HC Deb 17 April 1891 vol 352 cc851-93
(9.3.) EARL COMPTON (York, W. R., Barnsley)

I do not think I need offer any apology for having brought my Motion before the House asking for a Select Committee to inquire into the administration of the Post Office Department. I have made my Motion as broad as possible in its terms, for I am anxious that the proposed Committee of Inquiry should embrace all the subjects connected with the Post Office, not only the internal working of Post Office machinery itself, but also the relations of the Post Office to the general public, and also in regard to all postal reforms which are necessary. I am anxious that postal reform should be inquired into, and also the whole of the machinery of the Post Office, as—having given this matter some consideration in the past 15 months—I am of opinion that this machinery requires over-hauling and setting in order. It was impossible for me to state in a Notice of Motion every one of the details which require attention; it was impossible for me to define, for when I began to define I found that a definition would limit the scope of the inquiry I believe to be absolutely necessary. As regards the extension of benefits to the general public as a question of postal reform, this may, perhaps, be considered a Treasury question; and as I see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in his place, and not the Postmaster General, I shall direct the first part of my remarks to that point which I think affects the Treasury principally. I hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will allow me to say I am one of those who think that perhaps the Treasury may have too great control over the Post Office. I believe that the Post Office, and the chief intention of the Post Office, is to serve the public. But the chief interest of the Treasury is to provide a good Budget, to look after the Revenue much more than the efficiency or good order of the Post Office. Other Members, I am aware, intend to speak on the subject of postal reforms. I had intended to bring forward in my Motion the question of"Boy Messengers" and the relations between the" Boy Messengers Company" and the Post Office; but I am glad to say—very glad to say—that that matter has been already settled. I cannot, however, help expressing the suspicion in my mind that perhaps the fact of my Motion having been on the Notice Paper for a month may have facilitated the arrangements that have been arrived at by the Postmaster General with the" Boy Messengers Company." I do not think anyone can doubt the fact that the Revenue has reaped advantage from each successive reform which has taken place in our Postal Service. Still there remains much to be done. This, I think, will be acknowledged, for instance, that the postal communication with the West Coast of Scotland and to the North of Ireland, decidedly requires improvement, and I am in hope that Members who come from that part of Ireland, and who are at the moment distinctly friendly to the present Government, will support a Motion for more direct communication by the Larne and Stranraer line, which has been a burning question for some time, and is not yet, I believe, settled. Then, also, there is the question of postal reforms as they affect the Savings Bank Department, already alluded to during the Session, and which requires, at all events, inquiry to see what can be done. Many of us believe that the Post Office Savings Bank might be extended with great advantage to the public, more especially to the working classes who use the bank for their savings. I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not share that view, and is rather friendly to private banks as against the Post Office Bank. Still, I think this is a matter that might fairly come within the scope of the inquiry I am now asking for. I do not think it is at all necessary to refer to the large extension of the postcard system, and the further facilities asked for, or to mention the question of postal facilities for communication with the colonies, which interests a large number of those who reside not only in England, but in every part of the British Empire. But I think it is necessary I should state at once that it is the general opinion — it may be a wrong opinion, but it is generally entertained that there is some hindrance in the way of extending postal facilities—I do not know whether at the Treasury or at the Post Office. If a lever is wanted to effect a movement in the direction required, then this inquiry I recommend will supply that lever. If it is an idea of economy which prevents many extensions the public desire, I believe it is a false idea of economy, because experience has shown that every extra facility has led to an increase of Post Office revenue. But even if it did not increase the Revenue I certainly lay it down as a principle that the huge surplus we get under the Post Office accounts might be used to give additional facilities to all who reside within the British dominions. The increase of revenue has been most remarkable. During the last 15 years I believe the increase of net revenue has been something like £1,500,000 in the Post Office Department alone, excluding the telegraph and other branches. I believe the increase of telegraphic net receipts has been something like £600,000 per annum in the same period. In all these matters I feel that I, perhaps, shall have the sympathy of the Postmaster General for it seems to me he is more or less"under the thumb" of the Treasury. The Treasury seems to keep a tight hold of the Post Office Department, and in some respects it seems to me the Treasury has prevented the Postmaster General from carrying out what he at all events would like to have done. I am aware the Treasury has laid down what seem to be rather stringent rules as regards applications from the various branches of the Department; as, for example, when the claims of one class of postmen were considered the Lords of the Treasury officially declared that further claims of other classes of postmen could not be entertained. A rather sweeping declaration without limit of time or circumstances. However, there are other hon. Members who will address themselves to this part of the question, and I will at once proceed to suggest those points in the organisation and administration into which I think inquiry is necessary. The Post Office Department has practically, like a growing boy, out-grown its clothes. I admit that many new suits have been ordered, but they have been so long in the making that the clothes never fit. I have no intention of making a personal attack upon the Postmaster General. He has been very much attacked in the public Press throughout the country, and has been nicknamed the San Sebastian of the Tory Government. I have no intention of making a personal attack, but I think it is only right that when I bring forward this Motion that I should state truthfully what has really occurred when the Postmaster General has granted privileges and advantages to those employed in the postal service. Where such have been granted they have not been granted, unfortunately, with that ungrudging graciousness of manner that might have been expected, and therefore he has not received such thanks from the recipients as otherwise he would have received. I also wish at once to say that I do not intend to make any attack on the officials of the Post Office. They are not here to answer for themselves, and it would be wrong for me to do so. I look on the Postmaster General as the Member of the Government responsible for all that goes on in the Post Office, and therefore I shall be careful to avoid as far as possible allusions to the officials of the Department. I may say at the same time that I have not had brought to my notice any complaint as regards particular officials the complaints principally are against the system not against individuals. We have had this Session what has been termed a"labour" Session. We have had the question of the employment of railway servants discussed on the appointment of a Royal Commission; we have had Government contracts discussed, and we have had a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the relations of capital and labour, from which, I am sorry to say, the Post Office has been excluded by Her Majesty's Government. Let me add, that I should far prefer to have a Royal Commission for the inquiry contemplated in my Motion, rather than a Select Committee, but as a Commission was refused when I asked whether this question was to be submitted, I felt that it would be absurd for me to move for a Commission, and so I move that the inquiry shall be by Select Committee. We are about to have inquiry into the status and condition of the servants of many private employers and public bodies, and I do not, therefore, think I can be very far wrong in asking for inquiry into the status and condition of servants of the State. Is such an inquiry required? will be asked by many who have not investigated the conditions of service in the Post Office. I have no doubt the principal argument against my Motion will be that no such inquiry is necessary, but the matter had better be left to the management of the Postmaster General and his Department, and that inquiry will be out of place. But we have, and this the Postmaster General will admit, a large amount of discontent, not limited to a few persons, but permeating the whole service. [Mr. RAIKES expressed dissent]. I am sorry to find the right hon. Gentleman is not well informed on this point—that does permeate to my knowledge the whole service, every branch and every section, not only in London, but throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. I wish the right hon. Gentleman had received half the evidence I have received since I put my notice on the Paper. If he had, it would have opened his eyes to the fact that this discontent undoubtedly exists, not the personal discontent of individuals, but a discontent throughout certain branches of the service as to what are regarded as most serious grievances. But surely the Postmaster General will admit that he has received a very large number of Petitions? Not that he has received all the Petitions that have been sent to him, for in some cases they have been refused and not put before him, but he must be aware that a large number of Petitions have been drawn up asking for certain remedies. I am aware that a Departmental Committee is sitting at this moment inquiring into one point, and there may be others, but these are absolutely useless for the purposes for which I ask inquiry. A Departmental Committee may be all very well to gain information, but the right hon. Gentleman must be well aware that under present conditions he will never get before a Departmental Committee such information as he would from an independent inquiry. He must be aware that at the present moment a large number of men, not junior men but senior men, would not come forward and give evidence not liking to render themselves liable to be marked as discontented and perhaps, as has occurred in some cases, marked for future punishment in case of trivial offences. There is friction, there is irritation within the Post Office Department, and the general public know this as well as possible, even if the Postmaster General does not-A good deal of growling is going on, and it seems to me the statesmanlike way of dealing with this is to inquire what is the cause, and obtain information by the appointment of an independent Committee. Now, I go at once to the internal working of the Post Office. Who isitor what is it that works the Post Office? There is a Department within the Department—the Secretary's Department, and there is a very able man at the head of it. I have not the slightest doubt that every man in that Department is doing everything to carry out the wishes of the Postmaster General and working for the public interest; but I have been informed—and I believe this is the kernel of the question—that everything that is connected with the various branches of the Post Office has, first of all, to go through the Secretary's Department before it reaches the Postmaster General. If any branch Department wishes to approach the Postmaster General, its communication must filter through the Secretary's Department, and I am sorry to say that one complaint is that a good many of the communications proceeding from the heads of other Departments stick half-way and do not reach the eyes of the Postmaster General. I am not blaming individuals; but I do say that that the Postmaster General ought to be in communication with the heads of the various Departments, and it ought to be out of the power of a few officials in one-Department to stop that communication. I take, for example, the forwarding of Petitions. I will not go into all the examples, I take one. The Association: of the London Sorting Department, representing some 2,500 men, held a meeting and drew up resolutions, which they begged the chief officer to forward to the Postmaster General. This was refused be cause it is non-official to forward resolutions to the Postmaster General, whereupon they drew up a memorial, and in that memorial asked for an inquiry into the Medical Department—a very harmless request, I should think; but that memorial was refused to be forwarded, because, as was stated, it must first of all be proved that an inquiry into the Medical Department was necessary before such an inquiry was asked for. Now it seems to me that in such a case it is desirable that such a Petition should reach the responsible head of the Department. I daresay the gentleman who stopped it acted in pursuance of regulations, but upon this point of difficulty of access between the Postmaster General and the various branches I think inquiry is desirable. And now I come to a Department about which the public have heard a good deal lately, the Savings' Bank Department, and here at once we enter on a question that