HC Deb 01 March 1853 vol 124 cc841-51

said, he rose to bring under the consideration of the House the grievances of the letter-carriers of Great Britain and Ireland. He brought forward this subject in consequence of the numerous petitions which had been presented to the House from the letter-carriers of upwards of 400 towns and districts in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, complaining of the inadequacy of their pay, a grievance which had been greatly aggravated in consequence of their having been prohibited in July last by an order of the Postmaster-General from receiving Christmas-boxes, and of other hardships. He admitted that paying public servants by gratuities of that nature was a bad and vicious principle, and the letter-carriers agreed with him in that view; but that which had been sanctioned by time should not be suddenly taken from them without some increase being made to their miserably small incomes. The order of the Postmaster General, which, as he said, was issued in July last, applied of course to letter-carriers in all parts of the country; but a great deal of influence was brought to bear upon the Government in the case of the metropolitan letter-carriers, and the order was suspended with regard to them, though it was enforced upon the provincial letter-carriers. With regard to the London letter-carriers, there was a distinction maintained among them which he never could understand. The letter-carriers in the metropolis numbered about 900 district or blue-coated letter-carriers, and 300 general or red-coated carriers. Hitherto, as he had previously stated, the prohibition from receiving Christmas gratuities had not been enforced in the metropolis; but still there were inequalities and hardships which they suffered which ought not to be continued. If there were any difference to be between the two bodies, the blue-coated men ought to receive the highest pay, on account of the larger amount of work they had to perform. But the contrary was the case, for while the general postman's duties were generally over by 10 or 11 o'clock in the forenoon, and he received a salary of from 23s. to 30s. a week, with a very good superannuation salary, the blue-coated men, those that used to be known as the twopenny postmen, were employed delivering letters from morning till night, and in point of fact delivered as many letters from the country as the general letter-carriers did; and yet these men were worse paid and received a less superannuation allowance than the others did. The strongest case, however, which he had to submit to the House was on the part of the provincial letter-carriers. One of their complaints was, that if they fell ill, or were wounded in the public service, their pay was stopped during their absence from sickness. Here was a case from Deal in illustration of this. A man writing to him from Deal said— On the 10th of January, 1852, I was, while in the execution of my duty as a country letter-carrier, on my return to the post-office, Deal, knocked down by a horse and cart, the night being very dark, when two of my ribs were fractured, and I sustained other severe injuries, which prevented me from attending my duty for four months, during which time I received no allowance whatever from the Post-office; but as soon as I was able to write I petitioned the Postmaster General for relief, from whom I received the enclosed answer. I further beg to state that I perform a distance of 20 miles daily, commencing at 6 a.m. till 8 p.m., for which I receive 14s. per week, and no superannuation to look forward to in case of old age. The reply was as follows:— General Post Office, March 1, 1852. Sir—The Postmaster General having had before him your memorial, praying to be granted pecuniary assistance during your absence in consequence of an accident received by you while performing your duty, I am directed by his Lordship to inform you that he has no power to afford you the relief for which you apply.—I am, your obedient servant, J. TILLEY, Assistant Secretary. Now, he contended that was a very hard and cruel answer. They complained, also, of the unequal amount of labour which they had to perform. In Manchester, with a population of 350,000, there were 80 carriers, besides messengers; in Leeds, with a population of 181,000, there were 20 carriers, besides district messengers; in Sheffield, with a population of 70,000, there were 15 carriers and 6 messengers; and in Bradford, with a population of 120,000, there were 7 carriers, with 5 district messengers; so that the Bradford men must have at least ten times the work to do that die Sheffield men had. They complained, also, that they received no superannuation allowance after many years' service. He begged the attention of the House to the following singular case, which had been sent him by a person residing at Bridport, who stated that it had occurred in that neighbourhood (namely, at Beaminster), and was strictly true. The extract was from the Southern Times of the 26th of February:— One of our local letter-carriers—an old woman, who for 40 long years has been a servant of the public, and who is now in her 74th year—is, by a recent change in the postal arrangements for this district, about to be dismissed, and we fear without any kind of superannuation, after her long servitude. During the term of her official life the old dame must have walked a distance nearly equal to four times the circumference of the earth, a feat which surely entitles her to some little provision for the comfort of her few remaining years, and we sincerely trust that some earnest efforts will be made to secure this for her. At the present time her daily circuit is not less than eight miles, which distance she continues to get over with but little inconvenience. If the Postmaster General and the Government were sincere in their professed desire to act justly in this matter, as he believed they were, the Resolution which he proposed would strengthen their hands and fortify them in their good intentions, for the Government, having stopped the Christmas gratuities of the postmen, would be obliged to tax the public in another way; and the public, he was sure, would not object to that, because they wished to see the public service properly remunerated. How could they get honest servants if they did not do so? He held in his hand an article which had appeared in the Dundee Advertiser upon this subject, in consequence of certain defalcations which had lately occurred in the Dundee post-office. It said— The office of deliverer of letters is one of considerable trust, and ought always to be held by intelligent and respectable men. If the Post Office authorities think that 13s. a week is a proper payment for this class of public servants in a town like Dundee, we must altogether dissent from their opinion; and, although no breach of trust on the part of a carrier can be excused by the mere lowness of his wage, we think the recent defalcations in connexion with the Post Office here should be a warning that the present system is unsafe for the public, and places the carriers under the influence of temptations to which they should not be exposed. Why is not the delivery of letters properly regulated throughout the kingdom by the letter-carriers being paid at a fixed scale, and their number adjusted to the population of each town? There appears to be at present no system at all. Edinburgh has 70 letter-carriers, while Glasgow has only 48, although Dublin, which is no larger than Glasgow, has 98. That administrative reform which Mr. Disraeli pledged himself to have carried out, had he remained in power, seems to be nowhere more needed than in the Post Office. He believed it was a good principle that the number of letter-carriers should be, as nearly as possible, adjusted to the amount of population in each town, because the population afforded a pretty fair measure of the number of letters. But, with reference to the subject of getting honest servants, he wished to say that while nothing could justify an act of dishonesty, and while, when it occurred, it ought to be severely punished, it ought at the same time to be recollected that we ought never to place temptation in the way of any one. The letter-carriers ought not to have an opportunity of saying that they were underpaid. But the fact was that in most cases the moment a letter-carrier was placed at the bar of a court of justice on a charge of dishonesty he pleaded guilty to the charge, and urged the smallness of his wages by way of excuse, though the answer of the Judge was generally a sentence of transportation for ten or fifteen years. He submitted that the petitions which had been presented to the House on this subject within the last few weeks were well worthy the attention of the House and the Government. The case of the letter-carriers, he was happy to say, had been warmly taken up by the middle classes and gentry out of doors, much to their credit, and he hoped it would be taken up no less cordially in that House. It was true that the class whose cause he was then pleading had no political claim upon their attention—they had no votes at elections—but he confidently relied upon the justice of their case, and with that feeling he begged to propose the Resolution which he had placed on the paper, and to which he hoped there would be no objection.


