HC Deb 21 August 1894 vol 29 cc254-65

Fifty-first Resolution, That a sum, not exceeding £5,287,785, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1895, for the Salaries and Expenses of the post Office Services, the Expenses of Post Office Savings Banks, and Government Annuities and Insurances, and the Collection of the Post Office Revenue, considered.


I am too sensible of the kindness and consideration extended to me in past years by the House of Commons to trouble hon. Members with a lengthy speech, now that it is past midnight. Before entering upon a detailed criticism of Post Office administration, I am sure the House will like to hear something about the present position of Imperial Penny Postage, which has created so much interest, in Parliament and in the country. I am violating no confidence in stating that the Prime Minister is a warm supporter of the scheme, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the moment he took Office, expressed himself favourably towards the project, and opened up negotiations with the Postmaster General with the object of carrying it out. This House has itself expressed a unanimous desire for the reform. The Postmaster General in a recent speech made the important declaration that he would he glad to introduce Imperial Penny Postage the moment two obstacles were removed. The first condition was that the finances of the country should be favourable (the amount required being £75,000); and the second, that the assent of the Colonies should be obtained. I am glad to say that the most important Colonies have already given their assent. The Prime Ministers of Victoria, New Zealand, Canada, and Tasmania have expressed entire and hearty concurrence in the scheme. The remaining Colonies—at least, some of them—only ask that the Postmaster General shall himself open negotiations with them on the subject, as a pledge of his earnestness. I venture now to ask the right hon. Gentleman to do so. The position is exactly like that of two diffident lovers, each waiting a sign or indication from the other. I trust that the Postmaster General, as representing incalculably the stronger and richer party, will take the first step; and the result will, I am confident, be satisfactory to both. Turning to the administration of the Post Office, I regret to have again to report that a Parcel Post has not yet been established to the United States. I visited America last year, and found that our indefatigable trade rivals, the Germans, had established such a post to that country, and so there can be no insuperable difficulties in the way. I wish the right hon. Gentleman could hear the fervid terms in which men of business express themselves about the failure to provide them with this Parcel Post; he would be astonished at my moderation. Half the American foreign trade is done with us; we are their best customers; American visitors spend £15,000,000 a year in London. We have a Parcel Post to New Guinea and the Coast of Africa, and the Americans have one to various British Colonies; but the two main branches of the Anglo-Saxon race are denied a privilege conceded to savage Kaffirs, Red Indians, and West Indian negroes. What is it that blocks the way? And now, to take a purely domestic reform: I was grieved to hear the Postmaster General the other day throwing cold water on the suggestion that a letterbox should be attached to every through train. Does he deny that this would expedite the delivery of correspondence? Letter in hand, I see an express train about to start; what reason is there, in the whole armoury of obstruction, why that train should not carry my letter? He spoke of "practical difficulties." What are they, and who raises them? Is it the cost of the box? That could not exceed 1s. 6d. Or would the officials at the town of destination be unduly fluttered and disorganised by such unprece- dented promptitude? Let the Post Office make an effort, and rise to the occasion. A gentleman—Mr. M. J. Sutton, of Kidmore Grange, Caversham—writes to me complaining of an absurd Rule in The Postal Guide. The Rule reads as follows:— No letter may be accepted for transmission as a railway letter which either exceeds one ounce in weight, or is addressed to a foreign country, or to a Colony in a British possession. My correspondent says— Letters to the Press can only be written one side of the paper, and therefore can very seldom travel under one ounce in weight. Surely, four ounces would not be an excessive limit for a rail letter. Now let us consider a reform deeply affecting our relations with the Colonies. Here is a clear case of official obstruction and perversity. The Australian Postmasters General (whose views on another question were eagerly quoted against me by the right hon. Gentleman) have unanimously requested him to exchange postal orders with them. He refuses on the ground that forgery would take place. Yet a Bank of England note is freely cashed all over Europe; why could not a uniform postal note be made equally safe by watermark, &c.? Does he say that the Postmasters General have made a thoughtless and foolish request? He accepts the voices of three out of seven of them as conclusive about Imperial Penny Postage, yet disregards contemptuously their unanimous request for postal orders. Sometimes a Regulation is utterly uncalled for and vexatious. Thus, why may we paste the address on a postcard, but nothing else? Suppose a chess problem is to be sent it must go in an envelope, although it would be so easy to paste it on a card. Why is it lawful to paste a slip on one side, and a finable offence to paste it on the other? What harm is done to the revenue, the officials, or the card by the process? I produce to the House two of these postcards, on one of which was pasted a chess problem, and on the other the telephone address of the senders. The recipients in each case were fined 1d. It is strange to think how small an obstacle may hinder communication between nations using different stamps and separated by a political frontier. When shall we have an International stamp, which can be sent anywhere to pay for small purchases, newspapers, &c. The United States Government proposed this at Vienna—will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to support the suggestion? The accounts might easily be calculated on an average of years. There is an immense annual increase in the number of postal articles which are refused owing to the new fines for re-direction: With reference to this re-direction nuisance, I beg the Postmaster General no longer to irritate the public, but to restore the privilege of free re-direction for all mail matter within the one postal district. It is a common thing for a postman to bring to a house a re-directed letter and a re-directed newspaper from one office. The former is free and the latter is subject to a fine. I now wish to direct attention to a crying scandal—namely, the arbitrary and unjust Rules requiring a registered newspaper to be published at intervals not exceeding seven days, and to contain a certain proportion of news and articles of a particular character. The Nineteenth Century, The Fortnightly, and The New Review, for instance, have to pay book-post rates, while The Field and other larger papers go through the post for ½d. each. Let me next bring under the notice of the Postmaster General the following case of abuse of power:—According to my correspondent, a girl having passed an examination for promotion in a certain post office is informed that, before getting her step, she must satisfy "the local General Post Office dentist," who supplies sets of teeth free from the General Post Office to General Post Office assistants. Now hear the sequel:—My lady informant went with the girl and the doctor to the dentist, who found slight unsoundness in one or two teeth, and the girl was at once informed that she must forego her promotion, or allow 14 teeth to be there and then extracted. The teeth were extracted at one sitting—this torture was enacted in the presence of a medical man, and you can fancy the condition of the victim! The reason given was, "We cannot have girls laid up with toothache." This is the General Post Office specific for toothache, and it is certainly unique. This is so monstrous and so incredible that I feel sure that it needs only to be mentioned in order to be denied. I desire to bring before the House the question of postmen's uniform. I am bound to agree with every word in regard to this subject sent to me by a correspondent. I may premise, however, that my friend the late Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) used to proudly say that he presided over an army larger and more powerful than that of the Secretary of State for War, or that of the First Lord of the Admiralty. He meant, of course, the Post Office employés. Now my correspondent says— The disreputable manner in which these employès who wear uniform are permitted to appear in public is brought before us almost every day. They may be seen with uniform coats surmounted by straw hats and other fancy headdresses, coats unbuttoned and any pattern of trousers. Considering that there is a Bill before Parliament intended to uphold the honour of the Queen's uniform, surely it is not unreasonable to expect that those who wear it should honour it. Soldiers, sailors, policemen, and many others would be disgraced by wearing a dress half of uniform and half of plain nondescript clothes. Why should the Post Office servants be allowed a mixture? It is certainly not so in France, Germany, or Italy. I entirely agree with my correspondent that the uniform is certainly unworthy of our great Postal Service, and I commend the subject to the attention of the Postmaster General. Lastly, I would bring under the notice of the Postmaster General the Resolution I have placed on the Paper for the establishment of a consultative Committee, consisting of leading merchants and others who would see that all complaints and all suggestions for the reform of the Post Office are properly considered, so that the Post Office Officials should not be the makers of Regulations and the administrators of them. In conclusion, I have to compliment the Postmaster General on the many reforms he has carried out during the past year, and I trust that the suggestions I have made will receive his attention.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

