HC Deb 01 June 1899 vol 72 cc99-157

1. Motion made and Question proposed— That a sum not exceeding £5,522,885 be granted to tier Majesty to defray the charges necessary for the salaries and expenses of the Post Office, the Post Office Savings Banks, Annuities and Securities, and the collection of Post Office revenue.

MR. STEADMAN (Stepney)

I rise for the purpose of directing the attention of the Committee to the dissatisfaction which exists in every department of the Post Office service, in order to try if possible to secure what I consider a very reasonable demand, viz., the appointment of a Committee composed of Members of this House, to go into the various grievances of the Post Office employees. On the discussion on the Amendment on this subject which was moved to the Address, the Secretary to the Treasury stated that a Departmental Committee had reported, as had also another Committee, composed of himself and the Postmaster-General, and that therefore no further Committee was necessary or required. But I should like to point out that both these Committees were unsatisfactory to the employees. It stands to reason that a Departmental Committee composed of officials, which contained only one impartial member—a Member of the House of Lords—could not be satisfactory to the 160,000 male and female employees in the Post Office service. I know that the Secretary to the Treasury stated that Members of this House had no technical knowledge of the work of the Post Office. That is quite true. I do not presume to have any technical or practical knowledge of the various departments of the Post Office. Members of this House may not have the technical knowledge possessed by Mr. Carden and other heads of departments, yet it does not follow that if these gentlemen appeared before an independent committee, composed of Members of this House, they might not be able to make their defence more clear and definite than they have hitherto done. The Secretary to the Treasury also stated that a telegraphist was not any more than a typewriter. He gives his own case away, because in a later part of his speech, he himself says that no work is more complicated than the work of the Post Office. If the work is complicated and technical, it must require great skill. If it does not require great skill, it cannot be of that complicated character which the Secretary to the Treasury admits it is. The best reply to the statement that a telegraphist is no more than a typist is the reply of practical men who have knowledge of the subject. Dr. Walmsley, C.E., says:— I do not agree with Mr. Hanbury's statement. The whole idea of offering additional advantages to the operators who qualify in a scientific examination proves that the work requires a knowledge of applied science. Professor Jefferson, who has an intimate knowledge of telegraphy since 1873, says: I am of opinion that the work requires far more technical skill than that of a typewriter. I can personally vouch for the fact that the efficiency of telegraphists has greatly increased of late years. Mr. Preece and other scientific men have expressed a similar opinion. We are told that the telegraphist is apprenticed, and learns his trade, practically at the expense of the State. In the first place, the telegraphist starts as a lad of fifteen or sixteen years. He has to give five years' service to the State, and receives only a very few shillings a week, and after five years he gets the magnificent salary of 21 s. a week. Is that apprenticeship at the expense of the State? Thousands of lads are apprenticed to British employers, and not only learn their trade, but receive a salary quite equal to that paid to the lads in the Post Office, and after five or seven years they are not asked to accept a wage of 21s. a week. They demand and receive the minimum wage fixed by their trade union, and agreed to by the employers. The lads in the Post Office no more learn their trade at the expense of the State than thousands of other lads apprenticed to private employers. They get an increment of £6 per annum, and as the result of a conference between the Postmaster - General and the Secretary to the Treasury they are allowed a double increment on condition that they learn to perform extra duty in the shape of sorting; but the restrictions are so strong at the present moment that 40 per cent. of the employees in the Post Office are not receiving the double increment. Look at the sweating that goes on. An advertisement was issued a short tine ago for two practised sorting and telegraph clerks at Cambridge, with a knowledge of postal work, and expected to be educated young men, and they were offered the magnificent salary of 16s. a week, which works out at the rate of 4d. per hour. I now come to the case of the postmen. They are allowed, as a result of the Tweedmouth Committee. to get six stripes instead of three. They have to wait five years between each stripe, so that before a man can reach the maximum, he has to be in the service thirty years with an unblemished character. For the least trifling thing the officials put the postmen back, so that very few live to receive even four stripes. One case to which I might refer was that of a rural postman who, in the course of his round, had to go through a private farm road to deliver letters at the farm house. One day, when he was half way up the road, he met a person whom he thought was a servant at the farm, to whom he handed the letter which he had to deliver. For this he was reported to the post office. At this time his stripe was almost due, and the result was that instead of securing his stripe in March last he must now wait until 1902. If he makes one mistake between this and then I suppose he will he put still further back. Many postmen now are only in receipt of two or three stripes where they ought to be in receipt of the maximum. Another case to which I might refer was a case of H. C. Simmons, a postman who was transferred from Helensburgh, in Scotland, to Sutton, in Surrey. At the time he was transferred he was entitled to a stripe, and the postmaster at Helensburgh actually paid him 5s. 10d. due as stripe money. On his transfer he applied lo the postmaster at Sutton for his stripe That gentleman, however, knew nothing about the matter. and up to the present time the man has not received his stripe. The next case is the case of a mail-cart postman in the rural districts. In the course of his speech the Secretary to the Treasury said that the average allowed for horses and carts was 20s. and 23s. a week, but the information I have shows that the amount was 8s. and 11s. a week respectively, and in one case, where there was a vacancy, it cost the Government £3 a week for the loan of a horse and cart. With reference to Christmas boxes, it was said that the Post Office did not take that into consideration when fixing wages, but Mr. Lewin Hill, in his evidence before the Tweedmouth Commission, gave quite another version; whilst in their findings the Committee said if they had seen their way to do away with the system of Christmas boxes in favour of some better system they would certainly have done so. Not only in the Telegraph department and among the postmen, but among the clerks and engineers, discontent exists in the postal service. Complaints are made that there is a larger number of men employed on the unestablished staff than are employed on the establishment. Some have been employed for 15 years, and when they apply to he put on the establishment they are told there are no vacancies. Another important point is the right of combination. These men have a number of organisations in existence, but what is the use of organisations if the heads of them are not recognised by the department? I am sorry that the name of Mr. Cleary has been imported into the discussion, because the retiring Secretary to the Treasury, I am sure, would not wilfully misinform the House, with reference to that gentleman; but whoever was responsible for the information with which the right hon Gentleman was supplied undoubtedly misled him. Mr. Cleary was never refused admission at the Trades Union Congress It Belfast. His credentials were very closely examined and were accepted as satisfactory, and from that time to the present the sorters have always been represented at the Congresses. They have now, I believe, elected Mr. Cleary to represent them at Plymouth. There are two plans of action which these men can adopt: they can strike, or they can appeal to this House for justice. The state of things now is entirely altered from the state of things which existed in 1894 at the time of the postmen's strike; men now in every department have their organisation which represents the great majority of the people there, and if they strike they paralyse the whole postal system. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if the telegraphists went out to-morrow they could not be replaced. God forbid that I should advocate that they should go out on strike; I have never advocated a strike in my life; but, while I think that if a man cannot get his just demands he is entitled to strike, I look for the time to come when these men will be able to get justice front this House, and strikes will be done away with. All these organisations right through the departments have their coaches and organisers; true, they are not yet directly represented here in this House, but they have friends here who are prepared to take up their quarrels. Mr. Lewin Hill, after retiring on a very good pension, denounced these men and said they ought to be disfranchised, hut I doubt if any Government would follow the suggestion. They have every right to the franchise, but the intimidation which they have to put up with is simply scandalous.


If the hon. Gentleman will give me the names with regard to this, the matter shall be inquired into.


Hitchcock is one name. Look at the case of Mr. Rash, whose increment was at first stopped because he was an official of the men's organisation. Now that he has got his increment they are watching him about as if he was a felon instead of an honest workman employed by the State.


This is a well-known case, which has been very carefully inquired into, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he is entirely mistaken in the statement which he has just made to the Committee.


I am only going on the facts which have been placed at my disposal. I accept the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, and I am pleased to hear that it is not so. I hope the Secretary to the Treasury will concede what these men are asking, which is simply for an opportunity of appearing before a Committee composed of Members of this House in order that they may state their grievances. I know the right hon. Gentleman has already stated that two Committees have been appointed to consider this question, and he further asked what guarantee was there that this new Committee would satisfy the Post Office employees. My opinion is that they will be satisfied with this Committee, and there will be an end to the matter. If this is not done, they will go on agitating until the Committee is appointed, and it might just as well be appointed first as last. If the men have no case, so much the worse for the men, and so much the better for the Government. Seeing that these men are the faithful servants of Her Majesty's Government, and bring into the revenue three or four million sterling per annum, I think they are worthy of the just consideration of this House, and I move that item A be reduced by £100, in respect of the salary of the Postmaster-General.

Motion made and resolution proposed— That item A (salaries) be reduced by £100, in respect of the salary of the Postmaster-General."—(Mr. Steadman.)

*CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

I desire to speak for a few moments on this question, because I feel that if the right hon. gentleman—who we all acknowledge to be one of the most fair-minded men who ever sat on that bench—would consent to this inquiry he would not only be making his own path smoother, but would be doing a great public service. These officials do not feel that they have been treated with justice, and it is most galling to Members of this house to be approached and constantly assailed by these demands for justice by members of the Postal Department and of the Telegraph Department, who complain that they have not received justice at the hands of the Government. Now the right hon. gentleman, when dealing with this subject last year, endeavoured to show that the telegraphists were men who were not performing work of such a skilful character as had been made out. These men are placed in charge of delicate apparatus. They are supposed not only to understand it, but also to be able to detect faults and put them right. They have now to perform duties which, when they first entered the service, were done by skilled officers, and, therefore, it cannot be contended that they are not performing labour of a very high-class character. They are men who must have not only mental quickness but physical dexterity, and they have to do their labour under great pressure. They claim that they are treated on a par with those who perform a class of work winch is not quite of such a high order. These men perform very difficult duties, which require considerable experience to enable them to perform. With regard to these five years' men the Tweedmouth Committee was asked to recommend that these men should receive from 24s. to 28s. per week, and they consider that the whole question has been evaded, and in this way. They have allowed an employee after twenty-one years of age to have an increment yearly of some £6, if he learns sorting, and further on another increment of another £6, but this does not meet the question in any way. These men have to pass a special examination, and to prove that this test is not a farce I may say that only 46 per cent. of the candidates succeed in passing the examination. These men nave to prepare for this examination in their own time, and what they were given t, expect they would obtain by the Tweed mouth Commission they have not yet obtained. The other class who, I think, have a certain grievance are the operators. who complain that they are debarred from obtaining the maximum rate of £190 per annum. These men entered the service in view of the statement placed before them by the Civil Service Commissioners, and they were given to understand that they had a prospect of rising to £190 per annum. What is the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gives to that? It is that owing to a system of classification being done away with, and the first and second class being amalgamated, a special class has been formed, and the men can obtain promotion to that class. But the difficulty of getting into that class is so great that practically the majority of the men remain at a maximum of £160 per year, whereas they were led to believe that they could attain a maximum of £190. Now a man has to serve something like twenty years before he can obtain the sum of £160, and, therefore, promotion is practically impossible. In Liverpool the time for promotion is about 17 years for men in the Postal Department, compared with some 27 for the telegraphists. The telegraphists are, in this respect, placed in a worse position than the men in the Postal Department, although it is admitted that they perform work of a slightly superior character. The Tweed-mouth Commission recommended that the want of uniformity of the work should be no barrier to promotion. It has been argued with respect to the telegraphists that there is no market value of labour to go by, but it is well known that the men employed by the Eastern Telegraph Company perform practically the same work. They must men of it slightly higher class and superior as operators, but they are able to obtain £201 per annum, and the average service for that salary is some 19 years. Therefore, the Government treat their public servants unfairly as compared with the outside labour market. Now I come to the question of finality. If a Committee were now appointed I think it would lead to the closing of the whole question. I think it is degrading not only to the Government, but also to the Members of this House, to he constantly assailed in regard to these grievances in many instances by our own constituents. I do not believe that I have any constituents connected with the telegraph departments, but many hon. Members have been approached by these men, who demand what they believe to be just and proper. I am compelled to admit that the right bon. Gentleman met the men very fairly on what is known as the Norfolk-Hanbury Commission, and I think the right hon. Gentleman himself will agree with me that on that Commission I gave him loyal support. In the interests of the House and of the public service this matter should be placed at rest at once. I have always spoken in defence of public servants in this House, and I believe that they are being unfairly treated. It is well known that they have not the same power of combination as other men have in the outside world. Therefore, it is due to these men that their position should be investigated by Members of this House. If after investigation has taken place and justice has been done by this House, further agitation takes place, the right hon. Gentleman knows that lie will have no more cordial supporter than myself. I am confident that this concession will not only give satisfaction to the men concerned, but also to the service generally.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That Item A (salaries) be reduced by £100 in respect of the salary of the Postmasteral."—(Mr. Steadman).

