HC Deb 25 February 1886 vol 302 cc1271-85

(10.) £12,000, Inland Revenue.


I do not rise to oppose this Vote, because the amount of it is already due to those who act as collectors and so on; but I desire to call the attention of the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. H. H. Fowler) to what I think is the cause of a very large increase in this Vote, and the possibility of effecting a very considerable economy. It will be in the recollection of the Committee that these Supplementary Estimates arise from the poundage having been increased, not by reason of any additional labour having been thrown upon the collectors, but by the increase of the Income Tax from 6d. to 8d. in the pound; and it will be seen that although the Supplementary Estimate asked for is only £12,000, the actual additional poundage is not less than £26,000. Sometime ago the question was raised as to whether an alteration should be attempted in the system, and whether the whole collection of the tax should be placed in the hands of the Inland Revenue. That was rejected by the House. I am not at present going to discuss whether that decision of the House was a wise one or not. It was the decision at which the House arrived, and it does not affect the point which I desire to bring before the Committee. It is at present collected partly by the Inland Revenue and partly by local collectors; and although the collection by the Inland Revenue shows a tendency to increase, the payment, as I say, varies not with the amount of the paper which is necessary for the collection of the tax, but it varies by reason of the increase or decrease—the rate of the tax itself. I merely call the attention of th9 Committee to the figures in order to show that it is desirable that some alteration should be made in the system. The poundage was settled by the House in 1880, and will be found in the Taxes Amendment Act (1st Schedule), 1880. In 1879–80—the Schedule which was then F is now—the actual amount of poundage paid was £178,948; in 1880–1 it was £165,709; in 1881–2 it was £166,865; while in 1882–3 it was £214,570. the increase on that year over the previous year being £47,705, and was, I believe, mainly due to the increase in the tax from 5d. to 6½d. in the pound. The Expenditure for the year 1884–5 I have not, nor for the year 1885–6; but the Estimate for 1885–6 was £238,750, to which an additional £12,000 is now added, making together £250,750. The net result, therefore, is tbis—that the estimated Expenditure for the current year is £77,900 more than the Estimate for the preceding year. I ought to say, however, that of that sum about £34,000 of the increase is owing to the charge for the triennial valuation of property outside the Metropolitan area. It is, however, £80,000 more than the sum paid in 1880, and it is £70,000 more than the amount of 1884; and I believe that the increase in the present year is due, in a great measure, to the increase of the tax from 6d. to 8d. I think it seems unlikely that the Income Tax, for some time to come, will be much reduced; and that, therefore, the time has arrived when the amount of poundage, as settled in 1880, might, with very great propriety, be revised, and a very large and material economy effected.


This is a question which is of very great importance; and the Committee is very much indebted to the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Jackson) for having brought it before them. In 1883 my right lion. Friend the present Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) brought the question before the House, and showed how £80,000 a-year could be saved if the Income Tax was collected by the officers of the Inland Revenue, who are paid by salaries and not by poundage; but the Government was beaten, and we have gone on paying £30,000 a-year more than we ought to have done. The House preferred the interest of the tax collectors to that of the taxpayers. The statutory poundage is always 1½d. in the pound, whatever the rate may be, and it is payable at the time of collection. But, in addition to that, every year very large allowances are made, called extra poundage, which varies at the same ratio as the Income Tax itself—the extra poundage being reduced as the rate of the tax rises. For instance, the extra poundage for next year will be very largely reduced. For my own part, I believe that the Income Tax ought to be collected by the officers of the Inland Revenue, who are paid by salary; and I shall be only too glad if hon. Members on the other side of the House will cooperate with me, and give a reasonable chance of altering the law in this direction.

Vote agreed to.

(11.) £45,000, Post Office.


In connection with this Vote I wish to call attention to the low rate of wages paid to rural postmen in Ireland. Strong representations have been made to me in regard to this matter; and a great many cases of extreme hardship have reached me. The rate of wages to rural postmen in England and Scotland is very low indeed; but in Ireland it does not amount to one-half of what it is in England and Scotland. Since the introduction of the Parcel Post, moreover, the duties and the hardships of their position have greatly increased. But there is another point which I am also desirous of bringing forward. Irish people in England and Scotland are in the habit of sending over postal notes to their friends in the rural districts of Ireland; and it is not fair to allow men who are paid at starvation rates to be placed in such positions of temptation. In the last Parliament I drew attention to this question, and received assurances that something would be done to improve this state of things; but up to the present nothing has been done in the matter. I would urge on the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, who has charge of the Post Office Business in this House, that he should give this matter his attention, and see if something cannot be done to improve the position of this large body of public servants.


