§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £4,898,551 (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 Expenses of the Post Office Services, the Expenses of Post Office Savings Banks, and Government Annuities and Insurances, and the Collection of the Post Office Revenue.
§ (12.28.) SIR S. NORTHCOTE (Exeter)
In rising to move the reduction of this Vote I wish to explain that I desire to bring before the House the case of Mr. Cotton in connection with the invention of the system of postal orders, and to express my regret that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster General has not seen his way to lay upon the Table the Departmental correspondence between Mr. Cotton and the Post Office. In the absence of that correspondence I am compelled to refer to information which I have derived from Mr. Cotton himself, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Norris), who has also considered the subject, and who claims to be the inventor of the postal order system. Replying to me last year the Postmaster General stated that Mr. Cotton was not entitled to be regarded as the inventor of the postal order system; but I believe that I shall be able to substantiate the claim of that gentleman from the records of the right hon. Gentleman's own Department. On the 19th of July, 1888, the Post Office wrote to Mr. Cotton, and stated that the earliest suggestion of any system of the kind could be traced to May, 1858, to a further communication in 1860, and to another in 1865, and that the suggestions then made were all considered and condemned. This is important, because it clears the ground so far as to make the year 1865 the starting point. As a matter of fact, Mr. Cotton's original invention was put forward in the year 1866, and although other inventions had been condemned, that of Mr. Cotton was not; but was adopted, with certain modifications. I believe that the Post Office claim Mr. Chetwynd as the practical inventor in 1874; further that it was invented in 1868, submitted to the Post Office in 1871, and brought out in 1874 I am aware that in the case of public servants there would be some risk in drawing a line in regard to rewards for the improvement of the Public Service; but I submit that in this case the invention of Mr. Cotton has been substantially adopted, and that it has resulted not only in a large increase of the Post Office revenue, but in adding to the convenience of the public. I shall be surprised and disappointed if the Postmaster General says that because the scheme was not 611 adopted in its entirety, Mr. Cotton is to be debarred from any reward for the services he has rendered. I have some personal knowledge of Mr. Cotton, and I know that he was unwilling to bring forward his claim prematurely, or until the value of his invention had been ascertained. But we have now bad some years experience of the value of the invention, and when the Postmaster General informed me last year that he could hold out no hope of Mr. Cotton's claim being recognised, seeing the late period of the Session at which the announcement was made, I did not feel justified in pressing it. I undertook, however, to do so this year, and as the reply of my right hon. Friend to a question which I put to him was unfavourable, I feel that I have no alternative but to move the reduction of the salary of the Postmaster General by the sum of £50.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A be reduced by £50, part of the salary of the Postmaster General."—(Sir Stafford Northcote.)
§ *(12.35.) MR. NORRIS (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)
I feel bound to speak upon this question, although, personally, I would far rather have left the whole matter in the hands of the Postmaster General. I must express my surprise that my hon. Friend thinks it necessary to move a reduction of the right hon. Gentleman's salary, as one would imagine the course taken by the Postmaster General has been the best to safeguard the purse-strings of the nation. So far as Mr. Cotton's claim is concerned, I believe I am correct in saying that there is no record of it in the Post Office. The real inventor of the postal order system is a Member of this House. The proposal was made by me in 1874–16 years ago—to the then Postmaster General, and my letter advocating the system as now in use is to be found in the records of the Post Office. As there is no previous record of the same kind, I think I am right in assuming that I was the first individual who brought the matter under the consideration of the Post Office in its present shape. My proposal was that the Office should issue postal orders for small amounts in the form of Post Office coupons, to be paid, in the case of 612 small sums, on the day they were received, and if they exceeded a certain amount, on the day following. That coupons should be issued for 1s., 2s., 2s. 6d., 5s., and 10s., with a halfpenny stamp for all sums under £1. and with a poundage rate for sums above £1. My letter containing that proposal was sent in 1874, and I received a reply which I forwarded to the Times, to which paper I think the public are extremely indebted, because without the intervention of the Times and other papers I have no hesitation in saying that the postal order system would never have been adopted. The Bullionist and many other newspapers took up the proposal, and eventually it was considered by a Committee and a decision arrived at. It may be said that it was a small invention, but it will be admitted that it was a happy inspiration. We all know and believe that Rowland Hill was not the first proposer of the penny postage system. But although it may have been proposed by some one else, he was the man who brought it to bear upon the public mind and succeeded in securing its adoption. Notwithstanding the fact that the postal order system brings in to the Government a revenue of no less than £146,000 a year, I have no desire to ask for anything like pecuniary recognition; but as the actual inventor of the system, I shall be glad to have the good opinion of my fellow Members in this House, and a kindly recognition of my services. I hold in my hand a pamphlet, published with the cognisance of the authorities of the Post Office, stating the whole circumstances of the case up to the present moment, and it is very much against my own inclination that I should have considered it my duty to speak upon the matter at all. As I have already said, I would have much preferred to leave myself in the hands of the Postmaster General. I thank the hon. Baronet (Sir S. Northcote) for the kindly terms in which he has alluded to me. I am sure that in his own mind he feels that I have had most to do with an invention which to the outside world has been of such great importance and. advantage. I will conclude by stating that the then Postmaster General, in introducing the measure to this House, advocated and supported the scheme as 613 since adopted, by quoting an article from the Bullionist, which referred to and commended my proposal alone, and which is identically the present system of postal orders.
§ *(12.47.) THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES,) University of Cambridge
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend who has moved the Amendment is actuated by the most kindly feelings towards myself, but although I do not take exception to the Motion upon personal grounds, I confess that I do not see why the salary of the Postmaster General in 1890 should be attacked because a person who claims to have invented postal orders in 1866 has not received the reward which he considers to be due for his services. As a matter of fact, I have no more connection with the matter than any other hon. Member of this House. I have done my best to see that proper inquiry should be made respecting the claim of Mr. Cotton, and I must say that if every hon. Member who happens to number among his constituents an inventor is to demand that the merits of that individual ought to be recognised, the whole time of the House might be occupied in discussing claims of this kind. My hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse, in a speech the modesty of which we must all recognise, has put forward, shortly, his claim to be the inventor of the postal order system. I do not myself pretend to award the palm either to this or any other claimant that may come forward, but I think the Committee will agree with me that the hon. Member for Limehouse has made out quite as good a case as the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir S. Northcote) has made out for Mr. Cotton. The scheme of Mr. Cotton was that notes should be issued to the public from the post offices of the United Kingdom for sums not exceeding £1 in such a way as might be found most convenient without any further charge than a nominal sum, such notes to be paid in specie, provided that the payee affixed a postage stamp and wrote his name across it. That may be alleged to have been the germ of the postal order system, but I am afraid that even the suggestion of Mr. Cotton in this respect was anticipated. Certainly, in 1858, and even so far back as 1840, there are to be found in the archives of the Post Office letters in 614 which some sort of scheme for the issue of postal notes was suggested. I do not think, therefore, that Mr. Cotton can be regarded as the original inventor of the system now in vogue. The system differs very materially from that of Mr. Cotton, which practically amounted to a small paper currency. In the first place, the postal order is not a permanent note, as Mr. Cotton's would have been, but one which only lasts for a certain time; in the next place, it is payable to order; and, in the third, the signature is not required. Indeed, it would have been impossible for anyone, who was not familiar with the practice of the Post Office, to have framed the present system for the issue of postal orders. The hon. Member for Limehouse has certainly as complete a claim as any that can bo put forward by Mr. Cotton to be regarded as the inventor of the system, although, no doubt, Mr. Cotton, as a Devonshire man, was not unlikely to find favour in the eyes of the late Lord Iddesleigh, who was, as we know, a most amiable man, and not least so towards Devonians. I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter will be satisfied with having called attention to the subject.
§ (12 52.) SIR S. NORTHCOTE
I am afraid that the only satisfaction I have obtained is that of a combatant, who has received a severe blow, and is asked if he has not had enough. I have no wish, however, to prolong the discussion, and I am sorry to inflict any annoyance upon my right hon. Friend. He says that Mr. Cotton suggested no machinery for carrying out his invention, but I think he will find that a distinct scheme was laid down for the issue of notes for varying amounts. I, therefore, cannot admit that the scheme was not one which was set out in sufficient detail to warrant consideration, which, I am sorry to say, it has not received at the hands of the Post Office Authorities. I am afraid that I shall be compelled to press the Amendment to a Division.
