asked the Secretary of State for industry when he expects next to meet the chairman of the Post Office.
My right hon Friend and I met Sir William Barlow on 23 April.
If the dispute in the Post Office is not resolved and telephone bills are once again not paid, what contingency plans are there to avoid the serious impact not only on the Post Office's finances but on the Government's economic policy? What action is being taken to reduce the power of relatively few people to cause disproportionate disruption in industry and commerce?
We hope that there will not be a repetition of last year's dispute. However, if bills are not paid on time, extra cost is imposed on the Post Office and the money has to be recovered from somewhere, either through subsidy raised from taxpayers or by an increase in charges.The second part of my hon. Friend's question is about problems created by small groups of dissidents who may wish to disrupt the activities of the Post Office. That is a matter for the management. On more than one occasion my right hon. Friend said that if the service to the public is not improved, or if for some internal reason it becomes worse, we shall have to look seriously at the monopoly.
Has my hon. Friend seen this morning's article in the Financial Times, on the management of nationalised industries, which floats the idea that those nationalised industries that are making substantial profits should be relieved of cash limits so that the management can make its own commercial decisions, and, if necessary, raise the money from the market?
Yes, I saw the article and found it most interesting. My hon. Friend will also have seen reference to the group set up under Mr. Ryrie's chairmanship, which will be looking into these matters.
How can the hon. Gentleman tell his hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) that the derogation of the Post Office monopoly will assist in the problem that he mentioned? Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the problem is caused not by the Post Office unions, or by small sections of them, but by the Government's tight cash limits? Will he further accept that 60,000 people on the waiting list for telephones for more than six months demonstrates that investment is the problem, not the unions?
I know, and what I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree is that the service provided by the Post Office has fluctuated widely over the past year and has still not regained the position that it should. We therefore have every right to see whether the service can be provided by others.