HC Deb 13 April 1896 vol 39 cc838-46

1. "That a sum, not exceeding £773,712, 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 1897, for the salaries and expenses of the Customs Department."

Resolution read a second time.

MR. J. P. FARRELL (Cavan, W.)

drew attention to the case of Andrew Murray, who was formerly in the Customs Department. Mr. Murray joined the service in 1878, and for eight years afterwards he was employed in clerical work. Then, without any reason being given to him, he was transferred to Dublin and put on totally different work to that to which he had been accustomed. Between the 27th March and 24th September, a period of seven months, he was actually for a greater portion of the time, on duty during the whole 24 hours of each day. Under these circumstances it was no wonder the gentleman's health broke down. He applied to be relieved from such distressing occupation, but the only reply he received was a threat of instant dismissal, which was subsequently carried into effect, After an Inquiry had been held by the Department, he was compelled to leave at a time when there were seven months' salary due to him. He had not received any of the salary due to him since that time, and no inquiry had been held into the reasons for his dismissal. Questions had been asked in the House as to this man's case, and the responsible Minister had invariably informed them that it was not the intention of the Department to consider Mr. Murray's grievance, or to pay him his salary, or to re-employ him. He understood Mr. Murray was an officer of considerable ability, and that among other testimonials to his character which he could produce, was one from Mr. Horace A. D. Seymour, who at the time of his employment was Deputy Chairman of the Board of Customs, and who was now, he thought, Deputy Master of the Mint, If Mr. Murray had not some claim on the Department, he was quite sure that that officer would not have given him a testimonial. He thought it was only fair and reasonable that when a Department took the serious step of dismissing a man whose health had broken down in the service of the State, at least some inquiry should be held into the reasons for the dismissal, and that was all he asked. He asked the responsible Minister in this case to give some assurance to the House that he would institute an Inquiry to ascertain most thoroughly and carefully whether the reasons for this gentleman's dismissal were adequate and just. He understood there was a Treasury Minute of the 27th of August 1889, under which this gentleman could be, restored to his office. Though he did not profess to know very much about the intricacies of the Customs rules, or of the regulations under which a man could be taken on or put off the public service, he thought he was quite within his rights, as a Member of that House, and as the gentleman had to some extent the claim of a constituent upon him, in bringing the case forward, and he earnestly hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would give that consideration to the matter which would entitle him to justice at the hands of the Department. He earnestly hoped the right hon. Gentleman would consider the facts he had brought before him and the few remarks he had made, especially as he had no personal feeling whatever in bringing forward the matter. He asked for no favour, but simply that justice might be done to this man by his case receiving a fair hearing. To this, after all, every public servant was entitled. Moreover, he was sure that if men in any service were confident that no action would be taken against them except after full and fair investigation by their superiors, they would fulfil their duties all the better in consequence. So in this case, if the right hon. Gentleman consented to investigate the complaint of Mr. Murray, it would not fail to have a good effect on the service, for it was felt that this man was labouring under considerable injustice. In these circumstances he trusted he should receive an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that, not with sanding what had been previously done in the matter he would himself fully investigate the case and give the aggrieved man a hearing.

MR. HENRY KIMBER (Wandsworth)

said, he desired to bring under the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the case of the abstractors in the Customs. These men were a hardworking and very deserving class of the public service, and they were labouring under a sense of injustice. The grievances of the men might be summarised under three heads—no promotion, unfair increment in remuneration, and injustice in regard to sick leave. In 1895 they presented a petiton setting forth their complaints, but no satisfactory action was taken upon it. He now again appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to consider the case of the men, and hoped he should receive a favourable answer.

*MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said, that by inadvertence the other night they were unable to discuss at any length the Customs Vote. He did not rise now to advocate the claims of any particular section of the Customs men, but to call attention to what he considered to be a grievance of the Department as a whole. On the 11th of February, an advertisement appeared in the papers requesting that smart commercial clerks between the ages of 23 and 30 [...] apply to the Principal of the statistical Department, and they would stand a chance of receiving temporary employment at 30s. per week. Three hundred and fifty applications were received, and of the persons actually engaged, seven had not passed the Civil Service examination, and of this seven several did not even comply with age qualification. Much to the surprise of everyone in the Department, and of some Members of the House, the whole of the seven not only had not passed, but could not pass the examination, and four of them were relatives of the chief clerks and principal officers in the Customs Department. That savoured somewhat of a job. A distinguishing feature of our Civil Service was that men who entered it had to pass an equal, fair, and unimpeachable examination, and his opinion was that we would regret the day when that principle was broken down. It should be impossible for men in the Department to job their relatives in. The head of the Department, with whom he had communicated, had practically admitted that his statement and charges were true, and he now asked the Secretary to the Treasury, who in the last Session of Parliament was a well known opponent of nepotism, jobbery, and anything which savoured of favouritism, to undertake that there should be a fair field and no favour. Relations were best kept apart. It was good in domestic life, and it would also be good in Government Departments. He hoped the Secretary to the Treasury would see that nepotism ceased.

CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

desired to make an appeal on behalf of a small and deserving class, the copyists and the abstractors in the Customs. It was admitted that these men required a certain amount of special training. That had been admitted, for, in reply to a question, the right hon. Gentleman said the work of this office required some preliminary training. Therefore, these officers were officers who had a certain amount of training. There were three points on which they complained: the first was that they were entirely debarred from promotion. The second cause of complaint was that the increment was so small that they could never rise to the position held by second division clerks, and the third complaint was as to sick leave. Although there were 4,400 employés in the Customs, these 70 or 80 men were placed on a different position from the others. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to make some compensation to these clerks.


said, that if the hon. Member for Cavan laid before him the details of the dismissal of Mr. Murray he would have the whole matter investigated. Complaint had been made that no reply had been received by the abstractors to the representations which they had laid before the Treasury 15 months ago. The reason was that one of the rules of the service, framed in the interest of discipline, provided that representations from Civil servants must come to the Treasury through the heads of their Department. Therefore the complaint of the abstractors was sent by the Treasury to the Commissioners, who seem to be of opinion that there was not much in the matter. However, the three complaints of the abstractors in regard to sick leave, reduction of their salaries on promotion to second division clerkships, and the small yearly increment of their salaries had been gone into thoroughly. A Treasury Minute would be issued forthwith which would have the effect of placing the abstractors in regard to sick leave in the same position as the other Civil servants. He admitted that as those men were only promoted for signal service, they ought not to be penalised on their promotion, and therefore, while he was not in a position to give a definite promise on the subject, he was inclined to take the view that the reduction should be abolished. But if that were done it would probably lead to more stringency in the promotion of abstractors. Only men of exceptionable ability could be promoted in future, so that the concession might have the effect of keeping down men who, under the existing system, might get promotion into the second division. He thought the abstractors had no grounds for their third complaint—namely, that their yearly increment of salary was only £2 10s. as compared with £5 in the case of boy copyists; for, while as a rule the abstractors started at £91 a year, the boy copyists started only at £55 a year. There was rather an important point raised by the hon. Member for Battersea. He was glad that the hon. Member, instead of making vague charges, had been able to quote chapter and verse, as to the actual relationship of some of the persons who had been appointed as clerks in the Customs to the officers in the service. He thought the hon. Gentleman was going a little too far when he extended his complaint to the appointment of friends, but with regard to the appointment of relations of the appointing authority he, to a certain extent, agreed with the hon. Member. Great care should be exercised in the Civil Service, if anything was done towards removing the essential qualification of an effective examination, to see that there was no suspicion of a "job." ["Hear, hear!"] And, after hearing the statement of the hon. Member for Battersea, he was bound to say that he was not quite satisfied with the explanation— ["Hear, hear!"]—that those men were only temporarily engaged. He was glad that the hon. Member had brought forward a case of this kind, into which he should look very carefully.

Resolution agreed to. 2. "That a sum, not exceeding £6,442,120 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 1897, 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,"—

Resolution read a second time.

*COLONEL VICTOR MILWARD (Warwick, Stratford-on-Avon)