§ (12.54.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 13; Noes 103.—(Div. List, No. 198.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ *(1.1.) MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
I desire to make a few observations with reference to the relations between the Postmaster General 615 and the subordinate servants of the Post Office. I think it is high time those relations were reviewed by this House. The subject to which I wish especially to direct attention is the issue of a certain Rule by the Postmaster General with the view of regulating the meetings of postmen on questions in which they are interested. According to an answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave me a few days ago, what has been done has been to relax a Rule of the Service on the subject of meetings outside the Post Office, not to make it more stringent, the conditions on which Post Office servants are now allowed to meet being that ample notice shall be given to the Local Post Office Authority that the meeting will be held and where, that the meeting shall be confined to Post Office servants directly interested, and that an official shorthand writer shall be present if desired by the Authorities. The old Rule to which the right hon. Gentleman refers forbad, on pain of dismissal, the holding by officers of any Department of any meeting beyond the walls of the Post Office for the discussion of official questions. Now, the existence of that Rule was entirely unknown to many heads of the Department. It was made by Lord Stanley of Alderley so long ago as 1866. A great deal has happened since then. In the first place, the legal position of Trade Unions has been greatly altered by legislation; and, in the next place, there has been a still greater change of public opinion as to the right of labour to combine to promote its own interests. An appeal to a rule of this kind promulgated a quarter of a century ago, and which has become a dead letter, is a remarkable instance of Rip Van Winkleism in high places. Had the right hon. Gentleman altogether denied the right of Post Office servants to combine, we could have understood his position, although, of course, we should have differed from it. But the right hon. Gentleman has conceded to Post Office servants the right of combination, and at the same time he has attached to its exercise conditions which make it futile and nugatory. The presence of a shorthand writer is calculated and designed for purposes of espionage and terror. I challenge him to deny that assertion. I am perfectly ready to admit that these combinations do at times impose very 616 considerable inconvenience upon employers, and will, no doubt, impose inconvenience upon the Post Office; but we cannot draw distinctions between servants of the State and servants of a private employer. Some hon. Members may say that these are Departmental Orders with which the House ought not to interfere. With some Departmental Orders undoubtedly we should not; but where they infringe the ordinary rights of labour, I claim that we have a right to express an opinion. There is nothing sacrosanct about Government Departments. If a Department goes into trade it must be subject to the conditions and inconveniences of ordinary employments. There is one other subject personal to the Postmaster General to which I wish to call attention. It relates to the Savings Bank Department, in which there have been great changes lately, changes which, to a portion of the Staff, have given great dissatisfaction. A little while ago some 70 officers addressed a respectful Memorial to the right hon. Gentleman. They waited upwards of a month, and there was no reply; they then sent in a second Memorial and waited a week or 10 days. Having received no answer, they requested me to put a question in that House. I did so, and the right hon. Gentleman said he hoped the answer then given would relieve him from the necessity of giving an answer to the memorialists. In the course which the right hon. Gentleman has taken he has departed from the practice of his predecessors, and to some extent has forgotten the traditions of the Civil Service. As an old Civil servant, I always understood that not only have Civil servants a right to memorialise the head of their Department, but as a matter of courtesy they have a right to a reply. This instance is one of several which have come to my knowledge in which the right hon. Gentleman has not shown that courtesy and consideration to those whom the fortune of the day has made his subordinates which has been usually shown by the political chiefs of a great Department. We all recognise the courtesy of demeanour of the right hon. Gentleman in this House, but the obligation of courtesy is perhaps even more incumbent on the holder of high office towards those who happen to be his subordinates. As an old Civil 617 servant I can tell him there is no body of men in the world who more appreciate courtesy and consideration, and I regret that the right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten traditions which in the past have been a distinguishing characteristic of the Service. There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. We know that as a consequence of the recent strike of postmen a number of those public servants were dismissed. I am not going to argue whether they were rightly or wrongly discharged, but I do desire to emphasise what appeared in a letter by Mr. Shipton as to the grovelling language used in a Memorial sent to the right hon. Gentleman a week or two ago by a number of the postmen asking to be reinstated. That is a very humiliating incident, because it is impossible not to draw the conclusion that such language was used simply because it was believed that it would be acceptable to the authorities of the Post Office. I am at a loss to determine which presents the more humiliating spectacle—the men who use such language, or the authorities who encourage the use of it. I beg to move the reduction of the salary of the Postmaster General by,£100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That Item A be reduced by £100, part of the Salary of the Postmaster General."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)
§ *(1.17.) MR. RAIKES
I had hoped that other hon. Members who were disposed to follow on the same side would have done so, because it would be convenient that the speeches of hon. Members on the points raised should not be interrupted by more than one speech of my own. But, as no one has risen, I think it would be most respectful to the Committee not to delay my answer to several of the observations of the hon. Member who has just sat down. I do not at all deny that the question of the regulations in respect to meetings of official persons to discuss official questions is a difficult one. When I approached the question at the beginning of the present year in the Post Office, I found in existence the Regulation of 1866, to which the hon. Member has referred, and which sought to solve the difficulty by simply prohibiting any such meetings outside 618 the Post Office buildings. By that Regulation the employé's of the Office could only hold meetings on official questions in the building under the immediate supervision of the authorities. The hon. Member pointed out that the Regulation dated so far back as 1866. I quite agree with the hon. Member when he says that a great deal has happened since that Regulation was adopted. For instance, since then Post Office servants have become voters at elections, which of necessity gives them a claim to a freer hand in regard to meetings to discuss their grievances. I consequently rescinded Lord Stanley of Alderley's Rule, and the result of the new Regulations I introduced is that the Post Office employé's can meet when they like and where they like. There is no dictation as to time, or place, or subject. But while giving to the servants of the Department this much greater latitude in the discussion of their own affairs, I could not forget that these affairs were also the affairs of the Department and of the nation in whose service they are. Accordingly, it seemed to me, that in order to keep such discussion within reasonable and legitimate bounds, it was desirable to lay down three conditions, which appear to the hon. Member to be very onerous, namely, that the men should give notice of any meeting they propose to hold; that the discussion at the meeting shall be confined to official persons, and shall be attended only by those official persons who are directly interested; and that the Department shall have a shorthand writer present, so that an authentic report of what takes place may be obtained. As to the latter condition, such meetings are often improperly and inaccurately reported by the newspapers, as hon. Members must know. Exaggerated and very untrue statements with reference to the relations between the authorities and the men have often been published, unfairly prejudicing and poisoning the public mind; and the authorities have been left without trustworthy means of knowing whether the statements reported were really made; or the language described as used was really uttered. So far from the presence of the shorthand writer being required for the purposes of espionage, it is no less a protection to the men than a means of informa- 619 tion to the authorities, and I challenge the hon. Member to mention a case in which the presence of a shorthand writer at a meeting has led to the punishment of a man. The hon. Member must know, if he has followed the case at all, that much of the language which has been indulged in at those meetings has been, to say the least, of an unrestrained character; but not a single person has suffered for it. The experience of the last few weeks has shown how wise is the condition laid down that these meetings shall be confined to the public servants interested in them. No one can now be more sensible of this than the unfortunate men who, influenced by professional agitators, were unwise enough to go out on strike, and have thus placed themselves in a most painful position. I have been told that I have conceded the right of combination, but have attached conditions to it which made it nugatory. I will say frankly that I cannot admit that servants of the State stand on precisely the same footing as the servants of a private employer as regards combination. I have said, and will adhere to it, that the men are free to form an association and to act together for their mutual benefit and to discuss matters of interest to them, but I have never conceded, and never will concede as long as I have the honour to hold the office I do, that they have any right to form any association the object of which is to supersede the authority of Parliament and the Government in fixing the conditions of labour in the Public Service. The men engaged in the Post Office have many advantages. They receive an increasing salary, the advantage of sick pay, and a holiday annually on full pay. The postmen have the additional advantage of a uniform, and there is, also, the very important advantage of a comfortable pension at the end of service. They have, moreover, constant employment, independent of the vicissitudes of trade, and the honour of serving the Crown in a service which, up to the present time, has been conspicuous for its high character and popularity. On the other hand, the Post Office servant is simply called upon to submit to a certain and comparatively trifling amount of restraint in his action as a consequence of the service he is in—a restraint which 620 is absolutely necessary. I have not had an opportunity of saying to my friends the postmen, but I shall do so when I have it, that if I were in the habit of using the sort of language about the head of the Government which they have indulged in with regard to myself I should not long occupy my present position in the service of the State. But, apart from this question of oratorical license, it is absolutely impossible to allow the government of any Department to be delegated to any irresponsible body if the service of the State is to be carried on without liability to collapse at any particular moment by a combination of a certain number of men insisting on more wages or less duty, who might thereby cripple the whole service of the Department, and bring that part of the business of the country to a standstill. I therefore say, freely and frankly, that while I express no opinion as to the ordinary rights of Trades Unions in regard to ordinary questions as between employer and employed, it is impossible for the Government to recognise the interference of such bodies in the relations between the State and its servants. With regard to another matter which has been brought forward by the hon. Member, I should be extremely sorry if it were supposed for a moment that with regard to the 70 petitioners to whom he referred I have been guilty of any intentional discourtesy towards either him or the memorialists.
§ * MR. RAIKES
What I have done has been done, I believe, in strict accordance with the precedent which has been established by those who preceded me in Office. I believe that when Memorials come pouring in, all of them requiring the same things, or things very similar, to what have been previously urged, an answer given to one Memorial has been allowed to stand as an answer to the subsequent Memorials. I may state that the heads of the Department have had these matters under their careful consideration, and one of them has been in constant communication with the Treasury upon the subject, and the result of what has hitherto been done has been that the great majority of the employés affected 621 by the new scales are more than satisfied with them; in fact, I have received the thanks of a large majority of those persons. I am anxious, as far as I can, to meet the memorialists' views without injury to the Public Service, but as long as all the details are not finally adjusted it will not be in my power to deal with the matter finally. The hon. Member has referred to one other matter which I do not think quite germane to the subject under discussion. He has spoken of what he has called the grovelling language used in their Petitions by some of the men who went out on strike the other day, and who have sought to be taken back again, and he has said that this language showed the painful relations which existed between them and the Department, when they were under the impression that the use of such language would be welcomed. Who is responsible for this? Over and over again have I, in reply to Petitions sent to me by Mr. Mahon, who professed to speak on behalf of the Postal Union, and who is no more a postal servant than the hon. Member for Camborne, been obliged to state that we could not recognise him as an intermediary between the Postmaster General and the postmen. It would be an intolerable state of things if we were expected to give recognition to the interference of men of that description, who live by agitation, and whose life is spent in fanning the embers of discontent among various classes of workmen. If any one is responsible for such estrangement as has taken place it is those who have incited these poor men against their employers by denouncing those employers and painting them in the blackest colours, and thus leading the men to form altogether erroneous views with regard to the action of those employers. In conclusion, I have only to say that we have merely touched the fringe of this question as regards the particular objections put forward by the hon. Gentleman opposite. I do not wish to take exception to the terms of his speech, but I would add, before sitting down, that I recognise with gratitude the great forbearance shown generally by hon. Members opposite in refraining from interfering with the action of the Government, thus enabling us to bring a great Service through a trying ordeal 622 without any great loss at a most critical moment, and with, I trust, every prospect of a successful and prosperous future.
§ *(1.37.) SIR E. J. REED (Cardiff)
I fully agree with those who regard this subject as one of great difficulty and delicacy, but, at the same time, having listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I cannot help feeling that he is making a mistake which has been made on former occasions, namely, the mistake of looking too intently on one side of the question and neglecting altogether the other side. Several remarks have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman which have taken me by surprise. For instance, when the right hon. Gentleman enumerated the advantages which were possessed by the civil servants of the country he pointed out that their salary increases in a regular proportion, but I venture to say that the present disturbed condition of the Postal Service, over which the right hon. Gentleman presides, has arisen to a great extent from his own arbitrary interference with the increase of the men's pay, and also from the way in which, in some cases, he has treated the men not as servants who had rights of their own but as servile beings, almost in the position of slaves, while the men who, according to him, are entitled to steady increase of salary, have suffered deprivations of salary for no fault of their own.
