HC Deb 07 March 1887 vol 311 cc1532-44

(11) £236,000, Supplementary, Post Office.

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)

I shall not press you, Mr. Courtney, for a ruling as to the remark which I mentioned just now. It was with regard to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson). I shall pass it by with the contempt it deserves. On this Vote I desire to bring forward a slight grievance respecting the Post Office in Cork.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

I rise to ask you a question, Sir. My hon. Friend (Mr. John O'Connor) is referring to Ireland. I wish to know whether I shall be in Order in referring to England and Wales after he has dealt with Ireland?


If otherwise in Order, it would not be out of Order be cause taken after Ireland. I cannot say whether it would be in Order until I hear what it is.


I will give way to the hon. Member.


I believe the remarks I have to make, and which will be very brief, will be perfectly in Order. I wish to refer to a matter con nected with Vote C. 1, which relates to the salaries and expenses of postmasters, clerks, &c. I should not have troubled the Committee with the question at all if I had been able to bring it under the notice of the Postmaster General in the shape of a Question, as I wished. But when I attempted to do so, I was in formed that, in the exercise of the discretion which the clerks at the Table possess, they could not allow my Question to appear on the Paper, and, there fore, I am obliged to take this oppor tunity of bringing the subject forward. The facts are, briefly, these. A gentleman named Archibald Vicar, who is connected with the Post Office in the Manchester District, has received his notice of discharge under circumstances which appear to me to demand some inquiry, and to indicate that he has not been fairly treated. This gentleman happened to be visiting Glenbeigh at the time I was there, and I met him and made his personal acquaintance. It appears that since his return to Manchester there has come under his notice some of those interesting leaflets published by the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union, and containing some of the usually truthful statements—the exceedingly truthful statements—respecting the evictions at Glenbeigh which that well-known and exceedingly truthful journal, The St. James's Gasette, is in the habit of publishing. This gentleman, having been on the scene of the Glenbeigh evictions, wrote a letter to The Manchester Guardian, in which appeared this sentence—


I do not see how the hon. Member connects this with the Vote, unless he is prepared to say that the gentleman in question had his services provided for under Vote C 1. This is a Supplementary Vote. Of course the salaries of persons on the establishment of the Post Office are provided for in the regular Estimates.


I take it, Sir, that this Supplementary Vote refers to the clerks in the service of the Post Office during the past year.


The Original and Main Vote would do so, but I do not think the present Supplementary Votes would.


Well, Sir, I do not know how many clerks there are in the Post Office. It would be very difficult for me to prove that this gentle man's salary, or any one sixpence of it, is included in a particular Vote. I think your ruling, Sir, would be, if I may so say, rather hard upon me.


The presumption evidently would be that the salaries of clerks in this office are provided for in the Main Estimates. It would be an exception if they appeared in these Supplementary Estimates. It lies on the hon. Member to establish the exception.


I will not press the point, but I will urge, as my reason for raising it at all, that this gentleman received notice of his discharge some weeks ago, and that no one can tell when the Main Estimates will come on. I have endeavoured to bring the matter under the notice of the Postmaster General but have been foiled, and, therefore, I was anxious to avail myself of this opportunity of stating the grievance. However, I do not wish to detain the Committee, and I will merely ask that, as I have been refused permission to put a Question in the House to the Postmaster General on the subject, the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to bring the matter before him privately. [The POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. Raikes) signified assent.] I may mention another matter in connection with postmen in the County of Cornwall, and will ask leave to bring that subject before the Postmaster General also.

MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Done gal, E.)