SIR W. CAMERON GULL (Devonshire,) Barnstaple

There are just two or three points to which I desire to allude. The first is the principle by which the wages of postmen in county towns are fixed. I believe there are five different scales granted to postmen, and their wages are fixed in some cases according to the population of the town in question. That is a very clear and distinct principle, but now, apparently, another principle is being introduced, and that is the cost of living, which is one of very considerable difficulty. The Post Office, apparently, are not now dealing with the wages of postmen either on the one principle or on the other. In a case which I brought before the authorities some time ago, on the principle of population, the postmen were entitled to a much higher scale of wages; and another case had been brought to the notice of the authorities where it was shown that the cost of living entitled the postmen to the higher scale, and there the case was met by the argument that the population of the district was not sufficient. Therefore, as far as the Post Office is concerned, we get a sort of see-saw—one district asks for a higher rate, and we are told that the population is not sufficient; another district asks for a higher rate, and we are told that the cost of living there does not warrant it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will state on what principle these matters are settled. I think the most convenient one is the rate fixed by the population, without going into the question of the cost of living, which must be a very difficult question to settle. Then there is the question of providing more late letter-boxes on the trains. All the mail trains carry in certain carriages a late letter-box, which always there, but in the remote country districts we have no such facilities. We have been asking for some time for late letter-boxes to be attached to the trains from Ilfracombe to Barnstaple, and we have been told that it is quite impossible, and that late letter-boxes cannot be put on these trains unless there is someone in charge of them. I pointed out that on another branch, from Torrington to Barnstaple, there was a late letter-box, but we were told that it never ought to have been there, and that it was quite impossible to grant another. The reason given seems to me to be perfectly extraordinary, for it is that there is nobody to look after them. Now, if all the letter-boxes in the country look after themselves, surely a late letter-box can do the same. A very large sum of money is given by the public for gratuities to guards and other non-Post Office servants for looking after mail bags and parcels, awl if it is only a question of the safe custody of these boxes, I think it is very easy, by granting a small extra sum of money, to see that these boxes are adequately protected, and it would be undoubtedly a great convenience if a late letter-box could be attached to these trains. This would be very convenient to the outlying districts, where there is very often only a short space of time to answer letters before the mail goes, and the extra hour or so which a late letter-box would give them would be a very great convenience indeed. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to see if this can be done.

MR. SPICER (Monmouth Boroughs)

I do not wish to weary the Committee with going over the details of these difficulties in connection with many of the employees of the Post Office. I desire to associate myself with the remarks of my hon. friend, the Member for West Newington. I listened in the earlier part of the Session with great interest to the Secretary to the Treasury, when he declined a Committee of Inquiry, and since then, though I thought at the time he had made out a good case, I have taken some trouble to inquire into the different answers given to many of his statements, and I confess the more I have gone into the matter the more I have come to the conclusion that this matter will never be properly settled until there has been an inquiry by Members of this House. After all, in these days of labour disputes, I maintain that the greater portion of these disputes would not reach the painful position they do if employees felt they had always the right of approach to their own principals, whether those principals are the heads of private firms or of great limited companies. So, I say, in connection with any longstanding dispute going on in any Government Department, after all, if it is impossible to come to a satisfactory solution of the question by a discussion between the employees and the heads of the Departments, and then with the representatives of those Departments in this House—then I maintain those employees have a right to appeal to the Members of this House to look into the question by appointing a Committee. Though I give the Secretary to the Treasury full credit for having done all he can in this matter, I feel confident that sooner or later this Committee will have to be appointed. It may not be appointed during this Parliament, but it will be, I am quite sure, in some future Parliament, and by that time a great deal of real damage in the way of discipline will have been effected. I shall support the motion for a reduction unless the right hon. Gentleman is willing to grant this inquiry, which, in the interests of the public service, must be given sooner rather than later.

MR. ASCROFT (Oldham)

I regret that the hon. Member who has moved the reduction has not thought fit to demand a Committee to inquire not only into the wages of postmen, but also into the administration and management of the Post Office itself. I feel satisfied that we do not get the full value for the money we spend in the Post Office, and if it were run on businesslike lines we should have far less complaints made. I have good reasons for supporting this amendment, for my constituents have petitioned the Postmaster-General, and their petition has been refused. I understand that the salaries of the postmen are based upon the population. Now the constituency which I represent has 203,000 people in it, and the salaries you pay the postmen there run from 22s. or 24s. to a maximum of 26s. At Cardiff Derby, Wolverhampton, and Sunderland, which are far smaller places than my constituency, the full maximum is 28s. A memorial from my constituency has been presented, and the prayer of it has been declined. We are asking for an inquiry by the House of Commons into this and other questions. There was a cheer raised when reference was made to the postmen bothering the Members of this House, but that was the only way which the postmen have of getting their grievances remedied. I only regret that the office of Postmaster-General is not represented directly in this House, so that we might go more fully into these questions and thresh them out. There is another question, and a very important question. Every Member of this House is aware that every sub-postmaster and postmistress has to enter into a guarantee, and to get that guarantee they have to go to an Insurance Company and pay a premium, which is, considering the smallness of the amount, a very considerable item. Last year, on behalf of a number of my constituents, I approached the Postmaster-General and submitted to him a scheme for the purpose of forming an association of postmasters to guarantee the members of that association at a small premium, and we were led to believe that if we were financially strong, and on business lines, we should receive the same treatment as other associations. We formed ourselves into that company, and we were prepared with some thousand pounds which we offered to invest in Consols if he would only allow us to insure IT means of bonds the members of our association. That was refused on most curious grounds, namely, that we had not sufficient members, neither had we sufficient capital. The Postmaster-General had forgotton what had been the habit and custom of himself and all previous Postmaster-Generals during the last twenty years. I find on referring to the Post Office figures, that in 1887 a society assured the Postmaster-General against the dishonesty of 5,451 sub-postmasters; the liability was £1,025,000, and the whole of the funds of that society were to more than £2,571. The risk was not great, and the whole amount of defalcations amounted to only £147 13s. 7d. Each year followed on pretty nearly the same basis till 1897, when the same Society, which had then £17,754, assured an amount of £6,500,000, and the whole defalcations were £1,246. Taking the whole of the statistics in relation to the defalcations dining the last year, I think they amounted to 1 in 400, but the amounts have been exceedingly small, ranging from £37 to £54. I submit that, under these circumstances, an association of postmasters who bind themselves together for insuring honesty and preventing loss to the Post Office ought to be met in a much more kindly manner than they were met by the Postmaster-General, and I only hope his representative will have this question inquired into, and when I come before him with some of these members of the association we may have a different result than that which we have had up to the present time.

MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)

I desire to support this reduction, because I think the inquiry asked for is one which the Government ought to grant. I quite agree with what the hon. Member for Stepney said with respect to strikes, and more especially with regard to postal employees. I have long come to the conclusion that men employed by the State who have an opportunity of first appealing to the responsible Government and then to the Members of this House ought not to have it both ways. Of course they cannot be in the same position as private employees who are dealing with a single firm, and it should be remembered that State employment has its disadvantages as well as its advantages. One of the disadvantages is that it is riddled through and through and permeated with officialism, and it is almost impossible—although we have such an eminently fair-minded gentleman at the head of affairs as the Secretary to the Treasury—for those men to put their grievances before him or the Postmaster-General in a way that will give them a chance, I won't say of fair play, but of that investigation which is necessary to come to a just conclusion. It is no indictment of the right hon. Gentlemen to say that he is necessarily in the hands of the permanent officials, for that is a necessity of the case. He cannot inquire himself, except through an official medium, and when we have cases put before us on the authority of very reliable men where intimidation and other injustices have been perpetrated under the system of which these men complained, I say that these employees have no other alternative but to appeal to the Members of this House. For my part, I have always had some hesitation in taking up the cases of men employed by the State, because undoubtedly there is a sort of notion that, because they are employed by the State, they can make such demands as they like, because they are paid out of a very full Treasury. I know that every halfpenny of that money conies out of the general taxation of the country, and I agree that we are here as guardians of the public purse. The right hon. Gentleman has never denied that we are here as the guardians of these men's interest, and it has not been shown that the public interest is of greater importance than the interest of these men, who do so much for the prosperity of the country. I therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to grant a Committee of this House. We do not want an official inquiry, but what is needed is that Members of Parliament, responsible to their consciences and to their constituencies, should sit on that Committee, and with the assistance of the Department decide these various cases which are causing so much discontent in the service. In this case we want a non-official Committee, although I confess that I do not think such an inquiry will put an end to disputes in the future. I wish to call attention to what I think is a great scandal in connection with the postal service, and that is the insanitary condition of many of the postal buildings. Now, I know that the chief medical officer of the Department declared before the Tweedmouth Committee that anything affecting the health of the men with regard to their duties, or any insanitary conditions of the Post Office buildings, would be reported to him at once by the local medical officer, whose duty it was to point out what in his opinion required to be remedied. That is a sort of answer which settles everything in the official mind. What more need of inquiry into the insanitary condition of Post Offices can there be, when the chief medical officer deliberately, and on his own responsibility, declares that all cases of insanitation are reported to him by the local medical officers and would therefore be attended to What are the facts? The Tweedmouth Committee, as the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, scheduled 182 postal offices, and the condition of 69 of these was condemned. When we remember that there are over 20,000 postal buildings in the country, and that only a small proportion of these were scheduled, is it not an enormous percentage that was proved to be insanitary? Does it not go a long way to show that you want much more than a mere declaration from the medical officer of health, however high his position may be? I would just like to refer to one or two of the offices in which this great nation does its business. Take Grimsby. I do not know whether it is called an important place—no doubt the people of Grimsby think it is—but what is the condition of the Post Office there? It consists of a building, or buildings, which were formerly used as a grocer's shop, a butcher's shop, a confectioner's shop, and a barber's shop, which is I suppose thrown in to give it dignity. The instrument room used by the telegraphists is made up of what used to be the bedrooms. The ceilings are low, and a few small windows are the only means of ventilation. This is the wretched concern in which the Government business is carried on, and I say it is a disgrace to this great nation that men should have to perform their arduous duties in such a hovel. Come to another town, Preston, with which the right hon. Gentleman is, no doubt, well acquainted, seeing that it is his own constituency. There the lavatory—


I may at once state that a new Post Office is being erected, and all this will be remedied.


But how long will it be before that is done?


The work is in hand now.