§ * SIR E. J. REED
I am willing to answer that question, but you, Mr. Courtney, have ruled that I cannot bring the Cardiff case in, although when we come to the proper Vote I shall be able to give a detailed account of those who have suffered, and who are still suffering, from the right hon. Gentleman's arbitrary violation of his own principle. The right hon. Gentleman makes a great point of the fact that it is a serious matter for the postal servants of the country to appeal to Members of this House for their consideration, and he asks, Why do they not go to him? I can give the right hon. Gentleman an answer to the question, derived from a practical experience of the work of the postmen of the great town which I have the privilege of representing. I do not 623 hesitate to say that representations made from the town I represent, concerning the inadequate administration of the Postal Department there, have had no weight at all, and I have here a letter from the right hon. Gentleman himself, in which ho recognises the fact that the representations previously made had been unavailing. Perhaps the Committee will allow me to read that letter, so far as it relates to this point.
§ * MR. RAIKES
I do not think the matter referred to by the hon. Gentleman is one that should be brought before the Committee at this stage, as it has no relation to the subject which is under discussion.
§ * SIR E. J. REED
I do not propose to discuss this point now. I am merely desirous of answering the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I have to say that the postal business in the town of Cardiff was left in a disgraceful state for a long period, and it is owing to that condition that very much of the agitation has arisen. The merchants and traders of the town got no attention until they obtained the intervention of their Member. It will not do for the right hon. Gentleman to condemn the servants of the Post Office because they appeal to others, because this agitation would have arisen among the merchants of the town in consequence of the condition of the Postal Service. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman very much indeed in some of his observations. I can imagine that it must be very distressing and objectionable for the head of a Department to have men who are not in that Department at all making their representations to him concerning the service of the employés of that Department. I agree very warmly with his general proposition, namely, that the Service of the State is an exceptional Service, and I am sorry to say that, for the last six months, I have observed on the part of the employés of the Post Office, and of gentlemen serving under the right hon. Gentleman, a too ready disposition to exhibit absolute independence in their action. But the answer is this: In these days if you want to claim authority over your employés you must consider them, and fulfil your obligations as well as calling upon them to fulfil theirs. I venture to say that 624 nearly all the trouble that has happened under the right hon. Gentleman's recent administration has arisen from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman does not recognise his obligations to the servants of the Department, while he insists upon their obligations. The right hon. Gentleman, for instance, referred to the obsolete rule introduced by Lord Stanley in 1866, and he seemed to think it a rather virtuous and meritorious concession that he did not enforce that rule. That regulation was a positive and ridiculous absurdity. Under the terms of that regulation half a dozen employés could not discuss at the dinner table of one of them the question of their salaries and the conditions of their service without incurring the risk of punishment by the authorities. Is that a reasonable state of things? When the right hon. Gentleman denies that a reporter was used to take shorthand notes for the purposes of espionage, and when he challenges my hon. Friend to produce any case in which a man has been punished because of the Report of a shorthand writer, I can only say I should have been very much surprised if anyone had been punished before this Debate occurred, or before the close of this Session of Parliament. But I will show, when we come to the Telegraph Vote, that men have been punished not because the Department was in any possession of any knowledge——
Order, order! It is extremely irregular and very inconvenient to make assertions in respect to another Vote before that Vote has been reached.
§ * SIR E. J. REED
I only referred to it to justify the statement I make. I must confine myself to saying generally on that question that men are punished by the Postal Authorities not because of what the Authorities know but because of what they suspect. That, Sir, I believe is within the limits of my knowledge. I cannot help thinking that, in the interest of the right hon. Gentleman himself, as well as the interests of the Postal Service, it should be understood that there is a very great deal of justifiable dissatisfaction with the present administration. It arises from the fact, in my opinion, that while the Postmaster General realises in the fullest and intensest manner the obligation of sub- 625 ordination and other obligations of the servants under him, he does not recognise, in anything like a proper degree or in a proper manner, his obligations to the servants of the Department.
§ (1.50.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
Sir, I am delighted that an interruption I made towards the close of the right hon. Gentleman's apology galvanised into something like energy the somewhat limp Postmaster General.
Order, order! The hon. Member must refrain from making these irritating and unnecessary observations.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I had not the smallest desire to cause irritation to the Postmaster General when I interrupted him. Therefore, I at once withdraw the un-Parliamentary expression.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
Well, Sir, the Postmaster General, in somewhat strong language, denounced the professional agitators who have incited these unfortunate subordinates into something like open rebellion. It becomes my duty, having had something to do with that movement (though not as a professional agitator), which the right hon. Gentleman denounced in such unsparing terms, to explain something of the condition of things which led to the formation of the Postmen's Union. The Postmaster General would have the House believe that but for outside incitement everything would have gone on inside the Post Office as merrily as the proverbial marriage bells; just as it is said of Ireland, that there would have been no discontent in Ireland but for the professional agitators. But in the Post Office there has been an extraordinary growth of well-founded discontent, which sprang up spontaneously and without any outside encouragement whatever, and which resulted in the movement to which we are now directing our attention. The right hon. Gentleman, judging from his caustic observations with reference to my humble self, may think that I had something to do with the origination of the movement. I can assure him if that is his view he is purely and absolutely mistaken. This movement originated in September of last year, when I was under lock and key across St. George's 626 Channel. The formation of the Postmen's Union was due to the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman punished Tom Dredge, who took the lead in pressing the claims of his fellows. It was not an actual agitation, but was conducted according to the rule within the walls of the Post Office. Tom Dredge was summarily dismissed. Following the example of the dock labourers the postmen determined to form a Union. The first thing that happened to me when I reached Euston, after my incarceration, was to receive a request from the Postmen's Union to become their Treasurer. I accepted the position without hesitation, knowing something of their objects. But when I went away in the winter, I advised them to obtain the services of some one else, as I could not perform the duties of the office. That is the only connection I ever had with the Postmen's Union. The great stress of the right hon. Gentleman's attack is against a gentleman I know, and whom the right hon. Gentleman denounces, and stigmatises on every possible occasion as a professional agitator. I should like to challenge the right hon. gentleman to prove his statement. This gentleman, Mr. Mahon, with two others, was appealed to by the postmen themselves quite spontaneously. He and two others had been engaged for years past, not in professional agitation, but in assisting their fellow workers, men of their own occupation, to fight the battle of labour, as they, as citizens of a free country, had every right to do. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why Mr. Mahon and the others were appealed to. It was deliberately and specifically stated by the men that they did not dare to form a Union themselves and to place members of their own body in a prominent position on it, because the moment they did so they would incur the wrath of the right hon. Gentleman, and would immediately suffer penalties. I dare say the right hon. Gentleman will say their fears were unfounded. I tell him they were not. It is perfectly notorious that the very placing of these men in a prominent position as leaders of the movement was quite sufficient to bring about their dismissal. The movement went on without much attention being paid to it until the spring of this year, and in 627 April the right hon. Gentleman found it necessary to try and crush the Union. He found, I suppose, that it was making too much headway. He pretended, in the first place, that he was anxious to relax rules which interfered with the open and free action of the men, and he gave out more than once in this House, and elsewhere, that he was so anxious to give fair-play to the men that he would allow them to meet when and where they liked, and would allow them to form themselves into a Union. But the right hon. Gentleman was careful to establish certain new regulations which he would have us believe in no respect restricted the freedom of action of the men. They were told that notice should be given of the time and place of any meeting held by the men, and no strangers were to be admitted to the meetings, and that an official reporter, representing the right hon. Gentleman, should be present. I believe the second of these regulations was directly intended to strike at the root of the existence of the Postmen's Union altogether. It is idle to say that one of the postmen could undertake the multifarious and burdensome duties of General Secretary. The time of a postman is so taken up by his duties that he has practically no spare time. Therefore, the men rightly resented this restriction, and said truly that it rendered absolutely nugatory the supposed new concession on the part of the Postmaster General. Mr. Mahon was appointed to the post of General Secretary by a ballot of the Union. It is not true that he forced himself into it against their will, and it is not true that he has no title to represent the men. It may be very convenient for the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General to decline to recognise the right of the men to appoint whom they please as their General Secretary. But if he recognises the principle of Trades Unionism at all he should recognise that this man was appointed by the ballot of the Trades Unionists. The man has offered to resign his position, but has been forced to continue in it, for the reason that the postmen cannot put in one of themselves, every man fearing the result of taking such a prominent position.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
The position of this officer, as well as that of every officer connected with the Postmen's Union, is set forth in the rules I hold in my hand. I shall be happy to present a copy to the hon. Member for Northampton, and he can examine it at his leisure. There is nothing to conceal in this matter. With regard to the official re-porters, I have used an expression at times which may be taken to be offensive. I have described them as spies. But that is a word we have been accustomed to use in describing official reporters in Ireland, and I do not see why the phrase should be any more offensive when used on this side of the water. I do not propose to use that language now, though I think that, in view of the facts, I should be justified in doing so. The right hon. Gentleman would have us believe that the presence of these official reporters at postmen's meetings is for nothing more against the interests of the men than merely to obtain an accurate record of what passes for the information of the Postmaster General, who is interested, as well as the men, in the welfare of the Service. Well, it is true that he and they are equally interested in the welfare and prosperity of the Service. So are we all. But the right hon. Gentleman's methods of improving that prosperity and general welfare will not in history redound to his credit. Instead of seeking that prosperity and general welfare by encouraging contentment amongst the men, he has done everything in his power to produce the maximum of discontent and friction between the different officers of the Post Office and the employés. The only object of sending these reporters to the meetings of the men is to enable the officials to bring the men up for punishment. At a meeting of postmen held in Hyde Park, a certain official reporter was coerced into acting as a spy, by being told that he would be turned out of his place if he did not, and, in consequence, men were identified, and a number of postmen in the E.C. District were reduced and suspended. The disturbance which occurred at the meeting when this man was recognised has been greatly exaggerated in the Press. There is ample justification, if justification were wanted, to prove the injustice of the rule relating to the employment of these official repor- 629 ters. All this has been done by the right hon. Gentleman in his determination to crush the movement which the men have, in their own interests, thought necessary. I, myself, although I have had no official connection with the movement, at the request of the men, attended more than one meeting, and I can say that the men did not recklessly rush into a strike, in order to advance impossible claims and dislocate the whole Postal Service, but that they acted with the greatest reasonableness and moderation. It is entirely untrue that the Executive of the Union incited or intimidated the men into this movement, and there is no ground for the. monstrous insinuation to that effect made by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir R. Fowler). There is no ground for such an unmanly and cowardly suggestion (though I do not apply those