The question to which the hon. Member for the Camborne Division of Cornwall (Mr. Conybeare) has just alluded affects the rural postmen not only in Cornwall, but throughout the United Kingdom. Their wages are charged for in this Vote. Their case is one of exceptional hardship, because they do not receive the same amount of salary as their fellows in the towns, although their duties are much harder. Their wages amount only to 15s. or 16s. a week, and sometimes are as low as 12s. They have greater distances to go than the postmen in the towns. The roads they have to traverse are nothing like as good as those in towns, and they have far heavier burdens to carry. In other branches of the Service—the Excise for instance—where men have to go long distances and to be away from home at the time of the mid-day meal, some kind of subsistence allowance is granted to them. The rural postman has nothing of the kind, although he is obliged to be from home from early morning till late at night, and is, therefore, forced to get his food away from home. This seems a small matter, but it is a very important item in the domestic economy of a man with a salary of only 15s. a week. Lately, the rural postmen have had a great number of new duties imposed upon them in connection with the weighing of letters, the sale of stamps, the weighing of parcels and the carrying of parcels. In connection with the carrying of parcels, it must be remem bered that before they were bound to do this work they used to eke out their slender salaries by carrying parcels on their own account, and the result of the new regulations has, therefore, been to diminish their earnings. There is also a great grievance in connection with the way in which the system of having only a limited number of stripes works out. In one place there may be a considerate postmaster, who will press a man forward as deserving of a stripe, and the man will get it at the end of five years' service. Another man in a district close by ap plies for a stripe after seven years' service, and is told that as the number of stripes is limited he cannot have one; and he finds that, instead of five or seven years, he may have to serve as long as 12 years before he obtains a stripe. This system of having a limited number of stripes is, therefore, very unfair. The number of men who are eligible for stripes, or who would be eligible if the number was not limited, is constantly in creasing, and the grievance is therefore growing day by day. I trust that the Postmaster General will be able to give us some assurance that the condition of these poor men will be ameliorated.

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)

I wish to make some remarks re-specting the condition and the wages of postmen in Cork. In that town, postmen are not eligible for promotion to the position of letter-sorters and to other positions of that kind, although in other offices all over the country they are eligible for such promotion. We all know what an incentive promotion is to men in the public service to do their duty well. There is also a grievance in regard to sick pay in the Cork Post Office. In Cork, the men only receive half-pay when they are sick, although in the Dublin Post Office the married men receive full pay when sick, and the single men three-quarter's pay. The grievance is all the greater because of the fact that the salaries of the men em ployed as postmen in the Cork Office are 25 per cent lower than the salaries received by the postmen in other offices of a like status. This, though a small grievance, is a substantial one; and I believe it is only necessary to bring it under the notice of the Postmaster General to have it inquired into.

MR. J. BARRY (Wexford, S.)

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) has brought the question of the condition of the Irish postmen under the attention of the Committee. For several years past we have had discussions on the subject, and suggestions have been made that something should be done to increase the miserably inadequate pay of the Irish postmen. The present system operates harshly, not only on the postmen in Ireland, but also upon the tem- porary letter-carriers, who are treated even worse than the postmen. I know cases in which men have acted as tem porary carriers for 20 years. They have to walk distances of 20 miles a day, and their wages do not exceed 10s. or 11s. a-week. It is quite a mistake, therefore, to suppose that their duties are light; and they have to undertake serious responsibilities, because at certain times they have to carry letters containing large sums of money. It is highly creditable to them, as a class, that so few cases of robbery or defalca tion take place. The distances traversed in my own county are sometimes very great. In one case it amounts to 25 miles a-day, and in that case the wages paid to the carrier certainly do not exceed 11s. a-week. It is altogether unworthy of a great Department like the Pott Office to continue men in the position of temporary letter-carriers for several years. What objection can there be to putting them on the permanent staff, and advancing their wages 4s. or 5s. a-week? I certainly hope the present Postmaster General will give this matter his earnest attention, and see if some thing cannot be done to improve the position of this most deserving class of men.

MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

I desire to emphasize the remarks which have been made by my hon. Friends as to the position of the Irish postmen. Some time ago, Questions on the subject of the Cork letter-carriers were addressed to the then Postmaster General. The grievances I wish to bring before the Committee are three or four in number. In the first place, the letter-carriers complain that Cork is classed as a first-class office, and that the postmen receive second-class pay. In addition to this, they are most unfairly treated as regards stripes and promotion; and another grievance is, that they only receive half-pay when they are sick. They complain, further, that in Cork they have a larger amount of work to get through than the same class of men in Belfast or Dublin, and that they have to work longer hours. Besides this, they are obliged to work on Sundays all the year round. In Belfast, I understand, the carriers have the Sundays to themselves, and in Dublin they have two or three out of the four. We should like to know, from the Postmaster General, if the inquiry promised last year by the late Government has been held, and, if it has been held, have any recommendations been made to the Department, or, if not, is there any probability of the inquiry being held soon?

