HC Deb 16 August 1881 vol 265 cc104-42

(16.) £2,849,525, to complete the sum for the Post Office.


said, he was aware he was unable to propose the increase of this Vote; but, so far as it related to the London letter-carriers, he thought he could show that it ought to be increased, and he looked with confidence to the sense of justice of the Postmaster General and Parliament to increase it on some early day. The Members of this Committee were the last people who needed to be informed of the importance of the work of the letter-carriers, and the unfailing regularity with which they performed their duty. Perhaps there were some hon. Members who would love the letter-carrier more if he were less regular in the delivery of letters, especially in delivering documents composed of printed matter. His (Mr. Schreiber's) present object, however, was to call the attention of the Committee to the conditions under which these labours were performed, and the rate at which they were remunerated, and to the complaints which arose under both heads. In summer and winter alike, the London letter-carrier was at his office at 5 o'clock in the morning, and that meant that, if he was a married man, driven by the dear-ness of house-rent into the suburbs, he left his bed, winter and summer, at between 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning, just as Members of Parliament were going to theirs. In sorting letters at the office, and delivering them on the walk, he was engaged between. 5 o'clock in the morning and 8 o'clock in the evening, making a day of some 15 hours. That was, a day of 15 hours, out of which he was employed, or ought to be employed, eight hours, but was generally engaged nine hours, or more. Under this head, therefore, the letter-carrier complained that he worked overtime, for which he either was not paid at all, or was paid at a rate lower than that he received for his ordinary work. His duties were so arranged that, if he lived a distance from the office, he was unable to return home during the time he was not on duty, and in that way he incurred a heavier expenditure than he would have to incur if he were able to rejoin his family. Well, how did the State pay this man whose hours were such as he (Mr. Schreiber) had described, and from whom it required the skilled labour of reading addresses, and sorting letters, and discharging the most responsible duty of delivering them? Why, starting with 23s. a-week, his wages rose, at intervals of three years, 2s. a-week, so that in nine years he received 29s. a-week. After another interval of three years—or after 12 years in all—the maximum of 30s. was reached. In addition to this, there were three good-conduct stripes, each carrying 1s., which the men could earn, and which would raise their wages to 33s. a-week; and, lastly, the State supplied them with uniforms worth 1s. 6d. a-week—making, in all, 34s. 6d. a-week. That amount the State plainly admitted to be inadequate, because it allowed the men to ask for, and receive, Christmas-boxes, and these were worth, according to a Circular Memorandum he held in his hand, 5s. a-week. But, even so, the letter-carrier found the dearness of house-rent, the cost of shoe-leather, and the cost of living away from home such that his wages were hardly sufficient to supply him with the necessaries of life. They, therefore, prayed that, commencing as heretofore at 23s. a-week, their salaries might rise, through a period of 12 years, to 35s. by increments of 1s. a-year; and, furthermore, that the good-conduct stripes might be increased, so that letter-carriers eligible to receive them might not be kept waiting, as now, for two years or more before they obtained them. Lastly, they prayed that in their pensions might be reckoned what were known as their emoluments—that was to say, their Christmas boxes and their uniforms, making together 6s. 6d. a-week, the former of which the State, with inconceivable meanness, permitted the letter-carriers to receive as part of their wages, but refused to recognize as part of their pensions; so that it took 20 years of such service as he had described to earn a pension of lls. a-week. He really would ask were not these reasonable requests, regard being had to the increased labours of the letter-carriers, as measured by the increased receipts of the Post Office since 1874, when the present wages were settled? Were these requests not reasonable, when they remembered that the letter-carrier now did sorter's work, and that the sorter was more highly paid than the letter-carrier, and that through the substitution of the letter-carrier the number of sorters had been largely reduced, with a corresponding economy and saving to the State? Were these not reasonable requests, when they remembered the hours which the letter-carrier worked, the cost at which he lived, and the responsible nature of the duties he performed? Lastly, was it unreasonable that after 20 years' service the letter-carrier should be able to look forward to a more generous pension than a pension of 11s. a-week? There was another question not immediately connected with the amount of this Vote, but which he thought could be formally raised upon it, and that was, why was the letter-carrier, as such, to be debarred for competing for any vacancy which might occur in his Department? What was the reason of the rule—"Once a letter-carrier always a letter-carrier?" Why was not the letter-carrier to carry Hope at the bottom of his letter-bag? Why should he not be allowed to look forward to the day when he might find some walk in life less wearying than that of a postman? He would ask the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this matter. Let him do an act of justice—it would cost the Department nothing. As to this money question, he hoped the Postmaster General would not dream that it could be settled by empty generalities about economy and justice to the taxpayer, which began by begging the whole question. There was no economy in ill-paid labour and discontented service, and the question of justice to the taxpayer had no place until justice had been first done to those whom he employed. He was obliged to the Committee for the indulgence with which they had listened to this statement, and he confidently left the case of these poor men to the justice and generosity of Parliament.


said, it seemed to him that the statements which had been made by the hon. Member for Poole could not have been in the possession of the Postmaster General before he made his Annual Report, which had been published that morning, otherwise a less glowing statement would have been issued. In all that had been said about the London letter-carriers he (Mr. Mac-liver) cordially agreed; but he wished to say a few words on behalf of those employed in a similar capacity in the Provinces and rural districts. Whilst it seemed to him, from the statement they had just heard, that the London letter-carrier was very much overworked, he ventured to say that they were still more so in the Provinces. Petitions had been presented to the Postmaster General from many districts throughout the country setting forth their claims; and he had no doubt that that right hon. Gentleman, when he came to inquire into the statements made in the Petitions and the statements that had just been made, would be able either to give the House some reasons for declining the claims of the letter-carriers, or to do something to ameliorate their condition. The letter-carrier had no Sunday's rest and no holidays. He commenced his rounds at half-past 5 in the morning, and finished at half-past 9. Men of the first class received 25s. a-week after 10 years' service, and beyond that there was no promotion. The men of the second class had still more to complain of, inasmuch as since the present Government came into Office the wages of the second-class men had been reduced by a sum of 2s. a-week, receiving only 15s. a-week. Then, their work had also been increased; and he might go a stage further and state that the rural postman who had 15s. a-week, and travelled 18 miles a-day on week-days and nine on Sundays, had, besides having no holidays, no definite prospect of a pension being given to him. This question of pensions for letter-carriers had not been very much debated out-of-doors. After all, it turned out to be a very small affair, because the number of postmen who served out the whole of the necessary service to entitle them to the pension was exceedingly few. Fully two-thirds of them, unable to stand the strain of the exposure and exhaustion, succumbed under it, and were compelled to quit it under 20 years, and they could not receive a pension unless they had been in the Service 30 years. He therefore seriously commended these facts to the Postmaster General, and hoped he would be able to say that something should be done for the poor letter-carriers in the rural districts.


said, he took this, the first opportunity he had had, of thanking the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General for all the reforms he had instituted in the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to carry out that which he believed to be a great public duty to the best of his ability, and he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) would venture to say that the case hon. Members had brought before him would not escape his attention. If there was anything in that case which deserved correction or amendment, the right hon. Gentleman would turn his attention to it, as he had done to the grievances of the telegraph clerks and others. Since he had been in Office he had had a very difficult task to perform; but he had performed it with tact and temper, and for so doing deserved the best thanks of the Committee and of Parliament, and, he must also say, of the public. The Postmaster General had been generous enough to say that he had taken up and followed out the scheme for the establishment of the Penny Postage Savings Banks from his noble Predecessor in Office (Lord John Manners), which scheme, as he believed, would prove an inestimable been to the country. This scheme would encourage habits of thrift amongst the working classes, and would inculcate those ideas, at any rate amongst the rising generation, which should be developed as early as possible, if they were to be prosperous as a nation. In this matter the right hon. Gentleman had done most valuable service, and he could only hope that his career as Postmaster General would be long enough to carry out all those reforms so much needed in the public interest.