However that may be, it does not affect my point. (A laugh.) I must say that I am surprised that a postal reformer, of all people in the world, should laugh when I am endeavouring to point out that men are being killed by the conditions under which they are called upon to fulfil their duties. Now, in the Preston Post Office the dining-room is only separated from the lavatory by a lath and plaster partition, and offensive smells are so often noticeable that clerks are compelled, at times, to leave their dinners unfinished. What about the local medical officer? Why does he not report the case to the chief medical superintendent? No doubt in the new Post Office things may be different, but what is to be done until the new office is ready? In dozens of offices a similar state of affairs exists, if not worse, and why is it? Simply because the Government put a ring fence around their offices and keep out the ordinary sanitary authorities. Why should they not allow these offices to come under the Factory and Workshops Act? Why not allow the inspectors to go into these offices? The Home Office is a department of the Government, and we all know it has done great service to the health and general well-being of the work-people of this country. I ask, then, and surely it is a pertinent ques- tion, why they do not allow the Acts to apply and thus ensure that the offices are kept sweet and clean and fit for people to work in. Why should they be exempted from the regulations which private employers are forced to observe? We are sometimes twitted with claiming special privileges for State workmen, but here we are only asking that they shall be put on an equality with the employees of private firms. I suppose the right hon. gentleman will give us the usual stereotyped answer, as he did when the case of Mr. Ash was brought before him. He knows very well that in that case Mr. Ash made a complaint which was set aside. He also knows that in the very same office the operators have complained, and that their complaints were contemptuously ignored until the Committee reported that the very place as to which the complaints were made was practically in the condition they alleged, and was incommodious and insanitary. Therefore I do submit to the right hon. Gentleman that this is a question he should take into his serious consideration. It is not merely a matter for inquiry; it is one for prompt action on common-sense lines.


I must inform the hon. Member that the question of the sanitary condition of Post Offices should be raised on the Vote for Public Buildings. It cannot properly be raised on this Vote.


I had thought it might be so, bun the only way to test it was to proceed, and as you kindly allowed me to on, I came to the conclusion that I must be in order. Of course, Sir, your mandate is supreme, and I bow at once to it. I will only say, in conclusion, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us the inquiry for which we are asking.

MR. MONK (Gloucester)

I wish to say one or two words with regard to the desire of the employees of the Post Office for the appointment of a Committee to consider their grievances. I supported the Amendment to the Address moved by the lion. Member for Stepney, and I see no reason to regret the vote I then gave. On the contrary, I must say I think it very undesirable that alleged grievances should be allowed to seethe below the surface. They cause grave discontent in the public service, and I am sure that if my right hon. friend would consent to the appointment of a Committee of this House it would have a very good and salutary effect. I do not wish to bring forward any grievances on this occasion, but I do make this appeal to my, right hon. friend.


My hon. friend the Member for Gloucester has appealed to me to grant this Committee on the ground that there are grievances which are seething below the surface. Now, should say that of all grievances connected with any State Department, these are the very grievances to which that remark would least apply. This is the third or fourth time on which an appeal for the appointment of a Committee of the House of Commons has been brought before the house itself. We have had this question threshed out periodically once or twice every Session. There has been the fullest opportunity given for stating all the grievances, and I should think that every Member of this House who has listened to the Debates on the Post-Office service must know these alleged grievances by heart at the present moment. Not only have we had speech after speech on the subject, but we have been flooded with pamplet after pamphlet and post-card after post-card. I cannot, therefore, agree with my hon. friend that these are grievances which are seething below the surface. What has happened in this case ease? The hon. Member for Newington appeals for finality. We had an explanation from the hon. Member for Sheffield as to that, when he said he had no doubt that if this Committee were appointed it would remove certain current grievances, but he felt certain that new ones would arise at once.


I did not say at once. I said after a considerable time.


Well, I will venture to say at once, from experience. The result would be that we should have House of Commons Committee sitting practically every Session, and that is the finality the hon. Member has undertaken on behalf of those for whom he spoke. The hon. Member also said that if the Committee sat it would close the discus- sion, as they would accept its verdict. But exactly the same promise has been given on previous occasions. There was an agitation on the very points we are now discussing. Those points have been under discussion four or five or six years, and the very same points were raised at the time when the Tweedmouth Committee was appointed. When that Committee was appointed, and when the names were read out in this House, there was a unanimous chorus of approval, and everybody who had been agitating said, "It's exactly the sort of Committee we want." (Mr. PICKERSGILL: No.) I believe one Member, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green, did object.


I was not alone.


The hon. Member was very nearly alone. He is fond of being in a minority, and he certainly was in a minority on that occasion. Again the same promise was made when the inquiry was held by the Duke of Norfolk and myself. That inquiry, it will be remembered, was suggested by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean. He said, "The discussion of these matters in the House is not the best Way out of the difficulty, and that if the Tweedmouth Committee have left grievances without redress, would it not be better for the Postmaster-General and the Secretary to the Treasury to sit together, so that both departments shall be represented in any decision that may be conic to?" The suggestion was at once carried into effect, and further than that, we also agreed that any Members of Parliament who were interested in the matter should sit with us and be allowed to ask questions. We got most valuable assistance from some hon. Members. So far as finality was concerned we had a distinct understanding before the Committee sat, and before the Conference was held, that the decisions come to should be accepted. Now, were the decisions conic to at these two inquiries in any way adverse to the claims of the Post Office officials? Were they stinted or illiberal The Tweed-month Committee, on the contrary, after a most searching inquiry—an inquiry presided over by Lord Tweedmouth, a most, impartial man, and held before officials well qualified by technical and financial knowledge to deal with the matter—made proposals, the result of which was that nearly £300,000 a year was added to the salaries of the staff of the Post Office. That was a very considerable addition. There were certain points reserved by the Tweedmouth Committee which apparently they were not sure came within the scope of their reference, or as to which they had not sufficient information. Well, the Duke of Norfolk and myself practically reopened the whole inquiry. We allowed anybody who liked to come before us, we saw the men themselves, and consequently any gaps that might have been left open by the Tweedmouth Committee were, I think, thoroughly filled up. What did we do? We added practically another £100,000 a year to the £300,000 granted on the recommendation of the Tweedmouth Committee. Nobody, therefore, can say that these men have not had a fair hearing, or that a large addition has not been made to their salaries. After all, what are the grievances brought forward to-night? Can anybody say that the hon. Member for Stepney has practically shown in his speech any real grievance whatever? He mentioned one or two small cases, but, after all what are they as compared with an enormous staff of nearly 200,000 men? I say with regard to that large staff that you can hardly draw a comparison between it and the ordinary stall of a private firm. The vastness of its numbers makes a great difference, and white I am far from saying that a civil department of this kind ought to he necessarily amenable to the same sort of discipline as exists in the Army, T. do say that the same principles are at work, and a somewhat stringent discipline is really required. I think that any Member who has a case of anything like oppression brought under Ins notice is perfectly justified, and is, in fact, doing right, in bringing it before either the Postmaster-General or myself, or even before the House. But the case which was raised by the hon. Member for Stepney was one in regard to which I felt it my duty to interrupt him in his remarks, and to assure him that he was absolutely misinformed as to the facts. No doubt it is right there should be an appeal to this House, but it is a gross abuse of that right of appeal for hon. Members to plead the cases of individual members of the staff, in order to get for them additional salaries. It is perfectly legitimate to bring forward statements on behalf of large classes of men. The House has already got abundant information with regard to the details of this case, and has been called into council as to the proper steps to be taken. It will be noted that the hon. Member for Stepney did not go into any details whatever on the question of wages; he merely hinted, and I do not think he did more than that, that we were paying rates below what would be paid in outside services. It is somewhat difficult, no doubt, to draw comparison between what the Post-office pays and what is paid by private firms. But I will give one comparison, at any rate, and I think it is the only one possible. A few years ago we took over from the National Telephone Company the employees, principally women, who were engaged on the trunk wires, and I venture to say that, counting in the pensions we now pay them, these people are receiving from 30 to 40 per cent. larger salaries than when they were in the employment of the company. Hon. Members who draw comparisons between servants of the State and others are too apt to forget the great facilities Post Office servants get, such as constant employment, large pensions, good holidays, for which they are paid, and large sick pay and sick leave. If these are added together it will be found that the Post Office are paying wages considerably above the level of those paid by outside employers. The hon. Member for Stepney was only able to bring forward three cases of grievance, and two of them concern stripes. After five years' unblemished service a postman is entitled to a stripe, which means extra pay of 1s. a week. The hon. Member complained that a rural messenger did not receive a stripe because, instead of delivering a letter to the house to which it was addressed, he gave it to somebody whom he met some distance from the house. I can conceive no greater offence on the part of a postman. The very thing he is paid to do is to deliver letters at houses to which they are addressed. The second case was that of a man who, having served five years with an unblemished character, has not received his stripe. The Man has only to bring the matter before the Postmaster-General, or before the ordinary officials of the Post Office, and he will receive his stripe in due course. The third case was that of a rural postman in Scotland who, in the opinion of the hon. Member, receives an insufficient allowance for a horse and cart he has to provide. I cannot believe there is any case in which only 11s. a week is allowed, and certainly not a case in which only 8s. is allowed, and I feel sure the hon. Member has been imposed upon. Then the hon. Member complains that certain engineers who had served a given number of years are not yet on the established staff. The reply on that head is that in the Post Office, as in other branches of the public service, the established places arc limited. The hon. Gentlemen passed on to what he called the right of combination. Does the hon. Member deny that there is the fullest right of combination amongst Post Office officials? They can combine for any purpose they like, and they have full right of access to the Postmaster-General himself. The only limitation imposed by the Postmaster-General is that the combination must consist of bona fide servants in his Department, and not of outsiders, and I think that is a most wise and salutary precaution. The Duke of Norfolk has refused, as every Postmaster-General has refused, to listen to complaints which do not come from his own men, but which are worked up for them by outside agitators. Does it not seem rather absurd that a staff of 200,000 men should have to go outside their own ranks in order to find a fit person to represent their views? I should like to say one further word with regard to this application for a Committee of this House. Why should we have it at all? Let me speak with perfect frankness about this thing. We have already had two Committees; we have also had a great deal of pressure brought to bear upon Members. That pressure is becoming almost intolerable. The hon. Member for Newington posed as the just judge, and said, "I am weary of all this agitation; let us try and put an end to it." Well, I am not weary of the agitation. So long as I am satisfied, as I am now, that everything has been done that ought to be done for the men, I will not yield to agitation. The whole thing has been thoroughly thrashed out and dealt with fairly; and if the hon. Member is weary of agitation, well, all I can say is that I do not envy the man who takes that view of things.


The right hon. Gentleman misinterprets me. I did not say I was weary of agitation. I said it was positively degrading, both to the House and to hon. Members individually, that year by year those complaints of a large number of Government officials were brought before us. These men were labouring under the idea that they were not receiving justice, and that the two Committees which investigated their case were, practically speaking, packed Committees. The belief of these men is that their case was investigated largely by higher officials, and their feeling is that these higher officials are against them in the matter; and their opinion is that this House will give them justice.


The hon. old gallant Member is exceeding the limits of a personal explanation.


I say at once that I do myself believe that, considering everything, and that full inquiry has already been held, the only advantage these men could derive from a House of Commons Committee would be that the agitation and pressure, now distributed over the whole House, would be focussed and con-concentrated upon the Select Committee. I, for one, am not prepared to grant a Committee of that kind. Now, passing from that, I come to the question raised by my friend the hon. Member for Barnstaple, namely, the principle upon which postmen's wages are paid. I was plad to hear that he supported the view which has always been taken by the Treasury, that the wages of postmen should depend on the population of the town or district in which they live. That roughly affords a test of the cost of living. Unless you are to go into the special circumstances of every locality throughout the United Kingdom, this rough-and-ready rule is the best test, and it has been found to work well. No doubt the hon. Member for Oldham made the complaint that the postmen in that town were not being paid as highly as he thought they should be. I know the interest which the hon. Member has in his constituents, but at the same time he was not able to prove that these men were not being paid according to the population scale. The hon. Member thought that as some concession had been made in Cardiff and Wolverhampton a similar concession should be made to Oldham. I am always opposed to these special concessions. We ought to adhere to the rough-and-ready principle which I have explained. The hon. Member for Barnstaple raised a further question as to travelling letter-boxes on trains. The answer given him by the Department seems to have been that there was no Post Office official in charge. After all, it is a question of expense. No doubt if there were a sufficient number letters to justify it, it might pay the Post Office to put a man in charge. But the hon. Member went beyond that, and spoke as if the letters could take care of themselves. That might be the case, no doubt, if the letters were going from one point to another; but if they had to be handed out at intermediate stations it would be necessary to have a man in charge.


