Orders of the Day — Post Office Savings Bank (Transfer to Glasgow)

– in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 11 Mai 1964.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Pym.]

10.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Tomney Mr Frank Tomney , Hammersmith North

One thing is certain. Had I been provided with a plentiful supply of duck eggs or hen eggs, I could have made good use of them tonight, but not for the purpose of digestion.

There are times when democracy should seem to be at work. There are times when those who support democracy should be allowed to see democracy at work. One would have thought, looking at the Order Paper of the House of Commons this morning, that this very important debate on the removal of the Post Office Savings Bank to Glasgow warranted more time than we can now give to it. This concerns the livelihood, the future and the hopes of many hundreds of London people. Every London Member is concerned in this matter.

Every London Member who has received the remarkable publication dispatched to the House of Commons by the Civil Service Clerical Association, the Society of Civil Servants and the Union of Post Office Workers must have been struck by the moderation, the cogency and fairness of the arguments presented in the document. All we can get at this time of night is a quarter of an hour in which to put the case. These people, after the treatment that has been meted out to them, are flatly opposed to going to Glasgow. After sitting here all day, is there any reason why that view should not be confirmed in their minds? The Admission Order Office has today provided us with a gallery which has been unusual.

Here we have a situation in which the unions, being cognisant of the fact that certain structural changes would have to be made in the density and the allocation of offices throughout the United Kingdom, were prepared to give their full co-operation in the initial stages to the Minister for him to achieve his object. The unions, through the Whitley Council, were provided with three alternatives. It was held out to them during the negotiations that the wishes of the Post Office staff would receive every consideration, that consultation would be entered into and that all the factors would be looked at. The various committees nominated by the unions, after visiting the areas concerned, came down not in favour of Glasgow, but, if they had to go anywhere, in favour of Tees-side.

Photo of Mr Frank Tomney Mr Frank Tomney , Hammersmith North

The position now is that they do not want to go anywhere. And who can blame them? Most of the workers are Londoners born and bred. Why should they be the physical instrument of the Government's will?

Some very trenchant things are said in the document which has been issued by the unions. One section of the staff was well seized of the position quite early on. I refer to the Society of Civil Servants, which, in a very trenchant passage, said: The Savings Bank Branch considered that their acceptance of the Government's proposal to disperse the Bank would run directly counter to their National Association policy, would lead to a breach of the traditional neutrality of the Civil Service, and a political decision overriding all other considerations. The Society could not have been more right, as subsequent events have proved.

The Postmaster-General is responsible for his own Department, but there are many people in the Civil Service unions who are of the opinion—and, on the available evidence, I am with them—that this was taken out of the right hon. Gentleman's hands by the Cabinet and that a Cabinet decision was taken for political reasons.

The Government have got themselves into a mess in the south-east of England, with the wholesale building of offices, the jamming of subways, congestion of traffic and overburdening of all the London services. This is the direct result of Government policy, because here in London is where the offices have been built. There are about 4,000 building workers out of work today in the North-East who could well have been building offices had the Government been so minded. But private industry, under the Location of Offices Bureau, has not wanted to go to other areas of the country, and the Government now intend to use their power over people in their service to send them there, as an example and in the hope that private industry will follow.

This is a very onerous responsibility for anyone to take. All who know Glasgow know that there are already 72,000 people there on the housing waiting list, Anybody who knows anything about London housing knows that some of these workers have been waiting years for a council flat or house and have only just got one. Anyone who knows anything about this organisation in London knows that the majority of the workers concerned are in the age-group from 35 to 55, people with children at grammar school or taking higher education whose whole future will be affected by the move.

Moreover, everyone knows that the employment of these people does not rate the highest remuneration and, in many cases, wives have had to go out to work to supplement the family income. Is there any guarantee that the same amount of work will be available to the wives in any other part of the country? Certainly not.

All these are factors which impinge on the situation of these workers. But, despite this, the Civil Service unions concerned initially recognised their obligations to the nation. The Minister, on the other hand, did not recognise his obligation to his own staff. As I have said, this is a political decision of the Cabinet.

These people are now opposed to going, and who can blame them?

Photo of Mr Anthony Royle Mr Anthony Royle , Richmond (Surrey)

Is there not another point which the hon. Member has not mentioned? Many of these workers have dependants who rely on them. What is to be the position of these dependants if they have to move up to the North, to Glasgow?