, in seconding the Motion, said he had received strong representations from his own constituents with respect to grievances affecting individual letter-carriers, and he hoped the present Motion would be the means of leading to the redress of those grievances. There was nothing more remarkable in this subject than the difference of letter-carriers' wages in different parts of the country. In Bath the wages were 15s. a week, Glasgow 16s., Liverpool 20s., Dundee 13s., and London 20s. In a memorial from Liverpool he found it stated that there were four deliveries a day in that town; that the letter-carriers were employed from a quarter before six in the morning until eight o'clock at night, and that, although the town was full of noble institutions for the mental improvement of the working classes, the letter-carriers had not a moment left for the cultivation of their minds, and very few for the repose of their bodies. They also complained that they had no superannuation fund. He hoped that means would speedily be adopted by the Government to remedy these and similar grievances.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That it appears to this House, from the numerous Petitions presented during the present Session, by the Letter Carriers of Great Britain and Ireland, that, considering the responsible and arduous nature of their employment, the amount of their official salaries is generally insufficient, and that their complaints of its inedequacy merit the attention of Her Majesty's Government.


said, he had felt so strongly on this subject that he had twice ventured to represent to the late Postmaster General (the Earl of Hardwicke) the great hardship which the order prohibiting the Christmas gratuities had entailed upon the provincial letter-carriers—a hardship which was aggravated by the fact that the London letter-carriers were still permitted to receive them. In many instances the receipts of the provincial letter-carriers had been reduced 20 per cent by that order; and the consequence was that the men were now unable to pro vide anything to fall back upon in their old age. He could not understand what reason there could be for allowing the London letter-carriers to receive gratuities, and forbidding those of Birmingham, Liverpool, and Glasgow to receive them. This was an anomaly on the very face of it. He had no desire to urge anything which could be called extravagant on the Government; but he wished to impress upon them that the result of curtailing the emoluments of the provincial letter-carriers would be, that the people in the provinces were likely to be worse served than the inhabitants of the metropolis.


