TELEGRAPH BILL (Hansard, 4 June 1951)
HC Deb 04 June 1951 vol 488 cc689-705

Order for Second Reading read.

3.36 p.m.

The Postmaster-General (Mr. Ness Edwards)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I want to divide what I have to say into two parts. It will be recollected that on a previous occasion there was a wide discussion about the increased charges which are being imposed by the Post Office. In that debate discussion of the increase in telegraph charges was out of order, and it is this Bill which enables the House to discuss that proposition. I indicated on that occasion that the Post Office costs were increasing so fast that there was a possibility that they would wipe out the commercial surplus, and I also indicated that the loss on the telegraph side was increasing at a very fast rate. The rate at which the loss on the telegraph side is increasing is the justification for the Bill. It is highly probable that by the end of the financial year the loss on the telegraph system will be in the region of £5 million.

For the best part of a quarter of a century the telegraph system has been carried on the back of the revenues from the other services. This has been the one side of the Post Office operations which has always been a nightmare for the Postmaster-General. This is because, as the telephone service grows, it limits the field of the telegraph service, and as the curve of the telephone service expansion has risen, we have seen the curve of the telegraph deficit rise at the same time and in about the same proportion. We have to face the position that, with the development and expansion of the telephone service, the telegraph service will have extreme difficulty in maintaining its existence.

This situation has been examined over a number of years. My predecessors in office have taken all the steps open to them to try to economise in the service in order to cut down expenditure. In the last seven years the efforts made by my predecessors to mechanise the service and to give a swifter and cheaper service, have already shown very great results, but we have to face the fact that, no matter what is done, the telegraph service will have to be carried by the rest of the Post Office services. We have gone on with the automatic through-switching service which was originated by one of my predecessors. The teleprinter manual switching system has been developed, and now we envisage the introduction of a facsimile telegraph service which we hope will cut out quite a number of those intermediate operations which are now being conducted by hand.

On the costs side, I think my predecessors are entitled to a much greater measure of credit than has been given to them for the efforts they made to cut down the costs. When I took this office, I looked at the other side of it to see how far we could increase revenue and to see what could be done to halt what appeared to be a slowly dying service. I reintroduced the greetings telegram to try to inject into the service a little more life, a little more vigour and, I hoped, a little more finance. That has proved exceptionally successful. In the six months of its operation, over two and half million greetings telegrams have been despatched and the revenue from it has been of great assistance.

I was able to do that with effect only because there was a margin of slackness in the telegram system which enabled us to take on this new burden without adding substantially to our costs. The number of new employees who had to be brought in to meet this demand was exceptionally small and, by and large, this service was carried on by the present personnel, equipment and resources. So I think one can say that roughly 70 per cent. of the increased revenue on account of greetings telegrams has been a net gain to us, and the amount taken for the increased cost has been extremely small.

Having looked at the results of those steps, having examined what my predecessors did to economise on the cost of this service in order to reduce the expenditure, one is forced to the conclusion that, despite all this, unless something is done on the lines of this Bill, our loss on the telegraph service will reach unmanageable proportions.

Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)

Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? Can he divide the cost of transmission and the cost of delivery to people who have no telephones?

Mr. Ness Edwards

That is one of the snags—to break down the costing so precisely. However, if it is convenient to the House, I will try at the end of the debate to give as much information as possible to satisfy hon. Members that we have the closest accounting system. We can tell roughly what is the general cost of delivering a telegram in the different systems adopted as a result of the steps taken by my predecessors. By the steps proposed in this Bill we hope to obtain additional revenue of £450,000 in a full year. This will go towards reducing the deficiency which, as I have told the House, we anticipate is round about £5 million.

Now I come to the Bill, which follows the pattern of previous Telegraph Acts in imposing a ceiling on the inland charges. Clause 1 (1) deals with the increased maximum rates for ordinary telegrams. It permits an increased charge of 1s. 6d. for a telegram of 12 words, plus 1½d. for each additional word. That compares with the present charge of 1s. for nine words, plus 1d. for each additional word. So that under this Bill a 12 word telegram will cost 1s. 6d. instead of the present 1s. 3d. On telegrams with a greater number of words, the variation is greater, but on the usual 12-word telegram the additional charge is 3d. In subsection (2) we take power to provide for 1½d. a word on the greetings telegrams for the additional words above 12 words. Clause 2 applies the Bill to Northern Ireland, to the Isle of Man and to the Channel Islands.