phrases to anyone in the House) against men who are as worthy of respect and consideration as the hon. Baronet himself. There was no attempt on the part of the Executive, or anyone outside the Union, to intimidate the men, or get them to join the Union. All the intimidation and coercion came from the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, as I am in a position to prove. The meeting which I attended at the Holborn Town Hall, was attended by something like 1,500 postmen, and the whole object of the meeting, at which Mr. G. Shipton was present, was to take the decision of the postmen themselves as to what should be their course, and what instruction they should issue to their Executive Committee in view of the crisis which had then arisen. The attitude of the men was determined and enthusiastic, and the advice given by Mr. Mahon, as representing the Executive Committee, was not in any sense in the direction of inciting the men; the whole tendency of it was to find out the gravity of the situation and the risk they ran. For my own part, I only advised them that if they had to strike, they should not do so unless they could bring out all their men, and it was owing to the neglect of that advice that the movement, unfortunately, failed. [Laughter.] You may laugh, but even right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the opposide side of the House are occasionally known to make mistakes. Even the Ministry have been known to make 630 mistakes, and not so very long ago either. At this meeting, Mr. George Shipton, representing the London Trades Council, made a speech, and, as is well known, the whole object of his presence at the meeting was to bring about some conciliatory method of ending the dispute, and a resolution was formulated and enthusiastically passed by the men to the effect that they should hold their hands until the result was known of communication with the Postmaster General, in consequence of the intervention of the London Trades Council. The truce was to last 12 days, provided that the right hon. Gentleman did not force more active measures upon the men in the interval, by endeavouring to coerce them by a large introduction of supernumerary labour. That same evening, I reported what had taken place at the meeting to the right hon. Gentleman, and all I got was that I was assailed with what I must call abuse from that Bench. Abuse does not affect me, as I know it is only indulged in by Ministers of the Crown when their case is so wretchedly weak that they have not a single good argument to advance for the defence. The way the conciliatory and reasonable attitude of the men was met by the right hon. Gentleman was this. He at once proceeded to draft into all the offices a number of supernumeraries and outsiders whom we call blacklegs, which name the right hon. Gentleman objects to, but the phrase is only like such phrases as "boycott," "emergency men," or "Government spies," which have found their way into modern politics. Therefore, I shall continue to use the expression if I find it necessary. These words were introduced not for the purpose of overtaking the work which the dismissal or suspension of regular hands made it imperative to overtake, but there were more supernumerary hands taken on in the different post offices than the number of men dismissed or suspended. There was no excuse for the employment of these blacklegs. The object of the right hon. Gentleman was fitly shadowed forth by the declaration which Sir Stevenson Blackwood attempted to get the men to sign in the E.C. district —a declaration to the effect that they would not strike, and binding them against the assertion of their rights if it became necessary by the only means in 631 their power. Sir S. Blackwood wanted to make this declaration general, but afterwards he was induced to limit it to the 21st July, that being the last day of the truce decided on at the Holborn meeting, as the last day on which to expect some result from the intervention of Mr. George Shipton and the London Trades Council. The men naturally refused to bind themselves by any such idiotic declaration. They said they would do so if the number of supernumeraries was not increased up to that date, and if the additional men who had been employed were dismissed. That was a very reasonable proviso, because what the Postmaster General was seeking to do was to introduce as many men as possible from outside, whom he could train in the elementary work that was to be done, and whom he could put in the places of the regular hands at the moment which seemed most fitting. That was not fair fighting. In the case of a great dispute between employer and employed, when there was a recognised issue between the two, care should have been taken to avoid all mean underhanded methods, for, after all, the men, however misguided they may have been, were not criminals. At the best it must be admitted that these men are very poorly paid, that they have inordinately long hours, that they have grievances which they have sought by the only means in their power to get rectified. It was not the Executive of the Union that forced this strike on the men. The men themselves declared for it by overwhelming majorities. If they did not succeed I will not say it was not to some extent their fault, and circumstances also may have been against them. At any rate, they were not coerced into it. What the Executive did was to carry out the instructions given by a practically unanimous vote, and it would have been practically impossible for the Executive to have acted otherwise than they did. The right hon. Gentleman has chosen to draw a distinction between members of the Civil Service and others who may be employed in any work outside. The right hon. Gentleman says he would not favour the formation of the men into a Union under him. Judging from the experience we have had of his iron régime, I should say that if unionism is justifiable under a private employer 632 it is infinitely more so under the employment of a great State Department. May I just advert for a moment to the incidents of the great strike week, to show how the right hon. Gentleman exercised the irresistible power of the State for the purpose of crushing down these unfortunate men? On the day when he apprehended a strike the Post Office was crammed with policemen to protect the non-union men and to intimidate those who were union men. There was no necessity for the presence of these policemen, as there was no violence on this occasion at St. Martin's-le-Grand. I maintain that civil servants ought to be allowed to exercise the ordinary rights of citizens, and to form themselves into Unions. I believe it is far more imperative for them to combine for mutual protection than for the servants of a private firm to do so. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that he has always preferred to listen to the representations made by the men themselves, but that he will listen to no representations made by others on their behalf, whether in this House or elsewhere, is a new doctrine, which I feel it my duty to protest against. I say that the men in the Post Office, or in any other Government Service, have a perfect right to apply to their Representatives in Parliament, if they choose to do so, to bring their case before the Government, either in this House or elsewhere. We know that it is almost impossible for men in Public Departments to get their grievances redressed except through the advocacy of those who occupy superior positions, whether as Members of this House or otherwise, and I say the men are perfectly justified, especially when they know that representations made by themselves never reach the fountain head, but are stopped by subordinate officials, in putting their cases before the Members of this House, and obtaining the services of those Members if they can do so. (2.42.)
§ (3.3.) MR. ISAACSON
I was in hopes that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, in making his statement to the Committee, would have told us that those postmen who went out on strike a few days ago had been reinstated. They presented a Petition to the right hon. Gentleman, pointing out how they were induced to go out, in fact forced to go out, by intimidation. 633 There is no doubt they were intimidated, and in many instances were in fear of their lives if they did not join the strike. What is their present position? It is scarcely possible that these men, having to support their families, can have saved much from their wages, and the result must be that they, their wives, and families must be in extreme straits from want of the weekly wage. The position of these men is, no doubt, brought about by the influence of paid agitators, who had nothing to do with Post Office work. What would be said by any employer of labour, say the managers of a bank, if they found their clerks employing paid agitators to represent their cause, if they were dissatisfied, to their employers, and using intimidation? Certainly, such interference in such a movement would be at once repudiated, and I do not see that any less stringent measures can be adopted in an important Public Department like the Post office. Anxious as we all may be to do what we can for these officials, we cannot but look with severity on the conduct of those who, for a very slight cause, conspired to stop the Postal Service of this vast Metropolis. There is no difficulty in obtaining men for the Service, and there are far more applications than there are posts to fill, and though the wages may appear low, there is the advantage of a pension at the end of their working career. I certainly was amazed to hear the hon. Baronet the Member for Cardiff speak of dissatisfaction among the postmen engaged at Cardiff. Probably I know as much of Cardiff and Newport as most Members in this House, and certainly I have always thought the Postal Service in those towns was very satisfactory. Postmen undoubtedly have, in some instances, long hours, and the lower grades are not remarkably well paid, but there is this to be said, that the work is continuous— they are not thrown out of employment, as is the case in many other occupations, from depression of trade. The Committee should remember that the present Postmaster General has had more difficulties to contend with, through the introduction of Post Office reforms, than any previous head of the Department. The Parcel Post has been introduced during his time, and this, I know, caused a great derangement of business.
The Motion before the Committee is one for the reduction of the Postmaster's salary, and the hon. Member's observations are travelling very wide of that.
§ MR. ISAACSON
I was endeavouring to show that the increase and development of post office business has been such that difficulties would only be too likely to occur. But, under all the circumstances, I cannot see that the right hon. Gentleman has been at all to blame. To this I was coming, though possibly I have wandered somewhat from the direct way. The whole question in connection with the proposed reduction has been so thoroughly thrashed out that I find nothing to add. I will only add the appeal with which I began, that I think that a little clemency might be shown to those men who, under pressure, were induced to join the strike, and who having repented, might be allowed to return, though I hope the right hon. Gentleman will adhere to the position he has taken with regard to meetings and the active promoters of the late agitation.
§ (3.11.) MR. LABOUCHERE
I altogether disagree with the doctrine that the postmen should be prohibited from meeting, or subjected to such conditions that meeting is practically impossible. I really think the right hon. Gentleman is making a great mistake in making this dead set against postmen joining a Trades Union or holding meetings. This kind of thing is often a safety valve, and it can do no harm, for you are not obliged to accept the views expressed in resolutions at these meetings, though you might allow the expression. As to the view of the hon. Member for Camborne that a wrong was inflicted on the London postmen because the Postmaster General refused to recognise their secretary, that I confess I cannot agree with. I think a Postmaster General ought to allow his men to have an Association—call it a Trades Union if you like—and to meet as much as they desire without restriction or punishment, direct or indirect; but the Postmaster General should deal with the men as his subordinates and not as members of a Trades Union. He is not to blame if he refuses to receive as a representative of his men some secretary who has no 635 connection with the Post Office. When the hon. Member for Camborne was speaking about the secretary, Mr. Mahon, I interpolated the remark, "What does he get for it?" and when the hon. Member spoke of the men crying with one voice, "Let us have Mr. Mahon," it occurred to me that we had never heard of this gentleman before, and I think most people connected with the Post Office had never heard of him, and I imagined there was some reason why he put himself forward; and that in serving them he was serving himself. When I had an opportunity of looking at the book of rules and regulations, I found that among those rules, made, I suppose, by Mr. Mahon, there was a rule providing that the secretary to the Union should receive from 30s. to 50s. a week. Here is the explanation of the whole matter. But I have only risen to say that, while I support the Amendment and shall voce for it if it is carried to a Division, because I think that the Postmaster General ought to leave more independence to the men to meet, to associate and express their views, at the same time, I am entirely opposed to the view that public servants are wise to join Trades Unions. There is a distinction in their position from that of persons in the employ of private firms. I recognise that Trades Unions have done much to improve the condition of the working and artisan class in enabling the men to fight their own cause against employers, against whose decision in trade disputes there is no appeal. But in the case of public servants, there is an appeal to this House. We are the arbiters in matters where we think officials have made out a good claim for redress of grievances. There is not, then, the necessity for a Trades Union among public servants. I do not know whether Members of the Committee noticed as I did that in reference to the attempt to enlist the sympathy of other Unions in the postmen's movement Mr. Mahon said— I saw it in the Press, but I do not know how far it is accurate—He was happy to say the dock labourers would treat with violence any postman who did not join in the strike, should he come to deliver letters among them.Well, I certainly do not think we can complain of the refusal of the Postmaster General to receive as a representative of 636 the men a paid advocate who makes a statement of that kind.
