(1.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £4,820,770, 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 1888, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office Services, the Expenses of Post Office Savings Banks, and Government Annuities and Insurances, and the Collection of the Post Office Revenue.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
There are two points to which I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, one of which is personal to himself, while the other deals chiefly with the Post Office at Liverpool, in regard to which there are one or two general remarks I desire to make.
§ MR.HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
I rise to a point of Order. I have an Amendment to move on the second item contained in this Vote, and I wish to know whether I shall be in Order in bringing forward that Amendment, if a general discussion is taken now upon the whole Vote?
Does the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) propose to move an Amendment upon any special item of the Vote?
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
No; but I have risen for the purpose of speaking upon the whole Vote. I do not intend to move any Amendment in connection with any particular item.
Then, in that case, there will be no interference on the part of the hon. Member with any Amendment the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton) may desire to move subsequently. I would ask, however, whether the hon. Member for Northampton intends to propose the rejection of the entire Vote?
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
No; I am addressing myself to the whole Vote and, therefore, I am entitled to speak upon the whole Vote. The first question I wish to ask the Postmaster General is, whether he promotes by seniority having reference to fitness, which appears to 1080 me to be the regulation concerning promotions established by the Post Office, and which will be found on page 105 of a book which is, no doubt, very familiar to the right hon. Gentleman; or whether he simply regards fitness without reference to seniority, or whether he takes seniority without reference to fitness, or whether he acts on the advice of heads of Departments without reference to either, or whether he disregards alike advice, seniority, and fitness for reasons personal to himself? My reason for putting this question is that I have recently received a letter giving certain information which may or may not be accurate, although I have taken the best means in my power to verify the facts contained in it, and also those of certain other cases which I desire to bring before the Committee. This letter states that a very flagrant case has occurred within the last few days. There was a vacancy for a second-class clerk in the Receiver and Accountant General's Office, and for that vacancy a person was recommended as the senior man qualified for promotion. The letter states that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General did not confer the post upon the gentleman so recommended, but that he has promoted, although on probation only, a Mr. Davies, who stood fifth in the class, and who was reported by his senior officers as not fully qualified to perform the duties of his own class. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to make some satisfactory statement to the Committee as to what certainly does seem to be a departure from the rules which govern promotion, and that he will explain why it is that, absolutely in the face of the declaration made by the heads of a Department, he has promoted a gentleman who was declared to be unqualified for the duties he is now performing to the performance of the still higher duties to which he has been promoted. I come now to a matter of which special Notice has been given to the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman has already answered some Questions which I put to him in reference to the Post Office at Liverpool, and I now wish to deal with the matter in one or two general words. I am inclined to think that in Post Office management errors have been allowed to creep in which are difficult to account for, but which, operate preju- 1081 dicially in various ways. One serious defect is, that the letter-carriers, sorters, and the lower class of employés are so poorly paid, that they are under a strong temptation to commit crime. Another defect is, that the superior classes are either too well paid or have too little to do for the pay they receive. The great evil connected with the promotion in the superior classes appears to be this, that the Post Office promotion is conducted on a method entirely different from that of the rest of the Civil Service, and without any reference to the eligibility or seniority of the persons promoted. In the Post Office Department throughout the country the postmasters have the opportunity, which they generally exercise, of appointing or promoting persons from personal considerations, or from influences which may be brought to bear upon them. For my own part, I think it would be more wise, if it were possible, to place the Post Office promotion on the same level as the rest of the Civil Service promotion. Surely if it is good for one set of Departments, it should be equally good for another. In referring to occurrences which have recently taken place at Liverpool, I am under this difficulty—that I have had to investigate the facts entirely from one side, and I may have been misled, in some degree, in the matters I am about to submit to the Committee. I put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General in the first week of April, in reference to the promotion of a man named McDougal, who had been promoted over 14 persons who were his seniors. The answer given by the right hon. Gentleman was that, although there were in the second class 14 clerks who were senior to this gentleman, "All those 14 clerks, I am sorry to say," remarked the Postmaster General, "were reported to me as not qualified for the duties of a higher class." Now, I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would wish me to trouble the Committee with the particulars of all those 14 cases, into the whole of which I have gone carefully. I found that none of them warranted the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman. Let me take the first case, because it is one which seems to me to put the answer of the right hon. Gentleman entirely on one side. The first person passed over had been for 42 years in the 1082 Service, whereas the person who was promoted over his head had only had six years' service. The person with 42 years' service; was a gentleman of irreproachable character, and it is recorded that he is employed in the highest duties of the class to which he belongs; not only so, but he is also employed to instruct others belonging to that class in the performance of their duties. The next person passed over was a gentleman who had had 32 years' service. He, also, was of irreproachable character, and had been in sole charge of a branch office for seven years. These are two out of 14 persons passed over for this gentleman with six years' service alone. I will not trouble the Committee with the other 12 cases, although in each case there seems to have been nothing whatever against the persons who were passed over. Therefore, I think the Committee are entitled to some explanation why, when the rule laid down distinctly says that seniority is to be regarded when there is nothing in the nature of unfitness, and that it is to govern the postmasters in the various districts in reporting to the Postmaster General for promotion. I think the Committee ought to have some explanation as to how it has come to pass that, in this instance, that regulation has been disregarded. I am sorry to bring these questions before the Committee; but there is no other tribunal which is capable of examining them, and, if necessary, of reversing the Postmaster General's decisions. Therefore, I think it is not unreasonable that I should take this opportunity of submitting the matter to the Committee. This, however, is not the only case which has occurred in Liverpool, where the promotion has been dependent upon the judgment or the favouritism of the Postmaster General. I believe the postmaster of the Liverpool district is an admirable servant. I am assured by those who know him better than I do that as postmaster in a large office like Liverpool he conducts the business in a way that is most satisfactory to the State. But I hold in my hand a list of five cases of unsatisfactory promotion which have taken place in reference to the lower class of officers in Liverpool. One is the case of a man named Hegnett, who has been promoted to be assistant superintendent over 19 persons who were his seniors by many 1083 years, and many of whom have been engaged in the performance of duties which involve great responsibility, and which they have performed with a considerable amount of satisfaction. There is, also, the case of a man named Helsby, promoted over 11 other officers. This promotion has been regarded as a special hardship, seeing that several men who were senior clerks were admittedly qualified for the duties this gentleman is now performing, and who have been passed over for no reason whatever, as far as I can make out, and who ought to have received from the State the reward to which their services entitled them. Then, again, there is the case of a man named Miller, who has received promotion over the head of a gentleman named Richardson, who has been acting as assistant superintendent for years with the salary of a supervising clerk only. There are several other cases of the same kind with which I will not trouble the Committee, but I will go to a case which seems to show, if anything can show, that favouritism does operate in the Liverpool Post Office. I will take the case of the medical officer, because it is one of so striking a nature as to show what happens generally in the whole of the Department. Prior to June, 1882, the whole of the Medical Department at Liverpool was under the control of Mr. Townsend—Mr. Townsend being a doctor of considerable experience, and a gentleman in regard to whom there had been no complaint. It was suggested in 1882 that the district under this gentleman's care was too large. Mr. Townsend had several assistants, who were qualified medical men. A portion of the district was, however, taken from him, and given, not to one of Mr. Townsend's assistants, but to a young gentleman who may have been highly qualified, for anything I know, but who came fresh from his examination, and whose only qualification appears to have been that his father happened to be the postmaster. This young gentleman received the appointment at a high salary, and after a little while Mr. Townsend resigned, and the three districts into which Liverpool had been divided were handed over to young Mr. Rich, notwithstanding the fact that in the first instance he had only been placed in charge of a third of the district, on the ground that the district it- 1084 self was much too large. The result is, that a district which in 1882 was under the charge of a highly qualified practitioner, and was then declared to be too large for the supervision of any one individual, has now been handed over to this young medical gentleman, whose qualifications may be great, but whose only qualification, as far as I know, is that he happens to be the son of the man who appointed him. I think it requires something more than an off hand answer in this House to get rid of the complaints which have been made in regard to the way in which promotion has been carried, out in the Liver pool Post Office. I quite feel that it may be suggested that the statements I have made are ex parte, and liable to be challenged on the other side. That is the misfortune of the manner in which these questions have to be dealt with. It is, however, no fault of mine, and as long as these matters have to be discussed on the Votes it will be necessary to discuss them in this way. It has not been an agreeable task to myself to have been compelled to raise the question now. In the first instance, I put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman, and when his answer differed from my own knowledge of the facts I was obliged to give Notice that I would raise the question on the first opportunity that was afforded to me. In conclusion, I will ask the Postmaster General to state, when he rises to reply, whether it is not possible, especially in the case of the Telegraph Department, to consider if there are not a number of men with high salaries whose salaries might be saved, and the sums they receive apportioned among the lower class of servants, who are at present wretchedly paid, and who are occasionally found figuring in the Criminal Courts charged with embezzlement and felony on account of the starvation wages they receive not being enough to enable them to provide for themselves and their families? I have no wish to attempt any palliation of the criminality of their conduct; but I must put it to the Government that it is the duty of the State to pay the men it employs in its service such wages as will remove them from all temptation to commit crime.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
I do not propose to occupy the attention of the Committee for any 1085 length of time; but the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down affords me an opportunity of directing attention to the fact that all the blame in matters connected with the Post Office rests with the official Heads. The Postmaster General, like other political Heads in this country, finds himself in this difficulty—that if he were to oppose the permanent officials of his Department he would inevitably go to the wall. At any rate, that has been the experience hitherto; and in order to bring the question clearly before the Committee I feel tempted to move the omission from the Vote of the item for the salary of the Secretary of the Post Office. To give an instance of what I mean, I think it will be in the recollection of hon. Gentlemen that in an early period of the Office of the present Postmaster General an address of sympathy was got up to the Secretary of the Post Office himself and signed by all the head officials in the Office. If such a thing had been done under ordinary circumstances, or if it had occurred to anybody else, in all probability the offender would not have been tolerated in office for a day. The Postmaster General took a stand against the action of this official, but I believe that he found the officials in the Department were backed up in high places, and for several days there was a question whether the Postmaster General should resign his Office or continue in the performance of his duties. The very document—I mean the address of sympathy—came into the hands of the Postmaster General, and I asked him some Questions in the House upon it. He informed me that he had not made up his mind what action to take in the matter, and that before taking notice of it he intended to consult the Head of the Government. That answer simply meant this—that it would be a question for the Head of the Government to say whether Mr. Blackwood was to continue his office of Secretary to the Post Office, or whether the Postmaster General should resign. If the Postmaster General had continued his objections to the proceedings of the Department, can anybody doubt what the result would have been? I have called attention to the action of the Secretary to the Post Office, because that gentleman is responsible for almost every one of the matters which have been referred to by 1086 the hon. Member for Northampton; and, moreover, the Secretary to the Post Office has been notoriously opposed to every reform which has been attempted to be brought about in the Post Office of this country. I trust I may be permitted to allude to some of the reforms which we desire to bring about. In doing so, let me point to this simple fact that in every country in Europe, except England, and in all the Colonies with which I am acquainted, Money Orders can be sent by telegram. If a man desires to send a few pounds from Sydney to Melbourne, for instance, he has simply to go to the Money Order Office and the service is performed by telegram. In the same way, if he desires to send a sum of money to Germany, Switzerland, or Prance, he is able to do so by the simplest operation possible; but through the obstinacy, the officialism, and the desire on the part of the Post Office Authorities to avoid trouble, obstacles have been placed in the way of effecting this reform in this country. I think there could be no greater advantage conferred upon the public than to provide that if a mat desires to send a few pounds to Manchester or Liverpool, or from any of the large towns to the Metropolis, he should be able to go to the Post Office and do so. I am afraid, however, that this reform will never be carried out until we teach the Post Office officials that we are their masters. The next point I desire to draw attention to is the nature of the postal arrangements of this country with all parts of the world. I have prepared a statement showing the postal rates from this country to France, Germany, and other parts of the Continent, as well as to the Colonies and other parts of the Empire. It will be found that the postage from England to the Colonies is 4d., 5d., and oven 6d.; whereas from France and Germany, as well as various other countries, it is only 2½d.—that is to say, that what in England is charged 5d., is charged in Germany and every other country in the world, 2½d. I say it is a scandal that to all parts of the British Empire the charge should be 5d. from England, and only 2½ d. from Germany and France. The same remark applies to the postal rates from Ceylon to Hong Kong, the Straits Settlements, and to other countries. The system pursued creates much annoyance to men engaged in 1087 business. The other day I received an envelope from Singapore, which had been received there from New York with a 2½d. stamp. By the same mail steamer the gentleman who sent this letter received a number of home letters, for each of which he had to pay 5d. As a matter of fact, the English Government are giving a bounty to foreigners to carry on their business, and they are imposing on English merchants and traders double the rates charged in America, Germany, and France. Nay, foreign letters are even sent through our own Office for half the rates charged upon English letters. I maintain that such a state of affairs is a great scandal, and that it is the duty of the Postmaster General to make an inquiry into such a condition of things. No doubt, the Government are making a large profit out of the Post Office; but they are pursuing a course only to be paralleled by that of a farmer who preferred to eat up his seed corn rather than sow it in the field for a future harvest. Probably the Postmaster General will inform the Committee that there is a decrease in the revenue of the Post Office. I say that that is a great mistake. I have carefully looked through the Estimates connected with the Post Office, and I find that so far as the postage of letters is concerned, there is a very large profit indeed, amounting to something like £33,000,000 a-year; and, further, that there has been a steady increase in the profits derived from this source during the last 40 years. If there has been any source of trouble or difficulty which has arisen from the mode in which the affairs of the Post Office are managed and administered, and the large and increasing expenditure which is incurred, it is also very difficult to get at the real facts; and if a Question is put to the Government with reference to the nature of the arrangements with foreign countries, the invariable reply is that no accounts are kept with foreign countries. Fortunately, I have been able to obtain an account which shows what the real state of matters is, and the facts are of such an extraordinary nature that I maintain and I think it is a duty of the Postmaster General to cause an inquiry to be made into the whole question. The profits of the American Mail Service amount to more than £100,000 a-year, while the whole cost 1088 of sending letters to America is only £80,000. Indeed, we could establish 1d. post to America without costing the country one farthing, but, in fact, leaving a profit of £120,000 a-year. I do not ask for any reduction whatever on book postage, or on newspapers or circulars, but only upon letters. It is a curious fact that the postal arrangements in Australia yield £120,000, while the whole cost of a weekly service is only £85,000. Nevertheless, when any proposal to carry out any reform is made, the officials of the Post Office invariably come forward and whisper in the ear of the Postmaster General their fears that it will involve a loss. The result is, that any Englishman can at this moment send six letters to his friends in England, Ireland, and Scotland for every one he sends to Australia. I believe that Imperial Penny Postage could be carried out without involving any loss to the Revenue, and in order that the matter should be inquired into I asked for a Select Committee. Some of the Members of the Opposition promised me their support; but I believe that the Government intend to oppose the Motion, notwithstanding the fact that if a Select Committee were appointed, and I failed to prove my case, the Government would be confirmed in their present course of action. I see that the next Vote in these Estimates is for the Packet Service, We are asked to vote a sum of £725,000 for the Packet Service.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON
Then I will touch upon that question later on. All I will say now is that the heavy subsidies we are paying for the conveyance of mails are, in my judgment, no longer necessary. If we want speed, it would be much better to subsidize the Cable Service of the Telegraphs. I believe that we could construct cables to Australia for much less than we are now paying for the Mail Service. And what is the state of matters in India? We are constantly boasting of being in touch with, and having the freest possible communication with, every part of the Empire, and yet the English people cannot send a letter to distant parts of the Empire under 6d., and they cannot send a telegram under 10s. a word. These are prohibitory rates which ought no 1089 longer to be tolerated by this House, and if we really want Imperial unity we could not act more wisely than in reducing the rates to all parts of the Empire. There are other important matters in connection with the anomalous state of things now prevailing which ought not to be overlooked, and among them is the growing danger to our trade, especially when it is well known that Germany and France are sending heavily subsidized steamers to Australia to compete with our trade in letter carrying. Those who know the Post Office Departments of Germany and France are quite aware that these subsidies are not paid for Post Office purposes at all. I was surprised to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer declare that the Post Office does not pay, and he endeavoured to prove it by including the money paid for the Packet Service. The enormous sum paid for Packet Service should not be charged to the Post Office at all. To prove that, and to show the absurdity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's views on that head, I will point out that we pay at the present moment something like £350,000 for the Packet Service to India, while the total revenue derived from it only amounts to £55,000. Would that be tolerated for a moment if it were not perfectly clear that we are paying this large sum of money for other purposes? Such an expenditure would not be sanctioned unless the people were aware that it was incurred for the purpose of encouraging trade. If you admit that fact, I would ask you why should the Po3t Office, and those who send letters, be put to this enormous cost, and be prevented from carrying out the reforms of the Post Office Service which are so strongly demanded? The theory now put forward by the Government in justification of their refusal to carry out reforms is altogether a new doctrine. As a proof of this, I may mention the fact that a Select Committee was appointed by this House in 1863, of which Sir Stafford Northcote was a Member.
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)
Sir, I rise to Order. I understood you to rule just now that the hon. Member would, not be in Order in dealing with the question of the Packet Service, which has nothing to do with the Vote now under discussion.
That is so. pointed out to the hon. Member that the Packet Service is in the next Vote.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON
I beg to apologize for having wandered from the subject of the Vote; but it is difficult to separate the two matters. The whole system of our Telegraph and Postal Services ought to form the subject of an inquiry. Most gross anomalies exist, and every week samples of English goods are posted abroad, instead of being sent from England. I am acquainted with one firm, who have informed me that they have posted 500,000 samples to all parts of England at one half the rate which it would have cost them if they had posted them in London; and as a matter of fact, letters for all parts of the British Empire can be posted from France and Germany at 100 per cent less cost than would be entailed if they were posted in England. There are other grievances of another kind which demand a remedy; and, under these circumstances, I think we are justified in asking for a full inquiry into the whole state of affairs.
§ MR. RAIKES
I do not know whether it is desirable that I should intervene so early in the debate; but as the speech of the hon. Member who has just addressed the Committee seemed to travel rather wide of the question, perhaps it would be as well to go back to the observations of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), which certainly were relevant to the Vote now before the Committee. The hon. Member for Northampton called attention to the system—or, rather, what he characterized as a want of system—in regard to the promotions in the Post Office. I quite admit that it is an extremely difficult thing to conduct the promotions in this or any other important Public Department. The hon. Member has asked me whether, in sanctioning various promotions, I am guided by the question of fitness, or by seniority, or by fitness accompanied by seniority, or by the advice of my permanent advisers? In reply, I can only say to the hon. Member, as I think he has already anticipated, that I am guided by all those considerations. I think it is very desirable that fitness should be considered, and by the constitution of the Department it is bound to be considered in the case of all promotions to the first class In the promotions 1091 in the classes below, seniority, coupled I with, fitness, is considered. Of course, I cannot myself pretend to decide as to the individual merits of the 94,000 or 95,000 employés of the Government in the Post Office Department, and I have to be largely guided by the opinions of those who are acquainted with the details of the Service. The hon. Member has made special reference to the case of a promotion which took place a short time ago in the second class in the Office of the Receiver and Accountant General. It is a curious thing that whenever a man does an act which he thinks will be popular, he afterwards finds that that is the very thing he gets pulled up for. I have not had any communication with the hon. Member for Northampton as to the details of this particular promotion; but if he had intimated to me that he desired to bring the matter before the House of Commons, I should have been glad to give him all the information in my power.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I regret that I did not give Notice to the right hon. Gentleman. As a matter of fact, the Holidays prevented me from giving the same Notice in regard to this case as I gave to the right hon. Gentleman in regard to other cases.
