§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
1. 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.
*(7.15.) MR. SHAWLEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I propose on the Post Office Vote to raise a question of some importance in connection with the financial position of the Postal Service. 1414 I propose to show that there has been a large and growing increase in the gross Post Office revenue in the last few years, while at the same time there has been considerable neglect and delay in improvement of Postal Service. Few people are aware, I think, of the extent at which Post Office revenue has grown of late years; the figures are rather surprising. In 1860, when the Post Office had recovered altogether from the changes made by the introduction of penny postage, I find the net surplus revenue paid into the Exchequer, after deducting the cost of the packet service, was £440,000. Ten years later, in 1870, the net Post Office revenue had increased to £1,173,000, in 1880 it was £2,225,000, and in the year ending March 31st last the net surplus revenue paid into the Exchequer was £3,335,000. During the whole of that period, with few exceptions, the progress of the increase in Post Office revenue was continuous. In the years 1884 and 1887 there were slight reductions as compared with the previous years in consequence of very large capital expenditure, in the one case in making preparations for the introduction of the system of parcel post, and in the other cases by the purchase of an expensive site for the extension of Post Office and Savings Bank premises in the City of London at a cost of £300,000. With these exceptions, the increase has been continuous up to the present time. During the last four years the increase has been greater than it, ever was before. On the average, during the last four years the increase has been something like £200,000 a year, so that in the present year the Chancellor of the Exchequer is receiving about £600,000 more from the Post Office than he did when he came into office. The income derived from the Post Office is six times greater than it was 30 years ago, and three times greater than it was 20 years ago. The question is, has this large increase been obtained by neglect of improvements in the Service, which the public have a right to expect? The hon. Member for Canterbury in a recent pamphlet has enumerated no fewer than 60 different points on which he considers improvements might be carried out, and, without committing myself to all the various items, I feel bound to give it as my opinion that in the very large majority of cases 1415 the hon. Member has right on his side. Irrespective of those specific points, there are certain general heads in which improvement is required in the Postal Service. The means of cross communication, not only between rural districts, but also between towns of considerable importance, are deficient, and as the result letters take two days in transit from one district to another; there are large districts of great commercial importance in which there is no second delivery, and consequently a large proportion of their correspondence takes two days in transit; there are numerous cases in which suburbs of large towns are not included in the town delivery; there are a great many scattered hamlets in which there is no delivery at all and where inhabitants have to send a mile or two for their letters; there are important commercial centres where accelerations ought to be made, and especially of the foreign mails. We had the question raised a day or two ago in connection with the mails to the West of England, and there are other illustrations of the way in which improvements under this head might be effected; and, lastly, the Parcel Post greatly needs simplification and reduction in charges. Of course, all those improvements would involve additional expenditure in the first instance, but the almost invariable experience of the Post Office has been that such increased expenditure is eventually covered by increased income, and that usually in a comparatively short time. There is no question also that the Department has fallen behind in respect to offering increased public facilities, as compared with other countries. I can cite the Permanent Secretary, Sir Arthur Blackwood, as a witness, who, at the Jubilee Memorial Dinner a short time ago, said it was true that some countries which followed us in the postal reforms introduced by Sir Rowland Hill, had in some respects outstripped us in improvements since, and he confessed to some feeling of humiliation when at International Postal Conferences he had been asked if England, so long in the van of postal reform, was now going to take second place. Sir Arthur Blackwood went on to say, avoiding any criticism of the doings of his superiors, that he should like to see the Department administered on something like fair commercial prin- 1416 ciples to the public at large, offering increased facilities and extending its work in the country. Now, Sir Arthur Blackwood is one of the most loyal and courteous of public servants; he was trained at the Treasury, and has all the instincts of a Treasury official. So that such language, coming from him, is strong support to my contention that improvements and extensions of Post Office work are neglected. Why is it, then, that the Post Office has thus fallen behindhand in respect of improvements? That the Post Office has fallen somewhat behindhand in respect of improvements in the Service is not the fault of the officials of the Post Office. So far as my experience goes, they are still imbued with the traditions infused into the Department by the late Sir Rowland Hill, and it is the fact that from that time to the present almost all great reforms in the Department have been suggested by permanent officials; and in this connection I might mention the names of Mr. Scudamore, Mr. Tilley, and others, and I believe there are men now in the Service quite as able and quite as willing to institute improvements and reforms as the men I have mentioned. I do not believe it is due to my right hon. Friend the Postmaster General. I think my right hon. Friend himself must be conscious of the need of improvements in many directions. The Postmaster General is controlled and restrained by the superior powers at the Treasury, and I cannot but think that of late years the power of the Treasury over the Post Office has been increasing, and that the tendency has been to convert the Postmaster General into a subordinate officer of the Treasury. I cannot but think that it was to the Treasury my right hon. Friend referred when, at the jubilee dinner, he spoke of the progressive and reforming spirit of the Department being checked by the influence of his partner "Jorkins." It is, no doubt, a fact that the Treasury is supreme in all matters of Post Office expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as guardian of the public purse, and wishing, no doubt, to add to the income of the country, practically overrules the Postmaster General in all the applications which the latter makes to him. It is a fact that the Postmaster General cannot spend a single penny of the money which 1417 he receives from the Post Office on improvements of any kind, small or large, without the previous consent and approval of the Treasury. In all questions of extensions of offices, new branches, improvements of service, and additional deliveries, the Post Office is under the strictest rules laid down by the Treasury not to incur any expenditure until it can be shown that it will be accompanied by an increase of income sufficient to meet the increased expenditure. With regard to local improvements and more important matters, the consent of the Treasury has to be obtained, and I think I am right in saying that when a question goes to the Treasury it is perhaps necessarily regarded, in the main, from a Treasury point of view. I do not doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to some extent, takes into account the requirements of the public and the necessities of the Service; still, it is only in human nature that the right hon. Gentleman should consider the interests of the Exchequer from a revenue point of view rather than the interests of the Post Office from a public point of view. I cannot help remembering that whilst we have seen this continuing increase of revenue from the Post Office on the one hand, on the other we have complants that improvements are not made in the Post Office, and that there is neglect and delay in giving facilities which the public want. The effect of the Treasury curb is felt over the whole Postal Service. The Postmaster General himself does not like to be continually urging improvements on the Treasury when he knows that a large number of them will constantly be refused, and there is the same feeling among the officers of the Post Office below him. This affects also the question of economies which might be carried out, because there is a feeling among the officials that the money saved by economies is not used for the benefit of the Service, but goes to swell the Treasury surplus; and it is only human nature, therefore, that the Post Office officials are not so eager to effect economies as they might be if the savings effected went towards improvements in the Post Office itself. I think I am right in saying that, as a matter of fact, no other country in the world makes the same income out of its Post Office that 1418 we do. In some countries the expenditure is greater than the revenne.
§ * MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
Yes, in no case but our own is there any considerable revenue made out of the Post Office. I cannot but think that some change is-necessary in the relations between the Post Office and the Treasury which will give a freer hand to the Postmaster General in the institution of improvements in the Post Office itself; and that there should be a fixed limit to the income to be derived from the Post Office, so that facilities of all kinds to the public may be increased. I do not suggest that the whole surplus income should be given over for improvements in the Postal Service; that would mean a large increase of taxation in other directions, and I am not in favour of such a course. The surplus for this year is £3,335,000, from which there is to be deducted a certain amount of expenditure on buildings amounting to about £140,000. I am content to put the-limit at £3,000,000 a year. I should not propose that the limit should be statutory, but rather a Parliamentary and Departmental one; that there should be a general understanding that only £3,000,000 should be paid over by the Post Office to the Treasury. The suggestion which I make has met with the general approval of Chambers of Commerce throughout the country, and I think that the Government would do well to adopt a suggestion of this kind. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the interests of the public revenue, would do well to consider this matter, because he cannot but be aware that there is a growing discontent in commercial circles at the neglect of improvements which characterises the Post Office. During the last few years the increase in the surplus has amounted to £200,000 or £300,000 a year.
§ THE CHANCELLOR or THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN, St. George's,) Hanover Square
During the last five years it has only been about £100,000.
§ * MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I admitted at the commencement of my speech that in 1884 and also in 1887—in consequence of the very large capital expenditure in 1419 1885 on the preparations for the Parcels Post, and in consequence of payments to the extent of £300,000 having to be made for sites and the increase in the Post Office Savings Bank business in London—there was a temporary reduction, but I think the fairer way to deal with the matter is to take decennial periods, and I have given the figures for those periods. The Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot gainsay that the surpluses of the Post Office, taking into account the Packet Service has increased from £440,000 in 1860 to over £3,000,000 in 1890. There can be no doubt that the revenue has multiplied six times in 30 years. My belief is that there is a general impression throughout the country that Post Office improvements are being neglected and that postal facilities of all kinds that the public demand are being refused. I believe that unless something in the direction I have indicated is done, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer will risk a much larger and wider demand which may trench to a much greater extent on his surplus. I think, therefore, that in the interest of the revenue he has been receiving for the last few years, he will do well to adopt the suggestion which I have made, and to give a freer hand to the Postmaster General in the disposal of the surplus beyond a certain point, which point, as I say, I am ready to put at either £3,000,000 or £3,200,000.
§ (7.46.) THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON,) Leeds, N.
The right hon. Gentleman has given some interesting statements of what he considers to be the views of the public generally, and also the views of the Postmaster General and the Secretary to the Post Office. I understand that the speeches he quoted of the Secretary to the Post Office and of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General were both of them after-dinner speeches, and we are apt sometimes to allow a little latitude for the imagination under such circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman opposite desires, apparently, to fix some limit to the net revenue which is to be derived from the Post Office, and I gather from him that his object is that the balance of revenue received above a certain sum shall be expended in making improvements in the Postal Service 1420 generally. But neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Committee need trouble themselves about fixing a limit of revenue, because although during the last two or three years the revenue has shown a tendency to increase, yet the figures show that there has been an enormously increased expenditure in recent years on the improvement of the Postal Service; and I may say further-speaking as I do with some knowledge of the applications which have been made and are being made to the Treasury for increased expenditure—that within the next few years there must be a very large increase of expenditure in providing additional accommodation for increase of business. These is hardly one of our large towns—nay, there is hardly one of our middle-sized towns—where increased accommodation is not necessary and must be provided within a short time. In London at this moment there are schemes of improvement on foot which will cost some hundreds of thousands of pounds, and the sooner they are carried out the better it will be for the Service. In Liverpool, also, improvements are advocated. I was rather horrified to hear that the Postmaster General had received a deputation, who had suggested that he should buy a site in Liverpool, which I think will cost more than £300,000, and those improvements, and the extensions in connection with them, will involve an expenditure probably of not less than £500,000. In Glasgow, in Edinburgh, in Leeds, and in nearly all the large towns, with the exception of only two or three where additional provision is being completed, a large expenditure is pending which will involve an enormously increased charge upon the Post Office Department. It must be borne in mind that the conditions of the Parcels Post Service have very greatly increased the necessity for additional accommodation, and this accommodation has to be met in some cases at a very heavy charge in consequence of the sites required. Space has to be obtained very often in the most expensive parts of big cities. There has been an experiment made, which I believe the Postmaster General will be able to show has been of great advantage, and which has resulted, so far as London is concerned, in partially separating the great centre for the Parcels Post from those 1421 of the letter post and telegraphs. This expenditure will go on, and I am seriously afraid that the right hon. Gentleman's limit will become automatic from the extension of the Service itself. The right hon. Gentleman gives us figures from which he draws the comforting conclusion that the Post Office revenue is increasing at an enormous rate. He said, however, that in his opinion the Post Office was lagging behind. There is not a single piece of evidence in support of that statement. I do not believe the English Post Office lags behind. I have seen something of it both inside and outside, and I believe it keeps up with the times very well indeed. In the five years commencing 1879 and ending 1884, the total revenue of the Post Office was a little short of £37,000,000, and in the five years ending in the present year, the total revenue was a little over £45,000,000. Therefore, in that period there had been an increase on gross receipts of about £8,500,000, Very nearly the whole of that £8,500,000 has been given in improving the Postal Service, because the net Revenue during the same period has only increased by about £1,000,000. The money has been spent in increasing wages, increasing accommodation, increasing the Mail Service, increasing deliveries, and increasing expenditure in every way. This is a conclusive answer to the right hon. Gentleman, who says there has been nothing done for the improvement of the Postal Service. There has been a very large increase in the wages paid, and there have recently been changes which involve a very large additional outlay. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks the Treasury has within the last two years been exercising any pressure or unduly resisting any improvement which the Postmaster General recommends, and which, after full consideration, the Treksury think it possible to accept, I can assure him he is mistaken. The Treasury has always met the requirements of the Post Office in a reasonable spirit. I think we must, within the next few years, expect a large increase in expenditure; but as far as I know, the relations between the Treasury and the Post Office have never been marked by less friction than is now the case. The Treasury desires to 1422 supplement the efforts of the Postmaster General in giving to the country the benefit of an efficient and cheap Postal Service.
§ (7.55.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
To a large extent I share the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I think the Treasury acts as a very useful governor upon the expenditure of all the Government Departments. I have myself spent a longer time in Departments than at the Treasury, and I know it was the desire of my Department to get as much money as we could. I have no doubt that is more the case with the Post Office than in any other Department. Naturally, an enthusiastically patriotic Postmaster General desires to give the public as much accommodation as he can, and to derive as much credit as he can for so doing, and all the Departments are apt to make extraordinarily sanguine estimates of the results of reductions. Before I was a Member of this House I was counsel before the Parliamentary Committee which considered the purchase of telegraphs. Mr. Scudamore, the Secretary of the Post Office, was confident that he could buy the telegraphs for £3,000,000. I had the honour of being one of the counsel against him, and we took very good care that he did not purchase the telegraphs for less that £10,000,000. Since that time the telegraphs have never paid the interest on that expenditure. Then came our lamented friend, Mr. Fawcett, a great Post Office reformer, who was extremely sanguine as to the results of the Parcel Post in a pecuniary sense, and as to the receipts to be derived from the reduced telegraph rates. I do not know whether the revenue has yet recovered from these reforms. If so, it has barely done so, after the lapse of many years. It is necessary, therefore, to be cautious in these matters, and not to accept too readily estimates which are made as to the economical results of great reforms. Our experience shows that such reforms never have paid. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury has done scant justice to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). My right hon. Friend asks us that if a certain fixed sum is exceeded the surplus should go to the public. I think that is fair if the 1423 capital sum is fixed at a fair figure. The Post Office is conducted as a commercial concern, and it is the only commercial concern the Government have ever entered into without enormous loss. One peculiarity about the Post Office is that it is conducted with no working capital. In any other commercial concern any extraordinary demand is met from the capital account. The Post Office has always met capital charges out of its revenue. What I think the Government ought to try and do is to estimate what has been the capital expenditure upon the Post Office. I do not know whether it could be ascertained, but I daresay it could be approximately settled. Supposing the capital is fixed at £50,000,000, if you put the interest at 6 per cent. it would amount on the whole to £3,000,000 a year. The Government might very fairly say they were entitled to a commercial dividend of £3,000,000 a year, and that if they earned more than that the surplus should be given away in additional accommodation to the public. I am perfectly prepared to protect the revenue of the Post Office, and I think that, in a great commercial concern of this kind, there ought to be a fair commercial profit upon the money expended. At present the working expenses are about three-fourths of the gross receipts, and therefore it is a very expensive business to manage. Great demands are made upon the Post Office. I do not at all complain of those made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton). They are all in one direction. They are all abroad. I can understand that in view of his colonial connection; but I would ask the hon. Members to consider the interests of people at home.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
There is much to be done at home. Since the reforms of Mr. Fawcett, the telegraph system has not paid its working expenses until, I think, last year. A year or two ago I know it did not pay them by £100,000. The rule is, that telegraphic communication is not given except in places where it will pay. Well, in my opinion, if you have a surplus, your generosity should go rather in the direction of providing additional facilities at home than in giving reduced rates abroad.