I think it my duty to add one word on behalf of the rural postmen of Cornwall, after what the hon. Gentleman opposite has said. I had intended to raise this question on this Vote; but I am glad it has struck others, as well as myself, as being important; and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has referred to it. I wish, in addition to what the hon. Gentleman has said, to call attention to this important consideration, that rural postmen are almost the only class of public servants who have to do Sunday work, and who are paid at so low a rate as they habitually, and as a recognized fact, are paid. The Government, I think, should not fail to give the subject their best consideration. The hon. Member has said it rather strains the honesty of men in the humble position which many of these postmen occupy, to compel them to take charge of valuable securities in the shape of Post Office orders and so forth, without giving them a greater wage than they at present receive. I am happy to be able to bear testimony to the excessive honesty of rural postmen. I think it does great credit to them that, under present circumstances, they accomplish their duty with such efficiency—with that efficiency which is almost invariably their characteristic. And that is all the move reason why we should urge this point, and why we should press on the Government that the rural postmen should have more consideration at the hands of the Department. They should have higher wages, not only in consideration of the larger duties they have to perform in connection with the Parcel Post, but in consideration of the large amount of Sunday work they have to do. I do not want to argue against a postal delivery on Sunday, although I am sure a great many people think it would be well if there were no Sunday delivery at all; but I do think this Sunday work should be borne in mind when we are considering the general question of the rate of wages paid to the rural postmen out of these Votes. I speak with some experience on this subject, because, just as in the case of Ireland, so in the case of my Cornish constituency, large sums of money are constantly being received through the Post Office by Cornishmen and their families—money transmitted to them by relatives and others in foreign countries. I would mention, further, a particular case which has come before my notice, and which I have had to bring to the attention of the Post Office in London. It appears that persons are allowed to continue acting as postmasters and postmistresses up to an age which completely disqualifies them for the proper performance of the duties which are incumbent upon them. The instance I refer to is the postmistress at Tuckingmill, a place close to Camborne, which is the principal town in the district I have the honour to represent—the town which gives its name to the Division. It is felt by the inhabitants of Tuckingmill, which is a large village, almost deserving the name of a town, that they should have extra advantages and conveniences in the way of a Money Order Office and a Telegraph Office established in the place. Well, one of the reasons given me by the Post Office Authorities for not carrying out the wishes of the population of that neighbourhood is, that the present postmistress is 85 years of age, and is quite incompetent to perform new duties, and that it would not be right to turn her away, and appoint some younger person in her place. I do not want to turn her out; but I would ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether, when a person has reached the age of 85 in the Postal Service, it is not time to consider whether he or she should not have a retiring pension, or, at least, an assistant, to help to do the work? At any rate, I feel it my duty to protest against the convenience of a large manufacturing district being overlooked and set at nought, in the interest of one individual, through economical considerations. The appointment of an assistant, or the giving of a pension to a person 85 years old, would be a mere bagatelle.


In regard to the case the hon. Member who has just sat down has referred to, if he makes a representation to the proper Authorities, it will, no doubt, receive attention, and an answer will be given to him. For myself, I am neither conversant with the facts of the case nor the explanations.


I have brought the case before the Post Office Authorities, and have been commenting on the answer I received.


With regard to the reference made by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Barry) to the pay of rural postmen, a Question was addressed to me upon it the other day, and I returned an answer at the time. Any further representations that may be made will be duly considered, and any further Questions that may be asked I will reply to. In dealing with this matter, I wish to speak to English and Scotch as well as Irish Members. I would point out to them that there is one principle Mr. Fawcett used to enunciate on the Post Office Votes—namely, that applications for an increase of cost in the working of the Post Office are really applications for an increase to the taxation of the country; and while, on the one hand, no one is more opposed than I am to any attempt on the part of the Government to undersell the public labour market, on the other hand, I am of opinion that we are not entitled with public money to oversell the labour market. It would be most unfair to take advantage of the position of the Government to buy labour at a less price than the persons employed would receive elsewhere for the same service. But, at the same time, we are not entitled, as trustees of public money, from motives of generosity or liberality, to pay higher prices for an article than private purchasers will give. I do not dispute that there may be a great deal in what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman on this side of the House (Mr. Conybeare), and that it may deserve investigation, and ought to receive it. We may be underpaying the postmen and giving them less than what is right; but may I, without presumption, ask those hon. Members on this side, fresh from the hustings, who have pledged themselves to economy in the Public Service—to which pledge I am sure they will wish to adhere—to remember that all these applications for grants for increased wages, annuities, and so on, out of the public funds, moans increased national expenditure, and increased expenditure means increased taxation. With reference to this "Vote, I congratulate the Committee on the fact that, although this is a Supplementary Estimate, we are in a position to ask for it, because this £45,000 represents a large increase—almost unexpected—in the Post Office Business during the year. The Post Office Re-venue is now decidedly improving, and the growth is greater than was expected by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he looked at the finances in the course of the summer. In asking for this Vote, I am net asking for it to make up for decrease of Post Office Revenue; I am asking for it to pay for services that have been rendered, and in respect of which the State will receive a proper return. If hon. Gentlemen will favour me with the details of their complaints, I will take care that a proper reply is furnished them.


