HC Deb 15 June 1874 vol 219 cc1654-63

(6.) £2,402,423, to complete the sum for Post Office Services.


said, he wished to call attention to the low rate of remuneration accorded to the lower class of Post Office employés. During the last 20 years a great increase had taken place in the cost of all the prime necessaries of life, and the letter-carriers were a useful body of public servants, who had fair claims to consideration. He thought it not unreasonable that 20 per cent should be added to their salaries, and he should be glad to have some satisfactory assurance from the Government on the subject.


said, he also wished to call attention to the case of the officers of the minor departments of the Post Office, who had received no increase of wages for 10 years. Their duties were laborious, and had to be performed at all hours of the day and night, and necessitated their exposure to the weather at all seasons of the year; and since the rate of wages was fixed 10 or 15 years ago, a vast amount of additional work had been thrown upon them. The London letter-carriers commenced at 21s. per week, and the maximum was 30s., after 15 years' service. The suburban letter-carriers received from 18s. to 20s., rising to a maximum of 25s. after five years' service; and the rural letter-carriers received only about 15s., which was increased to a maximum of 25s. after 11 years' service. The porters began at 18s. and rose to 25s. after seven years, and the sorters commenced at 26s., rising to 45s. after 15 years. Having regard to the high prices of labour, and the increased cost of provisions and house-rent, he did not think that these rates were fair and reasonable for such a body of servants as the Post Office required, and it should be remembered that after the maximum had been attained, from 10 to 20 years' longer service was required to entitle the employé to a pension. He urged the Government to take the case of these men into their consideration, and also to consider the question of the Sunday employment of country letter-carriers. It would, he believed, be eventually economical to increase their pay, improve the scale of promotion, and in other ways add to their comfort.


said, that last year a strong memorial was presented to the Government on this subject by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), and he trusted that the Postmaster General would be able to inform the House that the Government had made some arrangement which would set this matter at rest. The case of the rural postmen, indeed, bad as it apparently was, had not been overstated, for in reality they only got from 10s. to 13s. per week, and there was not a more wretchedly paid class in the community. By the rules of the service, those men could not take the same means of improving their position as other workmen did; so that it depended upon the good sense and practical generosity of the Government whether they should have proper remuneration or not. He hoped the noble Lord at the head of the Post Office would make some statement on the subject.


also trusted that the Postmaster General would give the House an assurance that something would be done for the minor officers of the Post Office. It was most important the public should be assured that the question was being considered in a favourable light. Nothing could be more proper than the manner in which these men had presented their Petition, or than the moderation of their language.


said, he wished to correct a misapprehension that might arise from one or two statements made in the course of the debate. It was said that letter-carriers had not received any augmentation to their wages for the last 10 years. That was an entire mistake. On a Memorial being presented by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), the late Government took into consideration the condition of the letter-carriers of the metropolis, and their wages were then considerably raised. Another Memorial came addressed to himself when he held the office of Postmaster General, and it became his duty to see whether or not the wages agreed with the prices of labour in the market. The letter-carriers were first engaged when they were boys, and it was difficult afterwards when they were adults to find out whether they were being paid proper wages. In order to bring this to a point, 40 letter-carriers' places were put up for public competition, and 1,100 persons, well qualified, came forward and offered themselves for those places. Therefore, at all events, the market value of the wages was quite sufficient for them to get well qualified letter-carriers. The case of the rural post offices, or rather the rural letter-carriers, was different. In many cases they were miserably paid. In a great many cases—he did not know how many, but hon. Members would be astonished at the number—where the men came forward for an advance to their wages, they were raised, where they had been considerably below the proper market value. Last year, when he acted as Post- master General, the wages of the whole of the letter-carriers in Liverpool, Glasgow, and Manchester were treated in this way—that whilst the price of their labour was under that which labourers were receiving in a similar capacity in the same places, the wages of the letter-carriers were in all places raised. Therefore it was not right to say the Post Office resisted all claims. It was right that these claims should be brought under consideration; but it was wrong to state that he and the late Government were niggardly in their payment of these men. The claims were considered, and in most cases adjusted.