There are exactly the same number of intermediate stations between Torrington and Barn-staple as between Bideford and Barn-staple.


If that were the case there ought to be a man in charge. I think the Post Office ought to consult, so far as it can, public convenience. All these concessions made by the Post Office not only add to the public convenience, but, I am satisfied, bring in fresh business and a handsome return. I will

see how far it is possible to meet the case of my hon. Friend, but it is utterly impossible to put Post Office officials on such duty unless there is a certain amount of business to warrant the charge. My hon. friend the Member for Oldham has spoken about the scheme of an Association of sub-postmasters formed for the purpose of finding the guarantees required by the Post Office. He gave his case away, I think, when he admitted that there was not sufficient capital, and not a sufficient number of members of the Association.


What I said was that that was the argument of the Postmaster-General.


If the hon. Member will give me the number of the members of the Association, and where these men can be found, I will see what can be done. Then there was the case raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield as to Post Office buildings. I cannot go into all the details, but I am very much obliged to him for having brought it forward. A new Post Office is reported to be necessary at Preston, and therefore I cannot be accused of having perpetrated a job in that case. If I can do anything to meet the convenience of Sheffield I shall do it.

Question put.

The Committee divided. Ayes, 107; Noes, 158. (Division List No. 166).

Allan, William (Gateshead) Dalziel, James Henry Langley, Batty
Allen, Wm(Newc.under Lyme) Dillon, John Lawson, Sir W. (Camb'land)
Allison, Robert Andrew Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark) Leese, Sir J. F. (Accrington)
Ambrose, Robert Drucker, A. Lena, Sir John
Austin, M. (Limerick, W.) Duckworth, James Lloyd-George, David
Baker, Sir John Dunn, Sir William Lough, Thomas
Barlow, John Emmott Engledew, Charles John MacAleese, Daniel
Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire) Esmonde, Sir Thomas M'Dermott, Patrick
Beaumont, Wentworth C.B. Evans. Samuel T. (Glamorgan) M'Ewan, William
Billson, Alfred Evans, Sir Francis H(South'ton) M'Kenna, Reginald
Birrell, Augustine Farquharson, Dr. Robert Maddison, Fred
Broadhurst, Henry Goddard, Daniel Ford Maden, John Henry
Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson Gourley, Sir Edw. Temperley Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand
Burt, Thomas Griffith, Ellis J. Monk, Charles James
Caldwell, James Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton Montagu, Sir S. (Whitechapel)
Cameron, Sir Charles(Glasgow) Harwood, George Moss, Samuel
Carew, James Laurence Hayne, Rt. Hon. C. Seale- Norton, Capt. Cecil William
Carmichael, Sir T. D. Gibson- Hazell, Walter Nussey, Thomas Willans
Cawley, Frederick Hedderwick, Thomas C. H. O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)
Channing, Francis Allston Holland, W. H. (York, W. R.) O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)
Clark, Dr. G.B. (Caithness-sh.) Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C. O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.
Clough, Walter Owen Jenkins, Sir John Jones O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Colville, John Jones, William (Carnarvons.) (Oldroyd, Mark
Dalbiac, Colonel Philip Hugh Kearley, Hudson, E. Pease, Alfred E. (Cleveland)
Pickersgill, Edward Hare Strauss, Arthur Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)
Pilkington, Sir Geo.ALancsSW Stuart, James (Shoreditch) Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)
Priestley, Briggs (Yorks.) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath) Wilson, John (Falkirk)
Rickett, J. Compton Tennant, Harold John Wilson, John (Govan)
Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion) Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan, E. Woodhouse, Sir J. T. (H'ddlers'd
Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.) Trevelyan, Charles Phillips Woods, Samuel.
Robson, William Snowdon Tritton, Charles Ernest Wylie, Alexander
Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye Wallace, Robert (Perth) Young, Samuel (Cavan, East)
Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford) Walton, John Lawson(Leeds, S. Yoxall, James Henry
Smith, Samuel (Flint) Weir, James Galloway
Souttar, Robinson Whittaker, Thomas Palmer TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Spicer, Albert, Williams, John Carvell (Notts.) Mr. Steadman and Mr.
Stevenson, Francis S. Wilson, Charles Henry (Hull) Ascroft.
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Galloway, William Johnson Montague, Hn. J. S. (Hants)
Bailey, James (Walworth) Garfit, William Moon, Edward Robert Pacy
Balfour, Rt. Hn. A.J.(Manch'r) Gibbons, J. Lloyd Moore, William (Antrim, N.)
Balfour, Rt. Hn Gerald W(Leeds Gibbs, Hn. A.G.H (City of Lon) Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)
Banbury, Frederick George Gibbs, Hon. Vicary (St. Albans) Murray, Rt. Fin. A. G. (Bute)
Bartley, George C. T. Gilliat, John Saunders Myers, William Henry
Barton, Dunbar Plunket Goldsworthy, Major-General Nicol, Donald Ninian
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M.H.(Bristol) Gordon, Hon. John Edward Northcote, Hn. Sir H. Stafford
Beckett Ernest, William Goschen, George J. (Sussex) Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay
Begg, Ferdinand Faithfull Goulding, Edward Alfred Pander, Sir C. M. (Durham)
Bethell, Commander Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Pender, Sir James
Biddulph, Michael Greville, Hon. Ronald Pierpoint, Robert
Bill, Charles Gull, Sir Cameron Pilkington, R.(Lancs, Newton)
Blakiston-Houston. John Gunter, Colonel Platt-Higgins, Frederick
Blundell, Colonel Henry Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord George Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Boulnois, Edmund Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert Wm. Priestley, Sir W. O. (Edin.)
Bowles, T-Gibson (King's Lynn Heath, James Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward
Brassey, Albert Heaton, John Henniker Purvis, Robert
Campbell, Rt. Hn. JA (Glasgow Helder, Augustus Rankin, Sir James
Carson, Et. Hon. Edward Hermon-Hodge, R. Trotter Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)
Chamberlain, J. Austen)Worc'r Hill, Arthur (Down, West) Rothschild, Hon. Lionel Walter
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Hill, Sir E. Stock (Bristol) Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)
Charrington, Spencer Hoare, E. Brodie (Hampstead) Rutherford, John
Coddington, Sir William Hornby, Sir William Henry Ryder, john Herbert Dudley
Coghill, Douglas Harry Houston, R. P. Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Howell, William Tudor Savory, Sir Joseph
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Hozier, Hon. J. H Cecil Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire)
Colomb,SirJohnCharlesReady Hubbard, Hon. Evelyn Smith, James Parker(Lanarks)
Courtney, Rt. Hon. Leonard H Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex) Stanley, Hon. A. (Ormskirk)
Cubitt, Hon. Henry Jolliffe, Hon. H. George Stanley, Henry M. (Lambeth)
Curzon, Viscount Kemp, George Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)
Dalrymple, Sir Charles Kimber, Henry Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Davies, Sir H. D. (Chatham) King, Sir Henry Seymour Thornton, Percy M.
Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P. Knowles, Lees Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray
Digby, John K D. Wingfield- Lafone, Alfred Usborne, Thomas
Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph Laurie, Lieut.-General Valentia, Viscount
Dorington, Sir John Edward Lawrence, Sir E. D. (Corn.) Vincent, Col. Sir C.E. Howard
Doughty, George Lawrence, W. E. (Liverpool) Ward, Hon. Robert A.(Crewe)
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.) Warr, Augustus Frederick
Douglas-Pennant, Hon. E.S. Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie Webster, Sir R.E. (Isle of Wight)
Drage, Geoffrey Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn-(Swan) Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E.
Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V. Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine Wentworth Bruce C. Vernon-
Fardell, Sir T. George Long, col. Chas. W. (Evesham) Whiteley, H. (Ashton-u-L.)
Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edw. Long, Rt. Hn. W. (Liverp'l.) -Whitmore, Charles Algernon
Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir. J.(M'nc'r Lowe, Francis William Williams, J. Powell- (Birm.)
Finch, George H. Lubbock, Rt. Hon. Sir John Willox, Sir John Archibald
Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne Macartney, W. G. Ellison Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R.(Bath)
Fisher, William Hayes Maclure, Sir John William Wortley, Rt Hon. C. B. Stuart-
FitzGerald, Sir Robert Penrose M'Iver, Sir Lewis (Edin., W.) Wyndham, George
Fitz Wygram, General Sir F. Manners, Lord Edwd. Wm. J.
Flannery, Sir Fortescue Maple, Sir. John Blundell TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir
Forster, Henry William Martin, Richard Biddulph, William Walrond and Mr.
Foster, Colonel (Lancaster) Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M. Anstruther.
Foster, Harry S. (Suffolk) Mildmay, Francis Bingham

Question put and agreed to.

Original Question again proposed.

GENERAL LAURIE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)

The matter I wish to bring before the Committee is absolutely different from that which has just been disposed of. It is a public complaint, at any rate a complaint by a section of the public amongst my constituents in Pembroke Dock, as to the delay in post; deliveries owing to the insufficiency of staff and the inadequacy of die accommodation in the Post Office there. I would not have brought up the case before the Committee in this way, but my constituents have by petition and otherwise brought it before the Department over and over again without avail. They take the view that it is not a reasonable thing that a delivery of letters should lie so drawn out that the postman takes two hours to cover one street of continuous houses. I do not know what the people of London would think if the postmen were two hours going their rounds here. The Department frankly own that their men are not able to keep up with their work, but when asked to increase the staff they say that there is no accommodation. When again asked to increase the accommodation, we are again told that the matter has been tinder consideration for some time, and that sonic day when t accommodation is increased they will increase the staff, and satisfy the inhabitants with a better service. These replies, though courteous, are so vague and unsatisfactory that I felt bound to place the motion in my name on the paper, and unless I get a satisfactory answer I shall be constrained to press it.

Motion made and Question proposed— That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by £100 in respect of the salary of the Postmaster-General."—(General Laurie.)

Dr. CLARK (Caithness)

Seeing that we are making a large profit by the Post Office, the department ought to do something to increase their staff, so as to give facilities to the general public, especially in small villages and country district. I understand that the Postmaster General has been doing something in direction. Personally I have been compelled to bring before the Department several cases in which a daily delivery is required in my own constituency. It is desirable when the right hon. Gentleman replies that he should state what the Post Office is doing to secure a daily delivery everywhere throughout the country.

MR. HUMPHREYS -OWEN (Montgomery)

It appears to me that the policy of the Post Office in relation to remote and sparsely populated districts is one which requires to be altered. many Complaints have been made on this account in my own constituency, and in other thinly populated parts of Wales. I admit that the Post Office officials when I have brought these cases before them have treated me with the utmost civility, and raised most agreeable expectations, but these expectations have never been fulfilled. I always understood that what stands in the way of postal reforms is not so much the inability of the Post Office to early them out, as their inability to induce the Treasury to relax its hold on the public purse. Everybody knows that if you want to induce a population to settle in the country the first thing necessary is to provide postal and telegraphic communication with the rest of the world. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will commune with himself in his double capacity as representative of the Treasury and of the Post Office, and persuade himself as representing the Treasury to grant to himself as representing the Post Office increased postal and telegraphic facilities, which tend so much to add to the conveniences of country life.