§ MR. RAIKES
As far as I remember, three clerks had to be promoted, and the Secretary recommended me to promote three officers who were all rather junior. It was said that the first four in the class were not fit for promotion; the fifth was an improving clerk, and after him came others who were reported to be fit for promotion. I was asked to promote three gentlemen the highest of whom stood ninth on the list, but I was unwilling to pass over the first eight clerks, when I saw that one of them was reported to be an improving officer. I therefore thought it would be better to give the improving officer a probationary appointment, and that is the long and the short of the whole matter. I have no knowledge whatever of the gentleman promoted, either personally, or of his politics. I come now to the case of Liverpool. These cases seem to be rather mutually destructive. In the first case I did, to a certain degree, disregard the advice tendered to me, and I recognized the principle of seniority; whereas, in the case of Liverpool, I acted 1092 upon the advice given to me, and disregarded seniority. Yet the hon. Member is not satisfied with either appointment. These two cases exemplify the difficulties which surround the Postmaster General in making these appointments; but they show, at all events, that I have not erred according to any fixed principle for determining what I ought to do. As regards Liverpool, the hon. Member brought the case before the House some time ago, and when my attention was called to it, I at once sent for the papers. I was extremely reluctant to confirm that promotion. I quite feel the force of what the hon. Member has said, and it certainly did seem that some of those who have been passed over had considerable claims. I did not, however, care to set aside the very strong recommendation of the postmaster of Liverpool in favour of any individual respecting whom I had no information at all. I was inclined to believe that the officer promoted must be a gentleman of exceptional merit, seeing that he had been acting almost as a sort of private secretary to the postmaster, so that the postmaster had special means of forming an accurate opinion of his capacity. I believe that the course I pursued was one which the hon. Gentleman himself would have taken if he had been in my place. There were two or three other cases mentioned in regard to Liverpool, and I can only say that I will make inquiries about them. The facts in connection with the cases of Hegnett and Helsby have not been brought before me, nor have I received any information in regard to that of Miller. I will, however, make inquiries into all of those cases. Then comes the case of the medical officer, but that is a matter which happened when the late Mr. Fawcett was Postmaster General, and I was not in Office. The arrangement which was made in 1882 has since been set aside, and the gentleman who was then appointed medical officer for part of the district is now officiating for the whole district. It is simply a return to the system which was in force before 1882.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
May I be allowed to explain? I did not intend to make any attack upon the right hon. Gentleman at all, but I simply pointed out that in 1882 a large district which 1093 had been under one competent medical man was divided into three, because it was considered too large for one officer. On that occasion the postmaster's son was given a large portion of the district, and shortly afterward, when the previous medical officer resigned, the whole of the district was put into the hands of this young man, thus more than doubling the original salary, although his only qualification was that he was the son of the postmaster.
§ MR. RAIKES
I was not aware that he was the son of the postmaster. All that I know is that what has been done has been to restore the practice which prevailed before 1882, and that one medical officer now controls the whole district. I do not know the facts precisely; but from what has fallen from the hon. Member, I take it that the Mr. Townsend he speaks of was an experienced medical officer, who was probably a man advanced in years, seeing that he soon afterwards resigned the office. It is quite probable that a young, vigorous, and energetic man may be competent to perform duties which may have been too heavy for an older man in 1882. The hon. Member has made a reference to salaries generally, and particularly to the higher and lower salaries. I have a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Member, and I do not deny that I share to a certain degree in the sentiments to which he has given expression. He says that it is desirable to reduce the salaries of those who are at present highly-paid in order to increase the salaries of those who are ill-paid. That is a very natural sentiment; but you have to deal with bargains which have been made with individuals when they first entered the Service, and the existing interests and the expectations of these men must be carefully borne in mind, seeing that they form part of the reward they expected to receive when their salaries were not so good as they are now. I regret the reference made by the hon. Member for Canterbury, who followed the hon. Member for Northampton, to a matter which I had hoped had now passed into oblivion. I do not wish to detain the Committee by going into it again, but I must refer to it, lest it should be assumed that I have any regret to express for the course which I took. I refer to the question of the irregular proceeding which took place in the Post Office shortly after I 1094 became Postmaster General, and which I hope all the parties who participated in it have since regretted. I felt bound to vindicate the authority of the Office I have the honour to hold, and having so vindicated it, I have been perfectly satisfied to let the matter rest, and I trust that I shall secure the cordial cooperation and hearty assistance of the very able gentlemen who form the permanent staff of the Department with whom I was on that occasion in temporary conflict. The hon. Member then proceeded to refer to the question of telegraphing Money Orders. That is a matter which I think will be more suitably dealt with when we come to the Telegraph Vote. I will only say that, as far as convenience is concerned, there would be great risk in largely increasing the balances deposited in the hands of provincial postmasters, or in giving them increased credit with the local banks. If the suggestion of the hon. Member were carried out, it would be necessary to enlarge the balances in the hands of the postmasters.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON
I only suggested that the amount of the Money Order Telegrams should be moderate.
§ MR. RAIKES
I quite admit that there might be a certain amount of convenience in the arrangement; but a much larger sum must necessarily be deposited in the hands of the postmasters, and the danger is not so much the loss to the State as of placing temptations before a large class of the public servants. If the hon. Member knew the great temptations to which the post masters are exposed now, even in regard to the balances they now have, I think he would hesitate before he determined on increasing the risk. I am, however, quite prepared to consider the matter, which is one worthy of consideration; and, as a matter of fact, I have given to it some consideration since I have been in Office. Hitherto, however, I have been unable to get over the obstacle I have mentioned. Possibly, if there were a great demand for the introduction of the system on the part of the public, some way of getting rid of the difficulty I have pointed out might be found; but up to the present time I have not seen sufficient reason for changing the present system. As to the mail subsidies, I will only point out that the remarks of the hon. Gentleman did not apply to the present Vote. I 1095 do not wish, to close these observations without making one statement, which I think the Committee will be glad to hear, and it arises out of the last part of the hon. Gentleman's observations. Ever since I came into Office I have done my best to endeavour to bring about some system for re-establishing the pattern post. I found, however, that there were difficulties in the way, and serious objections were raised to the plan. It was said that the Parcel Post ought to meet all the requirements, and I was assured that the system could not be re-established without loss to the Revenue; but I have persevered in the project, because, as I have stated elsewhere, I consider it to be a scandal that it should be possible to send patterns and samples abroad, and then send them back home at a cheaper rate than they can be sent direct from one part of this country to another. Patterns can be sent from abroad for 10 centimes, no portion of which reaches our Revenue, a rate considerably below the cost of postage in England. I am happy to say that within the last few days I have obtained the sanction of the Treasury to the re-establishment of a Pattern Post. Although the details are not settled, as the matter is one of considerable public interest, I think I may not unreasonably give the Committee the outlines of the plan. I do not propose, at all events, at present, to extend it beyond the weight of ½ lb., but I propose that we should establish a graduated scale. The proposed rates are—for patterns less than 4 ozs., 1d.; between 4 ozs. and 6 ozs., 1½d.; and between 6 ozs. and 8 ozs., 2d. I believe this scale will meet the exigencies of the case, and will deal with all samples and patterns correctly and justly described, though it will be necessary to keep a watchful eye against the surreptitious sending of correspondence under the form of patterns. In the first year or two there will probably be some loss of Revenue; but I expect that the loss will be almost inperceptible. I shall be happy to deal with the larger and Imperial questions which have been referred to by the hon. Member for Canterbury when the Packet and Telegraph Votes come on.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
Will the samples and patterns go by the Letter or the Parcel Post?
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
I wish to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the good-conduct badges for the letter carriers. I understand that among a great number of the letter carriers there has been some falling off in the number of good-conduct badges awarded. Now, these badges are highly prized, and bring pecuniary advantages to a very poor class of men. In some districts it is quite clear that when a man who possessed one of these badges has either died or left the Service, the vacant badge has not been given to a letter carrier in the same district. I am informed that that has been specially the case in Hampshire. There are several districts there in which the number of badges is less than it was some time ago. I am not prepared to say that the number has grown less since the time the right hon. Gentleman has been in Office. I am rather inclined to believe that the falling off commenced before he assumed Office; but I know it would be a great consolation to the men to know that their chances of enjoying this distinction are not fewer than they used to be. It is also desirable that some encouragement should be held out to men who have distinguished themselves by their good conduct and honesty that they will receive a reward which will have the effect of making their lives more happy.
§ MR. RAIKES
I entirely appreciate the force of the remarks which have been made by the hon. Member. I think it is most desirable to maintain the system of awarding good-conduct badges, and even to extend it. I do not believe, however, that there has been any falling off in the number of good-conduct badges given. Certainly, no diminution of the number has been sanctioned. I think the point to which the hon. Gentleman has called attention is only to be found in the fact that the districts are more extensive than he is aware of, that a certain number of good conduct badges are given for the whole district, and that the districts are of a very considerable size and area—for instance, although a man may have died in Hampshire, it is possible that the badge may have been given to some other letter carrier in Surrey. I will, however, inquire into the matter.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK (Whitehaven)
I am sorry to give my right ton. Friend the trouble of having to speak again upon this Vote; but, as a matter of fact, I rose before my right hon. Friend made his answer to the previous observations, in the hope that I might be able to save him the trouble and limit him to one speech on this occasion. Upon this Vote I desire to call attention to a mater which I have constantly had upon the Paper, but which, owing to the unreasonably late hour at which the Post Office Estimates have been discussed, I have found it impossible to place before the Committee, although it is a matter of considerable inconvenience to the country—I refer to the defective mode of collecting letters at various railway stations in the United Kingdom. I have never been able to discover—indeed, it passes the wit of man to discover, why the English public should not have the same facilities in regard to posting letters at railway stations which are enjoyed by the citizens of every large Continental town. At the railway stations in nearly every foreign town—certainly in France and Italy—there are moveable post-boxes which are ready to be emptied on the arrival of a train, and by this means the public have an opportunity of posting their letters without any extra charge up to a few minutes before the arrival of the train. I am sorry to think how many years have elapsed since I first directed the attention of Her Majesty's Government to this subject. It was when Mr. Tilley was Secretary to the Post Office, and he met my representations with the assertion that it was absolutely impossible to carry out this scheme in this country. Nevertheless, the system was introduced by the Postmaster General for France, under the Imperial Government, and a Report was obtained from him showing the way in which the system was worked; and I dare say my right hon. Friend, if he will make inquiries, will find that Report in some pigeon-hole at the Post Office. I think it was when the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (The Marquess of Hartington) was Postmaster General that a Post Office van was put on, and by the payment of an extra fee letters were allowed to be posted, but only in the travelling vans. What I complain of is that the same 1098 advantages should not have been extended to the Post Office boxes at all the railway stations. At present, a very idiotic practice prevails at some of the great stations—such as Rugby, Preston, and Bishopstoke. We find at those stations a pillar-box; but instead of the contents being emptied at the station into the van when the train arrives, the letters are taken from the station to the central office of the town, which may be a mile distant, and there is no advantage whatever in posting a letter there. Then, again, at a certain hour in the evening, even these pillar boxes are shut up, and the only way of posting a letter is to give a fee to a railway porter employed at the station with instructions to give it to the travelling clerk when the van arrives. In that case you have to trust to the honour of the porter in discharging the duty he has taken upon himself. I have spoken to several of the Post Office officials on the subject privately, but I have never been able to get any reason from them why the foreign system should not be carried out. I think if they would consult with the officials connected with the Continental Post Offices, they would soon ascertain the lines upon which the same plan could be worked satisfactorily in this country. I recollect that on one occasion Mr. Tilley did state an objection—namely, that when a letter was put into a travelling van there was no telling whether it was going up or down the line. The answer to that was that no inconvenience could be sustained, because the sorting clerks who take charge of the letters would put it into the proper train the moment they reached the next railway station. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to tell the Committee that something my be done in this direction. I believe that upon the Southwestern line very great inconvenience is at present experienced, and also in the town which I represent. There is another point to which I also desire to direct the attention of my right hon. Friend, and it is this. As I understand—perhaps I may be wrong—it is not possible to post a letter in a railway train unless there happens to be a travelling clerk or some recognized official person in charge of the van. I have been told that an alteration has been made in that respect lately; but I understand that hitherto the presence of a 1099 clerk with a train was a condition precedent to the despatch of a letter by the train carrying the mail. What has happened has been this—the Post Office train which carries the London and Southern mails leaves Whitehaven at 7.30 in the evening; but the letter van is not in the charge of a travelling clerk, but simply in charge of the railway authorities. The Post Office van leaves an hour and a-half earlier, for the convenience of the Post Office, so that all the letters between Whitehaven and Carnforth may be picked up. The consequence is that letters from the town of White haven, with a population of 25,000 people, are not able to be put into the travelling van when it leaves without an extra fee of ½ d. I will ask my right hon. Friend if he cannot make some arrangement to prevent this inconvenience by employing some trustworthy clerk to take charge of the Post Office van, and also of all letters which may be given to him to deliver at Carnforth? I believe that a similar inconvenience has been experienced on the South Western System. The hon. and gallant Member for South Dorset (Colonel Hambro) will be aware that the morning mail which leaves Waterloo Station at 8.5 takes the whole of the letters despatched in the morning. There is no travelling clerk in charge, and any person who is desirous of sending a letter specially is not able to do so. I hope my right hon. Friend will take the matter seriously into his consideration, and that before he has much longer occupied the Office which he now so worthily administers, he will be able to introduce some satisfactory change in these respects. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the restrictions now imposed often cause the greatest inconvenience, and the people of Whitehaven, whom I represent, fervently hope that they will be done away with.
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
There are one or two points to which I desire to draw attention in connection with this Estimate. In the first place, there is an item in reference to the insurance of public buildings belonging to the Post Office; but I do not see in the Estimate that any regular rule is followed, either in regard to the buildings which belong to the Post Office or to any other Department. In some cases it would appear that they are insured, whereas in others 1100 there is no insurance at all, and there certainly appears to be no definite principle adopted. There is an item on page 71 for—Water, fire insurance, tithes, compensation to ministers and parish clerks for loss of emoluments, rent of windows in money order office overlooking graveyard, &c.I want to know what the principle is which the Post Office Authorities adopt in regard to insurances? There is also another matter. I find from the Customs Report that a good deal of smuggling goes on by means of the Parcel Post. The right hon. Gentleman is about to increase the facilities for the Parcel Post, and I want to know how it is when the Parcel Post system is so much more extensive on the Continent, and the articles on which duty is paid are so much more numerous, that they avoid smuggling, whereas in this country tobacco is the only thing that can be smuggled, and we have it stated in this Report that a good deal of tobacco smuggling is carried on. Then, again, I wish to have some information with reference to the conveyance of mails by coach in this country. I understand that the mails are now being conveyed by the coach running to Brighton, and I wish to know whether the steps which are now taken are really tentative, or whether the change is meant to be permanent. If the conveyance of mails by coach should have the effect of leading to improvement in the roads it must command approval, and I am glad to hear of it; but I desire to know whether in regard to the coach now running to Brighton the experiment shows that it is cheaper to convey the mails by coach rather than by rail, and if there is any idea of carrying out the same plan extensively throughout the country? It is not often that we get an opportunity of discussing the Post Office Vote, and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has started a mine in reference to some of the Post Office anomalies, which is very well worth working. Indeed, I hope he will keep pegging away until he gets some of the evils he complains of redressed. Unless he continues to press them upon the attention of the Government day after day and year after year, I am afraid that very little will be done. I do not see how it is possible for the Government to say that the Post Office 1101 cannot afford to carry out the reforms and improvements suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury. I hold in my hand a Memorial from the Chamber of Commerce in London, which states that there is annually a large surplus provided from the Post Office Department, which, to the extent of about £2,500,000 a-year, is appropriated by the Treasury. I cannot help regarding that surplus of £2,500,000 as a tax upon the commerce of the country, and I cannot believe that the House of Commons will continue much longer to permit this large surplus to be handed over to the Treasury—a surplus which amounts to the return of about 30 per cent on the capital invested—without part of it being spent in affording the public increased postal and telegraph facilities, such as are enjoyed in Germany and other countries, and which would be of great benefit in securing the real federation of the Empire. In every other country in the world surpluses of this kind are appropriated, not to the use of the General Exchequer, but in increasing the postal facilities. We know very well what the facilities are which are given to trade in Germany, and in other countries, but which are not afforded in England. Taking into consideration the tremendous material interests which are concerned in a great commercial country like this, I think it is simply ridiculous to go on appropriating this surplus instead of utilizing it in increasing our postal facilities.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON
I only want to say a word or two by way of explanation in regard to the telegraphing of Money Orders. I want to explain the system in operation in Australia. In the first instance, money order offices were established in connection with the Post Office in those places which stood most in need of them, but the sums remitted in that way were limited to a small amount, not being allowed to exceed £10; but I believe that the amount has since been greatly extended. As to the objections raised by the Postmaster General that the system would be liable to fraud, I am prepared to admit that temptations might occur if large sums of money were placed in the post offices for this purpose; but, as a matter of fact, the postmasters are already in receipt of sufficient sums to 1102 enable them to pay the Post Office Orders sent by telegram. What I propose is to establish a similar system in this country to that which exists in Australia, and which the Postmaster General could easily carry out. I am sorry to find that the proposal has not received more encouragement from the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General. Long before the right hon. Gentleman came into Office the same answer was given.—namely, that the matter is still under consideration. If he is really desirous of testing the matter, let him arrange to introduce money orders first for small amounts at such places as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Belfast, and Glasgow. Then, if the experiment is a success, as I have no doubt it would be, he will gain the gratitude of the country. I congratulate the Postmaster General on the information he has given to the Committee that he is about to remove one great scandal which has hitherto existed. I feel certain that if he were not obstructed by the permanent officials of the Department we should have many more reforms of the same kind. I sincerely trust that he will give a favourable consideration to the proposal for establishing a Telegraphic Money Order system.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
There was one remark which was made by the hon. Member who has just sat down with which I cannot agree—namely, that the Postmaster General is obstructed in improvements by the permanent officials of the Department. In the first speech delivered by the hon. Member no stated that the Secretary to the Post Office was a man who obstructed all reforms, and that to him rather than the Postmaster General or the Government the failure to carry out the reforms he desires is due. I can only assure the hon. Member that that is not my experience of the Post Office permanent officials. Certainly, my tenure of Office as Postmaster General was not very long; but, before my time, Mr. Fawcett was Postmaster General for some years, and during his tenure of Office more important changes took place in the Post Office Department than probably took place in any other Department. During the whole of that time Mr. Black wood was Secretary to the Post Office, and I will undertake to say that Mr. Blackwood can in no sense be called an obstructor of any of the re- 1103 forms which have taken place. Mr. Blackwood, on all occasions, properly pointed out the cost which would he entailed by carrying out the improvements which were suggested. The real obstructors of reforms and improvements are not the permanent officials of the Post Office, but the Treasury. Every reform involves a certain amount of cost, and upon this point the Treasury have to be consulted. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) has, I think, hit the real blot in the matter when he pointed out that the Treasury have been receiving for some years past a very large income from the Post Office. There can be no question about the fact that the profit derived from the Post Office has been appropriated by the Treasury in the interests, generally, of the Exchequer, and that the income has been gradually increasing. I find, looking back for some years, that in the years 1870–73, the income from the Post Office was £1,470,000; 1874–7,£2,175,000; 1878–81, £2,654,000; and in 1882–6, £2,857,000; showing a steady tendency in the net income to increase. I am not disposed to complain of the Treasury receiving a certain income from the Post Office; but a grave question arises as to whether the Treasury and the Government should insist on appropriating the continually increasing surplus of the Post Office, I think some rule should be laid down that when a definite fixed sum has been derived from the Post Office everything beyond that surplus revenue, in the future, should be spent in carrying out improvements and reforms. I am bound to say in the last two or three years there has been a decrease in the revenue. The highest point was reached in 1883, when there was a surplus of £3,022,000; in 1884 it was £2,610,000; in 1885, £2,647,000; in 1886, £2,987,000; and in 1887, ending the 31st of March last, £2,720,000. This fall, however, was partly due to the expenditure of £300,000 on the purchase of the new Post Office site, which was an abnormal expenditure which will not occur again. As far as I can make out, from the account of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement, we may expect a surplus revenue of something like £3,000,000 in the coming year; and what I venture to suggest is that there should be a kind of understanding, on the part of the Go- 1104 vernment, and of the House, as to what is to be in future the average net revenue to be derived from the Post Office, and that beyond that limit the surplus revenue should be devoted towards carrying out improvements and reforms in connection with the Post Office itself. If any such rule as that were laid down, I think that without question it would be possible for the Post Office to effect a number of those smaller reforms which have been pressed upon the Department from time to time without the continued intervention of the Treasury. For my own part, I do not think that it is fair for the Treasury to insist upon appropriating the whole of the surplus revenue of the Post Office. No doubt the Treasury ought to have part, but there should be an understanding as to the point beyond which the appropriation by the Treasury should not go, and that the surplus revenue beyond that should be devoted to reforms. I must again repeat that there has been no obstruction whatever of the nature suggested by the hon. Member for Canterbury, on the part of the permanent officials of the Post Office, and still less from the Secretary, Mr. Blackwood. I was rather surprised that the Postmaster General did not reply to that part of the speech of the hon. Member for Canterbury when he addressed the Committee on the subject. I do not propose to go into the question of the conflict which unfortunately arose between the Postmaster General and the permanent staff. We have here only one side of the question, and when the right hon. Gentleman says that he has re-asserted his authority, I am inclined to think that there may be another side to that question. Certainly it was not a regular proceeding on the part of the clerks of the Department to draw up an address of sympathy with the permanent head of the Department. No doubt the matter did give rise to a great deal of discussion among the Members of the Government; and, if I am rightly informed, there was a compromise entered into by both parties by which the question was settled without coming more prominently before the public. I think I am right in saying that concessions were made on both sides which prevented the controversy from being brought before the public. I am quite content, for my own part, to leave the matter there, and I 1105 only wish to say that there is no foundation whatever for the reflection which the hon. Member for Canterbury has passed upon the permanent officials of having obstructed every proposal for the improvement of the postal service. Of course, when a proposal is made it is the duty of the permanent officials to point out what the cost of carrying it out will be, and I think it will be found that those who obstructed and prevented the reforms which have been suggested in connection with the Post Office are not the permanent officials of the Post Office, but the Treasury.
§ DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
I regret that the Postmaster General has not endeavoured to re-arrange the Parcel Post instead of re-introducing the Sample Post. I am afraid that we are getting too many varieties of postage; and if we go on in this direction we shall have a system so complicated that it will be impossible for the public to understand it. There is already one rate for letters, another for parcels, another for books, a fourth for newspapers, and now we are to have a fifth for patterns. If the right hon. Gentleman had carried down the minimum of the Parcel Post a little further, he would have met every object which he has in view, and would have done something to simplify a very complicated tariff, which, I confess, I think might be still further simplified by doing away with the Book Post altogether, and relegating books also to the Parcel Post. With regard to what has been stated in connection with the telegraphic transmissions of Money Orders, I think the reply of the right hon. Gentleman is anything but satisfactory. That system is in operation, not only in Australia, but in most European countries, and no difficulty has been experienced in regard to it. It is, in fact, a great public convenience, and there is no reason why such a proposal should interfere with the banking business. Of course, if the Post Office undertook to transmit large sums of money they would interfere with banking business. But what is proposed would not interfere with banking business, but would simply supplement banking business in the same way as postal and post office orders supplement it. If it were limited to the small amounts of money which are now capable of being transmitted by 1106 postal or money orders, it is quite evident that it would require no increase in the balances placed in the hands of the postmasters. The sole result would be that a person remitting a sum of money by telegraph would pay a little extra to the Post Office. The Department would be so much the richer, and the convenience of the public would be served to a greater extent than it now is. I think there is great force in what has been suggested in the course of the discussion as to the gradual introduction of some such system into the Post Office—for instance, if it were adopted simply in London, by enabling ah individual to send £5 or £10 by a telegram from the Provinces, it is quite evident that no danger would be incurred. Any amount of money could be sent by telegraph to London, to the great convenience of the general public, without the slightest danger of injuring the service. As to the Parcel Post, I see no reason why it should not be worked with success here as it is already in other countries in Europe. On the Continent, a system exists of collecting the price of the parcels sent out by Parcel Post by tradesmen. If the person to whom the parcel is addressed does not pay, the parcel itself is not delivered. I think the adoption of a similar system would not only be a source of revenue to the Post Office, but that it would give a strong stimulus to the retail trade. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General will take the opportunity at least of inquiring into what is being done by other countries. If he finds that a pecuniary gain is likely to accrue to the Post Office, I trust he will not hesitate to introduce the same system, into this country.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I wish to say a few words in order to protest against the doctrine laid down by my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), that it would be a good arrangement to come to an understanding that any surplus of the Post Office beyond a certain amount should be utilized in Post Office improvements. I am bound to protest against that in the interests of the Revenue, and also in the interests of economy, because I cannot imagine any arrangement more calculated to lead to 1107 extravagance than to hand over any surplus to be spent in Post Office improvements. With, the permission of the Committee, I should like to make one remark as to the surplus of £3,000,000 derived from the Post Office. That surplus is almost exclusively—I might say is exclusively—derived from the penny postage in Great Britain and Ireland. It is from the letter writers generally in the United Kingdom that the surplus comes. As I understand, there is no other Department that leaves a profit. The Parcel Post may just pay its way; but the telegraphs, we know, result in a considerable loss, while long distance postage is carried on without profit, and in many cases with a loss. The argument used by those who are in favour of cheaper postage with the Colonies and other parts of the world is that the revenue of the Post Office, as a whole—that is to say, the profit derived from the penny postage'—should be applied to the advantage of letter writers communicating with other parts of the world as well as to letter writers communicating with different parts of the United Kingdom, instead of, as now, being returned in the shape of remitted taxation to those who employ the penny post. At present, the gain arises from the great bulk of the letters written; not from business, banking, or manufacturers' letters only, but from the mass of the population who write the penny letter. I cannot see why the senders of letters to other parts of the world are more entitled to have a portion of the profit derived from the penny postage than the people who pay the penny. This is a question of equity between the two. The question whether by cheaper postage to other parts of the world—to the Colonies, for instance—we could ultimately increase the revenue, and secure an equally good service, is a matter which ought to be and must be looked at with the greatest anxiety. The matter can be considered in two ways. There is the system which I have mentioned of applying the surplus revenue derived from one portion of the business to another portion; and the other plan is to consider whether the rates in that other portion of the business can be lowered so as to obtain a revenue equal to that of the penny post. Every proposal in that direction that comes from the Post Office would be considered by 1108 the Treasury with the greatest desire to promote every possible reform. I am far from deprecating the attention which is now being directed to the question of cheap postage. If there are large reforms possible, let them be made, but do not risk the £3,000,000 earned by the Penny Post in carrying them out. I cannot think that it would be wise to fix a maximum profit, and say that when we have secured it, we may then enter upon speculative improvements in other directions. These improvements ought to be considered quite apart from the questions whether there is a surplus or not. I entreat the Committee to remember the case of the telegraphs. I do not know whether the House thinks that the enormous price paid for the acquisition of the telegraphs was a satisfactory arrangement or not. In consequence of the great pressure put upon the Department by the public and by hon. Members in this House, the cost of telegrams has now been reduced from 1s. to 6d. It is extremely convenient to be able to send telegrams for 6d. instead of 1s.; but, it should be remembered that the general taxpayer has now to contribute to the cost of every telegram thus sent out. A large amount of interest was taken in the acquisition of the telegraphs; but, at the present moment, the telegraphs involve the country in a loss of £500,000 a-year. There was exactly the same anxiety with regard to the acquisition of the telegraphs as there is now with regard to ocean postage and other matters, and when I served on the Committee which sat in reference to the telegraphs, I divided the Committee two or three times, for the purpose of protesting against the enormous price paid for the telegraphs, and of showing the loss which would be incurred. Enormous pressure, however, was put on by every commercial centre and by the Press, and in the end an enormous price was paid. Some of us thought that £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 were too much to pay for the acquisition of the telegraphs; but they were acquired under the plea that the country required cheap telegraphy. I can only trust that while the House of Commons looks with a jealous eye upon every part of the Service, in order to insure efficiency and speed, combined with economy, and while it watches the expenditure of the Post Office, it will not 1109 stimulate expenditure in every direction and in every branch which is under the control of the Post Office. I can assure the Committee—and I have had some experience of official life—that the public officers are only too glad to make experiments and to attempt reforms which are called for by increasing business. Hon. Members speak of a very considerable profit derived from the Post Office; but that profit is a diminishing profit when looked at with reference to the bulk of the business which is done. At the same time, it is important to remember that the working expenses of the Post Office are gradually increasing. They have increased from 57 per cent to 65 per cent of the receipts during the last five or six years, and that shows that the Post Office business must be watched from the point of view of economy as well as of efficiency. I hope it will not be understood that there is any disposition on the part of the Treasury to discourage improvements in postal and telegraphic communication, as to which the initiative must, of course, rest with the Post Office. It is the wish of the Government to give every facility for improvement, looking to proper economy, and looking also to the fact that the different Services must not be regarded simply as part of a whole, but how far each is remunerative in itself.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I did not express a wish that there should be no surplus Post Office revenue to dispose of, but I pointed out that the surplus paid into the Exchequer has been increasing year by year. Whereas, 10 years ago, it was less than £2,000,000, it has now reached an average of more than £3,000,000 from the postal and telegraphic Services together. On the Telegraphic Service all profit has disappeared during the last three or four years, and I do not think that for some years to come there will be any re venue derived from the Telegraph Service. Yet, from the Postal Service taken alone, there is derived a revenue which is continuously and largely increasing. What I contend is that the Treasury should not expect to continue to derive a large revenue from the postal and telegraph Services together, Without fixing any rigid rule, I think it might be understood, on the part of the Treasury, that when a certain amount of revenue has been derived from the two Services together, then 1110 they will consider all questions affecting the surplus revenue in a liberal spirit, and will not expect to derive continuously an increasing revenue. I should be content to take the revenue at about £2,500,000, in the understanding that questions of improvement in the Post Office should be liberally considered by the Treasury, and that as much as possible should be done in improving the Services. The question of the use to be made of any surplus is a different matter. I am not sure that the money could not be better disposed of than in the direction suggested by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton). The senders of the letters in this country give the money from which the profit is derived, and their interest ought to be considered in the first instance. There are many ways in which improvement could be effected in the Post Office if only the money were forthcoming. If a surplus were to be derived from the two Services, the Postmaster General would find many ways of spending it in the improvement of the Service so as to promote the public convenience.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I must say that the statement we have heard from a right hon. Gentleman who has occupied the important position which has been occupied by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) is a most astonishing one—namely, that he is prepared to throw away every consideration of economy and every precedent which has been previously set in the financial arrangements of the country. I thought as I heard the words which fell from the right hon. Gentleman, what on earth would the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) have said if he could have heard the proposal of the late Postmaster General? The right hon. Gentleman has suggested, in all seriousness, that a certain definite sum should be the maximum revenue to be derived by the Treasury from the Post Office, and that the Postmaster General should then be able to play with the remainder.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
It would practically amount to that. If any such system were resorted to, one of the 1111 immediate results would be that the Post Office officials would feather their nests very rapidly; the whole of the staff would put forward incontrovertible reasons for an increase of pay, and a large portion of what might be derived from the suggested arrangement would never find its way into the Treasury or anywhere else to the benefit of the public service. I am not at all surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having already experienced some difficulty in providing the sum fixed for the redemption of the National Debt, should have risen at once to protest against the proposal to fix a limit upon the amount of the Post Office surplus which in future should be handed over to the Treasury. Nothing could be more objectionable than to introduce such a system into a spending or revenue Department. There was another remark which fell from the right hon. Member for Central Bradford which I was sorry to hear. He alluded to the position which the present Postmaster General has found himself obliged to take on the question of promotion. The right hon. Gentleman made use of language which certainly requires explanation. If he is not prepared to go further, he ought not to have said what he did. He endeavoured to make the Committee believe that there had been a considerable amount of difference of opinion on the part of the Government as to the treatment which a particular case had received at the hands of the Postmaster General, and he indicated that the Cabinet had not supported the Postmaster General in the original position he took in reference to the matter—hinting that there had been some kind of give and take arrangement—some compromise which enabled an unpleasant matter to be kept from the public eye, and which resulted in some kind of arrangement by which the amour propreof all persons concerned was saved. I was very sorry to hear that statement. A Minister holding the responsible position of Postmaster General ought to be master in his own Department. It appears to me to be perfectly ridiculous to put a Minister into a responsible position like that of Postmaster General and at the same time to tie his hands in regard to the amount of authority he is to possess. Passing on to the Vote itself, I think it 1112 is a matter for congratulation that we have now the Post Office Vote brought on for discussion at a time when something like serious criticism can be attempted. I am glad that that is so; but, at the same time, I feel that a Vote of this magnitude can hardly be seriously considered when taken as a whole. It ought to be presented in parts, and there are many precedents for dividing a Vote. Matters, however, have gone so far now that I presume it would be impossible to discuss the present Vote in different parts. It appears to me that the Postmaster General occupies a position midway between the Department and the Treasury itself. He is responsible for the duty of catering for the wants of the public to the best of his power; but he is also responsible for running the Post Office machine on the most economical terms, and for securing the greatest benefit to the Treasury. It does not seem to me that adequate means are taken to secure that the balance available for the Exchequer has been as large as it ought to have been. I do not propose to enter into the new arrangements for extending the Parcel Post or the pattern post; but I am certainly of opinion that the authorities at the Treasury have not endeavoured to improve the machinery of the Post Office as it might have been improved. Anyone who will look carefully through the Estimates will see how the Post Office is in general worked. The Heads of the Department come under sub-head A; the surveyors under sub-head B; the Provisional Establishment under subhead C, and then there is the Miscellaneous Establishment after that. Of course, I am unable to speak from any personal knowledge, but looking at the matter from an outside point of view, it does occur to me that the Surveyors Department is unnecessarily large, and that much is done by the surveyors which ought not to be done by them at all. A great deal more ought to be given to the head postmasters throughout the Kingdom. As a matter of fact, some of the surveyors do allow the head postmasters to do a great deal of work which in other districts is done by the surveyors and their clerks, and the consequence is that the line of demarcation between the province of surveyor and the province of head postmaster is a varying and uncertain one, with the 1113 natural result that a considerable amount of friction and rivalry takes place. Then, again, the work of the head postmasters is most unequally provided for. One head postmaster is employed for nine hours a-day, while another head postmaster cannot get his work done under 17 or 19 hours a-day, whereas the pay is precisely the same. There are, I believe, great inequalities and anomalies, both in the amount of work done, and in the amount of pay received by the head postmasters. Another anomaly is the charge imposed upon the postmaster in reference to the requirements of his office. Why should a head postmaster be called upon to pay out of his own pocket for the fittings of the post office? That is clearly an anomaly and an injustice. In regard to postmaster ships themselves—speaking as an individual Member of the House—I would suggest to the Government whether the whole system of political patronage in regard to them might not be got rid of. It is a very great nuisance to every Member of the House to be pestered, whenever a postmaster ship is vacant in the constituency he represents, with letters asking him to use his influence in obtaining the appointment. The Irish Members are not now much troubled in this respect, as they have systematically refused to have anything to do with any of these appointments whatever, and they decline to approach the Government for any favour of the kind. That is very lucky for us who represent Irish constituencies, and it has saved us a good deal of trouble. I know, however, that English and Scotch Members who have not taken the same course are beset with an enormous number of applications, which are not only embarrassing, but give rise to a great deal of discontent. I think it would be a great advantage to the postmasters themselves if the system were made more just and less uncertain in its operation than it is at present. As to promotion in the Post Office, there is, as a matter of fact, none at all, but absolute stagnation, and the result is that a stronger feeling of injustice and unfairness is produced in the minds of the Post Office employés than in any other branch of the Public Service. Then, again, in regard to the men employed under the postmasters, the position of the unfortunate rural 1114 letter carriers is an extremely hard one. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman fully sympathizes with them, and I hope that something may be done to improve their position. With regard to the award of good conduct badges, I understood the Postmaster General to say that he intends to take into consideration the possibility of introducing some better system in reference to the distribution and award of these good conduct badges than that which now prevails. When a vacancy arises under the existing rule, it is not the most deserving man who gets the badge, but the man who has the good luck to serve under an energetic postmaster who will fight for the honour. As I have already said, it is impossible, under the way in which this Vote is presented, to deal with all the items contained in it at once in a satisfactory manner; but in order to show that there are plenty of means of reducing the present postal Vote without any undue interference with the efficiency of the Service, I will cite one item. On page 87 there is an item of £8,500 for extra duty pay, and to provide for the commutation of pensions. Now, the business in the Post Office Savings Banks is a growing business, and some years ago great difficulty was experienced in obtaining accommodation for the staff. The consequence was that an enormous building was erected in Queen Victoria Street; but that building was soon found insufficient, and it is so very insufficient now, that out of some 480 clerks employed 383 are absolutely obliged to be accommodated, if I can use such a word, in warehouses hired for the purpose on the other side of the street. I believe that the accommodation at the present moment, even in these extra warehouses, is insufficient for any increase of the staff, and the present staff is altogether inadequate to do the work with advantage. The consequence is that the existing staff have to fall back upon a system of extra attendance, accompanied with extra duty pay, which is a bad system, and one which has been altogether condemned by the highest authorities—among others, by Mr. Blackwood, the Secretary of the Post Office, as long ago as the year 1875. I am afraid that the Postmaster General is unacquainted with the opinion expressed by Mr. Blackwood on that occasion in regard to the system 1115 of extra duty pay. Mr. Blackwood, who was a Member of a Committee which took the subject into consideration, reported that the Committee had not dwelt on the important subject of the extra duty pay system as far as might otherwise have been desirable, because it had been found that extra duty in a number of cases was no longer necessary. At the same time the Committee recorded their conviction, in which they asserted that the Treasury agreed, that the performance of extra duty for any length of time was highly inexpedient. I think the Secretary to the Treasury will probably feel an interest in the view then expressed by the Committee, who went on to say in their Report that the arguments against the system were obvious; but as they were so well known, it was unnecessary to repeat them. The performance of extra duty arose from the insufficiency of the force in the Savings Bank Department; but the extra duty itself pressed very heavily upon the officers, and the Committee expressed their opinion that it prejudicially affected the satisfactory performance of the work. It was found, however, that extra duty continued to be necessary at certain periods of the year; but the Committee pointed out that it was desirable to regulate the principles upon which it should be undertaken, so that in future it might not interfere with the efficiency of the Department. The Report went at considerable length into details with which I will not trouble the Committee; but speaking of the accommodation which the unfortunate members of the staff have to put up with, the Committee called attention to the fact that the work had to be performed in a vitiated atmosphere much overcrowded, and in rooms badly ventilated, in addition to which it was performed at night, when a large number of gas burners were lighted. Such a system, I maintain, is altogether censurable, and the Committee in their Report state distinctly that the accommodation of the Post Office Savings Bank ought to be such as to guard against the performance of work under such extreme pressure, owing to the insufficiency of the establishment. No stronger opinions were ever placed on Record by a Departmental Committee, and I fail to see why the Postmaster General did not consider it his duty to attach a little more weight 1116 to the Report of that Committee. We have now in the Department something like 250 men belonging to what is called the "Lower Division," who are employed for only six hours a-day; whereas the clerks in the Lower Division of other departments of the Civil Service work for seven hours a-day. After the six hours' labour is over you are obliged to continue these men beyond their stipulated period and to give them extra duty pay for the extra time they are employed; but what could be more easy than to carry out the plan which the Treasury adopt in reference to all other Departments, and to make the hours of the men seven per day instead of six. That would, I believe, render extra duty unnecessary, and there would be no actual injustice done to the men; because with six hours' labour a man commences at a salary of £80 a-year, going up to a maximum of £200; whereas, if he is employed for seven hours, he commences at £95 and goes up to a maximum of £250. The Post Office would, therefore, be able to save this item of £8,500 for extra pay which I have referred to and would get rid of the anomaly which now exists in the Service. Until the year 1884 I think it was understood by the clerks generally that the Treasury would refuse to allow any claim to choice on the part of those who were passed into the Lower Division after that date. I believe it was a question of the interpretation of the Order in Council which was issued in 1876. Before the year I have mentioned—namely, 1884, the Civil Service Commissioners were accustomed to send a successful candidate without any choice on his own part into the different Departments, and the consequence was that a man who passed very high found himself relegated to six hours' labour a day with a less amount of pay; whereas a much inferior man might be relegated to seven hours' office work with much better pay. Now, Sir, I think the Postmaster General and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will see in what I have pointed out the means of effecting some economy. I instance this merely as a sample of what may be done by careful administration at headquarters. I am afraid the Treasury, as at present constituted—I make no personal reflection upon the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jackson)—I am afraid the Treasury Office is not competent to look after the Civil Service 1117 of the country. Every official of the Treasury seems to have his own particular work to do, and no one seems to have, as part of his work to look after, what I may call the engineering part of the Civil Service, Until you have some one in the position, say of Chief Engineer, you will never have this reforms necessary carried out. I mention this to show that Members of the present Government will be able to judge whether some reforms may not easily be carried out, if they will only have regard to matters of detail. I do not know whether the present Postmaster General has ever had this matter brought before him; perhaps he has not. If he has not, I shall be content if he will promise to have the matter investigated, and to thoroughly look into it for himself, and not trust to the report of any subordinate, who, possibly, in the past, may have committed himself to an hostile attitude, by refusing assent to representations which may have been made.
§ DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
I think my hon. Friend (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) must have entirely misunderstood the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). What I understood my right hon. Friend to do was to protest against the action of the Treasury in demanding that a constantly increasing surplus revenue of the Post Office should be maintained for the benefit of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend pointed out that during the last 10 years, for example, the free revenue of the Postal Services, including Telegraphs, had mounted from £2,200,000 to £2,750,000, and he also pointed out that last year, had it not been for some enormous capital expenditure, the free surplus revenue would have been £3,000,000. He asked, very justly, how much further the Post Office was to be expected to increase its revenue for the benefit of the Treasury and not for the convenience of the public? I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman's views. It happened that some years ago I moved, in connection with the Telegraph Service, a Resolution in this House to the effect that it was inexpedient to insist upon an increase of the free revenue from telegrams; and that that was equivalent to taxation on the transmission of telegraph messages; and that, instead of insisting upon that 1118 taxation, the price of telegraphic messages should be reduced. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), in the course of his remarks, illustrated what he had to say about the postal revenue by reference to the Telegraph Service and to the Packet Service. I am aware both these are included in another Vole, and, therefore, I will not dwell upon them. I will merely point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the increasing revenue referred to by my right hon. Friend was much greater than appears on the Paper. In the last few years enormous expenditure has been made on capital account, which has only increased the public property of the nation. There were between £300,000 and £400,000 expended for the plant required for the Parcel Post; £500,000 was expended in new plant to meet the increasing business resulting from the introduction of the 6d. telegrams; and last year close on £400,000 was expended on Post Office sites. It appears to me that all this expenditure rendered the country so much richer in public property, and indicated a still greater increase in the postal revenue than appears from the figures. I have always protested against the system of book-keeping on which we are called upon to judge of the results of the Postal Services. You find £300,000 or £400,000 expended on capital account—expended in the most wise and judicious manner on capital account—but because that expenditure has taken place, the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes down the following year and says, look what a falling off there has been in the postal revenue. If any business man conducted his business in that way the world would characterize him as no financier at all. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke of the telegraph business. I am not here to defend the original purchase of the telegraphs. I know the right hon. Gentleman protested against the price paid, and I know also that the late Mr. Fawcett proposed that £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 sterling should be written off, and that we should no longer charge interest upon that amount upon the Telegraph Department; that in fact this amount of money should be considered as a bad debt. But, since the telegraphs have been acquired, it is not 1119 at all certain that they have been such a bad business as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) appears to believe. I was a Member of a Committee which inquired into the matter. The Post Office officials came before us, and they presented to us what they called a commercial balance sheet which showed a totally different result from the un commercial balance sheets which are presented to this House. The balance sheet laid before us showed a distinct profit after the payment of all interest on the debt incurred in connection with the purchase of the telegraphs, and it was in connection with the surplus shown that I moved the Resolution protesting against further taxation on telegraphs, and proposing that the free revenue should be applied to increasing the facilities given to the public. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), who was present in the House on that occasion, did not vote for my Resolution—Governments do not like increased expenditure—but he did not protest against the doctrine I laid down, as the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) appears to imagine. Now, I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) made his position perfectly clear. He did not suggest that we should fix a distinct sum, and say that beyond that sum the Post Office shall not earn money; what he suggested was that we should have some general understanding that it must not be expected that the free revenue to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer should double itself every 10 or 20 years. He was most explicit in laying down the doctrine that Treasury sanction is desirable in connection with any Post Office experiment, and I protest against the tone of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in inveighing against these experiments as likely to cause expenditure. The experiments advocated would cause no expense at all; the introduction of telegraphic money orders would not involve a sixpence of capital outlay.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I thought I laid it down distinctly that there were experiments which I thought ought to be made. I do not wish to be understood 1120 to protest against all the experiments suggested. What I do protest against is the doctrine that because we have a surplus revenue, we ought therefore to carry out experiments.
§ DR. CAMERON
I have no doubt I misunderstood what the right hon. Gentleman meant; I am very glad to hear the explanation of his meaning; because I think that the suggestions that have been made to-night in regard to Inland administration, at all events, both as to the telegraphic remission of money and as to the collection of charges in connection with parcels delivery by Parcel Post have this important peculiarity to recommend them—that they would not involve the outlay of one single sixpence; they would only bring in additional business to the staff which is already in existence without any extra expenditure. I thought it right, as the doctrine laid down by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had been misunderstood, to say so much in explanation of what appeared to me to be his meaning. As to the present amount of Treasury sanction being sufficient to cut down or prevent expenditure for increases of salary, we all know the late Mr. Fawcett was constantly telling us that he had been obliged to raise the salaries of the telegraphic operators; the increases, of course, were made with Treasury sanction.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON
Mr. Courtney, I should like to refer to the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), that the whole of the profits are derived from letters within the United Kingdom. I think he has been misinformed in the case of the American mails. The total expenditure this year upon the American Mail Service will be £80,000; but the income derived will amount to £212,000. There are some other expenses in connection with these mails, but there is an ample margin—a profit is made on the American mails of over £100,000 a-year. I think the right hon. Gentleman will see he is mistaken in the statement that all the profit is derived from home letters. But, there is a larger source of profit still. We send millions of letters every year to the Continent. We charge 2½d. for every letter, say to Paris; while we only charge 1d. for a letter to Dublin. It would pay very well to have a 1d. 1121 postage from here to Paris. I contend that by the Continental Service a large profit is made, and that, in this particular also, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is quite erroneous. While not desirous of entering now upon the Packet Service question, I understand that £85,000 is the cost of the Australian Service; while the Post Office revenue from this service is £121,000. There are other instances which would go to prove that all the profit made in connection with the Post Office Services is Dot made in the United Kingdom. It is quite true that the Postmaster General is the milch cow of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not have remembered, when he spoke so strongly against the remarks of the late Postmaster General as to the application of the surplus revenue over, say, the amount received last year, to the cheapening and facilitation of the Postal Services generally, that his own Postmaster General made a very similar statement in December last to a deputation which waited upon him. These facts should be borne in mind, because they show that Postmaster Generals agree that it is a sound doctrine that no more than the sum made last year should be taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that, in future, the sum above £3,000,000 made last year ought to be applied to extending, cheapening and facilitating the postal work of the country. The only other point I desire to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to is this: He has repeatedly pressed on this House the fact that there is a decreasing revenue from the Post Office, but he has not informed the House that there is an enormous increase in the receipts of the Post Office. In 1841 the receipts of the Post Office were only £1,324,000; in 1851 they were £2,277,000, and in 1886 they rose to £8,150,000. There has been no decrease whatever in the receipts of the Post Office, but, on the contrary, the Post Office has yielded in absolute receipts for postal work done a yearly increase of £200,000. I also agree with hon. Members who say the Post Office accounts are kept in such a disgraceful manner that no business man would tolerate them for a day. The admissions in the Parliamentary Papers 1122 which have been presented at my instance fully establish this fact. I will, however, reserve any further remarks I have to make until the Vote for the Packet Service comes on.
§ MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
Mr. Courtney, I regret to be obliged to draw the attention of the Postmaster General and the Committee to grievances affecting the head postmasters in Ireland. These grievances are, however, of great concern to the head postmasters, and therefore I trust my observations will receive some consideration by the Postmaster General. My hon. Friend the Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) alluded in the course of his able criticism of the Vote to the grievances of head postmasters in general; but I wish to call the attention of the Postmaster General to the fact that the head postmasters of Ireland are paid about 20 per cent less than the head postmasters in England, Scotland, and Wales. Why that should be so has never been made clear to us. It appears to us, from our investigations here upon all the Estimates which come before this Committee, that the public servants in the employment of the Government in Ireland are treated not only with exceptional severity, but with an unfairness which is scarcely creditable to the administration Departments. Not only are the head postmasters in Ireland paid 20 per cent less than people in a similar position in England and Scotland, but they labour under the disadvantage of being permanently installed in there present offices. They complain that, unlike the public servants in the other Departments in the Inland Revenue, they are not moved about from place to place, and do not get the advantages of removal which servants in the other Departments have from time to time placed at their disposal. Not only are they debarred from improvement by their non-removal, but actually the best offices in Ireland have been from some unaccountable reason shut off from the head postmasters in Ireland. I allude to the four best offices, those at Belfast, Cork, Londonderry, and Limerick. I have taken the trouble to ascertain what the salaries of the occupants of these four offices in Ireland are. I find that the head postmaster at Belfast receives £645 a-your; the head postmaster at Cork £550 a-year; the head postmaster 1123 at Limerick £440 a-year, and the head postmaster at Londonderry £380 a-year. Now, those are very fair salaries, and when we come to compare them with some of the salaries paid to postmasters elsewhere, we find that promotion to one of these offices is a matter of very considerable moment indeed. I will take some of the best, not the very lowest, offices elsewhere. At Carlow the head postmaster receives £135 a-year; at Carrickshannon the head postmaster is paid £120 a-year; at Cashel the head postmaster is paid £107 a-year; at Coleraine the head postmaster receives £135 a-year, and at Dundalk the head postmaster gets £174 a-year. I consider it a very grievous injusice that the head postmasters of Ireland should be shut out from the very desirable promotion to Belfast and the other chief towns I have named. The result has been, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Donegal very aptly stated, a stagnation of promotion in this particular Department. Why that should be so has never been made clear to me or to hon. Members who have considered this matter from time to time. I shall not dwell upon that branch of the subject to which the hon. Member for East Donegal referred—namely, promotion by political patronage. That has been a great grievance, not only in Ireland, but in England, Scotland, and Wales. We, in Ireland, have got rid of it—I will not say to the advantage of our friends—by simply declining to put ourselves under any compliment whatever, either to a Liberal or a Conservative Government. We have relieved ourselves of any obligation in the matter, and we have done so upon a principle which can be easily understood by Members of both sides of the House. I can quite understand that it is a matter of very serious consideration and grievous moment to hon. Members of this House to be pestered continually in respect to the bestowal of patronage. There is another matter respecting head post masters which I wish to call the attention of the Postmaster General to. It is the manner in which head postmasters are paid. They are paid by a fixed salary. They ask that there shall be a minimum and a maximum, and an annual increment, as is the case in regard to every other official in the postal Department. If there were a minimum and a 1124 maximum, the head postmasters would be relieved of the necessity of occasionally appealing to perhaps an unsympathetic surveyor to take up their case, and represent it to the Postmaster General. Very often postmasters have to depend upon these surveyors, who may or may not bring under the notice of the superiors of the Department a deserving case. A surveyor may be influenced by one motive or another; he may have a grudge against a particular postmaster, and a deserving man may be kept in the background owing to the shortcomings of a surveyor. There is another matter. The head postmasters ask to be allowed to conduct the affairs of their own respective districts rather than the surveyors, who are now asked to interfere in the most trivial matters. I think head postmasters would be able to get work done very much better than surveyors, who only pay cursory visits to the district, and who are not at all acquainted with the particular matters into which they are asked to investigate. Then, again, I complain altogether of the manner in which surveyors' clerks and inspectors are appointed. It has now amounted to a custom to appoint young men from the London office as surveyors' clerks and inspectors. It is an obnoxious thing to have a young clerk from the London office promoted over the head of older officials. It often happens that the conduct of these young men is overbearing in the highest degree. These young men are placed over men whose service is of twice the length, and who have more experience of the office, and of the requirements of the office, but who are still, at the same time, obliged to submit not only to the inexperience of these young men, but to their arrogance and overbearing manners. Why should you not promote head postmasters to the position of surveyors' clerks and inspectors? It nearly always happens that the inspector of a bank has at some portion of his career been a bank manager. I say the same principle may be made to apply to the service of the Post Office, that the head postmaster, if he showed the capacity, might be made an inspector to the advantage generally of the Post Office system. And by making these promotions, men will look forward to them as a reward for their services, and they will act as an inducement to a better class of men 1125 to join the service. Now, Sir, these are the few remarks concerning the head postmasters to which I desire to draw the attention of the Postmaster General. I will now trouble him for a very few moments by asking him a question concerning another branch of the Postal Service. I drew his attention on a former occasion, both by question and speech in this House, to the position of postmen in Cork. I wanted to know then, and I ask him now, what has been the result of his inquiry. I desire to know why these men are not eligible for promotion to the position of letter sorters, and for positions of a higher grade as they are elsewhere than in Cork? Then again, in Cork, when sick, they get only half pay; while in Dublin a married man who is sick receives full pay, and an unmarried man who is sick gets three-quarter's pay. The grievance of these public servants at Cork is all the greater, because their pay is 25 per cent less than that of men who serve in like positions elsewhere. Now, these are the grievances which I drew the attention of the Postmaster General to on a past occasion, and he then promised inquiry. I should be very glad to get some information on the point. Of course, if he cannot now, without notice, recall all he has done in the matter, I should be very pleased if he would say that he will give me the information at some future time. I trust he will consider these matters of sufficient moment to give them his consideration.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
Mr. Courtney, there are only one or two points to which I desire to refer. One is respecting the patronage to sub-postmaster ships. Everyone knows what a nuisance it is to receive letters from the Treasury asking Members to recommend a man to some sub postmaster ship. Upon receipt of such a letter an hon. Member writes down to someone in his constituency to recommend a person for the office. Altogether, Members are put to a great deal of trouble, and there is not the slightest reason why this relict of the past, this system of giving patronage to Members of Parliament in order, it is supposed, to influence constituents to the advantage of Members should continue, and I really suggest that the system be done away with. It seems to me that the best person to apply to in these cases is the local postmaster. He is able to 1126 give a reasonable, commonsense answer to the question asked, what person is best fitted for the vacant office? Generally it is someone who has got a shop in some central position, and it is a perfect nuisance for Members to be pestered in the matter. It is part of the old system of Members being corrupted by the Treasury, and of Members attempting to corrupt their constituents. I find it a nuisance, and my constituents do not require to be corrupted. The next point to which I want to call the attention of the Postmaster General, refers to postcards. Every Postmaster General is anxious to distinguish himself by doing something to the public advantage, and I submit to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) that he would distinguish himself if he would adopt in England the penny closed postcards, such as exist in France. Many people do not care about using our halfpenny postcards, because they are open. If postcards could be closed, and a penny charged for them, it would simplify correspondence very much. I believe that the French postcard' is a patent, but of course arrangements could be made for the use of similar cards in this country. If they were issued at a penny each I believe the Post Office would gain very considerably; but, whether they would or not, the public would find them of great convenience. There is another point I should like to call attention to, and it is in reference to the telegraphs. There is at present, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, a telegraphic cable between France and England——
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I thought we were dealing with the whole of the Vote. I will reserve my remarks upon the point, and upon one or two other matters connected with the telegraphs, until we get to the Vote.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
Before the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General replies, I should like to call his attention to two matters in reference to the service of mails to the North. The first point is in reference to the mails between the Western Islands and the mainland. At the present time, if you post a letter, say, on a Monday, at Stornoway, that letter will not be delivered in Caithness until Thursday, al- 1127 though the distance is less than 100 miles. The reason is, that the mail train arrives at Ding wall at half-past 1, while the mail train for the North leaves at a quarter to 12. The consequence is that letters are detained for 24 hours in Ding wall. For the last 18 months we have lost an entire day because the mail train arrives at Ding wall 43 minutes after the train from the south comes up. Now, there is another matter to which I think I have only to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to have it remedied. It is in reference to the South mails. We, practically, in the whole North of Scotland—north of the Caledonian Canal—have only one mail per day. There are two mails ostensibly, but one mail leaves here at 10 o'clock in the morning, and the letters carried by it are only delivered in Caithness one hour before the letters leaving by the mail at 8 o'clock at night. The mail leaving London at 8 o'clock at night gets to Caithness at 6 o'clock the next night; while the mail leaving at 10 o'clock in the morning only arrives at 5 o'clock the next afternoon. The morning mail really takes 9 hours longer to do the journey than the evening mail. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt say that this is a question of expense. I admit it is; but in certain districts in the North, where you have nothing like the same amount of correspondence, you really pay more for it. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will consider the matter, and that, if he is only going to spend a certain amount of money in Scotland, he will see that it is fairly spent among the various districts.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
I want to ask the Postmaster General to give us some assistance in a matter in respect of which an industry has suffered a great deal of late years. An inquiry was fixed before the Fishery Commission at Hove into the statements which had been made that the fishery people of Ireland had been deceived by false telegrams, telegrams sent for the sole purpose of imparting false information to fishermen along the coast as to the whereabouts of fish in order that the senders might ring the market. At the inquiry which was held at Hove about the middle of last year, the sending of these false telegrams was proved to the hilt, and the recommendation was then made that the Postmaster General should 1128 be applied to in the matter. The application was a very simple one, it was that the Postmaster General should arrange for reliable telegrams to be sent to the fishery districts of Ireland, in order that the false telegrams, which are sent for the purpose of deceiving men and ringing the market, should not have the effect which they have now had for a considerable time. The Postmaster General has undertaken the despatch of storm signals, and I think he might very properly do something in the direction I have indicated. Of course, the Postmaster General cannot prevent anyone sending false telegrams as long as they are paid for; but he can prevent the evil which is done by acting officially in the matter, and by having telegrams of a reliable character sent to the different fishery neighbour hoods of Ireland so as to prevent a recurrence of the evil.
§ MR. TAPLING (Leicestershire, Harborough)
I have only one remark to make. I should like to ask the Postmaster General whether his attention has been called to the great facilities the residents of Paris enjoy by means of what is called the pneumatic post. By that post anyone living in Paris can write a short letter, despatch it by this post, and receive an answer to it in the course of a half hour. I am sure no hon. Member of this House who has ever been in Paris can have failed to have been struck by the great facility this post affords to people. I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will consider if it is possible to institute something of the same kind in London, because I am fully persuaded that the people of the Metropolis would find it an enormous convenience if they had some such means of communication.
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)
I must ask the indulgence of the Committee in dealing with the multifarious points which have been raised in the course of the discussion. I will endeavour to do my best to notice the various matters which have be raised, although I cannot undertake to deal with them at the length they may deserve. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) was the first Member to rise since I sat down, and he called the attention of the Committee to the question of post boxes at railway stations, and also to 1129 the question of pillar boxes. There is no doubt an apparent grievance in the system of requiring that the letters posted at pillar boxes at stations should be sorted at the head Post Office of the town, as that, of course, deprives the travelling public of some time for posting before the train leaves. I dare say there are good reasons why this system, has hitherto endured; but I will look into the matter, and see whether any arrangement can be made to facilitate the transfer of letters directly from the station pillar boxes to the travelling vans. Then my right hon. and learned Friend went on to deal with a question which is perhaps more distinctly local, inasmuch as it has reference to the mails from Whitehaven to the South. I understood him to say that the mail bags leave Whitehaven at a quarter past 6, although the fast train which is to convey them ultimately to London does not go till half-past 7.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
I merely referred to that as an instance. My point was this, that, where the mail bags are not in charge of a travelling clerk of the Post Office, letters are not received. That is to say, when the mail bags are in charge of the guard or of some other railway official, letters are not received.