That is the substance of this small Bill. It does two things. One is to authorise the Post Office to lay a Statutory Instrument for the purpose of increasing the charge for the ordinary telegram and for increasing the charge for extra words in the greetings telegram from 1d. to 1½d. Secondly, it applies the provisions of the Bill, as I have said, to the Channel Islands, to the Isle of Man and to Northern Ireland.

Despite this, I should not be doing right by the House if I did not let hon. Members know the final result. Even with these increased charges, the final result is that we have a cheaper telegraph system than any of the large countries. It is much cheaper than that of the United States, much cheaper than that of Canada, and cheaper than that of France. So that when we take an international comparison, our charges for the telegraph system in this country appear exceedingly reasonable.

I much regret the necessity for this increase in charges, for, after all, these are the means of communication of urgent messages for the poorer section of the community. On the other hand, it would not be right to put all this burden on to the other users of Post Office services. The amount of the burden is extremely small—I am getting only £450,000 to meet a deficiency of over £5 million—but, on balance, I think that is the reasonable view to take.

We have to keep this telegraph system. In times of great national emergency it is of vital importance to the country. Therefore, looking at the whole picture, I am satisfied that what we propose in this Bill is right in the interests of the telegraph service, in the interests of the Post Office and in the interests of the nation. Therefore, I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

3.48 p.m.

Mr. R. V. Grimston (Westbury)

At the outset of my remarks I should like to thank the Postmaster-General for the tribute he paid to his predecessors in office over some years past for the steps inaugurated to try to economise on the telegraph service. The right hon. Gentleman made particular reference to the system of switching introduced some years ago. On behalf of my hon. Friends who have been at the Post Office before, and myself, I am obliged to him for that tribute.

Further, I am glad to hear that the re-introduction of the greetings telegram has proved a success. I congratulate him there on following advice which he received from this side of the House, and I express the hope that he will follow some further advice which he has had and which he will get. Having said that, I am afraid that the rest of my remarks cannot be quite so agreeable to the Postmaster-General.

First, the increased telegraph charges which this Bill seeks to introduce are part of the general rise in Post Office charges which we discussed a little time ago— on 19th April, to be exact. On that occasion we censured the Government for these charges and, at the conclusion of the debate, they scraped home by eight votes. For Parliamentary and technical reasons, we could not then discuss telegraphs, but I do not think that it is possible to look at these rises in a vacuum. The Postmaster-General must understand that, for reasons which we have advanced and shall continue to advance, both in the House and in the country, we hold the Government partly—I might even say largely—responsible for the present price rises in telephones and the rest.

The Postmaster-General has in the past been rather inclined to blame private industry, his contractors, the rise in the price of raw materials and so on, for many of his difficulties, but in this connection I would refer him to some remarks which were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) in a debate on raw materials. It was clearly brought out by my right hon. Friend that, as long ago as last August the Ministry of Supply were discouraging private industry and firms from acquiring raw materials which they could have got then at prices lower than those at which they could get them today had they not followed Government advice. When the right hon. Gentleman is inclined to blame outside industry for some of his troubles, he should remember, therefore, those factors in the situation for which we rightly blame his own Government.

Telegraph costs are a further charge on industry and the public. The present proposal by the Postmaster-General, even on his own figures, does precious little to meet the telegraph problem in the Post Office. We on this side admit that the telegraph problem beset us, and it is besetting the right hon. Gentleman in a far greater degree. Having said this, however, it might be interesting to look at the position, and in this connection I shall refer to the commercial accounts—not to be confused with the cash accounts—as in this way the position will be far better understood.

The present increases under the Bill do practically nothing to meet the problem. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the loss on telegraphs this year, as will be seen from the commercial accounts in the Civil Estimates, is expected to be about £4,700,000. By the Bill, the Postmaster-General will get, this year, £300,000. When talked about as the solution to the problem, or even as very much of a contribution to it, this becomes quite absurd.

That brings me to the question whether in the future telegraphs should be treated as a separate branch of activity. There has been coined quite a good expression—"telecommunications"—and because the increased use of the telephone has gradually pushed out the telegraph, I am wondering whether we have not arrived at the stage when we should talk of telecommunications and forget the two different departments of telephones and telegraphs.

