§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,583,845 (including a Supplementary sum of £50,000), be granted to Her Majesty to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1891, for the Salaries and Working Expenses of the Post Office Telegraph Service.
§ (8.25.) MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
I desire to ask the Postmaster General to consider a matter of some importance to rural districts: it relates to cases in which private individuals have agreed to guarantee certain sums for seven years in order that postal telegraph, offices may be established in certain places. My contention is not so much that the money required is too much, though in a great number of cases I think it is excessive, but that the guarantee has to be given for seven years. I complain that, although in the first two years the guarantors may be called upon to make good a deficiency, say, of £10, it is possible that in the succeeding years there may be a profit of £20 a year, and that in such a case the money previously paid is not refunded. The effect of this is a check upon local enterprise. It is especially hard that one or two individuals who are inclined for the benefit of the neighbourhood to introduce the telegraph should be mulcted in a substantial sum of money. It is of great importance that out-of-the-way places should be brought into communication by means of the telegraph. I think the least the Postmaster General can do is to consider what can be done, guarding himself, of course, against loss. My chief objection is the deterrent that the system is to local enterprise. I know more than one case where the guarantors have been out of pocket, although they have been the means of earning considerable revenue for the Department.
§ (8.30.) MR. ANGUS SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)
I wish to say a 1603 word or two in a similar spirit to that which animated the remarks of the hon. Member opposite. A similar state of things exists in Scotland in many districts to which the extension of the telegraph system is necessary for the development of the local trade and industry. I am perfectly well aware, from information the Postmaster General has given me, that the obstacle to telegraphic extension and any change in the present system comes rather from the Treasury than from his own Department. As regards extension in the Highlands of Scotland, provision was made giving power to the Government to provide themselves with a guarantee from the surplus fund derived from the branding of herrings; but now I understand that fund is exhausted, and so extension of the telegraphic system in the Highlands is not going on. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman will still tell me that the Rules of the Treasury preclude extensions in the absence of adequate local guarantees; but I hope he will bring his influence to bear to obtain some relaxation of Rules which, by preventing these extensions, check the development of trade in the fishery districts and elsewhere.
§ (8.32.) MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)
I quite agree with what has been urged by the hon. Gentleman opposite that these Treasury Rules often prevent the earning of revenue by extensions of the telegraphic system. It is, I think, a poor and mean policy for a great Government Department to pursue to exact these local guarantees out of which ultimately a profitable branch of the Post Office business arises. It is not the way in which such a business should be managed.
§ (8.35.) THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES,) Cambridge University
I do not know that I can say very much in addition to what I have said in former years upon this question. The complaint made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Mr. Llewellyn) certainly deserves consideration. The position which I understand him to take up is this: that in places where a guarantee is given for seven years, and where the guarantors have to make good the deficiency in revenue for one, two, or three years, when the Telegraph 1604 Office comes to be more than self-supporting, the guarantors should have some claim on a portion of the profit which is earned. I confess I think he has made out something of a case. I am not prepared to say that this view will be accepted absolutely by the Treasury; but, at all events, I do not think it can be denied that there is something of a hardship if public-spirited gentlemen living in a locality put their hands in their pockets to support the telegraph for the convenience of themselves and their neighbours find that, while they have protected the Government against loss, the Government, by the force of the guarantee, make a profit in which they have no share. The case, as fairly stated by my hon. Friend, is more of a Treasury than a Post Office question, and the Treasury, as is well known, are governed by rules which experience has shown are advantageous to the public service, and which, of course, it is not in my power to call upon the Treasury to relax. At the same time I am bound to say I think the hon. Member has done good service in calling attention to the subject, and I will not lose sight of it, and if the system by which the Treasury balances its accounts will allow of some change being made in this direction, I shall be glad to find myself in a position to announce such an alteration. The hon. Member for Sutherland takes rather a different line and a very natural line, considering the constituency he represents. The distant parts of the Highlands, of course, are not in a position to support their own telegraphs; they are not in a position to guarantee a revenue from their own telegraph stations; yet in many cases the existence of a telegraph station in one of these out-of-the-way places is almost indispensable for the prosperity of the locality. This subject was brought under my notice two years ago by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who took an active interest in it, and who pressed on the Government the importance of dispensing with the guarantee usually required in view of the absolute necessity for a telegraph station in a locality where the people are unable to pay for the advantage. For instance, the right hon. Gentleman referred to fishing stations, where it is a matter of the utmost 1605 importance, when there happens to be a great catch of fish, to communicate with fish-curers and others that the fish may be at once dealt with. This principle, I think I may say, has been accepted in a modified degree by the Government. I have had the fortune to extend to several places, particularly in the West and North-West Highlands, telegraph stations outside the strict Treasury rule. I have no doubt that other stations think they have an equal claim on the benevolence of the State. Everything, however, cannot be done at once, and I must content myself by saying that I shall have great pleasure in continuing to administer the policy which has been followed in this respect, and of seeing what amount of assistance can be rendered out of the Post Office surplus in instances where a good case can be made out for giving telegraphic facilities, even where a guarantee is not forthcoming. But I must remind hon. Members that the Post Office surplus is not derived from the telegraphic branch. It is hardly, I think, a just claim that the surplus from the Post Office branch of the Department should be used to provide telegraphic facilities. They are separate Services though under one administration. I am always anxious to extend telegraphic facilities, and I am disposed to think that, at the present time, rather too hard a bargain is made with guarantors. I hope I may be able during the recess to make some arrangement by which, to some extent, the objections which have been raised may be met, and the Department present itself to the public in a more liberal spirit.
§ (8.40.) MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS
I am very glad to have this assurance. Without going into the question of policy, I do not hesitate to say the Department may be managed in a thoroughly commercial spirit without exacting these payments from guarantors.
*(8.45.) EARL COMPTON (York, W.R., Barnsley)
In the form of a reduction of the Vote by £150, I have to bring forward a subject of great interest to the general public. During the discussion on the Post Office Estimates, I confess I was rather amused at one remark from the Postmaster General in regard to myself. I had sat quite silent during the discussion, and I do not know why the right hon. 1606 Gentleman suddenly addressed me, and said he excluded me from the disapproval he was expressing in very decided terms of certain fiery orators who had been doing something wrong. I accept his kind exemption, and certainly I cannot blame myself for any fiery oratorical interference in matters in which telegraphists have been concerned. If there has been any fiery feeling in the Department during the last few months it certainly has not been incited by myself, but has rather been due to the action of the right hon. Gentleman himself. The case of the telegraphists and the Telegraph Department is entirely different to the case of the Post Office employés which was discussed the other day. Both sections have reason to complain, but after that similarity ceases. As regards the agitation among the telegraphists there has been, I understand and believe, no intervention of political or paid agitators. The employé's of the Postmaster General in the Telegraph Department have managed their case for themselves. In the case of the postmen, I believe an outsider has been appointed Secretary, and with that I do not concern myself now, but as regards the telegraphists, they appointed two of their own number as Secretaries, and I believe in all the action they have taken since I began to interest myself in their affairs, they have acted in a perfectly constitutional, and, more than that, in an extremely moderate manner. I know there was an exception lately as regards their behaviour, and that I will bring before the Committee before I conclude my remarks. I wish to point out to the Postmaster General that the course I am taking now is made imperatively necessary because of the evasive answers given from time to time, and in spite of the strong hints from the right hon. Gentleman and the First Lord of the Treasury that the interference of third persons was not at all desirable between the heads of Departments and those under them. But, unless there is some interference, I do not see how the public can be made aware of what is going on in what is, after all, a public Department. Those who are serving under the Postmaster General at the moment are not his servants in any sense whatever; they are the servants of 1607 the public, and the public have a right to make remarks in regard to the manner in which their servants are treated, and we have a right to bring any complaints of these servants before this House. We have a right and a duty in the matter. If a public man, who aspires to do the duties attaching to his position, is made aware that the servants of a great State Department are not being treated as he considers fairly, it is the duty of that public man to take the opportunity of bringing the case of these public servants before the House of Commons and the country. I am very much afraid that, in all these matters, the Postmaster General has been rather led away by that fatal sentiment so often expressed from the Government Bench in favour of "firm and resolute government." In my opinion, firmness and resolution are splendid qualities,administered in a propermanner, and with due regard to the complaints and grievances which are brought before the man who, by accident, at the moment, happens to be at the head of the Department. But when firmness and resolution have been exercised for four years the employés in a great State Department are found to be in a state of discontent, amounting almost to insubordination. Firmness may mean petty tyranny, and resoluteness may mean oppression. The man who shows firmness and resolution is he who attacks discontent at the time it first shows itself, and tries his best to remove the cause, if the discontent is just, as, in this case, I believe it is. Before I proceed further let me say I am glad the Postmaster General has acknowledged that this is not a