MR. O'HEA (Donegal, W.)

The services of these men cannot, I think, under any circumstances, be over-rated. We have here a very large sum to be voted under this particular Estimate; and it must be admitted that among the recipients of State pay there is no more deserving class than these men. I do not mean to travel beyond any particular radius; but in my constituency (Done gal) there arepostmen and letter-carriers who have to walk 10 or 12 miles, and who, during the 24 hours, have to walk, I dare say, 20 Irish miles. It would be a great injustice to this class to have any reduction made in their salaries. I know a great deal about the rural districts in Donegal, and I know the work these men have to do, in sunshine and storm, in rain or snow, from one year's end to the other. If there is any in crease of salary which lies within the discretion of the Postmaster General, or whoever is the head of the Department, the claims of this deserving class of public servants should not be ignored.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I am glad we are to have another opportunity of discussing questions that arise out of this Vote, and I will now only give Notice of one or two points that will receive attention. Under head G 15, I notice an item, £1,300, for a new and extended mail cart service; and in reference to this I should like to ask why special facilities are given, why favourit ism is shown in the allocation of these contractors, whereby old contractors are left out? In my own constituency, the Thurso and Castleton mail express was contracted for by a man two years ago; but he had no opportunity of tendering for the new contract. I want to know if these contracts are all publicly advertised? Then, again, I should like to mention the mail service to the North. The Wick and Thurso morning mail from London only arrives an hour before the evening mail leaves. We want to induce the Postmaster General to give the same facilities as are afforded by the evening mail service, and this is a point that will be raised when the time comes for discussion.

MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)

I should like to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the difficulties that are encountered in some parts of Scotland with reference to founding Post Office Savings' Banks in rural districts. In a Northern constituency there have been two applications made for the establishment of a savings' bank; but they have been refused. In one village there are some 300 or 400 houses and a population of 1,800 or 1,900 people; and I cannot help thinking that the Post Office would do well to promote habits of thrift by encouraging the establish ment of savings' banks among the vil lagers. I hope the Department will consider this, even though there may be some slight loss. I do not know that there would be any loss in the two cases of Archieston and Dallas, which were brought to the notice of the Post Office Authorities.

MR. BARRY (Wexford, S.)

Before the right hon. Gentleman rises I should like to ask him to be good enough to explain the large additions to the original Vote for sites; there is an addition of £122,000 in one instance, and £126,000 in another; the original sums being £60,000 and £74,000. May I ask what were the unforeseen circumstances that led to this very large additional expenditure?

THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)

