§ On Motion for going into Committee of Supply on the Civil Service Estimates (Class I.)—
*MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport) rose to call attention to certain grievances
of the employés in the Post Office; and to move—
That, in the opinion of this House, it is highly desirable that the terms and conditions of employment in the Post Office should he made the subject of competent and immediate inquiry, with a view to the removal of any reasonable cause of complaint which may be found to exist.
He reminded the House that a demand for an inquiry had been made more than once. In 1891 a Motion on the subject was proposed but not accepted by the Government of the day; in 1893 the hon. Member for Bow endeavoured to induce the Government to grant an inquiry, but certain undertakings having been, given by the Minister responsible, the hon. Member did not persevere with his Motion; and, then, this year an hon. Member endeavoured to bring the question forward in the Debate on the Address, but was frustrated by the Closure. It could not fail to be within the knowledge of many Members that the discontent in the Post Office was general. It was not a case of individual grievances, nor a case of any particular locality suffering under a grievance. The grievances complained of existed throughout the entire staff in all parts of the kingdom. He desired to say at the outset that all his remarks would be directed to the advisability of granting some inquiry. He was not in a position to assert that any particular alleged grievance really existed, as stated by the employés; but there could be no doubt that there was general discontent. It must be in the interest of all concerned, including the Postmaster General and the Department, that these grievances should be inquired into. He desired to bear witness to the sympathy that had been shown towards the employés by the Postmaster General since he had presided over the Department. The right hon. Gentleman had done much, he readily admitted. The right hon. Gentleman had inquired carefully into the cases brought before him, and many hon. Members knew from their own personal experience that when opportunities presented themselves he had endeavoured to rectify evils. But however desirous the right hon. Gentleman might be to settle the matters brought to his notice, it would be quite impossible for him to plumb the depth and intensity of the
dissatisfaction that prevailed without an inquiry. Therefore, he asked for an inquiry. It was sometimes alleged by a Government that such a Motion as his amounted necessarily to a Vote of Censure. It was far from his intention that his Motion should be interpreted in that way. He trusted, therefore, that the Postmaster General would not suggest that the Motion was at all indicative of an intention to move a Vote of Censure. In 1886 the Ridley Commission was appointed for the specific purpose of inquiring into the Civil Service establishments, and the reference to that Commission was wide enough to embrace every class of grievance and every allegation of maladministration. When that Commission was appointed the Postal employés were invited, through the medium of the Post Office Circular, to give evidence. They accepted that invitation, and at once began to collect and prepare evidence, and formed what they called a Royal Commission Committee. The collection of evidence was not confined to one particular class of employés, but embraced the whole of the postal and telegraph branches, and extended over 12 months. Then the Secretary to the Commission, Mr. Horace Walpole, put himself into communication with the Postal Department, saying that the Commissioners would be glad to fix a day for hearing the evidence. Notwithstanding that, however, the Commission disbanded without giving the men an opportunity of presenting their case. He maintained that when a Commission was appointed to carry out a certain specific work, and disbanded without fulfilling its task, there was a primâ facie case for a fresh inquiry. In his Amendment he had not specified any particular body to which the case of the postal employés should be referred; he thought it better to await the reply of the Postmaster General, who might be able to suggest a form of inquiry that would be adequate. When the Commission of 1886 disbanded there was naturally considerable disappointment, and the outcome was that a Departmental Committee was appointed by the Postmaster General, consisting of postal officials. They proceeded to investigate the case, but at the very outset, whilst inviting evidence on certain points, they refused to discuss one of the most burning ques-
tions, namely, classification. Though he had no doubt that they discharged their duty conscientiously, in his opinion a Departmental Committee was not a body which would possess the confidence of those whose grievances they had to inquire into. At any rate it was the fact that this Committee refused to inquire into one of the most burning grievances of the time. The question of classification still remained a burning question. He thought the system was introduced in 1872, but at all events in 1876 when the Playfair scheme was put into force, it was clearly indicated that progression from class to class should be continuous until the maximum was reached. But in 1880, promotion altogether ceased owing to the higher classes being blocked. The result was that agitation sprang up again and produced what was known as the Fawcett scheme. In submitting his scheme to the Treasury, the Postmaster General said that his view of the case was that the complaints arose from the inadequacy of the pay arising from stagnation of promotion. The Treasury accepted Mr. Fawcett's scheme, and it worked remarkably well for many years, until blocking again became a reality. The men again began to agitate, and another scheme was developed by Mr. Raikes, and that scheme went along very well until blocking recommenced, which applied at present to the first class only, but it was inevitable that it must also apply to the second class at no distant date. As things were, there was no prospect of advancement from class to class except when vacancies were caused by death or retirement. Further than that, there was this anomaly—that men of equal ability and service and of good character, and performing precisely the same work, received unequal pay. Two men might enter the service on the same day. Both men might be of good average ability, of good character, and might progress up to a certain point together. Then "one was taken and the other left." The grievance was not merely a London grievance. In his opinion, it was far greater in the provinces. In some country towns, indeed, there was only one class, in which men advanced by increments of 2s. a week to a maximum of 40s., and it took them about 14 years to advance to that maximum. This did not apply to small
towns only. It was in force in such towns as Lincoln, Cheltenham, Warring-ton, Grimsby, and Colchester. The result was that men who had reached the maximum at the age of 30, had no prospect of promotion to a higher wage. That seemed to him a great grievance. In those towns in which there were two classes, the chances of promotion were extremely small. In Birmingham, for instance, there were 168 men, and only 11 had been promoted to the first class in 4¾ years. In Belfast, the rate of promotion was 1.14 per cent, and in Edinburgh, 2 per cent, per annum. It was obvious, therefore, that it was next to impossible for men ever to get beyond the maximum of the second class, although they were doing the same work as the men in the first class, and had been certified over and over again by the local superintendent to be worthy of promotion. He would venture to suggest to the Postmaster General what might be a remedy. At all events, the idea of the men was—what they asked for was—steady and assured promotion, so that they might ascend from a definite minimum to a definite maximum. It was not for him to say what that figure should be, but he did say that the adoption of the principle would remove a grievance which had existed for the last 20 years. The maximum, so far as London was concerned, was £190 a year. He would not suggest that every telegraphist should progress automatically to £190 a year but he did suggest that there should be an assured line of promotion. He would now pass to another point, and that was the question of auxiliary employment. Auxiliary postmen were partially employed, but their duty was spread over a long period of hours every day. That was a bad principle, and gave rise to a great amount of hardship. He was aware that these men when they entered the service had to sign a declaration that their weekly wage added to that received from the Post Office amounted to not less than 18s. a week. The Admiralty had set up in its Naval establishments a standard of 19s. a week for the lowest class of labour, and 20s. in London, and he failed to see altogether how the Postal Authorities could contend that 18s. a week was sufficient for a mail to maintain himself in London. He was, of
course, supposed to have other employment, but it was perfectly impossible in practice, because although his duties were intermittent they were spread over the whole day, and he could not get away to employ himself elsewhere. The number of auxiliary postmen employed in London was 2,500, and the average pay received from the Post Office was no higher than 11s. a week, and that was a subject which, in his opinion, ought to be inquired into. He believed that if an inquiry were set up it would be found possible to improve the organisation, and to a great extent to absorb a very large amount of this labour into a permanent staff engaged for a regulation period of eight hours a day. He would give one or two cases in the London district. In the New Wands worth district there were 22 auxiliary men employed at an average wage of 13s. a week, having no other employment. At Walthamstow 26 were employed at wages varying from 11s. to 19s. a week, and the great majority of them had no other employment. When these men sought staff employment they were told that, although they were eligible, telegraph boys had priority over them. There was a body called supernumeraries who really did a full day's work, acting principally as postmen; but these men again had inadequate pay; their wages rose to no more than 21s. a a week after some years of service, and they had no prospect of getting on the establishment, and no certainty of continuous employment. Yet these men had entrusted to them valuable letters and important documents; and it was not safe or in the public interests that men receiving such low pay should be entrusted with such responsibilities; and if they must discharge them, they ought to receive higher pay. In the provinces there were what were called junior postmen, of the ages of 22 and 23, who received from 14s. to 17s. a week. If these men were to continue in the service, there ought to be a minimum wage fixed for them; in London it would naturally be a little higher than in the country; and in the provinces it would vary according to circumstances. The rates of pay of the rural postmen varied very much. He had come in contact with some who were well paid; but there were many who