§ *(3.17.) SIR R. FOWLER (London)
As representing a constituency which is very much interested in the regularity of the postal service, it is only right I should thank the Postmaster General for the course he has pursued with regard to recent events. It was a matter of the most vital importance that the strike should be put down, and the course which my right hon. Friend has taken has redounded to his honour and to the honour of those who are associated with him, Sir A. Blackwood and the other permanent officials who so loyally assisted him. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has referred to Mr. Mahon, and certainly I think it is a very great abuse that the business of the Government and the public should be thrown into confusion by one of those adventurers who, for the sake of putting a small sum into his pocket, comes forward and induces men to violate their duty and to pursue a line of conduct which has been reprobated by all right-thinking men. I have no doubt there are grievances among the employés of the Post Office; that there are some men connected with the Post Office who are more hardly worked and worse paid than almost any men I know. I remember a good many years ago mentioning an instance to Lord Granville of a driver in the service of the Department, who, every day, Sundays included, had to drive from Salisbury Plain through Devizes to Chippenham, winter and summer, in all weathers. This man drove 52 miles every day, Sundays included, and received, I think, 12s., certainly not more than 14s., a week. My right hon. Friend may say that that is the market price, and so long as men undertake to do the work at that rate, he would not be justified in giving more. ["No, no!"] I would remind hon. Members who say "no" that this is a system which has been pursued by right hon. Gentlemen on either side. I mentioned this particular instance to Lord Granville, who was at the time not directly connected with the Department, but he was a leading Member of the then Government. The hon. Member for Camborne has defended the employment of Mr. Mahon as the paid advocate of the postmen; but I venture humbly to 637 represent to him that the arguments he has used might be used against him with very inconvenient results should he, as possibly he may, being a distinguished Member of the Party opposite, find reward for his services in appointment as Secretary to the Treasury or Postmaster General.
§ *(3.21.) SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
I agree with the hon. Member for Northampton that Government employés should be allowed to combine and hold meetings for the discussion of their own interests; but as to the remark that they have in this House a Court of Appeal for the redress of their grievances, I think, seeing what has occurred this Session, they cannot have much confidence in this House as a means of redress. Certainly, the men should have our sympathy as a large class of public servants performing most responsible and heavy duties for comparatively poor pay. When these men combine and appoint a secretary at the munificent salary of some £2 a week ! I do not see in that any occasion for the remarks of my hon. Friend. I do not think it is the rule to find Gentlemen in this House giving their services, except political services, for nothing, and if the secretary does his work well, why should he not receive a salary? It is essential that he should be paid. He is the mouthpiece of the men, to formulate their grievances, and to give expression to their representations in matters in which they are concerned. It is manifest that this could not be done by individuals connected with the Post Office; no one of them would take on himself the responsibility of standing forward and addressing his chief as the mouthpiece of his fellows, because if he did he would be a marked man. Therefore, in self-defence, the men are bound to employ a man from outside. I am sorry that the sneer on this action of the men should have come from this side of the House. There is another matter to which I should like to refer, not so much connected with the particular question before the House as with the general administration of the Department. I think a great Department like this, making large profits, ought to provide increasing facilities and conveniences to the public as occasion arises. But as towns grow in size and importance, postal conveniences 638 do not keep pace with the progress. I could mention several instances in which large and growing centres of population have less postal conveniences and advantages than smaller and unprogressive localities.
(3.26.) MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
It does not come within my province to interpose between the hon. Member for Northampton and the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken; but I may observe that the remarks of the hon. Member for Northampton met with the approval of the great mass of the Committee. That persons who have nothing to do with the Post Office should put themselves forward for, relatively speaking, a handsome salary, and instigate public servants to neglect their public duty, is a very discreditable proceeding, and I am sorry there should have been in the House any show of giving countenance to it. The Postmaster General has received a great deal of advice from both sides of the House. I am not prepared to take upon myself the rôle of Mentor of the right hon. Gentleman, who, I think, has managed his Department extremely well and has displayed a forbearance and practical knowledge of affairs which shows that he is capable of doing his work by himself. If my right hon. Friend listens to some advice tendered from both sides of the House, and holds out any hope that the men primarily responsible for these unfortunate proceedings will be reinstated, he will strike a blow at the very roots of departmental discipline which will re-act throughout other branches of the Public Service. Of course, I do not undertake to say there may not be particular cases as to which consideration should be given to the evidence upon which men were included in the category; but I am sure the House of Commons would be discharging no useful function to the body politic if it induced a Minister to hold out any clemency to those who instigated disaffection among employés and disorganisation of an important Public Service. We see the lamentable effects of the encouragement given to those who 639 promoted the dock strike in the spread of the movement among all classes of industry and even into the Public Service. The practice of allowing persons not themselves connected with the work to put themselves forward as representatives of the men, who may or may not have grievances of their own, cannot be too strongly condemned. Whether they are paid, as in the case of Mahon, or seek political notoriety as in other cases in putting themselves forward, they should be told to mind their own business, and that no communication will he held with them. I desire once more to express my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for the course which he has taken. The thanks of the whole community are due to him for the firmness he has displayed throughout the dispute.
§ *(3.29.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
Hitherto I have abstained from putting questions to the right hon. Gentleman, for I felt the difficulties of his position, and did not wish to aggravate them. The Postmaster General is in the position of being the employer of many thousands of workmen, and is, perhaps, responsible for the management of the largest staff in the country. His administration covers a large class, who are enabled to make their wishes known through Members of this House, and he has not absolutely a free hand, because he is restricted by the action of the Treasury. I realise the difficulties of his position, and, therefore, I shall speak with reserve. The main question discussed to-night is whether the right hon. Gentleman was justified in refusing to deal with outsiders in his communications with the men employed in his own Department. On that point I agree to a great extent with what has been said by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). Post Office men are not in the position of ordinary labourers. They have their votes; they are largely represented in this House; and it is customary for hon. Members to put questions in this House on their behalf. Even in the case of ordinary workmen, I believe Trades Unions recognise that only those men employed in the trade should be mixed up with communications with employers. But whatever may be the case with regard to Trades Unions generally, I submit there is a difference 640 between ordinary workmen and men employed in the Public Service. It is not worth while, perhaps, now to go at length into the dispute itself. I am notable to say that the men in the Post Office are badly paid, and I cannot regard their position as other than satisfactory. When one looks at the salaries they received, at the fact that they are entitled to pensions, and that they have many other advantages, such as sick pay, uniforms, and Christmas-boxes, one cannot say that they are badly paid. But there is one class employed of whom I cannot speak in the same terms, namely, the supernumerary postmen.
Order! The question now before the Committee is the Postmaster General's salary and his policy. The question of the adequacy or inadequacy of the pay of the men does not arise on this question.
§ * MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
It is rather difficult to deal with the whole question without adverting to the condition of the men in respect to whom the dispute arose. When the proper time comes, however, I shall be prepared to show that there is something to be said for a class of men who are not establishment men, but who are doing work identical with that of the class above them. I am rather inclined to think the Postmaster General would have done wisely if he had entered into their case at an earlier period, but, on the whole, I am prepared to support the Postmaster General in the action he has taken, and I cannot join in the attacks made upon him.
§ *(3.35.) MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid)
I should not have risen to take part in this discussion, especially as I have only just come into the House of Commons, had it not been for some remarks that have been made from both sides of the House. The discussion has broadened since it commenced and has drifted into the operation of Trades Unions; and an attempt has been made on both sides to show the inadvisability of men taking part in Trade Union matters who are not connected by trade with the class of men for whom they act. I think that idea arises, if I may be allowed to say so, from ignorance on the part of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are not sufficiently conversant with the Trades Unions of this 641 country. I could quote numbers of cases where men who are now secretaries of Trades Unions have not served their time to the trades which the Unions represent, but who have been called in by the members of the particular Trade Union because they are men of ability in whom the members have confidence. The statement has been made and frequently repeated in the course of the discussion that Mr. Mahon, who was acting for the Post Office employés, had put himself forward for the purpose, as the Member for Northampton has suggested, of getting 30s. or 50s. a week. Now, there is no purer democracy anywhere than the Trades Unions. No man can foist himself on a Trade Union and say, "I will be your secretary." He must be elected, and the men must know him and have confidence in him. I am the treasurer of a Trade Union; but it would be impossible for me to go to the members of the Union and say, "I will be your treasurer." There are Members of the House who are the secretaries of Trade Unions—my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), for instance, is secretary to the Miners' Union in Northumberland. He was called from the mine to become their secretary by a vote of the Members. Without saying a word in favour of Mr. Mahon, or of his capacity to lead a Trade Union, I assert that that gentleman could no more put himself into the secretaryship of the Postmen's Union than he could into membership of the House of Commons. If there is one reason more than another why the postmen should have an independent man to represent them it has been supplied by the Postmaster General himself. Supposing that the postmen had thought fit to form a Trade Union, and had elected one of their own number to be their secretary, if the right hon. Gentleman was consistent in his course of conduct he would have discharged that man on the very first opportunity simply because he was the secretary of the Union. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman intends to turn a willing ear or a deaf ear to the appeals for mercy that have been made from both sides of the House on behalf of the men whom he has discharged; but he knows in his heart the reason why these men brought in an outsider: 642 he knows that if one of the postmen had been appointed secretary, there would always have been hanging over his head the dread of summary dismissal if he took upon himself to act on behalf of the men. I hope the House will not agree with one of the statements made by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir R. Fowler). The hon. Baronet spoke of the low wages the postmen are receiving, namely, 12s. or 14s. a week, as the market price. There may be private firms in this country that trade upon men's necessities; but is it to be understood that gentlemen who pretend to represent, and who do legally represent, the constituencies of this country are to preach a political economy like that, and argue that, because there are a number of men waiting for employment, the State is to offer starvation wages? I trust the hon. Baronet is the only man in the House in whose mind that idea rests. My own view is that even if there are a hundred or a thousand men ready to take a given place, the man chosen should be paid such a price as will enable him to maintain himself and his family. Because there are two men seeking work, we ought not to offer them 10s. or 12s. a week, if their necessities require 18s. or 20s. I apologise for trespassing on the attention of the House, but I thought it necessary that I or someone else connected with the Trades Unions of the country should speak on this matter. I cannot help thinking that there has been manifested in the Debate an ignorance that is unbecoming in gentlemen who pretend to represent industrial constituencies; and if I may do so, I advise hon. Gentlemen to make themselves acquainted with the operations of Trades Unions, because Trades Unions are now a power in the land.
