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Postal Charges (Books And Printed Matter)

Volume 890: debated on Monday 21 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Industry how much revenue was received by the Post Office in the past financial year from charges on the postage of books and printed matter to Commonwealth countries.

The information as requested is not available, but for overseas surface printed papers as a whole the revenue for 1974–75 is estimated, on the basis of 10 months' figures, at between £13 million and £14 million.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the damaging effect of the increase in these charges in postal rates for printed matter and for books? Is he aware that the charges have risen by about 167 per cent.? Will he confirm that another increase is in the pipeline? Is he aware that books and periodicals—and, indeed, advertising material—are a means whereby information about this country and the influence of this country can be spread to overseas countries? Therefore, will not this increase have a very damaging effect on Britain's influence world wide and, indeed, affect our future chances for exports in world markets?

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern in these matters. After considerable discussion of the original proposals submitted by the Post Office, it has been decided that there will be no abatement. The increased charges will not take effect until the early part of next year. I am conscious of the representations made to me by the trade, but there can be no question of subsidy by the Post Office to any other industry.

What views have been collected by the Secretary of State for Trade as to the detrimental effect on exports of this section of the price increases by the Post Office?

I know that the trade consulted my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, as it consulted me, but the overriding consideration must be for the Post Office. The Post Office cannot go out of its way to subsidise any other industry. We have lived for a very long time under the shadow of large deficits. We cannot continue in that way much longer.

What is the hon. Gentleman's estimate of the likely decrease in traffic as a result of the increased charges both in this field and in the more general postal one, particularly bearing in mind the evidence that even local authorities have now adopted hand delivery of their rate demands?

That is quite another matter. I remind the hon. Gentleman, although I should not need to remind him above all other Members in the House, that the Universal Postal Union has made its recommendations, which will apply to all these countries.