were not, and who worked very long hours. They were out in all weathers and they were almost beasts of burden, for in addition to letters, they had to carry parcels for miles. One man was on duty from 5.40 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. In one part of Devonshire, a man who had to cover 58 miles of road, had 8s. 6d. per week. A man who travelled 60 miles a week and had to climb a minor mountain 700 ft. in height, had 15s. a week. A man who tramped 18 miles a day, got 12s. 10d. a week. At Bexhill, a man began at 7 a.m., and left off at 9.45; he was on again from 11.15 to 1.10 p.m.; he was on again from 7.15 to 9.10 p.m., and his wages were 12s. a week. Some of these men were well treated and had good pay; but there were too many cases in which men worked incessantly for long hours, had long tramps to make, and got a very low rate of pay. Another subject for inquiry was that of split duties. Nominally a man worked 8 hours a day, but the duties were spread over 12 or 15 hours. This applied to postal work in London and to both postal and telegraph work in the provinces. He recognised that the urgencies of the postal service might render it difficult to arrange for 8 hours' continuous employment, but still it was possible to make some change where the service was spread over too many hours. Then there was the question of holidays. A number of these men had to take their holidays in the winter months. That seemed to be a hardship; but he did not suggest that it could be remedied in all cases immediately Summer holidays were given by preference to the older and more responsible men; but still it did seem hard that a man should be sent away from London in December when he could have no enjoyment of the country. Another matter was that of civil rights. The right hon. Gentleman who presided over the Post Office in the last Administration, stated that the officers of the Post Office were no longer under any electoral disabilities; but the Post Office servants said that was not so, and that their exercise of the privileges of citizenship was unduly curtailed. It was alleged that by Acts passed, one in this reign, and one in that of George III., the disabilities of the State employés
had been removed. Whether that was so or not, he admitted that it was not practicable to give persons in confidential positions full liberty to do what they liked in the way of supporting candidates, speaking, canvassing, and joining committees; that could not be permitted in the interests of the State; but it was quite another thing to say that a sorter, a telegraphist, or a postman, who was in no way the depositary of a State secret, should not be permitted to mix himself up in electioneering matters. He failed to see the slightest difference between a clerk in the Postal Savings Bank and a clerk in the Birkbeck or the London and County Bank, or between a State telegraphist and one employed by Reuter's Company. There might be some restrictions on officials taking part in party public meetings, but restrictions as to postal employés being on the committees of candidates and appearing on platforms or making speeches at certain meetings were somewhat antiquated, and he did not think the service would suffer in the slightest degree if they were swept away. Many of his constituents were in State service, but they frequently appeared on platforms and had licence to do so. If there were to be inquiry, he hoped the disabilities of Post Office employés would be considered. He had not attempted to deal with all alleged grievances, it would take too long a time to do that; but he had stated a few which appeared to be well founded, and as he believed that such inquiry as he had indicated should be granted, he concluded by moving the Resolution.
§ *SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, N.)
said, he had been asked to second the proposal which had been so ably laid before the House. Having had many opportunities of forming a judgment as to the feelings of the service on this question, he had no hesitation in saying it was idle to deny the fact that the very gravest dissatisfaction and discontent existed, that the discontent was widespread, and that there was so much justification for it as to call for inquiry—preferably by a Royal Commission—in the interests not only of the employés but also of the State itself. Inquiry could not possibly do any harm; on the other hand, if, as he believed, real grievances 1454 existed, it might be the means of removing them. Simply to deny such allegations was no answer, it begged the question, which could only be decided by impartial inquiry before a Commission or Parliamentary Committee. Nothing could be of more disadvantage to a State service than that a large department of it should be allowed to entertain strong feelings that they suffered injustice, and that they had not had that consideration extended to them to which they were justly entitled. He did not deny that the Postmaster General had done something to mitigate the causes of complaint, but what had been done was inadequate. In 1891, in a discussion on a motion by the hon. Member for Barnsley, the Postmaster General said he believed the feeling of dissatisfaction was widespread, and to a deputation of Members of Parliament which waited on him more recently he made the same admission. It was stated that so long ago as May 1894 the right hon. Gentleman received a representation on the grievances of sorters; but up to the present no reply had been received. If a whole year were allowed to pass without any notice being taken of a statement of grievances believed to be well founded, and expressed in moderate terms, it seemed that the time had come when the House might well say it would like to have an inquiry of a different character. On the other hand, he was told there was one case, that of the tracers. He was told that there was a case in which the right hon. Gentleman had reversed this procedure, and, after asking for information, had given a decision without waiting for it and for a deputation, and somewhat prematurely. The rule that the Civil Service Departments sought to enforce was—that at all public meetings at which Government employés took part, and elsewhere as at elections, there must be a due regard to discipline on their part. But inasmuch as Parliament had conferred the Franchise upon Civil Servants they should be entitled to exercise that Franchise without restrictions, except such as were imposed by statute, and the above words were vague and ill-defined, and therefore dangerous pitfalls. The late Postmaster General came to the conclusion that it was a breach of discipline for Civil Servants to 1455 approach Members of Parliament with the view of inducing them to support a Motion for an inquiry into the alleged grievances of Post Office employés A Post Office Circular, dated June 17, 1892, issued in view of the then approaching General Election, and addressed to Post Office Servants, contained the following:''Sir James Fergusson, at the same time, desires to warn Post Office Servants that it would ho improper for them, whether in combination or individually, to endeavour to extract promises from any candidate for election to the House of Commons with reference to their duties and pay.It was in consequence of their disregard of this instruction that several Post Office employés had been dismissed, with the consequent loss of their pensions. The question which the Post Office employés put to candidates was not even within the terms of the Circular, for it had no reference whatever to their "duties or pay," and in his opinion such an instruction and the dismissals were ultra vires on the part of the Postmaster General. It was a most unfortunate thing that one Minister should lay down a certain rule, and should dismiss a number of men for disobeying it, and that his successor should set that rule aside, and yet the dismissed men should not be reinstated, although by the reversal of the rule their action had been vindicated. Proper redress was to restore, and they ought at least to be amnestied. If the mode in which Civil Servants were to exercise their Franchise was to be limited it should be done by statute and not by departmental rules, and much less by any one Minister's will, for the days of such disabilities died with George III., and it was their duty to themselves and to their families to ask such a question. With regard to the case of the auxiliary postmen, it was the fact that they received very small salaries, amounting to from 15s. to 18s. a week in the case of adults, and that they thought that they were entitled to a minimum salary of 24s. a week, in place of what they regarded as sweating. It was further alleged that the wages of the rural postmen were inadequate, and that the employment of boy labour at boy wages in adult duty was an injustice to the men. The men also sought to draw attention to the rules regarding promotion, and the small annual increments of pay, and complained that the hours 1456 of labour, although nominally only 8 were in fact 14 or 16. All these matters ought to be inquired into, and if the complaints of the men were well founded the grievances ought to be redressed. In reference to the question of leave, it had been stated that many of the men were required to take their leave in the winter months, and that in some cases where they had been compelled to take their leave in December in one year they had been required to take it again for the next year in the February following! Such a system was undoubtedly detrimental to the health of the men. It was no recreation. Then again, the sanitary condition of the central office and of the office at Cold-bath Fields was said to be very bad, and it was asserted that the insanitary condition of the offices had occasioned several deaths among the men. The deserted prison was a most unsuitable public office. Housing and health were closely connected. The men had also put forward a complaint with regard to the period at which they were superannuated, alleging that there was no maximum term, say after 25 years' service, and that they were worked until they were quite unfit for any other duty, and were so deprived of the benefit of the pension to which they were entitled and to which they had contributed large sums in the shape of deferred pay. It was not in one department only that these complaints against the State existed—they came from sorters, postmen, and telegraphists, men who from their education were capable of forming a just judgment. Notwithstanding the schemes of Mr. Fawcett, Lord Playfair, and Mr. Raikes (and at the Post Office it was universally felt that Mr. Raikes as Postmaster General did his best to meet reasonably the complaints of the service) the inequitable system of classification created injustice and discontent. He believed the system was fundamentally unsound, and that it led to irregularity, inequality, and stagnation of promotion and of pay. In the telegraph service the hours, and the conditions of work were complained of, and the telegraphists asked reasonably for a definite minimum