§ *(3.45.) MR. RAIKES
I have already enlarged upon the position I thought it right to take up with regard to the movement, and the Committee will hardly expect me to repeat what I have said. The hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir E. Reed) will forgive me if I pass by his observations, because, although he was careful not to introduce an express reference to the telegraphists in his speech, the whole of his speech was exclusively directed to a matter which can only be conveniently dealt 643 with later. The hon. Member for the Camborne Division (Mr. Conybeare) gave us the history of the Postmen's Union, —might he not also have composed its epitaph?—and said that I was mistaken if I thought that the discontent in the Service was wholly due to professional agitators. I am not under that impression. I think the discontent has been very largely fanned and developed to somewhat alarming proportions by the action of professional agitators. But I do not suppose they would have been able to effect anything unless there had been a tendency in the direction of discontent before they began to work. I believe there is no doubt that the movement in the Post Office had its origin in the dock strike. The hon. Member for Camborne referred to Tom Dredge, and he wished the Committee to believe that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction in the Post Office at the present time in consequence of the dismissal of Tom Dredge. I do not know what dissatisfaction there may be amongst other persons in the Post Office, but it is not shared by Tom Dredge himself, because, having been reinstated in the office, he has studiously kept aloof from this movement. The hon. Member had mixed up the question of shorthand writers and what he calls an official reporter. The two unoffending members of the Postal Service who were assaulted in Hyde Park were certainly not shorthand writers. [Mr. CONYBEARE: I never said they were.] If the hon. Member looks back at his remarks, he will see he used the words "official reporter," and then slipped out the word "spy." He endeavoured to show how wrong it would be on my part to ask the men to receive a shorthand writer. I do not want to go back to the scandalous scene which occurred in the Mount Pleasant Office, but I am bound to say something with regard to the hon. Member's remarks as to intimidation. I am constantly receiving communications to the effect that in what the men did they yielded wholly to intimidation. There has been something said by the hon. Member as to the course alleged to have been taken by Sir A. Blackwood in trying to induce the men to sign a declaration not to strike before the 21st of July. Sir A. Blackwood was in no way responsible for 644 this suggestion. I refer to that mainly in order that I may pay a tribute—in which I think the Committee will join me—to the great spirit and energy, courage and readiness displayed by Sir A. Blackwood at the most critical juncture of these proceedings. I wish to add my testimony to the invaluable service he has rendered on this and other occasions to the Department with which he has been so long connected. But Sir A. Blackwood had nothing to do with the proposal that the men should sign a declaration that they would not strike before the 21st of July. I believe the declaration was propounded by some of the subordinate officials of the Post Office merely as a suggestion to the men that if they disliked the presence of extra hands, the best way of freeing themselves from their presence would be to give an assurance that by no act of theirs would they make their presence necessary,' at all events within a certain period of time. As they declined to give such an assurance, I think I should have been wanting in my duty if I had not taken immediate steps to reinforce all the services at St. Mar-tin's-le-Grand by bringing in all the hands I could to supply any vacancies that might arise. The hon. Member referred to the presence of the police at St. Martin's-le-Grand on the morning of Thursday, when the strike took place. I think the Committee will agree that prevention is better than cure; and if the presence of the police in any way contributed to what the hon. Member called the unfortunate failure, I am inclined to think the presence of the police was advisable. The hon. Member behind me (Mr. Isaacson) has appealed to me to reinstate the men dismissed. It is premature for me to announce any decision on the subject. Naturally, I should be very glad if I felt it compatible with the public interest to reinstate as many of them as I could; but the Public Service must, of course, be the first consideration, together with the question of maintaining the discipline of the Service. All I can say at present is that every application for reinstatement will be carefully considered by myself after the Reports from the district postmasters have been received. There can be no doubt, I think, that the established postmen in London are a very fairly-paid body of men, and they constitute the enormous 645 majority of the Service in London. Nobody, I believe, has questioned the fact that the London established Post Service is one which men of that class benefit themselves by entering. There is, however, a great deal of force in what has been urged with regard to the case of the unestablished postmen. So strongly have I felt this, indeed, that I submitted proposals to the Treasury with the view of improving the position of this class just before the postmen unfortunately rushed into hostilities, without giving me any opportunity whatever of explaining my views. Therefore, I at any rate cannot accept any blame for the wages at the present moment paid to unestablished postmen, and I still hope that the proposals now before the Treasury may receive favourable consideration, and put the men in a better position. The hon. Member for Mid Durham (Mr. J. Wilson) spoke of wages, such as 12s. or 14s. a week. There is no full postman, established or unestablished, in London, who receives less than 18s. a week. There are, however, a certain number of auxiliary postmen who do not give their full time to the Department. In fact, it is a condition of the engagement of an auxiliary postmen that he is able to show that he is earning at least 12s. a week from some other employment. I do not say that the wages are on the most magnificent scale, but they are earned by men who already follow some other calling as their main source of income. If the State is called upon to pay a little more than the market rate, then the servants of the State ought always to be prepared to give a little more than the normal requirements of duty demand. I hope, at all events, that the Committee have heard enough about me, and that, if we are to discuss the other items of the Vote, some of which are of much interest, we may now be allowed to proceed to a Division.
§ *(4.1.) MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)
Sir, I would like to join in the appeal to the Postmaster General that he will, as early as possible, consider the re-admission to employment of the men who have been discharged. I cannot think that the State should take the position of displaying anger and resentment at its servants taking part in what, I have no doubt, they believed at 646 the time to be a perfectly justifiable movement for the bettering of their condition. The history of this agitation is very like that of 20 years ago, which, as in the present instance, resulted in the creation of a great number of victims. I sincerely hope that the Postmaster General will deal liberally and handsomely with the men who are now placed in a similarly unhappy position. I think the State is altogether mistaken in its objection to the right of combination among the postmen. I think they should be permitted to combine for the purposes of mutual assistance and counsel as to what is best and not best for the promotion of their interests, and as a Trade Union enjoying to the fullest extent the right of combination permitted to their fellow-workers in the country. We shall never be inclined to rest satisfied until that is conceded. Sir, there has been rather an unhappy difference of opinion expressed between my hon. Friend the Member for East Bradford and the hon. Member for Mid Durham. No doubt both are right to some extent. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Bradford declared that it was the policy of Trades Unions to appoint to their chief offices men of their respective trades. That is perfectly true. There is no great Trades Union in Great Britain but what is officered by men of that particular trade. Yet my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Durham is correct so far as some exceptions are concerned. There are Trades Unions or Labour Associations that are not officered by men who have worked in the particular branch of industry which is combined. There is a great Association in North Yorkshire which has a secretary——
Order, order! I did not interrupt the hon. Member for Mid Durham in his second maiden speech, but this is wide of the question. The point is, the attitude of the Postmaster General with regard to the Postmen's Union.
§ * MR. BROADHURST
I am much obliged for the correction, Sir. I was following in reply something which proceeded from the hon. Member for Mid Durham, but I bow loyally to your ruling. May I, then, say that the whole policy of Trades Unionism has been that 647 those who direct its policy, or who advise its action in labour and in industrial matters, shall be men who themselves will share in the failure or success of that policy, and not men who, whatever the result, shall in no way suffer from the consequences.
§ (4.7.) MR. ATKINSON (Boston)
It is not accepted, I wish to say, in reply to the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that Trades Unions are always useful. I could give many instances in which they have been mischievous instead of useful. But that is not the point we have before us. I wish to say that I shall support the payment of the salary of my right hon. Friend upon this ground: that none could have managed this business better than the Postmaster General. We particularly feel grateful to him that he has not let these busybodies, or secretaries of Trades Unions, or Members of Parliament posing for election two years hence, or men who have no interest whatever in the business, dictate to him; and we are very glad, indeed, that we have a Postmaster General with such a backbone, and we only wish——
§ MR. ATKINSON
I have expressed what I wish, and I am quite ready to be called to order. I have voted against the salary of the Postmaster General on one point. I am now going to vote for it on another. In that I am perfectly consistent, because I am going to vote against the hon. Member for Camborne, who has been trying to show us that the right hon. Gentleman has mismanaged these affairs. He gave us a digest of the strike, but it would have been quite sufficient had we taken the Times or any other newspaper to read on each day that it mentioned the Post Office strike, and in that way we would have avoided the waste of an hour and a half of our time. I protest against that sort of mismanagement, and I support to the utmost of my ability the talented and right management of the strike by my right hon. Friend.