requires investigation, and a good deal more at the hands of the House of Commons. I mean the question of overtime. I asked the Postmaster General a question on the subject some time ago, and gave certain details which he acknowledged to be correct. It is a fact that the 531 members of the staff in 1890 worked overtime to the extent of 268,000 hours, which is equivalent to the work of a staff of 129 men all the year round. Now the Savings Bank Department has an excessive amount of work to do for, say, three months in the year, when overtime is said to be a matter of necessity; but take the other nine months and we find the staff worked 90,000 hours overtime, equivalent to the ordinary work of a staff of 65 men. I am told these figures are substantially correct. In 1890 the overtime amounted in some cases to four hours a day. I am told that the day's work in some circumstances was from 13 to 16 hours, that the sorting staff averaged 12 hours a day, that one boy worked 16 hours in one day, and another an average of 12¾ hours a day during a whole month. When I brought these facts to the attention of the Postmaster General, he said he thought the work was excessive, and he would, therefore, make additional appointments to the junior staff; but it is not a question of these things having gone on for a year, they have been going on for years. What was the recommendation in the Report of the Ridley Commission? That steps should be taken to reduce the hours of employment for the clerical staff to seven, not 13 or 14 hours, but seven: and the Commissioners go on to say that apart from the question of health of the clerks employed for 11 hours a day, they were less capable of giving good work than if they were employed for more reasonable hours. Sir Arthur Blackwood, in his evidence before the Commission, said that the overtime in the Savings Bank was imperative for six weeks in the year—I say for three months—and that temporary clerks could not do the work. The Postmaster General, he said, discouraged overtime. When the Postmaster General was questioned on February 5th, he replied that overtime was not limited by regulations, but the requirements of the Public Service must be provided for. But the requirements of the public service can be provided for by an additional permanent staff, and so this necessity for overtime work can be got rid of. Owing to this practice of overtime, disturbances have occurred in the Savings Bank Department from time to time, and such occurred last year and in the beginning of this year. Why? Because an order was issued by the Postmaster General that the clerks should work two hours overtime daily until further notice, and that any disobedience to this order would be treated as an act of insubordination. During two Sessions I have asked the Postmaster General, time after time, whether the overtime work in the Post Office was voluntary or compulsory, and the right hon. Gentleman assured me over and over again that it was voluntary. I am glad to give him another opportunity of explaining the meaning of the simple English word voluntary, in the face of such an order as this. I can imagine it might be more economical for a pressure to employ temporary or overtime work; but when I find that for the number of hours overtime, the cost is, for overtime work, 1s. 1d. per hour, and that the ordinary pay is 8d. per hour it becomes an expensive matter over some 8,000 hours. The clerks in the Savings Bank Department number 520, but I find in the Estimates they are set down as 552. Where does the extra salary go to? Does it go to the temporary clerks, or where? Then I come to the Telegraph boy messengers. They are about 15 or 16 years of age, and the day-staff work 10 hours a day—sevenhours was the time laid down by the Ridley Commission—but nine-tenths of them work 10 hours a day. The night staff of boys work on alternate nights from 8 to 8, and from 6 to 10 or 11 o'clock, and they have to stand from 10 to 4, why, I do not know? There is a case of a boy of 14 being compelled, for a trifling offence, to work two hour's overtime after having worked 10 hours, and he had to walk five miles to his home afterwards. These boys—I daresay it was very imprudent on their part—petitioned for extra pay; but though this was nine months ago they have had no answer yet. I do not know whether the Petition reached the Postmaster General. I doubt it very much. Then I turn to another branch of the Service, the mail cart drivers. I do not know whether the Postmaster General is aware that the mail cart service is contracted for by Messrs. Macnamara & Co. (Limited). The drivers work from 4 o'clock a.m. to 8 o'clock p.m., and their wages begin at 24s. a week. Now, we have laid down this Session what our contracts ought to be. Of course this is an old contract—I understand that—still we know it is possible to put on pressure by threats that the contract will not be renewed—and I believe this contract ends this year—unless the contractors pay their servants decent wages and do not overwork them. Then I come to the postmen. We are told that there is no systematic overtime except in the Savings Bank Department, but the postmen have a grievance in connection with what is called" split" duty, which extends over 14 hours or 16 hours. Though this service is divided over intervals during the time, yet they are away from home for the period I mention, for it is too expensive for them to return home during the intervals of duty. It would cost each man on an average 2s. 6d. a week to travel backwards and forwards twice a day. I believe the Postmaster General, in 1888, admitted that this"split" attendance should not extend over 12 hours daily, but three-fourths of the postmen still continue to perform duties during 14 or 16 hours a day. Then, again, the auxiliary postmen work from 5 to 9.30 or 10 o'clock, and are paid at the rate of 4d. an hour, overtime work being paid sometimes at 3d. an hour. Then the telegraph staff, numbering 3,461 in London, have been doing excessive work since 1887, doing three and five hours a day overtime. I mention these details to show that overtime is a system, and is not confined to the Savings Bank Department. The Comptroller, in an answer given last January with regard to holidays, confessed there was an excessive amount of overtime. Let me say at once that these men who are working in the Post Office are ready and willing to volunteer to do a certain amount of overtime; but when you have a system all the year round of what is called" voluntary overtime," which is really compulsory overtime, that by degrees breaks down the willingness of the men, and in some cases they have refused to do it. Then there is the whole system of temporary labour, paid at from 18s. to 20s. a week, a system which must be bad both for the men and the Department. There is auxiliary labour in the newspaper department, both inland and foreign; there is a temporary mail staff and what is called the"permanent temporary staff," the meaning of which, perhaps, the Postmaster General will explain to the House, and there are also season substitutes. Then I come to the question of the female staff. I have been informed by several Members that there has been a statement in the Press that I am going to attack female labour. I have never had the smallest intention of doing so. On the contrary, I am one of those who have always advocated the employment of female labour; and I believe that no man in this House goes further than, or as far as, I do with regard to the rights of women to compete with men in all employments. I have not found that there is any hostility among the Post Office employés to the female staff; but, at the same time, when there is decided over-work for the men, and decided over-work for the women, and when the male staff see large additions being made to the female staff and none to their own, there is perhaps a little discontent, and that may have given rise to the false reports that have appeared in the Press. There has been a good deal of overtime work going on in the female staff. In two divisions, in which about 190 persons are employed, of whom one-third are females, they worked something like 27,000 hours overtime last year. I believe there is one section which worked in three months something like 3,600 hours overtime. In another, where four-fifths of the staff of about 100 are females, something like 22,000 hours overtime were worked last year. There are also many complaints from the ladies who are employed in the news Department. There has been a most erratic system of promotion with regard to the female branch, and they will be glad if their case can be included in the inquiry. With regard to female temporary clerks, when a lady in the Department marries, the order is that she has to leave, but her new name and address are taken, and when temporary work is required she is taken back again temporarily. There are cases of ladies who have been receiving 35s. a week before being married, and who have gone back to do temporary work at 20s. a week. It is impossible for me to mention every case in every branch which in my opinion deserves some consideration at the hands of the House of Commons. I cannot deal with the question of the provincial Establishments, but I am glad to say that the seconder of the Motion will do so. Let me pass now to the question of the reasonableness of the request for an inquiry of some kind. We have already had a Commission, known as the Ridley Commission, to inquire into the question, but it has been impossible for it to go into the whole working of the Post Office. I wish, however, that their recommendations had been carried out. I am told that there is no precedent for a Select Committee inquiring into such a question. To that my first answer is that there is no precedent for such general discontent in a State Department as at present exists in the Post Office: it is an exceptional case which demands exceptional treatment. In the Egyptian affair, when the Commissariat broke down, a Select Committee was appointed by the House of Commons to inquire into the matter, which is a proof that when something has gone wrong in a Department a Select Committee inquires into the matter. That something has gone wrong with regard to the Post Office was, I think, proved the other day, when we had before us a Savings Bank Bill, and a clause was put in it to extend the time for preparing the Savings Bank Returns, in order, I believe, to get the Postmaster General out of a difficulty with regard to the' Savings Banks De- partment. That, however, is not a way in which things ought to be done. On April 20, 1888, the Postmaster General said that he did not approve of boys working overtime, and that arrangements were being made for its discontinuance. It seems to me that the whole organisation and administration are carried on in rather a makeshift fashion. There are, under the present system, extraordinary inequalities of condition, treatment, and position amongst the various branches of the Department. Until that system is inquired into and changed there will, I believe, always be discontent. In the face of that discontent the policy of the Post Office has always been a policy of suppression. I acknowledge that the Postmaster General has done much for those who are serving under him, and I believe he would have done much more if he had not been so fettered by the Treasury. At the same time I think it only right to point out that this policy of suppression has been followed, and that it is a very dangerous policy. The Department has acted in a spirit of hostility to the combinations of its servants; their right of meeting has been suppressed, even when they undertook to notify the time and place of meeting, and admit the official reporter; and they have been told that their meetings would be treated as acts of insubordination. In my opinion the hours of labour are excessive. I believe that overtime is the rule, and not the exception. Promotion is slow, and the temporary employment system does harm to those who are employed under it, and also to the permanent staff. The work is of a harassing nature, and is rapidly increasing in amount, while the permanent staff has not increased proportionately with the labour. I therefore ask that this question shall be inquired into by the House of Commons. I appeal to the Postmaster General to allow an inquiry to be held in order that the great State Department, of which he is the head, may be made thoroughly efficient, and put into good order. I also appeal to the Government who have this Session intervened in questions between employer and employed, and have said that excessive overtime ought not to be allowed, to sanction an inquiry. If these appeals are refused, I appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House. This is not a Party question in any degree whatever. I do not say the defects I have pointed out are the fault of the Government or of the Postmaster General; they are the fault of the system, which can only be remedied by full and proper inquiry. Such an inquiry as I ask for cannot do any harm, and I believe it will do much good. I appeal in the interests of good government, and of the efficiency of a State Department, and I also appeal on behalf of a large body of hard-working and deserving men for an inquiry into the whole system of a Department which is a source of large public revenue. I believe there is nothing which would tend to create good feeling and efficiency in that Department, so much as an inquiry into the grievances which have so long existed, and I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word"That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words" in the opinion of this House it is desirable that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Administration of the Post Office,"—[Earl Compton,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed," That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