This is what I have in mind. I wonder how far these figures of telegraph losses, put into a watertight compartment, are "phoney." An illustration can best explain my meaning. Every time that a subscriber picks up his receiver and dials T E L, he is using the telephone service for a telegram. Every time that a telegram arrives at a country office and is telephoned to the addressee's telephone number, if he happens to be on the telephone, is again a mix-up between the telephone and the telegraph service.

I wonder whether it is actuarially possible to sort out how the costs of the different parts of the service can be divided? So many considerations are involved—for example, whether the telegraph service should pay some proportion of the rent for the lines that are used, and so on—and the whole thing becomes so actuarially intricate that I wonder whether the figures that we have are really a true guide to the position. I advance this as an added reason for suggesting that we have reached the time when it would be much better to treat the whole thing as telecommunications and be done with the different departments of telephones and telegrams.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the necessity to retain the telegraph service. I know all the arguments which he advanced—that the telegraph user should not be subsidised by the man who posts a letter or by the man who uses a telephone, and so on—but in many public services that principle has to be an accepted doctrine. One does not need to look further than the London Passenger Transport Board for an example. When the Bill dealing with London transport was passing through the House—incidentally, it was introduced by a National Government—one of the arguments for the grouping of the London transport services was that in the public interests the unremunerative bus route had to be maintained. Something of the same sort applies as between telegraphs and the telephone.

It is, true that the use of the inland telegraph is going out, but it is still used considerably by industry and there are considerations of a non-commercial character, which always seemed powerful to me when I was at the Post Office. When all is said and done, the telegraph is the last resort of the poorer section of the community for speedy communication in times of illness, death, anxiety, and so on. For that reason, although the telegraph service may as an entity be hopelessly unremunerative, it must be kept on.

I am not at all sure that if this service were kept on and the telegraph service and telephones were treated as one, some of the brains in the right hon. Gentleman's Department might not be able to think up some sort of link service which would make an appeal to the public. I have in mind something on the lines of the night-letter telegram. It might be very useful for a business executive to have a conversation with a customer and to have the whole thing recorded for him by the Post Office with a sort of telegraph-telephone arrangement. Given the will to do it, there are avenues of that sort which could be explored.

As I have said, this business of telegraphs cannot be considered in isolation. I noticed the other day that the Postmaster-General made a very interesting speech in the country, which is reported in the "Star," from which I should like to quote. I have selected what, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman and I might call a neutral newspaper. Speaking of the Post Office, the right hon. Gentleman is reported to have said: It should make some contribution to the Exchequer as any other industry—no less or more—and it should not be regarded as an instrument of fiscal policy or a means of taxing the community. I select a quotation from another speech by the right hon. Gentleman, this time from the "Western Mail," another newspaper with which I do not think the Minister will quarrel geographically. He said at Cardiff: I hope we shall be able to reconstitute the conception of the Post Office in the financial organisation of this country to free it from all the strings which are imposed upon it, and all those limitations which are the consequence of the present financial organisation and its relation to the Treasury. I have no disagreement with the principles expressed. I think they are admirable in many respects, but what is the Postmaster-General doing to carry them out? Why does he not take the first step in doing this?

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

"One step enough for me."

Mr. Grimston

I suggest to him a first step to get the whole position of the Post Office vis-à-vis the Treasury and taxation, standing on its feet and so on, sorted out. Referring again to the Estimates of Revenue Departments, I see that the Post Office is at present performing certain free telegraph services for different Government Departments. They are not being paid for telegraph services by other Government Departments. The amounts for telegrams are absolute chicken feed compared with the other expenses incurred by Government Departments, for telephones and so forth; but why does the right hon. Gentleman not take the first step and say that in future he will go back to the pre-war system recommended by the Select Committee and make Government Departments pay for Post Office services?

What would follow from that? The other day, when it was suggested that the other Government Departments, if they had to pay for these services, would not be so extravagant with them, an hon. Member opposite said that, of course, if they were not extravagant down would go Post Office traffic. But that does not follow. If by a system of charging other Government Departments, the right hon. Gentleman can get their calls on the Post Office lessened, he can do something to catch up with the queues of people waiting for telephones and, instead of clawing in money from the taxpayers, he will get it from the public.