desired to join the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) in thanking the Postmaster General for the useful reforms he had carried out, and the great consideration he had shown to the employés—both in the Post Office and in the Telegraph Service. He (Mr. Monk) had heard with great regret the somewhat bitter attacks which had been made upon the right hon. Gentleman, which attacks had been entirely undeserved. The right hon. Gentleman had spared neither time nor labour in endeavouring to alleviate the conditions of the employés in his Department. He had investigated with untiring industry all the complaints which had been made; and there could be no doubt that if the right hon. Gentleman was spared for a few years longer to fill the post he now so worthily held, he would have done great service to the country, and to those who were employed in his Department.


said, that, no doubt, if the question before the Committee was the merits of the Postmaster General, they would all subscribe to what had been said by the hon. Member who had just sat down; but he (Mr. Dawson) had gathered that the question was the remuneration of the letter-carriers, and he felt inclined—though labouring under some difficulty as to speaking—to bring the case of the Irish letter-carriers under the notice of the Committee. Bad as was the condition of the letter-carriers referred to by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Macliver), infinitely worse was the condition and infinitely worse was the pay given to the Irish postman. In Limerick, and towns of that nature in Ireland, the letter-carriers, he understood, although overworked, were paid from 16s. to 20s. a-week, whilst in England, in such places as Manchester and Liverpool, they earned from 25s. to 30s. a-week. The pay was, therefore, in- adequate, much more so than in England. As to the rural letter-carriers, they received simply starvation wages. To his own knowledge, their districts were enormous and their pay was ridiculously small, far below what the wishes of the right hon. Gentleman would at all sustain when he carefully considered the facts. The wages, he believed, ran as low as 3s. or 4s. a-week, a miserable pittance that it was surprising such a Government as ours could think of offering for the labour of human beings. He (Mr. Dawson) had been struck by an observation of the Prime Minister in his Budget Speech, to the effect that great stress was being laid, as a sign of the increasing prosperity of the country, upon the rise which was taking place in wages. The right hon. Gentleman had drawn attention to this rise as a sign of the prosperity of the country. Now, for the past 25 years in Limerick the wages of the letter-carriers had not advanced in anything like the ratio that wages in other trades had advanced. Why was this? Was it because they were obliged to be better educated than the average of working men, or because more responsibility was cast upon them, and more trust was reposed in them? Was it because they had to be up early and late? Was it because they were under a great and rich Government that their pay was so bad? At any rate, whatever the reason was, he trusted their case would be taken under the consideration—the kind consideration, which he acknowledged it to be—of the right hon. Gentleman, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would not leave out in the cold the poor Irish letter-carrier. He asked for the Irish letter-carrier no preference, and nothing at all beyond that which was given to similar servants in England—letter-carriers doing the same duty, working the same number of hours, and going over the same distances. But if, in his particular position, the Irish letter-carrier gave the same number of hours to the public, walked the same distances, and did his work as honestly and assiduously, he was sure the right hon. Gentleman, in drawing up a new scheme, would make no distinction between this unfortunate man and his brethren in other parts of the United Kingdom.


wished the right hon. Gentleman to inform the Committee whether, and when, he intended to make postage stamps available for telegrams, and whether, and when, indicators would be attached to letter boxes showing when the mail would be closed?


It will be as well to answer the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) first. The subject of making postage stands available for telegraph messages is now under consideration, and I trust I shall soon be able to arrive at a conclusion with regard to it. I fully appreciate the importance of the matter, and I perfectly see that if postage stamps could be used for telegraph purposes, the public would be saved a great deal of inconvenience, inasmuch as late at night, if a person wanted to send off a telegraph message, all he would have to do would be to put the required number of ordinary stamps on the necessary form, or on a postcard addressed to the Telegraph Department. This would arrive at the Office at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, and would be sure to be sent off as soon as the telegraph office in the country or in the town was opened. Then, with regard to indicators, we have not obtained a Vote for this purpose yet; but I hope we shall do so this evening. We have had several different indicators presented to us for approval, and immediately the money is voted, and we have decided as to the best description of indicators, they will be attached to every pillar-box and wall-box in the United Kingdom. Now, as to the question raised by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Schreiber), I cannot enter upon the discussion without expressing my sincere acknowledgments to the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) and the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) for the extremely kind manner in which they have spoken of my efforts at the Post Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole has brought forward the case of the Metropolitan letter-carriers, and he has been supported by other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Poole said he hoped I would not shelter myself under generalties about economy or the interests of the taxpayers of the country. I recognize as fully as anyone that there can be a false as well as a wise economy. But when the hon. Member for Poole talks about the general taxpayers, and appeals to me to be liberal, he surely ought to remember that the money we spend is not the money of the Government. I have not a shilling to spend. Every additional shilling that we spend is obtained from the money subscribed by the taxpayers, many of whom are very much poorer than that class which hon. Members are now seeking to benefit. I cannot, therefore, conceive that a Minister could incur a more grave responsibility than to recommend an additional expenditure of public money without having assured himself that that additional expenditure was rendered necessary by the justice of the case. What does additional expenditure mean? The State has not a great fund of money or of wealth which is perennially supplied by the bounty of nature. Every shilling that the State pays represents money taken from the taxpayer; and, far from the State having any money of its own to spend, it is in this unfortunate position—that, at a very moderate estimate, every shilling which is spent, when you take into account the cost of collection, and the impediments which taxation causes, and when you also consider the inequalities—the necessary inequalities—of taxation, every shilling the State spends represents, at a moderate estimate, at least 1s. 3d. taken from the taxpayer's pocket. Therefore, when a Minister is pressed to spend public money, what is he to do? Is he to put his hands forcibly into the pocket of A in order to take money out to give to B, A very likely being much poorer than B? I, for one, must say I can never be a party to putting a hand into one person's pocket and taking money therefrom for the benefit of another individual, unless it is clearly and distinctly proved to me that the action can be defended on strict grounds of justice. With regard to the letter-carriers, I shall very carefully consider all that has been said by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Schreiber) and the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Macliver), as well as other hon. Members who may have taken part in the debate. But the Committee will, perhaps, allow me to remind them that I have again and again received Memorials from letter-carriers in almost every town in England, Ireland, and Scotland on this subject. These Memorials contain similar statements to those which have been made in this House to-night, and perhaps I may state what I did with them long before the subject was mentioned in this Committee. I went through the bulk of them most carefully, and took notice of every statement which they contained. I analyzed them with the greatest care—I analyzed every case, and directly I had done so I caused inquiry to be made upon the allegations contained in them. I will give the Committee an indication of the sort of inquiry I considered it necessary to make in order to arrive at a just conclusion on this subject. In the first place, I have endeavoured to compare the remuneration of letter-carriers with the remuneration which is received by similar classes of persons in other trades—for instance, by railway porters, railway guards, and men in the employ of large manufacturers. I have caused inquiries to be addressed to many of the large municipalities, Railway Companies, and large employers of labour in order to enable me to arrive at a just conclusion as to the wages paid in other trades compared with those paid to the letter-carriers. My object has been to ascertain whether or not we pay the men the market rate of wages. I also desired those persons to whom I applied for information to tell me whether there has been any rise in the wages which they have paid during the last few years. I have also caused a most careful inquiry to be made to find out whether the length of the letter-carrier's day's work has increased since the time when he first took employment under the State. I have endeavoured to ascertain whether letter-carriers do more work than men in other trades, and whether the conditions of their employment are in any respects less satisfactory. I have not neglected the question of their chances of promotion, and I have made inquiries to find out whether they have less chances of promotion now than they had formerly; and whether, in the interests of the Public Service, the chances of promotion of letter-carriers should be improved. I undertook this inquiry on the very day that I came to a conclusion with regard to the demand that was made by the postal clerks and telegraphists. Not an hour has been lost in carrying it on, and I have not yet obtained all the information that I need in order to arrive at a just conclusion on the subject. This being the case, I feel that I should be doing wrong to the letter-carriers, to the Public Service, and to this House, if I were to allow myself to be forced into a premature discussion before I have at hand the requisite materials to enable me to arrive at a just decision. I can only give this promise to the Committee. I will do my very best to arrive, on the one hand, at a conclusion which will be just to the letter-carriers; and, on the other hand, at a decision which will be just to the taxpayers of this country. If I find that the letter-carriers are underpaid, I will recommend that their pay shall be increased; if I find that in any respect their position can be improved so as to promote the increased efficiency of the Public Service, I shall recommend that such improvement shall take place; but if, on the other hand, I find that the wages which they are receiving are as high or higher than are paid by other employers for a similar kind of labour—then, it appears to me, that if I were to yield to pressure and give them more money, I should be wrongfully spending money which, as a trustee, I am bound to protect, and, under these circumstances, I should resist the pressure. I trust, after this representation, that neither the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this matter nor the Committee will think that I am wanting in courtesy if I do not now enter further into the subject. I will simply conclude by giving a promise that, as far as my own exertions are concerned, there will not be one hour's unnecessary delay in arriving at a decision, and my sole desire will be to arrive at a conclusion alike just to the letter-carriers and the taxpayers of the country.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the fact that in estimating the proper value of the services of the letter-carriers he had had regard to the wages paid to railway porters and others. He (Mr. Daly) wished to point out—and he did it in no fault-finding way, but because he thought the matter worthy of consideration—that there was this great difference between the persons employed by a Municipality or a Railway Company and a person in the employment of the Post Office—namely, that a very small offence committed by a person in the Post Office, such as a letter-carrier getting drunk on duty, or committing a minor act of dishonesty, was, in the eyes of a Court of Justice, always regarded as a great deal more heinous than a similar offence committed by a person in any other trade. It seemed, therefore, that when the nature of the man's employment entailed on him greater punishment for a fault, he had a right, Tinder the doctrine of selection, to be paid better for the services he rendered. The position the right hon. Gentleman took, and the foundation upon which he based his decision, was a little unfair to the letter-carriers. He (Mr. Daly) merely threw out this suggestion, and he was sure that by a person like the right hon. Gentleman, who had devoted himself to his work with such conscientious care, and who looked upon those employed under him with such great sympathy, the suggestion would not be lost sight of. It was hardly fair to draw a contrast between persons in the position of letter-carriers and those engaged in the ordinary avocations of life, such as the work of a railway porter. He had himself been on duty on the Bench when minor offences were proved against letter-carriers, and he had seen the magistrates give far greater punishment to these men, from motives of public policy, than they would have inflicted upon workmen who had committed the same offences while in the employ of private individuals. However, he merely threw out this suggestion for the consideration of the Postmaster General.