case in which agitators and agitation have bred discontent; it is discontent which has bred the agitation. Also, I should like to say that in any remarks I make I entirely absolve the officials of the Telegraph Department, and I am sure the Postmaster General will be glad to hear me say that it is particularly owing to the great tact shown by Sir Arthur Blackwood that matters have not been more serious than they have been during the last few months. I will endeavour shortly to show the Committee how, in my opinion, the discontent which had long given evidence of its existence, ought to have been taken in hand long ago. Last year I asked questions on the 1608 subject, and I must say, with frankness, that I received evasive replies. We can well understand how men having a grievance, and seeing questions have been asked in respect to their complaints, and direct answers avoided have their feeling of grievance intensified. Then I gave notice last year to the Postmaster General, through the mouth of an hon. Friend, that I would bring forward this matter by Motion this year. I gave a careful examination to all the details, and collected as much evidence as I could from all sides, and I can honestly say that there has been absolutely nothing whatever of a political nature in any action I have taken. I am told that the majority of those men employed in Post Office and Telegraph Departments differ from me in politics, but of course that would have no influence with me in taking up their case. Let me also say that I have been extremely careful not to put myself in the wrong, not to damage the case of these men which I bring forward by engaging in any heated controversy. I have endeavoured to keep the case out of this. I was once asked to attend a meeting on the subject, and I said immediately I believed it was against the regulations for anyone, even a Member of Parliament, to take the chair. I believe it is the rule, absurd though I think it is, and I declined to attend the meeting. When it came to my knowledge, through the daily Press, that there was a chance of something like a strike—or it could scarcely be called that—at any rate, of a little bother, trouble, and difficulty in the Central Telegraph Department, I wrote to those whom I knew, begging them to use influence to restrain their colleagues, and giving my strongest advice not to pursue such a course, because, in my opinion, it would put them in the wrong before the House of Commons and the country. I mention this as regards myself, as I wish it to be clearly understood that I have been actuated by motives to secure redress of grievances simply, and have no political or other objects to serve. The proper mode of proceeding, I understand, for public servants to take if they have any grievances and wish to obtain redress, is to petition the official heads of the Department. Now, the telegraphists most properly observed this 1609 Regulation, and carried it out. For years they have addressed the Postmaster General and other officials in the most respectful manner, and I believe Petitions have been sent during a number of years, but, of course, at the present moment I shall only speak of the years during which the present Postmaster General has held office. I have here a list of Petitions, but I do not intend to go through the whole list, but I only wish to show why it is that I now appeal from the Postmaster General to the House. In 1886, there was a Petition, which was answered by the Postmaster General, from the second class clerks. In 1887 there was a Petition from the male staff, which was answered by the Controller. Then I find in the same year, there was a Petition from the female staff to the Postmaster General, and that, I believe, was never answered. There was a question asked in this House by Lord Charles Beresford, who, as a Naval man, is naturally a champion of the fair sex, and the noble Lord received an answer in this House, and that, I believe, was the only reply the female staff received to their Petition. Then the male staff petitioned again in January, 1888, and received no answer, and again a question was asked and answered here. In December, 1888, some members of the Telegraph Department asked whether they might lay their case before the Treasury, and were told by the Postmaster General that he was the supreme authority for officers of the Department. Exactly, but why did the Postmaster General not even give an answer to some of these Petitions? Perhaps he may say that he received so many that he could not answer them all. But does the right hon. Gentleman not understand how the feelings of discontent and irritation increase when men find their representations, made in the regular and proper way, are met with neglect and silent contempt? Now, let me say, that on the last occasion when I brought this matter before the Postmaster General, I was astonished at the reply he made, that the full statement of the grievances complained of had not been brought before him. I do not bring this forward as a grievance, but only to show how it is that these clerks have found that their cases were not receiving much attention at the 1610 hands of the Postmaster General. The right hon. Gentleman said he could hardly understand how I could reconcile it with my duty to bring forward the Motion without having previously given the Department an opportunity of investigating the grievance. But it has been the case, over and over again, since the right hon. Gentleman has held office, that representations from the servants of the Department have not even been answered. I must say I have noticed at the same time a strange difference between the report of the right hon. Gentleman's answer as appearing in Hansard and the report which appeared in the Times. I am quoting the former, but I should have preferred to have quoted the latter. There are certain additions in Hansard which I, personally, have no recollection of, and the passages in the Times are a great deal more forcible than those which appear in Hansard. I do not know what the custom is among Members generally as regards the alteration of speeches for Hansard; personally I always preserve the sense, though I may try here and there to make the language a little better than I may have used in the course of a long speech. Now, with regard to the statement which the telegraphists drew up, the right hon. Gentleman said that a printed pamphlet purporting to present the case of the telegraphists was said to have been brought under the notice of the Royal Commission on Civil Servants.Will it be believed," he proceeded, "that the first opportunity I have had of seeing that statement was this very morning, when it reached me through the post. I had been unable before to obtain a copy.Then Hansard goes on to make the right hon. Gentleman to say there was no proof of the statement that the document was laid before the Royal Commission, and certainly they had expressed no opinion on it; whereas the words in the Times report, and which I heard, were that there was no truth in the statement that the Royal Commission received it. It is these declarations on the part of the Postmaster General which have been causing irritation in the Telegraph Department. A letter was sent in the ordinary and proper way by certain telegraphists on September 12th, 1887, asking the Controller to 1611 appoint a day on which he would receive the statement which was to be presented to the Royal Commission. The statement which the telegraphists drew up was received and retained by the Secretary, or Controller, and was ultimately handed back, presumably after having been seen by the Postmaster General. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but seeing it is a fact that it was handed to the Secretary or Controller, and was given back to the men, is the right hon. Gentleman justified in saying he never had a chance of seeing it? In returning it the Secretary said that the telegraphists were at liberty themselves to send the statement to the Royal Commission; yet the right hon. Gentleman enters the House and states he had no knowledge of it.
* EARL COMPTON
The right hon. Gentleman says, Certainly. But these are the very matters which have caused the irritation. Why was the Postmaster General unaware of the statement? Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman was able to say he had not been told about the statement, and that, therefore, he was able to come to the House and say he had no knowledge of it, then we shall understand the kind of machinery at work in the Post Office, and also why there are so many people discontented in that particular Department. The right hon. Gentleman has brought forward a scheme to remedy some of the just grievances of the men. Let me say that that scheme is infinitely better than I expected, considering the huge financial difficulties. Those who have interested themselves in the matter ought to say frankly that the right hon. Gentleman has done as much as could be expected at present, although, in some points, it may be desirable to alter the scheme. Another great cause of discontent has reference to the right of the servants in the Post Office and Telegraph Office to meet and discuss matters without the presence of a reporter. So far as I am aware, there is no great objection on the part of a large majority of the civil servants to a reporter always attending at their meetings. Probably it would be rather disagreeable for the Postmaster General to read the transcript of the shorthand notes, as he might come across remarks not very flattering to himself. 1612 A good deal of attention has been drawn to the Circular of the April 19th, on this matter, but very little has been said as to that of May 21st, which shows that the Post Office authorities felt they had gone a little too far, for they desired to make it understood that there was no desire to interfere with purely social gatherings, and suggested that notices of meetings should state the object, and should notify if the promoters were prepared to assent to conditions which would make it unnecessary for a shorthand writer to attend. I wonder if the Postmaster General had in view meetings of the Primrose League, when he issued that second Circular. I believe the chief objection is not to the presence of the reporter so much as that the reporter is always accompanied by somebody else. I want to know whether anyone has the authority or order of the Postmaster General, besides the reporter, to attend in order to take down the names of the speakers and report as regards the meeting. I submit it would be a wise thing for the Government to take this question in hand, and allow the Civil servants to meet, so long as they behave themselves, without interference in any way whatever. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, before the Division on this Vote is taken, will give us more satisfactory assurances on this point. And now as to the question of overtime. I suppose the Postmaster General will agree with me it is not well that the servants of any public Department should be overworked. I wish to know whether it is true that any men in the service of the State have worked at night for 11 consecutive hours, and have, after an interval of four hours, resumed work. I have been told that lately men have been working for 14 and 15 hours a day, with one half-hour's rest a day. If that is true I consider the State at the present moment ought to stand in no better position, in the eyes of the public, than one of the sweaters about whom we have heard so much in the course of the inquiry by the Royal Commission on Sweating. Again, I want to know whether overtime is going on in the Post Office as it used to do. It is said that this labour is voluntary; but if the men refuse to perform this voluntary work they will be punished. It is a perfect absurdity to imagine that there is anything voluntary in it. You will always find a cer- 1613 tain number of men ready to work overtime for the sake of the money they get. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will promise to lay on the Table a distinct account of the amount of work performed by the members of the Telegraph Service and the Post Office. I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement regarding the scale of pay of the superior officers. He knew that at the present moment only three of the large centres had been touched.
