HC Deb 28 July 1873 vol 217 cc1110-22

(3.) £2,745,342, Post Office Services, &c.


said, he had given Notice of a Motion for Friday last, on the subject of an Order recently issued by the Postmaster General, for the compulsory registration of letters containing postage stamps, but was- unable to bring it on. The delay had, however, he hoped, enabled the right hon. Gentleman so to re-consider the matter that he would be able to announce that the Order had been rescinded, so that it might be unnecessary to submit the Motion on the Report of Supply. The Order in question extended to bank notes, letters containing postage stamps, watches, or jewellery; and, as to the last two items, he had no objection to urge. The reason assigned for its issue was to diminish the temptations to which servants of the Post Office were exposed by the sending of articles of value in unregistered letters; and it was clear from the Notice that had been published, that it was the intention of the Post Office authorities, that the registration of letters containing any of the articles enumerated should be compulsory; but the Postmaster General, in replying to a Question last week, said it was not intended to require letters containing postage stamps or notes to be registered, except in cases where they were so badly folded, or fastened that their contents were exposed, in which case they would be liable to a double registration fee of 8d. Since he gave Notice of his Motion, he had received a large number of letters on the subject. Some of his correspondents were in the habit of receiving 30 or 40 letters a-day, each containing postage stamps, and one gentleman stated that the average number of letters he received each day covering postage stamps was over 100. Great inconvenience would be caused by the Order in question, and it would occasion considerable losses to many poor persons and charities. The regulation upon the subject said nothing about compulsory registration, unless the letter or package was insufficiently fastened, or the bank notes or postage stamps obtruded. How did the right hon. Gentleman proposeto carry out the Order? Was it intended that the Post Office employés should become detectives, in order to determine whether there were postage or draft stamps in letters? If the law was to apply to postage stamps, surely it should be extended to draft stamps or cheques payable to bearer. The person who would be punished by it would not be the careless sender, but the unfortunate receiver, who would oftentimes suffer a considerable loss. He believed there were very few dishonest servants in the Post Office, and yet, for the sake of protecting those few, it was proposed to pass a law which would be one of extreme hardship to the public. Why, they might just as well pass a law with regard to the exposure of articles in shop windows. He believed that, however carefully a letter was folded and sealed, if it contained more than a dozen postage stamps, its contents would be obvious to many of the skilled men employed in the Post Office. There were, he had heard, many of the sorters who could tell in a moment whether postage stamps or bank notes were contained in a letter. He trusted that after the strong opinion expressed by the public Press, and that would, he had no doubt, be expressed by hon. Members, the right hon. Gentleman would declare his readiness to rescind his Order so far as bank notes and postage stamps were concerned. The Post Office was, he believed, the most popular Department connected with the Government, and he hoped the Postmaster General would not find it necessary to interfere with the facilities which his predecessor had given to the public, of sending small sums of money in postage stamps, which the Post Office afterwards cashed at a small commission. That boon ought not to be lessened by what he could not help considering an unnecessary interference with the rights and privileges of the people.


also urged the right hon. Gentleman to rescind the regulation in question. In many of the poorer districts, and especially rural ones, people were in the habit of remitting small sums in stamps, and were not very well skilled in the folding of letters, and the carrying out of the Order would practically be a heavy tax upon persons who could ill afford to pay it.


said, he could assure his hon. Friend that the interpretation which he desired to be put upon the Order was that contained in the regulation, and he had already expressed his disapprobation of the form in which the public Notice had been couched. He believed that had it not been for that, probably the difficulty which had now occurred would never have arisen, and it would have been possible to carry out the Order, which he believed was an important one, because it dealt with a temptation which seriously contributed to promote dishonesty among the letter-carriers. The number who could be charged with such an offence was very few; but the temptations were much greater than the hon. Gentleman supposed. In the Chief Office in London there were from 300 to 400 letters per day, the contents of which, consisting principally of stamps and jewellery, were found scattered about the room in which the letters were sorted, and he thought the hon. Member would agree with him that there was a sufficient cause for making an effort in that direction. He entirely agreed with him that the Post Office and the Post Office regulations, in order to be successful, must rest upon public opinion; and he therefore thought it was far better to give up regulations, even though, if properly carried out, they might have been useful, than to force them upon an unwilling people. He, therefore, proposed to withdraw the regulation in question, so far as regarded postage stamps and bank notes, maintaining it in other respects. Perhaps, in some other years, if the regulations were better framed, the House might take a different view of the subject.