§ *(4.10.) MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
I think a word or two is necessary to put the principle of this Vote in a clear light. I apprehend that those who vote for the proposed reduction will do so as an expression of their opinion to the country 648 that the Postmaster General has shown a want of tact and a sad lack of sympathy in dealing with a large body of public servants. ["No!"] You who disagree will have an opportunity of expressing your opinion in the Lobby shortly. This matter has been discussed to-night in the House of Commons; but it has yet to be discussed by the working classes, and I would remind the House that from the Postmaster General down to the postboy at 4s. or 5s. a week the public will not stand any difference of treatment in principle between the higher-paid officials at £3,000 or £4,000 a year and the smaller-paid officials. The Postmaster General said that it was only the fringe of a big question. He never said anything truer than that. The great question of the Relations of Capital and Labour cropped up in the speeches of hon. Members opposite, hardly one of whom could help alluding to the dock strike. That was, in their view, a sadly unfortunate strike in which labour won; this is, on the other hand, a happy strike in which, by what the last speaker called the backbone of the right hon. Gentleman, labour has been beaten. They were hardly able to contain their satisfaction at so delightful a result. The question is, whether these postmen who have been dealt with by the Postmaster General are, in common with the working classes generally, by their growing intelligence and culture, entitled to those full rights of combination which their fellows demand and will continue to demand. The Postmaster General has made certain small concessions which I fear will not satisfy the mass of the working classes of this country. The men are to have some right of combination acknowledged, but subject to three conditions. The first is that notice of their intention to meet shall in every case be given to their employers. These questions will have to be met with tact (I speak as a large employer myself), and I believe the people will demand that the business of the Public Departments shall be carried on in the spirit in which all right-minded employers seek to avoid disputes and strikes by timely consideration and fair play. Are these three conditions on which practically this Division is to be taken conditions which large employers of labour would seek to force on their employés? 649 I say they are not. Take the, first that notice of all meetings which the Post Office employés intend to hold, for the purpose of discussing matters affecting their own interests, shall be sent to the head of the Department. I say that that is not fair or reasonable. The second condition is that no secretary, not being himself an employé of the Post Office, shall be recognised by the Department. Fancy large employers of labour outside the Government treating their employés in this way. Let the Committee imagine the case of large coal proprietors refusing to recognise such a man as the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) as a spokesman appointed by miners to represent them in a trade dispute! Men employed for long hours, and with but little time at their own disposal, ought, surely, to be allowed to employ and pay anyone to attend to their interests in an executive capacity. I do not think that this second condition is one of which public opinion will approve. Well, what is the third condition? It strikes me as being the most hateful of all. It is that a Government shorthand writer must be present at each of the men's meetings! These three conditions of the Postmaster General are really the question now before the Committee —a question which the Government may, and doubtless will, carry by a majority to-day; but I say it is the duty of everybody who sympathises with working men in their endeavour to improve their condition to protest against these unfair conditions which it is sought to impose—which are dragooning conditions, such as no ordinary employers of labour would for a moment seek to enforce on their workmen, and the enforcement of which on Government employés by Government officials the working classes will assuredly disapprove.
§ *(4.18.) MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK (Whitehaven)
I am sorry to interpose between the Committee and the impending Division, and I should not have done so but for the speech just delivered by the hon. Gentleman opposite, which is in thorough accordance with the manner he has adopted since he changed his colours, because now he always endeavours in the speeches he makes in this House to set class against class. I hold in my 650 hand evidence which will, I think, convince the Committee that the hon. Member is wrong when he speaks of the movement against the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General being a spontaneous one. There can be no doubt that the movement was got up by outsiders, and I have here sufficient proof of this. I do not suppose the hon. Member for Gloucester has seen the evening papers of to-day, or there would have come under his notice a report of a meeting held last night, at which it was stated that there are only £30 to be divided among the dismissed men, and therefore these dismissed postmen were urged to obtain employment outside the Post Office as soon as they could. It was also stated that attendance was no longer compulsory, and that the waiting room would be closed. This notice was signed by Mr. Mahon. This is all I wish to bring under the notice of the House, and I think it very pertinent to the matter under discussion.
§ (4.20.) MR. CONYBEARE
Before a Division is taken, I wish to ask a question of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes), though, in the first instance, I should like to take notice of the attack the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) has made upon the Postmen's Union. He has quoted from an evening paper a statement under the name of the General Secretary of the Union, to the effect that only £30 remains to be divided among the dismissed officials. For my part, I am surprised that there is so much to be divided. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I would point out that these poor men are not in receipt of the incomes enjoyed by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The facts connected with the Union are these. It was only established less than eight months ago. The men have been contributing 2d. and 4d. a week since that time, and have no large reserve fund to fall back upon, while for the last two or three weeks they have been paying large sums for the support of the men dismissed by the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, I think it greatly to the credit of this young Union, that it should have as large a balance as £30, having had to maintain 400 men, and their wives and their children, for two or three weeks. I cannot see why the right hon. 651 Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven should be so enthusiastic against these unfortunate men. I should like to see the right hon. Gentleman trying to live upon 18s. a week. In that case I think he would have a better understanding of the men's position. As I have been challenged upon this subject by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), I will tell the Committee what the Secretary of the Union has to do for his wages. [Cries of"Question."] This is a question on which I have been distinctly challenged. I hold in my hand the Rules of the Union, and under the circumstances I feel bound to refer to the rule which defines the Secretary's duties. The Secretary was elected by the postmen under a general Ballot, Rule 6, and his duties are that he should attend all meetings, receive all monies on behalf of the Union, prepare a balance sheet, issue cards of membership, keep a register of members, and an account of all subscriptions, and perform other duties, which are detailed, attending generally to the business of the Union. For this he is to be paid not less than 30s., nor more than 50s. a week, and he is entitled, in addition to the legal holidays, to two weeks holiday per annum. I should like to ask whether the Chief Secretary for Ireland or any other Minister would be content to discharge one tithe of these duties for less than £5,000 a year.
The hon. Gentleman has been allowed to read those Rules in answer to what has been said before, but his answer ought to be confined to that point.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
Very well, Sir. Then I will simply put this question to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, whether in respect of the men whom he has reinstated, or intends to reinstate, he requires or suggests that they should make a declaration or statement that they joined the Union through intimidation or terrorism on the part of their fellows. I put this question because it will be remembered that the right hon. Gentleman just now told us he was constantly receiving letters from postmen, asking for reinstatement on the ground that they had been intimidated. I now state, as a deliberate fact, that intimidation or terrorism was never used to induce men to join the Union, though I am not going to say that 652 when the blacklegs were introduced some violence was not used. If the right hon. Gentleman intends to rely on that violence as a reason for the sweeping accusation made against the Union, that they intimidated and terrorised their fellows, I say that that is not sufficient to traverse my statement that no intimidation was used to induce men to join their Union.
§ *(4.29.) MR. RAIKES
I can only repeat, in answer to the question of the hon. Member, who says that no intimidation was practised, that I have received letters from some of the men stating that they left their employment because they were intimidated. With regard to the question put as to what men I may feel it right to reinstate in their former employment, I have to say that I have laid down no express or particular conditions to be observed with regard to such reinstatement, but that I shall be guided entirely by the particular circumstance of each case.
§ *(4.30.) MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
It seems to be supposed that the failure of the movement of the Post Office servants was due to want of sympathy for them on the part of employés in other trades. That is not so, and if anything could increase the sympathy of other workmen it would be the unyielding attitude taken up on the subject of combination by the Postmaster General in his unfortunate speech this afternoon. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can point to a single instance of a large employer of labour demanding from his workmen such conditions as those laid down in his speech this afternoon. Why, then, should the employés of the State be saddled with responsibilities that are not thrown upon other workmen in the country? I regard his second demand as highly objectionable, namely, that they shall not appoint any outside person to represent them on all questions which they desire to have placed before the heads of the Department. It seems to me that the best employers in the country rather desire, than otherwise, the appointment of officials who have the confidence of the workmen, and would rather deal with them than with the whole of the workmen, either in a body or by separate individuals. I wish the Postmaster General would 653 re-consider his position in these matters. I think there would be less friction between him and the employés of the Post Office if he would. I sincerely trust also that he will re-consider his position with regard to his desire to have an official reporter present at every meeting. Nothing could be more hateful to any body of workmen than to have an official reporter imposed upon them when considering any question affecting their social condition If the right hon. Gentleman insists on this condition we must conclude that there will be no Postmen's Union, because, in my opinion, the men would rather continue to go on without one than submit to such a hateful condition. We know there is a tendency among some large employers of labour to try and get to know who the men are who bring forward grievances, and those men are known as marked men, and are singled out for punishment. The Postmaster General has already singled out certain individuals, and dismissed them, for taking part in a movement which, according to his own statement, they were not responsible for. The day has gone by when any responsible Minister or any Government can veto the right of free and open combination. It is perfectly true that civil servants are in a different position from the great body of the workmen of the country. It is said they have their representatives in this House, but I wish to know who specially represents them. No one does, and that is all the more reason why the interests of these men should be more generously and liberally considered than those of the great bulk of the workmen in the country are. I sincerely trust that the right hon. Gentleman will re-consider the position he has taken up on the question.
§ *(4.39.) MR. CUNINGHAME GRAHAM (Lanark, N.W.)
I deeply deplore the disputes that have taken place in the Post Office, and for many reasons. I have looked upon the Post Office as the means by which many of the industries now in the hands of employers may come into the hands of the State, and I am exceedingly sorry that recent events have occurred at the Post Office which go some distance towards shattering my ideal. I should like to make a few remarks on the conditions the Post 654 master General has imposed relative to the formation of a Trades Union among these men. I understand that one is that no meeting is to be held without previous notice having been given to the authorities. Personally, I think every man, whether a soldier or sailor, or in whatever capacity he may be, is extremely foolish who places himself under discipline whereby he forfeits his rights as a citizen, but I have yet to learn that the postmen are placed under such stringent discipline as enables their elementary rights as citizens to be taken away from them. With soldiers and sailors it is a different matter, but hitherto I have not understood that a man by accepting employment of the State as a postman lays himself open to such discipline as that I have referred to, and I should like a definite explanation from the Postmaster General as to whether a man, by entering the Service' of the State as a postman, lays himself open to what is practically military discipline, forfeits the right, which is not denied to any other workman, of freely assembling in public meeting to ventilate his grievances. I know that as to public meetings the Postmaster General has in some respects relaxed the rules. I believe the rules were framed when another Government was in power, and, therefore, I hope we shall have some assurance from the Front Opposition Bench that when that Party returns to power they intend to relax the rules still further. With reference to the shorthand writer whom the Postmaster General insists shall be present at the various meetings of the postmen, I utterly fail to see why, when the Press is admitted—and I believe that most of these meetings have in that sense been public—it is necessary to have an official shorthand writer present. When the daily Press is represented, I suppose that all the facts that are most valuable for the Postmaster General to have at his command, in order to carry on the discipline and routine of his office, are set forth in the various newspaper reports. Therefore, as I conceive the Postmaster General does not wish in any respect to cause a feeling of irritation in the Service, but very much the contrary, I would venture respectfully to suggest to him that he should see fit to waive this question, in view of the expression of opinion we 655 have had from working-class Representatives from this part of the House on the subject. The third point I would touch upon is in reference to the Secretary to the Union. The Postmaster General said no outsider or stranger should be employed in this capacity. I fail to understand his reason for that, because, if we look at the other Trades Unions in the country, we find that in almost every case the Secretary to the Union is not a man actively engaged in daily labour. To fulfil the position of Secretary efficiently, it is almost impossible for a man to gain his livelihood by Party labour, and at the same time give his time to the work of a Trades Union. I dare say the Postmaster General is acquainted with the working of a Trades Union. He must know that there is a great deal of routine work to be done in the way of keeping minutes, writing Reports, and so on, and that it must be impossible for a working postman to discharge that duty, as well as the duty of delivering letters during the day. On this matter also we have had a decided opinion from practical Trades Unionists —from two gentlemen who have filled the post of Secretary to their trades. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take this into consideration, and, as it seems impossible to form a Union at all without having recourse to someone who has not to earn his daily bread, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will waive this point also. A great many men have been dismissed owing to the part they took in the recent agitation. These men are un-provided for. The Postmaster General may say they are reaping the fruits of what they have sown. That may or may not be so, but the fact is that these men are in the main dependent on their daily labour, and are absolutely without employment of any kind, being dependent on the funds of the Union for the very small support they are receiving; and as, undoubtedly, at the present moment, the Postmaster General is in the position of the greatest strength, I make this appeal ad misericordiam to him. I ask if it is possible to overlook the errors that were, perhaps, merely errors of judgment on the part of these men and reinstate as many of them as possible. It appears to me that many of the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman have been, perhaps, utterances that 656 he would not have given vent to if it had not been for recent occurrences having intensified bitter feelings, which it is to be hoped will now lapse on both sides.