I have carefully noted the various points raised, and am very glad to have the opportunity of giving what answers I can. As to the matter raised by the hon. Member for the Camborne Division of Cornwall (Mr.Conybeare), Ishallbe extremely glad to receive any representation he will be good enough to make. As to the general question of rural postmen, especially in Ireland, which has been pressed upon my attention by several hon. Members, I would point out that during the last few years something has been done to improve the position of these very deserving public servants. I entirely concur in all that has been said of the excellent character borne, and the important public services rendered, by these men. I think, considering their responsibilities, the sums of money entrusted to their care, and certainly the very moderate wages they receive, the high character they bear, and the rare occasions when any of them are found unworthy of the trust reposed in them,they deserve recog nition. Of course, the wages of any large class of employés are ruled by the consideration of what is sufficient to attract good men. When you find you are well served at a particular price, the Department would be hardly justified in coming to this House and asking for a grant of money to raise the salaries. Particular cases are constantly under consideration, particularly in Ireland during the last three years, and there has been a general tendency to raise the wages of rural postmen. The hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) referred to the question of good-service stripes, and the loss to men from the institution of the parcel post. I sympathise with the men who have been deprived of a small source of emolument they used to enjoy by the institution of the parcel post; but there is a certain amount of compensation, in some instances, from a slight though constant increase of pay in the place of what was formerly a casual employment. Having regard to the very great advantage the parcel post has been to the country, the wonderful strides it has made in public favour, minor and private interests must give way. As to the distribution of stripes, there is a good deal to be said in favour of the view which at different times has been pressed upon the Post Office, that the number of these stripes should, be increased, so as to bear a larger proportion to the number of men in the Force. At the present time it is strictly limited to a particular number; therefore, though a man may have earned his stripe he may have to wait some time for a vacancy before it can be obtained, and this is said to have a discouraging effect on the men. I shall be extremely glad if I can arrive at some system to make the distribution of stripes more regular among the men. An hon. Member spoke of the question of Cork Post Office, and I have to say there has been an inquiry into the status of the men employed there. I am informed that the result was to prove that, although they do not receive the same pay and allowances as their brethren in Dublin, they do receive the same pay and allowances as obtain in other Offices of the same class. But I will look into the matter again and see if there is any real grievance to be redressed. The hon. Member for South Wexford (Mr. Barry) said something about the position of temporary letter-carriers. They occupy a position, no doubt, not so good as established postmen; but if they are allowed to remain in that position it is an advantage to them, for they could not, it most instances, become established postmen, because they are not eligible. In many cases the men are above the prescribed age, and in other cases they are below that age. In the latter case it is possible they may become established letter-carriers, but in the other case their eligibility becomes less and less. A question has been raised by the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) in regard to Scotch mail cart contracts. I am not aware of any instances where such contracts have not been exposed to public competition. There may have been cases of a special character, but I am quite aware that it is proper and desirable there should be public invitation of tenders. As to the mail train service, I think I remember something about that, and there is a certain amount of correspondence on the subject. I am afraid the cost to the Revenue of an acceleration of the morning service would hardly be justifiable. There is a good evening service, but the morning mails have to be sent by trains that stop much more frequently. The Department is always trying to accelerate the mail service, and you may be sure that if an opportunity offers for accelerating the morning service, without increasing the cost and producing a loss that is not justifiable, we shall take advantage of that opportunity. Another hon. Gentleman referred to Post Office Savings' Banks. I think it is very desirable to multiply Post Office Savings' Banks as far as possible, and I think some recent disclosures have deepened that conviction in the minds of persons who take an interest in this question. There are, however, some cases where it is undesirable to open Post Office Savings' Banks, having regard to the qualifications of the local postmaster or postmistress. In some cases where these are equal to the routine business of receiving and despatching letters, they would not be equal to the more responsible duty of keeping a savings' bank. But I think with the hon. Member, that wherever an opportunity offers we should extend the system of savings' banks, and I shall be very happy to entertain and consider any representation that hon. Members may make in this direction. A really important question, one of first-class importance, was that raised by the hon. Member for South Wexford, and one upon which I expected a great deal more would have been said. I am glad he has asked the question, because there is no doubt its importance deserves the consideration of the Committee. The very large addition, amounting altogether to £200,000, to be provided for sites for post and telegraph offices, represents as closely as possible the sum which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when the late Government were in Office last year, struck off the Estimates which were submitted by the Post Office. The Com mittee will recollect that in 1885 there was passed the Post Office Sites Act, which gave the Government the means of extending the premises of the General Post Office. When the Act was passed the Treasury proceeded to sanction the service of notices on owners of property in the locality. Those persons being served, became entitled to receive the purchase money as soon as the sums were decided by arbitration. The Authorities at the Post Office, including my Predecessor, now the Chancellor of the Duchy, arrived at the conclusion that it would be necessary in carrying out the plans to spend £443,000 in the acquisition of sites in the course of that financial year; but when the Estimates were submitted to the Treasury, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer—for there had been a change of Government in the meantime, and the right hon. Gentleman the Mem ber for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) was Chancellor—had, or imagined he had, good ground for assuming that the sum would not be expended in the course of the current year, and with a stroke of his pen he knocked off £200,000 from the Estimates submitted by the Post Office Authorities. But although it was very easy to remove that sum from the Estimates, it was not equally easy to lessen the liability of the Post Office to that extent, as the Post Office was bound to complete the purchases as soon as the arbitration was over. It has turned out that the Post Office made a wonderfully correct calculation; and the mistake of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer was in exact proportion to the accuracy of the Post Office, as that very sum of £200,000 must come in course of payment during the financial year. The Post Office had foreseen this, and the sum now asked for is the same that ought to have been included in the ordinary Estimates for the year. I think nothing more need be said on this point at present. I rather expected that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby would have been here, and, I hoped, would have explained the situation, and how it was that such a curious financial method should have found favour in his eyes. But the hon. Member for South Wexford has given me the opportunity of explanation, and I am glad to have had the opportunity of showing that, although the sum is very large, it has been an automatic expenditure fixed on the Post Office by the Act of 1885. Why it was not foreseen by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is rather a matter for that right hon. Gentleman to explain than myself. With regard to the other expenditure included in the Estimate, I have only to say I think the Committee will be glad to hear that the additional expenditure on the establishment repre sents additional earnings. The addi tional £110,000 expended on the establishment represents an increase of £160,000 in estimated revenue. It is hoped, therefore, that though the sum is considerable, it will be much more than covered by revenue accruing in the course of the year in excess of the calculation made in the spring of last year. Something has been said of the telegraph system; but I will not enter into that now. I will take an opportunity of doing so on the general Estimates; but the immense extension of the telegraph system has brought on a corresponding additional cost. And now I think I have gone through the various points raised in discussion.

MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

May I ask, will the £200,000 complete the purchase of the sites?


Not entirely; there is another large sum to be paid; but this will complete the purchase of those sites which were estimated for by the Post Office last year as requiring completion in the course of this financial year.


I am obliged totherlght hon. Gentleman for his clear explana- tion, which, to me is quite satisfactory, although it indicates a very peculiar method of finance. I would just like to ask, if I am in order in doing so, in relation to transactions of a more than ordinary magnitude. I would ask, if I am in Order, can the right hon. Gentleman give the Committee any idea of the cost of the arbitrations referred to? I have reason to believe that in this par ticular case the cost was excessive—very largeindeed. If theright hon. Gentleman could give any details on the point they would be interesting. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared with the information now? Then I will take an opportunity of repeating my question when the ordinary Estimates are under discussion.

Vote agreed, to.

(12) £122,000, Supplementary, Post Office Telegraphs.

MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

Perhaps the right hon. Gen tleman can tell us what the increase of Telegraph revenue is estimated at? We understood last year that upon the introduction of the sixpenny telegrams there would be a loss of revenue in the present year of from £10,000 to £20,000, but, I understand, there has actually been a very large increase of business, so that not only has the loss of revenue not been realised, but there has been a large increase of income. I should like to know the total.

THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)

The right hon. gentleman has correctly surmised the result. I may say that when the Estimates for the present financial year were prepared it was then feared that the Telegraph revenue would be £20,000 less than last year, but we have realized a sum of £80,000 more than last year, that is to say, about £100.000 in excess of the Estimate.

MR. BARRY (Wexford, S.)

May I ask if any attention has been given to the development of the Telephone system or dealing with overhead wires?


There have been no special negotiations in progress in regard to Telephones, nor do I anticipate that it will be desirable to take up that question during the present year—there are suf ficient reasons for postponing it. As to overhead wires, no doubt it is a subject that has been forced on our consideration by the great damage caused by the snow during the winter. In different directions there have been extensions of the underground system, but generally in the Department opinion is in favour of retaining overhead wires because thev are very much cheaper, and on the whole it is thought desirable to retain that system even in view of an occasional dis location such as occurred at Christmas last. The expenditure for remodelling the whole system would be so great that I do not think the most extravagant House of Commons would be expected to sanction it.

Vote agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.

Committee to sit again upon Wednesday.