said, there were only two points to winch he desired to refer. The first was a matter to which the attention of the Postmaster General had often been drawn, in regard to which he could scarcely think that faith had been kept with the postmen, whom the matter concerned. He referred to the large number of hours over which the postmen's duties extended, in some cases to as many as 16 hours. A long time ago the Postmaster General promised that steps should be taken to confine those duties within a limit of 12 hours. So long ago as Christmas, 1891, a Petition on this subject was presented to the Postmaster General, and to that Petition a reply was sent that fresh arrangements would be made. Nothing was actually done, and in the summer of 1892 another Petition was presented. Again nothing was done, and in May of this year another Petition was presented, but nothing had been done; and the duties of these men still extended over 16 hours. He thought ample time had elapsed for the necessary correction to be made, and he hoped the matter would receive the immediate attention of the Postmaster General. The other matter he wished to refer to was membership of the proposed District and Parish Councils by Post Office servants; and he thought that Vote ought not to pass without their obtaining from the Postmaster General a more definite statement than had yet been made, because there was no doubt that the action of the Post Office in the matter had caused very considerable misgivings and alarm in the minds of the persons who were immediately affected. The first Circular issued from the Treasury upon this subject undoubtedly laid down that Civil servants should not become candidates for election to District Councils, and therefore at that time the Postmaster General was, no doubt, only doing his duty when, in his Circular, he adopted the language of the Treasury Circular, and stated that Post Office servants would not be competent to become members of District Councils or to offer themselves as candidates. On the 11th of August the Treasury issued a revised Circular, in which they stated that Civil servants were excluded from serving on any District Council the meetings of which were held during hours required for official duty. But, notwithstanding that, although this Circular was issued from the Treasury on the 11th of August, the Postmaster General, issuing his own Circular on the 14th of August, substantially repeated the prohibition which had appeared in the former Circular, which was going far beyond the Minute of the Treasury. They had had a revised Order from the Treasury upon this subject, and according to that, it was to be competent to Civil servants, who first obtained the consent of their superior officer, to become members either of a Parish or District Council, but it was provided that that privilege should be subject to the condition that if in any particular case the duties of the two wore found to conflict power must be retained to the head of the Department to require the Civil servant to retire from the Council. That was perfectly legitimate and reasonable, and he had no doubt would meet with the approval of the public. What he wanted to ascertain from the Postmaster General was whether he would give them a definite statement, that in the next Circular he issued he would inform Post Office servants on this matter in the words, or, at all events, in the spirit, which was indicated by an answer of the Secretary to the Treasury the other day?


