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Post Office Corporation

Volume 981: debated on Monday 24 March 1980

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15.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when next he intends to meet the chairman of the Post Office Corporation.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when next he expects to meet the chairman of the Post Office.

My right hon. Friend meets Sir William Barlow as the need arises. I myself met Sir William on 20 March and expect to do so again later this week.

When my hon. Friend next meets the chairman of the Post Office, will he seek to persuade him to reconsider the refusal of the Post Office to issue a special stamp to commemorate the opening of the Humber bridge? [Laughter.] Is he aware that despite the recent unfortunate problem, the bridge will be the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world? Opposition Members may laugh, but it will be a great engineering achievement, by British firms.

Perhaps I could use this occasion to express considerable regret about the accident which occurred in the building of the bridge, and about the delay in its completion.

Both the Post Office and my Department receive a large number of requests for commemorative stamps. I am sure that my hon. Friend's remarks will be read by Sir William, but I cannot give him much encouragement.

When my hon. Friend next meets the chairman will he raise with him the increasing absurdity of the Buzby advertising campaign? Is he aware that we now have a Buzby balloon, and that when such a balloon is deflated it produces a sound which approximates very closely to the feelings of many of my constituents about the declining quality of our postal services?

I must congratulate my hon. Friend in giving an indirect raspberry to the public relations section of the Post Office. However, it is entitled to use whatever advertising it wishes, and the Post Office's view is that the Buzby advertisements are increasing traffic and are proving profitable.

Will the Minister discuss with Sir William Barlow the damage being done by the irrelevant application of cash limits to the Post Office telecommunications business? In addition, will he agree that the increase in the calling rate which has been achieved by the Buzby campaign, has been important in increasing profitability in this public service?

In the second part of his question the hon. Member agreed with what I said a few minutes ago. On the question of cash limits, I would like to think that the whole House would support the Government in their determination to observe cash limits as one way of helping to overcome inflation. In the current year the Post Office's cash limits have been put very seriously at risk by the damaging strike last summer, which greatly affected cash flow. I hope that in his position of influence, the hon. Member will try to ensure that such disputes are minimised in future.

When my hon. Friend meets the chairman of the Post Office will he convey to him the views that I have conveyed to my hon. Friend from the Post Office Engineering Union? That union is looking forward to the division of the Post Office, and would like to think that this will occur in the immediate future. Is he aware that its members would like to think that their jobs will be protected by this extra commercial incentive, but they want an assurance that the telecommunications department will not be split further than the one initial split in the Post Office itself?

My hon. Friend is quite right in drawing attention to the Government's policy, namely, that there shall he a split of the telecommunications side from the postal side and Giro. These are very disparate activities, and we are certain that both will benefit from the split. I note what my hon. Friend says about not splitting the telecommunications side any further.

Will the Minister tell the chairman that the Government will not countenance any change in the way that social security benefits are being paid at present? Is he aware that the inept handling of this matter by the Government has brought genuine anxiety to the most vulnerable sections of the community? Will he give an assurance that this nonsense will be dropped?

The alarm was caused by rumours that were spread and intensified some weeks ago. It led to a debate in the House, during which my right hon. Friend and I were ready to give an assurance about the future of the network. More recently it was made abundantly clear that there would be no question of forcing pensions to be paid through a bank—but we hope that that will be an option open to people—and that secondly, the retention of weekly payments will be maintained for those who want it.