called attention to the excessive parcels post rates in this country. For the carriage of an 11 lb. parcel in England the charge was 1s. 6d.; in France, l0d. in Paris only 2½d.; and in Germany, within a distance of 60 miles, only 7d. As to international parcels post, the differences were even more striking. For an 11 lb. parcel the charge from England to France was 2s. 2d.; from England to Germany, 2s; and from France to Germany only 9½d. He had been told by the Secretary to the Treasury that the main reason for these differences was, first, the very bad bargain made with the railway companies by this country and, second, the cross-channel passage. He agreed that the bargain with the railway companies was a grievous one. By the Act of 1882 the companies[...] the mere transport of the parcels took [...] per cent. of the postage, while the Post-Office, who collected and delivered, only took 45 per cent. But under Section 2 of the same Act, the Treasury could at any time revise the rates of postage. That was to say, the rates being fixed by percentage, if the Treasury revised the rates for postage, it was evident that the rate which the railway would receive would diminish at the same time as the rate which the Post Office received. The second reason given by the Secretary to the Treasury was that the sea passage had to be taken into account. Now, they knew that the charge for sea passage was in all cases less than that for land carriage, and the rate paid by the Post Office for crossing the sea was 2½d. per parcel. Averaging the parcels at 6 lb. weight each, they had the extraordinary result brought out of 76s. 8d. per ton. He imagined that the rate which ought to be paid was about 10s. per ton. The railway rate worked out at about £8 5s. per ton. He submitted that the Post Office, having made an extremely bad bargain both with the railway companies and for the cross channel service, ought to bear a portion of the loss and reduce the rates of postage.

MR. W. A. MCARTHUR (Cornwall, St. Austell's)

from his own connection with the Treasury, thought there was a great deal to be said for the view which the hon. Gentleman had put before the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury would probably find nothing more fruitful in saving to the country, and in advantage to the manufacturing and agricultural community, than a thorough investigation, conducted by himself or some other man of business who was not an ordinary head of a Department, into the transactions between the Post Office and the various railway and steamship companies with whom it made contracts.

MR. W. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick's)

asked how long these contracts had to run?

MR. C. SHAW (Stafford)

said, that since last Thursday country Members had been cut off from the use of the telephone from the trunk lines. He was informed that this was in consequence of the Post Office taking over the trunk lines of the telephone. He should like to have an explanation as to the reason why the Post Office had deprived country Members of this privilege.


said, that if a question was addressed to him on the subject he would endeavour to obtain information. The operations of the parcel and penny post were so mixed up that it was difficult to know how far the parcel post was being worked at a profit or not. The impression at the Post Office was that the parcel post was just paying its way, and therefore there was an objection to lowering the rates. It might be possible to draw a distinction between those parcels which were paying and those which were not. The loss was on the smaller parcels; the larger ones were paying fairly well. But the origin of the difficulty was the agreement with the railway companies which lasted until 1903. It was inferred by the Post Office that the railway companies were conscious that they had made a very good bargain, and he should think that in 1903 the rate would probably be reduced. As to the Foreign Parcel Post, the chief reason why it was carried on at a cheaper rate than the English Parcel Post was that on the continent almost the whole of the railway service was provided for nothing. Nearly the entire charge for a parcel on the continent was available for the postal service. In most continental countries, excepting Russia, 50 or 75 centimes covered all the expenses of the inland service for parcels not weighing more than 11 lbs., and the whole charge went to the Post Office. [Mr. FIELD: "What ratio does that bear to the charges you are paying to the railway companies?"] The ratio was as nothing to 55 per cent., because Foreign Post Offices paid nothing, and in this country the railway companies were paid 55 per cent. Then, under the Postal Union arrangement, there was rather a heavy charge of 25 centimes for sea carriage across the channel. Of course, the Government had not a monopoly in the carriage of parcels as they had in the carriage of letters, and private traders compete with the Post Office for the more lucrative part of the work, the costly portion of it being thrown on the Post Office, which thus found difficulty in making any considerable reduction in the rates.

MR. T. H. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)

complained, on behalf of the County Council of Fife, of a difficulty in which that body had been placed by the handing over of the trunk lines to the Government. Under the old arrangement they had the privilege of sending police messages for a fixed price per annum—about £60. This had proved an immense advantage to the police, and had aided them in the arrest of many criminals. Under the new arrangement a charge of 3d. a message was to be made, and it was estimated that the cost would be some £500 a year, instead of £50 or £60, the cost under the old arrangements, and that would be a prohibitive price. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman representing the Post Office would look into the question with a view to redressing the grievance. He had already been in communication with the Post Office on the subject and had received an unfavourable answer.

MR. W. J. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)

said, he wished to refer for a moment to what had been said by the hon. Member for Stafford.


That is really a matter that should be brought on under the Telegraph Service Vote. Still, as so much has been said upon it already, I will not interrupt the hon. Member.


said, he only wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would make inquiries into the matter and endeavour to make such an arrangement as would allow private Members to use the trunk lines of telephones as they had previously done.

Resolution agreed to.