I think the hon. Member for Montgomery was a little hard on the Treasury. If he will look at the state of the Post Office and Telegraphic services now compared with a few years ago, he will find how great is the improvement that has been made. The question of a daily delivery was raised by the hon. Member for Caithness. I believe it is a fact that in some of the more remote districts of Scotland we have net yet been able to carry out a daily delivery; but, of course, we are going steadily forward with the work, and I hope that very soon the whole of the country will he so served. I should say that, three-fourths of the whole country have been already accommodated with a daily delivery, and the Department hopes that, within a time measured by months, there will he daily deliveries everywhere. In the meantime, if the hon. Member will quote any specific ease in his district, I will see what can be done to improve the service. In regard to the case mentioned by my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Pembroke, of delay in the delivery of letters, that, I understand, is attributed to the shortness of the staff, and that again depends on the accommodation for the staff, for of course we must have accommodation for sorting the letters. I can promise my hon. and gallant friend that the addition to the accommodation in the existing premises will not be indefinitely delayed, and that within four months—which is not a very long time for a Government department—the additional accommodation will be provided.


We have had many promises from the Department for many years, and they have had no result. But under the circumstances I accept the promise of the right hon. Gentleman, and with the consent of the House I will withdraw my motion.

Motion by leave withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.


There is a question I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman in regard to a grievance of old non-commissioned officers in the service of the Department who are employed as overseers and telegraph messengers. I understand that they have been told that they are not to be promoted to the post of assistant inspector. That tells in every case upon them in regard to the increment in their salaries, and places them in an invidious position as regards those who have not served in the Army. I am further informed that they have been told that they cannot receive any promotion after the age of 40. If a man enters the Army at twenty-four years of age, and serves for twenty-one years, lie will then be six years over the time for promotion under this rule. The wish of the War Office is to get noncommissioned officers to re-engage and to serve for a period of twenty-one years, but if the public Departments put a bar to their promotion at the age of forty it will tend to prevent non-commissioned officers from re-engaging. I beg therefore to ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it is not possible to extend the limit to the age of forty-five or forty-six. I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be possible to publish and put in the library of the House of Commons the regulations in respect of the Post Office officials, their pay, and their retiring allowance.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, East)

The hon. and gallant Member has made a complaint on behalf of old noncommissioned officers in the Department. I have to make a complaint in an opposite direction, a complaint which represents a widespread and increasing feeling in the country. I have to protest against the system of giving discharged soldiers and non-commissioned officers employment in the Government Departments of the State in preference to civilians. It is neither just nor fair to the ordinary civilian that he should be forced to make way for an increasing number of soldiers and non-commissioned officers.


I do not wish to go into the general question raised by the bon. Member for Mayo, but as regards the employment of old non-commissioned officers to keep the telegraph boys in order, which was instituted when I was at the Post Office, it is rather hard on men who have served well in the Army for a certain number of years that they should thereby be disqualified for holding superior appointments in public Departments for which they are peculiarly fitted. They are tried and trustworthy men, and it is, prima facie, a mistake that men of that description should be debarred from rising above the position of overseers of telegraph boys to the position of assistant inspectors or inspectors.


This question is new to me, and I rise to suggest to my right hon. friend that he should, in his reply, tell us as nearly as he can what the offices are in regard to which preference is given to non-commissioned officers in the Army, and in particular 1 should like to ask him to say whether a corresponding preference is given to telegraph messengers.


The hon. and gallant Member introduced this question as if it were a new matter. I do not think it can be, or I should have heard of it. Certainly there have been no new regulations made, to my knowledge, within the last three or four years. If my hon. and gallant Friend will ask a question in the House about it, or see me privately, I will give him the fullest information that lean. Of course, I have not the details before me at the present moment, and all I can say in reply to my hon Friend opposite is that a certain number of places as postmen are reserved for men who have served with the colours. The rule is that 50 per cent. of the postmen's places are reserved for soldiers and sailors, and, I believe, militiamen, and 50 per cent. for ex-telegraph messengers. I agree that it might be useful if the House had fuller knowledge of these regulations than it has at the present moment, and I will see whether the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend can be carried out. 1 may say generally, speaking for myself at any rate, that I am not able to entirely agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Mayo. I think we ought to find places in the public Departments for those who have served the country well with the colours, both in the Army and Navy, and we are steadily trying to bring about that change with regard to postmen. I will go further and say, those men ought not to have lower wages because they have a pension. A man who has earned his pension ought to have his pension and pay at the same time. The effect of reserving 50 per cent. of the postmen's places for old soldiers and 30 per cent. for ex-telegraph messengers has been to a large extent to disorganise the telegraph messenger service; but I am of opinion that as many positions as postmen ought to be reserved for the Army as the Army can find men thoroughly qualified to take those places. The Army may, however, help the Post Office by inducing boys from the Duke of York's School and the Royal Hibernian School to become telegraph messengers, and then to loin the Army and become postmen in their turn. In that way those boys would have an assured career in the Army and the postal service, and that would be an advantage both to the Army and to the postal service.


I rise to repeat my protest against the employment on a considerable scale of Army and Navy men in public Departments. I think it is mon- strolls that the public Departments of this country should be turned into recruiting departments for the services of the country. The Army and Navy ought to take care of themselves. The business of great civil Departments is to do the work of the country. It is a totally new departure to make these Departments recruiting agencies. It is quite possible that a majority in the House might adopt the policy, but it has never been deliberately adopted in all its bearings to the full knowledge of the House, and possibly, if carried to the extent indicated in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the time will come when a reaction will set in. I have had bitter complaints made to me on behalf of civilians who have rendered good and faithful service to the Post Office, and who naturally expected to be appointed permanent postmen when vacancies arose. In consequence, however, of these new regulations, they were informed that all the posts were practically for men who had served in the Army or Navy. After the statement of the right hon. Gentleman it is perfectly clear that that is the actual state of the case. Now the right hon. Gentleman makes a further proposal that the telegraph service is to be used as a recruiting agency. That is a very extraordinary proposal, and ought to be opposed. For my part, so far from thinking the hon. and gallant Member is justified in asking for further concessions for the Army, I think the Department has gone much too far in that direction.

"2. £570,913, to complete the sum for Post Office Packet Service."

"3. £2,338,390, to complete the sum for Post Office Telegraphs."

SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)

I rise to call the attention of the Committee to the greatly increased expenditure in the maintenance of the postal telegraphic services. I think there is a great waste of money in this branch of the service. For instance, some private wires have been attached to my place of business by the Post Office. I have had an estimate from the National Telephone Company to supply the service at half the cost. As the Post Office refuse to amend their charge, a change is being made, and the Post Office are taking down all their posts and wires for two miles and a half. I should not have called attention to this matter but for the fact that the same thing is going on in other parts of the country, and also in my own neighbourhood I think that to lose business in this way shows very bad management on the part of the Post Office, and I should like to have a promise from the Secretary to the Treasury that he will cause inquiry to be made into this matter.


I do not think it is necessary to make inquiries, because I know the facts perfectly well. The monopoly of the Post Office does not extend to wires, whether telegraph or telephone, between houses or properties belonging to private individuals. The service my hon. Friend refers to is not essentially part of the Post Office work at all. In regard to such services, they would come into competition, not only with the National Telephone Company, but with any private individual who likes to start a company for setting up these wires; and as the Post Office has plenty of public work of its own to do, it has been recently rather unwilling to extend the system of private wires where the distances are comparatively short, and where it is possible there may be very keen competition. The private wires we are perhaps willing to extend are the longer ones. For instance, we are now, I believe, laying private wires between London and Edinburgh. I cannot undertake that the Post Office will go farther than they have gone already. Within the last month or two we have made very considerable reductions in our charges for private wires, if the persons using them will undertake to use them for another five years. I do not know whether the wires to which my hon. Friend refers come within that category. We do not intend to enter into competition with a public company, and I cannot undertake that we shall go any further than we have already gone. We have reduced the charges on those wires to a certain extent, and if the right hon. Gentleman is not content with the charge we make I can only say that he must go to the National Telephone Company. We are certainly not going to enter into a cutting competition with the company.


I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman does not quite recognise the point that these wires have been put up now for some five years, and that the Post Office is not only throwing money away by not reducing its prices, but it is actually taking down all the posts and tackle, which is a great expense; and it does seem to me to be a ridiculous thing to say that the charges to which I have referred are not worth saving.

CAPTAIN BETHELL (York E. R, Holderness)

What I really think we ought to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether, instead of pulling them down, it might not be possible to sell them; and, secondly, whether it is not possible to stop the disgraceful waste of money that has been and is going on.


I contradict absolutely that a waste of money has taken place. What my hon. Friend complains of is that unless the Post Office grants him the same terms for these wires as the terms adopted by the National Telephone Company he will not continue the connection. It is quite clear that that cannot be done. We must have a fixed tariff, and we have already made considerable reductions. If he does not like to pay our terms, it appears to us better to remove the wires.

Vote agreed to.

4. Motion made, and Question pro-posed— That a sum, not exceeding £496,600, 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, 1900, for the salaries and expenses of the Customs Department

*MR. GRAY (West Ham, N.)

In the year 1890, upon this Vote, a discussion was initiated on the grievances of the various grades of Customs officers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day, who is now the First Lord of the Admiralty, agreed at the time to institute an inquiry into the allegations which had been brought forward as to the general condition of the service. And as my excuse for bringing up this subject again I should just like to refer to the words of the right hon. Gentleman the present First Lord of the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman urged that good faith should be kept with these officers in order that they should have no reason to complain that the terms on which they entered the service had been changed to their detriment. I contend that the terms of their service have been changed, greatly to their detriment, and they have a good cause of complaint with which to come to this House. As a result of the debate in 1890 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary of that day (Mr. Jackson) entered into a prolonged inquiry, the outcome of which was a Treasury Minute which was promulgated in 1891. That minute gave almost universal satisfaction through the whole of the Customs service; and now, if I may, I shall point out to the Committee how this applies to this vote, and how it is that we are making allegations against Her Majesty's Treasury. These men are the officers responsible for the collection of £22,000,000, the product of the import duty on all dutiable goods coming into Great Britain. The number of officers is not large, although the duty is an exceedingly important one. Fifteen hundred men of various grades in the service take charge of the whole of these matters, from the moment that the imported goods come into the port to the time when they pass out through the bonded warehouses to the chants to whom they are consigned. NOW, in 1890 these officers made certain complaints. They alleged that promotion was delayed, that the duty which they were performing was not such as they were entitled to expect when they entered their service; they alleged that changes in their duties were being made to their disadvantage, that work which had been performed by officers of higher grade was being shifted on to the shoulders of men with lower qualifications, and that there was an insufficiency of staff to safeguard the revenues of the country. There were two or three other charges as to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary were unable to agree, but so far as the charges which I have enumerated are concerned they admitted that the officers hail made good the charges brought forward in the House. Consequently the Treasury recommended the Customs Board to make certain changes in the service which would do away with these complaints. The recommendations, in the main, were such as to give contentment in the service, and it was concluded by the officers that a new bargain had been entered into between them and their employers. They were prepared to execute their part of the con- tract faithfully, and they naturally looked to the Treasury to perform theirs. Now, having examined the complaints from these officers, I have come to the conclusion that there has been a gross breach of faith on the part of the Government, and especially upon that part which is known as the Customs Board. I fully recognise, of course, the difficulties that may ensue if one too readily lends one's ear to complaints made by any portion of the Civil Service. Therefore I have tried for the last two or three years to avoid bringing this subject under the notice of the Committee. I have tried private negotiations with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and I have to record that I am thankful for the courtesy that I have always received, and I can only regard the information which has been supplied to him from other sources as misleading. The highest grade officers on out-door work are the collectors. There are very few of these offices, and they are looked upon as the prizes of the profession, and are watched with keen anxiety by those officers who are a grade below. The next is the grade of surveyor, who receives a minimum of £350 per annum, rising to a maximum of £500. In the first place these latter gentlemen complain that the promotion to the rank of out-door collector had been stayed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted very fully the complaint, and arranged that there should be an increase in the number of officers employed in the higher grades, and particularly that those collectorships should be open to the surveyors. The surveyors realised that from that date they would have a chance of getting a collectorship. Now, although that minute is eight years old, not one appointment to a collectorship from a surveyorship was made until last year. Two years ago I addressed a question on the subject to the Treasury, and the reply I got was most unsatisfactory. The Treasury fully admitted that a promise was made, but it was not expedient from the point of view of the Government to carry that promise out.


