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In Europe my impression has been that it is very largely used—here I confirm what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes—for paying bills by persons who have not got a giro account themselves. It is convenient for them to be able to pay several bills at one time at a post office. The creditor, whether it be a firm or an electricity board, sends a form with his bill which the debtor then takes to the post office and completes when the payment is made. Hon Members have pointed out how convenient it is that there are so many post offices widely spread throughout the country and they have spoken of the convenience of the timing of their hours.

Not only are they open for longer than the banks, but they are open at times which, on the whole, are more convenient to most people. The system on the Continent is convenient to the firms which use it and the institutions, the gas or electricity boards or others with many accounts. This means that such institutions do not have to have offices with cashiers simply waiting for callers to arrive to pay bills and get receipts.

On the Continent the system is cheap, but it depends on the patronage of many large accounts.

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It is the fact that many institutions use the system and leave fairly large deposits in it which enables the system to be run cheaply for all the customers using it. It is an essential element in such a system that it should be supported by a minimum number of institutions, large and medium sized, which can produce the base upon which a cheap system can be run. First, four years ago the banks started their credit transfer system. I understand that a larger proportion of the population in this country has bank accounts compared with countries with giro systems.

The reason is that once a giro system is in existence, bank accounts are not needed to the same extent. However, even with the credit transfer system a man who wants to pay in cash still has to go to a bank, which may be a considerable distance away, whereas there is probably a post office round the corner. Perhaps the Postmaster-General will be able to comment on that. Experience in Europe has shown that the system is a cheap way of paying several bills at once, especially if the person paying wishes to do so in cash.

Post offices are easily available and the giro system would do away with the separate addressing and so on now required by the present system of postal orders and registered post to different destinations. Several hon. Members have mentioned the crime aspect. As the system would largely obviate sending money by post, it would remove the motive of many of the crimes concerning mail bags and against postmen. The important subject of the payment of wages has also been mentioned. This is a vital consideration when the pros and cons of this scheme are considered.

If it were to be found that the majority, or a large proportion, of wage earners was prepared to accept payment of wages through a giro account in the Post Office, or payment in cash over a post office counter, that would be an important factor in favour of the system; but I do not know, and I do not know how research can discover, whether that is so, and that may make all the difference as to whether this is a good scheme.

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If most wage earners were prepared to use the system, that would probably have the effect of encouraging savings, as the hon. Member for Gateshead, West said, and the scheme would then have so much support that it would probably be efficient and worth putting into effect. We understand that the banks are now threatening that they may not be open on Saturday mornings, and that would deprive many people of the opportunity of making payments at a time when post offices were open.

The reverse of that medal is that the queues at post offices where there are now queues would need to be reduced, because we would not want them to be made worse by the new system. All this leads me to believe that considerable market research is necessary before a scheme like this is adopted in this country.

This market research would need to discover to what extent small accounts might be opened for the receipt of wages and to what extent—and this might be discovered through the trade unions—it would be acceptable for wages to be paid in this way.

Giro Credit Transfer Systems

We would also have to know to what extent persons who had no intention of opening accounts would use the giro system for paying their bills through the Post Office. Thirdly, and probably most important, we would have to discover whether there would be enough large account holders, institutions such as local authorities for rate paying, large shops, insurance companies collecting premiums, electricity, gas and other services and perhaps hire-purchase firms. Considerable market research would be required to make sure that a minimum number of such institutions would be prepared to support the system.

The other possibility which I should like to mention was put forward in an article in the Economist on 17th April. It was suggested that it would be perfectly feasible for the giro system to be combined with the banks' credit transfer system. I do not know all the technicalities, but it was put forward as a workable suggestion and the Government should certainly consider it. The banks might be apprehensive about the giro system, but if they are to threaten to shorten their own working hours and are worried about competition, it might be in their interests to enter such a scheme on the principle, "If you cannot beat them, join them".

That is putting it in its crude form, but as the credit transfer system is already working, the suggestion of a combination of the two systems should be considered. The Postmaster-General will probably tell us tint he is investigating this matter, or that his review is continuing. Perhaps he can make a statement this evening and say that his review is complete.

If he does make a statement, I hope that he will be able to say how much support by outside bodies he has been guaranteed before the system comes into operation. If he is still at the stage of considering the scheme—I know that he will want to look progressive, as the hon. Member for Accrington suggested—and if he is to make encouraging noises and to say that he is still investigating, some of his right hon.

Friends will need to be brought in. As I have indicated, the necessary inquiries will involve the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, probably, the President of the Board of Trade because of the institutions whose views will have to be sought. There will have to be inquiries of employers, commercial concerns and, probably, the trade unions. I was interested to note that, according to the hon.

Member for Watford, the President of the Board of Trade has himself written a very favourable foreword to the book by Mr. Thomson about the giro system. I am not able myself to judge what results research of this kind would produce. As the House will realise, having seen and lived with this system, I am attracted by it, but, in my view, it is important that we do not enter upon it here until we are certain that it will have the right measure of support.