That would be one way to break some of the spiral of prices caused by taxation. He would get revenue from the public instead of from other Government Departments. As I have shown, these price rises are quite ineffective in meeting the telegraph problem which besets the Postmaster-General. They are an added burden on industry, albeit, not as big as many others, and of course they will be a hardship to a small section of the community for the reasons given by the Postmaster-General in his speech, to which I have also alluded.

The other day we divided the House on the whole question of these price rises, of which these telegraph rises are a part, and that goes for this Bill. Therefore, we do not propose to put the House to the trouble of dividing against the Bill, as we made our attitude very clearly known on the other occasion. But the pity is that we see the Postmaster-General making what I would call genuflexions to the rising spiral of costs—this Bill is one—instead of setting out to see whether his great Department and all the brains and experience he has at his command in that Department cannot take some step to cut this vicious circle of price rises, for which he and his colleagues blame everyone except themselves.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

I wish to put two points to the Postmaster-General. I was a little distressed to hear him talk of the possibility of closing down or curtailing these services, particularly from the point of view of areas which are very backward in their telephone service. I refer particularly to the Sheffield area where we consider—as I hope the right hon. Gentleman's Parliamentary Private Secretary is constantly telling him—that we have had a worse deal over new telephones than have other cities. Therefore, it is important that the telegraph service should be made even more readily available to people who cannot get telephones.

The second point to which I wish to refer is that put by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. R. V. Grimston) when dealing with overhead charges. Before I could be satisfied with this Bill, I should want to know how overhead charges are split up by the Post Office between the private telephone service and the telegraph service. We have certain figures, but it appears so easy in interdepartmental arrangements for overhead charges of one kind to be weighted to one particular Department, and it is easy, when the accounts of the private telephone service are so great, to deal in possibly one or two millions one way or the other which would make a very different picture of the telegraph service.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us some assurance and some figures about how the break-up of those overhead charges has been made. I think it vitally important, when he talks of a deficit of from £4½ million to £5 million, to know that it might be reduced by half if a certain part were transferred from one branch of the service to another. It may well be, as my hon. Friend said, that sufficient weight has not been given to the part the telephone service is playing in the telegraph service.

4.7 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

For many years I have devoted a certain amount of time to examination of the commercial accounts of the Post Office. I have listened with interest to the two speeches which preceded mine, in which my hon. Friends speculated on the extent of the loss on the telegraphs, but, whatever the method of accountancy, the telegraphs have run at a loss since 1871. The right hon. Gentleman can say, "My predecessors made a bigger mess of it than I did," if he likes. I believe he can say that. The story is interesting. Telegraphs were not invented by the State, as the State never invents anything, but they were taken over from a private company in 1869 and, by 1871, they had been turned into a loss and the loss has persisted ever since.

A few years later Graham Bell and one or two others invented the telephone, and a company was formed in this country to give us telephones. Certain municipalities started telephone services, some of which survive. The Hull service is one. But what did the Postmaster-General do? I do not remember whether he was a Liberal or a Conservative, but he allowed certain private companies to run their services only provided that they paid 10 per cent. of their gross receipts for something of which the State had not thought. People have forgotten all this, but I have a sticky memory and it is as well that this should be rubbed in.

I think the telegraph service has been hopeless for many years and neither by raising nor diminishing the rates will it be a success. I remember that the first Socialist mayor of Reading, when I was Member there, earned his living by operating the telegraph service on race courses. I do not know whether we have the right odds. If it were not for race meetings and a few things like that—and even that is now "done in" by the B.B.C., which is a competitive body—I do not know what could be done about this service.

It might pay if it were handed over to efficient management, because when the fear of bankruptcy and the profit motive are eliminated everybody becomes inefficient. I know of no case to the contrary. That is why I am the greatest opponent of nationalisation. I am much more extreme than many of my colleagues. They think that some kinds of nationalisation are tolerable. I know of none that is not inefficient. Why was the postal service nationalised? Largely because Charles II wanted to examine the correspondence of his loyal subjects. It was a security measure, not a fiscal measure.

Could the Postmaster-General persuade his myrmidons to be a little more helpful when I dial TEL? One can wait for so long before getting the stupid reply, "Can I help you?" which is the new form of courtesy on the telephone. I do not want the operator to say, "Can I help you?" I want the operator to take a telegram. But so much time is wasted with this fictitious courtesy, time which could be used to improve the service, that there are fantastic delays in getting an answer when one wants to send a telegram.