I have to thank the hon. Gentleman for his reference to the reforms which the Department has already carried out, though they may not in point of numbers equal his expectations. I think that last year there were 60 reforms which he advocated as measures for our consideration. On the present occasion he has confined himself to 12. With reference to most of these, it is hardly necessary to remind the House that upon matters of expenditure the Department has not a free hand. It has to get the sanction of the Treasury, and from this cause difficulties no doubt do arise in carrying out some reforms which the Department would be glad to see instituted. With respect to one of the subjects to which the hon. Member referred—I mean private postcards—he has stated that the Department has been obstructive; but in regard to that particular question—and the same applies to a large number of other questions—the Department has for a great number of years steadily held the opinion that it would be a great advantage to the public if a change could be made. We think that the public should be able to use private cards of their own by putting stamps upon them. I have seen a Minute of the late Mr. Fawcett in that sense, and I believe that every Postmaster General since has taken the same view. I am very glad we have succeeded at last in carrying through the arrange- ment, and I must acknowledge the liberal way in which the contractors, Messrs. De La Rue and Co., have met us on the subject.

MR. DISRAELI (Cheshire, Altrincham)

Is the right hon. Gentleman going to settle the size of the cards?


Yes. Full particulars on this point will be given in the Regulations. They are now under consideration, and it would be improper to make any statement before they are published, as they will be in due course. As to the question of a parcel post with the United States, communications have been passing through the Foreign Office with the United States, but so far the Government of the Republic have not seen their way to extend to this country the arrangement which we have with almost every civilised country in the world. But I am not without hopes that they may yet be able to meet our wishes. Then the hon. Member for Canterbury mentioned the question of Post Office uniforms. My attention has been called to complaints which have been made about the condition of the uniforms, and I have appointed a small Departmental Committee to look into the question with a view to seeing what reforms can be made. The hon. Member also spoke upon the question of a candidate, who had to have considerable operations carried out upon her teeth before being admitted to an appointment. I quite admit that in the past there has been a very unsatisfactory arrangement with regard to matters of that kind; but I understand that a good condition of teeth is important, both as an indication of what the health of the candidate is, and from the fact that bad teeth may be a cause of bad health in the future. But the manner in which the subject should be dealt with has been looked into carefully, and new Regulations have been in force for some time, so that the difficulty of which the hon. Member has complained is not, likely to occur again. I think the Regulations give satisfaction, and that the Department, cannot be charged with any harsh treatment in a matter of this kind. I do not think that the other subjects to which the hon. Member referred are subjects which he will expect me to deal with. He has on other occasions presented them before the House, and the views of the Department have been expressed with regard to them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green has spoken about the large number of hours over which the duties of some of the postmen are extended, and he spoke of a reform which was promised by a predecessor of mine in connection with the matter. The House will understand what the matter refers to. It is that eight hours' duty are so divided and split up as on the whole to extend, as stated by my hon. Friend, over 16 hours. We are trying, wherever opportunity occurs, to reduce the number of hours over which the eight hours' duty is spread; but it is practically impossible to bring about a change in that matter, excepting where a revision takes place in the establishment of a particular postal locality. In a large number of towns we have introduced reforms, and the hours have been brought within a total limit of 12, and this has been done with no increase of expenditure to the Department, or very little. I am doing all I can to push forward that reform in other districts, and I will look into the case of Hackney. With regard to what the hon. Member has said as to Post Office servants being allowed to become members of Parish and District Councils, we were anxious to get the Regulations out as soon as possible. The Post Office Regulations wore issued before the Treasury Minute had reached the Post Office, but I can give the hon. Member the assurance that the new Postal Regulations which will be issued in a day or two will fully carry out the Minute of the Treasury, and will be in accordance with the statement of the Secretary to the Treasury the other day when he answered a question in this House. I have now mentioned most of the matters raised, and I would now ask the House to pass the Vote.