said, he was sure that the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman in withdrawing the regulation would commend itself to public opinion. He wished now to bring under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman Memorials recently sent to the Postmaster General from the officers of the minor Post Office establishments in London. These Memorials were adopted at meetings held with the cognizance of the Postmaster General, who, in his Report just circulated, said the men generally had acted in a very proper and praiseworthy manner. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) thought the men deserved the greatest possible consideration, on the ground that they had abstained from every act which could imperil the public service, or endanger the discipline of the service with which they were connected. They asked for consideration because nothing had been done for them for the last 10 years; their pay was exceedingly low, their responsibility was very great; and they were engaged in all weathers, and at all hours, in the discharge of a duty which demanded a very considerable amount of intelligence. The maximum salary of the letter-sorters was 45s. The salary of a letter-carrier rose by ls. a-week to 25s., and stopped at that point for eight years, when he received another rise of ls. till he reached a maximum of 30s. The Treasury had refused to listen to the appeal, just as the metropolitan police had been refused any increase of pay, but had obtained it when circumstances became serious. He condemned that line of policy as unwise and as extravagant. To repudiate reasonable claims, and refuse to meet representations properly made, was bad management in every sense of the word, and after what had occurred it was in effect saying—"You do not make this demand in such a form as that we are afraid of you." Speaking as a large employer of labour, he should never put his men in the position of coming to threaten him. Although it might be possible to fill up a few of those places as cheaply as at present, it was the duty of an employer to consider the circumstances of the whole body, and it was his interest to make them attached servants rather than discontented ones. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give the Committee some assurance that a favourable reply would be given to a body of men who were paid so little, who discharged such responsible duties, whose claims had been so temperately advanced, and might be met at such comparatively small cost to the public.


congratulated the right hon. Gentleman upon the wisdom of the course he had adopted with regard to the new Order. He wished to inquire why the offer of the Corn Exchange, on very advantageous terms, as a post office for Leith had not been accepted?


supported the statement of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), The men whose case was under consideration were actuated by the best feeling, and anxious to do everything in the most proper manner; but they were driven almost to despair by the way in which they were treated, their respectful petitions to the Department not being attended to. He was waited upon, in common with other Members of Parliament, by the letter-carriers, and he was bound to say he never saw a more respectable body of men. It was, he believed, 15 or 16 months since they sent in a Memorial to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General asking for an increase of salary, but no attention had been paid to it. That, in his opinion, was not a proper way to treat them, and if they "struck" let the House remember what serious consequences would be the result. The country was with them, and he hoped the Government would accede to their reasonable demand.


also expressed concurrence in what had been said by the hon. Member for Westminster, and wished to call attention to the case of the letter-carriers in the country. In the districts with which he was familiar, they were paid less at that moment than agricultural labourers, although their work had increased .50 per cent. The rounds they made daily amounted on an average to some 16 miles. From the greater number of houses the 'letter-carriers had to go to, and the changes that had been made in the postal arrangements, they had much more work to do than formerly, and yet they had got no rise of wages, although the gains of the Department had, through their labours, increased 100 per cent. These letter-carriers in the country had got no advance in the rate of pay for 20 years. He trusted that the Postmaster General would consider the matter fairly, as any other employer of labour would do, and, looking at the increased cost of living, the additional work that had to be done by these men, and the gain that had accrued to the Post Office from their labours, see whether they were not entitled to better terms.


concurred entirely with his hon. Friend the Member for Westminster as to the reasonableness of the demand made by the letter-carriers, and he believed that to refuse their demand was an inexcusable economy. He hoped his right hon. Friend the Postmaster General would take their demand into his immediate consideration. There had been very undesirable economy with regard to country letter-carriers, those in Perthshire walking considerable distances and receiving paltry wages.