I wish to add my voice, on behalf of the rural postmen of Scotland, to the claims which have been made on behalf of similar Post Office servants in Ireland and England. In regard to any increase in wages that may be granted, I think the postmen of the country districts of Scotland have fully an equal claim to those of England and Ireland, because they have to do their work under greater difficulties and disadvantages. The climate in these Northern parts is scarcely so good as in other portions of j the United Kingdom, and the country is a good deal more difficult to travel over. These country postmen have a good deal of work to do, and have to do it in all weathers, and that, I think, is a point which the Committee should not fail to consider. With regard to the remarks which have fallen from the Secretary to the Treasury as to the duty incumbent on the Government and the House of not paying more than the market rate of wages, I would venture to suggest that there should be some qualification to that. We are asking from postmen special service, not that of ordinary labour, though, no doubt, it is as hard. It is service as trying to the constitution as that of the ordinary labourer; but, in addition, it is service performed under circumstances of considerable temptation, and, therefore, I think we are bound to recognize that they deserve higher remuneration than that at which the cheapest labour can be hired in country districts. I would say, further, that it is not right on the part of this great and wealthy country to cut down the wages paid for its manual services—its lower class of labour—to the minimum amount for which they can be obtained. An hon. Gentleman recently gave Notice of a Motion which I very much regret was allowed to fall through—a Motion for a Committee to inquire whether the services of the country could not be benefited by an increase in the payments made to nearly all classes of public servants, the money to effect the increase to be obtained not by an increase in the taxation of the whole country, but by diminishing the salaries paid to the higher officials in the Public Service. I regret that ho did not insist on that Motion, but yielded to an illusory suggestion that the question should be merged in one for appointing a Committee to deal with the Estimates for the service of each year. I only allude to it now in order to say that it seems to me incumbent on the Government and this House to increase the salaries of the servants it employs in lower capacities, and to exercise principles of strict economy and justice in dealing with the salaries paid to the higher servants in the Public Offices.


I desire to say a few words in support of the arguments of the hon. Gentleman who spoke from this side of the House (Mr. Barry). I do not think the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury dealt with the case presented by my hon. Friend. I know it is usual for Members of the Government, under circumstances of this character, to say that particular instances of hardship should be furnished. It would be absolutely impossible for any hon. Gentleman to be able to ascertain with any degree of accuracy the many cases in which the postmen in rural districts are badly paid and the many instances in which their position deserves attention. My opinion is that the Government ought to deal with the matter in a broad and public-spirited manner as far as Ireland is concerned. In rural districts in Ireland, where the Post Offices are wide apart, it is no unusual thing for a man to have to walk 12 or 13 miles from one place to another and back again in a day, and that for the miserable stipend of 8s. or 10s. a-week. As to what the hon. Gentleman has said with regard to the pledges of economy given by hon. Members at the hustings, I would point out that cases of this kind could not have been included in those declarations, for the question here is simply one of fair play. Economy is all very well in its way; but it is not right to treat these unfortunate men in the manner in which they have been treated. There are cases where the roads are particularly bad, where the postmen have to travel long distances through districts where the weather is inclement for at least half the year. I put it to any hon. Member, is it right to require these men to walk many miles every day over mountain roads for, perhaps, 10s. a-week, when English and Scotch postmen are paid more for travelling much smaller distances?


I stated the other night, in reply to a Question put to me by an Irish Member, that the wages of rural postmen in Ireland are 16s. a-week.


In England it is 25s.

Hon. Members

No, no!


The maximum in Ireland, I take it, is 16s.


Not the maximum.