(4.48.) MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN (Merthyr Tydvil)
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General if he will consent to receive the Secretary or the Hon. Secretary or a representative of the postmen in that capacity, and hear from him any grievances he may have to ventilate without his being subjected to any pains or penalties for appearing as the representative of the men. I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman assumes that he will not allow any outsider to interfere in any way, but as he admits that the men have a right to form themselves into a Union will he receive one of their number to represent them?
§ *(4.49.) MR. RAIKES
The best answer I can give the hon. Member is to inform him that I have arranged to-morrow to receive a deputation of postmen from each of the London Districts.
§ (4.50.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 111; Noes 195.—(Div. List, No. 199.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ *(5.2.) MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question in regard to telegraphic messages sent by Railway Companies free of cost to them, and, therefore, at the public charge. We had evidence before the Select Committee in 1887 indicating the growing number of these messages, and we were told that they are ten times as numerous as they originally were. What I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether he proposes to take any steps in some form or other to put an end to a bargain which has turned out to be an extremely bad one for the public, in a way that was never contemplated when it was made?
§ *(5.3.) MR. RAIKES
I have watched with the greatest anxiety the growth in the number of these messages. The situation appears to me to have very largely altered since the arrangement was made with the Railway Companies; but there 657 is a question still awaiting judicial decision which must be settled before any action can be taken.
§ *(5.4.) SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the general question of providing postal facilities adequate to public requirements as towns increase in size and importance. There are many instances I could point to, where the postal arrangements in a large industrial centre are no more than are provided for a village of 500 or 600 inhabitants. We have not, for instance, a head office at Ilkeston. There, as in many places, postal business is conducted in a tradesman's shop, where there is neither space, nor convenience, nor the privacy required. Yet while this is the case there are, on the other hand, towns in the county of Derby of far less commercial importance having each a head post office, with a postmaster giving his undivided attention to postal business. Then, again, there is much room for improvement in the accommodation that is afforded to the public in post offices, both in London and in the country. I think that a lucrative Department like the Post Office, handing over to the Treasury millions annually, might lay itself out to consult the convenience of the public somewhat. In continental post offices you will find every convenience for writing a letter, but so far is this from being the case in this country, that even in some offices there are notices prohibiting the public from using a desk for writing a letter or post card. In this direction I think the Department is conducted in a very narrow spirit. I believe that if greater facilities were given to the public in post offices for transacting their business it would redound to the popularity of the Department, and produce an increase of business.
§ *(5.8.) MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
There is a point of some importance not to be left out of view in regard to the late disputes between postmen and the authorities. Comments have been made on the low rate of pay, and the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London men- 658 tioned an instance of hard work and low pay, in the case of a driver at Devizes, but is it not the fact that postmen, in addition to their wages, receive from the public a very considerable sum in the way of gratuities at Christmas time? I have heard that in many cases this results in the men being extremely well paid. I would ask my right hon. Friend if the Post Office have any means of estimating the amount received by the postmen of London by this means? I remember the question being raised some years ago, when it was contended by some Members that the postmen ought not to receive these gratuities, but I am opposed to that view. I think the men are fully entitled to any gratuities the liberality of the public may offer. I know in my immediate neighbourhood in London the sums thus given make a very handsome addition to the incomes of the letter carriers on that walk. But I think it is rather unfair that letter carriers only should participate in these gratuities, sorters and drivers being, in my opinion, entitled to share. I should like to know whether that question has been considered in the Post Office with a view to making some more equal distribution of the money so collected. I have been told that in some parts of London individual postmen have realised sums of from £50 to £70 a year from this source. Certainly, I am not one of those who would wish to deprive a respectable and obliging body of men of any advantage of this kind. But there is an inequality in the distribution of our favours, just as there is in our "tips," when we visit a country house. Only the servants who are seen receive gratuities, and those who bear the burden and heat of the kitchen are unseen and receive nothing. It is very much the same with our postal servants. Could not some means be provided by which all gratuities should go into a fund and be distributed pro rata among employees? I know in Italy and in France there is some arrangement of the kind. I do not know whether the attention of my right hon. Friend has been turned in this direction. In Mr. Fawcett's time I remember there was a discussion on these gratuities, and I believe an order was issued forbidding postmen to ask for Christmas boxes, though they were 659 allowed to receive them. I think that the fact that postmen's wages are very considerably increased in this way disposes of the suggestion that the men are very badly paid.
§ *(5.15.) MR. RAIKES
I think the Committee will agree that we might now be allowed to take the Vote, and time will not permit to do more than simply notice the points raised. The hon. Member for Ilkeston (Sir Walter Foster) has called attention to what he regards as imperfect service, in the fact that manufacturing towns such as that in the constituency he represents, have not the rank of a head office. As to this, I may say that I shall be very glad to look into any specific case of the kind, such, as he has mentioned, but I may add that districts ask for a head office often rather as a matter of sentiment than anything else, for it often happens that the creation of a head office does not confer any postal advantages in postal business to the district where it is situated. As to the conveniences the hon. Member suggests might be offered to the public in Post Offices in London and elsewhere, I should be very glad if auything could be done in that direction: but it must be obvious that though to be enabled to write a letter in a Post Office might be a convenience to some members of the public, to others it might be inconvenient, as further crowding the space, very often limited, for the transaction of the various branches of the business of the Department. My right hon. Friend has asked a question on the subject of Christmas boxes, but this is a matter on which I have no official information. In common with the rest of the public, I have been informed that very large sums sometimes fall to the lot of lucky postmen, and I have heard the average estimated at not less than £15 a year, rising in some exceptional cases to £75 a year; the gratuities are in many cases personal to the recipient, and it is a matter in which it has been held the Department would not be justified in interfering. And now I would ask the Committee to pass the Vote. I know the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. A. O'Connor) intends to raise another question, but I would ask him to carry out his intention on the Report stage.
§ (5.18) MR. A. O'CONNOR
It would not be possible for me to do justice to the subject I desire to raise within the few minutes now at our disposal. It is a question that affects the whole administration of the Department, the infraction of an important Civil Service Rule by heads of the Department. I do not think it is reasonable that I should bring it on on the Report stage, but as I could not now do justice to the subject, I will not trouble the Committee.
§ *(5.19.) MR. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)
As I may not be here when the Report stage is taken, may I now call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a very serious defect of administration in the way in which mails are conveyed to and from the town of Aberyst with. They are conveyed by goods train, to the great inconvenience of the inhabitants of that town and neighbourhood, and the incoming and outgoing arrangements are such that serious delay in correspondence is inevitable. The town is an important one, and the district in every way worthy of being considered by the Post Office Authorities. The defects, I understand, could be remedied by the additional outlay of £1,000, and I do not think that this should be in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman a sufficient reason for disregarding the representations that have been made to him. It is said that the present state of things arises out of a difficulty with the Railway Company, who demand a sum which the Post Office Authorities think they are not justified in giving. Now, I have authority for saying that the company are quite willing to refer the dispute to arbitration, and, for my own part, if the result should be an additional expenditure of £1,000, that would not be too much to expend in removing an inconvenience which is very severely felt by the inhabitants. I am anxious to get an answer from the right hon. Gentleman within the time when the present discussion must necessarily come to an end, and so I have somewhat inconveniently summarised my observations, which otherwise I should have presented more fully and in greater detail. However, the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the in- 661 convenience, as it has been represented to him by persons of authority and influence in the district, and I hope he will undertake to provide a remedy as, I may remind him, he did when a somewhat similar instance of public inconvenience was brought to his notice in connection with the conveyance of mails in the West of Ireland.
§ *(5.25.) MR. RAIKES
I have seen more than one deputation, and have received many communications on the subject, but I am afraid I cannot see my way to meeting the wishes of the hon. Gentleman's constituents by the expenditure to which the hon. Member, in a spirit of generous liberality, alludes as only £1,500, for it must be remembered that there are many places with equally good claims which are more or less in the same position as Aberystwith. The advantage to be gained by conveyance by passenger train would not be more than three-quarters of an hour, and I do not feel that I should be justified in recommending such expenditure to the Treasury.
§ * MR. BOWEN ROWLANDS
Let me explain that I did not mean to assent to or to fix any sum. I said the company are willing to refer the amount to arbitration, and I cannot see why the Government should not assent to that course being adopted.
§ (5.26.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I had intended to raise an important question in relation to the financial relations between the Department and the Treasury, but it is impossible to do that now.
§ *(5.26.) SIR JOHN SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
I wish to bring the whole financial position of the Post Office under view. Here we have a large Revenue annually handed over to the Treasury, which otherwise would have to be raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer by taxation. I would, if I were in order, move a reduction in the salary of the First Lord of the Treasury, for the purpose of calling attention to the want of public accommodation provided by telegraph offices at rail- 662 way stations and in other ways; for I know from experience that these matters are really regulated by the Treasury. I object to the Post Office receipts being treated as a matter of Revenue by the Treasury, instead of the money being spent in developing the postal and telegraphic business all over the country.
§ It being half an hour after Five of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.