To carry what out?


The promise that the collectorships should be open to the surveyors. During that time a number of men, from age, have been retired from the service who have been led while they were in to expect promotion through the clause inserted in the Treasury minute. It was also said that in order to improve the condition of affairs that there should be re-created a certain number of surveyors of the first class. It was said that they would create a more rapid promotion from the second and the third grade of surveyors. In 1892, when the minute was promulgated, there were 53 officers of higher grade, and in 1898 there were only 42. There has been a reduction in this portion of the service, and in the higher ranks of the service extensive reductions have been made, while in the lower ranks great increases have been made. All this may be desirable and in the interests of the public service. It may be desirable that the strictest economy should prevail, but you can carry economy so far as to endanger the efficiency of the service, and I allege now that it has been carried to such a length as not only to endanger the efficiency of the department but to result in a very great loss. My second complaint is, that all the second and third class officers have lost that promotion which they should have had if the first-class surveyors had been re-created. The loss to the surveyors is a loss to the officers below them, and a number of men in the first-class surveyor class being reduced instead of increased has resulted in the first-class examining officers losing their chance of promotion. Their complaint, however, is of a somewhat different character; how it has arisen is not quite known, but these out-door officers are engaged in the particular work of measuring up the casks, estimating the amount of spirit they contain, and the amount of duty which the Treasury ought to receive. They are men exposed to all kinds of weather, who are out both night and day, and whose hands have lost the skill for writing essays and answering questions on paper, and who are consequently no longer able to compete in the examination room with the young men of twenty or twenty-five years of age who have conic straight from their schools, and who have crammed up the work from books and papers, but who are wholly without that practical experience which is so necessary for this business. That is the complaint that they brought up, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day dealt with it by saying that the examinations for this part of the service should be no longer of a literary character, but of a practical character. It was pointed out that neither under the nominative nor the competitive system did the service obtain the men fitted to discharge the duties of this office, and in the future, instead of having a competitive examination, it was said that the persons who desired to go in for this office should be called to London, where they could be subjected to a practical viva voce examination. That was an eminently satisfactory solution. It was practical work; the men had not to write essays and make up fancy accounts. They had to find actual quantities and go through everyday work. What happened? Within the first two years following the issue of the minute this promise was distinctly broken and violated. The men were put through an examination, largely of a literary character, with the result that the men from the schools who were ready to write essays as to the way in which you ought to gauge a cask, but who could not do the practical work, got these positions. After two years the complaints resulted in the abolition of this examination; but the mistake having been made, a certain number of these young men were placed over the heads of the older men of practical experience; and once there it is extremely difficult to remedy the mistake which has been committed. Year after year they have gone on, and older men who should have been sent to the top of their grade are standing 53 places lower down than they ought to be. When the time comes to compete for the surveyorships, these men will step forward, and the old men, the practical men, who have all the skill, will lose all possibility of receiving any chance of obtaining one of the prizes of the profession to which they are justly entitled, and to which the Treasury minute admitted their right of claim. I suggest that the claims of these old men who have suffered, not through any fault of their own, but through the manner in which the Customs Board has carried out the recommendations which the Treasury placed in their hands—I suggest the fault is one which must be remedied, even though it may be difficult. These men have lost 53 chances to which they are entitled, and therefore the younger men ought not to feel aggrieved if these positions are increased by 53 more. These men might well be added to that grade of service, and that would in some measure recompense them for the loss which they have sustained owing to the way in which the minute of 1891 was carried out. Now, prior to this inquiry, which was held by the right hon. Gentleman who is now First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1890, it was alleged by the officers that many important duties which ought to he discharged by men of ripe experience were being placed in the hands of young and inexperienced persons. This refers particularly to the important work of import gauging. I ask the attention of the Committee to this phase, because if it were not so serious the explanations given would he extremely amusing. The First Lord of the Admiralty agreed and set forth in the Minute that in future the important work of import gauging, which had hitherto been performed by first or second class examining officers, should in the future be fulfilled, so far as possible, by first-class examiners only. Since the date of the writing of the Minute the clause has never been carried out. The work of import gauging is still being carried on by second-class examining officers and the assistant-examining officers. I brought that matter before the Commissioners, and their explanation is that the phrase "important work of gauging" does not apply to the whole, but only to the more important portions of it. They say it is ridiculous that a first-class examining officer should be made to gauge cheap wine, especially claret, that they are only expected to gauge the more important wine. I am very much surprised that such an explanation should be given, because in the report a little further on the same duty is described, the same class of officers is referred to, and there is no distinction drawn between cheap and expensive wine. Again and again throughout the pages of this Minute a promise is made to these men by a State Department that a certain class of work shall in future be discharged by particular officers in order to increase the rates of promotion for men in the lower grades. For two years a private confidential interpreting Minute existed between the Treasury and the Customs Board, of which the men had no knowledge whatever. They saw casks of wine still gauged by men of the second class, and they wondered why the work was not discharged by higher grade men. But the whole of the time there existed this interpreting Minute, to the effect that those who signed it never meant what they attached their names to. I am told—I hope it is no breach of etiquette to mention it—that the secretary who wrote the Minute did not accurately represent those who subsequently signed it. That is a very lame excuse for any Department to put before the House of Commons as a justification for what, to my mind, is defrauding men of what they were led to expect. I am not setting forth any new claim for these men, I am not asking for any increase in their salaries, and I am not taking up the usual line of asking that the men should be allowed to break their contract. My own contention is that this document constitutes a contract between the men and the Department, and I care not whether it was clumsily drawn by a secretary or whether those who signed it neglected to carefully examine its clauses. It has been signed by Ministers of State, and every word of it ought to be interpreted as an ordinary man would interpret it, and its operation should not be restricted in a sense never intended. I may point out that this work of import gauging is one requiring great skill, dexterity, and long years of practice. For the purposes of the State it is as important that cheap wines should be as accurately gauged as expensive wines, because on the gauging depends the amount of duty the merchant has to pay. The principle is exactly the same, and this Minute laid down in the most explicit manner that this work was to be discharged by first-class examining officers, in order that those below them might enjoy the opportunity of promotion. I shall listen with no little curiosity to the defence which the Secretary of the Treasury may now bring forward. The Customs Board themselves admit that they do not retain the work of import gauging for first-class officers alone, but they allege that it is absurd to suggest that the work of gauging light clarets should be reserved for first-class officers. I have ventured to dwell on this particular phase of the question, but it would be easy to show that it is only one cause of the discontent which runs through the whole of this important State Department, and a discontented class of servants is not likely to render efficient service to the State. I will now pass to another question. The great complaint made by the men is that the rate of promotion is slower than they were entitled to expect. Again and again it was stated in the Minute that while the Treasury could not undertake to increase the salaries, they would undertake to improve the rate of promotion, and therefore inter alia the Minute laid down that each branch of the service should have attached to it a sufficient margin of officers of that class to meet the vacancies arising from sickness and leave of absence. The men of the lower ranks had been for years, were during the time of the Minute, and are still, called upon in the most unwarrantable fashion to discharge the more important duties of officers of a superior grade without receiving the emoluments attached to that particular grade. It would be absurd to suggest that it would be possible to do without the system of "acting" altogether. In the smaller ports men may reasonably be called upon, daily if you will, to discharge the duties of the higher ranks, but I allege, and I think I can prove, that this system of "acting" is going on all over the country to a most unwarrantable extent. In London and the provinces men of inferior grade are called upon, at a minute's notice, to discharge not for a day, or a week, or a month, but for even greater periods, the duties of officers who are sick. Take Mount Pleasant office for example. I am prepared to give the names, places, and times. In Mount Pleasant, where nearly the whole of the Postal import duty is collected, a first-class examining officer has been acting as surveyor for six weeks straight off. This is not a small port a couple of hundred miles away from the central office. The amusing part of it is that if a man in receipt of £70 a year is away sick, they will send to a neighbouring station for a man of the same class to fill his place, but when a man is absent who is in receipt of £400 a year it is naturally cheaper to employ a man of £250 to discharge his duties, and save the expense which would be attached to increasing the staff of that particular depôt. That may be to the interests of the Exchequer, but it is not to the interest of the taxpayer in the long run, because a man so employed becomes discontented, and some of the men are not fit for the duty. A special promise was made with regard to Liverpool, but it has never been fulfilled. The following are the number of days worked in the port of Leith by inferior officers in superior positions:—January 105, February 69, March 63, April 41, May 53, July 62, December 65, in addition to which there were parts of days, together making up nearly 12 days. For a port of that character this is a most unwarrantable exercise of the system of "acting." In other ports of the country the same thing is going on. In district after district there are unreasonable claims on young men to discharge the duties of older and more responsible officers. I believe the Secretary of the Treasury has admitted that the principle of acting ought not to be carried on to an unreasonable extent, and the whole question therefore is, what can be described as unreasonable? I cannot come to any other conclusion, after a most careful study of the Minute, and also a study of the system, that "acting" is carried on to an unwarrantable extent. The explanation to my mind is that there is competition between the Excise and Customs Departments as to which can collect the largest amount of revenue at the smallest amount of cost, and the consequence is that year after year, although the Customs revenue has increased, the cost of the service is decreasing. I am inclined to think if the Secretary of the Treasury will carry his investigations not a very great distance, he will find that this system has resulted not in the collection of a larger amount of revenue, but of a much smaller amount than would be secured if the service were sufficiently manned. With regard to the Assistants, their claim is not based on the Treasury Minute, for the sufficient reason that that class was not in existence when the Minute was issued. They asked the Treasury to institute certain reforms in their conditions of service, rates of pay, and promotion, and, oddly enough, the Treasury acceded to all their claims, but instead of applying the remedy to the men already in the service who asked for these improvements, it was applied only to new entrants to the service. What is the result? You have sitting at the same desk, in the same office, two men— one with four years' service and a salary of £70 5s., the other with four days' service and a salary of £70. The latter has had no service; he is only a young fellow who has just passed his examinations, but under the new conditions he gets £70 as his initial salary. The other man has four years' service, but before he joined this particular grade he was discharging two classes of duty, one of a comparatively important character, the other of a comparatively unimportant character. In the new class which has been constituted he drops the unimportant work, and is discharging nothing but the important work. That is the first year of their comradeship. After the seventh year the newcomer is getting £100, whereas the other must labour 12 or 13 years before he reaches that level. Such an arrangement is manifestly unjust. I apologise to the Committee for having elaborated these grievances at such great length, but I believe I am justified, not only because of the complaints on the part of the men, but also because, owing to the inadequate staff, there is being practised very extensive fraud on Her Majesty's Revenue. The men declare, and I have no reason to doubt them, that this is the sort of thing that goes on day by day. A cargo of high-class wines or spirits arrives at the (locks; it is immediately taken charge of by a first-class examining officer; it is gauged and ullaged, and its strength is determined and registered. It is then transferred to a bonded warehouse, where it is locked up in charge of a bonded warehouseman and a representative of the Customs Board. What takes place? In order to secure that no leakage occurs a Surveyor of Customs goes into the bonded warehouse, consults the register of casks, and asks that the particular cask be produced. Now there are not sufficient officers of this class to allow the officer to wait until the particular cask he asks for is brought up. Having called for the cask, he is off to some other duty and may not be back for five hours. Meantime the cask is tampered with, and the loss which was going on has been made good, and the officer is deceived. In its turn that particular cask will be dealt with to make up the loss in others. I may be told that this is a fanciful picture, but is it not a fact that within the last few months, at one port alone, no less than ten thousand gallons of spirits escaped in this way, involving duty to the Crown of over £7,000? I would ask whether in the neighbourhood of the docks in that port it was not possible to purchase 2d. worth of good spirits in the streets from unlicensed persons, and the Customs officers did not discover the fraud until after an employee had been dismissed. Who had to pay the piper? The bonded warehouse hands over bonds to the Treasury for, I think, £5,000. That was not sufficient to cover the loss in this ease, and the Treasury had to put into force an old Act of Parliament by which they compelled the warehouse to pay the full duty. That occurred through an inadequate staff of Customs officers. In two other ports spirits have been leaking away to the extent of several hundreds of pounds of duty during the last twelve months, in what manner it is absolutely impossible to determine, because the Customs Board have not at their disposal a sufficient staff of officers to go round and take stock in the warehouses. I am not asking that the salaries of these men be increased, because I do riot take the view that having entered into a contract that contract should be broken. But while I take that stand in defence of the Treasury, I am bound to take an equal stand in defence of the men. Many of them live in my own constituency, and they have made me familiar with their complaints, and I think the Board of Customs have so far offered no adequate defence. I appeal to the Secretary of the Treasury to look into the matter himself. I have the utmost confidence in his fairness, and if he be left alone and not fettered by any permanent official who may receive a bonus if they can get the Estimates cut down, I should be prepared to leave the case in his hands. I had hope of urging the appointment of a Committee of Enquiry, but I prefer that the Secretary of the Treasury should be judge and jury at the same time, because I am confident he will deal with the question fairly. I move that the vote be reduced by £100.