* EARL COMPTON
There were only three a week ago. Those who are waiting will only get the benefit when the adjustment comes into force; but why is not the pay of all of them increased on the same day? Then, what did the new scheme of the Postmaster General do as regards the maximum sum? There was a first-class maximum up to £190. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman means to do away with the senior class, and make his first class a class of what are called supervisors. The consequence will be that the vast majority of the men who entered the Service with the hope of rising to a maximum of £190 will, under the new regulations, only be able to rise to £160. So far as I understand it, the Postmaster General has rather gone back on Mr. Fawcott's scheme on this point. I now propose to give the House a short account of what has been the result of the discontent in the Telegraph Department. A telegraphist who managed a private wire was introduced into the Department at a moment when the discontent had almost broken out, and the men feared that a lot of strangers were to be imported in order that their own services might be dispensed with. It was very much like applying a lighted match to a cask of gunpowder. When duty was over a few of the men waited for this telegraphist—a man named Henderson—to come out. No doubt they behaved extremely badly, for they hustled him. Two or three of the telegraphists, however, interfered and got him away quietly. The Postmaster General instituted an inquiry into the matter, and 192 men have been cut out from all the advantages of the new scheme owing to this occurrence. I have a letter written by one who was looking on all the time, and whose testimony I can believe. He took 1614 no part in the hustling. I do not think it wise to give his name, because it might get him into trouble. It appears that the row took place two or three minutes past 4 o'clock, at which hour a good many men go away. In fact, a good many who had gone away were punished for what took place in their absence. The outsider Henderson came downstairs, and then there arose cries of "blackleg." Henderson was hustled, but no one struck him or spat upon him. He was not seriously hurt, but only hustled badly; and in proof of that I may mention that the man's "top hat" was unruffled and smooth. If the row had been serious, if the man had been struck or spat upon, his hat would probably have been the first thing to suffer. So far as I can see, there has been a little exaggeration as to what took place. Put how can the right hon. Gentleman expect any of these men to prove themselves innocent. Some of the 192 men who have been punished must be innocent, as only six or seven hustled actively. I should like to know whether, during the inquiry, any of the 192 were proved innocent, and, if so, whether they will be reinstated as regards the scale of pay to which they were entitled before the disturbance. The Postmaster General has had a great deal of trouble, but I think I may say with candour that it is partly owing to the attitude the right hon. Gentleman has himself assumed. If he had shown more sympathy with those under him there would probably not have been so much disturbance and discontent. He has now a great opportunity, by being merciful to those whom he has punished, of reinstating himself in the affections of those over whom he is placed. I think he must admit that there have been errors on both sides. There would not have been all this discontent had he taken these matters in hand in his first year of office instead of in his fourth. I think, too, he will admit that the conduct of the telegraphists has, on the whole, been most praiseworthy, and surely his best course now is to let bygones be bygones. Let him replace the men who are now suffering punishment, and see if his scheme, when it has had a fair trial, will not produce a better and healthier condition of affairs in the Department. If the right hon. Gentleman could only 1615 see his way to some relaxation of the rules such as has been pointed out, I feel certain that he would give pleasure to a large number of the general public who have been watching most anxiously the case of the telegraphists, while he will also have a great opportunity of reinstating himself in the affections of those over whom he is placed. I beg to move the reduction of the Vote in the sum of £150.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A (Salaries), be reduced by £150, part of the Salary of the Postmaster General."—(Earl Cornpton.)
§ *(9.31.) SIR E. J. REED (Cardiff)
I have thought it might be convenient to the Committee if I were to avail myself of the opportunity afforded by the Motion of the noble Lord to bring forward a case which I have had in my mind for some months past. I am very sorry to have to make a complaint, because I am bound to say that personally, in connection with the town I represent, which makes not only numerous but almost continual demands on the attention of the Postmaster General, I have always received from him the most prompt and courteous consideration. Moreover, I happen to know that the Postmaster General is detained in this House at a time when he ought to be elsewhere, and I am, therefore, sorry to be obliged to add in any degree to the trouble he is put to and to delay his departure. Although it is so late in the Session, I feel it necessary to' occupy the time of the Committee for a few moments while I lay before it the Cardiff telegraph case. If the treatment of other Members of the Civil Service is to be the same as has been meted out to certain gentlemen on the staff of the Cardiff Telegraph Office, I have no hesitation in saying that they might as well belong to the Civil Service of Russia as to the Civil Service of England. This matter came to my knowledge in an accidental manner, and I will endeavour to state the facts as they arose. I heard that certain gentlemen belonging to the Cardiff Telegraph Staff were suddenly and peremptorily ordered away from their homes to other towns. So short was the notice given to them that it amounted in one case to less than a day, and the gentlemen who have been so punished are men against whom 1616 not only has no offence been proved, but against whom no offence or charge has been even alleged. What happened was this: Owing to the enormous growth of Cardiff in recent years, the Telegraph Department of the town, like other Departments, had fallen behind the demands made upon it. The growth of telegraphic business at Cardiff was unexampled in Great Britain, and that except in the United States there is nothing analogous to it. As an illustration of the rapidity of the growth of Cardiff, I may state that whereas in 1876 the rate able value of the town was £260,000, it is now £744,000, so that it has increased threefold during that period. It is not unnatural that the Telegraph Service should fail to keep pace with the demands of the town, but the complaints of the commercial classes in the town were such that last August I was compelled to address a letter to the Postmaster General on the subject. The staff at the Telegraph Office had been enormously overworked, and the public complained that boys were brought in to do telegraphic work, for which they were unqualified, while men in high stations had to do the ordinary work of the office, and that, generally speaking, the whole staff was in a state of dissatisfaction and irritation. Of course, the telegraphists had no knowledge of my letter to the Postmaster General, though they were the persons on whom long hours and personal sacrifices had fallen for a long time past. Letters and articles began to appear in a local paper —a Tory journal, which shows that there was no political significance in the correspondence—setting forth the grievances of the telegraphists. At the same time, the Postmaster General, in answer to the appeal which had been addressed to him, undertook to add very largely to the Staff, and to make several promotions. Then the superintendent of the Telegraph Office, after direct communication with the Postmaster General, sent for eight of the staff and told them that they would be promoted if they had had nothing to do with the letters which had appeared in the local paper. The eight men disclaimed any complicity in the matter, and five were duly promoted. The other three, however, were informed that they knew, or could readily find out, who was responsible for the letters to the news- 1617 paper, and they were given 48 hours in which to report to the superintendent. Public servants are put in rather an awkward position by the attitude taken by the Postmaster General and other of her Majesty's Ministers. The doctrine of the Government seems to be that Civil servants must, above all things, suffer in silence. If they appeal to a newspaper, they are severely punished; and if they appeal to a Member of Parliament the hon. Gentleman is told that such action is subversive of the discipline of the Service. I have no desire to interfere between the heads of Departments and their subordinates; and in proof of this I will mention that I have never before brought any grievance such as that I am now referring to to the notice of the House of Commons, though I have often been requested to do so. At the end of the 48 hours the men reported to the superintendent that they considered it no part of their duty to obtain the information required. The promotion that it had been intended to give these men proved that they were efficient. They had all been long in the service, and they had been resident many- years in Cardiff. No one will deny the right of the Postmaster General to order them to other towns if their removal was called for by the exigencies of the Public Service; but the removal of these men at extremely short notice was a penal sentence for not having ascertained and disclosed who were the authors of these communications to the local newspaper. Hearing of the matter, I went to them myself to try to get information from them; but such was their loyalty to the Department, or else their terror of the rule under which they lived, that they were indisposed to make any statement to me, and I had great difficulty in eliciting any facts from them. The Postmaster General has said that their removal was not a punishment; but that he found a state of things which seemed to indicate a lack of discipline, and he thought it best to disperse those who were suspected. That might be a step quite within his right if it was taken in good faith in the interest of the Service; but these removals came upon the men as penal sentences, and feelings of sympathy and indignation spread like wildfire throughout the Telegraph Services of the 1618 country. I have received hundreds of communications from all parts of the country showing the interest that was felt in the case, and expressing the opinion that these men had been dealt with unrighteously. Some of these men have been moved more than once, and one several times; and they have also been refused the usual extra allowance for temporary residence on the plea that their removals were permanent. I have a number of facts which go to show that these men were not wanted at the places to which they were sent; indeed, in some instances, they have been idling away their time. All the surrounding circumstances went to show that the men were being punished. One of them wrote to the Postmaster General to ask him what the punishment was for: and the answer made was that he was not being punished at all. Not being punished! Why, the men were put to great expense, and one of them had been reduced to almost absolute want. Two of them have since been promoted in the towns to which they were sent. Admitting that the Postmaster