HC Deb 28 July 1898 vol 63 cc375-90 "£1,330,323, to complete the sum for Inland Revenue."

Motion made, and Question put— That a sum, not exceeding £5,402,250, 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, 1899, 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.


I rise this evening to draw attention to a matter in connection with the payment, or rather the non-payment, for overtime to postmen, and I should not have done so had I not exhausted all other means at my disposal for drawing the attention of the Post Office to the grievance of which I complain. I have to draw attention this evening to the recommendation of Lord Tweedmouth's inter-Departmental Committee with regard to the payment of overtime for over eight hours' duty. I should like, with the permission of the Committee, to say a few words. The Committee, in their Report, say— We think there should be throughout the service a uniform payment for overtime, viz., a rate of a quarter, provided that no payment for overtime shall exceed 2s. 6d. per hour in week days and 3s. per hour on Sundays. Whenever the attendance exceeds the normal duty by more than 30 minutes within 24 hours it should be counted as overtime, and in the case of two or more attendances in any one day be reckoned cumulatively, provided that at each attendance the overtime worked is not less than 15 minutes. Now, the point I wish to raise this evening depends on the meaning of the first few lines of this recommendation. I wish to point out that a Post Office Circular of March, 1897, says that in future overtime in London and the provinces shall be paid for at a uniform rate of wage and a quarter, providing it does not exceed 2s. 6d. per hour on week days and 3s. per hour on Sundays; and in the cage of two or more attendances in any one day, overtime shall be reckoned cumulatively, provided that at each attendance the overtime worked is not less than 15 minutes. I think it will not be contested that the recommendation of Lord Tweedmouth's Committee and the Post Office Circular are practically identical, and even if it were not so I hardly think that the right honourable Gentleman who represents the Post Office in this House will raise a quibble on words. It is quite evident attendance does not refer to indoor work merely; it applies to any work or duty, whether in the post office or in the open air; it is the usual term applied to attendance at drill, which takes place in the open air. I will go on to show how thoroughly this Report was accepted by the right honourable Gentleman himself in a speech which he delivered in July last year. This was, of course, a recommendation by the Tweedmouth Committee to the Treasury, and the right honourable Gentleman in regard to it said— The Treasury has accepted the recommendations of the Committee. We have not in any way cut them down—the recommendations have been adopted wholesale, and have had the approval of the Treasury. I submit that the English language could not be plainer. There is to be a uniform payment for overtime throughout the service; surely it means that every man ill the service of the Post Office shall receive payment for overtime. I can hardly think the right honourable Gentleman will attempt to read into this paragraph any other meaning. It is rather remarkable, and I think worthy of note, that in the borough, which I have the honour to represent in Parliament payment for overtime was made to the postmen for a time, and then stopped. When I made representations in the proper quarter I was informed it was owing to a mistake of the local postmaster. But it seems to me that the postmaster read the Queen's English more accurately than the Postmaster General, or, at any rate, the permanent officials who advise him in London. It is curious, too, that this so-called mistake did not occur simply at Hastings. I have a letter here from a postman in the North of England in which he points out— We are working 9, 10, or 10½ hours; our overtime has been sent up to the head office twice since Easter; it is not yet paid for, and now we get an answer that the matter is pending revision. This shows there is some doubt whether it should be paid for or not. The writer goes on to complain of the very heavy deliveries and the vast number of circulars he is called upon to deliver, although he is paid nothing for overtime. We are told by the Post Office that if payment were made for overtime there would be dawdling on the part of the men, as there is no control over them while on their deliveries, but I think I can prove that during the time overtime was paid in Hastings less overtime was made than is now the case when there is no payment for overtime. But, even if that were not the cause, surely a great Department like the Post Office, with all its resources, could do something to check dawdling. I believe it is the usual practice when new houses are erected to a postman's beat for a sub-inspector to go round with the man and see what time it is necessary to allow for the distribution. Could not something of this sort be done if dawdling were suspected? Is there any real difficulty for the Post Office to deal with this matter in a fair spirit—can there be any real difficulty in checking dawdling on the part of postmen? I am not raising this question as an ordinary grievance. I am not raising it in the interests of any particular body of men; I am raising it as a point regarding the wording of the Tweedmouth Report, and I cannot conceive that any person who reads that Report can have any other opinion than that this recommendation was intended to apply to every man in the Post Office service, whether on the inside or outdoor staff. I feel very strongly on this matter, or I would not have taken the course I have done this evening. I can assure the right honourable Gentleman that I shall not rest until this grievance is redressed. I am quite certain that sooner or later principles of common justice and the public feeling of this country will demand that it be redressed. Had it not better be redressed sooner than later? I trust the right honourable Gentleman will this evening see his way towards redressing this grievance, and that he will give some promise to meet this case. If he does not I shall be compelled, unwillingly, to divide the House on this question. I believe it to be an important matter, and I am quite sure that no half-dozen men who meet together and impartially consider these words could come to any other conclusion than that the postmen of this country were intended to have overtime payment in the same way as the indoor staff. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will concede it as a simple act of justice, and not compel me to divide the Committee this evening. I believe that the case could not possibly be stronger, and if I have not placed it before the Committee in a sufficiently strong light, it is no fault of the case; it is the fault of the advocate. I know I am engaged in an unequal contest. The long experience and great ability of the right honourable Gentleman will enable him to put arguments forward to-day which, no doubt, will gain applause; but he cannot get over the plain interpretation of the English language. I ask the Committee not to be led astray by plausible arguments, but to remember that the root and branch of the whole matter is that Lord Tweedmouth's Committee's Report has been accepted by the Post Office and by the Treasury, and that that Report recognises that there should be throughout the service a uniform payment for overtime. I beg to move— That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by £100 in respect of the salary of the Postmaster General.

* MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)

I wish to speak as to the differential treatment meted out to the indoor staff at Devonport, as contrasted with the staff at Plymouth. As the right honourable Gentleman is aware, the Three Towns practically comprise one population, but, strange to say, the pay of the indoor staff at Devonport is altogether different from that of the Plymouth staff. Prior, I think, to the 31st March last year the pay of the second class staff at Plymouth ranged up to 40s. a week, and the same scale obtained at Devonport. As an outcome of the Tweedmouth inquiry, the second class were advanced at Plymouth to 52s. The class became, in fact, an amalgamated one with the first class, and every member of the staff received the opportunity of rising to a maximum of 52s. weekly. But in Devonport the only concession made was that the maximum was extended to 44s. a week. Now, I addressed a question on this matter to the right honourable Gentleman last year, and when the inquiry was going on upstairs last July I presented to the Postmaster General a petition dealing with the subject in detail. Although received a very courteous reply, it was not satisfactory. May I point out that Devonport differs in this respect from Plymouth, that the sorting clerks and telegraphists perform counter and telegraph duties in addition to sorting duties; but in Plymouth they do not do that. The reply of the right honourable Gentleman to me was that the difference in pay was due to the difference in the amount of business done at the two offices. But I should like to point out that Devonport is equally as important as Plymouth, so far as regards the duties performed. Let me give one or two illustrations. In Devonport across the counter £3,000 a week is paid out in pensions. Nothing like that amount is paid out at Plymouth. Devonport is a great naval centre—an enormous amount of correspondence in connection with the Fleet is always passing, entailing the forwarding and re-direction of letters to all parts of the world. There is, too, a similar amount of work in connection with the Army; the population is increasing, and vast sums of money are being expended on the extension of naval works—not less a sum than £4,000,000 sterling. The postal work is necessarily increasing in every direction, and I am sure it is equally as heavy as—I feel inclined to say it is more heavy than—that at Plymouth. After all, Devonport is part of Plymouth, as much as Notting Hill is part of London. Why should a difference be made in the pay at Plymouth, and Devonport any more than there is at Kennington and Notting Hill? Although the explanation of the right honourable Gentleman might apply to towns wide apart, it certainly ought not to apply to one of the Three Towns which adjoin. I will adduce one more argument. In 1896 the postmen of Devonport petitioned that they should be placed on the same basis as the postmen of Plymouth. Inquiry was made into the matter, and the point was conceded. At the present moment the postmen in the Three Towns are in receipt of the same rate of pay. What I want to ask the right honourable Gentleman is to afford us satisfaction by assimilating the rates of pay, so far as the indoor staff are concerned. Let Devonport and Plymouth have the same scale; let Devonport get as much as Plymouth now does. I have only one other question to raise. I understand that clerks with a dual knowledge of postal and telegraph work, after 24 years of age, were given to understand that they would receive the double increment. Now, the postmaster of Devonport has recommended certain, men for that double increment, but there is a Minute in the book at Devonport to the effect that the Secretary has decided that the double increment rule only applies to officers in Schedule A, and that Devonport is in Schedule B. The men complain that they are debarred from earning the double increment simply because they are not in Schedule A. That makes it doubly hard, for men in Schedule A have the power of earning a maximum of 52s. weekly, which is denied to the men in Schedule B. Perhaps the right honourable Gentleman, will explain what justifies him in denying to the indoor staff at Devonport the same opportunity of advancing to a maximum of 52 s. a week, which is the privilege of the Plymouth indoor staff.

