§ MR. S. WOODS (Lancashire, S.W., Ince)
I beg to ask the Postmaster General whether the Chairman and Secretary of the Post Office Servants' Trade Union, who were dismissed for circulating a series of questions to Parliamentary candidates during the recent election, were the only offenders in this respect among the Post Office officials; and, if not, why they alone were selected for punishment; and which law or regulation have the men in question violated to justify their instant dismissal?
§ MR. H.P. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
had notice of the following question:—To ask the Postmaster General, with regard to the case of Messieurs Clery and Cheesman, sorters in the Post Office, who were recently dismissed for having, as Chairman and Secretary of the Fawcett Association, addressed a letter to Parliamentary candidates asking whether they would support a Motion for the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry into the Post Office, such as was advocated by the noble Lord the Member for the Barnsley Division (Earl Compton) and largely supported during a recent Session, and also with regard to the fact that, on the 14th of June, he publicly expressed his sense of the impropriety of Post Office servants endeavouring on the eve of a General Election to extract promises from can- 189 didates to support a Motion for a Parliamentary Inquiry, and on the 17th of June, in a special edition of the Post Office Circular, warned Post Office servants that it would be improper for them, whether in combination or individually, to endeavour to extract promises from Parliamentary candidates with reference to their duties and pay, whether he has taken or will take the opinion of the Law Officers as to the legality of his action in interfering with the right of Post Office servants, in common with other citizens, to urge their views upon and to ask for pledges from Parliamentary candidates; whether he has received any intimation or is aware that his statement and warning have caused grave dissatisfaction and alarm among employees in all branches of the Civil Service; whether he can name any precedent for the course he has taken in issuing the warning and in dismissing Messieurs Clery and Cheesman; and whether he proposes to reinstate them and to withdraw the warning?
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Sir JAMES FERGUSSON, Manchester, N.E.)
I would ask leave to reply at the same time to the question in the name of the hon. Member for Rugby. In reply to the first question, the two men dismissed were not the only offenders, but they were certainly the ringleaders, and so were made chiefly responsible. I do not see any occasion to ask for the Law Officers' opinion as to the legality of my action in the cases mentioned. I do not know if the hon. Member is aware that when the Bill for the removal of the Electoral Disabilities of Revenue Officers was in Committee of the Whole House, in 1874, the Bill was amended with unanimous approval with the express object of enabling the Heads of Departments to make such regulations as they might deem expedient in regard to the interference of such officers in elections. The recent occasion appeared to me to be one in which some directions were necessary in the public interest, and I distinctly pointed out the necessity upon the Post Office Vote. I am not aware that my statement and warning have caused grave dissatisfaction and alarm in the Civil Service, nor am I aware of any precedent either 190 for the course I have taken or for the conduct which led to it, and I do not propose to reinstate the dismissed men or to withdraw the warning.
§ MR. COBB
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, is there not a distinct difference between interfering in an election and in simply asking the man who aspires to be your representative whether he will do certain things in your interest? As I am now up, may I also ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that officers in high positions in the Inland Revenue Department, immediately previous to and during the elections, did send circulars to candidates asking what action they would be prepared to take on certain points affecting the interests of those officers? I would also ask why it is a greater offence for a man in a subordinate position—
§ MR. SPEAKER
That is not a question to ask at Question time. The hon. Member is putting an argument in the form of a question; he may ask a question on a matter of fact.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
Of course there are various kinds of interference, and some of them may be more improper than others. There have always been these regulations since 1874 checking certain practices on the part of Post Office servants, and recent occasions seem to indicate that seine further regulation is required. I thought this was an improper kind of interference. I am not aware of the practice alleged to have taken place in another Department to which the hon. Member has referred.
§ MR. TIMOTHY HEALY (Louth, N.)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman why did he delay the announcement of the punishment of these officers until the General Election was over?
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
I do not think the General Election was over when I took the first step in the matter. At all events, I dealt with the matter on the first day after my arrival in London, when the case was reported to me.