General must have the power of removal, and must exercise it, still, it ought not to be abused in such a way as to make removals a very severe punishment. I have not been very anxious to bring the case on, because I believe very little good comes of bringing such cases before the House, particularly during the régime of the present Government. It has been made manifest in many cases that there is no idea of making public servants satisfied and content, and that the main idea is to exercise arbitrary authority and to expect men to yield to it at once; but in this age discipline is not to be maintained in that way. I admit that the Government is unduly harassed by the claims of public servants. Yesterday in the Lobby I met several gentlemen who had come to press claims on the Government, which I decline to recognise. Some men seem to have the idea that they are to give the public a few years' labour and that they are to be kept in idleness for the rest of their lives. Others, if they are introduced temporarily into the Public Service, set up claims of a permanent character. The State ought to be able; like a private individual, to obtain temporary service; and if it becomes continuous, those who are employed 1619 ought to be grateful. Nevertheless, all ought to feel that they are considerately treated; and I have submitted a case in which men were dealt with most improperly. Why should civil servants be ordered about like slaves, without any charge being made against them? On this subject I have had a correspondence with the Postmaster General, who, in the course of it, did what I suggest was not magnanimous. Here was an office of which complaint was made, not that the staff was inefficient, but that it was overworked, and that men were struggling manfully with their duties. The Postmaster General turned round and made a general, broad accusation against the Cardiff office, that it was occupied by a set of demoralised public servants; and he stated among other things that the privacy of telegrams was not respected, but that their purport was published. That was a strong charge to make, and I have made it my duty to inquire into it. The only thing to be found against them was that when the right hon. Gentleman himself visited Cardiff, he had occasion to telegraph to a local friend, and that friend telegraphed to his wife that the right hon. Gentleman was coming, and the fact got into the local newspapers. This was not a very awful revelation of a private talegram in itself, and I would point out that before the right hon. Gentleman made the charge he had discovered the guilty person. The person who disclosed the telegram was found not to be a telegraph clerk at all, but a postal official high up in the office. He had to leave in consequence of the disclosure. On this occurrence was based a general statement with regard to all the officials, and all the foundation for it was a simple incident of the kind I mention. My noble Friend (Lord Compton) in his speech said he had declined to participate in any meetings which had been held. But I found myself in a position to take the chair at a meeting of the telegraph clerks held in London.
* EARL COMPTON
I am afraid my hon. Friend misunderstood what I said. I did not preside at any of the meetings of the officials because I thought it would be better for them if I did not do so. In fact, I thought it better that Members of this House should not take part in these meetings, owing to the 1620 danger of transgressing the regulations of the Postmaster General.
§ * SIR E. J. REED
I was in sympathy with the men who had been improperly punished at Cardiff, and it seemed to me a very natural thing that I should preside at a meeting of sympathising officials. I took the chair also for another reason, that I had never heard, or dreamed, or imagined that the right of men to meet to discuss their grievances in this country would be questioned. The regulation that the right hon. Gentleman claims to have modified was of such a nature that it would make liable to punishment any servant of the Post Office who invited half a dozen of his colleagues to dinner, and afterwards discussed the question of their salaries. Everyone, even the right hon. Gentleman himself, can see the gross absurdity of that regulation. It would be all very well to prohibit meetings of civil servants at which their grievances are discussed if the public could be assured that those servants are always treated fairly and righteously; but I am sorry to say that that is not the case. And I fail to see what gain there is to be obtained from thrusting a reporter into meetings of men when assembled to discuss their grievances. I cannot but regard it as a frightful mistake. The men in the case I have complained of were treated merely upon suspicion. No personal allegations were made against them, and in cases of that kind is it right that a reporter in the interest of the Postmaster General should be thrust into their meetings? The right hon. Gentleman always succeeds in making a very temperate and successful speech in this House. I am glad that that is the case, because I think it desirable that the heads of Departments should be able to justify their conduct. I am rather disposed to follow the line taken by my noble Friend at the end of his remarks. If he chooses to go to a Division I shall certainly go into the Lobby with him, but I see no good to come from a Division. I rather think it would be wiser to content ourselves with appealing to the right hon. Gentleman to remove the sense of injustice which rankles in the, breasts of hundreds and thousands of his employés through out the country. I trust the Postmaster General will save us the trouble of dividing, by responding 1621 to the appeal that has been made to him I to do his best to examine into, and, if necessary, to remove the grievances which the Post Office employés are suffering under. I am glad to know from a recent speech of the Postmaster General that he is prepared to consider all the cases of the men with the view of remedying their grievances, but, certainly, unless the men are treated with more consideration it will be necessary for the House of Commons to take into its own hands in some degree the regulation of such State Departments.
§ *(10.9.) MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)
I will not deal with the claims of the Cardiff telegraphists which have been so amply discussed by the noble Lord and the Member for Cardiff. It is clear that during the past three or four months the deplorable state of discontent and dissatisfaction described by the hon. Member for Cardiff has prevailed, not only there, but in other towns. I do not hesitate to say that officialism has interfered with the men in discussing their grievances in a manner which is absolutely foreign in this country. The telegraph servants have a right to discuss their grievances, and I insist upon that right in their behalf. Do not let me be misunderstood. I do not consider this as a matter of personal treatment, but as a matter of public policy, and that alone; and I venture to say that the policy adopted by the Post Office in its treatment of all its servants has been quite as bad as that which has characterised its treatment of the telegraph clerks. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, as we all know, in April placed restrictions upon the men holding meetings. My attention was drawn to it, and I at once gave notice that I would, if I could get a chance, move that this House affirm the right of all Civil servants to meet freely without interference from the heads of the Department, and I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman as to whether any previous regulations existed. I want to draw attention to the terms of an Order of 1866, issued by the then Postmaster General, Lord Stanley of Alderley. He issued an Order prohibiting the men from meeting on pain of dismissal; but that Order has never been acted upon until the present year, and 1622 I do not think the Postmaster General was ever aware of its existence until ho hunted it up to justify the Circular of April 19 last. The late Mr. Fawcett was a great enemy in public life of the fetisch of officialism. He had difficulties with the Telegraphic Department, but he never did anything to restrain the men from meeting to discuss their grievances. They had the most perfect freedom in the way of petitioning and in holding consultations with Mr. Fawcett, who lost no opportunity of finding out what he considered was wrong in the Department. I do not think Mr. Fawcett knew about that Order of 1866; and if he had known about it, I feel confident that he would have treated it as an absurdity. In March, 1881, in reply to a question put in the House, Mr. Fawcett declared thathe would spare no effort to arrive at a fair conclusion as to the complaints of the telegraphists, and that he was very anxious to hear from the men themselves their accounts of their alleged grievances.He did not issue an Order to for bid the men from holding meetings. Not at all. On one occasion he asked 12 representatives— seven males and five females—to see him. They waited upon him, and he asked them to speak to him without reservation. They did so, and they gave him some very useful information; and at the end of an interview which lasted over five hours—after this long friendly intercourse with his employés, meeting them face to face, exchanging views, giving and receiving information—the deputation: withdrew, warmly thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which they had been received. To show that he did not interfere with the perfect freedom of public meeting of.' his employés, in answer to another question on March 24th, 1881, asking whether his attention had been drawn to meetings which had taken place of Post Office clerks and telegraph clerks, Mr. Fawcett expressed himself cognisant of these meetings. On the 13th May also, he admitted that he had seen reports of these meetings, and stated that directly a decision was arrived at as to the matters in dispute he would make it known to the Post Office servants. The only other quotation I have to make is that of an answer to the hon. Member for Derry, who 1623 asked whether Mr. Fawcett's attention had been drawn to a meeting of the Cork telegraph clerks, the object of which was to act in conjunction with the clerks of the various offices throughout the Kingdom; and whether the Postmaster of Cork, on seeing a report of the meeting in the Cork papers, gave instructions that any clerk who had taken a prominent part in the meeting should not be engaged on any duties which involved extra pay. Mr. Fawcett's reply was that "no such instruction was ever acted on." It is quite clear that that distinguished Postmaster General never for a moment suggested interference with the most complete freedom of action on the part of any telegraph clerk. I agree that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) has shown a studied courtesy to Members of this House, and we have no wish to make this a personal matter. It is a question of policy. We are now approaching a great crisis in the management of the affairs of this country. Democracy has become the mistress of this country. Democracy will no doubt make many mistakes; but I would ask whether we are likely to prevent it making mistakes by arbitrary and fussy interference with the individual liberty of our own servants. It is the duty of every Member of this House to see that those servants have fair play. I would earnestly entreat the Postmaster General to withdraw the irritating and annoying Order he has issued, and to let the postal servants be free to discuss their grievances, and to have immediate and ready access to him.