MR. W. F. LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)

I quite recognise the difficulty which the honourable Member opposite has felt in dealing with a subject which is no doubt, to a great extent, technical. He hag spoken on the question of double increment, and has pointed out how, though a boon was promised by the Government, it is very seldom attained by the men. He did not point out, but I believe it to be the case, that 34 per cent. of a certain body of men who might apparently have qualified for the double increment are excluded from it for postal qualifications. I believe it is the case that out of all the men employed in one large office only 15 get it, and this is accounted for by the examination being so stiff. Having had some information, given me as to the questions asked, I must say that they are exceptionally stiff, and I am not surprised at the number of men who are incapable of passing the examination. At the same time, I think there is another reason for this difficulty in qualifying, and that is the matter of the overtime which they have to put in. In the Liverpool office, in three weeks in the month of May—the weeks ending May 7th, 14th, and 21st—it appears that the total number of hours of overtime performed exceeded 2,400 in each week. It seems to me, therefore, very reason- able that if men are to specially qualify themselves for the examination they should not have to do so much overtime; they really ought to have some leisure in which to devote themselves to the study of subjects which alone enable them to earn this double increment. I have another point to bring under the notice of the right honourable Gentleman. It may be only a temporary incident, but at the present time there is a great congestion of men employed in the present office. Things in this respect are by no means satisfactory, and I have to beg the right honourable Gentleman to hasten work and transfer the men from the old buildings to the new as soon as possible. There is every reason to think that great inconvenience prevails under the existing condition of affairs.


In regard to the remarks of the honourable Member for Devonport, he has raised a question as to the difference of pay between the indoor staff at Devonport and that at Plymouth, and he asks why it is that the postmen of Plymouth and Devonport are paid on the same scale, whereas the telegraphists and sorting clerks are paid different rates of wages. My answer to his question is this: that throughout the country the postmen are paid on a different system altogether than is applied to the indoor service. Postmen are paid, to a very great extent, according to the population of the towns in which they live, because their work is practically always the same. The rule which enters into the question of fixing their wages is the cost, of living in the town in which they work, and, as a rule, the cost of living in large towns is greater than in small towns, and the postmen in the larger towns get a higher scale of pay than those in the smaller towns.

MR. LODER (Brighton)

Is it the same as regards telegraphists?


No, they are treated on a different system; they are paid according to the amount of work done in the office. I assume, therefore, that the work done at the Devonport office is not as much as that done at Plymouth. If the honourable Gentleman thinks otherwise I will inquire into it. It is a matter easily ascertained, and if it turns out that the work done at Devonport is as much as that done at Plymouth, it is only fair that the staffs should be on the same footing as regards pay. The honourable Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool raised a point as to the double increment. He was wrong in saying that it cannot be earned until a man is 24 years of age. Although that was the decision of the Tweedmouth Committee, at the inquiry held before the Postmaster General and myself, it was decided that the privilege should be granted to men who had reached the age of 21. Then the honourable Member for Devonport asked why it is that the telegraphists and sorting clerks in the post office at Devonport have not the same advantages as the men who are in Schedule A. The real reason of that is, of course, that the men on Scale A are, of course, divided into sorters and telegraphists—the former being confined to sorting duties, and the latter to telegraphic work—and this increased pay has been promised them if they qualify for the double duties. A telegraphist's work is heavy at the time of year at which the sorters' work is light, and the sorters' work is heavy at the time the telegraphists' work is light. This scheme was devised to secure the more harmonious working of the duties of the office. But the privilege does not apply to sorting clerks and telegraphists in a place like Devonport, where they are already doing the double work, and are paid accordingly. It is only in towns in Class A that the distinction exists. Then my honourable Friend the Member for Liverpool complained that a large proportion of the men were outside the possibility of securing the advantage of this double increment—he said 54 per cent. The fact is that the great majority of the indoor men in the provinces are men who, as in the case of Devonport, have already been doing the double work—the sorting and telegraphic duties—and, therefore, of course, there is not the same necessity for offering them the inducement as exists in the case of the man who is simply either a telegraphist or a sorter. I may remind the honourable Gentleman, when he says they are shut out from any double increment, that is not the case; the increment for qualifying in technical telegraphy is open to them all. No doubt it is a somewhat difficult examination, although I am told by some officers that it is nothing of the kind. A question has been raised by the honourable Member for Hastings which is based, I am sorry to say, upon an entire misapprehension of the wording of the Tweedmouth Report. He has taken one sentence out of the Report entirely apart from its context, and he has tried to prove that the sentence thus read bears the interpretation he puts upon it. I venture to say that even then——