§ MR. RAIKES
At first sight, it would seem not unreasonable, at all events in the case of places of some importance, that the guard might be allowed to carry a supplementary bag. That is a matter again on which I can only promise inquiry; it is not a matter to which my attention has been previously drawn, and I should be glad if what is suggested can be found practicable. Then the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) asked a question about the charge for insurance. He commented very naturally upon the very small charge which appears for water, and many other things connected with the Department in London, and which includes insurance. My hon. Friend is perhaps not aware that the Government is its own insurance office. It is possible, in fact it is no doubt the case, that some small payments are made in London in respect of insurances where the Government is not the freeholder, but holds premises on lease; it is quite probable that the lease may contain a covenant for insurance. That may account for the very small amount 1130 of insurance which is charged for. Then my hon. Friend mentioned the question of smuggling by means of the Parcel Post. I heard last year one or two complaints in regard to the smuggling of tobacco in the Parcel Post. There has been no doubt from time to time mention made of it by the officials of the Inland Revenue; but I am not aware that there is anything the Post Office could do to prevent the practice. It is rather a matter for the Inland Revenue than for ourselves, and I think it is a matter to which the best attention of the Inland Revenue is at present given, and as far as I can judge the complaints made have become fewer in number in the course of the last few months. Then my hon. Friend asked a question in regard to the sending of mails by coaches, and I think a certain amount of public interest has been raised by the introduction of the parcels coach between London and Brighton. That is an experiment, and it is an experiment which at present has been sanctioned by the Treasury only for one year. We made the contract only for one year. The coach, as hon. Members are probably aware, is really a parcels van, and is confined to the carrying of parcels. It leaves London about 11 o'clock at night, and it reaches Brighton about 5 o'clock in the morning; it makes the journey, I believe, in six hours. It is thought that in distances of this description it may be found possible to effect considerable economy by the establishment of these coaches. It will not probably be applicable to longer distances. But the Committee is no doubt aware that under the Acts which establish the Parcel Post, a certain percentage of the postage is paid by the Government to the railways which convey the parcels. It amounts to 55 per cent of the entire amount received for postage, and certain experts of the Post Office have satisfied themselves that we can convey our own parcels by road from London to Brighton, at a less cost than that represented by 55 per cent of the postage. That being so, it was thought desirable to make an experiment, and to see whether the result corresponded with the expectations of these experienced officers. I have very little reason to doubt that the result will be satisfactory from a commercial point of view, and if we find that 1131 the parcels mail is conveyed safely, regularly, and economically, it will probably be found practicable to extend the system in other parts of the country; but it will only be extended where the distance to be travelled is not a very great one. For instance, I am afraid that the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) cannot look for any great assistance in this direction. Now my hon. Friend the Member for Preston asked a very natural question about trip allowances. The name is an old one, it has been always on the Estimates; it is rather a misleading one, for it seems to suggest something to do with holidays. On the contrary, these trip allowances are sums paid for extra duties to those officers of the Post Office who conduct the sorting operations in the travelling vans, and it is done entirely, or almost entirely, as a matter of extra duty. This is the explanation of the £24,000, or thereabouts, for trip allowances. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) made a speech on the subject of the surplus revenue of the Post Office, upon which I do not think it will be necessary for me to offer any observations, especially after the reply of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen). There is one part of his speech, however, which I hope he will forgive me for saying that I had much rather he had not made. I think it is a pity that one who has held the position of head of a Department should make observations as to the internal arrangements of the Department in the form of insinuations and innuendos. I think that if he has any complaints to make, he should make a categorical statement of the case; it is unfortunate that the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made should be couched in the language which he used. I can only say in regard to the matter which the right hon. Gentleman thought fit to bring up, that I have nothing to add to what I said earlier in the evening in regard to the services of the Secretary to the Post Office. I trust I shall never be suspected of depreciating the services of the Secretary to the Post Office; indeed, I am so fully sensible of the valuable assistance rendered by the permanent officials of the Department that I cannot think I am open to any taunt of the description the right hon. Gentleman 1132 levelled at them. Well, now, the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) has made one or two speeches, and among others he has made a speech to explain the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford. But I will confine myself to his own original matter. He was rather sorry that we had determined to re-establish the Samples Post, and thought that the solution of the matter was rather to be found in reducing the size of parcels. Well, I do not think he would find the public to agree with him on that point. The cry is certainly for greater convenience for sending small samples or patterns. It would be impossible to bring the Parcel Post down to a point at which it would touch the Letter Post. If you were to create a new parcels rate for everything above the size that is commonly sent by Letter Post you would create enormous confusion, and probably reduce our whole postal system to something like chaos. We prefer the simpler and less presumptuous attempt which we are making to endeavour to re-establish the Pattern Post, and I am convinced that it will be found extremely useful and convenient to the public, while I trust it will not be un-remunerative to the revenue. Then the hon. Member dwelt upon the question of sending money orders by telegraph, and so also did the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton). I have said what I have to say upon the point, but I am quite willing to add this much, that I think there is something worthy of consideration in the suggestion of the hon. Member for Canterbury as to whether we might make an experiment, and after consideration with my advisers, I will say whether a system can be devised by which an experiment can be made. Then the hon. Member (Dr. Cameron) went on to dwell upon the increasing revenue of the Post Office. Upon that he harped for some time. It is very undesirable that a mistaken idea on this subject should go abroad. It is, of course, a fact that the gross revenue of the Post Office has continued to increase; but it is also a fact that the cost of the service has increased in a greater ratio. Although the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) are no doubt correct up to the point at which he left off, I am afraid that if I 1133 were in a position to state positively the figures for the last few years, they would show a very decided falling off in the profits of the Post Office. As far as I calculate, the amount paid by the Post Office into the Exchequer for postal and packet service amounted last year to something under £2,400,000, and it fell short of the sum paid the preceding year by more than £300,000; therefore, it certainly is misleading the public to speak of the increasing revenue of the Post Office, when, although the gross revenue has increased, the actual surplus has diminished.
§ MR. RAIKES
No, of course it was not; but that was not the last demand to be made for Post Office sites. The demand last year was a large one, and I trust the demand this year will be very much less. Irrespective of the expenditure on Post Office sites, if my expectation is carried out, I hope to see a larger surplus paid this year than last; but these matters do not affect the question as to whether the surplus of the Post Office did or did not decline last year. As I have already said, the surplus paid into the Exchequer last year fell short of the surplus of the preceding year by something more than £300,000. Then if you come to the question of the income which is derived from the sister Service, the Telegraphs—I merely connect it with the question of the gross revenue of the Services—it is necessary to bear in mind that the decline in the finances of the Telegraph Department, which commenced about four years ago, has continued steadily to increase. If we take the time seven years ago, before the late Mr. Fawcett commenced the various reforms with which his name is identified, I find that in the year 1880 there was almost an equilibrium in the finances of the Telegraph Department. If you take the interest at £326,000 a-year, which represents the interest on the capital sum expended on the purchase of the telegraphs, the profit earned in that year was £313,000, so it only fell short of the annual charge for interest by about £13,000. But I find that in the past year, in addition to the £326,000, the annual charge for interest, there was a deficit upon our 1134 telegraphic revenue of between£220,000 and £230,000, so that last year the Telegraph Department must be regarded as having cost the country about £550,000, which is paid by the taxpayers in order to assist the senders of telegrams. And when you are taking the revenue of the Post Office, you must deduct that sum of £550,000 from the surplus earned by the Post Office itself—something like £2,400,000. So your entire surplus from the Post Office, instead of being £3,000,000, is something less than £2,000,000. The surplus necessarily rests upon the receipts of the purely Postal Department. I may repeat what was said by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen)—that the income of the Post Office finds its sheet anchor in the 1d. postage. There is, no doubt, as pointed out by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton), a profit also upon the postage to foreign countries where the Postal Union prevails; but that is as a bagatelle when compared with the revenue earned by the 1d. postage. In regard to the other points to which the hon. Member for Canterbury adverted, it seems to be very difficult to make him accept the fact that we do not believe. that the American mails result in any profit whatever to the Department. We have to pay the charges of the mails conveyed from London to Queenstown—no small sum—and we have also to pay the charges of bringing the mails from Queenstown to London; and while we have to charge this outgoing service from London to Queenstown against the revenue which we derive by sending our letters to America, the reverse process of bringing the mails from Queenstown to London is to be charged against the service from which we derive no revenue at all. The American Post Office, of course, receives all the profit of the postal business from America to this country. Putting all these things together, I hope there will be a surplus; but it will not be a large one; it will not be one about which much question can be made. Then came the question raised by the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor). The hon. Gentleman has taken up the question of postmasters generally, and he has pointed to what I think are various changes that may very 1135 well be considered in connection, with the position of these officers. I quite agree with him that it seems a very great hardship that a public servant taking up an important public charge should be put to great expense in the way of fitting up his office, and to that initial charge I think may be traced several painful cases of deficiency on the part of postmasters. The irregularities of some of these postmasters may be traced to the fact that they have been saddled with a debt incurred by the necessity of fitting up their offices, from which difficulty they have never been able subsequently to extricate themselves. Though the system is not a good one, I am afraid it would be a very difficult thing to persuade the Treasury to incur the expenditure which would be necessary to provide post office fitttings in the case of every country postmaster. If, however, I hold Office during the present year, I shall endeavour to see what amelioration can be devised in the position of the postmasters in this respect.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
My suggestion was limited to postmasterships where the premises were devoted exclusively to the public service
§ MR. RAIKES
The hon. Member is no doubt aware that in regard to the Crown offices, or the offices which are devoted exclusively to post office work, the fittings are supplied by the Government. At all events, that is the intention I know; but I will look into the matter, and I shall be very glad to receive any suggestion the hon. Gentleman likes to make to me. He was anxious that something should be done with the view of improving the position of postmasters in relation to promotion. This is of course a question of very burning interest to postmasters at large; but I think it is well that these officers should understand, when they obtain on their own request a position of postmaster which at the time is satisfactory, that that does not entitle them to further promotion to a larger postmastership in a different town. Of course, it is very desirable when a postmaster at a small station is found to be a very efficient officer and a person of considerable ability, to utilize his experience as much as possible, and to find the opportunity, if one is available, of giving him a wider sphere of action by promoting him to a 1136 larger station. No doubt efficient postmasters will, as a general rule, obtain promotion; but I do not think it would be a good thing if we were to allow it to be generally understood that the fact of soliciting and obtaining a small postmastership should, in itself, entitle one to promotion to a large postmastership later on. If that principle were admitted it would be very hard to those servants who prefer the more active, and therefore the more responsible, duties at headquarters if they were to be excluded altogether from competition for important postmasterships, for the fulfilment of the duties of which they are so well fitted. I can assure the Committee that in cases where I have had to fill up vacant postmasterships, though I could not, without reference, state the exact proportion in which I promoted postmasters from small to large stations, and in which I had promoted other post office servants, I have always been extremely glad, where I could promote efficient postmasters, to give them new spheres of action; and when other opportunities may occur the hon. Gentleman may be sure that I shall be glad to adopt the same course of action. Then comes the question about the extra duty of the Savings Bank clerks in connection with commutation. The hon. Gentleman is so accurate in the statements he makes as a general rule, and he has such an extended knowledge of the Civil Service, that I am surprised that on this occasion he should have made a little slip. He assumed that the extra duty for which that sum of £8,500 was charged was extra duty that could be met in a considerable degree by lengthening the hours of the day's work of the clerks in that Department. I am quite with him as to the desirability of lengthening the hours of work. I think six hours are not adequate, and that seven hours' work and pay would be better for the State and for the individual. But as regards this particular duty, the fact is that this commutation work in respect of which this charge is made only occurs once a-year, and therefore the difficulty could not be met, either by increasing the staff or lengthening the hours. It is work that must be extra. It is an extra pressure that comes at the beginning of the year. It only lasts a few weeks, and therefore, as I say, it could not be met by an extension of the hours throughout the twelve months.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
This particular work does not represent more than £3,500 of this item of £8,500.
§ MR. RAIKES
I should not be surprised if the hon. Member is correct, because he is generally so very accurate in his statements with reference to these matters. The hon. Member read some observations made by the Committee in 1878—the Committee presided over by the present Secretary to the Post Office, which I think are worthy of consideration. I only refer to that at this moment to say that I have not been so long in my Office that I have been able to make a perfect study of the history of the Post Office transactions, and this matter has escaped me. But I will endeavour to acquaint myself with these particulars, and on some future occasion shall be able to deal more satisfactorily with the matter. Then the hon. Member for South Tipperary (Mr. John O'Connor) made some observations with reference to postmasters in Ireland. He says their salaries are 20 per cent less than those of postmasters in England. That is a statement which I cannot accept without further inquiry. I think, no doubt, that it is possible that the salaries are lower in Ireland than in this country, as we know the salaries in Scotland are generally lower than in England in all branches of the Public Service. But at the same time, it must be borne in mind that both the cost of living and of rent, even where it is paid, in Ireland, as in Scotland, are much less than in England. I will, however, inquire into the question of promotion. I do not think I could hold out any prospect that I could sanction the fixing of a maximum and a minimum, as the salaries of postmasters, with an annually increasing increment, because that would be making allowance for an increase of work in some cases where work did not increase, whilst it might increase very Considerably in other places. However, the hon. Gentleman will be glad to hear that I have raised the salaries of at least 12 of these minor postmasterships in Ireland since I have been in Office. There is a further process of readjustment going on, and I may assure the hon. Member that 1138 whenever the salaries can be raised above what is called starvation point, not only in Ireland, but in other parts of the United Kingdom, I shall be very happy to avail myself of the opportunity. Something has been said with regard to the surveyors, both by the hon. Member for East Donegal and the hon. Member for South Tipperary. Comparisons have been made as to the way in which these gentlemen perform their duties in Ireland and the way in which they are performed elsewhere. The general question was dealt with by a Departmental Committee only last year. That Committee had power to inquire into the question as to all the relations between the surveyors and the postmasters, and I think that in some cases it has been found convenient to sanction the employment of the head postmasters in important places as surveyors in the districts where their post offices are situated. The hon. Gentleman is, I hope, misinformed with regard to the manner in which some surveyors' clerks have behaved. All I can say is, that during the last nine months, since I have had any practical experience of this matter, I have not appointed a surveyor's clerk in Ireland without having a recommendation from the authorities of the Irish Post Office. I quite agree that it would be most desirable to prevent any unpleasantness by bringing into the postal service in Ireland any person, whether he comes from England, Scotland, or Ireland, who does not know how to behave himself in carrying out his duty. Then the case of the Cork letter carriers has been referred to. I have gone into that matter, but I have not with me the particulars. I did not think it was likely to be alluded to to-day. I thought a reply had been given, but as that does not seem to be the case, I will undertake that a reply shall be given to the complaint of the hon. Member on some future occasion. I now come to the question raised by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who suggested that it was desirable that the minor positions in the Post Office should be filled up on the recommendation of the head postmaster of a district rather than that of the local Member for a constituency. I think I have already stated in one of the discussions that have taken place upon Postal matters since I 1139 took Office, that my own mind tends in the same direction as the hon. Member; and that in the case of these little sub-receiving and sorting offices, which are generally either in the same town or in the immediate vicinity of the head office, the postmaster would probably be on the whole—if not the invariable—at least the best guide to whom the Postmaster General could look for information upon this matter. I have not had any official communication with the Treasury on the subject; and, of course, it would be impossible for me to act without a thorough understanding with that Department; but, I think it is not impossible, if no objection is raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, or any other Member of the Treasury Board, that some step may be taken in the matter. The other point to which the hon. Member for Northampton refers was with regard to the establishment of a penny closed postcard. That matter, I confess, is new to me. The hon. Member is not now in his place, otherwise I would have asked him to send me a sample of the postcard to which he refers. However, I have no doubt that a sample could be obtained, and I will see what can be done after further consideration. Then, as to the question raised by the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark)—his complaint as to the slowness of the morning mail—I should be very glad if that train could be accelerated so that letters could arrive at the places he referred to at an earlier period than they do at present. To those who live at the extreme end of the line of communication, it must be a serious provocation to find their morning and evening letters arrive practically at the same hour. However, persons even in the North of Scotland differ in opinion with regard to this subject; and I have had representations made to me with regard to the service of this slow train, which leads me to believe that many parts of the country are fully satisfied with the arrangement as it at present exists. With regard to the Postal Service to the Western Islands, I should be very much obliged if the hon. Gentleman would put upon paper some practical suggestion. If he will do so, I shall be very glad to communicate with him upon the subject. I must say I have had more than enough 1140 almost to do with Stornoway and Strome Ferry ever since I came to the Post Office, and the names of those places are more familiar to me than the names of almost any other place in her Majesty's dominions. However, I shall be glad to see what can be done with regard to the Dingwall connection. As to what was said by the hon. and learned Member sitting below the Gangway on the Front Bench opposite (Mr. Molloy) with regard to false telegrams having been sent to Irish fishermen respecting the weather, he suggested that perhaps the Postmaster General might send sound and true weather forecasts for the benefit of the Irish fishermen. Well, if there was no other objection to it, I should most respectfully decline to be in any way responsible for the Irish weather. It is variable enough in this part of Her Majesty's Dominions, but I think if the Postmaster General were to do any such thing as to hold himself responsible for the unexpected variations in the Irish weather, we should be adding a substantial grievance to the alleged woes of Ireland. But false telegrams are sent about many other subjects besides the weather, and I should be very glad if there were power in the Post Office to remedy the evil of these false telegrams. I might mention that the other day I received a letter from the owner of one of the favourites, or rather of one of the horses that were expected to make a show in the late Derby, enclosing a false telegram announcing to the officials of the Jockey Club that the horse had been ''scratched,'' and I was asked to take dire vengeance on the offender. Well, I should be very glad if it were in my power to hand over the offender to the legal authorities; but it must be remembered that persons who send false telegrams are not very particular to identify themselves.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
With reference to what the right hon. Gentleman has said about my remarks earlier in this discussion, I wish to say that it had not been my intention to advert in any way to what has taken place in the Post Office, and I should have made no remark whatever if it had not been for the severe observations made as to the conduct of the Secretary to the Post Office, Mr. Blackwood, by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton).
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. FRASER-MACKINTOSH (Inverness-shire)
In consequence of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General as to the postal arrangements with the Hebrides, may I understand him as inviting schemes from the locality interested? I wish to remind the right hon. Gentleman that last year, in the month of July, advertisement was made for tenders to to establish a steam postal service between Strome Ferry and the Island of Harris. Tenders were to be given in in August, and it was supposed that the whole matter had been arranged. Although I have not the letter from the Secretary for Scotland, I have seen it—that official wrote in November last that the steam service had been sanctioned, the only matter to be dealt with being some minor detail. The people of Harris are surprised to find now that the whole matter has fallen to the ground on the score of expense. I put a Question to the Postmaster General two months ago on the subject, and he stated, very much to my surprise, that he was not aware that any promise had been made. The people in the district have been very much put about by what has occurred, and the other day a meeting was held in Harris, attended by a large number of people, at which a resolution was passed showing the very great loss and inconvenience which had been sustained through the absence of proper postal communication. The resolution set forth that during the 10 days previous more than £1,000 had been lost to the herring fishing industry in consequence of the inability to communicate speedily with the mainland. This is a matter which requires very serious consideration, and I trust the Government will consider the state of the Hebrides altogether. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes some scheme to be suggested to him on the part of the people, they, I am sure, will be only too happy to communicate with him; but I must protest in the strongest manner against the way in which the people of Harris have been treated.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
I wish to call the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General's attention to the 1142 postal service in the South of Ireland. I think if the right hon. Gentleman paid attention to the point I mention it would be of great service to the people I represent in Cork. I refer to the mail train which goes out of Cork at six minutes past 10—the train I came by myself last night. There are numerous complaints made in the neighbourhood of Cork, notably from my own constituents, in regard to the time at which this train leaves the City, and there is a general concensus of opinion that it would conduce enormously to the advantage of the neighbourhood if it could be deferred, say for an hour or an hour and a half. The effect of the present arrangement for starting, as everybody who travels by the train knows, that if you are coming across to England you have to wait, generally, two hours and a half in Dublin. The mails are sorted in coming up in the train, and they have to cross the water. There will be no difficulty, seeing they are made up in the Cork train, to delay the train and send the letters across to Westland Row, immediately on the arrival of the train in Dublin. If the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to defer the departure of the mail train from Cork, he would be able to pay more attention to the reception of the various mails in the City of Cork, which is the centre of the South of Ireland. He would be enabled to gather the mails in there, and he would be able to pass them on with much greater celerity than at present. I know perfectly well that if the right hon. Gentleman looks into this question, and I am certain he will, for he is always distinguished by his courtesy in dealing with these matters, he will see that in the first place, practically speaking, people living in the City of Cork and in the whole of the South of Ireland are put to great inconvenience by the existing mail system, and in the next place he would see that it would greatly simplify matters by delaying the train as I suggest. Take the mail arriving from Skibbereen and Bantry, the mails which come into Cork from Skibbereen or Bantry, or from a longer distance, have to leave their starting place at an early hour, in consequence of the mail train leaving Cork at six minutes past 10. If the amount of time which is lost in Dublin were given to the mail train at Cork, this would give the branch 1143 trains a longer period, and would enable the mails to be made up later, and consequently to permit of the posting of letters at a later period. If the mail train at Cork were put back an hour, say until six minutes past 11, it would facilitate the answering of letters in almost every district, and would enable people to reply to letters which at present they are not able to answer. One other point I would like to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to, and that is in connection with the town of Macroom, which is situated in Mid Cork. It was only the day before yesterday that they were speaking to me about the way in which letters were taken at Macroom. There is a railway running from the City of Cork to Macroom, but the Government do not make use of it. [Cries of "Yes, yes!"] Well, if they do make use of it, it is only to a very small extent. The day mail arrives in Cork at six minutes past 12 and goes out by the Macroom train at 3 o'clock, which is a very small accommodation. What I would call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to is this point, that letters received by the people in Macroom, and all along that line, by the morning post, from this side of the water cannot be answered till the following day, whereas if the right hon. Gentleman would put back the departure of the train from Cork there would be much greater chance of letters being answered in Macroom at an earlier period; and this statement applies equally to Skibbereen and other places which are connected with Cork by Railway. If the right hon. Gentleman, instead of sending these mails by car, as has hitherto been the case, would dispatch them on the Macroom line, he would confer a great benefit on the people of the locality. I do not say there is very much business done there. That is not the case; but anyone who understands business matters—and I presume no one understands them better than the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General himself—will see that the proposal I make would give business men very great facilities, and would conduce very much to their interests and the development of the business in these remote districts. I would ask him to allow the mails to be sent into Cork from Macroom and these other places by train, and sent away from Cork later 1144 than at present. I had a few notes on this question; but I did not know that this estimate was to be taken this evening, and, therefore, I have not provided myself with them. I sincerely hope, however, the right hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy to look into these matters, and, so far as he possibly can, deal a substantial benefit to all the commercial people dwelling in or about the City of Cork.
§ MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)
Before the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) answers that question, I would like to ask him if any progress has been made in the establishment of money-order offices in two villages in Morayshire, about which I asked him a question a few days ago. I refer to the villages of Dallas and Archiestown. It may be a matter for the Treasury, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) to inform the Committee what is the difficulty that does exist in having money-order offices established at these small villages. I am sure the Government must be aware of the importance of having savings banks established wherever there is a considerable population, and I wish to point out that in the Highlands villages and houses are scattered. They are practically at great distances from any bank, and the people complain of not being able to deposit their savings without going some eight or ten miles to the town of Aberlour, I think, where there is a single savings bank, or where there is a proper savings bank. I do not think it is right that that state of things should exist. I understood, from an interview that the Postmaster General was kind enough to give me some time ago, that the question was a financial one, and that some small sum had to be made up—or something of that kind. I do think, in a matter of such importance as this, it is not right on the part of the Government—it is false economy on the part of the Government—to impose on people who are not well off a tax that, though it might not be a large one in the opinion of the Committee, would still be one that would be felt by the people and should not be encouraged. What I want to suggest is that the Government should remove these little difficulties of raising £10 or £20, or giving written guarantees.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I must apologize for rising to trespass upon the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) again after he has been already once or twice upon his feet answering Questions. I was not able to arrive in the House until some time after this discussion commenced this evening, and therefore am obliged to trouble the right hon. Gentleman again. There are just one or two matters which have been entrusted to me to place before his notice, and I shall endeavour to discharge this trust as briefly as possible. In the first instance, however, I should like to advert for a moment to a matter which concerns my own constituency, and which, as I believe, has been as troublesome a question to successive Postmaster Generals as those matters relating to Strone Ferry and other parts of the islands of Scotland about which we have heard to-night—I allude to the stoppage of the calling of the mail from Penzance at the town of Camborne. I myself have had some correspondence with the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General and with his Predecessors upon this subject, and others have done the like. Correspondence of this kind has taken place on this subject, but all our representations have been without effect so far. The urgent and repeated requests of the people of Camborne, and the thickly populated districts around that town, have failed to produce, by what I might call silent entreaty, the reform required, and I am, therefore, compelled reluctantly to bring the matter before this House in a more pointed form. The grievance is that when a few years ago some alterations were made for the purpose of facilitating and improving the postal service in the Western part of the County of Cornwall the mail train, which at that time stopped at Camborne, was taken off for stopping there, and has never since been allowed to stop there. There was no excuse whatever for the taking off the train for stopping at Camborne in the past, and still less excuse is there for the refusal to allow the train to stop there now since Camborne has become the head of a Parliamentary Division. Camborne is, I believe the most important town in the County of Cornwall; I might say without exception, but I will, if you like, grant the one exception of Truro. The 1146 population is an industrial one, and one of growing importance, and it is, as I have before pointed out to the Postmaster General, the most populated district throughout the whole of Cornwall. I am very well aware that the answer I shall receive from the right hon. Gentleman is likely to be similar to that which I have read from his Predecessors in Office—namely, that the question is one for the Directors of the Great Western Railway Company, and that it is not for the Postmaster General to interfere in it at all. But when we go to the Directors of the Great Western Railway Company, who are exceedingly Conservative, and a body particularly hard to move, they say that the question is one for the Postmaster General to deal with, and that they have no power and cannot interfere in the matter at all. Now, this may seem a very small matter to a great many people, but this position of affairs is very disagreeable to us who are interested in the town of Camborne, and to a great many others who reside in the district; and we are desirous that this sort of thing, of which we are the victims, should be put an end to. The problems which have been brought before the right hon. Gentleman and his Predecessors for solution are no doubt many and various; but, to my mind, there is no problem and no difficulty, so far as my inquiries, and so far as the information which I have been able to lay before the right hon. Gentleman goes, so easy of solution as this. There would be no difficulty in the world in adopting one or two solutions—either starting the mail train five minutes earlier at its starting point, or requiring the Great Western Railway Company to stop at Camborne, and to make up for the delay by increasing the speed of the mail train between Penzance and Camborne. Now, I believe there are occasions—and I ask the attention of the right hon. Gentleman especially to this, if he is not already acquainted with these matters—on which the Directors of the Great Western Railway, to suit their own convenience, and for their own purposes purely, have stopped this mail train between Penzance and Camborne without causing any appreciable delay. Such stoppages are important matters when you have to deal with a mail train running upon a single line, as the Great Western Railway is in this district, and in a train 1147 which has to run 300 miles up to London. If it is possible for the Directors of the Great Western Railway to stop a mail train at stations which are not usually stopped at, at places of much less importance than Camborne, it would be perfectly possible, it seems to me, to stop at Camborne without interfering with the regular service of the train. Then there are other methods by which this difficulty might be got over. It really only requires a little determination, if the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me for saying so, on his part to get over this difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman is in the position of being able to require that a mail train of this kind shall stop at a particular station. Unfortunately at the time the contract was entered into, Camborne was struck out of the stopping places. I believe it was done, not through the fault of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General himself or his Predecessors, but through some local jealousy or something of that kind. That was before my time, however. I contend, that if it can be shown to be to the interests of a large portion of the population of the country, and if it can be shown to be not only in their interests to grant the facilities I ask for, but that they can be granted without interfering with the interests of any other portion of the population—I say that the least the right hon. Gentleman could do would be to grant this reform, which is not a revolutionary reform, but really in the nature of the restoration of a privilege or aright to the people of Camborne—a right which was unjustly taken away from them a few years ago. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to take steps to restore this right. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am very much averse to referring to these questions over and over again, but it is my duty to refer to them, and though I do not wish to put it before the right hon. Gentleman in the nature of a threat, I still must say, that until a satisfactory answer has been received from him, I shall have to bring this matter continually under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman and his Successors so long as I continue to enjoy the privilege of a seat in this House. Another matter which I wish very briefly to bring before the notice of the right hon. Gentleman is one with regard to which I 1148 should not have asked for any portion of the time of the Committee if it had not been for the fact that no one has alluded to the subject, and that it affects the interests of a very considerable class of deserving servants in the Post Office—I mean the question of the promotion of the second-class sorters. Now the facts with reference to the grievances of the second-class sorters which I am asked to place before the Committee are as follows. The second-class sorters have petitioned and memorialised successive Postmaster Generals from time to time for a redress of their grievances, but with no better success than I and my constituents who have petitioned them with regard to the stopping of the mail train at Camborne. These people complain that the majority of second-class sorters in the Metropolitan district entered the service with the advertised prospect of promotion to the position of sorters of the first class. When the second-class sorters were appointed by open competition there were posts as first-class sorters, but in the year 1874 the first-class appears to have been abolished, and when that abolition took place no equivalent for the loss of their opportunities for promotion was allowed to the second-class sorters. These men, therefore, have been deprived of the only channel of promotion that was open to them, that to which they were looking forward, and to which I may say they thought they had a sort of vested right according to the terms under which they entered into the public service. In other cases in the Civil Service when offices are abolished in this way, or when reconstruction of departments takes place, I have always noticed that those who have been deprived of any benefit to which they had a legitimate right to look forward to, have been put in the receipt of pensions. Now, I do not ask that these men, in whose interests I am addressing the Committee, and who are such a very important class of public servants, should have pensions given to them. I do not ask for anything of that kind; but I do think that as they have been deprived of the chance of promotion to which they had a right to look forward, they are entitled to some consideration. If it is impossible to restore the first class of sorters, as those persons ask should be done, at any rate, their position should be considered with a view 1149 of enabling them to look forward to some promotion of another kind, or some other advantage. The late Mr. Fawcett, when they represented their grievance to him, replied to them that he could not open up the question of first-class sorters at that time, which implied that the question was not altogether a closed one, and that he might refer to it at some future time. When the noble Lord the Member for East Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) was Postmaster General, he replied, to the petition of the second-class sorters, that the second-class overseers was substituted for the first-class sorters; and he also held out this prospect—that if the first-class sorters were re-established it would lead to a reduction in the pay of the second-class sorters. That was not a very hopeful or satisfactory answer; but I think it is desirable to state that at the time this answer was received by the second-class sorters, let us say 10 years after the second-class overseers had been established in place of the first-class sorters, not one of the second-class sorters had been promoted to the second-class of overseers. Ever since then in the Metropolitan Office, or, at any rate, in the Western district, only one second-class sorter has obtained an appointment as second-class overseer, the other appointments being obtained by postmen. As to that I have no complaint to make—I have no complaint to make that postmen should be promoted, or that others should be promoted by legitimate means—but I do think that the second-class sorters have a right to complain when they not only find that this principal channel of promotion held out to them—namely, that of first class sorters—is done away with, but that they are practically excluded by another class in the service from obtaining that which was their only chance of promotion. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General whether he will consider the possibility or desirability of re-establishing the post of first-class sorters in the Metropolitan district, and whether it is not true that the majority of second-class sorters entered the Service with the advertised prospect of obtaining promotion to that first class; and, if that be so, whether he will, at any rate, so far as those who entered the Service before the abolition of first-class sorters are concerned, consider their position? I 1150 would urge upon him. to see whether it would not be possible to make these people some restitution of that which has been taken away from them, or give them some equivalent. I believe I am correct in stating that there is a first class of sorters in the General Post Office, and that a considerable number of them are younger men in the Service than the members of the second class in the Metropolitan district, and yet I am informed that they all entered the Service with the same qualification. There is a broad distinction between them. With regard to this matter of sorters there is one point upon which I would wish to make a remark in passing. I should like to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a question affecting the sorters employed in the Registered Letter Department. A Question was put to the Government as to these sorters being allowed risk money; but I do not remember the exact terms of the answer received. I have been informed since, however, that the second class of sorters are employed, and that, the work involving risks, circumstances have occurred which have rendered the imposition of penalties necessary, and that these penalties have been inflicted without the sorters having received extra risk money. If that is so—and I am informed that it is the fact—I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General will look into the matter, and will see that those who are employed on this extra duty will be properly remunerated. This, however, is only by the way, and with reference to the risk money of the sorters. As to the general question of promotion, I would like to place before the right hon. Gentleman the complaint of another body of servants in the Post Office—namely, the porters, of whom I think there are about 300 in the General Post Office. I do not know whether a Memorial has been actually placed before the Royal Commission which has been sitting or not; but, at any rate, I have been asked to place the complaint of these people before the Committee in connection with this matter. What they ask is that the barrier at present existing between their class and other classes for promotion to the minor establishment may be removed, and that they may be made eligible for examination for admission into the department, especially in the position of second- 1151 class sorters. This question of the porters therefore hangs together with the question of the second-class sorters to which I have just called the right hon. Gentleman's attention. I am glad to be able to place the matter before the attention of the Committee, because it is quite clear that the efficiency of the service will be materially improved by giving reasonable facilities and opportunities of obtaining promotion to all the servants of the Post Office, from the lowest class up to the highest. If you can promote or give facilities for the promotion of porters to the position of second-class sorters and can give the second-class sorters what they justly ask for, you will get increased zeal on the part of those officials; you will get more work out of them and will have the work done much better. The porters on whose behalf I am now speaking make the remark that in asking that they should be permitted the chance of promotion, they do so with the full knowledge and belief that there are many amongst them who by education and ability are capable of attaining to higher posts in the Post Office; but are deprived of the possibility through no fault of their own. They say that there are several duties connected with their division such as loading and unloading mails which could be efficiently discharged by foremen and their class as they are discharged at present by second-class sorters. I think that it is a very reasonable representation to make. It appears that there are at the present moment second-class sorters engaged in performing the work of porters. I think my appeal for opportunities for promotion for these two classes of servants altogether is a most reasonable appeal. The class of public servants for whom I plead as I have already pointed out is a most deserving class, and one whose interests the right hon. Gentleman will not be wise in the interests of the Public Service to overlook. Another point the porters desire to have stress laid upon is that their wages instead of rising 1s. per annum, should increase at the rate of 1s. 6d. per annum up to 30s. per week. They have a grievance in this respect which they desire to have removed. They entered the service as adults having passed examinations, and having undergone a severe scrutiny as to their character and the previous services they might have been engaged 1152 in, and yet they have to wait no less than 12years, according to the present arrangement, before they reach the maximum of their wages, and obtain the salary that the Nation considers sufficient for competent porters. These men also ask that their period of attendance should be eight hours for day duty and seven hours for night duty, thus making the hours of attendance uniform through all the grades of the minor establishment. These are matters which are not immediately connected to the question of promotion that I have ventured to place before the Committee, but I think they are questions which affect the efficiency of the Public Service generally, that efficiency depending in a large measure on the zeal with which the different services perform their duties. From this point of view, it is very desirable that all questions of grievances which are brought before the Postmaster General in this Committee for the reason that there are no other channels through which these subjects can be brought substantially before the right hon. Gentleman should receive adequate consideration. A considerable part of the grievance of the porters is with regard to this question of hours. Their hours of attendance are now from 4 o'clock in the morning until 9, and from 4 o'clock in the afternoon until 8 in the evening, and during the whole of this time they are employed without the slighest interval for refreshment. The porters ask that their hours should be made similar to the hours of attendance of first and second class sorters, which are in the day from 4 o'clock in the morning until half-past 7, and from a quarter-past 4 in the afternoon until 8 o'clock in the evening. If they are employed after half-past 7 they receive 6d. an hour extra. The hours of attendance for porters in the newspaper branch are the same; but if these men have to stay beyond half-past 7 o'clock they do so without extra pay, so that they have longer hours of attendance and receive smaller pay than any other class. There is no distinction, as I am informed, existing between the sorter and the porter class, either in day or night duty, therefore, I think one may fairly say that the claim of the porter class to be taken into consideration may be fairly taken into account. These, Sir, are one or two matters connected with the working of the Post 1153 Office Department, and relating to the servants who are of an humbler position than many others whose grievances are more constantly brought before the public notice, to which I desire to direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. The matters I have dealt with may seem trivial to the Members of this House; but I am quite sure that if a good case can be made out—as I think I have made out a good case in connection with these servants to whom I have referred—I think if the Government can give these people greater-hopes of increased reward for greater zeal and energy, and if the attention of the Government is devoted to this case, the time I have taken in placing these grievances before the Committee will not have been lost. I can only say that, so far as I am concerned, I have taken these matters up and placed them before the Committee simply because I have been appealed to by the servants of the Post Office, and because I had ascertained before rising that no one else had said a word in their favour. I will here leave the matter, only asking that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, in respect of these grievances—these substantial grievances, as I think them—of second-class sorters, and of Post Office porters, who are all most deserving public servants, and also as to the stopping of the up-mail at Camborne, will be so kind as to give the points I have placed before him some attention and consideration.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON
I desire to call attention to a matter in connection with the administration of the Post Office; and also to allude to a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) in reference to an attack made by me on the permanent head of the Post Office. I maintain that there were very good grounds for that attack——
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted, and 40 Members being' found present,
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON
I was saying, when interrupted by the counting of the Committee, that I desired to draw attention to a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford, who concluded his speech by saying that a statement I had 1154 made with regard to the action of the permanent head of the Post Office was not to be relied on.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I merely wish to say that I contravened the charge made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton) against Mr. Blackwood, the Secretary to the Post Office, of general obstruction in the business of that Department.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON
The charge I made against Mr. Blackwood was this—that, knowing the Postmaster General was taking a course which was strongly opposed to the views of the autocrat of the Post Office, Mr. Blackwood, acting upon an unexplained grievance, took a course which led the officials connected with him to present him with an address of sympathy; that he had that address in his possession for some time, and made it known to the Press. I say that such conduct ought not to be tolerated, in face of the fact that Mr. Blackwood appealed to a large number of Members of this House against the Postmaster General. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford is not justified in saying that my statement is not to be relied on; and if the Postmaster General will consent to an inquiry being held into the matter I shall be prepared to prove all that I have stated.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
There is one matter to which I should like, very briefly, to draw the attention of the Postmaster General; and my reason for introducing the subject now is that I find that the only way of getting these details attended to is by bringing them forward when the House is in Committee; but, although a good many Postmasters General have expressed a certain amount of sympathy with me, I have not hitherto derived much advantage from my action. On page 91 of the Estimate it will be seen that the very first of the railways mentioned in Ireland is that from Athenry to Tuam. What I wish to point out to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General is that the Department over which he presides is spending a considerable sum of money—something like £182 a-day—for the day and night service, the day service being performed by rail and the night service by car. If the Postmaster General could only infuse into the Irish Post Office officials a little of the energy with which he is endowed they would 1155 be able to get the Railway Company to run a train at night, and at a very little increase on the present cost of running the mail cars; and it would be a matter of great and important advantage to the district to secure this change. If the right hon. Gentleman would only transfer the subsidy from the cars to the trains, we should then have Galway in regular mail communication with London through Athenry and Tuam, because a very large portion of the traffic goes to Dublin, and, consequently, to England. I would suggest that this matter is worthy of consideration on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, who, if he will look into it, will find that to make the alteration I propose would entail only a very slight increase in the present cost. Of course, to do this would be a convenience to passengers. I cannot for a moment deny that such would be the result, and I know that the Postmaster General is not desirous of subsidizing passenger trains; but in many parts of Ireland it is absolutely necessary that these things must go together. I would also suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should establish a cross country post between North Galway and South Galway. It would not be a very difficult thing to do this. There are a very large number of letters that have at present to go round by Athlone, which is a very long distance—over 100 miles—and they might with great advantage be sent across country, some 10 or 12 miles only, instead of having to make so wide a detour, The expense of running a car to make the cross country communication would be very trifling, and the advantage to the whole district would be very considerable.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
I desire, very briefly, to call the attention of the Committee to a matter in connection with the cost of the medical department of the Post Office. That is a very expensive department, and the items in connection with it will be found on page 64 of the Estimates. There are the chief medical officer, with a maximum salary of £1,000; a second medical officer, with a maximum of £600; another with a maximum of £300, and also a female medical officer with a maximum of £450, an assistant to the medical officer with £100, and a dispensing assistant with £180. There are other items which 1156 bring up the total cost of this Department to the very large sum of £2,878. The Committee ought to bear in mind that this is not the total cost of the medical supervision at the whole of the Metropolitan post offices, but merely the cost of the staff employed at the General Post Office, together with the Central Telegraph Office. My main object in bringing this matter forward is to draw attention to one item of the cost of the Department—namely, that which comes under the head of "Substitutes," and is slated at £100. I called attention to this point last year, but at that time I was precluded from moving the reduction of the Vote, as I intend to do on the present occasion. I would ask the Committee to consider for what purpose this item is created. An explanation of it was furnished by the Postmaster General when the matter was referred to last year. He stated that the object of this item of £100 is the payment of substitutes for the medical officers while they are away on their annual leave. But the privilege of an annual holiday is not confined to the medical department of the Post Office, and in all such cases the established practice of the Service is well known. When an officer is away on his annual leave it is not usual to bring in a stranger to perform his duties; the custom is that they should be discharged by his colleagues. The right hon. Gentleman, in meeting an objection to the Vote, stated that the shortness of the medical staff did not prevent the employés falling ill; but a reply of that kind would equally apply to the other departments in which the work does not stand still, simply because some of the officers happen to be away on their annual leave. I believe the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General also stated that there was an exceptional amount of illness during the spring and summer of the year referred, to in the debate I speak of, during which it may be presumed those gentlemen would take their vacation. I do not think there is very much in that point. Every season of the year brings its peculiar ailments; and even supposing there was an exceptional amount of illness among those employed at the Post Office that, I think, is far more than counterbalanced by the fact that during the spring and summer months a large number of the officers are away 1157 on their annual leave, and are, consequently, removed from the Post Office medical supervision. I object to this item, in the first place, because it seems to me to be as unnecessary, as it certainly is an anomalous item; and I object to it, in the second place, because it is the means of introducing into the Public Service strangers who are to be casually employed, and over whom the Department cannot possibly have any kind of effective control, and invests those strangers with very large powers involving not only the comfort and the health of the established servants of the Crown, but, as I have shown on a previous occasion, the very lives of those individuals. I do not at the present moment wish to do more than refer in passing to a death under very painful circumstances, to which I drew particular attention last year. I have also shown that one of these strangers, as I call them, who are thus casually employed, was last year guilty of what I think the House agreed with me was an act of oppression towards an established servant of the Crown, of long standing and high character, by compelling him to resume his duty in spite of his strenuous protest that he was unfit to do so. There is also another aspect of this question. I think we may regard it from a financial point of view. I elicited from the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General last year that when the medical officer was away for five weeks the gentleman who performed his functions was paid at the rate of £3 3s. a-week, so that we have this anomalous state of things—that we are paying a salary of £3 3s. a-week only for the discharge of duties which are ordinarily paid for at the rate of something like £1,000 per annum. I can hardly see how the Postmaster General can avoid being impaled on one or other of the horns of this dilemma. Either the Medical Superintendent of the Post Office is extravagantly overpaid, or the casual professional gentleman who is called in to supply his place is very much underpaid. I had hoped that this item might have disappeared from the Estimates of the present year; but I was too sanguine, for I find it re-appears. I will, therefore, move the reduction of the Vote by the sum of £100 on the grounds I have stated to the Committee—namely, that it is an unnecessary and anomalous ex- 1158 penditure; that it introduces into the service of the Department strangers over whom there cannot be the same effective control which is exercised in the case of the established officers, and invests those strangers with powers which may be used for the oppression of valued servants of the Crown.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £4,820,670, be granted for the said Services."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)
§ MR. RAIKES
I hope the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill), who has proposed this Amendment, will not put the Committee to the trouble of taking a Division upon it. The matter to which he refers was brought before the House last year, and I have nothing to add to what I then stated. I believe the House was then satisfied that the provision referred to had been found to be adequate for the duties of the medical officer in the absence of that functionary; and although the sum set down for the purpose seems very small—as to which matter I am quite in agreement with the hon. Gentleman—I would point out that the principal medical officer of the Post Office is an old public servant, who, no doubt, could have secured outside the Department an income larger than his official salary. The hon. Gentleman does not question the amount of the salary paid to the medical officers, and he can hardly quarrel with the sum paid to the substitute for being too small. He will remember that last year I answered his statement with regard to the death to which he has referred, and I am sorry that that unfortunate occurrence has been remembered and brought up again. I can only say that I cannot see any reason for departing from the practice which has been pursued hitherto, and I trust the hon. Gentleman will see the propriety of not persisting in his Amendment.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General will favour me with a reply to my question with regard to the establishment of a night mail train to Athenry and a cross-country service between North and South Galway.