Well, it is 16s., whilst in England it is 25s. At any rate, there can be no doubt about the circumstances to which my hon. Friend (Mr. Barry) has referred. I could, if I had time to do so, give numerous instances where rural postmen get considerably less than 16s. per week, and to earn it have to walk enormous distances every day over particularly bad roads. I have only one suggestion to make with regard to the Parcel Post. There can be no question that a great deal of extra labour has been thrown upon these men by the introduction of this system by the Post Office. Seeing that the custom of sending large quantities of goods by Parcel Post is growing, I would suggest that in many of the country districts, where large distances have to be gone over by these postmen, the Government should entertain the idea of employing horses and cars for travelling purposes. There is no reason why men should be required to walk 24 miles a-day, when you can keep a car for about 22s. a-week. It seems to me only reasonable that the Post Office Authorities should consider this question. Horses should be used instead of the present mode of conveying the Parcel Post and the ordinary letters. I should also like to ask the Government how it is that in Ireland individuals are allowed to waylay postmen and take letters from them in the road, and why, when these individuals have been brought before the magistrates, the cases have been withdrawn against them? In the district in which I live a case of that kind has happened. A man, who is an official of the Grand Jury, a land agent, and I know not how many other things, waylaid a postman, forcibly opened the post-bag, and abstracted whatever letters he wanted. The Solicitor to the Post Office was sent down from Dublin to prosecute this person; but, strangely enough, when the case came before the magistrates the prosecution withdrew the charge. So that, instead of having to undergo an imprisonment of two years, as a member of the National League would have had to do for a similar offence, the guilty person, who belonged to the Loyal and Patriotic Brotherhood, is walking about the county of Cork at this moment just as free as he was before he committed the outrage. I hope that under the present Government the law will be meted out fairly and with an even hand, and that members of the Orange Society will not escape scot free in this way when members of the National League Association, for similar conduct, would be punished with the utmost rigour of the law. I shall put a Question in reference to this matter in the course of a few days; and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will give it his best attention.


I will give the hon. Member the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. H. H. Fowler) an instance of the low rate at which some of the Irish rural postmen are paid. There is a postman in my own neighbourhood who travels 70 miles a-week, crossing an arm of the sea twice, and receives for it the magnificent salary of 12s. per week. He is breaking down in health, and I promised some friends of his that I would take the earliest opportunity of bringing his case forward. I believe that is not the worst example of what occurs by any means. Scotch Members are always very keen to have a full share of any public expenditure. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Boyd-Kinnear) has not let this opportunity for pressing the claims of Scotland to escape; but I would ask him to apply the sharpest edge of his intelligence to this proposition. The entire area of Scotland served by the Post Office is less than the entire area of Ireland, and yet the outlay in Ireland is only £127,857, whereas in Scotland it is £202,000—a proportion of 12 to 20. Will the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. H. H. Fowler) apply his mind to this matter? I do not say the Scotch postal servants receive too much money; but I wish those of Ireland to get paid on the scale that prevails in Scotland and England. On the whole, the Scotch service is as well paid as the English; but I know the Irish service is worse paid. With regard to the competition for employment under the Post Office and the low rate of wages paid, the Secretary to the Treasury has said that the Government has no right to obtain the services of these men at too low a rate, compared with the ordinary rates in the labour-market, nor at too high a rate. But it must be remembered that Post Office employment is sui generis. There is no comparing it with the ordinary labour, upon which market rates of wages are fixed. In estimating its price or quality we must judge of it as a private employer would judge of faithful service on the part of men placed in positions of trust. I feel confident that if increased wages were paid to these rural postmen in Ireland the Department would not have to complain of excessive expenditure, but would find that its receipts would grow sufficiently to recoup it amply for the outlay.

MR. JOHN WILSON (Edinburgh, Central)

If the hon. Member who has just sat down will kindly look at the not results as well as the gross amount for Post Office services, he will find that the Government has more benefit for the £202,000 given in Scotland than from the £127,000 given in Ireland. [Sir Joseph M'KENNA: I quite admit that.] The hon. Member put it as though the Scotch services were higher paid. I contend that the Scotch service is much more extended, and is much more productive in its net results. Hon. Gentlemen must look at net results, and not at gross sums; and if they do they will find that the amount of work done in Scotland is greater than the amount done in Ireland. I agree with what has fallen from some hon. Members on the other side of the House to the effect that the payments made to rural postmen are inadequate. In Scotland we have post-runners. They are very hard worked; they have to go out every day, no matter what the weather is—be it good or bad, sunshine or rain. They have to travel over very heavy roads and very long roads; and I think it is a circumstance well known to the Post Office authorities that these men, on an average, are shortlived. Many of them are frequently laid up from sickness caused by the hardships they have to undergo. I agree with the Secretary to the Treasury that we are all on this (the Ministerial) side of the House pledged to economy; but, at the same time, it is clearly false economy to underpay any class of public servants, more especially hard-working and poor men, who discharge an important service to the Stato—a class whoso pay is small, whoso work is hard, and whose lives are comparatively short. I agree with the hon. Member who gays that economy may be reached by devoting attention, when we revise the Estimates, to the reconsideration of all salaries, in order to see whether, as the higher class posts become vacant, we cannot curtail the higher salaries—those, I mean, from £500 to £1,000 and £1,500—and eke out a little more the salaries of such public servants as these rural postmen with whom we have so much sympathy.