and a moderate maximum of remuneration. He would read a resolution they had passed, in which they urged the Treasury to consider the inadequate scale of pay of telegraph 1457 clerks, and the inequitable operation of the system of classification amongst them, with a view to re-adjustment, so as to enable London telegraph clerks to obtain a salary of £80 per annum after five years' service; £110 after 10 years' service, and a maximum of £230 per annum after 22 years' service; to enable provincial telegraphists to earn 28s. per week after five years; £2 a week after 20 years, and a maximum of £200 a year after 25 years. If this reasonable demand could not be met, let inquiry determine the question between the clerks and their department; if on the other hand there was nothing unreasonable in the demand, which would be met by a private employer, let it be acceded to. Another resolution was—''That the meeting of telegraph clerks strongly protests against the present system of sending clerks on annual leave during the months of January, February, November, and December, thus counteracting the object for which leave of absence to an indoor staff was originally designed.This was formulated after long discussion at a general meeting of the employés. The linesmen, as at Hull, had asked for an eight-hour day, but at present there was no approach to it. Another grievance of the telegraphists was the new requirements as to technical examinations. With such examinations he had every sympathy. No doubt it was to the advantage of the employés themselves that they should have more knowledge of, and greater interest in, their work. He regretted that for many years the State had not done its duty, and work had been monotonous which greater knowledge would have made interesting. But for the State to act differently from a private employer, and ignore the contract under which the labour had been done, and say suddenly to an employé who after 20 years had grown up in the service—You must pass technical examinations or you will not get promotion or increments of Pay,amounted almost to tyranny. The cost in time, trouble, etc., of preparing for the examinations was great, yet no additional remuneration was paid to those who passed. Where law ended, tyranny began, and what in the case of a private employer would determine the relationship between thorn in the case of the 1458 Post Office did not. If the House was satisfied that there was discontent, and that the demands of the Post Office employés were not, and, if unreasonable the Postmaster General challenged the accuracy of some of the statements made and the reasonableness of some of the opinions held, what possible objection could there be to an independent and impartial inquiry, the result of which the Post Office employés said they would accept? The Chancellor of the Exchequer might say he had no money for an inquiry. He was fond of appearing in formâ pauperis. But there was something more important in these matters than money, and that was justice; and he was sure that if the House felt that an injustice was being done they would be willing to find the money in order that full justice might be done to what had been justly described as the best Civil Service in the world.
§ *THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. ARNOLD MORLEY,) Nottingham, E.
said, that perhaps it might be to the advantage of the House if he stated the decision of the Government before the Debate proceeded further. He thought he should be able to make a statement which would satisfy those who naturally took a deep interest in the subject. In the first place, he wished to say that he had no objection to what had been said by either the Mover or Seconder of the Motion. He certainly did not intend to treat the Motion as a vote of want of confidence. He was one of the first to admit that if there were grievances in large bodies of public servants some effective step should lie taken to remove them, or discover whether they were really well founded. He understood the Mover of the Motion before the House spoke on behalf of those in the service, who had taken an active part in promoting what he might call an agitation, and that his position was that, in the condition of feeling in the service, some step ought to be taken which would enable the real facts to be brought, not only before the public, but before Parliament. The hon. Member founded his case to some extent on the Ridley Commission, which was appointed to inquire into the establishments of the different offices of State at home and abroad. He had looked carefully into the matter, and he thought it 1459 was beyond dispute that that Committee was appointed to inquire, from the point of view of economy and good administration, into the clerical or administrative branches of the great civil departments of the State. The reference to that Royal Commission was in these terms:—''You will state whether in your opinion the work of the different offices is efficiently and economically performed, whether it might be simplified, whether the method of procedure can be improved, and whether the system of control is deficient or unnecessarily elaborate. As ten years have now elapsed since the adoption of the scheme of organisation recommended by the Playfair Commission, the time has come when the working of the scheme may with advantage be reviewed. You will, therefore, report whether the scheme has been fairly tried, whether its provisions have met the requirements of the service and deserve confirmation, and whether any modifications are needed to give it complete development.''That Commission was never intended to inquire into the subject-matter of the Motion now before the House—the terms of pay, prospect of promotion, and conditions of employment of great bodies of men like the sorters, telegraphists, and postmen. Conversations he had had with members of the Commission bore out that view.
§ *MR. KEARLEY
asked, whether the Postmaster General did not invite the men referred to to give evidence?
§ *MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
said, he did not know. But the Commission specifically stated that they did not consider such matters were referred to them, as was shown by the following passage in their Report:—Again, among persons receiving civil pay, and forming in one sense part of the establishments, are included a great number of men engaged in other than clerical labour. In the clothing manufacturing departments of the Army (Woolwich, Enfield, Waltham Abbey, Pimlico, Birmingham), upwards of £1,000,000 per annum is paid in wages, speaking roundly, to 18,000 men, and at the dockyards and victualling yards the analogous number of men employed is upwards of £21,000. We have not considered these classes of employés to form part of the staff of the offices into which we have to inquire. Their numbers and wages must obviously be regulated by different considerations from those which should guide the administrative portion of the offices; and it would be impossible to deal with them satisfactorily without touching large questions of policy.The Royal Commission clearly took the view that they were not authorised to look into questions such as that now 1460 before the House. But that did not affect the real question. If grievances existed they ought to be investigated. He had made a careful examination of most of the alleged grievances during the three years he had been at the Post Office, and though he had satisfied himself that in the main they were not well founded, he recognised that a very strong feeling existed not only among a portion of the staff, but also among the public and among Members of the House; and he was therefore prepared to make a proposal which he thought would meet the views of those who had taken action in the matter. Reference had been made to a departmental committee, but he had not appointed a departmental committee to inquire into the question of grievances, because he had always considered that that was a question that should come before himself; and he had received a considerable number of deputations, and had gone carefully into the matters which they had put before him. The hon. Member had mentioned the case of auxiliary postmen, but he had instances in which the figures given with regard to the wages and hours of service of these men had proved to be wholly inaccurate and misleading; and he should not be surprised to find that the figures given by the hon. Member did not accurately represent the facts of the case. Many statements had appeared in the papers which he very much regretted. He had, however, thought it wiser not to take any notice of them, but he was glad of the opportunity which the Debate gave him of placing the facts before the public. He would take first the case put forward by the provincial telegraphists. They had issued a pamphlet, about which he had nothing to complain, except that in certain respects they exaggerated the case which they wished to submit with regard to the terms of their employment. Their first point was that promotion was retarded because of the system of classification. They said that after 14 years' service, when a telegraphist was 30 years of age, the salary he received was 40s. a week, and there he stopped unless he could pass from the second class to the first; that the barrier between the classes was quite an arbitrary one, that there was no difference in the class of work done or in the way it was done, and that it 1461 was simply chance that determined the promotion from one class to another. The inference from that statement was that a large number of telegraphists having arrived at the salary of 40s. a week at the end of 14 years' service, were blocked, and that the chance of getting into the higher class was problematical and dependent on circumstances which might not happen. He had made an examination of the facts of the case. At the Central Telegraph office there were no telegraphists who had attained the maximum in the second class; and, in the case of the staff there and in the provincial offices, out of 3, 308 second class telegraphists only Co, who were eligible for promotion, stood at the maximum. While the maximum salary of the second class was 40s., the average salary of the men promoted from the second class to the first class in 1894 was 33s. 10½d. That meant that, on an average, the men were promoted three years before they reached the maximum term of service. In the same document there was an extraordinarily misleading table with reference to the rates of promotion in various offices. It left out promotions due to causes other than what were called ordinary causes—promotions due to appointments to postmasterships and chief clerkships, to transfers from provincial offices to the office in London, and to the reduction of officers through misconduct. But promotions due to these causes equally affected the How, and were equally advantages to the staff. If they took them into account it would be found that at Birmingham instead of 11 promotions as stated in the table; there had been 16; at Liverpool instead of 8 there had been 37; at Newcastle instead of 5 there had been 24; at Belfast instead of 4 there had been 