§ MR. CUNINGHAME GRAHAM (Lanark, N.W.)
I beg to ask the Postmaster General whether he will state the full particulars about the punishment of postmen in London for attending the meeting of their trade on Clerkenwell Green, 16th May; how many were punished; how many were fined; how many deprived of their stripes; if he will state whether it is the intention of the Department to dismiss the men who refuse to give a written declaration that they will not attend Union meetings in future; and if he will state definitely whether or no postmen are allowed to form a Union?
§ MR. RAIKES
In reply to the hon. Member I have to state that certain postmen having, in defiance not only of the established regulations, but of a special warning which had been addressed to them only a few days before, thought fit to attend a meeting on Clerkenwell Green, which did not comply with the Rules of the Service, I felt constrained to vindicate the authority of the Department. Altogether 31 men have been punished by fine, and of this number eight have been deprived of their good conduct stripes. Obviously a distinction which, as its name implies, is given for good conduct, cannot continue to be worn by those who defy regulations. As regards those of the 31 who are under suspension, the intention of the Department is to restore them to duty as soon as they give satisfactory assurances for their good behaviour. Their restoration, therefore, as the hon. Member will see, is in their own hands. Postmen are at liberty to form associations for their mutual benefit, or for the discussion of matters in which they have a common interest, so long as they do not transgress regulations or organise resistance to the authority of their superior officers.
§ MR. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)
Are punishments of this kind imposed in other branches of the Civil Service for similar offences?
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain in what respect the meeting on Clerkenwell Green did not comply with the Rules of the Service?
§ MR. RAIKES
I think that the House is aware that under the rules as to the holding of meetings, men who propose to attend them are requested to give notice of their intention to hold such meetings; that such meetings should and are to be, confined to persons in the Postal Service; and that, if it is thought necessary, the authorities should be able to have their official shorthand writer present.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
As this was an open-air meeting on Clerkenwell Green, I should like to ask whether the regulations will not absolutely preclude all postmen from attending an open-air meeting, and whether that is a fair construction of the rules?
§ MR. RAIKES
No, that is not a fair construction of the rules; but it would be quite competent for the postmen to hold an open-air meeting if they complied with the rules—i.e., if they gave notice of their intention to hold the meeting; if they gave satisfactory assurance that the meeting would be confined to persons in the Postal Service, and if the shorthand writer was present.
Did the postmen on this occasion raise any difficulty or suggest any refusal to have an official reporter as a representative of the Postmaster-General at this meeting?
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
In order to make this matter clear to the country will the right hon. Gentleman state whether this meeting, for attending which these men have been suspended and punished, was held out of their working hours?
§ MR. RAIKES
In answer to the last question I presume, at all events, that the meeting took place out of the working hours of such postmen as attended, but not, of course, out of the regular working hours of the whole Service. With regard to the first question, the men had not given the Department the opportunity of considering whether the presence of a shorthand writer would be required, because they gave no notice of their intention to hold a meeting.