§ (8.11.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr.GOSCHEN, St. George's,) Hanover Square
I certainly cannot complain of the tone of the two speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I am especially grateful for the support afforded to the Treasury by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. The relations between the Post Office and the Treasury, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Jackson) has said, are extremely pleasant at present. Of course, there must occasionally be differences between a Department which is so extremely active and ambitious as the Post Office, and a Department that must have some regard for the public purse. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Depate that the Post Office is not so entirely discouraged as he seemed to think. A great many applications, no doubt, are made to the Treasury. We have been able to grant many of them, and we have been compelled to refuse some. I would point out that there are other objections besides the objection of expense to the great extension of the Post Office, and to the adoption of all the plans proposed to them. I do not think it desirable to increase to any further extent the great army of those who are employed in the Service of the State. An increase of staff often involves an increase of space, and very often the very success of an experiment makes it necessary to secure additional accommodion with the result that any possible profit derived from the improvement itself is eaten up. Both the right hon. Gentlemen opposite have admitted that the sum of £3,000,000 would be a fair estimate of the revenue which might be reasonably claimed by the Post Office, and they have suggested that profits beyond that should be employed for the benefit of those who use the Post Office. But what would happen is this: If you gave away the surplus above £3,000,000, in one or two years, you would probably find in the third year that there was a large expenditure needed for buildings, and the revenue would fall below £3,000,000. There has recently been a great demand for sites, and great additional expense occasionally becomes necessary in connection with salaries. We have had to make considerable increases in the pay 1425 of telegraph clerks and in the remuneration of some of the Post Office employes. It has been shown that the growth of revenue has, in the main, been devoted to additional expenditure and not treated as additional profit. The net revenue was £3,000,000 five years ago, and it is now £3,340,000. Therefore, in the last five years the increase in the annual revenue has only been £300,000, while the amount that has properly gone in the improvement of the Service and to improving the position of the Post Office servants has been very much larger. I believe there has been a great misconception on this point. The opinion has been expressed that a very large portion of the increased revenue went to the State; but the figures I have given show that there has been much exaggeration on the subject. I really do not think there is much difference between ourselves on this side of the Committee and the right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I rather gather from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, in point of fact, the Post Office has been acting on the principle I laid down, because the profits were £3,000,000 some years ago, and they are about the same now.
In 1881–1882 the net revenue was £2,000,987, while in 1882–1883 it was £3,037,000. Therefore, as a matter of fact, the Post Office has practically acted under the check of the Treasury very much as was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, only they have not done so consciously. They have considered all the matters suggested, and they have assented to those which appear to be reasonable, while they have dissented from some which appear to be too costly. We cannot estimate in advance the cost of an improvement, seeing that the cost will increase with the additional hands required and the additional space which may have to be secured. I am inclined to think that there is force in the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, that when there is money to spare, it is not at all so certain that the best means of appropriating it is to reduce the ocean postage to one penny. We have paid regard to the sentiment that colonial and Indian postage should be put on a reasonable footing. We have devoted a certain sum to that purpose, but I confess it is 1426 fairly open to question whether in some parts of the country there might be an extension of telegraphic communication, even though it was not absolutely remunerative. We have not arrived at a point when the Telegraph Service is remunerative, looking at the enormous sum paid for the telegraphs which was sanctioned by a Committee of the House of Commons on which I had the honour to serve, and on which I divided occasionally in minorites of one and two against the enormous sums which the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby was unable to extract from the majority of the Committee. I have always held that the majority of the Committee was over-persuaded to pay twice for the same article. I hope that will be a warning to other Governments to be extremely careful before we embark upon the purchase of these gigantic undertakings.
§ *(8.23.) MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
I have no doubt the few remarks I am about to make will be received with disapproval on both Front Benches; but, nevertheless, I think it is necessary to make them. I am one of those who hold the doctrine that the Post Office ought not to be a tax collecting machine; that it ought to make such charges as will prevent the transmission of communications between citizens, being a tax on those who send them. I contend that any surplus ought to be applied in improvements and not in relief of taxation. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby that facilities at home should be first of all afforded, but what I wish to particularly urge upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Postmaster General is that the wages paid to the lower class of servants in the Post Office are not such as ought to be paid. At present there are very great temptations placed before very poorly-paid men. These temptations are increased by the neglect by the public of the Post Office Regulations. Thefts take place, and expenditure is incurred in detecting and prosecuting thieves. I submit that while the institution is a paying institution, there ought not to be persons paid not only starvation wages, but exposed to special temptation by having valuable property intrusted to them for 1427 delivery. There is no real relief to the nation in getting £3,000,000 from the Post Office and relieving taxation to that extent. The sum would be much better expended in facilities in out of the way districts and on telegraphs in connection with fisheries and other industries which would enable persons to contribute to the wealth of the State, and would produce greater economy in the end. (8.30.)
§ (9.0.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ *(9.3.) MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)
I have to make an appeal to the Postmaster General on behalf of a new Post Office for Liverpool. The case of Liverpool is a very urgent one. The grievance is one of old standing. The Liverpool Post Office is very much overcrowded, and, besides, it is placed in a very inconvenient situation for trade. The fact, too, that it is overcrowded, renders it very unhealthy for the employæs. They are crowded together in a most uncomfortable manner, and although the Postmaster has done everything in his power to mitigate their discomfort, there is no doubt that the work has entirely overgrown the premises, and there is great discontent among the employes on account of the way they are unavoidably treated. I appeal to the Postmaster General to give serious attention to the grievance of Liverpool in this respect. It has been going on for many years, and has always been getting worse, as the traffic and the Post Office work have increased. I suppose there is no town in the Kingdom whose trade and commerce has increased to a greater extent of late years than Liverpool, and the Post Office work has increased accordingly. Not only is the Post Office overcrowded; it is in a very bad situation. It is situated in a very poor —I may say a low—quarter of the town. It lay close to the Sailors' Home, where seamen are discharged, and which is frequented by foreigners, and everyone knows the accompaniments of such people. It is surrounded by public houses, and all sorts of coarse accompaniments. Many of the telegraphists employed in the Post Office are women, and in leaving the place they are sometimes subjected to insult, many of them being positively in 1428 dread of going home in consequence of the character of the surroundings. These facts are already known both to the Secretary to the Treasury and to the Postmaster General, and I think it is time something should be done to provide Liverpool with a proper General Post Office. As regards the general question, I think the employes, as a rule, are overworked, and that they ought to be better paid. I do not think the State should employ the cheapest labour it can obtain, but that the wages paid by the State should be ideal wages. That would prevent strikes and disorganisation in Government Departments. I am glad that the Postmaster General has lately made some substantial concessions to this deserving body of public servants. It should be the aim of the heads of Departments to keep the men in a state of contentment, and I therefore rejoice at every improvement made in their status.
§ (9.11.) MR. ATKINSON (Boston)
I was glad to hear the hon. Member testify to the good state of trade in Liverpool. It is a condition of things one might always expect when a Conservative Ministry is in power, and if my hon. Friend opposite will only assist in maintaining them in Office, I have no doubt he will continue to have cause for congratulation in this respect. I rose for the purpose of making one or two suggestions to the Postmaster General not of a local character. I wish to raise the question as to the manner in which we Members of Parliament are charged for letters which are re-addressed to us and by which the right hon. Gentleman is sweeping large profits into the common chest. I say it is unfair, especially to hard working Members of Parliament that not only should they be continually receiving letters from their constituents, asking them to vote in a particular way —although if those constituents would reflect upon the consistent speeches which were delivered at election times, as in my own case, they would know in which way the vote would be given—I repeat, I think it is rather hard on them that they should be charged for postage simply because those letters are re-addressed to them when their residence is outside the London area. In my case I have been subjected during the present Session to a fine of about 1429 £20 under these circumstances, and when we see the Department making profits to the extent of millions annually, I think we have a right to call on the Postmaster General to relieve us of that burden. It is his duty, I think, not to endeavour to make profits, but to transact the business of the country cheaply, and to devote any surplus which he may have to facilitate the mail traffic, and to decreasing postal rates.
§ *(9.15.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
A few weeks ago I addressed a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General in regard to the Petition which the countermen had forwarded to him; and the right hon. Gentleman, in reply, courteously informed me that he was considering the claims of these men, claims which, I believe, to be just, because they have many thousands of pounds passing through their hands every week, and in the main they are a very high-minded, honourable, and trustworthy body of servants. They are badly paid at the present moment, and the right hon. Gentleman will, I think, admit that their demands are fair and just. I wish now to ask him what decision he has come to upon their Petition,' and whether he is inclined to accede to the request which they have made. There are other matters which I desire to bring before the right hon. Gentleman in no spirit of complaint. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby was, I think, quite correct when he stated that many reforms in the Post Office were needed before we took in hand such changes as has been so frequently and strenuously urged by the hon. Member for Canterbury, who has so near his heart the question of Ocean Penny Postage. Now, I desire to ask the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the anomalous position in which the people of the United Kingdom are placed in regard to the book post. Hon. Members frequently receive from the Continent printed matter, enclosed in an envelope, which is not sealed, but which is left open in such a manner that officials of the Post Office can in an instant ascertain if the packet contains any written communication. Packages thus sent come at a cheap rate. Yet, if we desire to send similar packages from England to the Continent, we have to pay 1430 exactly doable what Frenchmen and Germans have to pay in forwarding them to us. I cannot understand why the people in the United Kingdom should not have the same privileges, and not be able to address communications to friends on the Continent at the same rate as people living on the Continent are enabled to do, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give that question his serious consideration, and introduce this much-needed reform. A few weeks ago I happened to have occasion to address a few hundred communications to friends on the Continent, and I considered it sufficient for my purpose if the envelope in which the communications were enclosed was cut open as is the custom on the Continent, so as to enable any officials in connection with the Post Office to ascertain if the package contained any printed matter. Had the envelope been sealed, the cost of postage would have been 5d. each package, because it weighed a trifle over the half ounce, and I therefore resorted to this simple and ingenious plan of cutting open the envelope, thinking by that means to secure the privilege of the halfpenny post; but I was informed by the Postmaster in my district that this could not be allowed; that it was absolutely necessary for the envelope to be cut open from corner to corner. I declined naturally to go to the expense of 5d. for each package, and consequently the Post Office lost a revenue of several pounds, simply because this unfortunate restriction was enforced. Another question to which I wish to call attention is that of carte telegrams which are in vogue on the Continent, and by means of which a man can send a message for a charge, I believe, of 3d. to his friends through a pneumatic tube, the message being delivered in another part of the city within the hour. Could not we have some such system adopted in this country?