(9.51.) MR. LOCKWOOD (York)

In seconding the Motion, I wish at the outset to say I cordially agree with the statement of my noble Friend that this Motion is in no way directed at the administration of. the present Postmaster General. It would be most unfair, having regard to the complex system which is involved in this Department, to make one particular individual responsible for the very serious condition of things which now exist. My noble Friend has said more than once that he has no wish to make the present Postmaster General responsible. We do not wish to endeavour to fix responsibility upon any individual Postmaster General who preceded the right hon. Gentleman who now holds this very important position, and, for the life of me, I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman holding the position he does should not be one of the first to court this inquiry. I do not know how long the right hon. Gentleman anticipates that he may personally hold the office he now occupies, but if he has any idea of that period being a lengthened one, let him have inquiry for selfish reasons and for his own comfort, but, if not, let him consent to this inquiry in order that the comfort of those who follow him may be enhanced. This House has on more than one occasion this Session been brought face to face with the accumulating difficulties between labour and capital. They have already troubled the House, and in all probability they will trouble the House still further. The House has always professed itself anxious and willing to throw itself into any inquiry upon matters relating to labour and capital if it can be shown that anything like a substantial grievance exists. How can any Government possibly endeavour in any way to frustrate inquiry into a Department over which they have control, and at the same time be willing to grant or order inquiries into matters for which they have no direct responsibility? The Postal Department is, fortunately for the country, a great paying Department. It is one of the few Departments of the State which has been remunerative, but none the less, nay all the more, ought we to see that no grievance can properly be put forward by those who assist us in the work. I do not propose to trouble the House at great length, because my noble Friend has gone into great detail. He has, however, dealt more especially with the case as presented by the Metropolitan offices, and I desire to ask the House to devote its attention for a few moments to the case as it exists in the provinces. Let us consider the nature of the employment of these men and women. They hold very responsible positions; the work subjects them to great mental strain, and the work is done frequently under conditions which makes it extremely arduous. In the first place the public expect from the Post Office servants accuracy in the-discharge of their duty, they necessarily impose upon the servants great trust, and expect from them in return an honest discharge of their duty. Above all the public expect that the men will bring to bear on their work an unfailing intelligence. It is a very high standard of work that we require at the hands of these people. At the outset they prove themselves efficient by passing, I think in all cases, a competitive examination. Clearly this class of labour is one which is deserving of the very greatest attention, and any grievances the men may have ought not to be ignored. The first fault I have to find with the system is that the organisation works in a most unequal way. Take the case of the special services which are rendered by the servants of the Post Office. It may surprise some hon. Members to know that when the Telegraph Department is called upon to render special services in connection with public meetings, race meetings, and other events, the rule of the Central Office, according to a Minute of the late Secretary to the Post Office, is that the nearest available office shall render the assistance required. But for some reason, which it is not very difficult to understand, those who are responsible for the working of the Central Office have been anxious, in view of the minute investigation of Post Office procedure which has been going on of late, to reduce the amount of overtime at the Central Office; for it appears that when special assistance has been needed in what I may term the home circuit, instead of application being made to the Central Office, in accordance with the Memorandum, men are brought from long distances for the purpose. For example, at a recent race meeting at Epsom, it was necessary to provide telegraphists to do the special work, and instead of assistance being obtained from the Central Office, which was the nearest available office, one man was brought from Leeds, two from Derby, one from York, three from Manchester, three from Southampton, one from Northampton, and three from Birmingham to do the work. Where is the economy to be found in that? What thinks the House of a system under which such things can occur? What does the Financial Secretary, with his great business knowledge, think of it? Would he permit such a state of things in his own business? The assistance required was obtainable at the Central Office. The Memorandum said it should be obtained from that office. Why was it not so obtained? Because you dare not face the amount of overtime it would involve, and so you bring men from North, South, East, and West, in order to distribute the overtime over other offices, and to avoid the criticism which would inevitably ensue. Another general objection is the inequalities in the Regulations. It will doubtless be admitted by the Postmaster General that there is great objection, whether rightly or wrongly, to the system of classification—the system of dividing the employés into two or three classes. That is, I understand, one of the main grievances that exist in the Department. The system may be good, but let me show the right hon. Gentleman how unequally it works. In some places the length of service in, say, the second class is eight years; in other places it is 12 years, so that in some towns a man equally capable will have to work four years longer in the second class than another man in another town before getting into the first class. Surely inequalities of this kind ought not to exist in the system. But there is even a greater evil in connection with this system, and it is that of the classification of towns for the purpose of fixing the maximum weekly salary. I have a list before me, and it is impossible to understand the basis on which it is arranged. I am speaking now of the Telegraph Department. In the list there are groups of towns. I will take the first group. Manchester heads the list, and Birmingham is at the bottom. The maximum remuneration of the group is fixed at 56s. a week. There are 531 employés in the Manchester office and 253 in the Birmingham office. The casual observer will at first suppose that it has been determined by the authorities, for some reason or other, which it is hard to imagine, to make the amount of wages in a particular place depend upon the number of persons employed. Let me test the working of this grouping system. In group one Birmingham, with 253 employés, has a maximum wage of 56s. But when I come to group two, I find that Newcastle heads the list with 260 employés and a maximum wage of 54s. Last down on the list of group two stands Sheffield with 73 employés, but in group three Cardiff stands first with 138 employés, Hull has 87, Aberdeen 82, Plymouth 82, Bradford 82, and-Exeter 78, all with a maximum of 52s. I fail to understand upon what intelligible basis this grouping is placed. It is, however, clear that very great discontent must be caused by such an unequal system. The late Mr. Fawcett, in his scheme of 1881, made the maximum remuneration uniform, and a great deal is certainly to be said in favour of that view. I believe that in his Report he urged that labour should be paid what it was worth, and that the remuneration should not depend on the strength of the company in which the individual happened to be engaged. I think that this is a blot on the Post Office system, which may fairly be made a subject of inquiry. Yet another subject of great complaint is that of the system of overtime, for overtime in the Post Office is not an exception: it is a system. A few days ago, when the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire brought forward a Motion about overtime worked by railway servants, the Government agreed to appoint a Committee to inquire into the misdoings of the companies in that respect. How, then, in face of that fact, can they refuse an inquiry in regard to similar evils in the Post Office? Though I cannot make the case stronger than the noble Lord has put it, yet I wish to give a few figures on this point. I find that in 1890, in Dublin, there were 90,000 hours of overtime worked; in Liverpool, in the same year, 67,000 hours; and in Manchester 57,000 hours; and it must not be forgotten that most of this overtime is worked in the summer months, and is consequently more harmful to those engaged in it. Another point is that this work is chiefly done by the persons of the junior or lower ranks, probationers and substitutes, and the object of this doubtless is to get the work done cheaply. But the system prejudicially affects the Post Office servants, the Service itself, and the public. It affects the servants because it interferes with promotion; the Service, because the work is not done so efficiently as it might otherwise be; and it affects the public because the duty cannot be so accurately performed as if done by persons in higher ranks. I venture to assert that by employing this class of labour the Department is not carrying out fairly the responsibilities which are entailed upon it with regard to the public. This matter of overtime is one of the utmost importance. Another subject to which I wish to allude is the question of promotion. Now, with regard to promotion in the Post Office, two systems are observed—that of selection and that of seniority. Doubtless much is to be said on behalf of both; but should not an opportunity be afforded of inquiring which of those modes is the best in the interests alike of the Service and of the public? We have recently had a revision scheme which no doubt has done something for the upper grades of the Department. But it has practically left the second class untouched, and this, naturally, has given rise to discontent. Let me call attention to the case of the rural postmen—a hard-working class of men who discharge their duties under trying circumstances, but who for some reason appear to be outside the pale of the Post Office, and not to be on the same footing as the other employés Why is it? I will give the House one instance which has lately been brought to my notice—the case of a postman who has a long service, and who is paid at the rate of 4s. a week.