The number of people who have not got a telephone shocks me. I am made aware of them by the letters I receive and which I pass on to the right hon. Gentleman, who always sends me a courteous reply in which he says that on account of capital requirements and a lot of other nonsense he is sorry that the person concerned will not get his telephone for the next three years. I wish there could be a bit of push-and-go in the administration of the telephone service. After all, a large proportion of people, when sending a telegram today, use the telephone and dial TEL, and the waste of time is fantastic.

I was at a public meeting the other day, a Conservative meeting at which those present thought that they would like to send a telegram of sympathy to Mrs. Churchill, who has had to undergo an operation which I understand was not too serious. The meeting was in Willesden. I suggested that it would be better to get a small boy to deliver the message on a bicycle. I was satisfied that any boy could travel on a bicycle in very much quicker time from Willesden to the hospital in which Mrs. Churchill was than that in which the myrmidons of the right hon. Gentleman would succeed in sending her a telegram. More energy, push-and-go and vigour are required in the telegraph service if people are to use it. People use it only if it supplies a real need. I am satisfied that the telegraph service is less efficient than it was when I was a small boy.

4.13 p.m.

Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)

Those who have listened to the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) are well aware that he is never happy unless he is expressing the extreme case.

Sir H. Williams

The normal case.

Mr. Viant

The cases he has just cited are by no means normal. I have been away from the Post Office for 20 years but I should require a lot of convincing that the Department is as lackadaisical today as has been asserted by the hon. Member for Croydon, East. Is there anything to be gained by making a statement of the kind he made? Those of us who know anything about this subject know quite well that if this service had been in the hands of private enterprise, there would have been no telegraph system in this country today. No one could have afforded to run it. The telegraph system cannot compete with the telephone system and pay from a commercial point of view.

Sir H. Williams

It was started by private enterprise, which was successful, but in two years after nationalisation it had become a financial failure.

Mr. Viant

Yes, private enterprise initiated the telegraph system but there has come into being the telephone system, which has eclipsed the telegraph system, and we resort to the telegraph system now only on very rare occasions. The circumstances determine whether we telephone or send a telegram, and we have to face that fact. When I was in the Department, there was a considerable loss on the telegraph system, but the State appreciated the need for a telegraph service, and was prepared, and up to now has been prepared, to permit the service to continue even at a loss. We can never hope to put the telegraph system of this country on an economic basis. The telephone system is far too keen a competitor. What is more, the telephone system is more readily available than is the telegraph system. That fact must be faced, and all the arguing about the question will not dismiss it. It is no use quoting the extreme case, as the hon. Member for Croydon, East, has done.

The hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. R. V. Grimston) suggested that the telephone system and the telegraph system might be treated as complementary, and that for financial purposes there should be no division between the accounts. That is a reasonable proposition. If we are to continue the service, that appears to me to be a reasonable way out. As that suggestion has come from the Opposition there can be no accusation, if there is general agreement on it, that the Department is desirous of cooking the accounts. It is generally admitted that it is an out-of-date service when compared with the telephone system, but there are occasions when the one becomes complementary to the other. In those circumstances, I think the suggestion of the hon. Member for Westbury is reasonable and that it would meet with the approval of the majority of commonsense people. I, for one, would be pleased to hear the Postmaster-General's comment on the proposition.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)

I wish to reprove my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). For many years I have tried to read Milton's "Paradise Lost." I read the beginning of it and always found something to distract my mind; but as I have frequently to dial TEL and TOL, I put the book by the telephone in my house, and sitting there listening to that very gentle buzzing of the bee which denotes no answer, I have managed to read "Paradise Lost." I am now looking for a new book.

Sir H. Williams

"Paradise Regained."

Mr. Baxter

I therefore say that not for the first time in this island's troubled story my hon. Friend has abused a service which is more subtle than he indicated.

Nearly every year, for reasons which I cannot remember, I go to the United States. There both the telephone and telegraphs are under private enterprise; telegraphs are competitive. When I arrive in New York some representative of one company or the other comes to see me at my hotel to try to put every facility at my disposal in the hope that I will use a lot or a little of them. He makes it clear that everything will be handled speedily. If I go into that shop which represents an interesting expression of American life, the drug store, I can send a telegram from there. If one arrives in Minneapolis or St. Louis railway station at midnight, one can still send a telegram because the poor benighted Americans have to make the service pay. I do not know whether one can send a telegram at Victoria Station at half-past eleven at night; I may be doing Victoria an injustice, but I would not know where to look for a place from which to send one, and certainly no one looks for me.