§ * MR. CREMER
Of course, Sir, if you rule that this is out of order now, I will defer my remarks upon it until the Telegraph Vote comes before the Committee. In conclusion, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether the enormous revenue which he 1431 derives for the working of the machinery of the Post Office cannot be utilised for some of these reforms? I admit that, in the main, his management of the institution is economical, although, I have had to complain once or twice of ukases which he has issued, and which I believe to be tyrannical to the employæs. It was never contemplated that the Government should make a profit of two or three millions out of this Department. It was never intended that it should be worked for the mere purposes of profit. I think the men employed ought to be better paid than they are. I sometimes pity them for the work which they have to do. For instance, in the office which I occupy, they have to mount 40 or 50 steps in order to deliver my letters, and yet those letters are delivered with punctuality, and the men are remarkably courteous and obliging, although they are underpaid for the labours which they have to perform. We have been frequently told that the rate of wages should be governed by the law of supply and demand. If that doctrine were to be applied to the highest class of officials, as well as to the lowest ranks, well and good. If the right hon. Gentleman will permit me to say so, I think there are many men quite competent to discharge the duties of his office who would be willing to do so at a much lower remuneration than he receives. There are also many other very well paid officials in the Post Office, whose duties might be as efficiently performed at a less salaries than are now paid. I hold that we are not justified in applying this doctrine of political economy to the lower grade of servants in the Post Office and not to the higher grades. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give me an answer to the questions I have raised, and to say whether he is prepared to give these hard-working men an increase of 2s. or 3s. a week in their wages. I should also like to know what step he intends to take with regard to the countermen's Memorial—whether he will introduce the much-needed reform in the book post to which I have referred, and whether he will adopt the system of carte telegrams so advantageously and economically applied on the Continent of Europe?
*(9.28.) MR. CHANGING (Northampton, E.)
I wish to bring again before the 1432 Postmaster General the question which I raised last year, and to ask how far the reforms then promised with regard to the employment of postmen indoor and outdoor on Sundays have been carried into effect? I moved last year a reduction of the salary of the right hon. Gentleman, and he in reply made a very reassuring statement as to the policy of the Department. Will he now tell us what further steps he has taken in advance towards diminishing the labour of rural and urban messengers and of indoor officials on Sundays? The arguments I advanced last year were based on the statements of Sir Arthur Blackwood, that there were still between 1,000 and 1,200 rural messengers obliged to work every Sunday, and I then received an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that certain sums had been set apart for diminishing still further the number of those employed on Sundays as rural messengers. I hope that to-night he will be able to announce that the Department has seen its way to further reduce the number of men so employed, and that the rule of alternate employment on Sundays has been generally adopted at but a trifling extra cost to the country. With regard to the indoor officials, the facts were still most striking. Of course, the difficulty of reform in their case was much greater, as the skill and knowledge possessed by those officials necessarily limits their number; but, still, we were told that in the provinces many of these officials were working seven Sundays out of eight, and three Sundays out of four, and obviously there was a large margin for reform in that respect. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to state that something more has been done in that direction. The general policy of the Department has been fully discussed, but I cannot part with this Vote without saying that, while I recognise that the Department has been vigorously and economically, and wisely managed in many ways, it is, nevertheless, the duty of any Member dealing with this question in this House to record his opinion that the right hon. Gentleman has not shown that promptitude and tact in dealing with the Post Office employæs which would have prevented the irritation which has arisen, reaching the point it did; and that, probably, had he seen 1433 his way to the application of these remedies and reforms more rapidly, that action would have saved many good and honest men who went out on strike from being dismissed for insubordination; so that instead of running themselves as they have done, they might now have been earning a fair remuneration and living happily upon it. I sincerely regret that these reforms, good as they are, were not introduced in time to avoid the loss of these men's services. The hon. Member for Haggerston (Mr. Cremer) has made one or two practical suggestions as to the Post Office work I should like to ask one question of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the method of dealing with registered letters. In the United States, when a registered letter is sent, the sender receives back, through the Post Office, a signed receipt from the receiver. I wish to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered the possibility of introducing such a practice into this country. I think that, if the difficulties in the way are not found to be insuperable, great advantage might be derived from the extra security afforded by this method.
§ (9.33.) GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY (Hammersmith)
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to go a step further, and do something that would place us in a better position in regard to the general delivery of letters. An hon. Member has said he did not think it desirable that the Government should pay large wages to the postmen; but, for my part, I regard it as somewhat mean on the part of the Government that they should pay the lowest market rate of wages to the servants they employ. I trust the Government will in future see their way to place these men in a somewhat better position. With regard to the remark of the last speaker, that the recent reforms might have been made earlier, I would point out that the time of the Postmaster General, and the heads of other Departments of the State, is so much occupied in this House in answering the wearisome iteration and reiteration of speeches by hon. Members opposite, that they are unable to give the requisite attention to the performance of the duties connected with their Departments. I regret, for my own part, that the Postmaster General could not see his way 1434 much earlier than he did to ameliorate the condition of the poorer class of employes in the Post Office, but, at the same time, I think there are great excuses for him and for other Members of the Government placed in a similar position. Although Ministers may, under such circumstances, make mistakes, I shall, nevertheless, support them [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but, at the same time, what I have said is a fact which has been proved by experience, and one of which right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench have just reason to complain. Having said this, I merely wish to ask the Postmaster General whether he cannot go a little further in improving the position of the letter carriers, a matter which, I think, fairly demands his serious consideration.
§ *(9.35.) MR. J. C. STEVENSON (South Shields)
I do not rise to urge the Postmaster General to do anything more than endeavour to make the public better acquainted with the accommodation which the Post Office already affords. I would call his attention to the Post Office Guide, a book which is issued by the Department for the information of the public. I think that if the right hon. Gentleman would issue a fresh edition of that book, containing information of a plainer and more simple character, much good would be done. The regulations as to the postal charges on letters are coached in language which is capable of great improvement. The public at present possess means of accommodation which they do not know of. For instance, it is not generally known that an arrangement exists whereby a person, having sent a letter to be forwarded by a foreign mail, may have an addition to that letter or an independent communication forwarded by telegraph at one half-penny a word on payment of the ocean letter postage. I myself sent a letter which left a provincial post office for the mail from Queenstown to America, and, when I asked if what I have just referred to could be done, the postmaster told me that no such arrangement existed, but it fortunately happened that one of the clerks did know of that arrangement, which will be found on p. 417 of the Post Office Guide. It is extremely useful that the public should know that by means of a telegram they may overtake 1435 letters going to foreign parts by adding the ocean postage to the inland telegraph charge, but no one would ever find this out by reading the paragraph relating to the matter which appears in the Post Office Guide.