Photo of Mr Frank Tomney Mr Frank Tomney , Hammersmith North

I think that I did refer to them. When speaking of children, I meant to include responsibilities to elderly relatives, too. All these factors impinge on the problem.

There is now acute dismay in the Post Office Savings Bank. The employees and the associations want to know what the Minister proposes to do. He cannot avoid his Departmental responsibility.

A circular sent out under Whitley Council auspices states that each move must be the responsibility of the Department concerned, under the ultimate decision of its Minister. This is essential; and nothing can be allowed to detract from departmental responsibility … unless such moves are decided and implemented by the Departments concerned there is no effective way in which the staff concerned can be brought into consultation. The staff opted for one district, but were told to go to Glasgow. I have tried to outline some of the realities of the situation and I now want to deal with the Government's position. Ever since the Government assumed power in 1951, we have seen a spate of office building and concentration. The upsurge in land values in the South-East and London has been the direct result of their policy. As a consequence, there has been a growing waiting list in London, particularly for houses, and congestion in the schools. Employment possibilities may have been greater than in other parts of the country, but people are now frightened of what the Government's decision will mean to them. If there is not a willing transfer, what will the Minister do?

Only last week, at its conference, the union clearly laid down by resolution, which was passed with acclamation, that implementation of the move should be resisted unless prior guarantee was given on the following conditions: No compulsion in respect of staff transfers to be imposed upon Grades represented by the Association.Adequate arrangements made for the transfer out of the Savings Bank of members remaining in London and no opportunity lost of facilitating such transfers immediately vacancies exist in other departments.Full provision is made to offset possible redundancy in the Sorting Assistant Grade. What lies behind that resolution? In case the Minister does not know, I will tell him. If the resolution is to be effective, and compulsion is attempted, there must be some sackings for these people. Sackings for people in the 35, 45 and 55 age groups are a matter of real concern, because private industry, with its own pension schemes, is no longer prepared to take anybody in the higher grade of employment, as the actuarial basis of the pension schemes would be upset.

What will the Minister do about this? Is it possible to absorb these people in London? If not, but if he insists upon transferring them and they do not wish to go, will he dismiss them? These are very real problems to which the people concerned want an answer now. Their lives are centred here in London, and it is patently wrong for the Minister to use his powers as a Departmental Minister, with Cabinet sanction, to transfer these people against their will to other parts of the country.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

Direction of labour.

Photo of Mr Frank Tomney Mr Frank Tomney , Hammersmith North

I do not know whether the implications for the Post Office itself have been thought out. One would have thought that this service, which is central in London and so important to the nation, should remain sited here.

Photo of Mr William Hannan Mr William Hannan , Glasgow Maryhill

Does what my hon. Friend is saying mean that the argument is against a change altogether and that, as some of us suspect, the argument is that the Post Office Savings Bank headquarters should be retained in London and not moved even to Newcastle?

Photo of Mr Frank Tomney Mr Frank Tomney , Hammersmith North

I do not know whether my hon. Friend has been listening to me. I said initially that there were three choices and that the staff opted for one by conciliation. That was refused, and the Department has taken another. As far as the people are concerned, this headquarters should remain in London. Because of the real industrial and office problem, it should remain here on the basis of efficiency. Over 500,000 documents arrive daily. Fifty per cent. of the 22 million depositors live in and around London.

I should have liked to have a lot of time for this debate, so that the Minister would have adequate time for his reply.

The Minister can do two things—either go back to the Cabinet and say that he is not prepared to sanction the transfer of the Department to Glasgow, or hold an independent inquiry into all aspects of the matter and find out what the feeling is.

If the Minister moves the Department from London, he will be left with large premises. What will he do with them? Will he sell them? Will he let them? If he does either of those things, his argument about congestion falls to the ground, and the previous arguments about the Post Office Savings Bank being better sited and more efficient in other parts of the country fall.

This has been done deliberately as a means of relieving Glasgow's unemployment problem and for no other reason. If the Minister continues along the line on which he has started, what does he gain? I ask him to take the matter back to the Cabinet if it has come from there and reverse the decision before it is too late.