§ (10.22.) MR. RAIKES
As the discussion has gone on at considerable length, and as my own conduct has been freely criticised, I hope the Committee will allow me some latitude in defending myself from the attack which has been made upon me. I hope to maintain the temperate tone which has been displayed by the noble Lord. The noble Lord, who has constituted himself in this House one of the representatives of the Telegraphic Service, seems to think that unfair comment has been made by me; but I can only say that I was referring at that time to certain outside speakers who, by their incendiary language, provoke public servants to neglect their duties. The noble Lord has spoken of 1624 the moderate manner adopted by the telegraphists in pressing forward certain complaints they made; but if he had seen as much as I have of the manner in which the telegraphists press forward certain complaints, I think the noble Lord would have adopted a different phrase. I have mentioned before that many of the complaints deserve, and will receive, the favourable consideration of the Government. I only refer to the incident as an example of the very worst way in which any public servants could hope to obtain consideration for their complaints—that is to say, by a cannonade of constant reiteration, hurled at the head of the Department for months before he has had the opportunity of obtaining the best advice. I hope that, for my part, I have altogether abstained from the use of irritating language, and I think that if the noble Lord had had the opportunity of studying the shorthand writer's report of the Leicester Conference, he would have found that language was used such as would not have been tolerated by any Department anxious to promote the interests of the men. I do not mean to say that because this language has been used, and because the complaints have been ventilated in a studiously offensive manner, they ought, therefore, not to receive attention. I have sought to give, and have given, consideration to them, and I think it is rather singular that I who have been the only Postmaster General who, since Mr. Fawcett, has been able to secure for the men substantial permanent benefits, should have been singled out for attack in this manner as guilty of unsympathetic and arbitrary dealing. It is quite true that they adopted a course which greatly increased the difficulties which stood in the way of their obtaining those benefits—but let byegones be byegones. I am glad to think I have been able to give the telegraphists more substantial proof of my consideration for them than could have been afforded by any number of speeches delivered by fiery orators. I am glad the noble Lord did justice to my friend Sir Arthur Blackwood, but I cannot admit that in any official action he takes Sir Arthur Blackwood is to be severed from myself. I am prepared to bear the responsibility for 1625 all he does. He, on the other hand, would be the first to admit that to me belongs the credit of any course that may be regarded as beneficial. Therefore, although I am glad to recognise the position of Sir Arthur Blackwood and to do justice to a very able and distinguished public servant, I must enter my protest against any attempt to set up the doctrine that the Secretary of the Post Office may take a particular line without having the sanction and support of his Parliamentary chief. The noble Lord has taken credit—and I think he richly deserves it—for his attitude in regard to the meetings held by the telegraphists in London. I think he acted as any public-spirited friend of the men would have acted in telling them he would be no party to their taking any action which would amount to a breach of official rules. I am not able to approve of several parts of his speech, but I am compelled to bear this testimony to his endeavour to be a true friend to the men whose cause he has espoused. The noble Lord made a sort of reply to a speech made by me, I think, in June last. I find this difficulty in dealing with the noble Lord—that he is not willing to accept statements of fact from those with whom he differs. If the noble Lord were prepared, as Members generally are, to accept statements of fact from those opposed to him in controversy he would save himself a great deal of trouble, and render greater service to any cause he attempts to advocate. I have never denied that in the early years of my administration there were a great number of petitions and memorials. There have always been a great number of them, and I think it will be plain that it is something not to be encouraged if the servants of a Public Department, having had their applications carefully considered and, for good reason in the eyes of the Department, rejected, immediately return to the charge and present the same memorials over again in the course of a few months. The particular memorial to which I understood the noble Lord mainly to refer was a petition which had been before the public in all the newspapers, which had been the subject of leading articles and impassioned speeches, but which had never been presented to the Minister 1626 responsible for dealing with it. The noble Lord came in just at that inconvenient moment when I had appointed a committee to consider the grievances generally alleged by the provincial telegraphists, but when I had not received the petition from the London telegraphists, the noble Lord's especial clients.
§ MR. RAIKES
It is a curious thing that in presenting his case the noble Lord should have omitted to avail himself of reports readily accessible, and which had formed the subject of much public comment. Of course, however, I fully accept the explanation. The noble Lord went on to make insinuations which I think he will some day be sorry for. He was pleased to insinuate—and no one who heard him could fail to see he insinuated it—that I had been a party in some way or other to producing misrepresentations in Hansard of the speech I delivered on a particular occasion. Now, I should like to know, yes or no, is that what the noble Lord meant?
* EARL COMPTON
I am very glad indeed to answer. What I meant by my speech was that the right hon. Gentleman's language, according to the Times and my own recollection of it, was entirely different from that which I found in Hansard, and I imagined, as I saw an asterisk before his name, that he supplied the speech, as produced in Hansard, with one or two particular points.
§ MR. RAIKES
I understand the noble Lord to say he charges me with having deliberately falsified the report of my speech in Hansard.
* EARL COMPTON
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon; I never used the word "falsified." What I did say was that I saw a distinct alteration in the two accounts, and I should have preferred to use the account in the Times and also my memory which served me as regarded what took place. I found in Hansard a modification, as I understand the word, of the language actually used in the House.
§ MR. RAIKES
Then I wish the noble Lord had had the manliness to charge me with falsification, because it appears 1627 to me there is no other meaning which can be put on the language he uses. I will take an instance, because the noble Lord was good enough to supply instances. The noble Lord said he found reported in Hansard that there was no "proof" of the statement that a Memorial had been presented to the Royal Commission, and the noble Lord was pleased to say that, as far as his recollection served him, what I had said was that there was no "truth" in that statement. Now, I have a very accurate recollection of that particular passage in my speech, and I can assure the Committee—I do not think I can satisfy the noble Lord— that the word "proof" was the word I used, and that the word "truth" would have been extremely out of place, because what I was endeavouring to show was that we had no evidence of the presentation of the Memorial to the Royal Commission. I said there was no proof of that statement having reached me, and I went on to say there was no record of it in the proceedings of the Royal Commission. I think anybody who studied the context of that speech would see there was no other word I could reasonably use except the word "proof."
* EARL COMPTON
As this comes close to being a personal matter, the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to explain. He will recollect I had a private correspondence with him. I sent to him an extract from the Times in which the words were "he knew there was no truth in the statement." I sent that extract to the right hon. Gentleman; he made no remark with regard to it. He did not say it was a misstatement, and, as he had not denied it, I was a little surprised to find the word "proof" in Hansard.