(9.37.) MR. HEKNIKER HEATON"
I have spent much time in investigating the accounts of the Post Office, and I have found that for many years the Surplus Revenue has been nearer £4,000,000 than £3,000,000, as stated by the right hon. Member for Bradford. But the way in which the Post Office accounts are presented is so confusing that it is very difficult for an outsider to understand them. Matters that ought to be kept separate are mixed up with one another in a very unsatisfactory manner. The whole of the expenditure in regard to the purchase of sites, for instance, is charged to Revenue Account by the Post Office Department, a thing which no private firm would do. Again, in seeking to get at the exact accounts, I find that up to a certain period the whole of the packet service was charged to the Post Office General Account, whereas in other countries, such as France, Germany, and America, it is properly charged to a separate account. Another point to which I wish to draw attention is this —that the question of the payment of large sums to foreign Governments in connection with the mail service ought to be submitted to Parliament, which, under the present system, has no means practically of checking or dealing with them. I have no hesitation is asserting that the expenditure of that money without its being submitted to the House of Commons is illegal. The fact is that the Post Office plan of dealing with the accounts would not be tolerated in any large private firm. I am most anxious that the Department should present to the House of Commons a business-like and commercial statement of its transactions. If we had a statement of that character, showing the expenditure on buildings, and the absolute receipts from all quarters, we should have a more satisfactory state of things than at present. The actual Revenue receipts of the Post Office are £13,000,000 a year, while the actual expenditure does not amount to £9,000,000. These facts can be proved by the Treasury statement, but there 1436 were no fewer than three different statements of account in connection with the Post Office presented last year, and the whole three differed one from another. I think the suggestion that has been made by the right hon. Member for Bradford, that the surplus above a fixed sum of Revenue should be devoted to the improvement and cheapening of the Postal and Telegraph Services, is a fair one, and should be taken into consideration, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer has evaded the main point, and says it cannot be done, and points out that the Revenue is not so much as we say it is, and that if it amounts to less than £3,000,000, the proposition of the right hon. Member for Bradford would be of no avail. But if you fix the amount at £3,000,000, and the Revenue does not reach that amount, it is only fair to say there is nothing available for improvements; but, if on the contrary, that amount is exceeded, the excess ought to be devoted to improving and cheapening the Postal Telegraph Services. Some compliments have been paid by the right hon. Member for Bradford to the administration of the Post Office. I am not prepared to bring before the House the numerous grievances which justify me in differing from the right hon. Gentleman, but I venture to assert that any officer, however eminent, entering the Post Office, at once becomes as stubborn and obstinate as any official in the country. The moment Sir Rowland Hill entered the Post Office he became an official in every sense of the word—obstinate, obstructive, and objected to every proposal for affording facilities to the public. I need only point to the troubles which arose between Sir Rowland Hill and the Press, especially in the case of the Times, to indicate the way in which official obstruction operated. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby said that most of the reforms which I have advocated are directed to improving communication with our people abroad, but the right hon. Gentleman forgets that the profits we derive from such communication with our friends abroad are so large as amply to justify our asking for a small reduction of the rates. From Australia we receive £300,000 a year in small money orders, and from America as much as£l,250,000. I have not the slightest doubt that 1437 before another year is passed my right hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench will be willing to accede to my request for an Imperial penny postage. One of the local grievances we suffer from is the charge for re-addressing letters. Any foreign letter coming to England is re-addressed, if necessary, without charge, whereas an English letter requiring to be re-addressed in this country undergoes an extra charge of 50 or 100 per cent. I understand the Postmaster General is in favour of this change, but his applications on the subject have been refused by the Treasury. I believe it can be shown that considerably more than half the applications made to the Treasury, for even the most petty conveniences, have been refused. It was only in 1888 that I asked the Postmaster General to institute a very small reform, namely, that the charge of 2d. for the receipt of sixpenny telegrams should no longer be made. He promised that that should be done, but four months ago he wrote tome saying that, in accordance with his promise, he had made application to the Treasury, and that the Treasury had refused it. A more humiliating confession I never heard of the sort of petty annoyances to which the right hon. Gentleman is subjected by the Treasury. In another case, a stamp having fallen off a letter a charge of 2d. was made for fixing the unused stamp upon the letter. With regard to the sending of circulars in open envelopes, I have urged the right hon. Gentleman to introduce that reform, but he has been unable to do it. Another reform I wanted is, that the use of postal cards, upon which we can affix stamps, should be allowed. That is a common-sense reform, yet the Treasury will not grant it. I wish to know how long we are to wait for a reform with respect to the supplements to illustrated papers, which are required to bear a date before the Post Office will carry them. Before sitting down I wish to ask when will the reduced rate of postage with India and Australia come into operation? These parts of the Empire have agreed to it, and are anxiously waiting for the great boon to be conferred upon them. There is no difficulty in the matter, and yet we are told, in answer to repeated questions, that all the colonies in the British Empire must agree before it is carried out.
§ (10.0.) THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES,) Cambridge University
I would point out to the Committee that, however interesting and attractive may be the principle that there should be no such thing as a Post Office Surplus, the question is whether the House of Commons would assent to such a principle when it is recognised that the adoption of the policy suggested means additional taxation to the extent of £3,000,000 a year. I must say I think the day is very distant when the House of Commons is likely to accept the very interesting and attractive theory that there should be no surplus derived from working the Post Office, when it is recognised that the adoption of the policy suggested would mean additional taxation to the extent of £3,000,000 a year. The hon. Member for Northampton used an expression with regard to the lower grades of postmen which was, perhaps, rather rhetorical; and he also suggested that their wages are too low to be compatible with honesty. I hope no wages can be too low for honesty in this country. I trust it will never be the case that there will be found working men who will put forward as an excuse for dishonesty that their wages are not so large as they should be.
§ * MR. BRADLAUGH
I did not put it quite so broadly as that, I think I put it that the temptation to a poor man entrusted with articles of value was more than he could resist when he was underpaid.
§ MR. RAIKES
I appreciate that view of the case. There have been cases of dishonesty amongst the postmen, but those who are most experienced in these matters assure me that the cases of dishonesty in the service of the Post Office which can in any way be connected with absolute poverty are very rare. Cases of dishonesty are mostly to be traced to bad habits or bad company. Considering the extraordinary amount and value of the property passing through the Post Office the number of offences is extremely small, and the Post Office quite holds its own with the other Public Departments with regard to honesty. With regard to what fell from the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) his speech formed something of an object lesson illustrative of the speech of the 1439 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt). The hon. Member found this a suitable occasion to press upon the Government the claims of Liverpool to be provided with a new Post Office, the site for which would cost something like £250,000, and the building £150,000 more. There is, therefore, a demand upon the Post Office surplus for something like £400,000 in respect of one great and wealthy community. I do not at all deny that the Post Office at Liverpool is not in the most convenient part of the town, and I do not believe that the Post Office buildings are the best adapted for the purpose. I should be extremely glad if I could see my way to find a better site, and provide better buildings for Liverpool, but I think that the hon. Member for Flintshire must remain satisfied with this general statement upon my part; and, at all events, it is well that Liverpool should bear in mind that it will be necessary that Liverpool itself should come forward with something in the shape of an offer to get rid of the premises at present occupied, and which, at all events, can be made to do for some years longer, before the Government can undertake the enormous expenditure of providing new premises. I am happy to take the opportunity of correcting the hon. Member's statement as to the insanitary condition of the present building. I have had inquiry made into the subject, and I find the health of the staff of Liverpool quite up to the average of the staffs of ordinary Post Offices. The hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Atkinson) referred to a question which he has frequently mooted in this House, namely, the charge for re-direction of inland letters. I cannot see why letters should be carried free a second journey, which involves exactly the same amount of cost to the Post Office as the first journey. I admit, however, that since letters coming from abroad can be re-directed free, there does seem some injustice in charging for re-direction in the case of home letters. This forms one of the subjects now being inquired into by a Departmental Committee, with a view to legislation early next Session. As to the London countermen, I am glad to inform the hon. Member who spoke from below the Gangway on the opposite side of the House, that, under the new regula- 1440 tions promulgated a few weeks ago, these men will reap substantial benefit, a higher maximum rate of pay being obtainable by those in both the first and second class. As to the question of open envelopes being conveyed at book post rates, the matter is being inquired into by the same Committee, and must, therefore, stand over until next year. I hope to be able next year to make some positive proposal on the matter. With regard to the observations of the hon. Member for North am ptonshire, who pressed me as to Sunday labour, the policy of the Department is continually to diminish Sunday labour, and during the past year I have been steadily pursuing that policy in the case of certain classes of rural postmen. Indoor labour, being skilled, is not so easily dealt with; but, under the new arrangement which has just been sanctioned by the Treasury, sorting clerks in the provinces will, in future, receive extra pay for Sunday labour. There has been some misunderstanding as to the terms of the engagement of these clerks, which are different from those of their London brethren. The provincial clerks are engaged for 50 hours per week, 48 hours on week-days and two on Sundays, while the London clerks are engaged for 48 hours only, and receive extra pay for Sunday labour. Under the new arrangement, therefore, the provincial clerks may be said, in a sense, to be paid for Sunday labour twice over. With regard to the Hammersmith Post Office, which my hon. and gallant Friend (General