14; at Bristol instead of 6 there had been 13; and at Southampton instead of 2 there had been 8. Then it was stated that a large proportion of the increased expenditure, consequent upon Mr. Raikes's revision, was spent upon the superintending classes; but those who made that statement ignored the fact that there was a very large increase in the number of superior places, to all of which they were entitled to look forward by way of promotion, and that the very creation of these superintending appointments hastened 1462 and facilitated the promotion of the officers in the classes below. It was a very remarkable fact, notwithstanding that allegation of hardship, that in London, where there was a competitive examination for entrance to the service, there were 9 candidates for every vacancy, while in Dublin there were 17 and in Edinburgh 13. He thought, therefore, that the case put forward by the provincial telegraphists showed a considerable amount of exaggeration and misstatement. But these were matters that would be thoroughly investigated under the proposal which he was about to make, and when the truth was made known it would be found that the case was not nearly so hard as was made out. A case appeared in the papers some time ago, headed "A Premium on Sweating," in which it was stated that the telegraph superintendent at Bristol had been recommended for a bonus of 100 guineas for effecting savings of £760 a year by economies at the expense of the staff. He did not think he need state that there was no foundation for that statement. There was a reorganisation of the telegraph duties at Bristol. Economies consisting of a reduction of overtime and of the abolition of four junior situations resulted in a saving of between £600 and £700 a year; but the statement that any bonus was offered to the officer who carried out the reorganisation was absolutely without foundation. As an instance of the way in which some of these allegations and charges were manufactured, he might state that he received a deputation from the London Trades Council in June 1894, when it was stated that skilled electric-light workmen were often employed by the Post Office at labourers' wages. He inquired into the case of a man named Turner, quoted as an example, and found that he had been employed as a wireman in the Post Office factory. He was discharged from slackness of work, and, being unable to obtain work elsewhere, he applied in writing to the superintendent to be taken on as a labourer. This case was put forward as one of great hardship; but inquiry showed that the man was taken on out of kindness and was paid in proportion to the amount and class of work he performed. The same deputation mentioned the case of a man named Harrison, employed in 1463 the Post Office factory on piecework, and represented that in three weeks he was only able to earn 7s., 9s. and 11s. respectively. That was a strong statement justifying careful examination, and after making a full inquiry into the facts he wrote to the Secretary of the Trades Council on November 9th, informing him that prior to those three weeks Harrison had been earning on the average £2 0s. 6d. per week, and that immediately after the three weeks his wages rose to the same or a larger amount. In spite of that explanation, which clearly indicated that this was a man who, for the purpose of agitation, had deliberately lowered the amount of his wages by abstaining from doing full work, statements of the case were again made in the newspapers, and resolutions were carried by the council denouncing the authorities at the Holloway Factory for permitting such a state of things to exist. The sudden fall and then the rise again in the payments made to Harrison clearly indicated what his object was—namely the production of a grievance. With regard to the auxiliary postmen, he was not prepared to say that their case was one which did not require consideration; indeed, in view of the improvement in salaries which had been universal in the public service, he thought there was a case for careful examination on their behalf. At the same time, however, he could not help pointing out that the public were very much misled by grossly inaccurate statements that appeared in the newspapers, and which tended to create wholly wrong impressions in the minds of people who read them. There was the case of a man named Mears, in the south-eastern district, and statements were made in a newspaper letter to the effect that after 27 years' service in the Post Office he was in receipt of only 12s. a week. Inquiries showed that the 12s. was received for duties performed between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., and Mears, who was a warehouseman, stated that he regarded the use of his name as an unwarrantable liberty, and objected to its being brought into the controversy. Other cases have been mentioned, in not one of which were the figures accurate. Instead of 10s. 6d., one man actually received 15s. 9d. for a short duty on each day in the week. Then there was a case of 1464 another man. Second-class sorters who failed to qualify for promotion were required to attend the sorting school, a facility for obtaining promotion which they highly appreciated. In connection with this man's attendance at the school, complaint had been made that he had been compelled to attend between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. after working at night. That, however, only happened on two occasions through an alteration in his hours of work, and he stated that the assertion had been made without his knowledge, and that the times suited his convenience or he should have made a representation to get the hours altered. There was only one other case which he would mention in support of his statement that misleading facts had been placed before the House. It was the case of a man named Churchfield, the general secretary of the Postmen's Federation, who stated, in the course of an interview with a representative of one of the London newspapers, that what was wanted was an eight hours day, because the shortest time worked at present was 12¾ hours and the longest 22 hours, and that the time was so arranged that the men worked a continuous day. As Churchfield's duties fell far short of the time mentioned, he was called upon to explain his reasons for making such a statement, and his explanation was that he excluded the eastern central district of London. Now, with regard to the maximum, he explained that the duties referred to extended from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., with a two hours' break from 10 p.m. till midnight. What was really a seven hours' duty covering a nine hours' period, was called by Churchfield a continuous duty covering 22 hours, and it would be just as reasonable to say that the House of Commons, which that day would practically sit for ten hours with a two hours' interval between seven o'clock and nine o'clock, would be sitting continuously for 22 hours. He did not, however, blame the newpapers for inserting those statements, because they had no means of ascertaining what was the real state of affairs; but, in view of such statements being made, it was important that a through investigation should be made in order that the public and the House of Commons might know what the real facts were. Hon. Members had referred to the auxiliary postmen, and, as he had 1465 already said, their case was deserving of consideration. He would like to do away with the system altogether, but that would be impossible. Efforts, however, had been made to limit their numbers when it was found that the duties were capable, of being amalgamated, and, the auxiliary men were, where possible, given the opportunity of taking up the full duties. The character of the work of the postal system both in London and in the country made it impossible to have a continuous eight hours' duty, and there, must be some means of filling up the short duties in the morning and in the evening. As far as was possible under the existing system, they endeavoured to work continuous duties, but the increasing desire of the public, and Members of Parliament too, to get their letters at the earliest possible moment in the morning, and to post them at the latest possible moment in the evening, added considerably to the difficulties with which the Post Office had to contend. The pay of the auxiliary postmen varied from 6d to 8d. and 9d. per hour. In the country the pay varied from 4d. to 5d. per hour, according to the expenses of the district in which the men lived. In London and the provincial towns, in addition to their wages, they wore provided with uniform, with free medical attendance in case of sickness, with extra payments on Christmas Day and Good Friday, and for any extra duties they performed, so that the statement that the men's wages were a certain amount was not an accurate statement of the emoluments which they received. They had these other additional advantages which he had mentioned, and which were of a fairly substantial kind. In London these men were, as a rule, small tradesmen, shop assistants, and night watchmen, who had light work during the period of their employment, and who were glad to be thus able to add to their incomes. He was happy to say he had done something towards improving their position by granting uniform clothing and improved pay to the rural auxiliary postmen, at the cost of about £20,000 a year. With regard to temporary postmen, they were taken on to meet sudden increases of work, but as soon as possible they were put on the establishment. As to junior town postmen, the whole question was one 1466 which deserved very careful attention, and he was looking into it. The hon. Gentlemen who had spoken had not referred to the scales of pay or recommended a large increase. He would like to tell the House how the matter stood as regarded the largest classes. Take the sorters in London. Before the date of the revision by Mr. Fawcett in 1881 the maximum salary of sorters of the first class was 45s.per week, and it was now 56s. The maximum for sorters of the second class was then 25s., and it was now 40s. In the case of telegraphists the maximum of the senior class before 1881 was £160, and it was now £190. In the first class the maximum used to be £130, and it was now £160, whilst the maximum of the telegraphists of the second class had been increased from £90 to £110. With the postmen there had been a corresponding increase. The maximum salary for first class postmen in London had been increased from 30s. to 34s. per week, and in the suburban districts from 28s. to 32s. In the provincial offices, both in the cases where there were two classes and in the case where the sorting clerks and telegraphists were on one class, the salaries had been correspondingly increased. In addition to these improvements, there has been a large increase of superior officers. Twenty years ago the superior appointments averaged only 5.2 per cent. of the total telegraph staff of the provincial offices, and they now averaged 12.9, whilst the average salary of the higher officers had been increased from £154 to £190 per year. Apart from the extra cost due to the numerical additions to