said, he wished to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a small matter which would not involve a very great call upon the Treasury, and he mentioned it because the right hon. Gentleman had shown himself, very properly, extremely sensitive in the matter of taking money from the pockets of the taxpayers. The point he wished to draw attention to was the desirability of having telegraphed to country post offices the weather forecasts of the Meteorological Department. He did not believe that any considerable cost would be inflicted on the Post Office by adopting this suggestion. They got the weather forecasts for nothing, and the telegraphing would not be a very serious item. The cost of posting up the news after the telegrams were received at the country stations would be very little during the year, and against this small cost he believed the benefit which would be derived by the country farmers from the use of these telegrams would be considerable. The system would be generally advantageous, as they would get, and be able to use all over the country, the opinions of the farmers in the various districts on the question of the weather. The Postmaster General said that the Post Office could not compete in the supply of news with private enterprize; but he (Major Nolan) had been at some pains to ascertain whether this objection would apply in the part of the country he was best acquainted with—that was to say, Ireland. He had been informed on really very fair authority—he did not say by the proprietor of any daily paper, but on very good authority—that it was extremely improbable that the proprietor of any daily paper in Ireland would in any way object or consider himself injured by the Postmaster General telegraphing these weather forecasts. Supposing the Department adopted this suggestion in Ireland, it would only, perhaps, necessitate the telegraphing of five or six words to each country district a-day. There were many reasons why the experiment should first be tried in Ireland. In the first place, it was more difficult for the Irish to get weather forecasts than it was for the English people to obtain them. The forecasts were given by the London papers, and these papers, owing to the admirable railway facilities of England, were circulated in the country districts very soon after they were published. In Ireland the forecasts were very seldom given to the newspapers, and railway communication was not as good there as in England; consequently, the probable state of the weather was not generally known throughout the country as it ought to be. It seemed to him that the objection urged by the Postmaster General did not exist in Ireland, and therefore he thought the Government would be acting wisely in telegraphing these forecasts. He did not suppose that much could be done this year, yet it would be well if the right hon. Gentleman would take the matter into consideration.


mentioned that many English firms were in the habit of sending their samples to Belgium to be there re-transmitted to England, in order to save the postage in this country; and asked whether the Postmaster General would consider the propriety of establishing a sample post at moderate rates?


supported the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Major Nolan) in regard to weather forecasts, and stated that he knew of one farmer who, through receiving forecasts, had been much more successful with his crops than his neighbours who did not have the forecasts.


drew attention to the insufficient remuneration paid to postmasters and sub-postmasters in Ireland, and urged a consideration of their case.


wished to know whether letter-carriers would be allowed to compete for higher positions in the Post Office; and, also, whether, in considering the question of emoluments and remuneration, the Postmaster General would also consider the increased labour that letter-carriers had to perform?


complained that Irish sub-postmasters were very badly paid, and urged their claim to increased pay.


said, one of the inquiries which he was making with regard to letter-carriers was whether their work had in any material degree changed since they first received their appointments. That consideration would, of course, involve the question of increased remuneration. With regard to promotion, that was a difficult question; but, without making any promise, he would consider whether appointments now closed to letter-carriers could be made open to them. With respect to sub-postmasters and receivers, their salaries were small; but the competition for these appointments was often so great that he had difficulty in making a selection. The reason was that these shopkeepers found that if they had the receiving offices, extra custom came to them in consequence. His attention had been directed to the practice of sending samples to Belgium, because of the cheaper postage, and that was an anomaly which ought not to be allowed to continue. That, however, was connected with a larger and more important subject—namely, the establishment of a parcels post. He looked forward with confidence to the establishment of a parcels post at no distant date, by which parcels of one, two, three, or four pounds could be delivered at a uniform rate in any town or village in England, Ireland, or Scotland where letters were delivered. He should regard that as one of the greatest postal improvements since the establishment of the penny post, and no effort should be wanting on his part to establish such a system. With respect to weather forecasts, having spent a good deal of his life in the country, he knew the value of the forecasts; and when he was first asked to supply them he was inclined to accede to the request; but, on looking into the matter, he found that under the Telegraphs Act the Post Office was only to act as a transmitter, and not a vendor, of news. He hoped, however, to be able to get over that difficulty.


drew attention to the inadequate salaries of letter-carriers in Ireland.


replied, that the rate of pay was regulated by the rate of the labour market.


observed, that that was, no doubt, the case; but sometimes the pay was below the labour market. The Post Office was characterized by a spirit of general stinginess, and he thought it would be better if there were a little more humanitarian, and a little less of the economical, principle adopted in the Department, and that the highest aim and object of the Department should not be to get the extreme amount of work for the smallest remuneration.


complained of the present arrangements for registering letters. Formerly the charge for registration was 4d., but it had been reduced to 2d.; but there was an extra charge of ¼d. or ½d. for the envelope, and that was not only a disadvantage to the public, but post offices frequently could not give the ¼d. change. He thought it would be much better, and would certainly be a been to the public, if the 2d. included both the envelope and the registration.


inquired whether the Postmaster General could give the public an assurance that the practice of opening letters had been discontinued? Such an assurance would be a great relief to the public. It had been stated that the present Government had never resorted to that practice; but several Gentlemen had assured him that letters of theirs had been opened. He hoped the Postmaster General would not find it necessary to consult the Home Secre- tary upon the point, but would be able to give the assurance himself.


stated that the power of opening letters was never exercised except upon a Warrant issued by a Secretary of State; and he had no power to act in the matter himself. He would bear in mind the question as to registration.