§ MR. RAIKES
Of course, the correspondence had reference to other matters, and I had to combat so many errors in the noble Lord's letter, that, perhaps, I did not combat all. Having made this statement relating to the fact, I leave it there. The noble Lord was pleased to assume that the Memorial of the telegraphists to the Royal Commission having been submitted to the Controller, I must necessarily have been possessed of its contents. The noble Lord is pleased not to accept my dis- 1628 claimer. What happened was this. The telegraphists were anxious to present a communication to the Royal Commission. They came to the Controller and asked whether it should be sent through the Postmaster General or through the Treasury. I believe the Controller never saw the communication at all—so far as I know, at all events, he made no report on the subject—but he told the telegraphists they were perfectly free to present their Memorial to the Royal Commission direct.
* EARL COMPTON
That distinctly contradicts the statement I have made. The Memorial was presented to the Controller; it was not returned at once, but the Controller told them they could present it themselves. The idea was that the Controller had taken it to the Postmaster General.
§ MR. RAIKES
That is precisely what I say is not the fact. What I said was that I had no knowledge whatever of the existence of this document at all. These are all examples of the way in which arguments are put together, and charges are made upon them. I am told that my attitude towards my subordinates has been unconciliatory and unsympathetic; the evidence on which these charges are made crumbles to pieces, and the charges based upon them fall with the statements that have been made. The noble Lord has been good enough to give some commendation to the scheme framed for the benefit of the telegraphists. I am sorry to detain the Committee with these personal matters, but I should have thought any one claiming to be in any sense a representative of the telegraphists would have made the burden of his speech one of congratulation upon the very great advantages which it has been my good fortune, as Postmaster General, to obtain for those officers. I do not want to dwell upon them. I think it sufficient to point out that it has been under my administration of the Post Office that the desired boon of payment at the rate of time and a quarter for overtime has been conceded, that it has been on my advice that the Government have consented to pay extra for Sunday labour in the case of provincial telegraphists, and to pay for the work done on Bank Holiday, and that it has been on my advice that sick 1629 absence is now to carry full pay in cases where it is certified by the superior officer. The cost of these changes will not be less than £100,000 a year. It is not encouraging to a Minister who does his best to promote the interests of his subordinate officers to find that those who hold a brief for them in this House have only petty personal accusations to make in consequence. There has been something said by the noble Lord with regard to the Circulars of April 19 and May 21. I have so often made statements upon this subject that I am almost ashamed to trouble the Committee with regard to it again. But to-night I am able to deal also with the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Glamorganshire, who spoke about (these Circulars as having infringed the right of public meeting. There cannot be a greater mistake than to connect these Circulars with the phrase public meeting. These Circulars have no reference whatever to what are understood as public meetings. They have reference to the action of official persons discussing official questions. The meetings in question can only by a most egregious misnomer be called public meetings. Reporters are occasionally present at such meetings, but as their reports are often most inaccurate and incorrect, and likely to mislead the public and the Department, I cannot understand how any man can feel himself aggrieved if the head of the Department takes steps to ascertain the real truth and the real grievances complained of. The Circular of May 21 was intended to make plainer to the minds of the servants of the Department the benevolent disposition of their superior officers in framing the Circular of April 19, because the question had arisen with regard to a public dinner that was going to be held at Leicester in connection with an assembly of telegraphists there, as to whether that was a meeting at which a shorthand writer should be present. Having regard to the value of after dinner oratory, I was glad to assure my correspondent that there was not the smallest wish on the part of the Department to be informed as to what the telegraphists might say in their cups. It was supposed I was desirous of prying into the secrets of the men in the committee meetings they might hold to 1630 consider the course they should take in framing any particular Memorial, or in framing Resolutions to be submitted to meetings of the general body. I was anxious to disabuse their minds of that suspicion also, and the Circular of May 21 was issued to point out to them that the Regulations only had reference to meetings held by official persons for the discussion of official questions with the object of influencing public opinion. That is the only instance in which I have desired to be furnished with information as to what took place, and I think that the men themselves will recognise that it was well to guard them against the misrepresentations which frequently arise in newspaper reports. The noble Lord has asked whether any telegraphist has worked for 11 hours consecutively, and, after a short break, for four hours more. I am afraid that they do occasionally work so long, but the men who perform this extra duty are not merely volunteers, but as a rule are very desirous to do the work, and their readiness will now probably be greater than ever, because overtime is to be paid at a higher rate. I agree with the noble Lord that these hours are too long, and I shall be glad to do what I can in reason to mitigate the pressure of long hours of duty, but I fancy that the first persons to object to the compulsory curtailment of the hours will be the telegraphists themselves. The noble Lord, of course, would not like to do the work himself, nor should I; but men who are familiar with the business and anxious to increase their incomes are very ready to work a considerable amount of overtime in order to earn extra remuneration. I shall be very glad if it is possible to reduce these hours, and to bring the duties of the men within a more reasonable compass. Now, with regard to the question of the maximum of the first-class, the noble Lord has said that the new superior class is likely to be much smaller than the class at present existing. No definite conclusion has yet been arrived at on this subject, but I think that the telegraphists will find that, whatever change is approved by the Treasury, their position will not be damnified, but improved. The noble Lord has said a word or two with 1631 reference to the recent lamentable occurrence at the Central Telegraph Office. I have this afternoon received the Report of the officers deputed to inquire into the matter, and I certainly expected to find that the great majority of the men who have been excluded from the benefit of the new scheme in consequence of a possible participation in this occurrence would be able to satisfy the Department of their innocence of complicity in the outrage. In that case they would be restored and would receive the full benefits of the scheme, just as if they had not been suspended. The conduct of the men concerned in the outrage was rather worse than the noble Lord seems to suppose. There is no doubt that the injured party was struck with a big stick, and he believes he can recognise the man who struck him. It is also a fact that he was spat upon in the course of the fracas. I have only a few words to say with regard to Cardiff. The hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir E. J. Reed) has dealt with the subject in a tone of great moderation, but I think the hon. Member is himself conscious of the false position which he has taken up in bringing the question forward at all. The hon. Member admitted the absolute right of the Postmaster General to move the servants of the Department from one place to another, and admitted that the Postmaster General must be the judge of what removals are for the good of the public service. I have acted entirely within those limits. I found a state of things prevailing at Cardiff in the course of the last autumn which was extremely unsatisfactory. I do not expressly blame the telegraphists for it. They had a Postmaster who had not been able to exercise proper control. His place had been filled by a chief clerk, who certainly in one respect showed he was not at all equal to the duties which he ought to perform, and the office had got out of hand. The result of this was that communications took place between the telegraph office and an infamous print styled the Western Mail, the editor of which journal appears to me to have done his best to decoy the servants of the Post Office into supplying him with information, in order to improve the circulation of his paper. I am glad to believe that in the main, as 1632 far as I can judge, the telegraphists turned out to be proof against such solicitations, but there is no doubt that at least one official document was published in the Western Mail, and no doubt the public servant who published that official document in the Western Mail ought not only to be subject to removal or to dismissal, but he ought to be prosecuted for having so betrayed his duty to the State. I came to the conclusion it was desirable to make a considerable number of promotions to the first-class at Cardiff. I was very anxious in making the promotions that I should not promote to higher and more important places in that office the person who had been guilty of this offence, and I therefore instructed the Surveyor to be very careful in the recommendations he made, and not to give me any men's names for promotion to the first-class whom he had just reason to suppose had been connected with this scandalous breach of official duty The Surveyor seems to me to have-rather blundered in the execution of his task, and he put the men to their purgation by demanding from them statements which, I think, they were perfectly justified in refusing to make. The result was that five of the eight men who were so questioned were promoted by me. Three were transferred to other offices; two of these have since been promoted, but, in view of such suspicion as-attached to these officers, I could not feel it my duty to promote them while they remained at Cardiff. It has been to the interest of the men that they have been transferred to other offices, where I believe it possible, without prejudice to the Public Service, to put them in more important and responsible positions. With regard to one other man—for so this mountain subsides to a molehill—of the second class, who was transferred when he otherwise might have expected promotion, the hon. Member for Cardiff has spoken of him as being in absolute want. That is hardly a correct description; but I fear that the man's circumstances are not as good as could be wished, because, on a salary of 23s. 6d. per week, he has felt himself entitled to commit matrimony. This telegraphist is, perhaps, rather a subject for pity than otherwise. I am not aware that by so acting this gentleman has established 1633 any special claim on the Department. I have, however, given this officer an opportunity of entering the first class should his conduct be good. I have not punished these men. I found the office in a bad state, and I thought it desirable to fill it with new blood, and to transfer to other offices young men who, placed perhaps in circumstances calculated to cause them to yield to temptation, were led to manifest an unruly spirit. I think that I have done the best thing in their interests, as I am sure I have done the best thing in the interests of the Service, and I have no doubt as to the wisdom and propriety of the course I have pursued in causing the transfer of these eight men. I have to thank the Committee for listening to a longer speech than I intended to make, but I had to cover a good deal of ground. The noble Lord very kindly advised me to gain the affections of my subordinate officers. I do not know that I have done anything to forfeit the regard of any subordinate officer in my Department. Certainly I have done all that I could to show my regard for them. If any kind of estrangement has arisen, is it not rather due to the perhaps well meant endeavours of philanthropic politicians who go about encouraging people in making demands which may perhaps be extravagant, and certainly in a way which is wrong and improper? I prefer to think that I shall win the esteem and the confidence of the great Department, which, however unworthily, I administer, by showing justice tempered with kindness, and a constant goodwill towards the men in my employment, whatever provocation I may receive in this House or elsewhere.