Goldsworthy) wishes to see raised in rank, if I cannot do all the hon. and gallant Gentleman asks, I hope I shall be able to do something in the direction indicated. As to the question raised by the hon. Member for Shields, the question of simplifying and reducing the tables of postage was the raison d'etre of the Departmental Committee I have already referred to, and was the first subject I asked them to inquire into. I hope that in that direction also I shall be able to introduce legislation next Session. I do not wish to revive the question of the position of the postmen. The hon. Member for North am ptonshire (Mr. Channing) thinks the recent unfortunate difficulties might have been avoided if I had had more tact. I daresay if the hon. 1441 Member had been in my position a display of tact would not have been wanting. But, at all events, we do our best in the Public Service, and I am inclined to believe, now that we have got rid of the outside disturbing element, that the relations between the postmen and their official chiefs are likely to be of a harmonious and satisfactory character. I speak from the experience of the interviews I have had with the postmen. I think it necessary to say that before the late disturbances I had on the anvil a scheme for improving the position of the non-established Force, which was before the Treasury, and if the disturbances had not taken place it would have been promulgated some time ago. I am happy to say that I have obtained the sanction of the Treasury to my proposals, which I believe will tend to improve the position of the non-established postmen who have remained true and loyal. I wish to correct one misapprehension. It is supposed that the position of the Government is that only the market value should be paid for labour of this sort. Those who sat in the Committee will remember that I laid down a different doctrine the other day. My own view is, that while the market value must be the governing consideration, because we are not dealing with our own money, but with the money of the taxpayers, the taxpayers would wish that, in applying that standard to those in the Public Service, we should always bear in mind that a great Government should treat its employes liberally. I have long considered that the wages which the non-established men are receiving, though they may be suitable in the case of boys, are not adequate in the case of adults. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker-Heaton) has gone over some familiar ground. The hon. Member has dealt with the question of account, which, I am afraid, must remain an open question between him and the Post Office. I only wish I had the surplus the hon. Member would give me. I have, however, to be content with the somewhat smaller surplus which is shown by the official figures. I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member that the purchase of sites should come from capital, but as we have no capital account, that charge must come out of the Revenue of the year. The question 1442 of half-penny stamps on cards is one which is occupying the attention of the Departmental Committee. I wish I could state when the new postal rates to the colonies and India will begin; but I am certain the time cannot be long deferred. Certain questions have arisen with regard to dealing with India, and the Committee will understand that if two mails travel together in the same ship, and form part of the same post, it is in the highest degree desirable to deal with them together. I hope that an arrangement with regard to India will be soon completed, and when it is, I shall be glad to announce to the House the beginning of the new rates. I will not inflict on the Committee a repetition of the reasons which have led the Government to decline to adopt a system of Ocean Penny Postage. I think it was rather unfortunate that in this year in particular, when the civilised world has been celebrating the jubilee of the Penny Post, which was established by the exertions of Sir Rowland Hill, the hon. Gentleman should have thought it his duty to speak of that great man as "an obstinate and obstructive official." I hope that those who appreciate the merits of that description of Sir Rowland Hill will be able to discount the value of any of the hon. Gentleman's statements with respect to the present Postmaster General. I thank the Committee for listening to this somewhat discursive speech, and I hope hon. Members will now allow the Vote' to pass, particularly as we have before us another Post Office Vote which may give rise to some discussion.
§ (10.27.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
I do not wish to detain the Committee long, but I think I am justified in occupying some little time on this occasion. I am glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman has a scheme ready for dealing with the postmen not on the general staff, and I hope it will be a generous one. At the same time, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that there is a strong opinion that that portion of the Service should be kept as low as possible. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that good relations now exist between himself and the postmen. I would appeal to him to say whether, the outside element having now gone, he cannot treat the men who, unfortunately, 1443 forgot themselves on a recent occasion, in a generous spirit, and take a very large number of them back into the Service again. I want to know whether, within the past few days, men in the sorting service have been called upon to give an explanation of their conduct for having shown some sympathy with the postmen at the time of the strike. I desire also to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give me any information as to what progress is being made in the consideration of the Memorial which was presented to him by the London sorting staff. The staff are very anxious to have the questions raised in the Memorial settled, especially when they know that the Memorial of another Department, presented after theirs, has been dealt with. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will also say whether the female sorters in the Savings Bank and Postal Order Department will come within the scope of the alterations he proposes to make?
§ (10.34.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
I wish to call attention to the transference of mails at Kingstown and Holyhead. I gathered from an answer made the other day by the President of the Local Board of Trade (Sir M. Hicks Beach), that the service cannot be perfected, because the Post Office and the Railway Companies are somewhat reluctant in assisting the Board of Trade in the matter. The boat service is at present one of the best carried out in the United Kingdom, and I do not think I need do more than call the attention of the Postmaster General to the delay which occurs very frequently on both sides of the Channel, owing to the means of transferring the mails from the trains to the steamers and from the steamers to the trains. I do not press my right hon. Friend for an answer at the present moment, but I would like to call his attention to the fact that passengers and the public at large are much inconvenienced by the present delay in the transfer of mails, and I earnestly hope the Post Office will see its way to use a little effort with the Railway Companies to induce them to carry out the improvement,
§ (10.35.) MR. BURT (Morpeth)
I wish to join my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. J. Rowlands) in his appeal with regard to the men who have 1444 recently been dismissed from the Post Office. A few days ago the Postmaster General promised to make an investigation into the case of these men, but he has not, in the speech he has just delivered, made any reference to the matter. Considering the result of that unfortunate dispute, I think the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to act with magnanimity and generosity, and I trust he may see his way to reinstate, if not the whole, a great number of the men dismissed.
§ *(10.37.) MR. KELLY (Camberwell)
I am anxious to put a question to the Postmaster General with reference to-the system of opening letters in the Post Office. Hon. Members sitting opposite are constantly in the habit of asserting that their letters are opened, and there are few who have at one time or another darkly hinted at something of the kind. The hon. Member for West Mayo (Mr. Deasy) has asserted that when he went to Australia his letters were opened, and the charge which he then made against a postmaster there had a singular and amusing result, as the Committee will remember. I, therefore, think I am justified in asking the Postmaster General whether there is any truth in these allegations. I feel all the more justified in putting the question because of the remarks of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) made at a banquet given in his honour, of the 28th June last. Speaking of the day of the memorable Division which took place on the 19th June (which he characterised as a critical and snatched Division), the hon. Member for the City of Cork said that had he and his Colleagues known the Division was to be taken they would have been present, and he added—We could not send out a Whip because it is a notorious fact that Government open our letters, and if we had had the time to send out a Whip it would have defeated its object.There may be times when there is some justification for opening letters, but it is an act which the country would resent very bitterly if done when no real necessity existed for it. As I understand, the opening of letters can only be done on the warrant of the Home Secretary. No one can suggest that there is now the slightest ground for opening letters of hon. Members opposite, 1445 or, so far as I know, at any time since 1886. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is a fact that the letters of hon. Members opposite are opened, and whether, since he has been Postmaster General, the Home Secretary has upon a single occasion given his warrant authorising the opening of any letter of any Irish Member?
§ (10.40.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
I have put down an Amendment to the Supplementary Estimate, but I do not propose to move it, because, if I did, I should be precluded from drawing attention to a local grievance of my own, which I have already submitted to the Postmaster General. Burntisland is not a very large town, but it is a very important commercial place. As soon as the Forth Bridge was opened it was placed very much in the position of Aberystwith, that is to say, its letters were carried past it, and then sent back later in the day, but too late for business men. I am always for economy, and I know the difficulty the Postmaster General has in dealingwith Railway Companies. But, at the same time, up to the present, Burntisland has enjoyed excellent postal facilities, and it is rather hard it should now be placed in a position of peculiar disadvantage. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will consider the matter as favourably as he can. With regard to the Motion I have on the Paper, let me say I think we ought to give to the Post Office servants something more than the market rate. We require these people to surrender a certain part of their civil rights, and we ought to bear that in mind in remunerating them. I have had some official experience, and I am ready to acknowledge that the Post Office took the best stand of all the Departments in the recent disputes. We have been given to understand that the Postmaster General has made some recommendation with regard to the salaries of the unestablished postmen. It is well the right hon. Gentleman should give us some information as to the nature of the increase in wages he proposes, and as to the reason for the proposal. There is one matter I have to express a little doubt in regard to, and that is his proposal that there should be no deduction in case of absence from sickness. I am inclined to think it is an excellent plan that in cases of 1446 short and casual absence from sickness no deduction should be made, but we know that people very often stop away on account of sickness, when they know that they are not to lose anything. People who have to make their money from day to day are very slow to lay up. Again, I think the Postmaster General will find that if there is no deduction, a good many men will not take care of their health. There are cases, for instance, in which sickness is caused by men's own fault.