, observing that the Committee had been for the last hour or two spurring a willing horse, pointed out that while the proposal to increase the Vote by £120,000 would necessitate a Supplemental Estimate, the similar increase of other Votes would involve a total increase of £2,000,000.


wished to call attention to a class of men in London whose case had not been mentioned. He referred to the countermen, of whom there were 40 or 50 in London. Their duties had lately been greatly increased, and he thought that what advantages were given to other Post Office employés should be extended to them also.


remarked, that Post Office expenditure brought in a good return. He was sorry the Postmaster General had not been able to give a more definite answer with regard to prying into letters. No doubt, the responsibility fell upon the Home Secretary, and, knowing the Home Secretary's advanced Liberalism out of Office, he was sure that now the right hon. Gentleman was in Office it would be no pleasure to give his countenance to such operation. In fact, he did not believe that all the letters that were opened were opened under the Home Secretary's Warrant. The clumsy manner in which some of his own letters had been opened and again fastened, led him to the conclusion that he had been the victim of the impertinent curiosity of some minor official. He trusted that in future they might either be opened more carefully or might be afterwards enclosed in a new envelope.

Vote agreed to.

(17.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £834,081, 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 1882, for the Salaries and Working Expenses of the Post Office Telegraph Service.


I approach this subject with some diffidence, because hon. Members will, no doubt, recollect how extremely sensitive we have found the Postmaster General whenever we have had any occasion to mention it; how he has lectured us at one time, scolded us at another, and indulged in the art of circumlocution when unwilling to give a direct answer to questions put to him. One feels regret that it should be so—that a Member who has shown so much zeal for the people of distant India should snarl at hon. Members who venture to remind him of grievances at home, and in the Department he administers, calling for prompt relief at his hands. Still, I am not going to follow his example by unnecessary complaints. His scheme for dealing with the telegraphists is before us in two editions, and my object in rising is to ask the Committee to consider how far that scheme is adequate and satisfactory. The fact of a large amount being conceded to the clerks—the fact of three months' retrospective pay being allowed to them—may be considered an ample justification of the demands which they have made. What is now required is to adjust the scheme in certain parts, so as to make it really acceptable to those for whom it is intended. This, I am persuaded, the Postmaster General will not refuse after his attention has been drawn to the points which I will now mention. First of all, the amount in wages to be expended upon the telegraph clerks by the new scheme is £29,524—no great affair amongst 6,000 clerks, out of a net profit of £500,000, which the Department boasts it has made. It is not, however, the money, but the disposal of it, which is at fault. There is an unjustifiable distinction drawn between the clerks in the Central Office and those in the districts of London; whereas their training and their duties are alike, and objection is taken to the scheme by the latter, because, in the language of their Memorial, 17 years must elapse before a clerk entering the Service at 12s. a week can obtain a salary of 38s. a-week, beyond which he can never expect to rise; although if classification were abolished, and his salary allowed to progress after that point, 24 years would elapse before, according to the Postmaster General's scheme, he could reach the maximum of £130 per annum. Then, Sunday duty of eight hours in four weeks is still demanded, without remuneration, and can be claimed to the extent of two hours on every Sunday in the year, thus virtually depriving the staff of double that time, owing to the time occupied in going to and returning from work; whilst this duty was always paid for by the Telegraph Companies at an advanced rate, because the payment for overtime was calculated at the rate of seven days or 50 hours per week, instead of six days or 48 hours per week; and in any other field of labour the payment for such duty is far in excess of that given for ordinary work. I will not, however, trouble the Committee with details. It is probably a mistake of the authors of the scheme—for I suppose the surveyors made it—to compel second-class female clerks to commence at 8 and work until 9, according to each alternate duty, and also a mistake to omit senior clerks, who are distinctly provided for in the Vote, from the list of district clerks in London, whilst they are retained in the Central Office. I would rather deal with the scheme in its relation to the Public Service, which is, after all, the real question to which the attention of Parliament should be directed. First, as to the desirability in the public interest of having a thoroughly trained telegraph staff. Since the transfer to the Post Office, the work is not nearly so well done, when taken as a whole. There are messages, evidently done by old hands, which leave nothing to be desired; there are others which would be a discredit to a low form in an elementary school. The blunders of sense show complete ignorance. For instance, within the last fortnight a Parliamentary Report was issued to the Press, in which Lord Beaconsfield was one of the speakers in the House of Lords. An hon. Member despatched a telegram that his wife had been delivered of a "dear boy;" but the message sent was that she had been safely delivered of a "deal box." Another stated that the Pope had been buried at Salt Petre. Another message, with respect to Consols, was that '' Billy went a quarter higher." In another case a ship was ordered from Queens-town to Dundalk, instead of to Dunkirk. Telegraphing has, in fact, deteriorated in accuracy since the transfer. It is to the public interest to have a thoroughly trained staff, and this can only be obtained by adequate payment. The best of telegraphists find a difficulty with certain classes of news. In the hands of those who are badly trained these difficulties are immensely increased, and difficult words and passages become mere guess-work. Secondly, is it desirable to combine telegraph and sorting clerks, and teach both branches indifferently? The duties are so entirely different that it would be just as reasonable that every doctor should be a lawyer as well. But even supposing such a heterogeneous combination desirable, is the Postmaster General justified in classing as sorters, telegraphists who are recognized as Civil Service clerks in an Act of Parliament? The telegraphists object to be classed as sorters or sorting clerks, and there is no reason why the existing telegraph staff should not be exempted from that classification. They did not join the Service as sorters. If the principle of combining the telegraphists and sorters be deemed expedient, the principle should apply to those who join the Service after the new arrangement is made. The pre-transfer clerks have a special claim to exemption. The maximum salary is too low if an efficient telegraph staff is to be maintained. The object should be to retain in the Service the most efficient men. If £2 10s. is to be the maximum, the best men will leave, and the Service will be impoverished, as it is at the present time. The Provincial telegraphists think £200 a-year is not too high for the class of work they have to do. It should be remembered that many messages of a strictly private character have to pass through the hands of the telegraphists. I will read a sentence or two from the Playfair Report on the Civil Service on this point— We do not, it will be observed, propose to give a large salary to newly appointed clerks, even in the higher offices, for we are of opinion that the salary should he low in the earlier years of the service, and should rise more rapidly as the clerk gets older, when his responsibilities in life increase, and the value of his experience becomes greater to the State. The example of the open Professions, and the practice of private firms and establishments strongly confirm the view that good service will be better secured by good prospects in later life than by a high initial salary. I think also there are too many classes in the new scheme. Are five classes necessary in the Telegraph Service? Why should there not be one class, with a preliminary class? When a clerk joins he should pass through a probationary year. If at the end of that year his chief thinks he is not suitable for the work, he should be transferred to another class or dismissed. But when he is once on the staff he should be able to rise to the maximum without his way being blocked by impassable barriers. But the point I wish to put before the Committee is this—the fact that so large an addition is to be made to the Public Expenditure without satisfying the class to whom the money is to be given is a proof that it has not been judiciously distributed. There is, probably, no need to spend more money; but to satisfy the telegraphists, the existing staff, or at least the pre-transfer clerks, should not be classed as sorting clerks. Classification should be abolished, and the maximum salary should be increased, and pay given for Sunday duty and all overtime. Just one word in reference to something else in connection with the scheme. Unfortunately, the noble Lord the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in his Circular, has made use of what may be fairly called threats to the telegraph clerks. I am sorry to say that I find these threats have been carried out with the London staff. Offers have been made to the second-class to rise to £110 if they will give up agitation; and members of the Provisional Committee who are entitled to rise from £65 to £70 will have their promotion cancelled unless they give up all association with the agitation. I can give the names of the gentlemen who communicated this information. Another point is that the promise made by the noble Lord as to the retrospective action of the scheme has been broken. The noble Lord said the scheme would take effect from the 1st of April; but it is now said that that part of the scheme having reference to Sunday labour and overtime shall take effect from June 20. It is clear that this part of the Service is thoroughly disorganized, and I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman, is it prudent to keep the Department in this disturbed state, simply from want of re-adjustment? I do not complain of the money amount of the scheme; but I do of the adjustment. It does require revision and re-consideration, and I hope such it will receive from the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he thought the Postmaster General ought not to put his hand into the public pocket in order to pay higher wages than were absolutely necessary; but he did consider that, in the present ease, the right hon. Gentleman got proper and efficient service for his money. At Swansea some telegraphists, who had been in the Service for five years, only got 15s. a-week. That was very inadequate pay, and he hoped the Postmaster General would consider the whole question.