MR. EGERTON ALLEN (Pembroke, &c.)

asked if the right lion. Gentleman could give the House any information as to the acceleration of the postal service to South Wales, a subject on which the constituencies were very anxious? The Postmaster General had been good enough to say already that the matter had engaged his attention, and he wanted to know whether it had arrived at a stage at which he would be able to give them some further information?


After protracted negotiations with the Great Western Railway Company I have made arrangements with the Company by which there will be an acceleration of the mails to the whole of the South-West of Wales, and there will be a later post of an hour and a-half to London. There were also arrangements made by which a new train through the Severn Tunnel would give more rapid communication between South Wales and the South-West of England.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

asked whether the right hon. Gentleman could give any explanation of the delay which had taken place in respect of the complaints of the servants of the Post Office made some eight or nine months ago? He understood they had had nothing except in the nature of a formal reply, and they were very anxious to know what wore the intentions of the Government with regard to their demands. Could the right hon. Gentleman give any explanation of the delay which had taken place, and any hope that the demands would be granted?


said, he could give his hon. Friend an assurance that the delay which had taken place had been unavoidable. The matter had been receiving careful attention, but there had been necessarily much delay, as it was extremely complicated; but he thought that before very long a decision would be arrived at. The Report of the Comptroller of the London Postal Service was sent in on the 31st of July last, and the matter was under consideration in the Secretary's Office, and would have to be presented to the Treasury.

Resolution agreed to.

Fifty-second Resolution agreed to.

Fifty-third Resolution— That a sum, not exceeding £1,676,930, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1895, for the Salaries and Working Expenses of the Post Office Telegraph Service. considered.


said, it was desirable that every person in this country, whether near to or distant from the great centres of population, should be placed on an equality in regard to postal telegraph communications. He had placed a Resolution on the Paper the object of which was to sweep away these postal guarantees, and he thought it was desirable to do away with them, and to place the people in outside parts of the country on the same level as those in the town. The Postmaster General had been pressed to do away with these guarantees. They were heavy charges, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give them an assurance that night that he would be able to meet the wishes of the people in this respect. He also desired to call attention to the arrangements for telegraphing money. The House were aware that this reform had been established after many years' agitation; but in establishing these telegraph Money Orders the Regulations had been surrounded with so many difficulties that it was now most expensive to telegraph money, and the system was not so popular as it ought to be. He therefore urged the Postmaster General to establish a system of sending money with the telegram to the house of the recipient. If this course were adopted a great deal of trouble would be avoided. He wished to call attention to the high telegraph charges to Paris from London. The charge was 2d. a word. The price of a telegram from London to Ireland and from London to Jersey was only a ½d. a word, and he did not see why they should not be able to send a telegram from London to France for at least 1d. a word. He trusted the Postmaster General would carry out this reform, which he regarded as one of the strongest possible means of encouraging friendly communications between England and France.


said, that during the year 1893–4 there had been 425 new telegraph offices opened at Post Offices, and 248 at railway stations, a total of 673, which was by far the largest number of any recent years. From the 1st of April of this year there had been 246 new offices opened at Post Offices, and 49 at railway stations, or 295 in less than half a year.


With regard to the question of guarantees?


said, that was a matter for the Treasury. With regard to the telegraph money orders, he believed the hon. Gentleman was hardly correct in saying that the system was not popular. The figures would show that the numbers were very largely increasing and that the system was very popular with the public.

Resolution agreed to.

Further Consideration of Postponed Resolutions deferred till To-morrow.