I cannot regard it as altogether a satisfactory state of things that the Secretary to the Treasury should have in this House to attend to the business of the Post Office as well as do his own work. I know he has a great deal to do in his own particular Department; therefore, when I see that he has to deal with all the grievances which are raised in the House of Commons in regard to Post Office matters, I must say I think we ought to have someone here especially to represent the Post Office. However, as the hon. Member is so efficient in other Departments, perhaps he will be able to set right a matter which I will proceed to bring under his notice. After a great deal of pressure £6,000 was given for the purpose of accelerating the mails in Ireland. That was a handsome sum to grant; but, at the same time, it has been so granted that two-thirds of my constituents——


I must call the hon. and gallant Member's attention to the fact that this increase refers only to the salaries of postmasters.


I think I am speaking to the point, Sir; for I imagine the salary of the postmaster or postmasters ought to be reduced for not properly attending to this matter, or possibly ought to be increased. The point is a very obvious one. I cannot, as a private Member, propose an increase of the Vote; but I would, on the principle laid down by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, suggest that if the officials concerned were properly paid we should find this work much better attended to. Again, perhaps it is rather a question of organization than of payment; and of course, Sir, if you rule me out of Order, I will not press the question. I wish to explain that the district of Tuam and North Galway generally is suffering from this grant of £6,000 a-year. It is suffering from this acceleration of mails, and in this very simple way. There are two cross lines of railway, one of which gets money for the purpose of accelerating the mails, whilst the other does not; and the result is that the district I refer to loses a post——


I must again call the hon. and gallant Gentleman's attention to the fact that he is wandering from the Question before the Committee.


In that case, Sir, I will not press the subject further.


We are here to look into the public Expenditure; and I would ask, therefore, is this not a question of supply and demand more than anything else? Where there is one vacancy under the Post Office there are a dozen men anxious to fill it. Although it may appear ungracious to disagree with Irish Members opposite, seeing it is now the fashion to agree to all they desire, I am bound to say that this seems to me simply a question of supply and demand. I therefore think it would be a bad policy to vote for any Public Department, either in Ireland or Scotland, paying higher wages than the men are prepared to take.


I sympathize very much with what has been said as to the necessity of increasing the salaries of some of the rural postmen and postmasters. I am aware that there are considerable complaints in some districts in Ireland in regard to postmasters having the option of delivering letters on Sundays or not, as they please, and that many people desire to see new regulations made for dealing with this matter. Considerable inconvenience is occasioned to the public by the postmasters possessing the option I refer to; because in many cases persons only come into the rural towns to which their letters are addressed on Sundays; and if they do not get their letters on that day they have to go without them for a considerable time. The present regulation is a very objectionable one, though it seems to me it will occasion very little inconvenience to the postmasters if it is altered. The authorities ought to remedy the evil. There is a point in connection with these rural postmen which I think the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury has not grasped. He has said that their minimum salary is 16s. per week. There is an entire misapprehension as to that. If these men were regular officials of the Post Office, no doubt 16. would be the minimum; but many of them are not. They are regarded as employés of the postmasters and sub-postmasters. The postmasters and sub-postmasters, of course, have a reason for practising economy which they would not have if they were dealing with the money of the Post Office. Although it has been stated here that the minimum salary of these postmen is 16s. per week, in many cases it is 10s. per week, or less.


I am glad, at all events, to hear that the salary of the regular employés is not less than 16s. per week. I think, however, that what has been said has been sufficient to induce the Post Office authorities to make a general inquiry into this matter. I agree with the principle that the payment of State servants should be according to the laws of supply and demand; but whilst I agree with that principle, I object strongly to its being rigorously enforced against the lower grade servants, whilst it is not applied to the higher grade servants. I happen to know that in the Dublin Post Office there are a number of gentlemen with salaries ranging from £300 to £1,500 a-year, who, if we applied this principle of supply and demand to them, would be receiving much less salaries. I hope the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury will have a hand in framing the Estimates for next year; and if he has, I trust he will take care to apply the principle laid down to-night, and apply it impartially, both to the higher and lower grade servants.

Vote agreed to.