Four shillings a day.


No; it is 4s. a week. Two years ago he had four or five miles added to his beat, and was promised an increase of pay, but as yet he has not received it. He now walks 12 miles three days a week, and nine miles on the other three days. In the month of January this year this man delivered 1,221 letters; in February, 1,035 letters. I have no doubt there are hundreds of such cases. This is a pitiable case. What do hon. Gentlemen think of a system which is capable of such things as this? Yet I am told with regard to a system which is capable of this that there is to be no inquiry. We shall very likely be told that the Postmaster General is perfectly satisfied, and that there will be no inquiry. It is in no unfriendly spirit towards the administration of the right hon. Gentleman that I have made these remarks. It would be most unfair if the House were to consider these matters as in any sense reflecting on the personal administration of the right hon. Gentleman. I can only say for myself that whenever I have been brought into personal communication with him, I have met with unfailing courtesy. But there is no doubt the time has now come when this great overgrown system should be overhauled, and overhauled by impartial persons. What good could a departmental inquiry do into such a matter as this? The employés would not believe that it could take an unbiased view of the question. It is for these reasons that I second the Motion, and I hope to have a favourable answer from the right hon. Gentleman with regard to it.

(10.21.) MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)

The noble Lord who moved this Resolution told us that the Motion on the Paper was intended to deal not only with the machinery of the Post Office, but also with its working, as it affected the general public. That, too, was the view I took of the Resolution itself, and I confess that I expected to hear from the preceding speakers something as to the deficiency of the Post Office with regard to the general public. I do not know, of course, what Members who may follow will have to say, but certainly not one single point has been made, either by the noble Lord or by my hon. and learned Friend who seconded the Motion, showing that the Post Office has in the letter or the telegraph department failed in the discharge of its duties. So far from cursing the Post Office, indeed, the hon. Members have blessed it. To pass the Resolution submitted to the House would be an affront to the management of the Post Office.




I assure the House that I think it would. The noble Lord comes forward, however, as the best possible witness, for he says the Post Office has outgrown its clothes. Why? Because it has been successful; because it has been a profitable Department; because it has served people well, and the public have appreciated the services the Post Office has rendered. What would have been said if the Post Office had established a great and expensive staff for whom there was no work? Such things have happened. Take, for instance, the Registry of Land Department. A great outcry was made in this House with reference to the expenses of that Department. Provision was made for a staff for that Department, a number of well-qualified officials were appointed, and then it was found that there was very little work for them to do. But the Post Office is a paying Department, showing a surplus on the year of £1,500,000. It has a monopoly which is the property of the nation. But directly you attempt to conduct it on different lines, to pay wages on fancy lines, the surplus will soon disappear. What is the true meaning of the Resolution? It has been said truly that this is a labour question, and I should have thought that it would have been better to have left this struggle to be fought out in the usual way, without taking sides by a Motion in this House. As to the boy messengers, what did my noble Friend say about them? That was a question in which the Government were asserting a monopoly which belonged to the nation, and I hold that the Department were bound to assert the national right, irrespective of sympathy with one side or the other. My noble Friend said that he was glad to hear that that question had been settled, and he took credit to himself—credit that his Motion being on the Paper had had something to do with procuring that settlement. If that is so, all I can say is that it is a very great pity. Questions between capital and labour and between the Government and its employés should not be influenced by Motions in this House. We are all subjected as Members of this House to all manner of whips from employés of the Civil Service and the Post Office, and I know that when the status of the Civil Service clerks was being settled some time ago there was among Members generally a feeling of disgust at the telegrams and letters being received almost every minute from people seeking to influence our votes on some particular question of interest to them. I hope I shall always be sufficiently independent to do my duty in these matters, and not to allow myself to be dictated to on any question of the kind. The noble Lord, after giving us a number of instances of the overtime to which some of the clerks in the Savings Bank Department had been subjected, stated that the Ridley Commission laid it down that no clerk should be bound to work more than seven hours a day. Has the noble Lord read the Report of the Ridley Commission? The fact is, that the clerks were working only six hours a day, and the Commission said that instead of working six they should work seven hours—that is to say, that they should have an hour's additional work.


I beg the hon. and learned Member's pardon. I have read the Report of the Commission, but I do not think he can have paid much attention to the paragraph, which states that the evidence given by some of the clerks of the Government Office showed that the average amount of overtime work was five hours per day per man, and expresses the opinion that it cannot be right or desirable that such a system shall continue.


If the noble Lord would have waited for a moment I would have dealt with the question of overtime, which is a totally different question. The question of overtime arises mainly out of the attempt of the clerks to make their own terms. What I, wish to point out is that the regular time of the Savings Bank clerks, and I believe of a good many of the Post Office clerks also, was six hours a day, and what the Commission said was that, instead of working only six hours, they should work seven. From that time to this there has been a struggle on the part of the Heads of Departments and the Treasury to get the hours increased accordingly; and the result has been that, so far as the Receiver General's and Accountants Departments are concerned, the men have acceded to the new arrangement, and with an increased pay—I think £30. But the Savings Bank clerks have refused the terms, and the consequence is, there has been a difficulty in getting through the work, and there has necessarily been a resort to overtime. As regards the question of compulsory overtime, the rule is this: the Post Office claim a right, when the Service requires it, to compel every clerk to work overtime, of course, with increased pay; but in practice the increased pay is always sufficient to attract men who will volunteer the labour. The noble Lord said he did not intend to make a personal attack on the Postmaster General; but has he seen a pamphlet published by his clients headed" Mr. Raikes and the Sweating System in the Post Office?" I think the noble Lord might have hesitated before attempting to act as the champion of the author of that pamphlet.