I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us either what his present view about it is or that he will make a thorough investigation along the lines I have suggested. This matter was debated in the House on 6th December, There is no question of introducing a new or as yet untried development in our monetary system.

It is not a new idea at all. In fact, it goes back many years in other countries. It is quite a mature system and a thoroughly proved method of cheap and speedy transfer of money for those who are concerned with comparatively small sums, wage and salary earners, shopkeepers, and so on.

Giro Credit Transfer Systems by F. P. Thomson (ebook)

It has been debated in the House many times and its outlines are well known. The fact that the giro system is old and well tried prompts me to ask why we should still be discussing the possibility of its introduction and why it should be a widely used and popular system in many countries while in this country it is still at the stage of being considered. There has been a great change of atmosphere within the Post Office.

I call to mind the action of the Postmaster-General in in forbidding the then United Kingdom Postal Clerks Association, which was later merged with the Union of Post Office Workers, to conduct a public campaign in favour of introducing a postal cheque and giro system in the Post Office. The attitude of the staff was that they wanted the Post Office to give the best possible service to the public and to keep abreast of all the latest developments.

But they were forbidden to carry on, on the ground, apparently, that Post Office developments were the business of the Postmaster-General and his administration and the staff must keep in their proper place, without interfering. In our own day, we have heard many complaints that workers are not interested in anything but pushing up wages and cutting hours.

Chapter 1: Financial globalization since the 1970s

On 10th July this year, the Chairman of the National Board for Prices and Incomes said that Britain has suffered more than any other country from "the alienation of the worker from the purpose of industry and this meant that he had no interest in raising production". In this connection, it is instructive to remember that in it was the workers who wanted to improve their service to the public and the Postmaster-General who told them to mind their own business.

Things have changed a great deal since then on the administrative side of the Post Office. The Postmaster-General and his Post Office administration would certainly not now dissuade the staff from advocating what they thought to be a useful development. Those of us who have been associated with the Post Office over many years know that between both sides in the Post Office there is a tremendous movement for joint productivity effort, which, I am sure, my right hon.

Friend will mention in due course. The Post Office staff associations are still interested in improving and developing their services, but still, after half a century, we have no postal cheque and giro system in this country.

What are some of the reasons for this hold-up since ? If, in , the Postmaster-General had had a different outlook and, instead of blocking this innovation, had tried it out, we should not now be wondering whether it was possible to have the giro system. It would have grown up with us and become an accepted institution in the Post Office. Moreover, the difficulties of introducing it at that time would have been less formidable than they are now.

At that time, the Post Office was regarded as a revenue-raising Department for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We sometimes think that it still is today. But there was undoubtedly a reluctance to embark at that stage on an experiment which would have taken some time to introduce and about the profitability of which there might have been some doubt. But was also the time when the Post Office was engaged in taking over the telephone system, and the reason for that was the widespread complaints of business men and others about the quality of the service provided by the companies.

Gentleman must not pursue that point about the telephone service.

He has missed most of the debate, but he must still keep in order. I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was endeavouring to go back over the years to show why the giro system had not been introduced. There was at that time massive opposition from the commercial banks to the idea of the Post Office Savings Bank entering, even on a limited scale, into competition with them, and the opposition of the banks continued right up to when a committee of the Post Office Advisory Council reported against introducing a postal cheque system on the continental model "at the present stage".

However, it did recommend consideration of a system of limited cheques available to Post Office Savings Bank depositors with adequate balances as a means of testing the extent of the demand for cheque facilities among this section of the community". Even that limited development was not introduced, although a partial approach had been made to it in the facility for a Post Office Savings Bank depositor to withdraw money by crossed warrant payable through a bank to a person specified by the depositor. Coming more up to date with some of the objections which have been raised to the introduction of the giro system, the hon.

Mawby , who was Assistant Postmaster-General at the time, raised several objections in the debate in , though not, he said, as arguments against the usefulness of the giro system where it existed but as reasons for moving cautiously in the introduction of it in this country.

He said that we ought to be extremely careful about it. In , the Radcliffe Report prefaced its recommendation that the possibility of introducing the giro system be investigated with the words, … in the absence of an early move on the part of existing institutions to provide the services which will cater for the need we have in mind…. It is certainly true that the commercial banks have introduced a credit transfer system within recent months, but has it really developed in such a way and to such an extent as to make the introduction of a giro system into the Post Office unnecessary?

One of the problems confronting the banks has been to get ordinary people in the lower income groups used to the introduction of the cheque transfer system, and the hon. Member for Totnes, a year or two ago, instanced as one of the difficulties of making giro practicable that many people are reluctant to make use of banking facilities, and that many of the workers who have gone over to payment of wages in a form other than cash want immediately to convert it into cash.

Member went on to say: We are, therefore, confronted with the great problem of converting people to a system to which they have never been acustomed and which, at present, they are not prepared to accept.