Motion made and Question proposed— That Item B (Port Establishments) be reduced by £100 in respect of Salaries, etc."(Mr. Gray.)


I think the hon. Member for North West Ham has made a very unfair attack upon the permanent officials. Who are these permanent officials who have received the bonuses of which he spoke, and what reason has he to suppose that they are less fair in trying to deal with a matter of this kind than I am? The whole speech of my hon. Friend is a speech practically in favour of more rapid promotion in this branch of the Customs service. That is the whole gist of his remarks from beginning to end. He first complains that the terms of the Goschen Minute have not been carried out with regard to the promotion of surveyors to collectorships. As far as I understand the Goschen Minute, the idea was that a certain number of surveyors should be appointed to collectorships, that there should be no gulf between the grades, and that it should be possible for surveyors to be appointed as collectors in certain ports. That has occurred certainly in one case quite recently, and my hon. Friend must know that in a great number of cases the salaries of surveyors are very much in excess of the salaries of collectors. The hon. Member has dealt with the question of the number of surveyors, and he very fairly says that that number in relation to the number of junior officers to a great extent governs the rapidity of promotion. But he also says that there has been a reduction in the number of higher grade officers since 1892. That statement is, however, misleading. The total number of surveyors' posts, or their equivalents, since the Goschen Minute has undoubtedly been increased. I do not say that decreases have not taken place, but the statistics of my hon. Friend evidently refer only to the port of London, where, naturally, they have decreased, because there was not sufficient work for them to do. Nevertheless, the number of surveyors elsewhere has been increased, and all these places are open to men in the lower grade, whether they belong to London or to other ports. Therefore, the number of places open to them has not been decreased in any way by the reduction in the port of London. I have been asked if there was not a distinct promise of a permanent increase in the first and second class surveyors in the port of London. That was not so, for it was simply said that there should be a temporary increase pending the promotion of certain third-class surveyors, and my point is that the promise as to London has been carried out, and the promise as to pro- motion has also been carried out. Although the surveyors all over the country have been reduced by eight, this has been only a nominal decrease, because the number of equivalent posts has been increased by nine or ten. It should also be remembered that the first-class examining officers, which is the class immediately next to the surveyors, are actually getting the same maximum salary as was being obtained by seventeen of the surveyors at the time of the Goschen Minute. The hon. Member said that the number of places for junior appointments has also been very largely increased, but that is not the fact. The comparison that has been made by my hon. Friend, or by those who advised him, is a comparison based upon the estimates of 1890–91, and in those estimates a peculiar mistake occurred. It had been intended to cut down the second class by 200, and the result was that in the estimates the number put down as intended to serve during that year was 617 as against 860. As a matter of fact that policy was not carried out, and the number actually on the staff during that year was not 617 but 816. That entirely alters the calculation of my hon. Friend, and the proportion of surveyors and examining officers first class to the lower classes is exactly the same now as it was at the time of the Goschen Minute. Then the hon. Member complains that a large amount of work is being done by the second-class examining officers which ought to be done by the first-class officers; but if the former were transferred it would have the effect of increasing the number of the higher grade, and, indirectly, increasing the pensions. I agree with the hon. Member that the language of the Minute is not as perfect as it possibly might be, but it is better to interpret that Minute by the language of the person who drew it up, and my right hon. Friend, the present First Lord of the Admiralty, on the very first day when this Minute had to be interpreted, said that in his view only important work should be given to the first-class examining officers. Surely that was in accordance with common sense. I do not suppose that even my hon. Friend wants to create posts for men, or to pay salaries higher than the character of the work which they have actually got to do. What is the difference between these two classes? The second class have to gauge the cheaper wines, whereas the work of the first-class examining officers is that of gauging dearer wines, and more especially spirits. Why is it that the inferior officers gauge the inferior wines, while the first-class officers have to gauge the higher class of wines? One reason is that the responsibility is greater; and I understand that there is less difference between the casks containing light French wines, so that less skill in gauging is required. In regard to spirits and dearer wines that is not the ease, more especially in regard to spirits, which come in all kinds of casks and shapes, and a man has to be an expert to gauge the different shapes and different forms of these casks. I think, therefore, there is a great difference between the work of the two classes. The hon. Member next referred to the system of "acting," and I perfectly agree with him that it is possible to carry this practice too far. It is, however, an advantage for one of a lower grade to discharge the duties of a higher position, and act as substitute in the absence of his superior officer, because that better qualifies him for promotion. I find the same thing going on in the Post Office, where I have known men "acting" for a year at a time, and that is grossly unfair. I cannot help thinking, however, that it is perfectly fair to apply it to the Customs service. I am surprised to find that the cases quoted by my hon. Friend were not very long ones, and he quoted a case which he thought was one of great hardship, where a man had been "acting" for six weeks. I do not think that was a hardship, and if that is one of the worst cases, then I cannot think that the practice prevails to the extent which the hon. Member thinks it does. The hon. Member complains that under the Goschen Minute there was an arrangement by which the men pass from the second class of examining officers to the first class by competitive examination, but that was found to be somewhat too favourable to the younger officers, and a system was substituted by which the men practically went up by seniority if they passed a qualifying examination. The hon. Member said that he wanted to see the Goschen Minute carried out literally, but his great complaint now is that the Goschen Minute is carried out.


The Goschen Minute laid it down that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having seen the advantage of this form of examination, decided to introduce it in the Customs service, and what I complained of was that the two subsequent examinations were a violation of that clause.


I do not think that my hon. Friend's contention is correct, because it has never been brought to my knowledge that this examination was not in accordance with the Treasury Minute of Mr. Goschen. I now come to the last point, which is that of assistants of Customs. The hon. Member complains that there are men acting as assistants of Customs some of whom have had four years' service, and yet others who have only had one year of service are getting exactly the same pay. When I heard that statement I asked the hon. Member if he meant the same service, for he knows very well that the old class of outdoor officers performed not only the duties now discharged by assistants, but also those which are assigned to the watcher class; and therefore their work was of a mixed nature, and was not, on an average, as high as that of the present assistants. Two or three years ago the new class of assistants was appointed to do the superior work, and the men to whom reference has been made were held to be qualified to pass into that class at their existing salaries, although they were higher than the minimum of that class. The complaint of my hon. Friend is that these men, who had been performing work of a mixed nature for three or four years before their appointment, are now receiving the same salaries in the new class as the men who entered it upon its formation without previous service. Is there anything unreasonable in that? I confess that I see no hardship in it at all. If my hon. friend had been able to show that they had been performing the same duties throughout their service, then the case would have been different. Then there is the question of "frauds." That matter has not been brought before my notice, and I am somewhat inclined to think that my hon. Friend has somewhat exaggerated the facts of the case. The impression put upon my mind was that we ought to have some more efficient system of dealing with these matters, and if the hon. Gentleman, who apparently has some means of getting into touch with persons able to give information, will enable the authorities to communicate with them with the same readiness and promptitude, it will be of considerable assistance. I hope, therefore, that we may count upon his services.

MR. RYDER (Gravesend)

I wish the Committee to extend to me the kindness and consideration it always grants to a Member of this House who addresses it for the first time. I have to call attention to certain grievances suffered by the officers of Customs. There are three classes of men—examining officers, preventive officers, and boatmen. It is to the case of preventive officers I propose to refer. They have practically three grievances, which come under the heads of salary, promotion, and Sunday pay. The evidence given before the Ridley Commission showed the importance of the duties performed by these men. Let me give a few statistics on the question of pay. In the London branch an officer commences with a salary of £110, as against £90 paid in the Water guard branch. The examining officer rises by an animal increment of £7 10s. to a maximum of £220. In the Water guard the annual rise is £5, and the maximum £150. The number of second class officers in the examining branch is 56, and they have 329 superior appointments. In the Water guard branch they get only 59 superior appointments, and of these only 42 go up to a maximum of £200. Beyond this the examining officers have practically no Sunday duty or night duty, and they very seldom do 48 hours per week. The Water guard men work from 53 to 84 hours per week, and have a good deal of night and Sunday work, for which they get no pay whatever. I think these men are correct in saying that they are suffering under certain hardships. Under a Treasury Minute of 1891 it was directed that preventive officers' duties should be performed by examining officers. I do suggest that, if the Secretary to the Treasury is unable to meet their claims in their entirety, he should at any rate allow them to commence at a salary of £100, and to rise by an increment of £7 10s. to a maximum of £210; that they should get 7s. per day for Sunday duty, and that the upper section appointments should be increased to, say, 80 or 90. I think you will then have a body of men who are contented. The Committee are quite aware of the importance of the duties performed by these men, and must know how necessary it is to employ men above reproach.


I rise for the purpose of calling attention to the rate of pay given to Customs watchers. This body of men have taken the place of men who, some little time ago, were in receipt of a salary of —100 per annum, full pay in sickness and on holidays, and pensions and uniform. Now, they began at 19s. a week, which represented 4¾d. per hour. Since they have been made permanent men, however, their wages have been raised to 21s. per week, but as they work 54 hours they are only getting 4¾d. per hour. Their position is one of great responsibility, and all they ask for is an increase of 3s. per week, rising by annual increments of £2 12s. per annum, up to 28s. per week. Seeing that they have taken the place of officers who were receiving £100 per year and other emoluments, I do think they are entitled to some consideration at the hands of the Secretary to the Treasury. I would also like to put in an appeal on behalf of the boatmen whose case is to be brought forward by the honourable Member for Limehouse.


The honourable Member seems to be under a misapprehension as to the salary of the men who have been replaced by the Customs watchers. These watchers have only succeeded to the inferior work of the officers for whom they were substituted. The original class has been divided into two classes, and these watchers are doing the inferior part of the work. The honourable member says they work nine hours per day, but that is only a matter of calculation, for out of that they are allowed an hour for meals. The chief complaint, however, was on the point of wages, and the honourable Member is not satisfied with the 21s. they receive; he has set up the ideal of 24s. as a living wage. These men's wages have already been raised from 19s. to 21s., but, in addition, they get considerable advantages, which bring their earnings very near, if not above, 24s. Then, it should be borne in mind that 24s. is advocated as the wage of a perfectly able-bodied man, whereas a large number of these men are pensioners, and it is quite possible that they are not able-bodied. And again, although nominally they are employed nine hours, their average period of working is, I am told, only seven horns, and it is not very hard work. What I want to impress on the honourable gentleman is this, that if he says 24s. is a wage which ought to be paid, then 21s., with all the various advantages they get, and which an outsider would not get, is certainly equal to the 24s. The men, for instance, get a fortnight's holiday in the year, and they also receive sick pay, and bearing in mind that they do not do a full eight hours per day I think they should be satisfied with the remuneration given them.