said, that in a great deal of what had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) he entirely concurred. He admitted, that taking into consideration their number and situation in life, there was, perhaps, not a more respectable and praiseworthy set of men in the country than those upon whom devolved the responsible and important office of carrying and delivering the letters of the public; and that, considering the responsible position which they held, and the actual amount of work which they per formed, and considering, moreover, that the description of work which they had to perform was more nearly akin to common la- bour, and was therefore paid at a lower rate than other kinds of official employment, there was much to recommend them to the consideration of the House. His hon. Friend had referred to three distinct cases of hardship on the part of the letter-carriers. In the first place, he had called attention to the regulation which had been issued, not, as his hon. Friend supposed, for the purpose of prohibiting them from taking Christmas-boxes, but merely from soliciting them, which he admitted, however, amounted practically to very much the same thing. In the second place, he had called attention to the case of the London letter-carriers, and the differences which subsisted between the district postmen and the inland postmen. And, in the third place, he had called attention to the inequalities of emolument which prevailed in the different provincial towns. With regard to the country letter-carriers, who had been prohibited from soliciting Christmas-boxes, he begged to say, on the part of the Postmaster General and the Government, that he very much concurred in the observations and opinions which had been expressed by his hon. Friend, and he begged to state to the House that the Postmaster General had at this moment the case under his consideration, with the view of rectifying it in such a way as would best afford redress. He was sure that the House would not ask him to go further at present, feeling, as they must, that in a case like this involving an enormous sum of money, and the interests of thousands of individuals, it was only fair that the department should have full time to consider the various circumstances of the case. With regard to the second case, he begged to say, also, that the Postmaster General was quite prepared to admit that there were greater inequalities in point of emolument than could fairly be justified by the different duties the letter-carriers had to perform; and that the grievance complained of ought to be met in one way or another. The distinction between the two classes of letter-carriers which at present existed, as the House could easily understand, had arisen when the circumstances of the country were extremely different from what they were now. His hon. Friend had very properly called the attention of the House to the difference between the duties which the district postmen performed now, and those which they performed when they were twopenny postmen, The more frequent arrival of both home and foreign mails now during the day, had naturally added considerably to the labours of the district postmen. But one of the original reasons of the difference between the inland and district postmen still existed in the fact that the former were obliged to attend at the General Post Office at very early hours in the morning, before the deliveries commenced, in order to assist in the indoor business, such as the sorting of letters, and the like. There was not, perhaps, so much difference in the wages of the two classes of postmen, as in regard to the superannuation to which they were entitled—the superannuation allowance of the Inland postmen amounting to between 20l. and 50l., according to the length of service; and the superannuation allowance of the district postmen amounting only to between 15l. 12s. and 23l. 8s. This small remuneration worked disadvantageously for the public service, for it rendered men unwilling to retire even after they were incapable of discharging their duties. This subject was also under the consideration of the noble Lord at the head of the Post Office, and he felt quite sure that his hon. Friend, with this assurance, would rather be disposed to leave it in the noble Lord's hands than to take a vote of the House upon it. With respect to the differences of emolument existing in different parts of the country, he begged to remind the House that nothing could be more unfair than that services which varied in amount in different parts of the country, should be paid at the same rate. And, again, he would say that nothing could be more unreasonable than to pay the salaries of public servants in different parts of the country without regard to the ordinary wages prevailing in those districts. His hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart) had quoted the case of Bath, Glasgow, Liverpool, and London; but it was evident that no fair comparison could be made between the case of a quiet town like Bath, and a large manufacturing town like Glasgow; and he was sure the House would agree with him that the Government were bound in duty to the public to consider at what rate the public service could best be performed, and that they would fairly expose themselves to blame if they paid the postmen at Bath 20s. a week simply because the postmen at Liverpool—whore wages were higher and the duties more onerous and more responsible—were paid at that rate. The House would see that the Government could not, under circumstances so various, introduce anything like a system of uniformity, either as regarded numbers or emoluments. With respect to the number of postmen, he maintained that population afforded by no means an accurate test. It was evident that at Liverpool, where foreign packets were arriving at all times of the day and night, and at Birmingham—which was a kind of thoroughfare for the mails—a larger number of postmen, in proportion to the population, was necessary than at other places differently situated. He begged to remind the House, too, that this was a question involving very serious provincial considerations. He was quite sure that the House of Commons had no desire to be parsimonious in the case of such a deserving body of men as the letter-carriers; but, at the same time, considering the hundreds of thousands of pounds which this country paid annually in connexion with the Post Office, and the large proportion of the postal receipts which were annually sacrificed—he did not say improperly—for the public convenience, the House should bear in mind that in the case of so vast a body as the letter-carriers, the slightest increase in. their wages must form a large charge upon the small balance of postal receipts which at present remained. He hoped that the answer he had given his hon. Friend would be found satisfactory. The first and second cases were under the consideration of the Postmaster General: and, with regard to the third, it was impossible that any general rule could be laid down where the circumstances were so various; but he assured the House that the Government would be ready to deal with each case on its merits.