May I be allowed to state at once that I have no knowledge whatever of the authorship of any such pamphlet?


I am very glad to hear it; but it is a fact, nevertheless, though the noble Lord does not know it, that in the pamphlet all sorts of motives are imputed to the Postmaster General and the Financial Secretary. The noble Lord says this is not a Party question. Is it not? Does the noble Lord think the Service of the country can be conducted if the servants of the Government are to be encouraged in rebellion against the Government as these Post Office clerks have been encouraged? [Cries of" Oh!"] Well, what can you call it? Can discipline be maintained with a Select Committee sitting, with the Postmaster General and the Secretary and the Financial Secretary of the Post Office and the Head of every Department standing by, to hear all the servants called to give evidence as to their grievances for years past—

An hon. MEMBER: The Ridley Commission.


Well, that Commission is over, and we do not want another. At all events that Commission was general and not directed to any one Department. What would you think of the Great Northern Railway Company or any of our great Railway Companies if they appointed a Select Committee to consider the conduct of the Directors, and to inquire into the grievances of the men, and, if the workmen had votes, in the selection of the Directors? It seems to me that this Resolution is aimed at the Government, and that, whether intended or not, its effect must inevitably be to weaken the Government in the conduct of an important Department—a Department which can only be conducted successfully by maintaining discipline; and I shall certainly, therefore, vote against the Resolution.

(10.42.) MR. NEVILLE (Liverpool, Exchange)

I will not go into the grievances which the servants of the Post Office are subjected to, as I think they have been explained well enough to the House. But I want, as one of the Representatives of a great city, to emphasise the statements which have already been made as to the widespread discontent which does exist in the Postal De- partment. For my part I always think that it is not a wise course, when a spirit of discontent exists, to avoid going into the question whether or not there really is a grievance at the bottom of it. As I understand the Motion to night, it is simply that this matter shall be inquired into, and I shall most heartily support an inquiry because I think it is one which, in the interests of the public as well as the interests of the Service, ought to take place. My hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Ambrose) wanted to know why the Service would not be satisfied with a departmental inquiry. I confess I am surprised at such a suggestion coming from such an intelligent Member of this House. The reason is that it is the Department generally that is called in question, and it is a recognised principle that it is not wise to put the accused person in the position of Judge, because the probability is that he will find the case not proved, and that is why we want an independent tribunal to inquire into the charges made—into the general administration of the Department. My hon. and learned Friend expressed great indignation at a suggestion which he says emanates from some of the servants in the Postal Department, that the Department is guilty of the adoption of the sweating system, and in an early part of his speech he wondered how business could be carried on if we interfered in any shape or way with the laws of supply and demand. I wish to point out to my hon. and learned Friend that if the Government were to depend upon the unimpeded course of the law of supply and demand, if higher wages were never to be given than are demanded in the labour market, we should have the sweating system in full force. I feel that that is not the position that should be taken up by the Government of a country like this. The country should see that its servants are remunerated, not at the lowest rate at which labour can be obtained, but fairly, so as to enable them to maintain themselves and their families in decency and comfort. I cannot see any real hope for the working classes of this country if it is to be understood that the Government are to purchase labour at starvation wages rather than interfere with the law of supply and demand. I am afraid that, however good the inten- tions of the Postmaster General may be, he is not in a position that permits him to carry those good intentions into effect. When the Postmaster General, some 12 months ago, held out hopes that the second-class telegraphists at Liverpool would have their salaries increased, for some few weeks afterwards those men received increased pay. Then, as I understand, a Treasury Minute was issued, and not only was the increased pay of those unfortunate men stopped, but they were compelled to refund that which they had already received. After that, we cannot rely much on the good intentions of the Postmaster General, because we cannot believe he has sufficient authority to carry them out.

(10.48) GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY (Hammersmith)

The only doubt I have on this question arises from the fact that I think it is most detrimental that the Service should be interfered with, and the public put to inconvenience by agitations such as have recently taken place. Still, I agree with the noble Lord opposite that we should have an inquiry into the grievances of the staff. I beg most respectfully to submit to the First Lord of the Treasury whether it would not be possible to have an inquiry into the administration of the Post Office very much on the lines of the recent inquiry by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury into the working of the Customs House. That inquiry brought to light several grievances. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary, went exhaustively into the complaints that were made, and ascertained that there were grievances to be redressed. The Postmaster General has done something for the Post Office, but I feel that he has not gone far enough. I do not consider it is right for this country to employ its servants at a low rate of wages. No private employer would do what the Government have done, but if the Government encourages overwork, private employers will do the same. I appeal to the Government to assent to an inquiry of the nature I have mentioned, without any reflection on the Postmaster General whatever.

(10.50.) SIR E. J. REED (Cardiff)

The right hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down remarked that it was un- desirable to encourage agitation among public servants, and with that observation I entirely agree; but I think it is a pity that public Departments are so conducted as to render such agitation inevitable. At a large meeting of the Post Office employés it was my fortune to attend, I ascertained that undoubted grievances did exist among them. I think the Postmaster General himself and his principal advisers do not make sufficient allowances for the feelings, the expectations, and the disappointment of their own officers. Twelve months ago when a similar Motion to this was brought before the House I had to take considerable notice of the case of the Cardiff telegraphists, and I am bound to say that on every occasion, when I put the Postmaster General to the trouble of speaking with me on the subject, he answered me most fairly and considerately. I believe he has tried to do, and I do not doubt he thinks he has done all that could fairly and reasonably be expected of him. But what is the state of things? I venture to think that the group of Cardiff telegraphists, having been distributed about the country, are the nuclei of agitation and dissatisfaction that will never be stopped until something like what they regard as justice is done to them. Here we have a number of zealous and excellent officials, for no proved complaint or even declared suspicion, sent away at the briefest possible notice from the town in which they resided, and subjected to several serious disadvantages, all of a penal character. I doubt whether the Postmaster General has ever understood the real feeling which exists in the breasts of these men, and of the whole telegraphic staff of the country, because of the treatment they have received. I should have no justification for reviving this question if the grievance were limited to some half-dozen gentlemen. But it is a burning cause of complaint throughout the whole telegraphic service, and I believe it will continue to be so until redress is given to these innocent men. It is quite true that some of these officers have been promoted to the 1st Class, and are more or less approximately contented. But the Post Office seems to think that if it sends a man into 2nd Class from one town to another, and keeps him in the same class, it will do him no injury. But what is really done in many cases is to snatch a man away from prospective and imminent promotion, and to send him to another town where he goes to the bottom of the list in the same class and is thus deprived of a reasonable expectation of promotion. I feel, however, that in all these personal matters we shall be more likely to get individual grievances set right by appeals to the Postmaster General, and to his good sense and good feeling than in any other way. If I may make a criticism on the Debate of the evening, I must say I should have liked to see it extended to a statement of the shortcomings of the Post Office not only in relation to the personal staff, but to the growing necessities of this country and this Empire. I believe the reason of much discontent is that the Treasury absorbs the earnings of the Post Office in too great a degree. I remember having a conversation with the late Mr. Fawcett when he became Postmaster General, and I believe he entered the Post Office with the idea that he was about to undertake the charge of one of the most successful and praiseworthy Departments of the State. I took the liberty of telling him that I held the contrary view. I said I thought the Post Office the most inefficient Department that I ever knew, and pointed out to Mr. Fawcett that in many of the remote parts of Japan they had a better postal service than we have even now in many of the rural parts of this country. I do not advocate an inquiry with any view of casting discredit upon the Government, but there is only one way that I know of to improve the Service generally, and that is to strengthen the hands of the Postmaster General against the demands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Fawcett, I remember, told me that he had informed Mr. Gladstone that unless he allowed him to retain in the coming year at least £200,000 out of the profits of the Post Office for the purpose of developing the Service, he should not feel justified in continuing in his office or attempting to conduct the Department. There can be no doubt that the profit appropriated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is greater now than it has ever been before. [Mr. GOSCHEN: No.] At all events, it is to the appropriation of that profit I attribute much, of the disadvantage under which the Postmaster General labours. I appealed to the Postmaster General to give further consideration to the cases of the gentlemen I have mentioned, because it is a burning shame that, in any great Department, there should be men, not convicted and not even charged with a fault, suffering for the rest of their lives disadvantages to which they never ought to have been subjected.