§ (10.47.) MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I desire to elicit from the right hon. Gentleman a satisfactory explanation on a point in regard to which I gave him a notice some days ago: it relates to the conduct of the Secretary to the Post Office attending a meeting at Exeter Hall. Some months ago a considerable amount of litigation took place in connection with the detention of children by a Dr. Barnardo. The Court of Queen's Bench at last issued a writ of habeas corpus, and intimated to Dr. Barnardo that unless he surrendered or produced the body of a certain child, who had been removed through his instrumentality to Canada,, he would be committed to prison. Upon that decision, an advertisement was issued to the effect that a mass meeting would be held in Exeter Hall, on the 10th December, 1889, that Sir Arthur Blackwood, K.C.B., would take the chair, and be supported by a great number of well known Christian workers, that the meeting would be addressed by Dr. Barnardo, who would place before the meeting all the facts in the Gossage case, and that it was earnestly desired that the meeting should be a triumphant rejoinder to the strictures so recently passed by the Court of Law, and re-echoed by the public Press, upon Dr. Barnardo. Knowing the position of Sir Arthur Blackwood, and the constitution in great part of the institution of which he was so important an official, I thought it incumbent upon me to write to the Postmaster General, drawing his attention to the matter. I pointed out in my letter that it was evident an attack was to be made on a portion of the community who are Catholics, and that I felt sure the right hon. Gentleman could not have been made aware of the contemplated action of the Secretary to the Post Office. The Postmaster 1447 General replied to me from Wales. He said he had communicated with Sir Arthur Blackwood, and was good enough to comment upon the temperate and conciliatory tone of my communication. I received the right hon. Gentleman's letter on the 9th of December, and the meeting was held on the 10th. Sir Arthur Blackwood was in the chair, and had, of course, to listen to the speech of Dr. Barnardo. Dr. Barnardo said he was most anxious to avoid making the least reflection on the learned Judges, but he went on to name two Judges, and only two, whom a very large portion of the public knew very well to be Roman Catholics. Speaking of the case of one child, he said—In that particular case the mother was a Roman Catholic and the father was a Protestant, or had been before he died. Well, to cut a long story short, I was able to send that child away, so that he could not be got at. I did not break the law, but I got the child away, and he is away now and doing very well.Further on he mentioned the name of Mr. Justice Day. He said—I went hack into Court and said to Mr. Justice Day, 'My Lord, we have had these children for years; they are now going to leave us; cannot these lads have the privilege of three or four minutes conversation with them in the corridor alone?' Mr. Justice Day said, 'Certainly not, unless the Solicitor is present.' I put that to you to show that where religious feeling is strong you must remember—I say with all respect—even Judges are but men.He added—If religious prejudice was not behind, you? would never have the bitter strictures coming from the Bench that have got into the papers about me.And so Dr. Barnardo redeemed his promise of making a triumphant rejoinder to the strictures of the Bench. I do not complain of Dr. Barnardo; what I complain of is, the conduct of Sir Arthur Blackwood attending the meeting. In fairness to Sir Arthur Blackwood, however, I am bound to say there is more than one passage in his speech which goes to deprecate any extreme view of his conduct. He said he felt obliged, as a Vice President of Dr. Barnardo's Homes, to be present to show and express his unabated confidence in Dr. Barnardo's work, to stand by his friend, even if he had made a mistake. He also said he had received warning that the leading Roman Catholic newspaper, the Tablet, had written to the 1448 effect that the facts would be laid before the House of Commons. [Cheers.] Well, I can assure the hon. Gentleman who cheers that passage that I am not here to defend the Tablet. I do not attach importance to it, and far from considering it a leading Catholic paper, I think it anti-Catholic, and that it has done immense damage to religion. Sir Arthur Blackwood went on to say that it mattered little to him that Roman Catholic Members had expressed an intention to take up the position that his-taking part in a public meeting of this kind was evidence of his unfitness to hold the position of permanent head, under the Postmaster General, of a Department employing 100,000 servants, and to deal impartially with Roman Catholic servants of the Crown. He denied that anyone could charge him during the time he had held his official position with having allowed his deep, his extremely deep, religious convictions to interfere for one moment with the discharge of his duty to the State, or to influence him against (impartial dealing with any man whose religious convictions happened to differ from his own. Well, I think I have stated the facts of the case. I do not want to blame Sir Arthur Blackwood for his deep religious convictions, and the fact that these convictions are of a particular complexion is nothing to me. On that account he will never meet with the slightest objection or blame from me. My point is this: here is a public official, almost supreme head of a Department in which, as he says, he has 100,000 men under him—and of these a very considerable number belong to that portion of the community which this meeting was called to denounce and charge with conspiracy. I ask, is it possible after this public manifestation of his feelings that officials under him can look to him with confidence, and trust to be dealt with impartially where their religious convictions are known to be different from his own? I do not think it is reasonable to expect it. As a fact, there exists among the Post Office staff very considerable distrust as to their prospects of promotion or fair treatment where the religious feelings and convictions Sir Arthur Blackwood mentioned have any room for play. I desire to emphasise the case in this respect. It was a case in which the head of the Depart- 1449 ment, the Postmaster General himself, had communicated to his subordinate in reference to the matter, and after that communication was made, rightly and courteously made—and so far as I am concerned I have nothing to complain of in the action of the Postmaster General— this meeting was held, a meeting which I say it was utterly unfit for a man in the position of Sir Arthur Blackwood to attend, having regard to the decision of Judges on a most important point affecting the liberty of the subject, and where they had threatened to exercise their jurisdiction in a very extreme manner. Sir Arthur Blackwood went out of his way to attend a meeting advertised as for the purpose of making what was described as "a triumphant rejoinder to some strictures recently passed by the Court of Queen's Bench," and I say that was a line of conduct highly improper. With all due respect to the observations of the Secretary to the Post Office, I beg the Committee to remember that within recent times officials have been subjected to reprimand and punishment because they ventured to openly manifest their presence at meetings of a political character. Not very long ago a customs officer in Norfolk was removed, at his own expense, because he addressed a question to a speaker at a Primrose meeting. Well, if this is the way subordinates are treated, why is the Secretary to the Post Office treated differently? At least there is as much objection to attending a meeting convened to denounce the findings of Judges on a subject which excited a great deal of feeling in the country, as in attending as an ordinary citizen a public meeting. Yet in the one case an insignificant offender is visited with pains and penalties, while Sir A. Blackwood is allowed to go scot free, after attending this meeting in spite of a communication which he had received from the head of his Department. I do not wish to move a reduction in the Estimate, certainly I do not want to embarrass the Postmaster General, or detain the Committee. I should be glad to relieve the right hon. Gentlemen from the many hours attention he has given to these discussions; yet I do wish for a few minutes to prevent this subject being crossed by a number of others of local interest, and to secure this I formally move a reduction of the 1450 Vote by £100 in respect to the salary of the Secretary to the Post Office.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A be reduced by £100, part of Salary of the Secretary to the Post Office."—(Mr. Arthur O'Connor.')
§ *(11.10.) MR. RAIKES
I presume I should not be in order, after the Amendment has been moved, in replying to questions put by several hon. Members relating to other branches of the Vote, and, therefore, I will confine myself to this particular matter. I very well remember the correspondence with the hon. Member opposite on this subject last year, but I confess that until recently I had thought that the hon. Member would have been satisfied with having made a protest against what he regards as an improper proceeding, and that he would not have thought it necessary to bring the matter before the Committee. I am not here to defend the terms of the notice convening the meeting, but Sir A. Blackwood was not in any way responsible for them; he consented to occupy the chair on that occasion because the person in whose immediate interest the meeting had been called is one who is an old friend of his, with whom he has been largely associated in various philanthropic and benevolent works, and he considered that it would be an unmanly act on his part not to stand by his friend when, as he believed, that friend was exposed to a good deal of obloquy, and desired an opportunity of clearing his character. I think it is impossible for any impartial man, reading through Sir Arthur Blackwood's speech, to come to the conclusion that he impugned the conduct of the Judges, or made random or reckless charges against our Catholic fellow-subjects, and I trust there is no such feeling as the hon. Member describes among Post Office employés of distrust of Sir Arthur Blackwood's general action in the Department, in consequence of proceedings at that meeting. Roman Catholics in the Post Office have no reason whatever to suspect Sir A. Blackwood of being prejudiced against them. I know that, on a recent occasion, when his Private Secretary was disabled, he secured the services in that most confidential position of a Roman Catholic Member of the Post Office staff. I 1451 think that is sufficient evidence that members of that religion have no right to expect other than fair and generous treatment. I think the Committee will agree with me that, having regard to the feeling which is always excited if there is any attempt to draw tightly the rules which preclude Civil Servants from taking part in public meetings. I should certainly have rendered myself liable to a good deal of criticism, and, I think, just criticism, if I had called upon an eminent public servant to absent himself from a meeting of a non-political character in which he had personal reasons for wishing to make himself an active participator. If the fact of Sir A. Blackwood's presence at this meeting has given offence to any class of his fellow-citizens I much regret it, but I am not prepared to censure Sir A. Blackwood for having done nothing more than exercise one of the rights appertaining to every subject of the Queen.