desired to support the appeal made by the hon. Members for Plymouth (Mr. Macliver) and Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn). Considering the responsible duties which the telegraphists had to discharge, £130 was, in his opinion, much below the maximum remuneration which they deserved. They could not expect them to remain in the Service unless they were ultimately remunerated by a sufficient sum, and it appeared to him that £200 a-year was not too large a salary for them ultimately to look forward to. He had great confidence in his right hon. Friend (Mr. Fawcett), and, whatever difference of opinion there might be with regard to some points, he believed the Committee would agree that the administration of the Post Office could not be in more able hands than his. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he could not place this branch of the Service in a position more satisfactory to the persons employed. The country was deeply indebted to them, and he thought they deserved liberal treatment at the hands of every Member of the House.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General would have some consideration for the class of female clerks, whose position would be rendered worse rather than better by the new scheme. It appeared that while the wages of the first-class female clerks reached a maximum of 35s. a-week, they would now only receive 82.s. a-week. At the same time, he remarked that the rate of promotion was very slow, something like 20 years' service being required before the first class of female clerks was reached. There were only two females in the City of Dublin who were in the first class. Then, again, a very large deduction was made from their wages in time of illness; and they complained that they were compelled to work overtime without compensation. He was quite aware of the difficulties involved in so vast an administration as the Post Office, and he believed it was generally recognized throughout the country that no one could possibly give more attention, or look to the position of the Service with more anxiety, with a desire to promote the interest of the Public Service, than the right hon. Gentleman now Postmaster General. He especially drew the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the case of the female clerks, in the hope that he might find some means of improving their position.


understood that a serious grievance existed amongst the telegraph clerks on account of their being frequently called upon to work overtime, for which no payment was made unless they were occupied for one hour. He was also informed that the practice was to put the clerks on to extra work for periods of 50 and 55 minutes, so that they should get no remuneration for it. In that way they got through a great deal of work in the course of the year of a very useful kind, and without receiving any payment. He trusted the Postmaster General would see his way to improve this state of things by allowing compensation for the work done. With regard to the position of female clerks, he regarded it as almost a shame to the civilization of the time that so few opportunities were offered to girls for rising to respectable positions with fail-remuneration attached to them.


said, it was impossible to retain in the Service skilled telegraphists at the wages that were now paid to them; and he considered that if ever there was a system of false economy in the payment of men who discharged important and invaluable duties, it was that of which complaint was now made. It must be borne in mind that there were many messages transmitted by telegraph which contained matters of the highest importance to commercial firms, and which would, no doubt, be paid largely for by rival houses. Under the present system a person was put upon small wages, and, at the same time, intrusted with these confidential communications, which, perhaps, gave him an opportunity of obtaining, as a bonus for information, more money than he would receive as a half-year's salary. Therefore, he said, if the Department placed men in a position of trust and responsibility, it was their duty to raise them above such temptation. The telegraph clerks also complained that, although they were led to expect by the Report of the Civil Service Commission, to which the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Lyon Playfair) was attached, they were to be treated as officers of the Civil Service, yet they were now relegated to an inferior position. Moreover, it was said that in consequence of their having made known their grievances in a Constitutional manner, heavy penalties would be imposed upon them, and that they were to be dismissed from their position, while persons below them were to be educated to perform their duties. They were, unhappily, used to coercion in Ireland, but this was coercion of a different kind; and, although he would be the last person to approve any effort to disorganize the Department, he did claim, on the grounds of general and individual liberty, that it was legitimate for the clerks in question to put forward their grievances, in a Constitutional manner, before the tribunal of Parliament. He would not go into further details at that hour of the evening, because, whether he was mistaken or not, he was sure it was not in the disposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General to allow any system to continue in the Department which was detrimental to the Public Service. Moreover, he believed, from a short acquaintance with him in public life, that he was not the man to be deterred from any course which he believed to be right by the mere fact of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury stating to the Committee that £120,000 additional was to be expended on the Post Office Department, and another sum of £70,000 upon the Telegraph Branch. Therefore, he relied on the sympathy which he was sure dwelt in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman for all persons beneath him to place this matter on a right footing, and he felt he should estimate him wrongly in believing otherwise than that his first desire was to do justice between man and man, or that he would allow any of his subordinates to remain subject to temptation to betray their trusts by an unreasonable remuneration being awarded to them. He regarded this matter as one which deserved the serious attention of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he thought there was a good deal of truth in what was said by the telegraph clerks as to their being underpaid and obliged to do extra work without remuneration. But he must express surprise in the way in which the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Macliver) had advocated the cause of these clerks, because he had said that the first remedy to be applied was to turn them all out and get a superior class of men.


said, his complaint was that the Service was deteriorating by the infusion of an inferior class of men.


Exactly. The Committee were told that the greater number of these clerks were of an inferior class, and that the remedy of the hon. Gentleman was to substitute others for them. He hardly thought they would like that. He believed there was scarcely any fair ground of complaint as to the way in which telegrams in this country were sent, and anyone who compared them with those sent from one part to another abroad, would see that the foreign system was far inferior to their own. The hon. Member for Plymouth had held in his hand a number of telegrams, and had shown that there were mistakes in them; but the Committee would remember that of the millions of telegrams sent a certain number of mistakes was inevitable. These would probably be the fault of the clerks; but they were often the result of indistinct writing on the part of the senders. He thought it was hard upon these men to say they did not efficiently do their duty, because he believed that their duties were most efficiently performed; and he ventured to think that if the right hon. Gentlemen were to increase their pay it would meet with the general approval of the House.


