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Post Office

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 18 May 1966

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Postal Services (Brighton)


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


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)


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)


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)


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


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)


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


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


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.


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".


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.


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)


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)


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.