hoped the wish expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, on behalf of the letter-carriers would be acceded to. He believed they were as honest a body of men as could be found in the public service, and he hoped that in granting the demand of the London letter-carriers he would not forget those of the great commercial towns and cities in the United Kingdom.


said, he had had an opportunity of meeting a deputation of these men within the precincts of the House, and was bound to say that nothing could be more straightforward than their conduct, and nothing was more certain than that they received inferior and inadequate salaries, and he was sure their case would meet with due consideration. His right hon. Friend the Postmaster General must be aware that 30s. a-week was not a sufficient remuneration for men with long hours of work, and from whom a knowledge of reading, writing, and ciphering was required. Skilled mechanics were much better paid. He hoped a fair inquiry would be made, and that a new scheme would be adopted, the result of which might be a considerable addition to the pay of those who were employed in the Post Office.


said, that as an employer of labour he should consider it exceedingly bad economy to delay the consideration of a claim of this kind which had any element of justice in it. An increase had been made in every Department of the public service, and his right hon. Friend the Postmaster General could not expect to form an exception. He reminded him that an increase was made to the pay of the Dublin police only when they threatened to "turn out," which was in his opinion a most unworthy and unsatisfactory way for a Government to settle a reasonable and just demand.


said, he had been repeatedly conferred with by the representatives of the Post Office service, and his advice to them had always been that they should not do anything to incon- venience the public, but present their Memorials in a respectful manner, and trust their cause to the justice of the House of Commons and the consideration of the Department. There had been no disposition on their part to give the slightest inconvenience to the public. They could not—it was right that they should not—hold mass meetings as was done in other cases, and it was the more incumbent on the Government, on that account, to consider their case and anticipate somewhat their reasonable demands. For 10 years these men had got no advance of wages, although in other employments wages had during that period risen 25 to 30 per cent. Parsimony in the public Departments in such cases was worse than profusion. Having meritorious servants, the public Departments, like other employers, should always seek to encourage them and to give them fair play. He would also remind the right hon. Gentleman of the serious consequences that would ensue, if one fine morning all the letters which arrived in this great metropolis were not delivered in consequence of a sudden strike among the letter-carriers. The example set by the Dublin police might be followed, but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would at once remove the dissatisfaction which prevailed.


said, he did not think it creditable to the Representatives of the people to be urging the Government to increase the salaries and wages of those whom they employed. He did not mean to say that those wages did not require revision; but it should not be forgotten that the position of men in Government employ was superior to that of men in other employments. In addition to their wages, the letter-carrriers had their clothing found them, and they were also permitted to receive Christmas boxes, which often amounted to a considerable sum of money. It should also be remembered that they had great opportunities of doing other work between intervals.


said, he was not one of those who would pay more than was just and right, but he had had for some time urged upon him by the constituents he had the honour to represent, that the work the Post Office employés had to perform was enormous, and that their pay was altogether inadequate. That having been brought before him, he in- quired minutely into the matter, and he found that in the City of Edinburgh, a city not easily gone through by Post Office officers, that the work was perfectly enormous, the hours long, and the pay quite inadequate to support the men and their families. He had brought the question several times before his right hon. Friend the Postmaster General, and he was quite sure unless something wore done towards raising the pay, there would be no satisfaction among the officers themselves, or among the inhabitants, for the latter would consider that if the officers were not adequately paid the service would not be well done. The work of the Post Office officers was not remunerated as it ought to be. The hon. and learned Member for Frome had brought on the inadequate pay of the rural messengers. Some of these only received 14s. a-week, though they had to walk 16 miles a-day, and to deliver letters in the villages through which they passed. These men without other means could not support themselves. No doubt they could go round with the hat and pick up a sort of alms on their way; but it seemed to him (Mr. Miller) very extraordinary that officers bearing the livery of Her Majesty should be required to go about in that sort of way. It would be far better for Government to pay them the full value of their services. Another question which he must bring forward was the position of the General Post Office in Edinburgh. He understood that the secretary of that office was abolished and another post given to the holder, which rendered it impossible for him to fulfil the duties. He would ask if that change were to be carried out to the full extent? It had given great dissatisfaction to the district around Edinburgh. It forced all communication to be made with London instead of being done in Edinburgh. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would explain these subjects.