said, there were cases in the provinces much harder than those in London. At Bodmin, the letter-carrier, who gave his services seven days a week, and for many hours a day, received only 7s. a week, paying 3s. for his rent and taxes, and living, he and his family, on the remaining 4s. Twice, however, he had made application to the Postmaster General in vain, notwithstanding that this case was aggravated by the late prohibition of the gratuities.


said, in Dundee, defalcations were taking place to a considerable extent, and he attributed it entirely to the small amount of remuneration received by the letter-carriers. As an instance, one of them walked twenty miles a day, and the pay was only 13s. a week, He must also complain of the small number of letter-carriers in Dundee—only seven—for a population of about 80,000. At Edinburgh the number was seventy; if it were in proportion to the population of Dundee it would be only twenty-seven, The matter required, and he hoped would receive, the attention of the Government.


thought it would be most unreasonable on his part to occupy the time of the House one moment longer after the satisfactory assurance given by the hon. Secretary of the Treasury, and with their permission would withdraw his Motion.


, amid loud cries of "withdraw," said, he wished to state that he was obliged to the hon. Member for Finsbury for having brought the subject forward, and that he was glad to find the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. J. Wilson) admitting that there existed a necessity for revision, and promising that such a revision was about to take place. The provincial letter-carriers claimed the attention of the Government, and were entitled to higher remuneration.


said, that while satisfied with the assurances that had been given to the House by the hon. Secretary to the Treasury, he would wish to draw their attention to an order which had been issued within the last two or three days to the receivers of letters, that instead of closing the letter-box, as at present, at 8 o'clock in the evening, that hour would be discontinued, and 10 o'clock substituted in lieu of it. He was anxious that the interest of the receivers of letters should be attended to, and yet that there should be no disposition on the part of the Government to prolong the hours of the postmen.


said, it was true that a later hour had been fixed on, instead of 8 o'clock, but it was also true, that for the performance of that additional duty, and for other duties, the Postmaster General had just applied for additional men. He was also desirous that no misunderstanding should go abroad on a subject like the present, and, therefore, wished to state, in reference to what had fallen from the hon. and gallant Colonel, that he had not spoken of the general condition of the servants of the Post Office—[Col. SIBTHORP: Then you ought to do so]—but only as to the particular eases brought before the House by the hon. Member for Finsbury. He had stated that each case would be considered on its own merits.


said, he must claim the consideration of the Government for the letter-carriers of Ireland. He knew an instance of an old man who for the last twenty years had walked 7,300 miles a year, the salary for which was 10l. a year, or just a penny for every three miles, a less rate than they would ask an Irish donkey to travel at, and yet this man might be dismissed and would have no pension. The postal arrangements in Ireland were miserably defective. Several days were occupied in the transmission of a letter from Dublin to Kilkenny, and that was not an uncommon case. There was an immense deal of cheeseparing in the Irish postal department.


said, he did not think the answer of the hon. Secretary of the Treasury satisfactory. In the south of Ireland there were many cases in which the duties of the letter-carriers had been greatly extended, while their pay remained inadequate. He knew an instance of two towns, distant from each other only seven miles, in which it took three days for the transmission of a letter from the one to the other.


said, he thought that this discussion showed the danger of meddling with the Executive Department of the Government. The hon. Member near him (Mr. V. Scully) had talked of cheeseparings. Was it not the fact that for one vacancy in the Post Office service there were fifty applicants? Government were bound to obtain labour on the same principle on which private persons acted, He did not object to additional allowance where the duties justified it. He thought the assurance of the hon. Secretary for the Treasury satisfactory, and was glad his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury proposed to withdraw the Motion.


said, that between Drogheda and Dundalk there were two trains passing each way daily, but a letter took two days in getting from one place to the other. He wrote a letter one Friday, and he received an answer on the Tuesday, and in the interim he had been to London and back again.


said, he suggested the adoption of a scale of remuneration according to seniority, so that a man who had been twenty years in the service might have something more than the man who had only been two or three.


said, in answer to the statement of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), that for every vacancy there were fifty applications, he had within the last three weeks procured a situation in the Post Office of ten shillings a week for a poor man, and when he had been in a fortnight, he came to him and said he had to walk such a number of miles that he was obliged to resign it. There might he a great number of applications by persons who did not know what the employment was. He liked economy as much as any man, but to employ men at less than that for which they could afford to do their work well, was anything but economical.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.