the staff', the increase in wages had amounted to £750,000 since 1881, of which £364,000 was the result of the latest revision, which took place in 1891. In 1881 the wages formed 48.7 per cent. of the gross expenditure of the department, whereas now they formed 59.9 per cent, of the gross expenditure. The Post Office revenue, he might observe, had not gone up to the same extent as their expenditure. He did not think he need add to these figures, except to say that in addition to salaries there were a large number of allowances for special duties. In the circulation office in London there were 4,000 sorters, of whom 250 had each an allowance of 10s. a week, whilst a very large number had allowances 1467 of 5s., 3s., and 2s., of which never a word was said when complaints were made about their salaries. Again, they had sick pay, free medical attendance, uniforms, and the certainty of pensions. As to the question of overtime, that was a subject to which he had long devoted considerable attention, and at the circulation office alone during the last two or three months there had been an addition of between 300 and 400 men who would be shortly placed on the establishment and whose appointment had been rendered necessary by the reduction of overtime. He thought that was a policy of which the House of Commons would generally approve. He had also endeavoured, as far as possible, to reduce the necessity of what were known as split duties. But he would here observe that many men greatly preferred split duties to ordinary continuous duty, which would interfere with the employment of their spare time. There was a matter he should like to refer to, which would indicate the real position of the men in the service. He would take as examples the first six postmen who came forward for retirement at the commencement of the present financial year. The first case was that of a man who had served the Department for 35 years in London. He commenced as a postman in 1859 at 18s. a week. He had risen to a sortership, and his pay had gradually increased to £146, or, with extra pay for Sunday duty, to £176 a year. He would now retire, at the age of 54, on a pension which the Treasury would fix at about £110 a year. That was a postman who began life at 18s. a week. He had had permanency of employment and location; he had had freedom from all the anxiety which the ordinary labourer had to encounter who started in the same competition as himself, and who might for months, or, at any rate, for weeks, in each year be out of employment, and who, if unable to perform his duties, would have no sick pay or free medical attendance. The one man at the age of 54 was entitled to retire for the rest of his life on a pension of £110 a year, whereas his fellow-labourer had no prospect of that kind for his old age. The second case was that of a postman in a small town in the south-west of England, who was compelled to retire after six years' service, because of mental disease. His pay was over £57 a year, 1468 and, with his other allowances, reached a total of £64 a year. The third case was that of a postman in Glasgow, who was retiring because of consumption, at the age of 32, and after 11 years' service. His pay was £78 5s., or, with his allowances, £88 a year, and he would have a retiring pension. The fourth case was that of a postman in a small town in Wiltshire, who was leaving the service at the age of 70, after being 40 years in the Department, whose pay was £57, and whose total emoluments reached £71 a year. His pension would be about £47 a year. The next case was that of a rural postman in Scotland, who was retiring at the age of 59, after 23 years' service. His total emoluments, including a special delivery allowance, were more than £84 a year, and his pension would probably be about £32 a year. The sixth case was that of a postman in a Midland town, who was retiring after less than four years' service, and whose pay was £48, with certain other allowance. He might mention that in fixing the pension the Treasury, in their calculations, took into account all the allowances. He had compared the salaries paid to postmen with those paid to agricultural labourers. He found it stated that the wages of the agricultural labourer were in many cases below 12s., and only in a few districts in the north did they reach 14s. a week, although it was true that their total receipts exceeded those sums. In the small town that he had mentioned in the south-west, where the postmen's emoluments were more than £64 a year, the average earnings of a labourer were 15s. a week, or £39 a year. Thus, where the postman got £64 a year the labourer only got £39, and at the end of his period of service the labourer had nothing to look to but the workhouse, whereas the postman had an assured pension for the rest of his life, calculated on a scale which Parliament had laid down. He was bound to inform the House that the claims put forward by the various classes of the staff would involve very large increases in the salaries they now received. He received the other day a deputation from the telegraphists, in which they put forward their views with regard to what their scales ought to be. He had had a careful estimate prepared of the increased cost which that would mean to the Department. Of course, he 1469 had taken into account the consequential advances which other classes in the Service, treated on the same footing, would naturally receive; and he found that the increased annual cost of these demands would be £650,000 a year, very nearly equal to the increase brought about by the great revisions which took place at the instance of Mr. Fawcett and Mr. Raikes in 1881 and 1891. Sorters, in the same way, put forward an application for a new scale, involving a direct increase of £127,000 and an indirect increase of another half a million. In one case they asked that two-thirds of their full pay should be optional by way of pension at the age of 50 years instead of 60; and in another case they asked that retirement on two-thirds of their salary should be optional after 25 years' service. What did that mean? It meant that postmasters, postmen, or telegraphists of the Post Office Service should be put on a totally different footing from every other class of Civil servants. Suppose a lad entered at the age of 18; at 43 he would be able to retire on two-thirds of his salary for the rest of his life, possibly with 20 or 25 years' good work in him, and the State, whom he had served for 25 years, would have to assume the responsibility for this enormous burden on the taxpayers of the country, and especially on the working classes. He could not help thinking that when the working men got to know to the full extent the terms and prospects of Postal Service, the sympathy which they have so freely bestowed on Post Office employés would be largely withdrawn. Although, as head of the Department he was most anxious—naturally anxious—that the men in the employment of the Department should be treated considerately, reasonably, at even liberally, still he had to look at this question, not only as Postmaster General, but as responsible to Parliament and the taxpayers, and to see that no more than was reasonable should be given. He was anxious for an inquiry, because he believed the statements and allegations made as to general dissatisfaction were much exaggerated. He had had some figures taken out showing, first of all, the desire among people outside to come into the Postal Service, and secondly, the disinclination of those inside to go out. The results rather 1470 tended to dissipate the general allegations of discontent. He found that in the case of male sorters, taking different months, for 130 vacancies there were 338 candidates; for 150 vacancies, 284 candidates; for 150 vacancies, 389 candidates; and for 220 vacancies, 425 candidates. In the case of telegraph learners commencing at a low age, for 67 vacancies in 1893 there were 1,194 candidates; and in 1894 for 121 vacancies there were 1,292 candidates; in the one case 18 candidates, and in the other 11 candidates for every vacancy. Then as to resignations, he found that in London, out of a total staff of sorters of the first class numbering 1,261, there had not been a single resignation in 1894—though, of course, there had been vacancies caused by illness or death—and in the second class, out of 2,958 sorters there had only been 23 resignations, or one resignation in the whole class of sorters for each 183. Of the postmen in London, out of 5,000 men there were only 19 resignations, or one out of 263. Out of 5,700 telegraphists there had been 348 resignations in five years; the proportion being larger in the case of women. He thought it would be interesting to find out the number of persons employed in the London Postal Service whose fathers were, or are, in it also. He found that out of a total force in the London Service of 18,500 there were 981 now in the Service whose fathers were or had been in the Service before them; and when one considered that these were chiefly entrances obtained by competition, and that, therefore, it was fair to assume many more applied who had not succeeded, the fact cited was a remarkable testimony to the belief among the staff generally that the Service, after all, was a very good Service to belong to. He should be the last to deny that changes and amelioration might be required in certain respects, but, having examined all the cases, he believed the men of the Postal Service, the Telegraph Staff as well as the Postal, were better treated than people from the same class in private employment. But that opinion was not altogether shared by the public, or by certain Members of the House of Commons, and therefore the Government were prepared to appoint a strong Committee, composed of men who would have special and practical knowledge and experience of administration, and 1471 who would, he hoped, be assisted by a Member of the Labour Department of the Board of Trade. He did not propose that it should be a Post Office Committee. He quite agreed that the officials of the Post Office, having already made recommendations upon most of these questions, the staff of the Department might feel that they would not get fair and fresh minds brought to bear upon the subject if the Committee was composed of officers of the Department. There must be upon the Committee one official of the Post Office in order to assist the Committee, but apart from that one appointment, he proposed that the Committee should be appointed from executive officers of the Government not in connection with the Post Office. The reference would be something in this form—to receive and consider any statement which may be made, either orally or in writing, by any class of persons in the service of the Post Office, other than the clerical staff in the chief offices, on the subject of their remuneration, prospects, or conditions of their employment, and to report thereupon. He would propose to lay their Report and evidence on the Table of the House, when it would become public property, and in that way, he believed, misapprehensions which now existed in the public mind on the subject would be largely, if not entirely, removed.