said, he for one could submit patiently to the castigation given to hon. Members of the House by the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater Booth). An important part of the public service—the Army—had lately received an increase of pay. The Post Office employed a valuable body of men, who were well worthy of their hire. A large amount of property was constantly passing through their hands, and but a very small proportion of it was ever lost or mislaid. The whole tone of the men in that agitation showed that they had considerable intelligence, and that they approached that matter in no unbecoming spirit. Although it was impossible at that period of the Session to obtain an increase of the Estimates, he asked the right hon. Gentleman to consider the claims both of the metropolitan and the rural and provincial letter-carriers, whose remuneration was inadequate; and he trusted that before next Session the Postmaster General and the Treasury would have agreed on a new scale of wages which would be satisfactory to the men and also to the House.


thought the remarks of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) were very seasonable and required. It was easy to declare that no Ministry was worthy of support that could not govern without spending so many millions a-year; and yet those who said that, were apt to press the Government, when a practical question was raised, for an increase of expenditure. He did not deny that the case of these applicants might deserve favourable consideration; but there he would leave it, without putting undue pressure on the Government. While the House leant towards liberality, it should remember that it was out of the pockets of the taxpayers that any additional expenditure must come.


said, he did not know what hon. Members sat there for if they were not to express an opinion on a question of that sort without being called to Order for it. The wages of messengers and clerks in some of the rural post offices were extremely small and insufficient for the services rendered; and he hoped the Postmaster General, after that discussion, would look narrowly into the case of those persons, and see whether something might not be clone in their favour. He held that it was a very false economy to underpay men for their services.


said, that he observed the letter-carriers in Dublin and Edinburgh were equally ill-paid. They began at 18s. a-week, and advanced to 24s. 18s. a-week, for men of the class required to carry letters, was far too little to induce respectable men to take the duty. He had been personally cognizant of the kind of men employed as letter-carriers for more than half-a-century, and he could state that they were not nearly the same class of men in point of steadiness and knowledge as they were. At that time joiners had 18s. a-week, and masons about the same. Now all these classes had 30s. or more. Letter-carriers had 18s. still. It was impossible to get steady, trustworthy, active, painstaking men for 18s. a-week. That led him to remark upon the enormous amount of labour of letter-carriers. He found there were 142 of them in Dublin and 95 in Edinburgh. He did not know why that difference in numbers should be, more especially when it was considered that the population of Edinburgh and Leith together was exactly equal to that of Dublin, according to the last Census. Then, as they had been told by his hon. Colleague, a process of cutting down the superior officers in the Edinburgh establishment was going on. The Dublin expenditure was £50,895; Edinburgh, £36,355. One would have thought if there was to be any cutting off, they would be more likely to cut off from the £50,000 than from the £36,000, more especially as the town he was connected with must have much the larger number of letters. The business should be managed on principle, and if any cutting down was required, they should begin where there was room for lopping off, and not cause inconvenience by taking away the secretary from the establishment in Edinburgh, and necessitating the sending of official correspondence to London. Altogether, he thought the thing might be better managed. At the same time, he concurred in the general impolicy of making a rush at a Department of the Government. Exceptional cases, such as those of the letter-carriers and the clerks, required remedies, and he thought if some of the large salaries could be cut down, considerable addition might be made to the lower.