10.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Brentford and Chiswick

I would make a plea on behalf of the people affected, many of whom have written to me and colleagues of mine and put forward a formidable case. Some of them have houses and are just coming towards the end of their mortgages, some have children just about to take their G.C.E., and some have aged relatives dependent on them; and they feel that their roots are in London.

These people must be told exactly where they stand. They must be given some hope of having some sympathetic tribunal before which they can state their case, and, if they are able to make their case, they ought to be allowed to remain in London. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us whether these people will get alternative employment if they stay in London.

I shall not go into the merits of this matter, about which there is great controversy, but I would emphasise that it is a human matter. If a change is to take place, I hope that we shall take care of the people who will, inevitably, be hurt by it.

10.53 p.m.

Photo of Sir John Henderson Sir John Henderson , Glasgow Cathcart

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I think that it might have been desirable that an hon. Mem- ber from the City of Glasgow, which is very much affected—

Photo of Mr Robert Grimston Mr Robert Grimston , Westbury

Order. The hon. Gentleman seems to be questioning whom I have called. That is not in order. It is within my discretion. I have called the Postmaster-General.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for rising now, but I have only 13 minutes in which to answer the debate. I hope the House will forgive me if I speak rapidly.

First, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) for introducing this subject, although I thought that his speech was both reactionary and distorted. I am sorry that many of my hon. Friends who represent London constituencies and, indeed, Glasgow constituencies have not been able to speak. That is not my fault.

This is a very important question. It is important in making its contribution to the solution of London's overcrowding, to the economic well-being of Glasgow and South-West Scotland, and, last but by no means least, to the present staff of the Post Office Savings Bank. It is because these things are important that I am personally replying to the debate.

During the last year I have to make two very difficult decisions, and I apologise for neither of them. The first was whether we should accept the report of Sir Gilbert Flemming that the Post Office Savings Bank should be moved out of London altogether. Our answer to that question was "Yes", and I am sure that that broad decision is supported on both sides of the House. It is true that a very small but very important group of the Bank's staff have not felt able to reconcile themselves to the inevitability of this decision. I am sorry about that. I sympathise with their point of view and with their problems. At the same time, I must emphasise that I am quite certain that it is right to move the Bank out of London. The work does not require to be done in the Metropolis.

The second question was where the Bank should go. This was a much harder decision. We narrowed this choice down to Tees-side, Liverpool and Glasgow. We had to have a place of sufficient size to ensure an adequate pool of clerical workers. It had to be a good centre for communications. It had to bring, from the national point of view, positive social and economic advantages to wherever it went.

I arranged for representatives of the Bank management and of the staff to visit all three possible locations. It was only after receiving their reports that the Government attempted to balance one place against another. It has been suggested that even at the time that the C.S.C.A. was visiting the three areas the mind of the Government was made up and that the consultations with it were, therefore, a mockery. That is wholly untrue.

Had I been concerned with playing politics, or had I been prejudiced—and Ministers do not play politics in matters where human beings are concerned—my prejudice would not have been for Glasgow, but for Liverpool. The truth is that the view of the staff was a very potent factor—I have always said so—but I made it clear to them all along that it could not be decisive. That would be true whichever party occupied the Treasury Bench. The staff made its views very plain to me at more than one meeting. The Government and I were under no illusion as to what the staff's reaction would be if the decision went against Tees-side.

I am certain that, from the national point of view, the case for sending the Bank to Glasgow is unassailable and I am sure that the Bank will do more benefit to Clydeside than it could possibly have done had it gone to Tees-side. What is very important here—and I am very conscious of it, of course—are natural anxieties of the people who work in the Bank in London at the moment.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

Mr. Mason rose

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I cannot give way.

I recognise that we are asking for sacrifices from some of our staff, but I want to say clearly that anything that the Post Office, can do, or I can do personally, to relieve their anxieties, or to help them to resolve their problems, will unquestionably be done. I hope that they will forgive me if I say that the picture is nothing like as black as it has been painted by some people whose motives I entirely respect.

To begin with, the transfer will take 10 years, or even longer, from start to finish and in such a time the solutions to many problems can be found. First, what about the clerical and minor staff who comprise the majority? There are at present 7,000 men and women in these grades and it will be necessary for a small nucleus of them to go to Glasgow to help to set up the new organisation there. But this nucleus will be very small indeed.