I read the whole paragraph.


I will quote exactly what the words are— We think that there should be throughout the service a uniform payment for overtime. But that appears in a part of the Report which deals with those parts of the Post Office service which were already receiving payment for overtime. Postmen have never at any time received general payment for overtime, and if the Tweedmouth Committee had intended that an entirely new class, who had never been paid overtime, were now to receive it, they would have made a specific announcement on that point. This portion of the Report dealt wholly and solely with that class of servants who were already paid for overtime. If the words were to be interpreted strictly, as my honourable Friend suggests, they would apply to every branch of the Post Office service. No doubt, what has caused my honourable Friend to make this Motion is that the postmaster at St. Leonards read the Report of the Tweedmouth Committee in the sense in which my honourable Friend read it, and he did for three or four months after the Report was received pay the postmen for overtime. But that was an entire mistake on his part, and if the Post Office and Treasury had looked sternly at his misinterpretation of the Report, we should undoubtedly have been fully justified in asking the constituents of my honourable Friend to disgorge the pay- ments which they had improperly received.

SIR J. BAKER (Portsmouth)

Generally throughout the service the Report was read and interpreted in the same way as by the honourable Member for Hastings.


The only place we have received a complaint from is Hastings. The postmen have never before received payment of the kind, and if the Tweedmouth Committee had contemplated giving it to them they would have mentioned it. Is there not a reason why postmen should be treated differently from the indoor staff? A postman working away from his office is not under supervision. What happens in his case is this, as far as I can understand. He has to make certain collections and certain deliveries. The rule of the Post Office is that the man ought not to do more than eight hours' work per day, and if he is doing work which occupies him on the average more than eight hours the duty is rearranged, it being usual to leave a margin of a quarter or half hour under the eight hours to make up for a possible excess on special days, such as Christmas, and other times. If postmen were paid for overtime, there would be no check on them whatever. A man could not be watched during his walk, and if it happened that he wasted his time while delivering or collecting letters there is nothing to check him. What does happen is this: he is timed when he goes out and returns, and if it is found on many days that his work takes over eight hours, then inquiry is made. A man watches him, and sees whether the lateness of his return is due to the fact that he is unduly slow at his work, or whether the actual amount of work he has to do is more than can properly be done in eight hours, and, if it is, then the work is diminished. There are some cases in which overtime payment is given to postmen. When a man has to go to a railway station and wait for a train which is unduly late, he is paid. Again, a heavy snowstorm, or other bad weather, might delay a rural messenger, and he would be unable to do his work in the ordinary calculated time. That would not be due to any fault of his, and he would get overtime. But as postmen when at work are not under supervision it is impossible to pay them overtime; consequently, then, work is calculated at a little under eight hours, to allow a margin. His position is entirely different to that of the indoor men, who are constantly under supervision, and it is possible to tell with them whether the necessity for overtime is due to negligence or to stress of work. Directly it can be proved that a postman's work exceeds eight hours, it is either diminished or he gets overtime.

MR. ROBSON (South Shields)

I wish to refer to a matter of purely local concern. The right honourable Gentleman has pointed out that postmen are paid according to the supposed cost of living in the district in which they work, and that the scale of pay is determined by the population of the district in which they work. In the constituency which I represent (South Shields) there has of late years been a remarkable growth of population, and the result is that the maximum scale of pay to postmen is still regulated on what has become an obsolete basis, while the cost of living there is undoubtedly extremely high. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will take that into consideration. There is one other matter on which I owe the right honourable Gentleman some thanks, and I am going to make it the basis of a further demand. Up till very lately South Shields was not in direct communication with London, but had to receive its telegrams through the Newcastle post office. It has very generously and very properly been granted direct communication, but for some reason the privilege is not extended to news telegrams. There is a strong feeling that this direct communication should be utilised for news as well as for commercial and private telegrams, because, as has been pointed out by business men, Press telegrams often deal with matters of great commercial importance. The present delay in Press messages is extremely inconvenient. I have been asked to draw the attention of the right honourable Gentleman to these two matters.