§ *SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
thought that the House was to be congratulated, on the whole, that the hon. Member for Devonport had brought this subject before the House, because opportunity had thus been given to the Postmaster General to put before the House the real facts of the case. The Government had deemed it advisable to appoint a Committee to hear and report upon all complaints that might be made by those whom he might call working members of the Department. He did not question the expediency of that step, and he trusted that the result would prove satisfactory to those who had interested themselves in this subject. At any rate, they might now rest assured that any well-founded grievance would not fail to be listened to, and that the result of the inquiry would be made known to Parliament. The various points raised by the supporters of the Resolution had been dealt with fully and frankly by the 1472 Postmaster General, and therefore it was unnecessary for him to offer further observations upon them. He would like, however, to say that it was the duty of everyone who held an office of such responsibility, to guard the public purse against unjustifiable attacks, and especially against combined attacks. It would be a poor performance of public duty were a Minister yielding to pressure, to increase any public expenditure to an extent not required by the necessities of the case. He could not shut his eyes to the fact that there was no difficulty whatever in finding candidates for employment in the Post Office. In fact, it was impossible to meet the wishes of many of those who desired to enter the Department. In these circumstances he thought it could hardly be contended seriously that the remuneration offered was grossly inadequate or that the conditions of service were unduly onerous. It was frequently said that men worked for long hours and got but small pay, and special sympathy was often expressed for those whose time was only partially occupied. But they must all be aware that in country districts men and lads were frequently employed for a very small portion of the day, and that it would be absurd to pay them for full time. He knew cases of lads who were employed for three or four hours a day in collecting and delivering letters in small districts, and who were exceedingly glad to do the work for 6s. or 7s. a week, hoping for permanent employment hereafter. The principle of a strict eight hours flay, if applied to the service generally, would have ridiculous consequences. In Australia arid Sew Zealand most absurd instances had been brought to his notice of the working of a strictly enforced eight hours system. For example, there were men in charge of small stations where only two trains passed in a day, and if one of the trains passed at an interval of more than eight hours after the passing of the preceding train, the men had to be relieved. Such were the results of substituting sentimental for economical reasons. It had been maintained as a hardship that some men in the employment of the Post Office were obliged to take their leave in winter, when a holiday, it had been said, was not very enjoyable. He could not assent to that view without qualification, for winter amusements were not 1473 always uncongenial. It was impossible that people in the public service could all get their leave at the same time of the year, which might be the busiest time. In the Army and the Navy men had to take their leave when they could, the juniors having the last choice. This complaint he could not think was put forward seriously. He felt bound to take some notice of the observations made by the hon. Member for South Islington with reference to the action which it had been his painful duty to take when at the Post Office in connection with certain acts of insubordination by members of the service, some of whom organised a system for putting pressure upon Members of Parliament and Parliamentary candidates. It would he very unfair to represent the action in 1892 as action done in a corner. He thought it at the time his duty to bring the matter before the House, and he gave a full explanation of the circumstances, stating that the Government could not possibly allow such indiscipline to continue. No objection was taken to his statement at the time, except by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green, and one or two other hon. Members. It was quite a mistake to allege that what he did was in any sense illegal. It was not only legal but in strict accordance with the; Act for removing revenue officers' disabilities. That measure, it would be remembered, was amended in order to enable the Revenue Departments to regulate the use of electoral privileges by their employés, so that those privileges should not be exercised in an improper manner. In the Committee upon that Bill in 1874 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the late Lord Iddesleigh, pointed out that if public servants wore to take an active part in elections, very considerable inconvenience might arise. He referred specially to the case of the Post Office, and showed how dangerous it would be for postmasters and letter carriers to take a very active part in elections. Then he said:—The first clause in the Bill might cause some difficulty, which provided that no person engaged in the Revenue Departments should be liable to any pains and penalties by reason of his having solicited the vote of any elector, or addressed any assembly of electors, in reference to the choice of any person to serve as a Member of Parliament. If they passed so broad an enactment as that, it seemed to him they would 1474 inconveniently impair the action of the Executive Government, and the Board of Inland Revenue, or of the Customs, might be held to have violated the Act, if they issued any order whatever with regard to the officers taking part in elections. Therefore, what he proposed was that the Bill should be amended by striking out that section.Mr. Monk, who had introduced the Bill, said—he cordially agreed with almost every word that had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer … As to the Amendments which the right hon. Gentleman had put on the paper, he assented to them all, and he thought the Bill when altered as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, would effect a very great public service.The House unanimously resolved to leave to the Departments the power to regulate the use of the electoral privileges enjoyed by their officers. Therefore, if his hon. Friend averred that he had acted illegally, he spoke without justification.
§ *SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
explained that what he had suggested was that the right hon. Gentleman had acted ultra vires. He did not intend to convey that the right hon. Gentleman did anything without the knowledge of Parliament.
§ *SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
said that his action, was not ultra vires according to the letter and intention of the statute. What would the public service come to if servants who defied authority went unpunished? He trusted that any well-founded grievances would always be listened to, with an attentive ear by the heads of the Post Office, or of any other branch of the public service. He was glad that there was to be an inquiry, and he hoped that the result of it would be to make the servants of the Post office more contented. If any bonâ-fide grievances could be proved, he was sure that that House would be glad to have them redressed.
§ EARL COMPTON (York, W. R., Barnsley)
was very glad that the hon. Member who had moved the Resolution, had succeeded in doing that which he had himself vainly striven to effect on several occasions. He thanked the Postmaster General for having given wav in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman had indicated in his speech that his view was that the alleged grievances were rather unsubstantial. That question would be decided by the 1475 Committee. It was a good thing that this Committee was not to be composed exclusively of Post Office officials, but he quite recognised that there ought to be one such official among its members. The action of the right hon. Gentleman would give satisfaction to those Members of Parliament who had interested themselves in the fortunes of the employés, and also to every man in the Post Office service. He believed that the gentlemen nominated upon the Committee by the right hon. Gentleman would give clear directions as to what ought to be done, and he for one should abide by their decision loyally.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said, as one interested in the movement, he protested against the statement of the Postmaster General suggesting that the grievances had been manufactured, and that there was no case for a Committee. He did not know so much about this country, but as far as this class of officials in Ireland was concerned, he thought it was inaccurate to say that they had manufactured any grievances in this matter; and, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman would probably see that it was unreasonable to state that men should go to the trouble, inconvenience, and risk of manufacturing grievances in order to have a Committee appointed, the only result of which could be that if the grievances were manufactured the effect would recoil on their own heads.
§ *MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
said, he had never suggested that any members of the staff manufactured grievances. He referred to the newspaper Press and to communications made to the Press in a way which led him to believe that they were largely manufactured.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
thought that it was somewhat hard on hon. Members who had interested themselves in this matter that they should be laid open, even indirectly, to the charge of associating themselves with the manufacture of grievances. The real grievances, indeed, had not been dealt with by the Postmaster General. On the contrary, in granting the Committee the right hon. Gentleman had practically conceded that there was a case for inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman also deprecated agitation. It might be 1476 very displeasing to the heads of Departments that Civil servants should lend themselves to anything like agitation, but everyone knew that no end could be attained without a certain amount of agitation. The right hon. Gentleman must, therefore, see that the agitation bad been completely justified by the fact that a Committee was now to be appointed. He also protested against the doctrine laid down by the late Postmaster General, as well as by the present holder of the office, that officials of the Government should not be allowed, in a respectful and proper way, to put forward their grievances. On the whole, he was extremely glad that the Committee had been granted, because he believed that when it had finished its labours its appointment would not only be justified, but the right hon. Gentleman would find that there were serious grounds for the discontent which prevailed in the Service.