MR. H. S. SAMUEL (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)

I desire to enlist the sympathy of the Secretary to the Treasury for the grievances of the Customs boatmen. These men are really examining officers, and their duty is to go over all ships which arrive in port. Their grievances principally relate to salary, employment on Sunday, hours of work, and, in the case of the London men, travelling expenses. In regard to salary, they commence at £55 a year, rising by 30s. for a certain number of years, and then by 50s. a year until the maximum sum of £80 is reached. It therefore takes them fifteen years to reach the maximum salary, which is a very long period indeed. I know that there are sonic cases in which the maximum salary has been raised from £80 to £85, but in these cases they are no longer paid seizure money, and overtime is now hardly ever required. In many instances instead of being better off they are now worse off than before. I ask the right honourable Gentleman to see whether their salaries could not be improved. The complaint as to Sunday labour is, that while ill most departments the men are paid time and a half for Sunday labour, all that the Customs boatmen get is £5 a year, and they are liable for duty on every Sunday. Some of the men, indeed, get no money for Sunday labour. I consider that a hardship, and I ask the right honourable Gentleman to look into the question. Then as to travelling expenses, boatmen who are moved from one port to another receive travelling expenses; but when the boatmen in London are moved from one station to another they get no expenses to cover the cost of the removing of their homes. It is possible to say that London is one port, but then, in the estimation of the House and the Government, London is an aggregation of cities, and the men who are compelled to move their homes from one of these cities to another ought to have their expenses paid by the Department. As to the hours of work on the London stations, the men want them changed from the four-deck-watch system to the three-deck-watch system. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will lend a sympathetic ear to the petition for the redress of these grievances.

SIR F. EVANS (Southampton)

I am anxious also to appeal to the right honourable Gentleman for these men. They are, in my opinion, very underpaid. I would go further than the right honourable Gentleman who has just spoken. I have to see constantly many of these men at work, I know what their work is, and the responsibility which is thrown upon them, and I hold that their pay is quite inadequate. We know the many temptations that are put in their way and the corruption which has followed in other countries. Let us take care that we do not by underpaying them put temptations is in their way, when they have wives and families to support. These men are called Customs boatmen, but, except in London, they do no boating. If you go down to Southampton or Greenock you never see them in a boat. It would be much better if they could be called assistant preventive officers, which they really are, and that some addition should be made to their salary adequate to their work, to the responsibility of their position, and to a just appreciation of the temptations that are coming in their way. In granting this the Treasury would do well for themselves as well as for the men.

MR. C. H. WILSON (Hull, West)

I know there is a great amount of dissatisfaction amongst this highly respectable body of men, who have really important duties to perform. The rate of wages throughout the country is tending upwards, and their rate of pay is totally inadequate. I would suggest that the maximum salary should be raised to £100, and that the yearly increment should be so raised as to enable the men to reach the maximum in 11 years instead of 15.


We know something of the dissatisfaction amongst the Customs boatmen, but the books of my right honourable Friend the Patronage Secretary are so overladen with applications for these positions that he has been obliged to refuse to receive any further applications. That is primô facie an indication of the enormous competition there is to enter the service, and a rough-and-ready test of whether or not the men are fairly treated. My honourable Friend raises the point of responsibility, but these men are always acting under the supervision of preventive officers. The question of the wages of Customs boatmen and preventive officers generally was thoroughly gone into by the present First Lord of the Admiralty and my right honourable Friend the Member for Leeds, who was then Secretary to the Treasury in 1891. The salaries were then considerably increased, and there was no contention here that the decision arrived at as the result of the enquiry had not been properly carried out, or that the promises made to the men had not been fulfilled. We have not only to look at the pay these men get, but the promotions they have received. The promotions of the boatmen have been considerably increased since the Water guard and preventive duties have been separated from the ordinary warehousing and other duties. At certain of the smaller places the boatmen get very considerable allowances in addition to their pay, for they practically act as preventive officers. As to Sunday work, it is absolutely necessary that we should have a certain number of these men on duty on Sunday. The question is whether they are properly paid for what they do; £5 a year was added to the maximum salary in order to meet this Sunday duty, and the men knew when they entered the service that the £85 included seven days' work, if they were called upon to do Sunday duty. With regard to the travelling expenses of the men in London I do think that there is a ease for inquiry, and I promise to look into it.

MR. HAVELOCK. WILSON (Middlesbrough)

I am exceedingly sorry that the right honourable Gentleman has adopted the course he has in regard to the classing of these men. If they are not paid for their service as they ought to be, it is quite possible for smuggling to go on wholesale. The men have long hours of labour, mad the pay they receive is very small indeed. They are a hard working body of men, and I trust that the right honourable Gentleman will reconsider the matter; otherwise I for one shall be prepared to go to a division.


I cannot allow the challenge of the Secretary to the Treasury to pass unnoticed. I understood him to insinuate in the last phrase of his speech that I was in touch with the men who were responsible for the fraud. [MR. HANBURY was understood to take exception to this.] Then I am afraid the language of the Secretary to the Treasury is a little like the language of the Treasury Minute—expressed in somewhat unusual English—it was certainly open to the interpretation I placed upon it. With regard to the position of the examining officers, notwithstanding what the Secretary to the Treasury has asserted, their position is worse now than it was at the time the Treasury Minute was passed. I have explained again and again that it is most fallacious to take the averages of the two or three years before the Minute and the two or three years after, because promotions were delayed pending the inquiry, and therefore on both sides of the inquiry the first year or two ought to be eliminated. If he will take the three or four years before the inquiry, and the three or four years subsequent to the inquiry, I think he will find that in every branch of the service t he rate of promotion is absolutely slower now than it was before the inquiry, and therefore the promises have not been kept. I am placed in this position, I have all the arguments on my side, and the right honourable Gentleman has all the voting strength from the dining-room and elsewhere on his, and hence I hesitate to go to a Division. I shall, however, bring the matter forward on every available opportunity until it has been satisfactorily dealt with. Meanwhile, I must express my deep regret that the Secretary to the Treasury has not met me in a more generous spirit.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy)

I only rise to express my surprise at the easy manner in which the honourable Gentleman is satisfied. He has raised a subject tonight that we have had before the House almost every Session for the last five or six years. He has got no satisfaction whatever, except the old stereotyped official statement, which means nothing; and the question will be put off for another year, and nothing more will he done. Now, Sir, I represent a considerable number of men who are interested in this question. Whether the honourable Gentleman goes to a Division or not, I shall certainly go to a Division, and I hope to have his support. We have had facts produced here to-night which show beyond all doubt that there is a pressing and argent grievance so far as these men are concerned, but it is not a new grievance. The right honourable Gentleman knows the grievance just as well as we do. He could have made a speech to-night which would have thrilled the House, if only he had been sitting on the other side. We miss his eloquence, but admire his impartiality. The Government is supposed to be the champion of short hours and big wages. Where is the eight hours movement now? I think this is a ease in which the right honourable Gentleman should have gone a little farther than the mere official promise to look into it. But the right honourable Gentleman is worked too hard already. The question is not going to he dealt with; it is going to be shelved. The Debate is going to be closed to-night, and nothing more will be done until next year, because we have had the promise to look into the question until we are tired of it.


I have not promised to look into it.


Then the matter is even worse than I anticipated, and we have no alternative but to take the opinion of the House upon it. The honourable Gentleman who has just sat down says the numerical strength is against us. Well, I have seen some rather funny Divi-

sions during the dinner hour, and if the honourable Member will only induce his friends to come into our lobby, we may he able to place a very powerful case before the right honourable Gentleman.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 57; Noes 90.—(Division List No. 167.)

Allan, William (Gateshead) Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Atherley-Jones, L. Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton Sutherland, Sir Thomas
Baker, Sir John Harwood, George Thomas, David Alfred(Merthyr
Barlow, John Emmott Hazell, Walter Thornton, Percy M.
Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire) Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C. Wallace, Robert (Perth)
Billson, Alfred King, Sir Henry Seymour Warr, Augustus Frederick
Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson Leng, Sir John Weir, James Galloway
Caldwell, James Lloyd-George, David Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Carew, James Laurence MacAleese, Daniel Williams, John Carvell (Notts
Carvill, Patrick Geo.Hamilton M'Dermott, Patrick Wilson, Charles Henry (Hull)
Cawley, Frederick M'Leod, John Wilson, Frederick W. (Norfolk
Clark, Dr. G. B.(Caithness-sh.) Maddison, Fred Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.
Clough, Walter Owen O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)
Colville, John Oldroyd, Mark Wilson, Jos H (Middlesbrough
Crilly, Daniel Pickersgill, Edward Hare Yoxall, James Henry
Dillon, John Priestley, Briggs (Yorks.)
Doughty, George Rickett, J. Compton
Duckworth, James Round, James TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Evans, Sir Francis H.(South'ton Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse) Mr. Ryder and Mr. Dalziel.
Farquharson, Dr. Robert Spicer, Albert
Gourley, Sir E. Temperley Steadman, Williams Charles
Arnold, Alfred Davies, Sir H. D. (Chatham) Howell, William Tudor
Bailey, James (Walworth) Douglas, Rt. Hon A. Akers- Jenkins, Sir John Jones
Balfour, Rt. Hon G. W.(Leeds) Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V. Jolliffe, Hon H. George
Banbury, Frederick George Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E Kemp, George
Bartley, George C. T. Field, Admiral (Eastbourne) Knowles, Lees
Barton, Dunbar Plunket Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne Laurie, Lieut.—General
Bethell, Commander Fisher, William Hayes Lawrence, Sir E Durning-(Corn
Biddulph, Michael Forster, Henry William Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)
Blakiston-Houston, John Foster, Colonel (Lancaster) Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie
Blundell, Colonel Henry Garfit, William Llewelyn Sir Dillwyn(Swansea
Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Gibbs, Hon. V. (St. Albans) Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine
Bullard, Sir Harry Giles, Charles Tyrrell Long, Rt. Hn Walter (Liverpool)
Chamberlain, J Austen(Worc'r Gilliat, John Saunders Lowe, Francis William
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Godson, Sir Augustus Fred. Lowles, John
Charrington, Spencer Goldsworthy, Major-General Lucas-Shadwell, William
Clare, Octavius Leigh Gordon, Hon. John Edward Macartney, W. G. Ellison
Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H.A.E. Goschen, George J. (Sussex) Macdona, John Cumming
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Goulding, Edward Alfred M'Iver, Sir Lewis (Edinb'h, W
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Green, Walford D(Wednesbury Moon, Edward Robert Pacy
Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord George Moore, William (Antrim, N.)
Corbett, A C (Glasgow) Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert Wm. Morrison, Walter
Cripps, Charles Alfred Heath, James Murray, Rt. Hn A Graham(Bute
Curzon, Viscount Hermon-Hodge,RobertTrotter Nicol, Donald Ninian
Dalrymple, Sir Charles Houston, R. P. Pilkington, Rich(LancNewton
Platt-Higgins, Frederick Smith, James Parker(Lanarks Wilson, John (Falkirk)
Pollock, Harry Frederick Stanley, Lord (Lancs.) Wyndham, George
Priestley, Sir W. Overend(Edin Strauss, Arthur
Purvis, Robert Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Robertson, Herbert (Hackney Usborne, Thomas Sir William Walrond and
Russell, T. W. (Tyrone) Webster,Sir R E(Isle of Wight Mr. Anstruther.
Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire) Williams, Joseph Powell-(Birm
Skewes-Cox, Thomas Willox, Sir John Archibald

Motion made, and Question, "That this House do now adjourn,"—(Sir William Walrond)—put, and agreed to.

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