(11.4.) MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)

The strained relations which have existed between the Postmaster General and myself during the last few years render it extremely difficult for me to take part in this discussion. I regret that the Resolution is not framed in a manner to commend it to the House and the public, because it does not embrace the grievances of the public, and it is concerned only with the grievances of the staff which it is well known have been recently alleviated at an annual cost of £250,000. It is perfectly well known that the Treasury embarrasses the Postmaster General to a considerable extent. I am debarred from voting for the Resolution because it does not refer to the grievances of the public. The first point of the public interest involved in these questions is the relation between the Post Office and the Treasury, for it is the Treasury that impedes the Postmaster General by appropriating the £3,000,000, out of which must come the cost of extending the postal facilities. During the last few years great reforms have been carried out, but unfortunately in the teeth of opposition from the permanent officials of the Post Office and from the Treasury, and the present Postmaster General will retire from office without getting credit for any of them; they were forced upon the officials, and he had to fight the Treasury during the whole period. There are certain grievances, the ventilation of which will interest the public; and some of these affect newspapers. Of late the permanent officials, through the mouth of the Postmaster General, have been issuing edicts against newspapers which contain too much news of general interest as distinct from news of current interest. If less than one-third of the contents of a paper is news of current interest then it is not carried by the Post Office at newspaper rates. A more miserable and unworthy edict was never issued. The edicts of the Postmaster General in this respect have caused great dissatisfaction among the thinking portion of the community. Another great trouble to the people of the country is as regards circulars. In Continental countries circulars are sent in open envelopes; in this country the Postmaster General imposes a heavy fine on any circular which is included in an open envelope. This is an irritating restriction. A circular must be gummed across, or have a piece of string round it, and be open at both ends. If the Postmaster General would adopt the simple experiment used in America, of sending circulars in open envelopes, he would give great satisfaction to the trading community. Such a plan would permit of easy action. Another grievance is with reference to re-addressed letters. If a person sends a letter re addressed from Birmingham to London, a fine of one penny is imposed. Some hon. Members may not be aware that in the Postal Union if a letter is carried here from France, it is carried free of charge; the Government of France get the whole postage, and we do the work without any charge whatever. But in the case of a letter posted from Birmingham to London, the English Government get all the profits of the stamp, yet they charge the public for re-addressing it to another part of England. That is one of the other small reforms which we have asked from the Postmaster General, who always replies that the Treasury stands in the way. Another grievance is the refusal to allow type-written letters to go through the Post Office as ordinary circulars. The Postmaster General will soon learn that he will have to give in with regard to this. Another small reform which is needed has reference to postcards. When will the Postmaster General grant the request of the whole people of the country to buy them at the face value of ½d.? Every Member of Parliament wants this reform; yet when I have asked for it two or three times, the Postmaster General has refused, or referred me to the Treasury. Again, why should not the hour of collection be stamped on the letters as well as the date? Two hundred Members of the House of Commons have signed a Requisition to the Postmaster General asking that the plan adopted in America and on the Continent should be put in force here, by which the hour of collection is stamped on the letter as well as the date. It would cost no more, and it would be a protection to the public from unnecessary delay in delivery. But that reform has not yet been carried out. There are other reforms which have been continually put before the Postmaster General, and for which a favourable consideration has been promised, although that promise has never been carried out. One of the great troubles of the public is the Postal Guide. A more confusing document could not possibly be issued. It is issued in the interests of the Department, but is so complicated a work that only an expert can understand it, and, beyond this, the Department are continually puzzling the public by the issue of new copies, so that the public are totally unable to understand how to carry on their correspondence in the best manner. I now turn to the Telegraph Department. There is no doubt that the question of reforms in this Department is really engaging the attention of the public, and I think that the sooner we carry out the necessary reforms the greater will be the advantage to the public and the higher the honour that will be conferred on to the Department. We are told that the Telegraph Department is already beginning to pay, and we think we have a right to ask that the addresses on the telegrams shall be sent free, as well as the telegram, on condition that the address does not exceed eight words. There are other miserable and irritating annoyances in connection with the Telegraph Department, to which I will direct the attention of the Postmaster General. One of these is the charge made for the receipt of telegrams. Under the present arrangement 2d. is charged for the receipt for a sixpenny telegram, whereas if I were to give a receipt for £100 I only have to pay 1d. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General to remedy this grievance. I may remind him that he promised to do so three years ago; but last year he wrote a most humiliating confession, that although he had asked the Treasury to enable him to carry out this reform, they had refused to accede to his request. The whole thing would not amount to the loss of £10 a year, and yet the right hon. Gentleman is unable to persuade the Treasury authorities to carry out this small reform. The public also complain of the worry and annoyance occasioned by the rules of the Telegraph Department with regard to compound words in telegrams. The names of places are often charged as two and three words in place of one word. For example,"De Vere" is charged for as one word, while" Da Vere Gardens" is charged for as three words. Again, the word"won't" is charged for as one word, while"shan't" is charged for as two." Upstairs" is charged for as one word, and"downstairs" as two words." Baron de Worms" is charged for as one word, while" Orr Ewing" is two words. There are many other anomalies of this kind which might easily be remedied with very little loss to the Revenue. There are no fewer than 100 places in England which are charged for as two words, but which ought only to be charged for as one, and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that all compound words should in future be charged as one word only. That, at any rate, is the common-sense view to take of the matter. IN doing this the Postmaster General would be conferring a boon upon the public which would be fully appreciated, and which could be granted at a very small cost. I hope that the result of these annoyances from which the public suffer will be the appointment of a Committee, not composed of members of the Postmaster General's Department nor of the Treasury, but of Members of the House-of Commons, in order to see whether or not the reforms I have indicated could be carried out in the interests of the general public. I have only further to thank the House for the attention with which it has listened to my remarks, and to express my earnest hope that some such reforms as I have suggested will speedily be carried out.

(11.24.) MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)

Notwithstanding the long list of grievances which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Canterbury has brought forward against the Post Office, I gather from what he has said that, notwithstanding the strained relations between the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General and himself, the hon. Member does not intend to vote for the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for Barnsley (Earl Compton). We have heard the speech of the hon. Member for the Harrow Division (Mr. Ambrose), and I am sure we shall all deplore the inconvenience that he has suffered by the great pressure that has been brought to bear upon him by discontented Post Office officials; but, at the same time, we cannot but congratulate him on the noble independence he has displayed in the resistance he has offered to these attacks. My noble Friend (Earl Compton) and the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lockwood), and the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Neville), have made out a very good case for inquiry. I do not desire to prolong this discussion by going into many details, but, at the same time, I cannot see why an inquiry should not be held into the administration of this great Department. We have had inquiries relating to the Army and Navy, and I want to know why we should not have an inquiry into this great business Department—the Post Office. It is said that this question ought not to be made a Party question, and in that remark I cordially agree. We are all interested in the success of the Post Office and its good conduct, and I do not see how the inquiry can detrimentally interfere with either. It is not only a question of labour, but there are various other matters which would have to be inquired into, such as have been referred to by the hon. Member for Canterbury, one of them relating to the charges made for the service rendered and the regulations enforced with regard to parcel post, book post, and letters. There is no doubt that our commercial interests suffer greatly from the anomalies in connection with these matters. The hon. Member for Canterbury has said that he has for three years been attacking the Postmaster General without any good result. Therefore I think that the hon. Member ought to vote for the proposed inquiry. With regard to labour, there is discontent among the postmen and telegraphists, and postal and savings banks clerks, and their grievances have been pressed forward not only by the officials themselves, but by the public at large, who take an interest in deserving public servants. If everything is right the Department has nothing to fear; if there is anything wrong it ought not to be left without investigation. The Government on this question ought to desire that their followers should give an independent and not a Party vote. Without occupying further time I would earnestly press upon the Government the desirability of granting a Select Committee or a Royal Commission on this question. It ought not to be a departmental inquiry, because a merely departmental inquiry would not give satisfaction. If we desire to give satisfaction alike to the Post Office officials and to the public by all means let us have an inquiry with which all persons interested are likely to be satisfied. I can only further express my sincere hope that the Postmaster General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will agree to the Motion of my noble Friend.