§ MR. ALPHEUS C. MORTON (Peterborough)
congratulated the right hon. Gentleman (the Postmaster General) upon the decision which he had announced. He wished to know, however, what were the subjects which the Committee would be allowed to consider. He was not at all clear on that subject. For instance, would the Committee be allowed to consider the question of combination among the men themselves? He noticed that although the Postmaster General had yielded, to a certain extent, by saying that he would listen to any grievances the men might urge, he objected to their bringing anyone with them who was not in the Service. The same objection had been raised by railway companies and by local boards, who objected to labourers and others bringing paid representatives with them. He could not see why the men should not be allowed to bring such officers, nor why the Post Office should object to any of the men bringing their paid officers with them. The Postmaster General was allowed to have a private secretary to attend him, and he was anxious to know whether the authorities were going to maintain that objection, or whether the Committee would be allowed to consider it. Would the Committee also be permitted to consider the question as to the way in which the men obtained their holidays? The right hon. Gentleman in his statement 1477 did not say anything about the complaints of the in sanitary state of the Post Office buildings. Would the right hon. Gentleman allow the local sanitary officers to inspect those buildings in the ordinary and regular way? If he did probably the right hon. Gentleman would receive the benefit of the inspection without any expense being caused either to his department or to the local authorities. Moreover, he thought that the Post Office servants ought to be well paid. They conducted, in the interest of the whole population, a most successful business, and we had every reason to congratulate ourselves on the very successful and useful manner in which the officials carried out their duties. They ought, therefore, to be well paid and to be well looked after on account of the arduous and useful services which they rendered to the country. No one could say that the Post Office was being worked at a loss; it was a successful and growing business; but before these small reforms could be obtained they had to be forced on the attention of the Post Office Authorities time after time before they were carried out. He regretted to hear the right hon. Gentleman accuse some persons of being agitators. He would tell the Postmaster General who was the real agitator. A Resolution dealing with this subject was moved in 1891, and the Postmaster General at that time actually sent out a whip asking the supporters of the Government to vote for him. Every Member of the present Government then in the House of Commons voted for that Resolution—a Resolution which he thought it was proper to carry. Complaints at that time had been made, and all that was then asked for was an inquiry; hon. Members were not asked to pledge themselves in favour of any particular grievance. This course was adopted; but if there was a complaint against anyone as to agitation, the right hon. Gentleman ought reasonably to blame himself as being the head and front of whatever agitation had arisen. He should lie sorry if some of the Post Office servants had behaved offensively; such action he would by no means support. He admitted that public servants of this kind ought not to take too active a part in any elections whatever, because such action might 1478 create mischief. In holding public meetings also he did not excuse the men who made offensive statements with regard to their superior officers. Such action could not receive his support. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give the names of the Committee to the House in good time. He was anxious to say that, as far as he was personally concerned, he had no complaint to make against the Post Office employés. He desired that all public servants should be properly treated, and that, even where it was not quite clear whether their complaints were right or wrong, ample opportunities should be afforded for matters to be inquired into. The better the case of the Postmaster General, the more anxious should the right hon. Gentleman be for inquiry.
§ MR. F. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
congratulated the Postmaster General on the decision arrived at; but, with regard to the Committee, he wished to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman intended to confine it to Civil appointments, or whether he would not include in the Committee merchants and bankers of large administrative abilities and great experience. Some 10 years ago he had gone through all these matters with the late Mr. Raikes, but the reform which followed was not sufficient, for it culminated in a serious strike. He had managed to persuade the Postmaster General to reinstate a great number of the men who took part in that strike, but, in his own constituency alone, he knew of many who had suffered great deprivations and poverty owing to the loss of their situations and the refusal of the Postmaster General to reinstate them; and these men felt that they had been very harshly treated. If the Committee could put a stop to the feeling of discontent which now prevailed in the Post Office on subjects such as revision of salaries, pensions, and hours, he thought that the Postmaster General would confer one of the greatest boons on the Post Office. He rejoiced that the right hon. Gentleman had taken this course, and ho hoped he would succeed.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S. W.)
said, he should be the last person to maintain that every complaint put forward could be substantiated; but, on 1479 the other hand, he would be the last to admit that grievances had been wilfully concocted. It was clear that a primâ facie case for inquiry had been made out, and this was admitted by the action of the Postmaster General himself. He was glad to think that the right hon. Gentleman had become alive to the auxiliary system of labour, which concerned the public as well as the men themselves. He was not sure whether that system had not had an injurious effect on the London men. It was a scandalous thing to have a large number of persons now reaching 2,400 in London alone, employed by the Post Office, and having from all sources, according to the theory of the Post Office, an income of 18s. a week each, all told. It was not fair to the men or to the public to put men on such wages into the responsible positions which these men occupied.
§ *MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
was understood to say that 18s. was the minimum, and that many of the men had more than 18s. a week from all sources.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
said, he was aware that the theory of the Post Office was that these men should have at least 18s. a week, but was the right hon. Gentleman certain that in all cases they had even as much as that? It had, in fact, been conclusively proved that in many cases they had less, and he repeated that it was a scandal. One of the saddest spectacles in our Courts of Assize was the number of Post Office employés prosecuted and convicted of dishonesty. Ninety per cent. of those convicted or dismissed for dishonesty were receiving the lowest wages in the Service. He was surprised to hear the Postmaster General say that the matter had not been brought previously to his knowledge. Turning to the question of the sanitary condition of the central office, he found from the report of a deputation of Post Office servants who waited upon the Postmaster General on May 28, 1894, that one of them gave a description of the kitchen of the central office, which was simply disgusting. The details were so unsavoury that, unless he was challenged, he would not obtrude them upon the House. He was informed that neither on that subject, nor on any other matter put forward by the deputation, had any report of improvements yet been made. It was, 1480 however, satisfactory to himself and other London Members that there was to be an inquiry, the importance of which they had long been pressing on the Department. Something, of course, might be said with regard to the constitution of the Committee, but, speaking as an individual, he would have preferred that the right hon. Gentleman should have taken as his model the constitution of the Departmental Committee on Prisons, upon which the House was represented. He thought that the House ought to be represented upon the Committee of Inquiry into the Post Office. The Postmaster General seemed to be jealous of Members of the House of Commons. But if it had not been for the inquiries made at the close of the last and beginning of the present century, our Civil Service would continue to be a hotbed of extravagance, nepotism, and inefficiency. Therefore, he could not see why Members of Parliament should be excluded from the Committee now proposed. The great object which he and his friends had had in view was to give the postal servants an opportunity of stating their case; and a Committee composed entirely of officers of the Post Office would clearly have been unsatisfactory. Upon the whole he might, however, say that he and his friends accepted the offer of the right hon. Gentleman, and he trusted that every opportunity would be given to the postal servants to make a full presentment of their case.
§ MR. BUTCHER (York) rose to join in the expressions of general satisfaction at the action of the Government in this matter. He was glad that an inquiry was to be held, and he hoped that it would be conducted in such a way as to discover which of the alleged grievances did, and which of them did not, exist; and, in regard to those which existed, to discover some adequate remedies.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
thought that there was only one serious defect in regard to the action of the Postmaster General, and that was that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to treat his great branch of the Service in too general a way. He called attention to the fact that some of the auxiliaries were receiving only 18s. a week altogether, and thought that this was not sufficient. He was quite 1481 prepared to admit that generally speaking the Post Office was a desirable service, but like the other great employing Departments of the Government, any complaints about small sections were treated with impatience. No private business was conducted on that basis, and he thought that when grievances could be remedied easily, it was of great importance to remedy them. As an illustration, he instanced the fact that there were 13,000 or 14,000 hands employed at Woolwich, a small section of whom received 19s. or 20s. a week. A small amount of £3,000 or £4,000 would raise the wages of these men to the minimum standard of 24s. recognised by the County Council. He trusted that this point would be considered fully by the Committee, because such a wage did not seem to be adequate for the duties these men had to discharge. He thought that the whole question of the civil rights of postal servants should also be referred to any Committee that was appointed. With regard to the question of the circular which was sent out before the last General Election, he thought it was a most innocent document. He himself replied to it, and was prepared to take his share of any blame if any attached to it, but if there were men dismissed from the Post Office solely on this account he thought their dismissal ought to be reconsidered and referred to the Committee Of course, if there were any other allegations against men who were dismissed, he did not refer to those cases,
§ MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
thanked the Postmaster General for the concession he had made on behalf of the telegraph clerks and other officials of the Post Office of Belfast. The right hon. Gentleman had met the representations which had been made to him in a cordial and generous spirit. He thought the Committee would be much more likely to arrive at an impartial and fair conclusion if Members of Parliament, who might wish to gain popularity in order to keep their seats at the next General Election, were excluded from the Committee.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea),
asked the right hon. Gentleman whether the reference to this Committee could be enlarged so as to permit of the investigation of the case of men who were employed by the contractors, and did 1482 work indirectly for the Post Office. It seemed absurd that they should refer the grievances of the postmen to the Committee, and yet allow the greater grievances of the mail cart drivers to be unconsidered. The mail cart drivers had a very strong claim indeed on the consideration of the House of Commons; they had not the pension, sick pay, emoluments, and regularity of employment that the directly employed postmen had. Another point he should like the Committee to consider, if possible, was the condition of the horses that were used by the mail cart contractors.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
ruled that horses could hardly be included in "the terms and conditions of employment in the Post Office."