§ Question put.1159
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 31; Noes 111: Majority 80.—(Div. List, No. 185.) [9.55 P.M.]
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. RAIKES
I only wish to say one word before the Question is put. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Fraser-Mackintosh) I will say I am conversant with the fact he has stated, and I shall be very glad to consider what he has said. At the same time, it must not be assumed that I make any promise to take any particular action. With regard to what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner) has said, I should be very glad if he will furnish me with some representation from the locality dealing with the matters he alluded to. The hon. and learned Member for Elgin and Nairn (Mr. Anderson) has raised a question which has been already carefully considered by the Post Office, and I will undertake to do my best to meet his views. As to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Cornwall (Mr. Conybeare), I must say that I shall be extremely glad to co-operate with the Great Western Railway Company, if it is possible to devise a method of increasing the convenience of the people of Camborne without delaying the trains. But the hon. Gentleman is aware that the interests of the people of Camborne are somewhat antagonistic to the interests of the people of Penzance. It is impossible to suit the people of Camborne without injuring the people of Penzance, unless the Great Western Railway Company will accelerate the trains. If they are prepared to do that the matter can be easily dealt with. With regard to the second-class porters and sorters, I may say that the matter has already been considered; but I will look into it again. As to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan), I will confer with my advisers and see what can be done. I think these remarks cover all the observations which have been made, and I trust the Committee will now be able to give us the Vote.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
I should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a Memorial which has been for some considerable 1160 time under the consideration of his Department. It was presented by the London officials, who desire to be placed on the same condition with regard to holidays as the officials holding similar rank in the large Provincial towns. The officials of a given rank in Dublin, Edinburgh, and in all the large Provincial towns have three weeks' instead of a fortnight's holiday which the London officials have. The employés in the London Department have memorialized the right hon. Gentleman that they may be placed under the same conditions as the officials in the places I have named. So far, the memorialists have not received any answer to their Memorial. It will be in the recollection of the Committee that I have on more than one occasion asked questions of the right hon. Gentleman, in the hope that an answer might be made to the Memorial. I trust sincerely that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to promise us this evening that these Government servants shall be placed in the same position as their Provincial brethren. It is admitted on all hands that they have quite as great and important duties to perform; and, therefore, it is hard that they should only receive a fortnight's holiday, while others in the like position receive three weeks' holiday.
§ MR. RAIKES
The matter is under consideration, and I will undertake that an answer shall be sent to the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS
Will the right hon. Gentleman promise to answer early? It is important that he should do so, because the holidays are now taking place.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
I can only say, with reference to the subject I brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, that I tried to put the matter I raised as fairly as I could. There are a great many people in the South of Ireland who get a letter, say, in the afternoon, and cannot answer it for a couple of days. The right hon. Gentleman, by casting his eye over page 57, will see that in Ireland there are two methods of conveying mails—one is by rail, and the other by road. Surely, when you have got the option of choosing between these methods, the right hon. Gentleman is called upon to choose that which contributes most to the public convenience. I think I put it clearly that in the Mac- 1161 room district there is a railway, but that the Post Office persist in carrying mails by an ordinary car, across the mountains, into Cork. The Railway Company is perfectly willing to transmit the mails; and, therefore, I cannot possibly understand why the Government persist in continuing the present system. Then, again, I tried as well as I could, in my humble way, to put before the right hon. Gentleman another substantial; grievance, and that is that the people in Cork and the South of Ireland who travel by the night mail train are really required to waste three hours in Dublin. Why not, at any rate, confer a been upon the inhabitants of the South of Ireland by postponing the departure of the mail for one hour at least? I ask that something shall be done in this matter in the name of common sense, and in the name of right. I hope, before we pass this Vote, the right hon. Gentleman will give me some solid assurances that the subject of the conveyance of mails by road from Macroom will be seen into, otherwise it will be my painful duty to move the reduction of the Vote by the sum of £300, which is set down for the conveyance of mails from Macroom.
§ MR. RAIKES
I think the hon. Gentleman cannot have been in the House when I made my reply. [Dr. TANNER: Yes; I was.] Then he could not have understood what I said. I asked that he would furnish me with some memorandum upon the subject. It is impossible to make an inquiry into a matter of this sort unless I have some written statement. If the hon. Gentleman will be kind enough to furnish me with such a statement, I shall be most happy to make all inquiry.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ (2.) £509,311, to complete the sum for the Post Office Packet Service.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
I cannot allow this Vote to pass without some explanation from the Postmaster General. As a preliminary inquiry, I should like to know whether it is proposed to reduce the rates of the postage to India, and also to China?
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)
The Vote for the Packet Service is, no doubt, one of very great importance, and of great public interest; but it so 1162 happens this year that the great majority of the questions raised by it will be more conveniently discussed upon the new contracts which have been negotiated by the Government for the conveyance of particular mails. All these contracts are, or will soon be, on the Table of the House; and I presume that the more convenient course for the House will be to discuss each of these questions separately on its own merits, when the occasion arises. The question of the India and China Mails, to which the hon. Member has just referred, stands on the Paper for to-night; and it will be taken to-night, if reached at a convenient hour, and if not to-night, at all events on an early day. As to the American Contract, I believe my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) has given Notice that the discussion shall be taken on an early day. The Australian Mail Contract is not yet concluded; therefore it would be extremely undesirable if the negotiations now proceeding between the Government and the Companies were to be jeopardized by a premature discussion. It would be difficult for me to enter into the merits of the question at this time. As the hon. Gentleman takes great interest in the question, and as the Committee will be glad to have a general view of the matter, I may, perhaps, just say this much—that I hope and believe that the reduction in the cost of the Mail Service of this country to distant places, which is shown in the Estimates of this House, will be a very much larger reduction in the Estimates of years to come. The reduction which we hope to secure by the India and China Contract amounts altogether to no less than £107,000 a-year. The reduction which we hope to secure by the American Mail Contract amounts to no less than £20,000 a-year; and I am inclined to believe that a similar reduction may be effected by the Australian Mail Contract; but as to that I am not in a position at this moment to give a definite opinion. I think the Committee may naturally wish to express its opinion upon the policy of these contracts; but I hardly think that this evening any good purpose can be served by a desultory debate, as a sort of preliminary canter before the question comes on to be seriously discussed. When we come to discuss these matters, I trust I shall be able to show that a very great and 1163 permanent saving has been made in this great branch of expenditure; and I trust that, instead of there being any sacrifice of efficiency, the Service will be more efficient in the future.
§ Vote agreed to.
(3.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,500,248, 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 1888, for the Salaries and Working Expenses of the Post Office Telegraph Service.
§ DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
Reference was made earlier in the evening to the unremunerative nature of the Postal Telegraph Service. Well, as I said, I do not imagine the Telegraph Service is so unremunerative as is generally believed. In the first place, there are large sums charged against revenue which should be properly placed against capital. In former days, when a commercial balance sheet was issued by the Post Office Authorities, there was a considerable surplus shown. Upon the introduction of the 6d. telegram it was contemplated that the diminution in the price would cause a falling-off of revenue; but I am extremely glad to learn, by the statement made at an earlier portion of the Session by the Postmaster General, that the anticipations of the Postal Authorities with regard to the falling off have proved to be exaggerated, and that the result of the last year exceeded the Estimate by no less than £100,000, and that notwithstanding the fact that the messages were shorter than it was estimated they would be. But I think it is of very little use to indulge in pessimistic cavilling about account keeping. It is impossible to tell the exact cost of the Telegraphic Service, because the percentage of postal expenses placed against that Service is, and must be, a purely arbitrary one. I rose particularly to point out an item in which a practical economy to a considerable amount may be effected. This Vote contains, under the Sub-head C, an item of £68,300 for the maintenance of telegraph wires by Railway Companies, an item of £8,700 for works carried out by Railway Companies and others, chargeable to maintenance, &c, and an item of £29,900 for compensation to Railway Companies for surrender of their rever- 1164 sionary interest in telegraph, business, including way-leaves, pole rents, &c. Now, Sir, reference was made earlier this evening by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) to the extravagant nature of the bargain made when the telegraphs were taken over by the State. That extravagance extended to the bargain made with the Railway Companies. The Railway Companies were given, by way of a solatium, a heavy price for way-leave. It figures here as £29,000. I believe they are paid way-leave at the rate of something like £1 per mile. They are entrusted with the duty of maintaining the wires; but the telegraph officials state that the payment to the Railway Companies is largely in excess of the rate at which they are able to maintain the telegraph wires that are entrusted to them for maintenance. Now, of course, a bargain is a bargain, and I do not propose we should confiscate the bargain entered into with, the Railway Companies; but I think that when a Railway Company comes to this House, demanding further concessions and fresh monopolies, demanding the right to extend its line and so forth, we might fairly say as a condition of granting it a new monopoly—"We insist upon you revising your bargain with the country with regard to the way-leaves for telegraph wires, and with regard to the maintenance of these wires." I have risen for the purpose of suggesting to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General whether it would not be worth his while, at a time when he is contemplating economies, to inquire into the amount of waste incurred through these extravagant arrangements with the Railway Companies; whether it would not be worth his while to look minutely into the cost of maintaining telegraph wires through the agency of the Railway Companies, as contrasted with the cost of maintaining them through the agency of the officials of his own Department; whether it would not be well for him to consider the advisability of getting some clause drawn up to be inserted in the Bills of every Railway Company which comes to this House for increased facilities, revising a bargain made with respect to telegraphs many years ago? I think that would violate no principle of equity. The bargain was made when the Railway Companies held the key to the 1165 position, and it may be altered when this House holds the key to the Companies. I should be sorry to repudiate any bargain made; but I think we may fairly say, when these Companies are seeking further monopolies, that they ought, as a condition of our giving them facilities and monopolies, to revise their agreement in the matter of these Public Services.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
The very items my hon. Friend (Dr. Cameron) has just called attention to are items I intended to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, but for quite another purpose. For years past the question of underground wires has been discussed on the Estimates. We were told that great progress is being made; but it seems that if great progress is being made in the carrying of wires underground the actual number of over-head wires is increasing. If a calculation were made as to the maintenance of over-head wires, and of the repairs necessary owing to their destruction by storms, and so forth, it would be found that a large economy would be effected if the wires had been carried underground. I wish to know if it is the intention of the Department to put all telegraph wires underground?
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
I do not desire to enter into the question of the telegraph system of this country, but to say a word or two with regard to the Submarine Cable Service. The Committee is aware that next year the 20 years' monopoly enjoyed by the Submarine Cable Companies for messages to the Continent will expire, and I think hon. Members will agree with me that we ought to put an end to these monopolies, and that we ought to receive an undertaking from the Postmaster General that the cables to the Continent should be worked by the Post Office. I think it is quite possible that, worked by the Post Office, it would be possible to send telegrams to Paris and Germany for 1d. a word. Foreign Governments are most anxious that this should be carried out, and I trust we shall receive an assurance from the Postmaster General that he will not renew the contract that is about to expire to the Submarine Cable Companies. There is one other point I wish to refer to—namely, the extraordinary 1166 debt on the telegraph lines in this country. We paid an enormous sum for the telegraphs, and now we are saddled with between £300,000 and £400,000 a-year as interest upon the purchase. I maintain that the debt ought to be transferred to the National Debt. If that were done, we should be in a position to go on steadily in respect to the Telegraph Service. At present these are the only matters I desire to call attention to. I trust hon. Gentlemen will support me in asking the Postmaster General for an undertaking that he will not renew the contract with the Submarine Cable Companies.
§ MR. RAIKES
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) has referred to the relations existing between the Railway Companies and the Government in regard to the telegraphs. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is perfectly sincere when he said that a bargain should be a bargain, and that, therefore, it is practically not within the bounds of equity for the House of Commons to seek to review arrangements which have been legally made and entered into with the Railway Companies. We may regard the arrangements as not being as advantageous to the State as we could wish, and we may think that there was in making them something of the same lavish-ness which characterized the purchase of the telegraphs themselves. The Government could not, without a breach of equity, attempt to interfere with the arrangements existing between thorn and the Railway Companies in regard to the maintenance and support of the telegraph wires. If it were open to the Post Office at this moment to arrange the matter de novo, I should hope to make a much better bargain; but, as the matter stands, there is little use in indulging in vain regrets. The hon. Gentleman who spoke from below the Gangway (Mr. Molloy) went on to refer to underground wires. I ought to have prepared myself with the actual figures and details as to the present state of our underground telegraph communication. I have not done so, however; but at a future day I shall be glad to arm myself with all necessary information; and when opportunity arises I shall be glad to give it to the hon. Member. We are materially developing the underground system; and I would take 1167 this opportunity of correcting a popular misapprehension as to the overhead telegraph, wires. There is a general impression amongst the public that the wires which are seen overhead in London belong to the Post Office, and are under Government control. That, however, is not the case. The numerous wires which are seen overhead in the Metropolis are mostly the property of the Telephone Companies, and do not belong to the Government, and are not under the control of the Postmaster General. As to the development of the underground system throughout the country, I am afraid this House would not be prepared to sanction the expenditure which would be necessary to take all the wires underground. An outlay of about £1,500,000 would be necessary for establishing the system throughout the country, and considering the difficulties we should have to encounter not only in the House of Commons, but from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I should hardly like to present so large an Estimate for the general substitution of the underground for the overhead system. The Committee must not lose sight of the fact that the overhead system, after all, possesses some advantages. Overhead wires are much more easily repaired, and you must always bear in mind that it is possible, if you have an underground system, that the ground under which the lines run may become built upon, and that you may experience a difficulty in getting at the wires when you want to. You never can exclude the possibility of requiring to carry on the repairs on an extensive scale. However, the whole matter is being carefully looked into, and I may at once inform the Committee that the Department are certainly of opinion that, as regards the Metropolis and the larger towns, it is most desirable to substitute the underground for the overhead system. I think hon. Members and the public generally will have noticed the wonderful celerity with which, in the unexampled severe weather we had last winter, the overhead telegraph wires which were broken down were repaired by the Telegraph Department; and I cannot refer to this matter without referring in the highest terms to the assistance received from the Royal Engineers, who so ably seconded the efforts of the Department in restoring order 1168 out of the chaos which occurred on that occasion. In regard to submarine cables, the subject has been spoken of as if there was a concession by the British Government to the Submarine Companies. There is, however, no such concession. The only concession which the Companies have is from the French Government. There will be negotiations between the two Governments—in fact, negotiations have already begun as to the policy which should be adopted when the concession from the French Government comes to a natural end; but I trust the Committee will not press for any more positive statement as to what the policy of Her Majesty's Government will be. It will be evident to the Committee that in dealings of this kind with the French Government Her Majesty's Advisers should have a free hand, and that we should not be hampered by declarations made here which would be laid hold of out-of-doors. The country, I think, fully recognizes the paramount importance of the Government retaining control and command over the telegraphic means of communication between this country and the Continent, and I think the Committee will remain satisfied that nothing will be wanting on the part of Her Majesty's Government in their negotiations with the French Government to give effect to that which we believe to be the feelings of the public.
§ DR. CAMERON
I feel somewhat disappointed at the reply of the right hon. Gentleman to the remarks which fell from me. He said it is no use crying over spilt milk, and I quite agree with that. He says it is not proposed to extract from the old Telegraph Companies any portion of the extravagant sum that was paid for plant. I did not suggest anything of the kind. I say that when a Railway Company comes to us and asks for fresh advantages, for leave to extend its lines, that we have a fair right to say—"You must, as a preliminary to our agreeing to consider the possibility of granting you any fresh monopoly, reconsider the terms of your bargain with us." It is a monstrous thing that we should consider ourselves compelled to pay upwards of £100,000 a-year for way-leaves and services that belong to the nation as a matter of right, and which we should be justified in en- 1169 forcing as a condition of granting new privileges. When the minimum charge for a telegram was Is., of every Is. handed in. to the Railway Telegraph Offices 3d. went to the Railway Company and only 9d. to the Government. The object with which the railway telegraph lines were left to the Railway Companies was to enable them to regulate their traffic, and so long as those private telegrams were confined to the regulation of the traffic no one could object to that arrangement; but that privilege has been taken advantage of for all kinds of absurd purposes. For instance, an official witness told the Postal Telegraph Committee of a certain Railway Director who wished to obtain a box of pills from London, and who availed himself of his privilege to use the telegraph, free of charge, in order to effect his desire. In this way the railway privilege is made use of, not for the purpose of facilitating traffic, but to a large extent for the purpose of ordering luncheons and ordering beds at railway hotels, and so forth. And this right on the part of Railway Companies of franking telegrams is not confined to the telegraphic system along the railways, but extends all over the telegraph system. I think the present arrangement might be revised without injustice; and I think it would be very important that it should be revised—seeing that a saving of many thousands per annum might be effected when the railways come to ask for fresh privileges. All I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do is to inquire into and investigate the relative cost of the Services, with the view of doing away with those privileges enjoyed by the Railway Companies when they come here to ask for fresh monopolies as the price of granting them these fresh monopolies. [Mr. RAIKES dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General does not seem to care about this idea; but I assure him it is one of the most practical pieces of economy that could be effected in connection with our telegraphic communication. An obvious economy might be brought about which would result in considerable saving. As the right hon. Gentleman does not appear to appreciate the suggestion, in order to call his attention to the point more closely I will move the reduction of the Vote by £25,000.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,475,248, be granted for the said Service."—(Dr. Cameron,)
The more convenient course, no doubt, would be to take this Division before proceeding with the general discussion.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 60; Noes 132: Majority 72.—(Div. List, No. 186.) [10.45. P.M.]
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
Before this Vote is taken, I should like to call the attention of the Postmaster General to the results of the adoption of the 6d. telegram. I understand the right hon. Gentleman a short time ago stated that the result of the account of last year was that there was a deficit of £500,000. I presume that is based upon the estimate of £350,000 interest on the capital expended in the purchase of the telegraphs from the Telegraph Companies—on the £11,000,000 or £12,000,000 that was given for telegraphs. I think it includes also the £100,000 or £150,000 for new plant purchased within the year, and for new sites, &c. and a large new expenditure for new post offices and telegraph offices in the City. I should like to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say about this. Then I should like to know if the income derived from telegrams since the introduction of the 6d. telegram has not been in excess of what it was anticipated it would be; and whether there has not been a greater increase in the net receipts owing to the adoption of the 6d. telegram than would otherwise have been the case? If I am rightly informed, there was last year an increased receipt from the Telegraph Service owing to the 6d. telegram of no less than £100,000. I wish to know whether that is the fact, and also whether a similar increase is not expected for the current year? So far as I am able to judge, from figures before the House, the finance of the 6d. telegram has turned out much better than was expected; and though it may be a long time before the Telegraph Service pays profit, or pays the interest 1171 on the capital funds, yet the account is much better than we had reason to expect, and paves the way for hopefulness for the future. There is reason to believe that before long we may see such an increase and profit as will enable a small amount to be set aside in the shape of interest on capital. The Telegraph Service, some three or four years before the introduction of the 6d. telegram, showed a very bad state of account. The receipts were almost stationary, and the expenses were increasing year by year, owing mainly to the large increase in salaries which took place in the Service four or five years ago. In fact, long before the introduction of the 6d. telegram the account was becoming a very bad one, and I think that the change from the old system to the new has given a spring to the telegraphic receipts which is very promising. The receipts are so largely increasing that there is reason to hope that they will soon show a net profit.
§ MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)
There is a question I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, which I think is very pertinent to the points in discussion, and which is within his province to consider. I would recommend for his consideration the desirability of adopting the American system of night telegraphic messages. Under this system telegrams could be sent at 12 o'clock at night or 2 o'clock in the morning, and if the sender does not wish the persons to whom the telegrams are sent to be disturbed at that hour the messages can be held over until the morning. In the United States they charge less for these night messages than for the day messages. You can go into the telegraph office at 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and call for a printed form, which is printed in a different coloured ink—it is just the same as the form for day messages, only it is printed in red ink—and you say you want to send a night message. Perhaps it is too late to send to the town you want to send to, but you can send your message, no matter what hour, at a less figure than the price of an ordinary day telegram, and that is a matter of great convenience to a number of people who miss the post, for example, but who want their communications to get to the person addressed the very first thing on the next morning. 1172 When I was in Dublin I wanted to send a telegram here at night, to be delivered very early in the morning, but certainly not at that time of night. But they would not take that message at Dublin unless it was to be delivered right away. So I had to arrange for a servant to be up very early in the morning—to be up before I was up myself—and that was very inconvenient. The clerks of the Department in America keep these night messages until night, and they send, them off when the line is clear, and then they are delivered at the house they are addressed to first thing next morning. That is a very great convenience to many gentlemen, a great many of whom would not otherwise use the telegraph at all, but they do use it in this way, and I believe from what I have heard that this system has the effect of increasing the profits of the Department, and is very useful indeed.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
Mr. Courtney, I want to ask the Postmaster General one question with reference to the remarks of my right hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), who took, I think, a very rosy coloured view of the Post Office Telegraph Revenue, which I should be very glad to hear justified by the Postmaster General. About a week or two ago I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for some figures, which, when supplied, certainly did not altogether bear out that view. I have for some time looked with considerable alarm at the loss to the Revenue in recent years from the Postal and Telegraph Services. If you look at The Statistical Abstract, you will see that the net profits of these two Departments have year by year been growing less and less, both upon the Postal Service and upon the Telegraph Service. In the year 1880–1 the Telegraph Service as near as possible paid the interest on the money that had been expended in its purchase within about £1,000, so that in that year the Telegraph Department may be said to have just paid its way—the interest on the purchase money and the working expenses. But for several years it has not paid its working expenses, and has paid no interest whatever on the £10,000,000 or £11,000,000 expended in the purchase originally. That, no doubt, is a very disastrous business concern, that you should lose altogether 1173 the £10,000,000 that you paid, and, after that, that you should find it does not pay its working expenses. I think, if I remember rightly, for I have not got the figures here, that the loss upon the Telegraph Service is something between £100,000 and £200,000 a-year upon the actual working expenses. Now, in the year 1881 the receipts of the Telegraph Service were £1,600,000, and in the year 1886 they were £1,740,000, showing an increase in the receipts of £140,000. But if you come to look at the expenditure, you will find that the increase of expenditure was from £1,226,000 in 1881 to £1,741,000 in the year 1886—that is to say, you had added more than £500,000 a-year to your annual expenditure, and had increased your receipts only £140,000. Now, the real feet is, according to the figures which were given to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that we are losing £500,000 a-year by the telegraph business. I do not deny for a moment that large additional accommodation is given to the public; but we should perfectly understand what is the cost at which it has been given. We should keep that well in our view. It is all very well to say that the Post Office and Telegraph Department ought not to make any profit at all; but you cannot have your cake and eat your cake. If you choose to give up that profit you must find a sum which was £3,230,000 in 1881—amounting to 1½d, upon the Income Tax—and which has been steadily growing every year since—you must make up that deficiency out of other taxation. Well, now, one reason that has been given is true no doubt. The Telegraph Service and the Post Office Service differ from ordinary businesses in the fact that they have no working capital. They have to find whatever is wanted for extra service out of the Revenue of the year. Then, we are told that this money has gone in additional plant. I can understand that for a year or two; but I want to know from the Postmaster General when we shall get to the end of this story of additional plant? I know that in—I forget what year, but I think it was 1883—the operations were begun for the 6d. Telegraph Service, and then we were told that they caused an additional expenditure; but I did hope and believe that it would come to an end—that the 1174 plant would be made perfect, and that we should then have an account to the good instead of to the bad, as we have now in the Telegraph Service, and that that Service would at last pay its way. I should be glad to have some information upon this point. I should like to know what is the prospect of the Telegraph Service paying its way, and what hope there is of our returning to the condition in which we were six years ago, when it not only paid its way in the matter of working expenses, but paid the interest on capital as well. The same thing, though not to the same extent, is true of the Post Office. I think the——
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
I rise to Order, Sir. We have already discussed the Post Office Vote, and I was ruled out of Order for referring to a matter already settled. I put it to you, Mr. Courtney, whether the right hon. Gentleman is in Order in dealing with the Post Office on this Vote?
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I was out of Order, no doubt, in referring to the Post Office. But I will only say that it is very desirable that we should keep our eyes open to this matter, because it is of great importance that we should not part with any legitimate source of revenue that can be brought into the Service. I only make these remarks in defence of the Treasury. I think it is of great importance to defend them from the assaults to which they are exposed from all sides in this House, especially by the hon. Member (Mr. Henniker Heaton) who has just had me called to Order. He is a formidable danger to the public Revenue; but I can assure the occupants of the Treasury Bench that they will always find me ready to support them in resisting the demands which the hon. Gentleman is in the habit of making upon them. There is nothing easier than to part with revenue on any occasion; it is always very popular. You were told in the case of the telegraphs, I remember, that the 6d. telegrams would pay. Well, they do not pay. If people would say—"We know the particular thing we ask for will not pay; but we ask you to embark on it, knowing that it will be a losing concern," then it would be put on its true 1175 footing. These demands are always being made, and I do hope the House of Commons will not press them, and so throw away more of the Post Office and Telegraph Revenue, but will endeavour to protect the Treasury against these assaults which are so constantly made upon them.
§ MR. RAIKES
I am sure, Mr. Courtney, that anyone occupying my position must be very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) for the observations he has just made, which constitute a very efficient support to the Government under the circumstances in which we are placed. But the figures which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted do not exactly coincide with those which I have here, though practically they are pretty much the same—the difference probably arising from the fact that my figures here are taken from the Appropriation Account, and his from the Estimates for the year. If I venture to repeat the figures of the last seven years in reference to the telegraphs you will see what the facts are. In the year 1880–1 the revenue from the telegraphs amounted to £1,600,000, and the expenditure was £1,286,000; the surplus was £313,000, which very nearly met the interest on capital, amounting to a sum of £326,000. We were only £13,000 to the bad on the telegraph system in that year. In the following year, the interest on the capital remaining, of course, the same, I find that the revenue increased to £1,630,000, and the expenditure increased to £1,424,000. That was, I think, the first year in which the additional expenditure which Mr. Fawcett proposed began to operate. In the following year the revenue was £1,710,000, against an expenditure of £1,567,000. Thus it will be seen that the revenue continued to increase, but the expenditure increased much more rapidly. In 1883–4 the revenue was £1,745,000, but the expenditure reached the amount of £1,795,000. That, therefore, is the first year in which there was a deficit independently of the constant deficit caused by the interest on capital. In 1884–5 the revenue again slightly increased to £1,760,000, and the expenditure was £1,805,000. In 1885–6 the revenue was £1,740,000—£20,000 less than in the preceding year—while 1176 the Expenditure had mounted up to £1,818,000. That falling-off in the revenue was owing, no doubt, to the fact that it was the first year in which there were two months of the new tariff for the 6d. telegrams. The right hon. Gentleman will, no doubt, remember that it was estimated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time that there would be again a loss on the following year on the telegraphs, owing to the progress of the 6d. rate; but I am happy to say that those melancholy anticipations were not borne out by the facts, and that a considerable increase took place in the revenue, which rose from £1,740,000 to £1,830,000, an increase of £90,000. But, at the same time, the expenditure rose from £1,818,000 to £2,053,000. These figures, I should say, are estimated figures; but I believe they very closely represent the facts. Therefore, in the last financial year our position is, that we had a permanent charge against the revenue, in the shape of £326,000 interest on capital, plus an actual deficit on the working of £223,000; so that, on the whole, the figures came out last year, giving a deficit of something like £550,000, which, if you compare it with the deficit of 1880–1, which was only £13,000, shows, unfortunately, a decline altogether in the telegraph account of something like £530,000. Well, these are the figures which the right hon. Gentleman wished to have.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
May I ask how much of the Expenditure in this last year was of an exceptional character—for plant, &c.?
§ MR. RAIKES
I am just coming to that. I was going to analyze it shortly. The expenditure first began to increase very much in the year 1882–3, which represents the time when Mr. Fawcett's scheme assumed its full development. In that year there was an increase of Expenditure of about £140,000. That represents, I believe, the additional salaries and wages which Mr. Fawcett succeeded in obtaining for the employés from the Treasury of that day. But it should be borne in mind that not only were these salaries a very considerable charge, but they continued to rise by annual increment, and we have not seen the last of this increase yet. Some portion of the additional expenditure for each year is due to this natural auto- 1177 matic process by which these salaries are increased. That would account, therefore, for a moderate increase in the expenditure of the following year; but it does not, of course, at all represent the very rapid leaps and bounds by which the expenditure has gone up. There is an increase between the years 1882–3 and 1883–4 of about £230,000, and again there is a very slight increase in the following year. Well, a good deal of that, no doubt, is attributable to additional plant, and if you use the word "plant" in its largest sense a very large portion indeed of the expenditure of last year is owing to that. The total sum again, it is estimated, represents the expenditure on the telegraphs in the course of last year is £2,053,000, while about £230,000 or £240,000 represents the expenditure in additional plant under the Sites Act. There is, no doubt, the expenditure for sites, and it is very hard to fix anything like a normal figure for that; but if you assume, as you perhaps may, that the extra expenditure of the Telegraph Branch for sites represented between £100,000 and £150,000 last year, then that amount may be regarded as an exceptional expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) asked me to point out some future time at which there will not be that increase of expenditure on plant. I wish that I could prophesy; but I have not been able to do so, and all that I will venture to prophesy is that so long as the telegraph business of the country continues to increase as largely as it has done, so far from anticipating a cessation of demands for additional sites and buildings, I apprehend that you are likely to see it constantly increase. I think I can give some figures now with regard to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) wished to have some information upon. He wished to have the figures with regard to the telegraphs account during the time since the new rate came into operation. I should say that the right hon. Gentleman was anxious, some time ago, that I should give him a distinct account of the telegraph business in one week before the 6d. telegrams came into operation, as compared with one week since they were started; but it has been found a matter of such 1178 immense labour to work out these details that some time must elapse before I can give the precise figures. But I may say that the telegrams sent per week for some time past have exceeded 1,000,000, and that number of 1,000,000 you may safely compare, roughly speaking, with between 700,000 and 800,000 per week for the preceding year, that being a year in which the 6d. telegrams had already come into operation. Now, I will give these other figures. The 6d. telegram system came into operation on the 1st of October, 1885, and during the first year the total number of inland telegrams sent at the new rate was 37,692,000, as compared with 24,615,000, the number sent in a corresponding period under the old tariff. That is to say, there was an increase of 52 per cent. The receipts were £1,275,000, as compared with £1,313,000, which shows a decrease of £37,000 in the Revenue. But thesumof£21,500 was made by the registration of abbreviated addresses; and, therefore, the total falling-off in consequence of the operation of the 6d. telegrams was £16,000. For the 10 months of the financial year to the end of last year the number of telegrams was 33,906,000, as compared with 24,645,000 in the corresponding 10 months of the preceding year, showing an increase of 40 per cent in a similar period. The receipts for telegrams and for the registration of abbreviated addresses was £1,172,000, as compared with £1,117,000, showing an increase of £55,000. Then I can give a comparison of four months of the 6d. telegrams. Up to September last 6d. telegrams were compared with Is. telegrams; but in the four months from September onwards the comparison has been between the number and revenue of messages under the new rate. For the four months an increase has been obtained of 1,553,000 in the number of telegrams, and of £51,000 in the amount of revenue. These figures will show that the 6d. telegram system at this moment may be said to be still almost in its infancy. The progress has been so rapid that it is almost impossible to forecast what dimensions it will attain. Anyhow, there will continue to be a constant growth of the number of telegrams sent, and a corresponding growth of revenue; but at the same time, per contra, there 1179 will be a continual growth in the establishments required, and a continually increased expenditure in plant, &c. It is impossible, I think, therefore, to say, as a matter of fact, whether the reduction of the price of telegrams to 6d. has really paid its way or not. It is quite plain that in the first year of its introduction it produced a loss of revenue as well as an increase of expenditure. In the course of last year it produced a considerable increase of revenue and a considerable increase of expenditure; but we hope that in the course of the coming year the revenue will still continue to increase, while the expenditure will certainly be in some degree diminished. That being so, I confess that I look with some hope to the future of the 6d. system; but it will, no doubt, have an influence in demanding fresh plant, which will greatly disturb any calculations that may be made. I may be permitted to say one word with regard to the extreme embarrassment cast on the Post Office by the necessity of making these charges for additional buildings out of the income for the coming year. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) turned his attention to this subject when Chancellor of the Exchequer, or whether my right hon. Friend (Mr. Goschen), who now fills that Office, is disposed to take it up; but it is a source of serious embarrassment to the Department, and to those who administer the affairs of the country, that all our calculations should be made unsound, and all our averages of little value, by the fact that £200,000 or £300,000, or even £400,000, may be required for buildings in any particular year. We have just passed through a period of that sort, but I find the demand for buildings still continues, and that the sites we have already are hardly adequate for our requirements, and no long time will elapse before I shall have again to apply to the Treasury for some assistance for further space for our requirements. I may now give some attention to the remarks which have been, made by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. T. P. Gill). Inquiry has been made into that system to which he has referred as practised in America, and which he calls night telegrams; but it would require a 1180 very great deal of consideration before it could be properly launched here. We have to consider whether we should not interfere with our existing revenue if we introduced a cheaper form of telegram which would compete with the present already cheap form. That must be considered, and it would probably be unfair before the 6d. telegram has grown up to start a rival to it. But I cannot help hoping that no long time will elapse before that experiment may be made, and I shall be glad to receive any information which the hon. Member may have upon that point, or, indeed, on any other that is connected with this particular subject.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I have to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his very interesting and clear statement as to the result of the introduction of the 6d. telegrams. I think, on the whole, this statement is rather re-assuring as to the future. It shows that the factual number of telegrams has increased very much more largely than we anticipated; at the same time that the average payment per message is lower than we expected, so that the two balance each other. When I persuaded the House, two years ago, to adopt the 6d. telegram, I estimated that the increase in the number of telegrams would be about 30 per cent. It seems, however, that the first year the increase was 40 per cent, and that the second year a further increase amounting to another 50 per cent took place. On the other hand, the public have learned very much more quickly than we expected how to economise in the addresses, and the average received per message has been, instead of 10d., as was anticipated, only something like 8d. I told the House, when I proposed the scheme of the 6d. telegrams, that they must abandon all idea of making interest on the plant in future, and I warned the Treasury of this when the scheme was before them. I said that though we must expect a large increase on the number of telegrams, in all probability the cost of the Service would go on increasing relatively, and that, therefore, we could not expect a large profit; at all events, not enough to pay the interest on the capital in future. The House and the country were aware of that when I adopted the scheme, and 1181 all I had to do was to urge these points upon the House in order to induce it to adopt this scheme, instead of urging on the Government a more expensive one. On the whole, I think the figures laid before the Committee have been rather reassuring. At all events, I think we may look forward, at no distant date, to the Telegraph Service reaching a point that there will be no loss in the business, though we might not be able to pay interest upon capital. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman as to the difficulty in connection with the cost of the Post Office buildings. At present there is a charge to the Telegraph Service of one-third of the cost of the Post Office buildings, and all the new buildings required for the Post Office and Telegraph Services. I would question whether that is not an unduly high proportion to allot to the Telegraph Service, and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he would reconsider this point. I think the proper proportion would be to take the expenditure on the plant in the two Services and the total receipts for the two Services, and balance one against the other, and draw an average to be paid by each. The inconvenience the right hon. Gentleman complains of is that one year we may have a large expenditure to face, such as that incurred on new buildings in the City of London—something like £400,000—which disturbed all the averages for some years to come. I cannot help thinking that some system should be adopted to prevent this charge coming in one year, and in this way disturbing all our averages. When you have to meet payments so large as this in one year it disturbs your whole accounts. At the same time, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there will be expenditure required for increase of plant for the extended Service, though possibly not quite so large in amount as it has been within the last two years. I would suggest to him the reconsideration of the proportion charged to the Telegraph Service and that charged to the Post Office in the sense in which I have spoken. I think a larger proportion ought to be charged to the Postal Service, and a less proportion to the Telegraph Service. The fact is that the profits on the postal part of the Service have been much larger of late years than those from the Telegraph Service, and 1182 can bear much more easily a high charge of this kind.
§ MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)
Some of us on this side of the House are really anxious to see economy much more carried out, provided this can be done with due regard to public efficiency. I, for one, should like to see Her Majesty's Post Office take steps to get rid of the anomalous state of things under which the telegrams of private individuals cost the country something like £500,000 a-year. I should like to see the scheme proposed by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton) carried out—namely, the adoption of a system of Imperial 1d. postage. I think this would make emigration to the Colonies more easy and popular, and this would be an enormous economical advantage; and as I am not in the habit of making a criticism upon an existing state of things, unless I am in my own mind prepared with a scheme by which I consider a re-arrangement could be carried out, and am able to suggest a remedy, I would propose that it might be worth while to take into consideration the abolition of what is called the½d. per word system of charge for telegraphing. At present, for every word after the first 12, ½d. is charged; but I would propose that the sum in future should be 1d.—i.e., for every two words or part of two words. This would be to the advantage of the Post Office. It would save the clerks the troublesome ½d. calculations, and the public some inconvenience—at some slight cost it is true. I would suggest, therefore, that the Post Office should take into consideration whether it would not be as well again to examine the tariffs. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General does not anticipate for some years that there will be a saving in this Department. He cannot expect to carry out any reforms. unless they are established upon a real sound financial basis, and I hope that next year Her Majesty's Government will see their way to adopt this system I propose, or some other, which will wipe off this State subsidy of £500,000 to those who use the telegraphs.
§ MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that the adoption of the suggestion I made with regard to night telegrams would involve considerable risk of ex- 1183 penditure and consequent loss; but I do not think he is quite right in that matter. I would suggest, if he fears that result, that he should charge for the messages I refer to the same as he charges for day messages at present.
MR. SINCLAIR&c.) (Falkirk,
As to the very great advantage which is derived by those who live in America from the system of night messages I wish to say a word. I agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down in thinking that the plan he proposes could be put into practice at an early stage and without any loss to the Revenue at all. The lowest charge now made for a telegram is 6d.; and if night messages were introduced, and if double the number of words were sent for 6d., no loss would be incurred by the Postal Authorities on messages of this kind. The cost of delivery for a message of double length is absolutely the same as that of the shorter message, and messages taken in this way would only be delivered on the following morning, although they would be transmitted at a time when the wires were free, and consequently without interfering with ordinary messages. I think, under any circumstances, an experiment with regard to night messages might be tried. That it would be an advantage to the public generally, and also to the Revenue, I have no doubt. I trust it will be tried, and tried at an early date. I am sure it will be found beneficial to places at considerable distances and across country—for instance, from Belfast to Hull or Cork to Glasgow, or from London to Galway and Derry, or to and from any place where letters have to leave early, and can only be delivered late on the following day. Persons engaged in commercial pursuits would find a system of this kind of great value and advantage, and I hope the Postmaster General will take the matter into his early consideration and endeavour to carry out the suggestion which has been made.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again,"—(Mr. Jackson,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee to sit again upon Wednesday.