said, he was unable to give any opinion concerning the wages and expenses of living in London, because he knew nothing about them, but out of London the case was different. He had special knowledge of the City of Edinburgh. That City, which he had the honour to represent, had as much claim to be considered as either Liverpool, Manchester, or Glasgow, and he did not see why those places should be specially favoured, by an advance of wages, whilst Edinburgh was excluded. The wages of letter carriers and sorters had been advanced in other towns recently, but those in Edinburgh had not been advanced in the same ratio. He thought it was very unjust that such should be the case, because the wants and expenses of letter-carriers and letter-sorters there were as great as those in the other towns. He trusted, therefore, that the matter would receive the careful consideration of the Government and the noble Lord, with a view to doing equal justice to the Post Office officials of Edinburgh, with those in Liverpool, Glasgow, and other places; and he hoped further that attention would be given to the just claims of the rural postmen.


said, he also could not understand why an exception had been made in favour of the large towns mentioned by the late Postmaster General. The market value of labour was quite as high in Leeds, and he objected to the large borough he represented being thus "left out in the cold." He believed he was right in saying that not only, for instance, were the "walks"—that was, the districts—larger, but the work itself was much heavier, so far as carriage was concerned, in Leeds than in town. The wages of the rural and metropolitan postmen ought to be equalized.


asked how low in the scale of Post Office employés was the system of Civil Service examination to be carried? He had heard that the auditor in some instances refused to pass the salaries of postmen because they had not passed a Civil Service examination.


said, he had heard of a case in which a useful public servant was not allowed to leave letters at the doors of his native village, because he could not give the latitude and longitude of Timbuctoo.


said, that the salaries of the rural postmen were really supplemented by the charity of those at whose houses they delivered letters, which he considered unbecoming the public service.


said, that no private gentleman would think of treating a servant so shabbily in the matter of clothes as the postmen were treated by the Government in regard to their uniforms.


said, he had once taken some trouble in recommending a postal letter-carrier, who passed a splendid examination, but was rejected because he was an inch below the proper height. They all remembered, the Dowager Countess who advertised for "two footmen, six feet high; character no object;" but it was new to him to find that it was necessary to have the proportions of a Life Guardsman in order to deliver letters, and he had never since taken any trouble to provide the Post Office with letter-carriers.


contended that it was the duty of the Postmaster General to get the public service performed as cheaply as possible, consistently with efficiency. He, therefore, hoped that the noble Lord would not be led away by what had been said, to pay wages above the ordinary market price.


admitted that the postmen were miserably paid, and should be glad to see their salaries raised. He, therefore, hoped that as the Estimate under consideration was considerably increased, the letter-carriers would have the benefit of the proposed additional Vote as well as the heads of Departments. At the same time he agreed with the hon. Baronet that the matter must be left in the hands of the Government, and that the proper business of the House of Commons was to endeavour to reduce the expenditure, and not to urge the Government to increase it.


said, no doubt, they were there to get the worth of their money for the whole community; but he took the liberty of saying to the right hon. Gentleman the late Postmaster General, that the House of Commons' would not be doing its duty, unless it endeavoured to see that public servants were properly paid for the work they performed, and that there could be no worse economy than that of following the market price. That was not the test applied to political officers or to professional duty, nor was it one that a wise and great Government should apply to any service in public life. The Post Office was the most prosperous of their public establishments. It netted large profits, and could afford to be just and generous, but there was neither justice, generosity, nor wisdom in taking as a test the standard of market labour. He protested against the imputation, that in advocating the rights of humble men they were actuated by sordid motives.


said, that since he had been appointed to the office of Postmaster General his attention had been directed to this subject, and he had submitted to the Treasury a revised scheme for London, which was now under consideration, and he hoped it would receive favourable attention. With respect to several of the larger towns, his Predecessor had informed the Committee that during his tenure of office, the establishment had been increased. If Leeds had not been included, it certainly would be, but it was impossible for all the larger towns to be considered simultaneously. A revised scheme for Edinburgh was under the consideration of the Treasury at the present moment. The Dublin establishment was being revised—not by the Commission on the Civil Service, but at its almost unanimous wish, by the Department in conjnuction with the Treasury. With regard to the country, they could not lay down one general scheme; each case must be taken by itself. Of course, the Committee would, not expect one in his position to take what some would call a generous and extravagant view. They must be guided by mixed considerations. They were not to screw down the wages of these valuable and trustworthy servants to the lowest possible point. Nor, on the other hand, should they allow themselves to be led away by a cheap philanthropy to offer wages out of character with the work which the letter-carriers had to perform. They would be guided by combined motives and endeavour to meet the views of those, on the one hand, who thought the time was come when, in consideration of the increased price of provisions and rents, the wages of this meritorious class of public servants ought to be revised, and of those, on the other, who thought it was neither the duty of the House of Commons nor of the Government to sanction largely increased wages with a view of obtaining for themselves a cheap popularity. With regard to the Civil Service competitive examinations—as to which the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Hankey) had asked a question—he was now in communication upon that subject with the Treasury. He thought that system had, like some other hobbies, been rather hard-ridden. He should be very glad if the authorities of the Treasury confirmed that view, and if they could, in respect to the humbler offices, at any rate, adopt some less pretentious, but, perhaps, sounder and better system in future. The increase of the Vote was explained by the fact that there was an increase in it for salaries of postmasters, sub-postmasters, receivers, clerks, and letter-carriers, of £44,000 for England; for Ireland, £4,000, and for Scotland £11,959. He had not had the clothing of the rural carriers under consideration, but had authorized an improved kind of cloth for the London letter-carriers.