§ MR. BURNS
urged that the mail cart drivers worked very long hours, and the horses they drove were sometimes from six to nine hours without food. There was not even a nosebag kept in the carts. The men did their very best to work for the Post Office under the conditions, which, however, compelled them sometimes to be more cruel than they liked to be. Had not the time arrived when the right hon. Gentleman should dispense with the contract system for the mail cart drivers and all their appurtenances, and should they not he taken over by the Post Office? These men received from 21s. to 25s. a week, and worked for longer stretches of hours than did the postmen who received 30s., 34s., and in some cases more. If called upon he could bring evidence in regard to the horses as well as the drivers before the Committee.
§ MR. JAMES ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.),
hoped the Postmaster General would consider the representations of the hon. Member. The whole of the time of the mail cart drivers was given to the Department, and the Post Office recognised their claim upon them by making a concession in regard to clothing. A much better arrangement could be made in regard to the Sunday duty of these men, who were sometimes brought on 1483 duty for only an hour on Sunday, which however, necessitated their spending several hours in coming and going from their work. He thought the number of men called out on Sunday might be fewer, and they might work a somewhat longer time. He heartily thanked the right hon. Gentleman, and hoped he would extend the terms of reference.
§ *MR. J. A. M. MACDONALD (Tower Hamlets, Bow)
wished to know whether the proposed inquiry would be a public or a private one. He thought it was desirable that it should be a public inquiry. He pressed that point on the Postmaster General, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would consider it favourably.
§ MR. W. R. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
called attention to the continuance of the Money Order Office at Coldbath Fields. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that this question was still regarded as a very great grievance. The investigation that had taken place showed that the sanitary conditions of this office were not right, and those conditions still remained unreformed. Within the last three or four days he had received further letters desiring him to impress the matter on the attention of the Postmaster General, and although the right hon. Gentleman had spoken, he hoped the House would allow him to give a little further information with regard to the intention of the Post Office in this matter. With regard to the general question of the appointment of a Committee, he had been requested by a great number of Post Office servants to support the appointment of a Committee, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to make the inquiry a public one. He hoped also that the Committee would be allowed to entertain any question of the Coldbath Fields Office that might be put before it.
§ *MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)
thought that the statement of the Postmaster General had given satisfaction in the House, and would give satisfaction to the public. If there were grievances, and that there were there could be, no doubt, it was far better that they should be inquired into. He wished to call attention to the position of the rural postmen who were placed under inequality as compared with the postmen in towns so far as free medical attendance was concerned. They held, rightly 1484 he thought, that they were just as much entitled to get advice free as town postmen, and more so in fact, seeing that they incurred much greater risk of illness. It would be said, on doubt, that it would be very costly to comply with this demand, but he would point out that the money would not be lost entirely so far as the State was concerned, as the State would get an authoritative statement as to the illness which prevented the postman from doing his work. He believed that the Department had found this information most beneficial in the towns. Then, again, good would be done in another direction. These men would be more likely to seek medical advice than they did now, and if medical advice were worth anything, it must be of advantage that they should be able to get it easily. Surely it was to the advantage of the State that rural postmen should be kept in as good a state of health as possible, and therefore he urged the necessity of very carefully considering their demands.
§ MR. F. G. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
said, he was afraid he would be out of order in discussing the condition of the horses driven in mail carts; therefore, he merely rose to confirm everything that had been said on the subject by the hon. Member for Battersea.
§ MR. C. E. SCHWANN (Manchester, N.)
wished to confirm all that had been said by other hon. Members as to the necessity for a public inquiry. It would be perfectly futile to hold an inquiry with closed doors. He was glad a Committee was to be appointed, from whom they expect a Report within a reasonable time. The appointment of a Royal Commission would have been absurd. He thanked the Postmaster General for lending a favourable ear to the representations made to him on behalf of the Post Office servants and officials.
§ MR. STEWART WALLACE (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)
also desired to impress on the right hon. Gentleman that the inquiry being held in public. He had been requested by people in the East End of London to state that, if the inquiry were held in public, it would add much to the satisfaction of the public and the officials.
§ *MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
said, that in regard to the Deputation that waited on him last year concerning the condition of the central office, he suggested to the Deputation that they should formulate a scheme, a workable scheme, which he could consider. Months went by, and it was only in the early part of this year that a reply came in, and that had to be very carefully considered. Any delay in this matter that might have taken place was not due to any fault of his. He had not been satisfied with the examination that had taken place into the sanitary arrangements, and he had been in communication with the Office of Works on the subject. Another question had now arisen with regard to the safety of the building in case of fire, and he had to refer that matter to an officer of the fire brigade. He hoped, however, to be able before long to carry out improvements in both respects. The great mass of post offices were in private houses and small shops. All these were entirely under the control of the local sanitary authorities. Wherever a local authority desired to make an inspection of Crown offices free access was given to them, and due weight was always given to their recommendations.
§ MR. ALPHEUS C. MORTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman let us send the City Sanitary Officer to go over the General Post Office?
§ *MR. A. MORLEY
said, that if his hon. Friend made an application of that kind he would give it a fair consideration, as he would to any representation coming from the Commissioners of Sewers, or the London County Council. With regard to the names of the proposed Committee, he was not now in a position to give them to the House. He wanted to get as strong and impartial a Committee as he could. The Committee would be appointed as much in the interest of the public as in the interests of the men, and he should make every endeavour in his power to secure the strongest and most impartial Committee. With regard to the question of a public inquiry, he must ask to be allowed to reserve his judgment. He saw that there were advantages in it, and at any rate, he thought the evidence and the report of the Committee ought to be made public 1486 as soon as possible. As to the Coldbath Field Money Order Office, the hon. and learned Gentleman was wrong in saying that nothing had been done to correct its insanitary condition. He might add that it was under consideration whether some arrangement could not be made to change the building in which these officers worked. As to the drivers of mail carts, they were not in his employ, and it would be going a little out of the ordinary course to make them the subject of inquiry as if they were employed by the Department. The hon. Member for Battersea knew that he had taken a great deal of interest in the case of these men, and he had been able to improve the conditions of their employment by reducing their hours of duty from 16 to 10 or 12. But it must be remembered that, although they were on duty during that time, they were on the average actually driving for only four hours and a-quarter; and the remainder of the time they were resting, or only waiting with their horses and carts, and were, therefore, not undergoing actual physical exertion. He was considering the whole question of contracting, and it was possible that some remedy might be found for the grievances complained of. He desired to make the scope of the inquiry as wide as possible, so that it might embrace all practical grievances, and that the men might be encouraged to come forward and state them fully and freely; and he was glad the suggestions he had made had received such general approval.
§ In reply to Mr. WOOTTON ISAACSON,
§ *MR. A. MORLEY
added that this must be an inquiry by a Committee of executive officers of the Government and men of great experience and, therefore, it could not be conducted either by a Committee of the House or by a Royal Commission.
§ *MR. KEARLEY
asked for the indulgence of the House to state that he was prepared to accept the terms of the Resolution that had been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, but would like to ask him——["Order, order."]
§ Amendment negatived.