My advisers have been re-examining this problem and they tell me that it will suffice if we are able to move only about 300—less than one in 20—of these men and women out of London.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

No. The hon. Member has distorted this matter quite sufficiently.

Photo of Mr Robert Grimston Mr Robert Grimston , Westbury

Order. The hon. Member must resume his seat if the Minister does not give way.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I am trying to put this in perspective. My advisers have told me that, out of the total staff of clerical and minor workers of 7,000, only 300 will be required to move to Glasgow.

These moves will be phased over a considerable number of years. Therefore I hope that, in this section, which comprises the biggest part of the staff, we shall succeed in avoiding compulsory transfers and also—and this is important—in placing the vast majority of these men and women either in other departments of the Post Office or in other Government Departments. That should not be excessively difficult, because the annual intake of clerical workers into the Civil Service in London is far greater than the Savings Bank annual wastage.

I agree at once that the situation is not likely to be so easy for the executive and controlling staff of the Bank, who number about 500 to 600, as opposed to the 7,000 in all. By the time the move takes place, some of these ladies and gentlemen will have retired, or will be near to retirement, and it would be obviously unreasonable to expect them to move against their wishes at that time of life. But I must be frank with the House and say that we cannot hope to recruit local staff to take the place of all these experienced men and women, and that the presence of most of them in Glasgow will, I think, be essential for the success of the operation. Even so, the first wave of transfers of senior staff will probably take place towards the end of 1965, and will comprise only about 10 per cent. of the total number I have just mentioned.

I should like to give the House a very firm assurance that the Post Office will do everything it possibly can to ensure that, both with the junior staff, the clerical staff, and with the senior executives, no avoidable hardship arises. I shall invite other members of my staff in the Post Office who would like to go to Glasgow—and I am sure that there are many Scots in the Post Office in London who would like to go to Glasgow—to transfer in advance of the move and to take the place of any in the Bank who would be hard hit for personal reasons by a transfer. I shall, as far as possible, see that the first wave is made up of volunteers. I shall set up special machinery to examine any special or personal domestic difficulties which members of the staff may put forward, and we shall do all this in consultation with the staff associations.

What I have said I have said in perfect good faith. There should be very little difficulty with the majority of the junior staff. So far as the senior staff is concerned, we shall help as far as we can to avoid family hardship.

I urge the House to bear in mind that there are really three questions here. First of all, is it right that the Bank should move out of London? The answer to that question is, I believe, an unhesitating "Yes". Secondly, is it right that the Bank should move to Glasgow? The case for that on social and economic grounds is overwhelming. Thirdly, will the Post Office do all that it humanly can, as it should, to prevent hardship to any person who works in the Post Office Savings Bank down here? To that, I can give the House my personal pledge that we shall stop at nothing to see that justice is done—so far as we possibly can—to every individual member of the Bank.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

Not wanting to be embroiled in the argument between Scotland and the North-East, I would like to ask the Postmaster-General a question I tried to pose to him during the course of his speech. To what extent will the move to Glasgow impair the operational efficiency of the Bank itself? To what extent will there be a loss of service and business to the joint stock banks and the trustee savings banks, having in mind, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) said, that this has really been a political decision by a weak Postmaster-General who has suffered at the hands of the Cabinet on more than one occasion?

Also, knowing of the imminence of a Labour Government who favour the introduction of a giro service into the Post Office, will it not be more difficult for a giro service to be introduced in that part of the country than anywhere else?

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

By leave of the House, to answer, first, the second question of the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), when he has finished squabbling with his hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson), every decision taken by a Government is, in the nature of things, a political decision. But if the hon. Gentleman is implying that the decision to move to Glasgow was taken on grounds of narrow party advantage, he is wildly wide of the mark. It was taken on grounds of national interest and no other.

On the operational side, we all realise that when the bulk of the Bank's business is transacted in the South of England, the Greater London area and the Home Counties, there are bound to be marginal disadvantages in moving the Bank to any other place, Tees-side, Liverpool, Bolton, or anywhere else far from London. But my advisers have taken the view throughout that if the Bank moved to Glasgow, any loss of efficiency would be highly marginal and that they would not be disturbed about it.

Photo of Mr Anthony Royle Mr Anthony Royle , Richmond (Surrey)

May I ask my right hon. Friend one short question?

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at six minutes past Eleven o'clock.