Vote agreed to.

(7.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £832,662, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1875, for the Post Office Packet Service; no part of which sum is to be applicable or applied in or towards making any payment in respect of any period subsequent to the 20th day of June 1863, to Mr. Joseph George Churchward, or to any person claiming through or under him by virtue of a certain Contract, hearing date the 26th day of April 1859, made between the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Admiralty (for and on behalf of Her Majesty) of the first part, and the said Joseph George Churchward of the second part, or in or towards the satisfaction of any claim whatsoever of the said Joseph George Churchward, by virtue of that Contract, so far as relates to any period subsequent to the 20th day of June 1863.


said, he would move that a reduction of £122 10s. should be made in the Vote of £490 for the conveyance of mails to St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat. He took that course, because the company who carried the Royal Mails had not properly fulfilled the contract.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Item of £490, for conveyance of the Mails to St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, be reduced by the sum of £122 10s."—(Mr. Dixon.)


said, no representation on the subject had been made to the Post Office. If the hon. Member would put his complaint into writing, the matter should be inquired into.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

(8.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £778,339, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1875, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office Telegraph Service.


said, they were asked to Vote £938,339 for the Post Office Telegraph Service, which was a very considerable increase in the Vote. From a foot-note, it appeared that the Estimate, like that of 1873–4, had not been submitted to examination, and yet the Treasury asked the Committee to agree to it. He hoped the House would not grant the Vote in the absence of a thorough examination of the matter, and would move that it be reduced by a sum of £80,339.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £698,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1875, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office Telegraph Service."—(Mr. Dillwyn.)


said, the delay as well as the increase in the Vote were explained by the compensation clauses of railway companies, which were still the subject of arbitration. He had no doubt the Treasury had examined these matters; and he had no doubt that the sum asked for was a very moderate one. He hoped the Committee would agree to the Vote, for the reasons he had stated.


thought the explanation irrelevant to the Vote, which was for the salaries and expenses of the Department. He should suggest to his hon. Friend not to press his Amendment to a division; but to move that the Chairman report Progress, which would gain time and opportunity for them to examine the Estimate.


said, he agreed with his hon. Friend that that would be the bettor course, and he begged therefore to withdraw his Amendment. [Cries of "No!"]


said, the Treasury had considered the Vote, and he therefore came now to the House of Commons to ask that it be agreed to. The present Government inherited a legacy from their Predecessors, and had not had sufficient time to make a comprehensive examination into the system.


thought they should have some explanation on the subject from the Government.


drew attention to a foot-note in the Estimates, to the effect that the Estimate had not been received in time to be examined.


observed that this Vote was for working expenses only, and had nothing to do with telegraphic extenstions.


explained that the Estimate was sent in to the Treasury on the 10th of March, and as it was necessary that it should be laid before the House before the close of the financial year, the foot-note to which reference had been made was appended. The Estimate had, however, since that time been subjected to severe scrutiny, and was found to be, on the whole, satisfactory to the Treasury. The increase of cost was owing to increase of establishments, and the increase of establishments was due to increase of business.


hoped that the noble Lord would take steps to ensure to the public receipts for the telegrams they sent; and would suggest that manifold copies stamped should be taken.


said, no hon. Member of the House sent off more telegrams than he did, and he had not had a single instance, since the telegraphs came into the hands of the Post Office, of any mistake, nor had he been put to the slightest inconvenience. He should be sorry to revert to the old system, under which people were kept waiting for a receipt, and were liable to be knocked up at 2 o'clock in the morning because a telegraph messenger wanted a receipt.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again upon Wednesday.