§ *(11.15.) SIR R. N. FOWLER (London)
As I was present at the meeting and moved a resolution, I may be allowed a word or two. The hon. Member opposite seems to think it was a political meeting, but most emphatically it was not so.
§ * SIR R. N. FOWLER
You may call it a religious meeting, and, to a certain extent, it was so. It was attended by gentlemen belonging to all Protestant denominations, and, politically, I suppose the majority were attached to the Party opposite. But it was not a political meeting in any sense. What Sir Arthur Blackwood's political views are I do not know, and as a Civil Servant he takes no active part in politics; but my impression is that his political views are largely in sympathy with those of hon. Gentlemen opposite. But this is only my impression. My personal acquaintance with Sir Arthur Blackwood is slight, but I feel it an honour to have been associated with one who has shown so much devotion to the good of his fellow men, and in promoting the best interests of his countrymen.
§ (11.16.) MR. A. O'CONNOR
I am afraid the hon. Baronet has misunderstood the drift of my observations. I do not want to raise any religious question, and I did not suppose that this was a 1452 political meeting. The meeting, no doubt, was attended by those who represented various shades of non-Catholic opinion. I do not object to that; they were acting as they thought fit. What I object to is, that a public servant in the position of Sir Arthur Blackwood could reconcile his action with that impartiality which a man in his position should maintain. He not only attended the meeting, but, as Chairman, he sat and listened while two Judges were denounced by name for the exercise of what they thought their duty on the Bench. That appears to me extraordinary conduct for a man in Sir Arthur Blackwood's position. Remember there are many men on these Benches who have been sent to prison in Ireland for words used by somebody else on the platforms where they happened to be, or for the language of the advertisement calling a meeting which they attended. I object to the different treatment in the case of a highly favoured public servant. I think it was an improper thing for Sir Arthur Blackwood to do to attend the meeting, and the right hon. Gentleman cannot gloss over the fact that a public servant in this prominent position should listen to public denunciation of two Judges by name simply because they happened to be of a religious complexion different to his own. As a protest against the manner in which this, my complaint, has been met, I think it my duty to take a division.
§ (11.20.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 64; Noes 185.—(Div. List. No. 217.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ (11.35.) DR. CLARK
I wish to call attention to the question of accelerating the Northern Mails. I understand that the North-Eastern Mails are to be accelerated, and I want our grievances in the far North to be also attended to. There are 3,000 or 4,000 fisher people on the North-West Coast, and a letter can go from England to America almost as quickly as one from Stornoway to the Coast of Caithness and the Orkney Islands. These people are practically as far from each other as they were 100 years ago. If a letter is posted at Stornoway for Caithness on Monday it is not delivered till the following Thursday, although the distance is only 100 miles. 1453 The reason is that the Postmaster General has for years been fighting with the Highland Railway on this subject. At one time I sympathised with the right hon. Gentleman, but since then we have had the arbitration in which Lord Derby was umpire, and the decision went against the Postal Authorities, who had to pay the Highland Railway Company about £12,000 more than that Company offered to give them for the facilities they asked for. I hope they will soon come to terms with that Company. The whole thing is a perfect farce. There are 10 hours between the arrival of the morning and evening mails, and yet both are delivered at the same time. At least one of these mails ought to be abolished unless a better arrangemant can be come to. At Thurso the local mails are detained in the post office from 12 to 18 hours. The reason is that the Postmaster at Thurso is interested in some of the coaches which run from that place to various towns in the country, and these are the only coaches which carry the mails. The consequence is that the mails are detained until the coaches in which the Postmaster is interested are able to start. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should give us a Departmental Committee to inquire into these matters so that the people of the Highlands may obtain the same facilities as are afforded to the rest of the country.
§ MR. W. M'ARTHUR (Cornwall, St. Austell)
I should like briefly to call the attention of the Postmaster General to the Postal Service between London and the West of England. It will be seen that the matter is one of great importance, when the population and interests of that part of the country are considered. Memorials have been presented to the right hon. Gentleman from the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Hampshire, Dorset, and Somerset, and I trust he will be enabled to come to some arrangement by which the service of that large district will be accelerated.
§ *(11.40.) MR. RAIKES
In reference to the remarks just made by the hon. Member opposite, I may inform him that the matter to which he refers has 1454 been thoroughly thrashed out in the Department, and that proposals in reference to it are now before the Treasury. I quite admit that the people of that district have special claims to consideration, but, as I have already stated, the matter has been thoroughly investigated. Allusion has been made to the opening of letters from Irish Members at the Post Office. In reply to that accusation, I have only to say that it has no foundation whatever. With regard to the service between Stornoway and the mainland, I admit that there is much delay, and I am in hopes that before long the arrangements may be materially improved. With reference to the Service between London and the West of England, I am sorry to say that I am not at present in a position to hold out any hope of its improvement. I trust that now the Committee may be enabled to agree to this Vote.
§ (11.31.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall Camborne)
I cannot but express my surprise that the remarks of the hon. Member for St. Austell have not been received more favourably. The question of affording greater facilities for the Postal Service to Plymouth concerns the entire counties of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Hants, and Dorset, and their case has been represented to the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of no less than 300 Town Councils, Petty Sessional Divisions and Public Bodies generally in those counties, the deputation which waited on the Postmaster General having been described as the most numerous and influential ever received by the Department. Why cannot the Government arrange with the Great Western and South Western Companies to run midnight trains from Paddington and Waterloo to Plymouth? But I am mainly concerned in behalf of the population of the far West, where the population is very considerable, and the mining and other industries pursued are of great importance. The postal facilities afforded to that district cannot be described as superlatively good; in fact, they are far behind those that are afforded to any 1455 other part of the country. The amount required to effect the requisite improvement would be very small, and if the Government would only consider the propriety of giving us these facilities, instead of squandering money on persons like the Duke of St. Albans in the commutation of pensions which never aught to have been bestowed, they would be doing something that would meet with public approval. I am not anxious to delay the taking of this Vote, and, therefore, shall not detain the Committee by bringing forward another complaint on a subject as to which I will call attention at a later stage.
§ *(11.42.) MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)
I wish to call attention to a matter of some practical importance, namely, the absurdity, as admitted by the Postmaster General himself, of the existing regulations relative to the postage of invoices and voters' claims bearing certain directions at foot. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to introduce a Bill to deal with that question, and that Bill was introduced, but, before the House had had an opportunity of seeing it in print, it was withdrawn. I wish to ask whether the existing regulations are made under the provisions of an Act of Parliament or by the Postmaster General himself. If the latter, then the right hon. Gentleman has the power to institute the necessary reforms.
§ (11.45.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
The right hon. Gentleman has stated that no letter from an Irish Member has been opened by the Post Office Authorities, but does he mean that no such letter has been opened under the sanction of the Home Secretary, who alone has authority in such cases?
§ MR. RAIKES
What I said was that no such letter had been opened. Of course the Committee is aware that no letter can be opened by the Postmaster General except under the authority of the Home Secretary. In reply to the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Causton), I have to say that I believe the regulations he 1456 refers to wore made in accordance with the Statute under a Treasury Warrant, which has had to be interpreted by the legal advisers of the Department. I regret the interpretation that has been put upon this document, but I trust that no great length of time will elapse before I shall be able to deal with this question.
§ *(11.48.) MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Cirencester)
I wish to make a claim on behalf of the rural postmen. At present they have to buy their own boots, which is a great hardship, because they have to walk enormous distances and their wages are admittedly not very high. The concession I ask for would be a very small one; but, at the same time, it would be very popular with a very deserving body of public servants, namely, that their boots should be found, together with the rest of their uniforms. Another point I wish to bring forward is that, whereas in the West of England a letter may be posted to Dublin in the evening and delivered next morning, letters posted in Dublin in the evening are not delivered in the West of England until the following afternoon. In fact, the post one way is a day, and the reverse way a day and a half. This is a matter which ought to be looked into and remedied.
§ MR. RAIKES
In reply to the hon. Gentleman, I have to inform him that, on the question of the postmen's boots, I promised the postmen the other day that this should be one of the many subjects I intend to take up.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ 2. £539,829, to complete the sum for the Post Office Packet Service.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £1,583,845 (including a Supplementary sum of £50,000), be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1891, for the Salaries 1457 And Working Expenses of the Post Office Telegraph Service."
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again,"—(Sir Edward Reed,) —put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported to-morrow.
§ Committee also report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.