*(11.5.) EARL COMPTON
I will not detain the Committee beyond a few minutes, but I feel, after what has taken place, that it will be expected I should say a few words. I have been under a disadvantage as regards this Debate. I brought forward my case in what I believed to be a very temperate manner, and I did my best not to insinuate anything that would in any way hurt the tender susceptibilities of the right hon. Gentleman. I spoke during the dinner hour, when the House was practically empty, and there are very few Members 1634 now present who heard my speech and the arguments with which I supported my case. Members came in to hear the answer of the Postmaster General, and they have applauded that answer as they had a right to do, for it was a very clever answer indeed. One part of it I wish to allude to. I have no intention of imputing to a political adversary words which were never used, or meanings which were never intended. But I draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one point. In his speech the right hon. Gentleman referred to a certain statement of the telegraphists which was to be handed to the Royal Commission. My contention through the whole of my speech was that, owing to what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman, and the attitude he had taken up, he was himself, to a great extent, the cause of the discontent among the telegraphists. In enforcing this point I explained carefully what had taken place; I explained that the men had, as was their duty, approached the proper official at the Telegraph Department, asked him to receive a deputation and placed a statement in his hand, and this was ultimately returned with the remark that they might present it themselves. Now I draw attention to the words of the right hon. Gentleman when I first brought the matter before the House. He said, amongst other tilings, "I have been unable to obtain a copy of this. Memorial, and have not, of course, been able to give it any consideration." The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be quite unaware that the statement had been presented, and I quite admit that when he says it was so. But, in addition, the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that, in fact, the matter had been "sprung upon the Department in the last moment," whereas it had been handed to the Controller at the end of last year.
§ MR. RAIKES
In saying that, I referred to the fact that I for the first time received a copy that very morning.
* EARL COMPTON
I am quite aware that the right hon. Gentleman said that at the time, but he informed the House that it had been "sprung upon the Department." I daresay it had not been submitted to the right hon. Gentleman. 1635 I daresay that this may have been a little mistake on the part of the Controller, but I do not wish to say a word against any official. Let me also say that I did express satisfaction at what has been done for the telegraphists under the new plan. I offered a few harmless criticisms on minor points, but I said that, on the whole, the right hon. Gentleman had done well. I expressed my personal thanks, and said I thought it would create contentment among the telegraphists. But this was not what the right hon. Gentleman represented in his speech. He gave the Committee to understand that I had not said anything in favour of what the right hon. Gentleman has done. Let me say at once it is exactly this attitute taken at the moment towards myself—which is a very small matter—it is exactly this attititude persevered in towards those under him which has caused so much discontent, and for a long time has caused so much trouble in the Department. The right hon. Gentleman is free to make what remarks he pleases about philanthropic politicians; my anxiety is that he should turn over a new leaf, and treat those under him, who are not his servants, but the servants of the public, with a little sympathy and consideration. That is all I ask. From the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman to-night he evidently intends to do his best to ameliorate the condition of those who are placed under him for a time—a very short time—longer. After what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and seeing that he is really anxious now, in his fourth year of office, to redress the just grievances of the telegraphists, it is not my intention to carry my Motion to a Division. Again, let me say I am very glad indeed that at length the right hon. Gentleman has seen the necessity that something should be done for what I consider a most deserving class of public servants who have been underpaid and overworked for so long.
§ *(11.11.) SIR E. J. REED
The reply of the Postmaster General is, on the whole, satisfactory—at any rate, it is such as to lead me to believe that the men whom he has not "punished," but who have suffered severely, will receive some consideration at his hands in 1636 future. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that the Surveyor at Cardiff blundered in dealing with these men, and I am fully prepared to accept that statement, but I must say it is not quite satisfactory that public servants should be made to suffer for the blunders of those placed over them. I took the opportunity at an early stage to ask the right hon. Gentleman to remove the injurious effect of the errors made, to which these men were made victims; but I do not think any useful end will be served by pressing this matter to a Division if the noble Lord does not desire to do so. I have no doubt the Postmaster General acted in the matter as regards the Cardiff telegraphists, as he thought, fairly, and with the best intentions, but his action has been harsh in its effect upon these men.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ (11.12.) MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)
I believe I am in order in raising a question about which I do not think there will be much difference of opinion—the Telephone Service as it exists in this country. I think every Member of the House who has occasion to use the telephone in the Metropolis will admit that it is far from being perfect or from giving satisfaction. Indeed, I think it will be admitted that in London the service is both expensive and bad. The cost to an ordinary subscriber is £20 a year. Now, I believe in any other capital in Europe there is a much better service for £6 a year. Let any hon. Member try to talk between the West End and the City and say whether the service is worth calling a service. The first great error of the service is that it is conducted on a single wire instead of a double-wire system.
The right hon. Gentleman must not enter into the details of the Telephone Service upon this vote.
§ MR. MARJORIBANKS
I am going to point out that the service is bad, and how for this the Post Office is responsible If the Post Office had taken a reasonable view that the telegraph is to the tele- 1637 phone what stage coaches are to railways, instead of jealously shutting out the telephone for the advantage of the telegraph, then possibly there would be no cause to complain; at all events, if the Post Office had assumed more responsibility, it is probable we should have had a better service. What is the policy of the Government as to the future? I believe the Postmaster General has large ideas on the subject, and if I am not misinformed he applied to the Treasury to place at his disposal this year the sum of £3,000,000 in order to purchase the telephone system of the Metropolis in June last, when it was in their power to buy it. I do not know whether this is true or not; but it is a question I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman, whether for the improvement of the system reliance is to be placed upon the granting of licences to rival Telephone Companies? I want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that this is fair to shareholders in the present National Company, and whether he thinks Parliament will consent to allowing competing companies to interfere with the existing company in this manner? How soon is it proposed to give a licence to a rival company, or are we to go on from year to year shutting out improvements and leaving ourselves in the hands of the National Company? It has practically got a monopoly of the Telephone Service all over the country. It has absorbed, by methods I do not stop to characterise, various enterprises. What I want to press upon the right hon. Gentleman is simply this: that he should tell us clearly what is to be the policy of the Post Office towards the telephone in the future; whether he is going to allow the present Company to continue the present bad system which is so expensive? Then, I would like to know what are the right hon. Gentleman's views in regard to what I may call the trunk lines which, I suppose, will be established throughout the country. Will these be in the hands of the Post Office, allowing local companies to develop local business in various towns? These are points upon which I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman can give us some definite information.
§ (11.20.) MR. RAIKES
I am very sorry I am not in a position to answer all these questions. It is quite true the Government had to consider this year whether they would purchase the undertaking of the National Company or not; and, after full and careful consideration, they came to the conclusion that it was not desirable to purchase that undertaking. That is generally known. Most of the patents held by the National Company will expire this year or next, and the whole position will then be radically changed. The question of the trunk lines and many other points are also under consideration. I hope I may rely upon the Committee not to seek to precipitate any statement at present, because the Government are not yet in a position to arrive at a definite policy, and as soon as possible I shall make an explanation to the House.