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

In the first place, I wish to recognise the very kindly and conciliatory tone towards myself personally which has pervaded all the speeches in support of what is practically a Vote of Censure upon my' administration. But having said that, I am bound also to confess that I have listened with a great deal of surprise—I may say of astonishment—to very much that has been said to-night. The noble Lord who brought forward the Motion, and the hon. and learned Gentleman who seconded it, and other hon. Members, have talked of the"widespread discontent throughout the ranks of the Postal Service," of the" general dissatisfaction," and of several things of that sort. I beg to traverse those charges. There is no" widespread discontent," no" general dissatisfaction." I will go further, and say that at no time of late years has there been a more general feeling of content and satisfaction among the employés. One would think that the speeches made by the noble Lord and others who followed him had been rehearsed last year, when, no doubt, there was considerable discontent and dissatisfaction; but in not one of those speeches was there one word as to what has been done to allay that discontent and remove that dissatisfaction. The noble Lord and the hon. Gentleman who supported him have been silent about that. I do not wish to detain the House by dwelling upon the steps which have been taken, particularly as I had an opportunity eight or ten months ago of imparting to the House what had then been done to meet the demands and satisfy the requirements of the Post Office officials. But it is due to the House, after what has been said, or rather has not been said, to state that what has been done comprises the following changes: Overtime, as far as postal clerks and telegraphists are concerned, is now paid at a rate and a quarter. The cost of that payment is estimated at £11,000 per annum. Extra pay for Sunday work, which in the provinces amounts to double pay, comes to £53,000 a year; the improvement in the wages in the provinces, £47,500 a year; in the London Central Telegraph Office, £13,000 a year; and in the Metropolitan district to £5,500 a year; extra pay, given upon Bank holidays, £22,000 a year; the revision of the superintending classes throughout the Kingdom now in progress, and about half completed, is estimated to cost £41,000 a year, and the sick pay additionally granted comes to £15,000 a year. The total amount of these additions to wages and the improvements in the condition of sorting clerks and telegraphists amounts to no less an addition to the annual charge on the country than £207,000, and to all this not one single reference has escaped those who have spoken.


The right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten that I alluded to the benefits which have recently been granted, and I thanked the right hon. Gentleman for them.


I think the noble Lord has done so in a very perfunctory manner, and has referred to these things only to dismiss them. When this question was under the consideration of the Government last year they laid down a clear policy, namely, to increase the numbers of the staff so as to reduce overtime, to deal with those various financial changes to which I have referred, and to improve and adjust the position of the superior officers. All that has been done, or is in the course of being done—the whole of the machinery for carrying out that policy is in working order. Overtime, with the one exception of the office to which so much reference has been made, is not exces- sive, and all that is required is to leave these reforms to bear their natural fruit, and to test by experience how far they correspond to the just anticipations which have been formed. I think that when the noble Lord commenced his remarks he must have rather disappointed many of those who came here to-night expecting to hear from him a general and comprehensive indictment of the administration of the Post Office. I think that they must have been a little surprised when they found that the noble Lord dealt merely in the way of putting them aside with the various questions which he enumerated, such as that of communication between the Western Highlands and with the North of Ireland, further facilities with regard to postcards, and with that question of colonial postage which is so dear to the heart of the hon. Member for Canterbury, and, in fact, many interesting topics to which he referred only to put them aside. I will only refer to one other of those extraneous matters which the noble Lord has mentioned in more than one sentence, namely, the recent controversy with the Boy Messenger Company. For my own part, I have no wish to drag the House into a discussion on that point, which would be outside the general course of this Debate; but as the noble Lord has-been good enough to take credit to himself for supposing that his having put down this Motion has accelerated the settlement, I may say that it never crossed my mind that the noble Lord could possibly have dragged that question into the Debate which he proposed to originate to-night, and I must regretfully disabuse the noble Lord of any of the prestige which might possibly attach to him that he had contributed in any manner to the settlement of that question. The noble Lord talked about Petitions to the Postmaster General, and said that there had been a great many. For my own part I suppose that no Postmaster General has ever received so many or has answered so many, as myself, and I can assure the noble Lord that, if he thinks that these Petitions were burked on their way to me, he is entirely mistaken. There might be some irregularity in the form of a Petition, or some impropriety in its expressions which might lead the head of the branch of the Department to send it back to the petitioners, informing them that it was not in proper form; but even in such a case, as far as I can say, I believe I am always made aware of the fact that a Petition has been presented, and the reasons for its being sent back. In the case of the Petition of the London sorting force with regard to the Medical Department, they were told that that was a Petition which their superior officer would not be justified in forwarding, at least as far as that branch of the Department was concerned, and I do not think they were the people whom the Postmaster General could gain by consulting as to the constitution of the Medical Department. Although I am always ready to take notice of any specific complaint made in any particular case against any medical officer, it would be almost impossible to conduct the business of the office if the Postmaster General had to take into his confidence all the sorters of the office as to who was best fitted to be a medical adviser to the Post Office. I have, however, been informed of the Petition, and have endorsed the action of the officer who told them that it was an irregular Petition, and one that could not be presented. With regard to the Petition of the Savings Bank clerks, which it is said had been intercepted by the Financial Secretary to the Post Office, it is perfectly true that the Financial Secretary had referred that Petition back to the memorialists, intimating that it was a document which would not serve their interests, and advising them for their own sakes not to present it. What followed? They did present it, and it reached me through the Comptroller of the Savings Bank instead of the Financial Secretary. I believe that the head of the Department is kept perfectly informed as to every Petition, or suggestion, or memorial that emanates from any class or any branch of it. The case which has been made most of, and which I admit is a serious one, though not one which, in my opinion can in any way be elucidated by a Parliamentary Committee, is the question of overtime in the Savings Bank. I desire to point out that during the sitting of the Ridley Commission, to which so much reference has been made, the staff was not recruited, and it accordingly declined in numbers. The status of these men was being inquired into, and the staff, not being increased, diminished. Thus overtime necessarily grew. It is to be regretted, but it could not be avoided. Till last year, however, overtime was very popular, and officers who have left the Savings Bank Department and been removed to other Departments volunteered for overtime at Christmas. When the period of compulsory overtime expired, only the other day, 138 out of 531 came forward and voluntarily offered to continue overtime. I mention this to show that overtime is not regarded by the staff as an unmixed evil, as is sometimes supposed. The noble Lord said that 531 men had worked 268,000 hours overtime, and that this amounted to the services of 150 men all the year round. I cannot accept that computation, because if you divide 268,000 by 531, the proportion is a trifle over 500 hours, and I cannot see how the proportion of 500 hours can require the services of such a staff as 150 men. But the staff has now been increased, and the Department is in a position to dispense with excessive overtime. Some time ago I stated in the House that overtime in the Post Office was voluntary. Exception has been taken to that statement, but I was perfectly justified in. making it at the time. No difficulty had ever been experienced in obtaining volunteers, and it was not thought that at any time it would be necessary to have recourse to compulsion. Certain men in. the Department, however, conceived the idea of putting the Government in a position of embarrassment, from volunteering for overtime, and declined to work themselves. Then it was that it became necessary to resort to compulsion and to exercise that inherent power which resides in the head of every Department, as in every place of business, to insist on the necessary work of the country being done and to insist upon the servants of the Department assisting in performing their duty to the State. Now, what were the grievances of those 551 clerks? Their position had been improved—they had received a substantial addition to-their salaries, and the maximum salary had been raised from £300 to £350. They had also received assurances that their prospects of promotion would be-most jealously safeguarded. Yet they were not satisfied. Why was this? Because, in my opinion, and in that of my principal advisers, it was undesirable at present to increase the numbers of a staff which showed a disposition to give trouble. Accordingly the Department resorted to the alternative of bringing in female instead of male clerks. To this the male clerks objected. They said that they always expected that, as the business of the Department grew, the number of male clerks would increase, and that the number of superior appointments would also be increased—that they not only expected that their prospects of promotion would remain as good as when they entered, but that they would improve by reason of the increase of the clerks. That was an attitude which no one responsible for the Department could recognise. They were entitled to just and considerable treatment; but they could not be permitted to assume that the Department existed for their benefit. These clerks further said that their prospects of promotion were threatened because it was possible that under the new arrangements the number of superior appointments might diminish. I do not deny that there is something to be said for that contention. All I can say in answer to it is that I have determined, and so have those who are engaged on the permanent work of the Department, that in so far as in us lies we will protect the interests of all the men now in the service as far as their prospects of promotion go. And I would point out that, as they are now all members of the second division, their prospects of promotion are not limited to the particular branch in which they serve. Having now given what I hope is a perfectly fair and candid account of the question raised between the clerks in the Savings Bank and the authorities of the Post Office, I hope I have, in the opinion of the House, really exploded the only thing which looked like a substantial grievance. The noble Lord also touched upon one or two points. He referred to the long hours which telegraph boys have been called on in some cases to work. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord said as to the desirability of not employing boys for such long hours. I very much deprecate their employment for such long hours; but I think it would perhaps have been more useful to the boys themselves, and fairer to me, if the noble Lord had supplied me with the instances to which he referred, and, by writing to me, given me an opportunity of redressing any particular grievance. I would like, however, to point out in this connection that it has been made during the last few weeks a matter of great complaint against the new Post Office Express Service that I did not send out boys at all hours of the night. The noble Lord has also referred to the drivers of mail carts. He said they got 24s. a week and worked from 4 in the morning to 8 o'clock in the evening. I cannot suppose that their work is continuous; there must be considerable intervals; but I do not see that I am called upon to interfere in the private conduct of their business by the contractors now serving the public unless some serious known grievanceis brought to my notice. I have done my very best in the course of the last three years to cut down the long hours during which the postmen work, and there is hardly an important town in the country in which I have not succeeded, with the full assent of the Treasury, in reducing their hours to 12, or at the outside to 13. And the House must remember that I do not mean by that, continuous work. Those are the extreme hours over which the work is spread. As regards the rural postmen, I shall always be very glad to deal with any question of hardship in any special case. Since last year the Government has taken a very important step in suppressing the class of unestablished London postmen at 18s. a week, whose grievances formed so fertile a topic in the discussion which took place in 1890, and all the men it was possible to take into the Service are now established postmen. I think the noble Lord might have informed himself on that point before referring to the matter in a manner which led the House to imagine that the unestablished force still existed. With regard to the question of temporary employment of female telegraph clerks at lower wages, where should the Post Office go for it if not to their old servants? There is many a former female clerk whose matrimonial venture may not have been altogether successful, and who may have been left a widow with children to support. She is, at all events, in a position to claim the sympathy and consideration of the Department. As to the wages given, it is not possible to give temporary assistants anything like the wages earned by the regular servants, but I believe that in many cases 20s. a week is most thankfully received and most usefully applied. The hon. and learned Member for York drew attention to the question of the Epsom telegraphists. I think the hon. and learned Member is misinformed if he supposes that the whole of the Epsom staff is composed of men drawn from York, Manchester, Derby, and other places so far away; but I would point out that it is not desirable entirely to complete the temporary staff at Epsom from the Central Office, because every telegram from Epsom has to pass through the Central Office, and that is, therefore, not a time when the Central Office can afford to be depleted. With regard to the grouping of offices, I am not surprised that that should be a subject of criticism outside the Department. I am not certain now that we may not have gone a little too far in that direction; but the groups have in every case been based upon the character of the work, a matter upon which it is impossible for an outsider to form any opinion. The local authorities are undoubtedly the best judges of the nature and character of the work that passes through their hands. I am very much afraid that if one dead level maximum had been fixed it would have been impossible to fix it at a high point, and that, instead of the telegraphists of Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham earning 56s. a week as a maximum, they would more probably have had to be content with 50s. It is more than likely that the House and the Treasury would have said,"If we are to have one maximum only, we shall level down instead of up." The hon. Member for Liverpool, who apparently spoke chiefly with the object of denouncing the laws of supply and demand, took exception to an unfortunate incident that has affected some of the telegraphists at Liverpool. It is quite true that there was a mistake in an official document, and that by the document as printed it appeared that the Treasury sanctioned salaries of £155 instead of £150. The mistake—I do not know who is responsible for it, possibly the Queen's Printers —unfortunately escaped notice. If £155 had been retained as the amount of the salaries, it would have been necessary to give the same sum to all the men in the same position in the future, and to allow it also to the clerks in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, and other towns. An unnecessary expenditure would thus have been involved which we did not feel justified in asking Parliament to sanction. I am extremely sorry for the disappointment caused to the gentlemen concerned, but I hope that when they obtain their next annual increment they will forget not only the disappointment, but give the Department credit for not having attempted to perpetrate anything like a cruel hoax. The hon. Member for Cardiff has aired again the grievances of some of his interesting constituents. Having already discussed the question fully in this House, and having obtained from the House last year an express ratification of the course which I thought proper to take on the occasion referred to by the hon. Member, I must, with all respect to the hon. Member, decline to go into the question now. Discipline is discipline, order is order, and the Postmaster General must be given some little discretion, and when he thinks that certain clerks will be better employed at one office than another the personal interests of those clerks ought to be subordinated to the public interest. I am happy, however, to be able to inform the hon. Member that three of the seven clerks whom he has in his mind have been promoted to the first class in the offices to which they now belong, a promotion which they could not have obtained if they had remained at Cardiff. The hon. Member for Canterbury will forgive me if I do not follow him through the wide field which he has traversed. I wish the hon. Member would give the Government generally the credit which he is good enough to give to me. There is no reason why any distinction should be drawn between myself and my colleagues, who are equally desirous to do what can be done to improve the Postal Service. I appeal to the House not to encourage by any uncertainty in their decision to-night any recrudescence of that unfortunate feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction which at the present moment is almost at vanishing point in the Service. The noble Lord opposite is doubtless not aware of it, but he is being put in motion by the expiring Committees of the old agitation, and they do not represent any general feeling in the Service. I think I have shown to the House that the Post Office, the Treasury, and Her Majesty's Government have given the most careful, most exhaustive, attention to all the grievances which have been brought before them, and have afforded most substantial and, as I believe, complete relief. It would never do if, in order to encourage the vapourings of three or four of those gutter journals which disfigure the Metropolitan Press, Members of this House were to make the grave mistake of throwing discredit upon a body of men like the permanent officials of the Post Office, of whom any country might be proud, with whom, I believe, any Minister would be delighted to work, and of diminishing the authority in his own Department of a Minister who, whatever may be his personal deficiencies, at least believes that he has done nothing to forfeit the confidence of this House.