assured the hon. Member for Plymouth, who had said he was unduly sensitive on this subject, that he was not sensitive on his own account, nor was he annoyed at questions being addressed to him upon any matter connected with the Department over which he presided. The telegraph clerks had been encouraged for months past to take a course which might entail upon them serious evils that no one would regret more than himself. The hon. Member for Plymouth was an employer of labour, and there were many other employers of labour in that House, and he would suppose a case in which an employer of labour received from his employés a memorial asking that certain grievances should be redressed, and that their position should be improved. Suppose that the employer, the very moment he received the memorial, sent back this answer—"I will inquire into every one of your alleged grievances; I will spare no effort to arrive at a fair conclusion upon them; and if, in the course of that investigation, I find it necessary to have a personal interview with you, I will seek that interview, and I will ask you to speak with the utmost frankness." Suppose that assurance given, and that the very moment it was given, someone began to encourage agitation, and to advise the employés to accuse their employer of evasion. Suppose, again, that the employer, in the fulfilment of his promise, had that personal interview with his employés, which lasted many hours, and that, after they had spoken with the utmost frankness, the employer said to them—" Now, long as this interview has been, it is quite possible that you may have omitted to state something which you may have wished to state, and, therefore, put anything that you wish to communicate into writing, and it shall be carefully considered;" that before two days had elapsed, and before it was possible to receive any written communications, outside influence was again brought to bear, and hundreds of telegrams were received from various parts of the country to the effect that the employés were entirely dissatisfied with the result of that interview, although not the slightest indication had been given of any such impression when the interview took place; that, week after week, the employer was pressed to come to a decision, although he had given the assurance that no effort should be spared on his part to this end; and that, before he could do so, outside influence was again brought to bear, and went so far as to recommend the employés to resort to the last extremity of a strike. Under those circumstances, what would the employer do? Undoubtedly, if he had an interest in those whom he employed, he would be sensitive with regard to an outside influence, which was misleading and injuring them. That was his (Mr. Fawcett's) position. He was the employer, and he would tell the hon. Member for Plymouth that he was sensitive, not because he was personally annoyed, but because he felt that those whom he was anxious to serve might be hurried into a course on which there would be no retreat, and which would entail suffering upon themselves, their wives, and their children. It was impossible to over-estimate the serious responsibility incurred by those who advised public servants to strike. Who, he asked, would support them when they did strike? Was it the person who gave the advice? It was all very well to create a meretricious popularity; but, when that had passed away, who would find the displaced man with food for himself and his family? Undoubtedly, he did feel sensitive when he saw that a deserving class of public servants were being hurried on to a course which might possibly have brought poverty and ruin upon them. Now, the hon. Member for Plymouth said that the telegraphists who had been recently appointed were inefficient, and did their work badly. But this he absolutely denied, and he wondered that anyone who appeared as the friend of the class should have brought against them so unfounded and so unsupported a statement. Amongst the hundreds of communications which he received there was one that had produced a greater effect upon his mind than any other in connection with this subject. The writer was the proprietor of an important newspaper, who said that the work of telegraphists, owing to the improvements which had taken place in the instruments, had become more difficult, and that greater skill was required in consequence. At the same time, he said that the work was done with such remarkable accuracy that the rate of wages should be increased. It was that consideration more than anything else which had induced him to recommend a considerable increase of wages. The mistakes pointed to by the hon. Member for Plymouth were no reply to a statement of the kind he had alluded to. There was this newspaper receiving from three to six columns of telegraphic news in a single evening; and the manager had said that one of Mr. Gladstone's speeches, full of figures, had been telegraphed some hundreds of miles away from the place where it was delivered, and he added that there was no report in any London newspaper more accurate than this report which had been sent by telegraph. He believed this would show the extraordinary development of telegraphy in the country, and the extraordinary skill and accuracy with which the telegraphists, so traduced by the hon. Member for Plymouth, now did their work. The Committee would also remember the important speech delivered in the Candahar debate by the Secretary of State for India. He believed that, notwithstanding the fact that the speech in question was not commenced before half-past 1 o'clock in the morning, four columns of it were telegraphed to the Provincial newspapers, and he knew that no more accurate report than that appeared in the London newspapers. It was no answer to such evidence as this for the hon. Member for Plymouth to produce a certain number of telegrams and say that they contained mistakes. Why, the wonder was that there were not 10 times as many errors than there were, considering the villainous handwriting in which some of the messages were written. The telegraphic business of the country was increasing in the most marked manner. Last year the number of messages increased from 26,500,000 to 30,000,000, and that increase was still going on. At the bottom of the weekly Return, which was laid before him, there was a statement of the number of public complaints, which he watched very carefully; and he could say that, while the number of messages was increasing, the number of complaints was proportionately decreasing. The hon. Member for Plymouth said that the amount of extra wages was very small—only £29,000. But it would be more than this during the present year, and in a short time the extra wages for telegraphists would not be less than £90,000 a-year. That represented a very considerable increase in their wages. The hon. Member for Plymouth objected to the telegraphists being classed as sorters. But those most acquainted with the Post Office administration had come to the conclusion that it was well, as far as possible, to combine the two branches of work, and the experiment had already been tried in Glasgow with the best results. All those who entered the Service would be trained as far as possible in sorting and telegraphic work, so that if at any time there was an extra amount of work to do the strain now put upon the telegraphists would be removed. His hon. Friend who spoke last asked about the employment of women in the Telegraph Service now, and he (Mr. Fawcett) was glad to be able to answer the question, because it threw an important light upon employment in the country. He had lately decided that positions in the Telegraph Service should be competed for by open competition in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin. Forty female clerks were now wanted; and such was the anxiety to enter the Service which was so much abused that no less than 420 eligible, and some of them extremely intelligent, candidates had presented themselves for the situations. Therefore, the supply at present was far in excess of the demand. But, before leaving the subject of female telegraphists, he could assure his hon. Friend the Member for Dublin (Dr. Lyons) that the position of each female telegraphist under the new scheme would not be worse than it was before; at any rate, when once the scheme was completed, there would hardly be a single female telegraphist whose position would not be improved. He had taken care that in every quarter the pay of the female telegraphists should be raised in exact proportion to the advance in the wages of the men. Now, he did not want to complain; but the remark he would like to make in reply to many observations which had been made was that the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Macliver) and others had judged of the scheme before it was possible to judge of it properly. That had been the case particularly with regard to the Metropolitan District telegraphists. The hon. Member for Plymouth had laid great stress upon their case, referring to a Memorial which had been circulated amongst Members of the House, and subsequently published in the newspapers. Unfortunately, those who circulated the Memorial did not take the trouble to communicate with him (Mr. Fawcett). If they had done so, before sending it to Members of the House, he could have shown them at once, as he had subsequently done, that almost all their apprehensions were un- founded, and that the point on which they laid so much stress—namely, that there was to be a class of senior telegraphists rising to £160 in the Central Office, while there was to be no such class in a Metropolitan District Office—was an entire mistake. On the very day that Memorial appeared in the public journals he (Mr. Fawcett) was sanctioning a new scheme for senior telegraphists in the Metropolitan District Offices exactly analogous to that applying to the Central Office. It was said that the position of the telegraphists in the Metropolitan District Offices ought to be made exactly the same as the position of the employés in the Central Office; but he would like to point out to the Committee a most important difference between the conditions of employment in the District and in the Central Offices. There were only two or three District Offices in London open all night; many of them closed at 8 o'clock, and only a few remained open until 11 o'clock; while, on the other hand, a great part of the work at the Central Office had to be done at the dead of night, after 11 o'clock. The greatest pressure began at 11 o'clock, and continued until 3 o'clock in the morning, when long Press telegrams were being sent to Provincial papers. Therefore, it not unfrequently happened that two-thirds of the staff of the Central Office were on night duty, whilst scarcely any night duty was done in the District Offices. Then, again, all the more difficult and complicated instruments were worked in the Central Office, and there were very few of them used at the District Offices. What he wished to impress upon the Committee was this—that the scheme for the improvement of the position of the telegraphists was not yet known to the telegraphists themselves, because it would be necessary to revise every office in the country. What had taken place was this—the third class had been done away with; the third and second classes had been merged; the first class had been considerably enlarged; and the other superior positions had been increased to a proportionate extent. Take one large office—the scheme had not yet been submitted to him in a final form, but he knew its general drift. The office he was referring to was one of the most important in the Provinces, and the telegraphists had there com- plained that they would not get any promotion. He could tell them what the promotion would be. There were in that office 10 senior telegraphists. That number would be raised to 22, or would be more than doubled, and the pay of those 22 would be considerably increased. In that office, moreover, there were at present only 32 first class telegraphists, and that number would be raised to 61 or 62, or, in other words, the number would again be doubled and the wages would be increased. Therefore, until these schemes were promulgated, it was impossible for any telegraphist in any office to know to what extent his position had been improved as to pay and promotion. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) he could only say he agreed with every word he had said. He (Mr. Fawcett) knew it was the worst of all economy to have inefficient service, and if there were clerks, as the hon. Member pointed out—and no doubt he was perfectly correct—who had been in Swansea during the time mentioned and were only receiving 15s. a-week, he could assure the Committee that in the course of a very few weeks, when the revised scheme for Swansea was published, the position, both as to pay and promotion, of every one of the clerks, would be improved, and the men would be put in a position that would be satisfactory to the hon. Member. In considering this subject he (Mr. Fawcett) had felt that it was a most difficult problem that had to be solved for the whole Service. He knew of no question that was more difficult to solve than that of fixing what was the proper remuneration for certain work to be done. Of course, as had been well pointed out by the hon. Member for Swansea, the question of wages must ultimately be determined by demand and supply; but he had not been content to settle the question by any theoretical consideration, and in order to arrive at a just conclusion he had caused Circulars to be issued to leading employers of labour, such as bankers, Railway Companies, manufacturers, and others, and he had asked what they paid their clerks, what holidays they gave them, what were their duties, what were their prospects as to pensions, and what was done in the matter of promotion. In almost every case he had received an answer. These answers were carefully examined, and he had done his best to arrive at a just conclusion in the interests both of the taxpayer and the telegraphists. It was idle to say that nothing had been done when the proposals which had been sanctioned by the Treasury for improving the position of the telegraphists and Post Office clerks would, in a few years, cost £150,000 a-year, which represented a capital sum of not less than £5,000,000 sterling. The inquiry, he admitted, was a long one, and his excuse for that was that it was a difficult and important inquiry; and the Committee would feel that he could have adopted no course that would be less justifiable than to have arrived at a hasty conclusion on the subject. Almost as soon as he commenced the inquiry he foresaw that probably its result would be that it would be necessary for him to ask the Treasury for a considerable grant of money; and he could not go to the Treasury and ask them to give him public money, amounting to at least £150,000 a-year, until he could give the most positive assurance that he considered that additional expenditure was necessary and just. He could not arrive at a conclusion as to its necessity and justice without a careful and elaborate and prolonged investigation. That investigation he had endeavoured to conduct to the best of his ability, and he could assure the Committee that he had had no other object in view than to do what was just to the telegraphists, while, at the same time, making no unjust demand on the taxpayers of the country.


