he is responsible for law and order in Rhodesia? Secondly, would he agree that this murder marks a new phase in the Rhodesian problem—a phase of violence of the gravest description?

We have made our general views clear to all concerned—that we condemn violence and we hope that this kind of murder will not happen. I can only repeat what I said before, that it is the illegal declaration of independence which has led to this kind of terrible murder.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman should think again about his last remark; it is not in accordance with the facts. Will he accept that this incident, which may be followed by others, is another reason for pushing ahead with the talks with the greatest possible urgency?

I quite agree. The discussions are taking place with this objective in view.

Has my right hon. Friend any evidence that this incident is connected with the I.D.I?

No. There is nobody who can give any proof which connects it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why say it?"] What I said was that illegal action leads to violence, which we condemn.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that incitement to murder is going out with some regularity on the Zambain radio? May I ask him, first, whether he has made any protest to Zambia in that respect; secondly. Whether B.B.C. material rebroadcast from London is also going out from Zambia on the same programme; and thirdly, what steps he can take to stop that practice?

We have made our general views clear to the Zambian Government, but I should require further evidence before making anything in the nature of an official protest.