(12.8.) MR. THEDOREFRY (Darlington)

I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the question of the opening of private letters presumably at Post Offices in Ireland. This subject was raised many years ago, and questions have been put to predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman, the invariable answer being that such things never occur. But further cases have recently come to my notice, for letters of mine to Father O'Connor, a priest of Achill, have been opened before they reached my correspondent, and letters to me from Father O'Connor have been similarly treated. A political leaflet was abstracted from a letter which was sent to the rev. gentleman, and a photograph was abstracted from a letter sent to me. I sent a second letter and asked Father O'Connor to look carefully to see if it had been tampered with. He found it had. I then sent a third, and asked him to return it to me unopened. He did so, and I then found it had been re-opened and re-sealed. A railway official in Ireland told me that he believed a great proportion of his letters were opened. I have heard of other cases in which private letters have been opened, and whether this is done from curiosity or by official orders, it is a matter which demands the serious attention of the Postmaster General.


If the hon. Member will send me the envelopes of any letters which have been opened, I shall be glad to institute inquiry. Of course, the Post Office cannot open letters; it would be a legal offence for any one in the Post Office to open them; and, therefore, they cannot be opened under official orders.

(12.12.) MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

If it is an offence against the law, then unfortunately the law is very frequently broken in Ireland by high officials, and with the connivance of the authorities. We have brought numerous cases under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, and in fact it is quite a customary practice. There are certain Post Offices in my constituency in which it is done invariably, and if I am sending a confidential letter to a priest or to a well known Nationalist, I have to send it under cover to some one else. That is a common precaution nowadays. We do not charge the right hon. Gentleman with knowledge of the practice, but we say that the tone which he assumes in regard to our complaint is calculated to encourage the Post Office officials to look upon this as a trifling matter. I can only repeat that if the opening of letters is an infraction of the law such infractions of the law are committed daily in Ireland.

(12.14.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

Tear after year I have complained of the practice. I wish the hon. Member joy of what will follow from sending envelopes to the Postmaster General. After a decent interval there will come a reply stating that searching and exhaustive inquiry has been made without any result. I can tell the Postmaster General that private letters are habitually and daily opened by his officials in Ireland. I have made complaint of it to him without result. I say that of all the mean devices by which Government is carried on, this mean and sneaking system is the worst, and we shall denounce it if it were proved against the meanest Government in Europe.

(12.15.) The House divided:—Ayes 163; Noes 93.—(Div. List, No. 139.)

Main Question proposed,"That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

SUPPLY. — Committee upon Monday next.

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