said, his hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Macfie) might be quite satisfied that the claims of his constituents with regard to a Post Office were being fairly considered. The question was in the hands of the First Commissioner of Works, who would very soon decide on a fitting place for one. It was true that a very beneficial change had been made in the Edinburgh Post Office, and one which he should very much like to see introduced into Ireland. In place of the secretary an officer called the surveyor general had been appointed, who discharged the duties of secretary and also those of surveyor for all Scotland, except Glasgow, which had a surveyor of its own, and had ample time for the discharge of the duties of both offices. The result was to prevent the delay which formerly arose in the communications between the Post Office authorities in Edinburgh and London, and a great benefit was conferred on the people of Scotland. He heard with considerable astonishment many of the remarks made as to the rate of wages of the letter-carriers in the great towns and also in the rural districts. Anyone unacquainted with the subject would have believed that nothing had been done in the way of raising those wages, whereas the fact was, that every week the wages of letter-carriers in rural districts were being raised. They were not raised all in a lump, because the circumstances of different parts of the country were different; but where representations were made, they were very carefully considered, and in a very large number of instances greatly increased pay had been given to those rural messengers. With regard to the large towns, Liverpool, Manchester, Dublin. Glasgow, Edinburgh, and many others, the wages of the letter-carriers had also been raised. In some cases, those who had their wages raised last year very naturally desired that they should be raised again this year; but the Department could not go on at that rate. What the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) said with regard to the metropolitan letter-carriers was perfectly true. The present scale was 21s. a-week, rising by 1s. a-week annually to 25s., and after 12 years' service to 30s. But it must be recollected that a mere statement of the rate of wages did not represent all that the letter-carriers received. Besides those wages, every letter-carrier received two suits of uniform, which he (Mr. Monsell) was informed could not be put at less than 1s. 6d. a-week. Then he had medicine and attendance when ill; if laid up by ordinary sickness he received two-thirds, if by accident, the whole of his wages. That rendered it unnecessary for him to belong to a benefit society, and at least 1s. a-week was thus saved. Every letter-carrier was also entitled to a pension if his conduct was good, and he had served a certain number of years. In the case of a boy who began at 16, as they often did now, when he arrived at 56 he might retire on a pension of £50 a-year. Allusion had been made to Christmas boxes. What the London letter-carriers received in Christmas boxes amounted, it was said, on an average, to something about 4s. a-week. It was not fair, therefore, to represent the wages of the letter-carriers of London at merely the nominal sum. But he would be perfectly candid. It was for the Treasury to decide as to the pay of the different Departments. That was the duty of one Department, and it was right it should be so; otherwise you would have one Department raising the salaries of those employed by it, and other Departments following the example, the result being the greatest extravagance. But, as the Secretary of State for War and the Vice President of the Council said the other day, if hon. Members would join with him (Mr. Monsell) in trying to soften the heart of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so that some slight improvement might be made, he would be very happy. He had no doubt that any well-grounded claim for concession to the letter-carriers would be carefully considered by the Treasury, and granted, if found to be in accordance with principles of justice. But he could not avoid expressing his opinion that the bringing up of questions like that in the course of a debate in Parliament was to be deprecated, for it could only end in creating discontent among the officers of the Post Office. They might rest assured that any real grievance would be fairly considered with a view to a remedy; but he must say, that such a course was not facilitated by pressure being put on him by Parliament.


wished to know whether the new and improved terms to be paid to letter-carriers were to be extended to the men employed in rural districts, whose pay at the present time was wretchedly bad? In the district in which he lived, the letter-carriers had to depend a good deal on the earnings of their wives for the support of themselves and their families.


said, however much lie might admit the justice of the claim, it was a pity that such discussions should be raised in that House, especially as the authorities of the Post Office Department were always willing to listen to and consider any representations made to them with reference to particular cases. It would be better that such matters should be brought before the Government privately, rather than in the House of Commons, as public discussion upon them was certainly calculated to excite discontent.


wished to know how long the French railway companies were to continue in their present system of blocking up the high road to Italy? Letters posted in Rome on Sunday ought to be delivered in London on the Wednesday evening, instead of being delayed as was the case at present. He wished also to know whether arrangements were being made whereby letters could be posted in travelling post-office vans on the lines of railway, in order to the saving of time and the convenience of the public.


in reply, said, there was no fixed scale for the letter-carriers in the rural districts, but that their remuneration differed in different parts of the country. With respect to the Mont Cenis tunnel, he admitted that the present system of conveying the letters was unsatisfactory; but he hoped that before long, the letters would be sent through the Mont Cenis tunnel instead of being sent all the way round. As to the grievances of the employés in the Dublin office, he was happy to state that the wages of the letter-carriers had, already been raised, and the question of following the same course in the case of the sorters was now under consideration.

Vote agreed to.

(4.) £679,000, Post Office Telegraphic Service.