said, that no doubt those who had listened to the admirably clear and fair statement of the Postmaster General would agree that the right hon. Gentleman had approached the question in a most painstaking spirit, and with a desire to do justice to all concerned. At the same time, it did not at all follow that there was so much blame to be attached to the telegraphists who had agitated, nor to the Members of Parliament who had sympathized with the telegraphists in their agitation. In the first place, it would occur to a good many Members that it was to be regretted that an earlier opportunity could not have been found for assuring the telegraphists at large that an increase of remuneration was to be given them—an increase so much greater than appeared to be intended for them in the scheme.


It is stated explicitly in the scheme. The figures I have quoted are taken from the scheme.


said, that at any rate an unfavourable impression was allowed to go forth without any contradiction from the Post Office. He (Mr. O'Donnell) could not help thinking that the unfavourable impression—which, as it had turned out, was most unfair to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General—was due to a very large extent, or, at least, heightened, by that most unfortunate paragraph in the most unfortunate Minute issued by the Financial Secretary, which was interpreted as threatening pains and penalties. He was also satisfied that the Financial Secretary, whoso attention to his Department, and whose desire to meet the wishes of those who applied to him was recognized by all, no doubt meant nothing in the Minute but a kindly warning. At the same time he did not think it could be denied that the wording of the paragraph was calculated to convey the idea that any use by the telegraphists of their influence as Parliamentary electors on Members of the House would expose them to severe pains and penalties. He was convinced that that was not the meaning the Financial Secretary intended to put on his words; but that was the meaning that was promulgated, and that was the meaning which he confessed he (Mr. O'Donnell) had put upon the words. It was satisfactory to know from the Postmaster General that so much real benefit was about to be conferred upon the telegraphists; and he could only add an individual testimony to the general testimony to the immense importance of the work of the telegraphists in everyday life, and especially in the commercial life of a great country like this. With regard to the temptation that telegraphists were open to he would give an instance that had come under his own observation. In 1873 there came under his notice—but in such a manner that he could not make any definite use of the information—the fact that two or three telegraphists at one of the Central Stations in this City were exposed to very great pecuniary temptation by London merchants. Bribes were offered to them to disclose to these people the mercantile secrets of their rivals in trade, and he was afraid that at least one of the telegraphists fell a victim to the temptation. On that point, however, he could say nothing certain; but there could be no doubt that heavy bribes were offered to these under-paid men to do this dishonest thing. He thought the Postmaster General had somewhat exaggerated the inference on his side to be drawn from the fact that 400 well-educated girls had entered into competition for 40 poorly-paid clerkships. Instead of that circumstance necessarily proving that these clerkships were valuable, it proved that the condition of multitudes of well-educated, tenderly nurtured, and most deserving women and girls of this country was miserable indeed. He would urge the Postmaster General not to permit himself to be turned aside from any intention he might entertain of doing all in his power to improve the condition of the female telegraphists by the fact that he might get 10 or 20—aye, or 50 applications for the poorest paid telegraph post in all the Service. He thought, nay, he was sure, that the Postmaster General had borne in mind the fact that though, since he came into Office, he had acted with all possible speed in dealing with the grievances of the telegraphists, a large number of them had been agitating in vain, year after year, till their very hearts had grown sick within them, and they had become only too liable to be influenced by rash counsels from outside. He (Mr. O'Donnell) believed the agitation had gone on in one shape or another for nine or 10 years. There were two or three points on which he wished to insist; and he would much rather have risen, if he could have done so, before the right hon. Gentleman made his admirable statement, so that the Committee might have had the advantage of having all these questions answered at once. He hoped they might look with confidence to the near future, to the time when overground telegraph wires would be altogether replaced by wires carried underground. He trusted they might receive an assurance from the Department that it was doing all in its power to get lines laid underground. From every point of view, from the point of view of danger to life, and the liability to get out of order, overground wires were condemned by every experienced telegraphist in other countries. As almost a universal rule, the telegraphists of the country deserved all the credit that was given to them for the general expedition and extreme accuracy with which they did their work; but he was authorized to say a few words on this subject with regard to the Irish side of the Irish Sea. Complaints were only too frequent—and he must apologize for venturing to interrupt the conversation of two or three hon. Gentlemen opposite—as to the most imperfect working of the telegraph wires, especially when there happened to be any important item of intelligence, such as a very important debate in the House of Commons, to be transmitted to Ireland. Even in regard to last night, when there was such important Business transacted in this House, he knew that a leading Irish newspaper was embarrassed in a most extraordinary manner by the way in which the news reached it. Three columns were sent into the London office at 12 or a quarter past 12 o'clock at night; but they only reached the Dublin office at about half-past 2. He desired to do no more than just to quote that striking instance of the way in which news was transmitted to Ireland. He could take up more time on the matter, if necessary, especially with regard to the transmission of Parliamentary debates to the Irish newspapers. During the Recess, again, the speeches of Cabinet Ministers were not received satisfactorily, the leading Irish papers being by no means adequately served. He was sure these complaints would receive the attention of the Post Office. He had been asked to express a hope that the condition of the telegraph clerks who were loaned out to Railway Companies to act as railway telegraph clerks should be looked after by the Government. He did not profess to be well informed upon the point, and it was quite possible that the case of these clerks was within the purview of the proposed reform; but as, on some of the lines in Ireland, there were 70 or 80 of these clerks, all of them being extremely under-paid, and having a great deal of hard work to do, though perhaps not having that refined and highly cultured work to perform that was given to the clerks in the Central Offices in London, he had been urged to lay their case before the Department. On the whole, he had to express his great satisfaction at the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had dealt with the subject, and he hoped that on the points that remained to be considered he would be actuated by a sense of fairness, having in view both the interests of the individual and the interests of the public.