§ *(11.22.) SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
I wish to ask for an explanation on one point of detail. Before the new regulations the scale of pay for certain towns was equal, but since the grouping of the towns there have arisen differences and anomalies which some of the telegraphists do not understand. In the case of Hull and Sheffield, for example, the maximum rate of pay is 54s. in Sheffield and 52s. in Hull, while the staff in Hull numbers 87 and in Sheffield only 75. There is no reason to believe that the expense of living is any greater in Sheffield than in Hull, and, on the face of it, the matter seems to be one for explanation.
§ (11.24.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I wish to draw attention to the fact that some of the railway stations in Ireland are without any Telegraph Service. I recently drew attention to one instance in which there were telegraph wires and an operator who was willing to be employed; but the right hon. Gentleman rather spoiled my case by sending down a special messenger to take away the instrument. I do not think any railway station ought to be without the telegraph. At the very station of which I speak there was a collision some time ago. Even if the Post Office loses £5 or £10 in the first 1639 year, I do not think that ought to prevent the establishment of a Telegraph Service.
§ (11.27.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that at the conference held at Paris in June this year a desire was expressed that an international signalling system should be established with uniform prices. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether anything can be done for bringing the British telegraph system into uniformity with the Continental system, and with a uniform charge. I believe Lloyd's Agency is considerably interested in the matter, and that the adoption of the suggestion would be of great benefit to shipowners.
§ (11.28.) MR. CREMER (Shorediteh' Haggerston)
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has turned his attention to the question of introducing the carte system of telegrams which obtains in the City of Paris and elsewhere on the Continent. You can go into a Post Office in Paris and write at considerable length on a card or envelope, and in an hour or less you can have your message delivered at the cost of 3d. No doubt the adoption of the system would mean a considerable outlay at first. I hope the right hon. Gentleman if he has not yet heard of this wonderful method of communication will very soon hear of it, and that before long it may be introduced into this country.
§ *(11.31.) MR. RAIKES
In reply to the question raised by the hon. Member for South Islington (Sir A. Rollit), I may state that I have asked for particulars as to the relative number of the staff in Hull and Sheffield, and I hope soon to have information on that point. With regard to what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, I can assure him that I quite take his view, but I am afraid I have no power to compel a Railway Company to open a telegraph station. I shall, however, be glad to communicate with 1640 the Railway Company on the subject. In reply to the question of the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire with regard* to the signalling of ships, I am sure the Committee will be glad to know that one of the results of the Telegraphic Congress at Paris a month ago has been that the charge in such cases is to be reduced from two francs to one franc, which is to be a uniform charge. In answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for the Haggerston Division (Mr. Cremer), relative to the carte system of telegrams, that matter is one that has been carefully considered by the Department, and information has been obtained on the subject. I should be glad if the hon. Member would come down to the Post Office and see the Report which has been furnished to the office with regard to that system by two of the most experienced officers of the Telegraph Department, so that he might be able to give his candid consideration to the objections that have been raised against it. I should be glad to introduce that or any other system which would be advantageous to the Service but so far as the evidence goes, I am inclined to think that the carte system is less rapid and efficient than the ordinary Telegraph Service of London, and that, on the whole, the Telegraph Service of Paris is not so expeditious as our own.
§ MR. CREMER
I did not claim for the carte system that it is more expeditious than ours, but I said it was very much cheaper, the charge being only 3d. I have had experience of the working of the system in Paris, having sent hundreds of messages by it, and in no instance has there been any failure. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will undertake to make further inquiry into a system which has produced such excellent results on the other side of the Channel where everyone is satisfied with it, not only as regards expedition, but also in respect of the remarkably low charges that are made.
§ (11.38.) MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for some further explanation with regard to the non-purchase of the telephones. About 1641 a month ago I asked a question as to whether a Treasury Minute would be issued before the end of the Session; and I now wish to know whether, if it cannot be issued so soon, the Government will raise any objection to my moving for a Return of any prospective character, so that it may be circulated during the Recess?
§ * MR. GOSCHEN
I can readily understand that a good many people may be anxious to know the exact policy of the Government on such a question as this. We are not, however, in a position to say what our exact policy will be; but I think it will interest many persons to know that the Government have absolutely made up their minors that they will not purchase the telephones, and that there is no chance of the telephones being dealt with as the telegraphs have been. If the right hon. Gentleman will move for the Return he has mentioned, I will see whether it will be possible to circulate such a Return during the Recess. The right hon. Gentleman will, however, understand that in the last weeks of the Session when there is a particular stress of business both Parliamentary and Departmental, it would be difficult to issue a Treasury Minute on the subject.
§ * MR. CHILDERS
I will gladly move for the Return assented to by the right hon. Gentleman. I may add that I have merely asked the question solely in the interest of the public, and not in that of any sellers or companies.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I hope the right hon. Gentle, man will see the desirability of so arranging the accounts of the Telegraph Service that they will show the difference between capital expenditure on new works and other expenditure. If the accounts are made up in that way, I think they would show that the Telegraph Service is now worked at an ample profit, although it has been said that it has been carried on at a loss. No doubt that was the case immediately after the sixpence telegrams were instituted, and in 1887 there was 1642 a loss of £105,000; but in 1890 the account shows a surplus of £144,000, owing to the great increase of business. I find that in the expenditure of that year there was included £81,000 for the purchase of submarine telegraphs and other capital expenditure, bringing the total up to £189,000, so that, adding that to the surplus of £144,000, there was, in point of fact, a real surplus of £333,000—quite enough to pay the interest on the capital value of the Telegraph Service plant.
§ * MR. GOSCHEN
The point referred to by the right hon. Gentleman is one which the Government will, of course, give every consideration to, but it is very difficult to settle what particular amount ought to be carried to the capital account.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
I should like to offer a remark with regard to the carrying of the telegraph wires overhead. I wish to know whether wires now carried overhead could not, to a large extent, be conveyed in tubes underground. My attention was called to this matter by what I saw the other day in the County of Sussex, where the effect of the erection of a long line of black poles, carrying a single overhead wire, was positively disfiguring to a very beautiful and picturesque bit of scenery, and to that extent, of course, depreciated the property. I would suggest that where wires can be carried underground, they should be so laid down.
§ MR. RAIKES
I will see what can be done in reference to this matter, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that it is always competent to the owner of a property to have the wires carried underground at his own cost.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £714,027, 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 1891, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Customs Department.
§ MR. J. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)
desire to call attention to the case of the writers in the statistical branch of the 1643 Customs. That branch presented a unique, if not, indeed, a really lamentable aspect. Its work was of a most important character, but was not known to the public, inasmuch as its Returns appeared in Reports issued by the Board of Trade. Of the whole staff, 54 out of 111 were persons on temporary employ. Sixteen years ago there were 20 writers in it; and 10 years ago, when the branch was re-organised, the number of writers was fixed at eight. So little had the basis of that re-organisation been regarded that actually almost 50 per cent. of the staff were now men on purely temporary employ—in name at least. The truth was, that the writers were in continuous employ there, for many regularly doing the work of second-class (and indeed, in several instances of first-class) clerks had been in the office for 10 whole years. It had been admitted that only the best writers found employment in the Statistical Department of the Customs.
§ * MR. GOSCHEN
I may remind the hon. Member that I am, at the present moment, conducting an inquiry into the Customs Service, and in the course of that 'inquiry I shall have representatives of various classes of employés before me, and those of the writers might be included, who would then have an opportunity of stating their case.
§ MR. KELLY
I feel bound, nevertheless, to bring this case before the Committee. The evidence of Mr. Stephen Bourne before the Playfair Commission showed that so far back as 1874 there was a deliberate conviction in the minds of the writers in the Statistical Department of the Customs that the result of inquiries being made into their position would be their being put upon the Establishment. He stated in his evidence that many of them did the work of second and even first class clerks. In 1880 the office was reorganised, and the number of writers for it fixed at eight. In October, 1888, a tardy and small concession was made to the writers, numbering over 50, in this branch, an addition of 2d. per hour having then been conceded to a certain number of them. It could not be supposed that they would rest with 1644 this paltry concession made to these few men, though it was no doubt the fact that the concession was anti-dated to the beginning of the year, and the accruing arrears were paid from January to October in that year.
§ It being midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Resolution to be reported this day; Committee also report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.