* MR. MENDL (Plymouth)

I have a few words to say on behalf of my constituents, and I may observe that what I remark in regard to the postmen of Plymouth applies equally to the postmen of Devonport, who are on the same scale as the Plymouth men. I do not suppose that any towns have grown so rapidly in so short a time as the three towns of Devonport, Plymouth, and Stonehouse. The cost of living there at present is higher than in almost any other town. I believe a petition has been presented to the Postmaster General by the united postmen asking for an increase in their maximum, and I venture to suggest that the claim is an exceedingly strong one, and possesses the same considerations as those put forward by the honourable Member for South Shields. As to the difference in the scale of pay of the indoor staff of the two towns, I have not had the opportunity of inquiry into the facts, as my honourable Friend has done, but I may observe that there are many respects in which the telegraphists of Plymouth are not satisfied with the position in which they find themselves at the present time, and I have no doubt I may on another occasion be in a position to bring forward those matters. I do hope, however, the right honourable Gentleman will at once consider the petition of the postmen from the three towns.

* MR. DOOGAN (Tyrone, E.)

Before this Vote is taken I should like to remind briefly the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury that nothing yet has been done to improve the very imperfect service, about which I have often complained before, in connection with the Innismore post office. The adjoining postal district of Derryharney has a morning service, an evening dispatch, and a house-to-house delivery, whereas Innismore district has only one service, on six days in each week, and that service takes place at seven o'clock in the morning, when a messenger is despatched to intercept the Derryharney postman from Lisbellaw, to whom he hands the Innismore letters and receives at the same time the bag for Innismore, which had been made up in Lisbellaw. The effect of this arrangement is that letters posted in Innismore after the despatch of letters at seven o'clock in the morning would only reach the important county town of Enniskillen, which is only six and a half miles distant, at a late hour on the following evening. Now, the people of Innismore are naturally dissatisfied at the exceptional treatment which they are receiving, and at the loss and inconvenience to which they are put from being practically shut out from communication with their market town. I have on several occasions brought this matter under the notice of the right honourable Gentleman. He seemed to admit and recognise the grievance, and I had hoped that the Innismore district would be one of the first to which the benefit of the new scheme for house-to-house delivery would be extended. Instead of that, the neighbouring district or Derryharney, that had been comparatively well served, has enjoyed the convenience of a house-to-house delivery for several months, and nothing whatever has been done to improve the wretchedly bad and anomalous postal service in Innismore. I hope, therefore, that this will be the last appeal I shall have to make to have this local grievance redressed, and that the right honourable Gentleman will bring the matter under the consideration of the Postmaster General with a view to having an evening despatch of letters and a house-to-house delivery in connection with the Innismore post office conceded with the least possible delay.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

I asked a Question of the Secretary to the Treasury some time ago with regard to appointments in the engineers' office at Belfast. The right honourable Gentleman gave me an answer which I do not think was satisfactory. There is a great deal of feeling on the subject in Belfast, among the Roman Catholic employees of the Post Office. I quite admit that it seems undesirable to introduce topics of this kind; but the suggestion is, and it is borne out absolutely by the facts, that, whereas the Catholic candidates have out-stepped the Protestants in the engineers' office in their knowledge of telegraphy and special subjects, they have not got a fair share of the appointments to which they are entitled. I have received a very large volume of correspondence on the subject, but I will not trouble the right honourable Gentleman with it. I believe the head of the post office in Belfast is a Catholic. But I have no desire to introduce topics of this kind. All I wish to say is that where a competitive examination is prescribed by rules it is hard upon those who take part in it if, when they pass, they find that for religious considerations they are set aside. This is a matter which demands investigation. The names of the gentlemen who competed are known, and I think the Government might fairly undertake to see whether any rectification is possible.


The honourable Gentleman says that these facts are known. I do not know whether he means in Dublin or at the head office in London. If he will supply me with the facts I will undertake that the whole matter shall be considered.


If I give the right honourable Gentleman the papers will he consider them as confidential?



Amendment put, and negatived without a Division.

Resolutions to be reported this day; Committee to sit again this day.