I believe that the telegraph and telephone systems suffer from the burden of being the first nationalised industry in this country. I would say—and I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East, and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) would bear me out—that if the Post Office will accept the offer, I will guarantee to raise money to pay £5 million for the Post Office telephone and telegraph contract; and we will make it more efficient and cheaper, and will make money. That offer was once made 15 years ago by a group of financiers and I believe that it is still possible today. The Postmaster-General is a man of great vitality and, so far as I know, of great humanity. But he should create an imaginary competitive opponent. He should popularise the telegraph service. There is only one way of making anything pay and that is by increasing the productivity and reducing the price, and I ask the Postmaster-General to give some thought to that point.

4.21 p.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards

By leave of the House, I want to answer some of the points raised. The hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) has, as usual, put forward the case very attractively, but when he talked of his U.S. experience I was astonished that he did not tell us how much he paid. The fact is that he would have to pay four times as much as is provided for in this Bill. I think that is an important point which he left out.

The hon. Member made a challenge which was made 15 years ago and if he adopted the policy of his own country of Canada and charged slightly over three times the charge which is proposed in the present Bill, on that basis he would be able to make a profit; but he would not be able to answer complaints that the poorer section of the community were being penalised at the very moment of their greatest stress, when they wanted to send an urgent message; and I do not think that we should treat this challenge as seriously as he put it forward.

The suggestion that we should merge the telephone and telegraph accounts is attractive, but I do not think we should adopt a system of merging in order to hide a loss on an important service. If people engaged in the telegraph service could always feel that their losses could be hidden, I am afraid that would make, not for efficiency, but for a good deal of inefficiency. I would rather that all the accounts were laid before us so that everybody can see what is the result of their efforts, and if the result is bad by one method, we should be able to stimulate them to produce a better method. The suggestion was made that there is something "phoney" in the figures, which seemed to me to be a reflection on the Public Accounts Committee who examined them in great detail and with great care. The Comptroller and Auditor-General is very close in his examination of these accounts.

The only other point to which I wish to refer is with regard to the Post Office and the spiral of rising prices. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be able to say that we were reducing charges. The Post Office more than any other section of industry, even socialised industries, has held off making increases in charges. We are the last in the queue and I am sorry that we cannot start the process of stopping this spiral by reducing charges. On the other hand, we must look on the Post Office as a great business undertaking which has the job of balancing its budget. If we look at it in that way I consider it right that we should come to the House and ask for authority to pass on a degree of these increased costs which are completely outside our control.

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, I want to ask him a question. He made some criticism of my hon. Friend and gave some figures about the cost of sending telegrams in the United States. Surely the Minister knows perfectly well that these comparisons are completely fallacious. If the Government like to devalue sterling in the most frantic fashion, as they have, obviously the prices are different. What is the right hon. Gentleman's authority for saying that, in relation to American prices, telegrams there are four times as much as they are in Britain? It is quite fallacious if we are comparing currencies.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I have taken an example that compares very favourably with circumstances in this country. Taking that example of two places, 150 miles apart, the comparison is correct. I have no desire to score on that point. I think that our case rests—

Mr. Bracken

On what basis?

Mr. Ness Edwards

What we did was to take the present value of the dollar in the costs, but even without allowing for devaluation it is more than three times the amount we have provided for in this Bill.

Mr. Bracken

The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. It is not three times the amount. Devaluation cut the purchasing power of sterling in relation to the dollar in a most savage fashion by well over 30 per cent; and for the right hon. Gentleman, having devalued the £, or consented in a small way to it, to read out "phoney" figures is altogether wrong.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I cannot allow that to go by. I have tried to treat the House openly in this matter. There is no question of politics in this. We are dealing with a business situation and we should deal with it in a business-like way. I think this Bill does provide some means of trying to get the Post Office on a proper basis.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest)

Will the right hon. Gentleman quote the figures to which he has been referring? What is the cost of a telegram in America with which he has been making a comparison?

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House for Tomorrow.—[Mr. Royle.]

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