MR. MACLIVER, said, he wished to say a word with regard to the imputation contained in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that he (Mr. Macliver) had exercised outside influence upon the telegraphists. In common with other Members of that House, he had heard the complaints of the telegraphists, and had thought it his duty to bring those complaints before the House and the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, so that, if he had erred, he. had erred in common with many others. There was one point in which, notwithstanding the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, his scheme had proved, in the opinion of the telegraphists, an entire failure. The skilled telegraphists were daily leaving the Service. Since the scheme had been made known, at least 50 of them had given notice to leave. He would give an instance to show how disappointing the right hon. Gentleman's scheme had been to the telegraphists. In one of the largest towns of Yorkshire—namely, Leeds, an agent of one of the Cable Companies went to get 40 clerks, and offered employment to so many of the telegraphists in Leeds. None of them, however, would engage; but the day after the scheme was published 40 telegraphists were ready to engage with the Cable Company, showing how unsatisfactory that scheme was considered to be. He (Mr. Macliver) was glad to hear now, from the right hon. Gentleman, that the scheme was so much better than the telegraphists supposed. These people would be delighted to hear that the scheme was so much better than they had ever known before; and, when they looked at the newspapers to-morrow morning, and read the right hon. Gentleman's statement, they would be simply ecstatic with joy. He hoped it might be as the right hon. Gentleman had said.


said, he only wished to make one remark upon the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General. His opinion had been asked by some gentleman as to the dispute between the Postmaster General and the telegraphists, and he had felt bound to say that he should have regarded a strike of the telegraph clerks as a public, and almost a national, calamity that everyone should endeavour, as far as it lay in their power, to avert; and he had felt bound to say that it was a perilous thing to interfere with the discipline of a Public Department. He had, therefore, viewed with a certain amount of suspicion political and Parliamentary agitation; for the purpose of arranging the details of a Public Department; but he had felt bound to say this—that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General himself and the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury could not be entirely acquitted of blame in the matter. The very fact of the large addition which was to be made to the salaries of the telegraphists, and the improvements which were to be brought about, was a proof of the long-neglected grievances of these people. The condition of the telegraphists had been such that no one could be surprised at their having been ready to resort to extremes, and, to his mind, to rather questionable means for getting their grievances redressed. One or two points with regard the Irish clerks which he wished to draw attention to were these. First of all, the right hon. Gentleman had paid a very high, and, so far as he knew, a very greatly-deserved, eulogium to the accuracy and efficiency of the work performed by the telegraph clerks of the country. As to the eulogium, he would ask the Committee to put side by side with it the salaries of these officials. He would put a case that was familiar to several hon. Gentlemen in that House. There was a newspaper published in Dublin that received from this House sometimes as many as eight or ten columns of news of an evening. He (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) himself had some experience of writing a column of newspaper matter; and he, therefore, knew what eight columns meant. He knew one of these clerks, and he was prepared to say that sometimes he had actually supplied to the newspaper eight columns of telegraphic news—that was to say, with his own hand he had to write eight columns of newspaper matter in one night. Well, he (Mr. T. P O'Connor) had once or twice, in the course of his life, written eight columns in a single day; and he could assure hon. Members that, at the end of 10 or 12 or 14 hours, he was not very fit for any more work either that day or the day after. Of course, the clerk did not evolve the matter from his own. brain; but he had to write those eight columns with his own hand, and his ear and his brain were working. Would it be believed that the salary of the gentleman who had to write that quantity of matter was only 31s. per week? He complained on behalf of the employés of the fact, as stated by the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Macliver), that while the maximum payment of telegraph clerks in the service of private Companies was £200 a-year, a clerk in the Government service, employed in a Provincial post-office, was £130 a-year. He wished to know why there should be a difference of £70 a-year between the payment made to men performing precisely similar duties? These clerks had also, he thought, just ground for complaint that they had not afforded to them equal opportunities for obtaining preferment to those which were enjoyed in other branches of the Postal Service of the country. If the noble Lord wished to increase the salaries of these hard-worked telegraphists, let him advise his Government to reduce the expenses of the War Office, and of those Ambassadors who employed their time in plunging us into difficulties with foreign countries.


said, the Post Office no doubt suffered, because it was a new one in regard to telegraphs; and although the telegraphists had no lineage of blood and plunder, they were, at any rate, entitled to fair treatment. Referring to the telegraph office at Cork, he described the arrangements for reaching the office at night as unworthy of the Department and of the city, and as a nuisance to the public having to use the office at night. He was satisfied that private telegrams of Members of Parliament were made use of by the Government, for on one occasion, when he had arranged to attend a meeting in Ireland, but did not know until the last moment where it was to be, a Government reporter—one of Mr. Gurney's men—had been sent to the meeting from London, although it was only on the previous night that he had sent the telegram saying he would address that particular meeting.


asked whether the Postmaster General was aware that the postmaster at Cork had refused to give any work for which there was extra pay to telegraph clerks who had joined the agitation for increased pay; and, if so, whether he approved of such conduct?


said, he had inquired into this matter, and had found that there was no truth in the statement.


said, that, whereas the first Vote taken for the Telegraphs Department was £360,000, it had now increased to £1,294,000—four-fold of the original Estimate. No other Department had shown the same development. With respect to the telegraph clerks, since they had received the franchise, they had used it to apply pressure to Members of Parliament for the furtherance of their own objects, although it was given to them to be exercised for the benefit of the community at large. If, instead of the Executive being responsible, Members of the House were to conduct the administration of Departments, there would be an end of all responsibility whatever. In the same way, if the Treasury was not to have control over expenditure, and Members of the House were to become promoters of it, the system which had worked so admirably in the past would be at an end. The telegraphists had been told that an Act of Parliament had given them a claim to be put in exactly the same position as the lower division clerks of the Civil Service; but on what ground that supposition rested had always been beyond his power of imagination to conceive. It was impossible to see why these men were to be assimilated to one particular section of the Civil Service more than another. They were admitted at ages varying from 14 to 18, whereas the lower division clerks were admitted at from 18 to 20 years of age. On the whole, the supposition that they had any legal claim to be in the same position as the lower division clerks appeared to him to be utterly baseless. With regard to the position of the telegraphists in the Government Service as compared with their former position under private Companies, what had taken place would be a warning to the Government to be careful against unduly extending the sphere of their operations by entering every day upon some new field, and placing themselves at a disadvantage by undertaking the work of private persons. He pointed out that the Government Service was always more highly paid than that of Companies and private persons, and in the particular case of the telegraph clerks, the men themselves received higher pay than they had before.


said, in reply to a question addressed to him by the hon. Member for Dungarvan(Mr. O'Donnell), he fully recognized the importance of underground wires. They were being rapidly increased, and he believed he was correct in saying that 10,000 miles of them had been laid down.

Question put, and agreed to.